THE MORE I SEE by Lisa Mondello
As a top-notch
cutting horse trainer, Cody Gentry was riding high until he lost his eyesight
after a freak chemical accident. Unable to see the hand in front of his face,
never mind the horse or cattle he trained, he knows his life is over and slips
deep into depression. His whole future hinges on the success of an eye surgery
that could give him his old life back.
When guide dog
trainer, Lyssa McElhannon, arrives on his ranch like Florence Nightingale coming
to save him, he wants no part of her or her guide dog. But something about
Lyssa’s musical laugh coupled with her tenacity digs under his skin and won't
let go. Having been blind most of her life, Lyssa understands the paralyzing
fear Cody feels after losing his vision. But she refuses to let the stubborn
cowboy waste his life away sitting in a chair when she knows first-hand that a
good guide dog can change his world. She just needs one month to prove it to
Falling in love
with Cody was not part of Lyssa’s plan, nor was having him open her eyes to see
that there was a whole lot of living she’d been missing out on.
nothing extraordinary about Alyssandra Orchid McElhannon but her name. She was
used to being invisible where men were concerned. Men were an unusual breed for
sure. This one was no different.
sunglasses, she blinked as she peered at the long, lean man stretched out on the
lawn chair by the pool. So this was Cody Gentry. The man that insisted she come
all the way from the Houston school where she'd worked to personally train him
here on the Silverado Ranch.
At least Cody
Gentry had a valid excuse not to notice her. He was blind.
He made no move
to indicate he'd heard her approach, or the soft sound of dog claws scratching
on the concrete as she led her guide dog closer. No tilt of his head, no lift of
his long fingers, weaved tightly together on his lap, not even a twitch of his
booted feet, crossed and slightly hanging over the end of the lawn chair.
Lyssa slid the
sunglasses back up the bridge of her nose. He could be asleep, she decided. By
the slump of his shoulders and the angle of his head, cocked to one side, his
white straw cowboy hat tilted over his face ever so slightly, it was certainly
possible. It would explain why he'd yet to have even a slight reaction to her
She knew how
acute the other senses were when one was lost. She'd outfitted herself in her
usual garb, a pair of well-worn blue jeans, a cool cotton button-down shirt, and
a comfortable pair of sneakers. She could understand how the soft soles of her
sneakers would be muffled. Lyssa wasn't the most graceful person, but she wasn't
a clod. If Cody hadn't heard the sound of her footsteps, he should have at least
noticed the telltale sound of Otis' paws on the walkway.
Maybe he wasn't
asleep. Maybe he was just being rude. Mike Gentry, Cody's father, had warned as
It had been
only a week ago that Mike Gentry first approached the Houston Guide Dog School
asking for immediate help, insisting his son needed a one-on-one instructor. If
only the school could send someone to the ranch, he said, it might break through
the deep, impenetrable depression that had overtaken his son since a freak
chemical accident had rendered him blind nearly eight months earlier. It might
help him get back among the living again.
Lyssa had been
in the office the day Mike Gentry strode in with deep pockets and endless
arguments about why he needed someone immediately. The director had been
insistent that the school offered only month-long classes to students who stayed
on their campus. While what Mike was asking for his son was not unprecedented,
it was usually reserved for extreme cases.
The money Mike
offered to gift the school spoke of his desperation. Right in front of Lyssa,
he'd offered what amounted to enough money to service several dogs to those in
need. After a failed corneal transplant, the likelihood that Cody would get his
eye-sight back was slim to none. Cody needed to become functional again in his
own environment, and without the aid of a guide dog, he wouldn't be able to get
assured the school that Cody was eager to work with a guide dog, but given life
on the ranch, he felt that training should be conducted in the environment where
the dog and handler would spend the bulk of their time.
Lyssa found she
couldn't stay quiet. There was time before the next class started. She had a dog
ready and, even with the limited information Mike Gentry had offered about his
son, Lyssa felt the match might work.
Peering over at
Cody now, she realized the depression Mike Gentry spoke of was much worse than
he had let on.
desperation, the depression. Lyssa had seen it happen before. Although, since
she'd lost her own eyesight at such an early age, she didn't remember feeling it
herself. When she regained her sight after twenty years of living in darkness it
was cause for celebration. New miracle surgery—an option that wasn't open to
everyone. Yet. But Lyssa was sure that one day it would be. The advances modern
science had made astounded her.
