Excerpt from Until Spring

   
     He liked everything about her—the way she cared for that little cat of hers, her interest in the llamas, her responsible shepherding of Mary Kate, her thoughtful ways. She didn't deserve the buffeting that life had meted out to her, and he wanted to make it up to her.
     He wanted—but what difference did it make what he wanted? At night he often thought of her lying alone in her bed. In his fantasies she came to him, looking soft and ethereal, and he imagined reaching up to her and pulling her down to him, imagined being absorbed into her.
     "I suppose we could become too attached to each other," he said with all due gravity, but his thoughts refused to run in this groove and instead leaped around inside his head bearing images that he had only dared to dream. Jane in his bed, Jane stepping naked from the shower and reaching for a towel, her shape outlined by the light from his bedroom, Jane everywhere.
     The real Jane wrinkled her forehead, unaware of the way he had pictured her. What a pity that she will never know, he thought, and before he knew it, moving as if in a dream, he had taken her chin in his hand, turned her face toward his, and kissed her on the lips. It was a short kiss, and heaven help him, she seemed about to sink into it before she pulled away.
     "Duncan!" she said when he released her. Her eyes widened and darkened, and he sensed how much he had shocked her.
     "I couldn't help it," he said truthfully.
     She looked rattled. "It's just—just—"
     "Just what?"
     "That I've never thought of you in that way. Never."
     "How do you think of me?"
     She ran a hand through her hair and looked off into space somewhere over his left shoulder.
     "As—as someone who has been more than kind to me. As someone who is easy to be around. Easy to respect. Oh, Duncan, I don't know," she said in obvious dismay.
     Quickly he masked the disappointment in his eyes. She didn't reciprocate his feelings. She had no inkling of how he felt. He found her innocence very moving, although at the same time he was annoyed by it.
     "Forgive me, Jane," he said, knowing how abject he sounded. That was genuine, too, and as real as his feelings for her.
     "This changes things," she said with certainty. She looked perturbed in a way that he had never seen her.
     Duncan, you idiot, he told himself. Aloud he said, "It needn't change anything. It was a whim, a mark of affection, and no more than that."
     "I'm reading too much into a simple kiss. Is that what you're trying to say?" Her troubled gaze rested on him, seeking reassurance.
     "It was a mistake, and it won't happen again." He sounded stiff and formal even to himself. No telling what she thought.
     She sighed heavily and leaned back on the couch, massaging her elbows through an old sweater of his that was a favorite of hers. She closed her eyes and seemed to be deep in thought.
     He was angry with himself. He'd muddled their relationship, that was for sure. In the past few weeks he had allayed her basic mistrust with both words and actions, and then, with one misguided kiss, he had destroyed what they had. He couldn't allow himself to show his bitter disappointment that she didn't reciprocate his feelings; he made himself adopt an air of icy detachment.
     "I think it's time I went to my office in the barn," he said.
 
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