Once Bitten, Twice Shy (Prologue, page 1 of 4)

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He poured carbonated red grape juice into a long-stemmed glass and set the bottle back in the refrigerator. With the glass in one hand and the letter in another, he sauntered into his office. The handwriting on the letter was neat and feminine. Taking a sip of the wine colored liquid, he sat the glass in a coaster on the smooth mahogany desk and dropped the letter beside it.

The room was too warm. Every time the weather got cold outside, other residents in the complex cranked their heaters up and then he had to adjust his own thermostat. He removed his jacket, folding it carefully and placing it over the back of the visitor's chair. Loosening his tie, he dropped into the leather office chair and picked up the envelope.

"Alexander Mathew Barnett," he read aloud. His laugh was little more than an expulsion of air.

Only in the last year had his sister started writing, and it was always stiff and formal. At least she was willing to communicate now. No doubt the opening of dialog was due to her roommate. Carmen must be quite a woman to inspire such admiration from Katie. He'd like to meet her sometime.

He pulled out a drawer and selected a wooden handled letter opener with gold inlay. Slicing the end of the envelope open with one smooth movement, he placed the letter opener back where it belonged and shoved the drawer shut. Pressing on the sides of the envelope to open the end, he blew into it, exposing the letter inside. As he plucked the letter out, a picture fell on the table, face down.

"Carmen at the fair," was written on the back of it.

He flipped it over as he opened the letter. One glance led to a double-take and then he abandoned the letter. He sat up straight and picked up the picture, whistling in admiration. Blond curls framed one of the prettiest faces he had ever seen. The smile with those full lips was sad, sweet and somehow innocent. She was squatting beside a goat, one knee lower than the other.

He leaned back in his chair, the letter forgotten as he studied the girl in the picture. She looked to be about twenty-two or three. In his mind's eye, he had pictured her much older - probably because of the way Katie spoke of her. A girl that young didn't usually have much common sense.

The swell of well developed breasts peeked from a tank top that might have looked suggestive on someone else. This lady wore it with the finesse of a duchess. In modest shorts, her legs were smooth - shapely, without the sharp angles of a muscular build. Slim ankles and lean upper thighs gave her the look of a model. And yet, according to Katie, she ran a budding goat dairy on a run-down farm in Northwest Arkansas.

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