Until that day
came, she had the incredible task of trying to pull this six-foot-plus man out
of his despair by showing him that life was still worth living without his
noticing the heavy slump of his shoulders. She had her work cut out for her.
Otis to sit and the well-trained dog heeded the command instantly. Lyssa cleared
her throat. The man didn't move.
suspected, he'd heard her perfectly well. He simply chose to ignore her.
"I was told I
could find Cody Gentry out here by the pool," Lyssa finally said.
The muscles on
his face twitched slightly. "Who's looking?"
The timbre of
his voice was deep, with a faintly ominous edge that reminded Lyssa of the
voices she'd heard as a child when she and Kim would sneak downstairs in the
middle of the night and watch old horror flicks on cable. She couldn't see the
movies, she'd only heard the voices. That added to the mystery, raised the level
of anticipation, sending shivers racing up her spine.
anything out of a horror movie. She ignored the swell of apprehension that had
her confidence faltering.
She knew better
than to extend her hand in a normal greeting for her introduction. Instead, she
drew in a deep breath and hoped her voice sounded pleasant. "I'm Alyssandra
He didn't move.
"What do you want?"
Otis," she said cheerfully.
"Otis is a who,
not a what."
His whole body
seemed to stiffen. His voice was controlled, but edgy enough to send shivers
chasing over her skin. "I'm sorry you came all the way out here like this.
Apparently someone failed to give you adequate information. I'm not training
cuttin' horses anymore."
"Oh, Otis isn't
a horse. He's a dog. Your guide dog. And I'm here to train the two of you to
work as a team." She said the words with the pride she couldn't help but feel.
Otis, like many dogs trained as seeing aids for the vision-impaired, was a
lifeline to independence.
He sat still,
unaffected. It wasn't at all the reaction she'd been expecting.
"And you would
be Cody Gentry, I take it?" she asked, already knowing he was.
"I just said
I'm not interested."
"And I heard
you. My job is to make you interested."
said, "Mike Gentry, for one."
audibly and straightened up in his chair. "My father sent you, huh?"
He didn't tell you I was coming?"
"Did he already
pay you for your troubles?"
"Well, yes, a
fired. I'll make sure you get the rest of the money you're owed by mail. I'm
sorry he wasted your time."
was slightly exaggerated. Cody was as difficult as Mike Gentry had warned, but
in a totally different way than Lyssa had been prepared for.
"In the first
place, the school pays my salary and it is run entirely by donations. Second,
training my dogs and students is never a waste of my time. Furthermore, you
aren't the one who hired me, your father did. In fact, he asked me to stay on at
the ranch until you and Otis were working well together. So, you can't fire me,
no matter how much you squawk."
He made a face
that almost made her laugh. "Squawk?"
arms across her chest, she said, "I call it like I see it."
McElfen—er—McEllaf... What's your name again?"
she said slowly. "Alyssandra Orchid McElhannon. If we're going to be working
together, I'd prefer to keep things informal. So you can call me Lyssa, if it's
infuriating, she knew. Just because he couldn't see her, didn't mean he couldn't
hear perfectly well. In fact, she knew his hearing was much better now than it
had been before he'd lost his eyesight.
"Okay, Lyssa. I
appreciate your crusade here, but you really are wasting your time. And mine,
for that matter. I don't need a dog, and I don't need you. I need my eyes back.
And if you can't give me that, then get out of my way! I don't want you or your
Anger flared so
strong through her whole being that Lyssa could taste its bitterness. Part of
Mike Gentry's argument that Cody needed a one-on-one instructor was because of
his environment. He'd warned Cody could be difficult to work with, but explained
he was there on Cody's behalf and that Cody was anxious to start training as
soon as possible. He had attitude, but a strong desire. The only way to show
Cody exactly how infuriating he could be was to throw it back in his face, his
father had told her. Fight fire with fire. That seemed to be the only way to
break through Cody's despair lately.
argue with that. Cody had plenty of attitude. But Lyssa had underestimated the
warning and now regretted it. Fight fire with fire? In her estimation, she was
going to need to set off a case of C4 explosives to even make a dent.
"Otis and I
aren't going anywhere," she said calmly. "At least not for the next month."
to a boil just beneath the surface of Cody's exterior, it seemed. His movements
were quick and deliberate as he sat up straight and dropped his boots to the
ground with a thud. She wanted to take a step back to shield herself from the
slap of anger she was sure he was about to unleash, but she held her ground.
