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THE MAN SHE LOVES TO HATE
by Kelly Hunter

Genre: Current Series Imprints, Harlequin Presents Extra, Series

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Cole wasn't always honest with his feelings. Sometimes they shamed him. His conflicting feelings for his parents, both living and dead. His conflicting emotions as a teenager for a tiny redheaded waif with eyes too big for her face and a stain on her reputation that just wouldn't go away.

He'd known, even then, that she hadn”t deserved either his ire or the gossip that had swirled around her. She'd made very few friends after Hannah had abandoned her. She'd kept to herself. Developed a wariness a mile wide. Boys had fallen for Jolie by the truckload throughout her teens but precious few had earned her favour and the rare youth she had gone out with had been closemouthed and oddly defensive about her afterwards. 

Dig past the myth of Jolie Tanner, boyfriend-stealer, and there was a woman in there with courage and fortitude and a will that had got him up that damned mountain and kept him from freezing. A woman with issues and insecurities and vulnerabilities that made him feel raw because of the part he'd played in putting them there. 

Cole stood his ground as she murmured something to her mother and headed towards him with a dancer's grace that hadn't been in evidence on the mountain. Different clothes. Different shoes. 

How he'd ever mistaken that face for a boy's was beyond him.

Her bruises had faded, that or makeup concealed them. A rueful smile lent a winsome curve to that full and kissable mouth. He hadn't forgotten. Not her mouth. Not the rest of her. He wished to hell he had.

“My mother said you'd be here,” she murmured. “I wasn't so sure.”

“You should have been.” 

“It was a nice ceremony,” she said next, as if small talk could ease the sting of her barb and the unaccountable hurt he'd taken from it. 

“Yes.”

“We're having a wake back at the bar after the burial. There's no pressure on you to join us, but you're invited,” she said next.

“You finally going to buy me that drink, Red?”

“That's a very bad idea.”

“So people keep saying.”

“Maybe you should listen to them.”

“I do. You came over to me, Red. I didn't single you out. I didn't cut at you by implying that you didn't have enough respect for Hare to turn up for his funeral. I didn't do a damn thing.” 

Anger in him, and startled surprise from her. 

“I'm sorry,” she said as a blush stained her cheeks. “For the crack about you not attending Hare's funeral. I knew someone would be here to represent the Rees family. I think I knew all along it would be you.” She took a ragged breath. “Maybe I just didn't want it to be.”

“You're wounding me, Red. Again.”

Frowning, Jolie looked away.

“Are you sleeping?” he asked gruffly. “You look tired.”

“So do you.” But she didn”t look at him as she said it. “I've been having bad dreams. Nightmares, about falling.”

“In the gondola?”

“Yes. There”s usually a bottle of champagne floating around in mid air too, in my dreams. And for some unknown reason a box full of kitchen knives. And a potato masher. They tend to go all matrix on me. It's very disconcerting.”

“I can imagine,” he said. “Knives haven't featured in any of my dreams.”

“Lucky you.”

“Not really. Ask me what I dream of, Jolie. Ask me where I go when I close my eyes at night.”

“I”m not sure I want to know.”

Wary, and so she should be, given the chaos she caused in him. Cole stepped in close and bent his head so that his lips brushed the hair at her temple. “Thank you for the invitation to the wake, I'd like to attend for a while. Thank you for coming over to speak to me, even if civility's a stretch. And just for the record, when I close my eyes at night I think of greedy lips and silken skin and blinding passion the likes of which I've never felt before. Ask me where I go each night, Red.”

Grey eyes, wide and startled. A mouth made for kisses; not one kiss but more.

"Where?” she whispered and it was a supplicant's murmur and it magnified the heat deep inside him a hundred fold.

“I come to you.”