“No, you’re not.” She smiled a little as she said it, to ease the sting. “You’re standing there, frantically trying to think of what to say, how to behave. I’ve known you too long, Rogan. Can we sit?”

“Yes, of course.” He started to offer a hand, then let it fall back to his side. Patricia lifted a brow at the movement. She sat, folded her hands in her lap. “I’ve come to apologize.”

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Now his distress was complete. “Please, don’t. There’s no need.”

“There’s every need. You’ll do me the courtesy of hearing me out.”

“Patty.” He sat as well, felt his stomach lurch. “I’ve made you cry.” It was all too obvious now that they were close. However careful her makeup, he could see the signs.

“Yes, you did. And after I’d finished crying, I began to think. For myself.” She sighed. “I’ve had much too little practice thinking for myself, Rogan. Mother and Daddy took such close care of me. And they had such expectations. I was always afraid I couldn’t meet them.”

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“That’s absurd—”

“I’ve asked you to hear me out,” she said in a tone that had him staring in surprise. “And you will. You were always there, from the time I was what—fourteen, fifteen? And then there was Robbie. I was so in love there was no need to think, no room for it. It was all him, and putting the house together, making a home. When I lost him, I thought I would die, too. God knows I wanted to.”

There was nothing else Rogan could do but take her hand. “I loved him, too.”

“I know you did. And it was you who got me through it. You who helped me grieve, then move past the grieving. I could talk about Robbie with you, and laugh or cry. You’ve been the best of friends to me, so it was natural that I’d love you. If seemed sensible for me to wait until you began to see me as a woman instead of an old friend. Then, wouldn’t it be natural enough for you to fall in love with me, ask me to marry you?”

His fingers moved restlessly under hers. “If I’d paid closer attention—”

“You’d have still seen nothing I didn’t wish you to see,” she finished. “For reasons I’d rather not discuss, I decided I’d take the next step myself, last night. When I kissed you, I expected to feel, oh, stardust and moonbeams. I threw myself into kissing you, expecting it to be everything I’d been waiting for, all those wonderful, terrifying tugs and pulls. I wanted so much to feel them again. But I didn’t.”

“Patricia, it’s not that I—” He broke off, eyes narrowing. “I beg your pardon?”

She laughed, confusing him all the more. “When I’d finished my well-deserved bout of weeping, I thought through the whole episode. It wasn’t just you who was taken by surprise, Rogan. I realized I’d felt nothing at all when I’d kissed you.”

“Nothing at all,” he repeated after a moment.

“Nothing more than embarrassment for having put us both in such a potentially dreadful situation. It came to me that while I love you dearly, I’m not in love with you at all. I was simply kissing my closest friend.”

“I see.” It was ridiculous to feel as though his manhood had been impugned. But he was, after all, a man. “That’s lucky, isn’t it?”

She did know him well. Laughing, she pressed his hand to her cheek. “Now I’ve insulted you.”

“No, you haven’t. I’m relieved we’ve sorted this out.” Her bland look had him cursing. “All right, damn it, you have insulted me. Or at least nicked my masculine pride.” He grinned back at her. “Friends, then?”

“Always.” She let out a long breath. “I can’t tell you how relieved I am that that’s over. You know, I think I’ll take Joseph up on that tea. Can you join us?”

“Sorry. We’ve just gotten in a shipment from Inverness I want to look over.”

She rose. “You know, I have to agree with Mother on one thing. You’re working too hard, Rogan. It’s beginning to show. You need a few days to relax.”

“In a month or two.”

Shaking her head, she leaned down to kiss him. “You always say that. I wish I thought you meant it this time.” She tilted her head, smiled. “I believe your villa in the south of France is an excellent place not only to relax, but for creative inspiration. The colors and the textures would undoubtedly appeal to an artist.”

He opened his mouth, closed it again. “You do know me too well,” he murmured.

“I do. Give it some thought.” She left him brooding and went down to the kitchen. Since Joseph was in the main gallery with a few lingering clients, she began to brew the tea herself.

Joseph came in just as she was pouring the first cup. “I’m sorry,” he said. “They wouldn’t be hurried along, nor could they be seduced into parting with a single pound. Here I thought I’d end the day by selling that copper sculpture. You know, the one that looks a bit like a holly shrub, but they got away from me.”

“Have some tea and console yourself.”

“I will, thanks. Have you—” He stopped when she turned to him and he saw her face in the full light. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Why, nothing.” She brought the cups to the table, nearly dropping them both when he caught her by the arms.

“You’ve been crying,” he said in a tight voice. “And there’re shadows under your eyes.”

On an impatient breath she set the jostling cups down. “Why are cosmetics so damn expensive if they don’t do the job? A woman can’t indulge herself in a good weeping spell if she can’t depend on her powder.” She started to sit, but his hands remained firm on her shoulders. Surprised, she looked up at him. What she saw in his eyes had her fumbling. “It’s nothing—really nothing. Just some foolishness. I’m…I’m fine now.”

He didn’t think. He’d held her before, of course. They’d danced together. But there was no music now. Only her. Slowly, he lifted a hand, brushed a thumb gently over the faint smudges under her eyes. “You still miss him. Robbie.”

“Yes. I always will.” But her husband’s face, so well loved, blurred. She saw only Joseph. “I wasn’t crying for Robbie. Not really. I’m not sure exactly what I was crying for.”

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