Lyssa had been
too young to feel the anger when she'd lost her eyesight. She learned, just as a
child learns to crawl and then walk, how to live in her dark world. Learning to
crawl for a child was second nature. Curiosity won over confidence every time,
hands down. Get from point A to point B and it didn't matter how you got there
as long as you did it.
crawl as an adult, however, was utterly different.
rooted in her place and silently watched Cody stumble, disoriented, trying to
rise from the lounge chair. He then felt his way around the table to the back of
the chair. He lifted his head and an almost imperceptible sigh of relief escaped
his lips. Cody dragged in a breath of air and began walking, his body tall and
proud, his hands rooted at his side instead of out in front of him as a
He must have
memorized the amount of steps. Even in his stubbornness, his instinct for
survival took over. Maybe she could use that to her advantage. Make it his. She
wasn't going to give him an inch, though. She suspected a single step back for
Cody would feel more like a mile.
He didn't need
her here. Not right at that moment. But she gave it one more try to see if she
could make a small crack in his resolve.
"If you'd like,
Otis will take you in."
He reached the
door and lifted his hands, floating them out in front of him until they made
purchase with the outer wall of the house. "I told you I don't need the
"Yeah, I heard
you. But counting eight steps only gets you from the chair to the house. What do
you do when you're out in the fields? There aren't any chairs out there. Or is
that some place you never venture anymore?"
His whole body
became rigid. But he said nothing.
her weight to one hip and crossed her arms as she looked out into the green and
gold pastures that rolled deep into the horizon.
"I suppose you
could count the fence posts, or even paces to the fence, but turning around
would be a bear. You could end up walking all the way to the county line before
you hit the other side of the ranch."
he said haughtily.
"Otis can help
you get around. Help you climb out of your eight steps and make it a hundred or
her easily by turning and carefully walking through the French doors.
She released a
slow breath, felt her shoulders sag slightly. Guilt should be gnawing at her
insides by now for stripping down his reality, but she had no other choice. In
her experience, it was either depression in a comfortable chair for the rest of
his days, or it was living again. She was determined to make sure Cody Gentry
meantime, Lyssa had a few strong words for his father.
* * *
Where the hell
was his father? And how dare he invite some snotty woman into the house to fix
what couldn't be fixed, Cody fumed silently as he moved through the kitchen. A
dog? What the hell was he thinking? Anyone with an ounce of sense or optical
training knew that life as he knew it was over.
you seen my father?" He knew the housekeeper was in. Ever since the accident
nearly eight months ago, the petite woman, who'd been a regular fixture in the
main house for as long as he could remember, had taken to keeping her eyes on
"He's not back
from Houston yet," she said. He heard the scrape of a pan against the metal
stovetop. He was sure the pot was empty and she was just trying to act busy, as
she always did when he caught her watching. No doubt she was the one who'd told
Lyssa McElfen, or whatever her name was, he was outside by the pool.
"He's with Ms.
new lady friend. Cody supposed he should be happy for his old man, having been
widowed for more than seven years now. His trips to Houston were becoming longer
and more frequent.
"Has Beau made
himself scarce, too?"
is out with the horses, I think. He's been out a long while and should probably
be in soon. Do you need me to get him?"
Cody sighed, a
fingernail of irritation scratching its way to the surface of his composure. But
he didn't bark out at Isadore. He knew better.
bother. I'll find him."
The last thing
he wanted was for Isadore to rush right out to find Beau. His relationship with
his brother had been tenuous at best since Beau went on the road. He'd left home
nine years ago to pursue fame on the rodeo circuit as a bronc bareback rider,
leaving Cody a pile of ranch work and his dad's bad moods to deal with because
of it. The World Championship title would have been his had he not come back to
Texas and married the daughter of their father's biggest rival, opening up a
rodeo school on the ranch his dad had always wanted for himself.
Thanks to the
accident that took Cody's eyesight, his dear brother was now doing double duty
back at the Silverado Ranch, stepping into Cody's boots as easily as if he'd
never been gone.
"What do you
know about our new guest?"
