A Bachelor Falls Read online





  In one second he went from relaxed to aroused.

  Dear Reader

  Title Page

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Copyright

  In one second he went from relaxed to aroused.

  They were in close quarters, waiting out the rain, when he touched her, and awareness assaulted him with sudden surprise. Wait a minute, he told his overeager body. This is Ellie, my best friend. “I’d better go,” he said, and was amazed by the husk of desire he heard in his voice. “I think the rain may be letting up.”

  “You think so?” She tilted her head back to listen and his senses were filled with her scent, and her hair—all that wild, fragrant hair curled riotously, sensuously into his awareness. He had to get out of here. Now.

  “Ross?” Her voice stopped him. “I just wanted to tell you that no matter what, I still love you. As a friend.”

  “As a friend,” he repeated, as if reminding himself.

  He didn’t know she was going to hug him until he felt her arms around his waist, until her hair brushed against his nose and mouth, teasing him with its fragrant summer sweetness. And he was positive she didn’t know he was going to kiss her until his lips closed over hers and the whole world turned upside down....

  Dear Reader,

  The forecast this spring is for SHOWERS! Not the gloomy, wet kind that bring May flowers, but the baby, bachelor and wedding kind that bring happiness and true love.

  And you’re invited to all three! This month Karen Toller Whittenburg hosts a bachelor party—but it’s a most unusual one, since the best man happens to be a woman!

  Join us next month for a raucous bridal shower in Debbi Rawlins’s The Bride To Be...or Not To Be?

  Confetti’s falling all spring at American Romance! Don’t miss out on any of the fun!

  Happy reading!

  Sincerely,

  Debra Matteucci

  Senior Editor & Editorial Coordinator

  Harlequin Books

  300 East 42nd Street

  New York, NY 10017

  A Bachelor Falls

  KAREN TOLLER WHITTENBURG

  TORONTO • NEW YORK • LONDON

  AMSTERDAM • RARIS • SYDNEY • HAMBURG

  STOCKHOLM • ATHENS • TOKYO • MILAN

  MADRID • WARSAW • BUDAPEST • AUCKLAND

  Chapter One

  “Eliot! Eliot Applegate!”

  Stopping short on the corner of Main and Second Streets, Ellie glanced back to see Aunt Ona Mae Hunyacre barreling down the sidewalk toward her.

  “Whoa-ho! You’re in for it now, Ellie.” Overhead, local handyman Henry Boyd grinned down at her from the bucket of a utility truck as he unfurled the Bachelor Daze festival banner he was in the process of stringing across the intersection. “Ona Mae has been having her dreams again. Better think of a good excuse quick or you’ll be stuck on this street corner until Falls Day.”

  “Be a pal, Henry,” Ellie pleaded. “Rescue me.”

  Henry swept off his Cardinals baseball cap and ran a hand over his nearly bald head. “Come on, Ellie, who do you think I am? Rapunzel?”

  Ellie stuck her hands into the hip pockets of her overalls. “You’re Prince Charming, Henry. Please, lower that bucket and sweep me off my feet.”

  “Now, don’t you go tryin’ to sweet-talk me, Miss Eliot. Besides, you know as well as I do, there’s no escaping Auntie Om when she’s on a tear. She’d just climb up after you and this here bucket ain’t big enough for the three of us.”

  Ellie made a face at him before turning in patient greeting as the town’s reigning eccentric bustled up beside her. “Hello, Auntie,” she said. “How are you, today?”

  “I’ve been better, Eliot. The ringing in my ears is getting so loud I can hardly hear myself think.” The older woman fingered the fifties-style flip of her white hair, checking for stray strands or foreign objects...neither of which was any more likely to appear than the other. “I want to talk to you, Eliot. About a personal matter.” She frowned at the utility truck and at Henry, who was leaning over the edge of the bucket, eavesdropping shamelessly. “We must talk privately.”

  “I’d love a chat, Auntie....” Ellie pulled her left hand from her pocket and glanced purposefully at her wrist, although she never wore a watch. “But I’ve got to get back to the garage. I just ran downtown to make yesterday’s deposit and—”

  “You have time for this.” It was a statement, and when Ona Mae Hunyacre made a statement, she brooked no arguments. If she said you had time, then you had time.

  “Why don’t you walk with me?” Ellie suggested, hoping to corral the dialogue into the ten minutes or so it would take to walk to the auto repair shop. “We can talk on the way.”

  “We’ll cross Main Street and sit on that bench in front of Taylor’s Shoe Shop,” Ona Mae stated. And she set out to cross the street then and there, without so much as a glance in either direction, causing Tommie Nell Eubanks to slam on her brakes and tap the horn of her 1976 Plymouth Barracuda. Ellie offered Tommie Nell a glance of apology before she reluctantly followed Auntie Om across the street.

  If she had been slightly less demanding or slightly more normal, Ona Mae might not have been so difficult to contend with. She was a dear person, really, and she meant well. Just because she believed in alien abductions and the prophetic nature of her dreams was no cause to snub her. Although, in truth, snubbing her had no effect whatsoever. Ellie—and practically every other resident of Bachelor Falls—had tried everything except downright rudeness to escape Auntie Om’s clutches, only to discover that the best way to handle the problem was with affectionate tolerance. Ona Mae might be two raisins short of being a fruitcake, but she was a part of their community and, as such, she was treated with courtesy and respect.

  Ellie did wish she hadn’t run into Ona Mae this busy morning, but there was no way to get out of it now. So, with a sigh, she sank onto the old wooden church pew in front of Taylor’s Shoe Shop, stretched out her legs and settled in for a rambling discourse on dreams and their interpretations, à la Ona Mae. Overhead, the festival banner flapped in the breeze as Henry arm-wrestled it into submission.

  “Sit up straight,” Ona Mae instructed, her own back rigid-straight under the beige, polished cotton of her Donna Reed shirtwaist, her skirt tucked protectively over her knees, her snap clasp, cream patina purse propped pertly on her lap. “I don’t know how you can dress like the farmer’s daughter and expect to find a husband, Eliot. I believe you’d wear those godawful overalls to Sunday morning services if you weren’t aware of the ruckus it would raise.”

  Ellie couldn’t keep from smiling. As if a ruckus would have deterred her. “You’ll be happy to know OshKosh has come out with a floral print pattern for Sundays and special occasions. Of course, I’m saving my new hot pink pair to wear in Kelly’s wedding next month.”

  “Hmmph. You’re not fooling me, Eliot. I know you’re not wearing a pair of tacky pink overalls in the wedding because if there’s anyone more stubborn than you, it’s Kelly...and she won’t let you. You’ll wear sea-foam green just like the other maid of honor.”

  “Now that Lana’s married to Blake, I guess, technically, she’ll be the matron of honor and I’ll be the maid.”

  “Old maid, if you don’t change your ways,” Ona Mae said with a disapproving sniff. “If God had meant for women to wear pants, he’d have given them h