He watched as she caught her lower lip between her teeth as if to keep it from trembling with the remembered pain. “What are your plans for Easter Sunday?” he couldn’t help but ask.
“I don’t have any. I’ll go to a sunrise service at church and will probably spend the rest of the day at home relaxing and reading.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “What about dinner?”
She shrugged. “I’ll pull out a microwave dinner and enjoy the day that way.”
Jared tried shifting his attention back to his food but couldn’t fully concentrate on what he was eating. Because of his large family, he had grown up loving the holidays and even looked forward to them, although lately his mother’s interfering had tempered his anticipation.
An idea suddenly popped into Jared’s head. His mother was expecting him to bring someone to dinner so why not Dana? When his mother and his aunt Evelyn got together, the two women cooked up a storm. That had to be better than a microwave dinner. “How would you like to join me for Easter dinner at my parents’ home?” He could tell that his invitation surprised her.
“You’re inviting me to dinner at your parents’ place?”
She shook her head, as if still not understanding. “But, why? We barely know each other.”
Jared knew he had to level with her. “It just so happens that you can help me out of a jam.”
Dana lifted a brow. “What kind of jam?”
“My mother is obsessed. Lately, a number of my cousins have gotten married and since none of her six sons are rushing to follow suit, she’s taken it upon herself to prod us along. I’m the oldest so I’m feeling the heat more than the others. She expects me to set an example by bringing someone to dinner. And since I recall you owe me a favor, I figured now’s the time to collect.”
Dana blinked and then she released a deep sigh. Jared could tell she had forgotten about her promise. “But I’m sure there’re plenty of women you’ve dated who would love going to dinner with you at your parents’ home,” she implored.
Jared nodded as he continued to smile. “Yes, but if I take any of them they might get the wrong impression and think that I’m actually interested in a serious relationship. Besides, my mother and aunt are good cooks. All you’ll have to do is show up with me, endure the likes of my family and join in with the birthday festivities. I understand it’s a lot to ask, but I’d really appreciate it if you’d come. It will definitely get Mom off my back.”
Jared watched as she nervously gnawed her bottom lip. He had presented the situation just as it was.
Dana met his gaze. She had felt that pull between them, that physical attraction, so to consider being in Jared’s company for any reason wasn’t a good idea. But, she did owe him a favor and she’d always been taught to keep her word. “And it’s just this one time?”
“Yes, just this one time,” he assured her. “But to pull this off, we’ll need a convincing story. I think it would be a good idea if I called you one day this week to discuss answers to the questions I have a feeling my family will ask.”
Dana frowned. “What kind of questions?”
Jared grinned. “Oh, the usual, like how long have we known each other? When and how we met? How serious are things between us? And there’s a strong chance my mother might get downright personal and want to know if you’ve moved in with me yet, whether you’re capable of producing babies and if so, how many you’re willing to have.”
Dana blinked, then laughed out loud. Jared thought it was a beautiful sound; and in all honesty, the deep rumble in her throat was a blatant turn-on.
“You aren’t serious, are you?” she asked, bringing her laughter under control.
He chuckled. “Unfortunately, I am. Just wait until you meet my mother for yourself. Marrying off one of her sons seems to be her number-one priority.”
Dana raised an arched brow. “And marriage is something you have an aversion to?”
“Yes. I handle enough divorce cases to know that most marriages don’t last.”
He watched as she sat back in her chair with a thoughtful expression on her face. “So will you be my date that day?”
Dana considered Jared’s invitation. After a few moments she nodded her agreement.
Jared smiled, pleased with the turn of events. “Thanks, Dana. I appreciate you helping me out of this jam. You don’t know how much it means to be able to get my mother off my back.”
D ana glanced down at her watch. Jared was coming to pick her up at any moment and she was a nervous wreck.
They had talked on the phone earlier in the week to get prepared for his family’s inquisition. Just hearing his voice had sent sensuous chills all through her body and reminded her that she was definitely a woman, something she had forgotten since her breakup with Luther.