Isadore's hesitation in her hitch of breath. "Mr. Gentry asked me to get the
guest bedroom ready. She is staying in the room next to yours."
convenient," he groaned, nearly under his breath.
enough, however. Isadore's glare penetrated him, as harsh as the hot Texas sun.
He didn't have to see the scowl on Isadore's face or the fist planted firmly on
her aproned hip to know that was the picture in front of him now.
"You be polite
to her. Ms. McElhannon seems like a very nice young girl."
"I'll be my
usual charming self."
what I'm afraid of."
He fought the
smile that pulled at his cheeks as he felt along the wall of the kitchen and
down the hallway.
He had a good
idea where Beau was at, but the arena was not a place he wanted to be right now.
Not when his nerves were frazzled as if he'd been running a caffeine IV into his
veins all day.
He pushed through the front door. Three steps. He gripped the rail and eased
himself down to the walkway. This was his ranch. He knew every inch of it, had
committed it to memory long ago and could call up any image at will. He didn't
need a stupid dog to help him get around.
The walkway led
to the gravel driveway and beyond that, the field of high grass. He could almost
see the tall blades bending against the light breeze, creating a ripple of green
and gold in the sun. In the distance, he could hear a tractor, most likely
mowing and scoring the piles of clippings to bake in the sun before being tied
toward the sound, slowly, deliberately, noting the sudden change beneath his
boots as he moved from gravel to grass.
"Where are you
heading?" Beau called out from his left. His brother was still a good distance
"For a walk.
You got a problem with that?"
"No, but you
might when you end up in the pond you're heading towards."
Cody groaned as
heat crept up his neck and seared his cheeks. "At least by then I'll know what
direction I'm heading in."
sure. Do you—"
Beau was about
to ask him if he needed anything. A simple question, Cody knew. He just hated
hearing it from his big brother.
New wife, new
baby, Beau seemed to have it all. And now he was here working Cody's horses and
filling his size 12 boots with ease.
he should feel grateful. Although they never seemed to see eye to eye on just
about anything, he trusted Beau like no one else. And yeah, his love for his
brother ran deeper than the earth he was standing on, despite the bad feelings
that had worked their way between them over the years. That was never going to
But right now,
Beau's very presence on the ranch nagged at Cody like an annoying insect. He
didn't want Beau's help. Didn't want anyone's help. He wanted to be able to get
up in the morning and work like he'd done his whole life.
He couldn't see
how his hands had changed over these last eight months, but he knew they had. He
could feel it. The calluses, buried deep in every inch of his palms, had been
there his whole life. A working man's hands. Now they'd grown soft from a lack
of the physical labor that had dug those marks in deep. He fisted his hand and
squeezed, trying to feel what was no longer there.
distance, Cody could hear an unfamiliar dog barking and the musical laugh of a
woman. Not just any woman. Alyssandra Orchid McElfen or whatever.
The woman had a
mouthful of a name to go with that sharp-edged attitude.
Still, as much
as Cody wanted her gone, he couldn't help but wonder what the woman was like.
How that sass in her voice translated to the way she walked or her looks. When
she was angry, did she stand rigid, balling her fists at her hips?
softness his hands had developed, a woman's touch was a softness he'd missed
sorely these past months. And for all the steam Lyssa had spewed at him by the
pool, Cody found himself wondering about the woman whose carefree laughter was
floating to him from the distance.
been an ounce of pity in Lyssa's voice, which to Cody was a welcome relief. If
he heard one more worried syllable asking how he was getting along, he didn't
think he could stand it.
He sighed as he
sat on a section of freshly mowed grass and absentmindedly sifted through the
stray clippings that were now baked bone-dry from the hot sun. It didn't matter
what Lyssa and his father had cooked up for him. He didn't need a dog.
And he didn't
want anyone's pity because his life was now dug deep in a hole. In a matter of
weeks his eyes should be healed enough to try for another transplant. Despite
what his old man thought, Cody hadn't given up. He was dealing with what life
dealt him. His own way.
Lyssa was right
about one thing, he realized as he sat there in the hot sun. Something as simple
as walking across the yard, the same yard that had been his playground as a
child, had become a dangerous affair.
Early on, when
Cody had refused to believe the doctor's assessment that his eyes were shot,
Cody had surged on. He was a worker from the cradle. Hands in dirt, feet in
muck, and he didn't care. Nothing was ever going to keep him down, never mind a
simple chemical accident.
