After tragedy strikes, Bree Penoyer's feelings of guilt leave her speechlessliterally. Tired of always being the good girl and just letting things happen to her, Bree decides it's time to take life into her own hands. She dumps her lucrative but uninspiring career and her sweet but boring fiancé, and escapes to her late grandmother's rustic cabin in South Carolina to find herself again.
Her solitude is immediately disrupted by her new neighbor, Hart Manning, a sexy but arrogant rogue who doesn't seem capable of taking no for an answer. The last thing Bree wants is an affair, especially with a self-proclaimed womanizer like Hart. But she can't deny he arouses her as no man ever has, and when at last she finds her voice, she's very ready to say yes!
Bree, eventually your speech will come back. The battery of tests proved there's nothing physically wrong." Dr. Willming leaned forward, peering at her through thick lenses. "The mind has curious ways of dealing with traumatic shock. You'll talk again, I promise you, sweetheart. Just accept that your body is asking for a little rest right nowand we both know you could use a lesson or two on how to take it easy, now don't we?"
He'd worked so hard for a smile that Bree had to give him one. It was genuine, actually. She'd known the white-haired physician half her life and loved him to bits. And having seen more doctors than she cared to count over the past few weeks, she still valued Dr. Willming's opinion most. Lowering her eyes to mask the frustration that was pictured there, she reached down for her purse.
"Bree, it would help a great deal if you'd get it through your pretty head that you were not responsible for your grandmother's death," the doctor continued in that low, vibrant voice of his. "You know her heart had been weak for years, and you know that no one could have done anything to prevent what happened. Now, I want you to get some solid rest and put a few hefty pounds under your belt."
Bree glanced first at the doctor's ponderous belly and then at her own slim, belted form. At Dr. Willming's irrepressible chuckle, she felt her own lips twitch. Five minutes later, she escaped the good doctor's fiftieth round of reassurancesafter an affectionate hugand let herself out into the long corridor between offices. Her leather heels clicked a staccato rhythm on the shiny linoleum, slowing only when she stepped outside and faced a flat gray rain.
Maybe there was another city as ugly as South Bend at winter's end and in the middle of a downpour, but Bree doubted it. By the time she climbed into her car, water was dribbling down the nape of her neck, her hair was slicked to her scalp and even her eyelashes were dripping. Shivering, she jabbed the key into the ignition, started the engine and then, for no reason at all, leaned back in the seat and shut her eyes.
Dr. Willming had been coddling her for two weeks. Bree wanted to feel grateful, and instead was inclined to pull out her hair. Being treated like spun sugar was exhausting. Actually, she'd always thought of herself as a little more of the lemon than the meringue.
And this business about a "traumatized speech loss" was nonsense. Obviously, what she had was a temporarily loose screw. Bree was instinctively compassionate with other people's weaknesses and problems, but she'd never had an ounce of patience for her own. There was clearly nothing physically wrong with her. She'd never once flipped out in a crisis; a ton of people counted on her being dependable...
The engine coughed. Bree opened her eyes, shoved the car in gear and backed out of the parking space. A half hour later, she parked in her apartment's lot and noted, without surprise, that it was raining even harder than it had been when she left Dr. Willming's office. She made a mad dash for the door.
Inside, the gloomy day spilled in through her living-room windows. Switching on a lamp, she unbuttoned her raincoat. Absently, her eyes roved over the furnishings she'd so painstakingly chosen a few years before, all creams and cocoas and brownsthe neutral shades that had then been so popular.
Two weeks ago, she'd discovered that neutral, soothing colors drove her bananas.