“Or maybe you could see our place as an investment?” she continued. “Turn it into one of your destination resorts? I know my dad wasn’t too excited about that, but,” she shrugged, “I think maybe he was wrong.”
I had tried to talk to Harlan back in the day. He’d shut the idea down fast.
“Declan, I swear, if you give me a loan I’ll pay you back every penny with interest. And I’ll work hard to do it. You name the terms.”
Our eyes locked, hers heated and passionate, mine still cool and controlled. “I name the terms.” My voice came out low, commanding.
She swallowed, nervous. My gaze caressed her, down her throat, resting on her gorgeous breasts straining against that white t-shirt. I wanted to bring my hands to them, fingers teasing, lightly pinching her nipples to make her gasp. As if responding to my fantasy, her breath drew into a soft pant. Fuck if her nipples didn’t tighten, hardening for me into two pebbles stretched against the thin fabric. She’d always been so responsive, so suggestive of how nasty she might get right beneath that light surface of perfect.
Through the speaker on my phone, my assistant’s crisp, professional voice announced, “Sir, your next appointment is here.”
I’d like to hear Kara call me “sir.” She flushed. I wondered if she could read my mind.
“Two minutes,” I responded. This meeting was over. But I wasn’t done with Kara, not yet.
Leaning forward in my chair, the stealth of a panther stalking its prey, I told Kara, “I’ll consider it.” She waited for more, trapped and nervous. “Tonight, seven o’clock,” I continued. “Meet me for dinner at the restaurant in the Stanyon Hotel. Do you know it?”
She shook her head no.
“Fig and Fennel, a couple of blocks from here.” I stood up and slowly approached her. I loved her temper. I couldn’t resist stoking it, playing with it. I liked seeing a flash of anger in her eyes a hell of a lot more than the sadness I’d seen creeping around the edges. Raising an index finger to her, I issued a challenge. “You want a loan? Give me your best pitch.”
She arched an eyebrow, disbelieving and a little pissed off. “My best pitch?”
“I’m not easy to persuade,” I continued, moving closer. When you stood over six feet tall, you could use your height to your advantage, take your time and then draw yourself up to own all of the space around you.
I looked down at her. She was 5’6” and all curves. My voice low and slightly teasing, I told her, “You need to sell me. You’d better bring it.”
Now with a hot blaze of anger in her eyes, Kara glared at me with defiance. “Seven o’clock. I’ll be there.”
I towered over her, holding her gaze and I could see her breathing grow shallow. Clearly needing to create some distance, she took a step back. And another. I kept my focus on her and gave a nod of dismissal. She turned around and practically ran out of my office.
I watched her hustle away. If she had any sense at all she would keep on moving, skip dinner in favor of a long drive back to her ranch. She’d realize that she had far safer options than what I offered.
Kara Brooks. The one I’d wanted most. The one I’d never gotten to have. Not really, not the way I wanted her, for days on end, pounding and relentless as she moaned and screamed for more.
Back when I’d known her, I’d still had nothing. I’d been the kid pressing my nose up against the window of the candy shop, licking my lips and salivating over a sweet hopelessly out of reach.
Kara was the candy. And now I wasn’t just being offered up a platter of treats. I was being handed the keys to the whole fucking store.
It was the first hot afternoon of the spring, early April and already into the 80s. And it was Friday to boot. My friends and I had a bonfire planned that night down by the lake. I was stopping home for a second to grab a few things and pull on my new bikini, pink gingham with a ruffle up top. My best friend Mandy said it was super cute and she had great taste, but I still felt self-conscious about it.
I’d developed a lot over the years, heading on down the alphabet from Bs to Cs and I seemed to be getting even closer to D-cups every day. Sometimes it was fun, I liked how I filled things out, but sometimes it felt like too much. I could still remember racing around in nothing but a t-shirt, no worries, but I guessed that was a good four or even five years ago. Time was a funny thing. Now at 18 when I cheered with the squad I had to wear not one jog bra but two to tame the girls. The twins, as my boyfriend Bruce liked to call them. Ha ha.
We’d started dating a few months ago. It all seemed kind of inevitable. I was a cheerleader, co-captain with Mandy for senior year. Bruce was the quarterback. We looked good together, both blond and blue-eyed. Ken and Barbie. My daddy liked that we were a couple. He liked to talk about how Bruce came from a good family, as if that upped my chances for having the same someday. Bruce’s daddy was the mayor and folks talked about him getting ready to run for governor, maybe even try for a senate seat one day. He sure did like the public spotlight and never missed a photo op. He seemed to like me and Bruce together, too, taking more than a few pics with one arm around his son’s shoulder, one arm around mine.
We’d taken one that afternoon at the pep rally at school. Technically, spring sports were track and softball, but they didn’t exactly draw the crowds. Our football and basketball teams were a different story, though. Pretty much the whole town turned out for their games, which I know wasn’t saying too much for a town of 2,700, but we made the most out of what we had. And we certainly knew how to party. Our football team had made it into the state championships earlier that year and the whole town was still high off of it. We kept making up excuses to cheer and rally and bring the boys back into the gym, even if this time it was in the name of finishing up the school year.
That’s why I was in my cheerleading uniform that afternoon. We’d bounced out into the gym and gotten the crowd all hyped up, given everyone a chance to scream and shout. But it wasn’t as if I was going to wear my uniform out to the lake. I needed to change.
I pulled up by the side of the house pretty quick. The dust billowed out from the tires of my truck. Daddy was always telling me to slow down, saying I was going to break my neck one of these days. But I knew those old country roads like the back of my hand and nothing felt better than ripping around on them, windows rolled down, wind in my hair, tunes blasting from the radio as I tapped on the steering wheel and sang my heart out.
As the dust settled, I realized Daddy was standing out by the house. And he wasn’t alone.
You know how I said time was funny? Sometimes it speeds up real fast but other times it stretches out slow as molasses. Well, when I stepped out of that truck and got a good look at the man standing next to my father, time just about stopped.
He was long and lean, slim hips and strong shoulders, so sexy and rugged. He stood with one hand in the pocket of his jeans, watching me underneath the brim of his cowboy hat with heavy, low-lidded eyes. There was something about him, some kind of dark and powerful magnetism that made me forget to breathe.
I’d probably seen one too many old movies. My dad and I loved to stay up late with a bowl of popcorn and watch black and white classics. When I looked at him, I saw James Dean in a black leather jacket, a cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth. I half expected him to have a motorcycle nearby. He’d straddle it, look over his shoulder and give me the nod to come along. I’d jump up next to him, pressed in close in a hot second.
“Kara, when are you gonna slow down?” My daddy waved his hand through the air, real theatrical over the dust.
“I was going the speed limit, Daddy.” For the Interstate. I batted my eyelashes.
“Don’t you give me that innocent look.” But he was smiling at me. I had him wrapped around my pinky finger. But I didn’t take advantage of it. Much. He’d had it rough, losing my mom in childbirth with me. We were all either of us had, so we took care of each othe
r. And I sometimes gave him a splitting headache with my music and acted like a pain in the rear staying out too late. But I was a teenager, after all. It was practically written into my contract to be a problem every now and then.
“Come on over here and meet Declan. He’s going to be helping us out through the summer.”