It was just
stupid drain cleaner that had landed him where he was. It wasn't as if the ranch
hadn't had other young hands that were wet behind the ears and stupid in the
ways of basic safety. It had been sheer bad luck that had him in the crossfire
when the chem-ical cocktail the impatient ranch hand had mixed exploded. It was
also Cody's fast action that had prevented that young hand from getting
handful of blades to the ground, he chuckled wryly at the irony. At one time
Isadore had said he had eyes like a hawk, seeing every little detail that
happened on this ranch no matter where he was standing. Every acre was etched in
his memory. He knew every swell of green pasture, every upturned stone that
built the natural fences along the property, as if Mother Nature herself had
laid them that way on purpose. He closed his eyes and imagined it as it had been
the last time he'd sat by the pond and looked out at the ranch he knew so
Ranch had always been his home, and his childhood memories, plentiful and lush,
only dug his roots in deeper, and made the love for this land that much
stronger. It was lost to him now. But the memories were there.
They'd been a
trio as kids, him, Beau and Jackson, running through the fields when their old
man had relieved them of their daily chores. Brock was too young to keep up with
them, the gap in years too wide from the older three boys. Too young to share in
the trouble young boys usually met up with when exploring. And they hadn't
really wanted him tagging along. Not then, anyway.
It was one of
Cody's deepest regrets now. In times of crisis, he could count on his brothers.
But the space in age between Brock and the rest of the Gentry boys had left the
youngest boy on his own more times than not.
beginning, it was always the three of them, tamping down hay fields, running
tracks in the high grass as they played cowboys and Indians. It had been a daily
event, dashing through the vast playground that was theirs. Something as simple
as finding the skeleton of a cow was like the biggest archeological find to
three young boys out on an exploration. Bringing that find home to show their
dad had their chests puffed out with pride.
their dad was just their dad. A cowboy from the cradle like his old man, and his
before him. He used to say the land owned him, not the other way around.
But that had
changed when Hank Promise moved in and bought the property now known as the
Double T Ranch. The father Cody had known and loved had changed. And it had
changed them all. Nothing ever felt the same again.
But what used
to be was now all stored in his mind in a vivid spectrum of color. Now all he
saw when he opened his eyes was a cold blackness.
The dog was
getting closer, Cody realized with uneasiness. The prance of running paws on the
ground grew louder and louder still until he could hear the dog panting. What
was the dog's name again?
Before he could
gather himself up and stand, the dog was by his side, licking his face.
"Knock it off,"
he groused, pushing the dog away with one hand while trying to stand. Despite
his attempt to keep it back, a smile tugged at his lips.
Lyssa commanded, still from a comfortable distance. That little bit of time
allowed Cody to stand up on his own without having to deal with the awkwardness
of declining help.
The dog was
still by his side, panting.
"Your name is
Otis, huh?" He reached out and immediately the dog nuzzled his face to Cody's
palm, allowing him to scratch behind his ears. He bent his head to get closer to
the dog and whispered, "Don't get too used to this. I'm really a mean old
bugger," he said with a slight chuckle.
Otis barked and
In truth, he'd
always loved dogs, all animals really. Something about what this dog represented
gnawed at him though. It wasn't the dog's fault.
"Score one for
Otis. You two look like best buddies already."
He heard the
smile of satisfaction in Lyssa's voice and he snatched his hand away.
"Don't you keep
your dog on a leash?"
She was out of
breath, Cody realized, as if she'd run a mile. And with that image, he pictured
the rise and fall of her chest as she took in air.
It wasn't good
for him to think about Alyssandra McElfen, or whatever her name was, as a woman.
The scent of her drifted to him on a slight gust of wind. A hint of vanilla
mixed in with the sun-baked grass and dirt and gave Cody a heady feeling he
wanted to shake off.
only keep him on his leash when he's in training, so he knows he's working. When
roam free and
exercise I let him. He's a working dog, but he's still a dog."
Otis was back
for more affection and Cody obliged before he could think otherwise.
What breed is he?"
Shepherd. Most guide dogs are retrievers because their temperament is good and
consistent. But we use shepherds, too. He's beautiful, not just his color and
stand, but his personality. He's such a sweet thing."
"Now where have
I heard that before?"
and Cody had the amazing image of Lyssa's nose crinkling just slightly, the
mental image of it making his head swim. He wondered how true that was.