That reminder came with a mixture of empowerment and restraint. The last thing she needed was to test emotional waters that were best left uncharted. All she had to do was remember what had happened with Luther to know that, woman or not, the last thing she wanted was to become vulnerable to any man again.
Dana almost jumped when she heard the sound of her doorbell. She inhaled deeply and reminded herself that she probably wouldn’t see Jared again after today so there was no reason for her to come unglued. She released a sigh of relief and opened the door.
Jared gazed at Dana and quickly pulled in a deep breath. If he thought that she was gorgeous before, today she had surpassed his memories. He’d always had a healthy sex drive, but seeing her standing in the doorway with all that glorious hair spread over her shoulders and wearing a pair of jeans that hugged her curvy figure and a pretty knit top, had him wondering how he would get through the day.
“Hi, Jared, please come in.”
“Thanks. You look nice.”
She smiled and stepped back as he entered and closed the door behind him. “Thank you. I just need to grab my purse,” she said, walking off toward a room he assumed was her bedroom.
He was glad for the extra time to pull himself together. The woman was sexy and feminine all rolled into one.
Trying to distract himself, he glanced around her living room. It was nicely decorated in bright colors and with upscale furnishings. He felt something rubbing against his leg and looked down and smiled. “Hey, where did you come from?” he asked, leaning down and picking up a beautiful black cat.
“I’m ready now,” Dana said, reentering the room. She smiled when she saw him holding her cat. “I see you’ve met Tom.”
Jared chuckled. “Oh, that’s his name?”
“Yes. I’ve had him for a couple of years, since he was a kitten. Now he’s spoiled rotten but great company.”
“He’s a handsome fellow,” Jared said as he continued to pet the animal.
“Shh, don’t say that too loud. He’s conceited enough already,” Dana whispered.
Jared smiled as he placed Tom back on the floor. When he straightened back to his full height he met Dana’s gaze. Desire shot all the way through him and with an effort he swallowed. “Ready?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m ready.”
“Welcome to our home, Dana. I’m so glad that Jared brought you.”
Dana suddenly found herself swept into strong arms as a woman who she figured to be Jared’s mother gave her a gigantic hug. She had expected a nice welcome but certainly not this outpouring of affection.
“Thanks for having me,” Dana said once the woman released her. She glanced up at Jared. Their gazes met and held. His expression was unreadable and she couldn’t help wondering what he was thinking.
Dana noticed a sudden thickness in her throat when she remembered how she’d felt when Jared had arrived at her place, exactly at noon. The only thing she could think was that even dressed in jeans and a pullover shirt he looked polished, suave, debonair and sensual.
“You two can give each other that dreamy-eyed look later,” Sarah Westmoreland said, beaming. “Come on in, everyone is anxious to meet Dana.”
Jared shook his head, catching himself and regaining his concentration. The last thing he wanted was for his mother to get any ideas that Dana was more than just a dinner date. “I take it that we’re the last to arrive,” he said, placing his hand at the small of Dana’s back while his mother led them through the foyer.
“Quade isn’t here but he called to say that he’s on his way.”
Jared nodded. His brother Quade was involved in security activities for the Secret Service and often missed family gatherings because of it. But it wasn’t from lack of trying to be present. Like all Westmorelands, Quade enjoyed family get-togethers.
Jared could hear voices coming from the living room and took another look at Dana. He had intended it to be a quick look but even in the daylight, the soft glow from the crystal chandelier overhead seemed to enhance her beauty. There was something about the shape of her mouth—he wondered how it would feel under his when he…
“My goodness, Jared, will you stop staring at Dana like that!” his mother scolded in a chuckling voice.
Damn. He hadn’t realized he’d been staring again. He kept forgetting just how observant his mother was; her eyes missed nothing. His mother was smiling and for the first time he wondered if perhaps he had made a mistake in inviting Dana. If his mother noticed his attention to her, he could just imagine what the other family members would think. That meant he had to keep his cool and not appear so taken with her.