"Don't let him
scare you off," Beau called out. This time the sound of his voice was closer
than it had been before he'd sat down. Terrific. Now he had to deal with his
"She's the one
that brought the beast," Cody said sarcastically.
"I was talking
about you and you know it." He could tell Beau had turned toward Lyssa by the
change in his voice.
"Cody's been an
ornery old goat since the day he was born. Never forgave Doc Masterson for
swatting his behind. But we keep him around for laughs."
"At least I'm
Beau shot back.
"Did you have
anything to do with this?"
no, that was all Dad's doing, but I'm glad he did. It'll be nice having some
female company on the ranch again."
The smile in
Beau's voice was like fingernails to a chalkboard.
"Mandy ought to
"Mandy is the
one who introduced us. She picked Lyssa up from the airport."
"Your wife is
very nice," she said, the smile in her voice so obvious that it had Cody
gritting his teeth. She hadn't talked to him that way.
everyone knows everyone now. Everyone likes everyone. Now I can leave."
Beau's sigh was
more of a grunt. "Well, if it were my choice I'd haul you out to the back of the
barn and beat you with a board like an old rug just for your rudeness. We were
raised better than to treat our guest with so little hospitality."
"I learned from
"Hey, you were
still getting your dirty diaper changed when I was standing up by the—"
No one answered
and Cody took the few seconds of silence to calm himself.
that, ma'am," Beau finally said, quietly.
corrected, her voice soft and sweet as summer rain. It irked Cody to no end how
the smoothness of her voice changed when talking to Beau. With him, she'd been
sharp, her voice holding little of the warmth he heard now.
He supposed he
deserved it. No, he had deserved it. He'd been a horse's behind earlier. Had he
been this ill-mannered with company as a child he probably would have been
hauled out behind the barn for a whippin' by his old man.
Cody turned to
leave, and a wave of panic smacked him square in the chest. His head began to
swim when he realized he had nothing to hold on to, nothing to ground him but
the vast earth beneath his feet. Somehow in the commotion of the dog, the
conversation, he'd gotten himself turned around and now had no idea which
direction to take back to the house.
He hated it.
Hated the helplessness consuming him. Hated even more that now he was forced to
swallow a baseball-sized lump of pride and ask for help.
"I need to
finish up with Sweet Sassy's Smile before I can get back to the Double T. Maybe
you can talk this old bag into showing you around, Lyssa. It was nice meeting
To Cody, Beau
said, "Sassy's coming along real nice. You ought to think about coming out to
see her. I can't imagine why but I think she misses you."
squeezed. Sweet Sassy's Smile, his four-year-old cutting horse, was his pride
and joy. For two years he'd been training her every day. That is, until the
accident. He'd never felt more connected to any living creature as he did when
he was riding her, whether in the arena or out in the fields. It had been a long
time. Too long. It hurt too much.
about it." Cody could hear Beau's wide strides move along the grass, then hit
the dry dirt as he walked away.
A cold ache
settled inside him. He shouldn't be at war with his brother. The things they'd
argued about as kids didn't matter now, and maybe they never had. But to hear
Beau talking about Sassy, knowing he was enjoying the very thing that had driven
Cody his whole life, tore into his soul.
Now Beau was
gone and he was alone with Lyssa, the savior his father brought to the ranch to
exorcise the demons from his son's soul. Or at least get him a little further
than from the house to the pool.
A gust of
breeze kicked up some dust and blew it his way. He had no choice, Cody realized.
Asking Lyssa for help now would be like saying yes to this ridiculous plan they
all had to bring him out into the world again.
Just get it
over with, he told himself sharply. He could lock himself in his room later if
he wanted. Until then he could handle this much humiliation.
Before he could
push the words past the prideful lump in his throat, Lyssa said, "I need to
unpack my things and put out a bowl of water for Otis. If you don't mind, I
would appreciate you showing me to my room."
He would have
sighed with relief if he didn't catch himself. "Showing" Lyssa to her room would
be easy as long as he kept up conversation and followed her to the house.
Maybe she knew
that or sensed his panic. If his father had hired her, she must have been
working with the blind for some time and knew he was standing there practically
wetting his pants with fear. She was a smart woman for handling him when he
didn't want to be handled at all and for that, a smile crept up inside him.
"After you," he
said smoothly. And thank God, he couldn't see her smug smile.
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