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A full moon shone and stars twinkled in the velvety sky overhead. It was shaping up to be a beautiful October evening, Lewis McCabe thought, as he strode briskly up the steps of the Remington ranch house. Before he could press the doorbell, the front door opened. Jenna Lockhart Remington stepped across the threshold, the look on her face anything but welcoming. "I know why you're here," the elegant older woman said firmly.
"You do?" Lewis McCabe murmured. Darn it, had his four brothers phoned ahead to make his plan public before he put it into action? If so, there was going to be heck to pay, he decided grimly, and then some.
"And although — " Mrs. Remington paused to shrewdly peruse Lewis from head to toe, none of her customary hospitality evident " — I can see your need is dire — "
How could she have known how long it had been since he'd had a date? Lewis thought in irritation. Then again, this was Laramie, Texas, where everyone was family, and nothing stayed secret for long.
"Lexie is here on vacation."
"Exactly," Lewis said, glad they were no longer talking at cross purposes. "I figured since your stepdaughter's in town again I'd use the opportunity to — "
"Take advantage of her kind and generous nature?" Mrs. Remington scolded, clearly annoyed.
Was Mrs. Remington intimating he was a pity date? That Lexie would only go out with him if she felt sorry for him? "I assure you, Mrs. Remington, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Lexie," he said sincerely, determined to do whatever it took to get an audience with the woman he'd had his eye on for what seemed like forever. "I hold her in highest regard."
"Which is, of course, exactly why you are here," Mrs. Remington interrupted. "Because Lexie is so successful."
Given the fact this conversation had started off on the wrong foot, and had been going down the wrong path ever since, Lewis wasn't sure what to say to that. "Of course I admire what Lexie has done professionally," he admitted. "Everyone around here does." Thanks to her stunning fashion sense, she'd become every bit the celebrity her clients were.
Footsteps sounded in the background. Jake Remington, Lexie's father, appeared at his wife's side, his tall, lanky frame filling the doorway. Jake nodded at Lewis. "McCabe."
"Mr. Remington." Lewis stuck out his hand. After a moment, Jake shook it. Encouraged, Lewis continued, "I was just telling Mrs. Remington that I — "
"My wife is right," Jake Remington interrupted imperiously "There is no way Jenna and I are going to let Lexie see you. Because if we do and you ask her what darn near everyone else around here wants to ask her right now — "
Lewis swore inwardly. "Other guys have been here ahead of me?" He thought he'd gotten the jump on this, since Lexie had only arrived here from London, via her father's private jet, earlier in the day.
"Let's just say you're not the first to come calling," Mrs. Remington replied. "And the answer to everyone was the same. Lexie is not receiving guests at this time."
"Well, then when will she be?" Lewis asked, doing his best to maintain a positive outlook. Not easy, given how unfairly he was being shot down.
Jake and Jenna looked at each other. "As far as we're concerned, never," Jake said. "At least during this visit."
The thought of letting Lexie leave town without seeing her — again — did not sit well with Lewis, maybe because so many chances to connect had already passed them by. Deciding he wasn't going to let the Remingtons's assessment of his chances with Lexie decide the matter, Lewis insisted as politely as possible, "I just need a moment of her time. I won't stay. I promise."
Jenna sighed, looking thoroughly conflicted. She ran a hand through her short red-gold hair before frowning at Lewis. "She'd say yes, you know. All it would take is one look at you, and she'd be agreeing to whatever you asked."
"And that would not be good for her," Jake Remington clapped a firm hand on Lewis's shoulder. "You need to go, son."
Lewis dug in his heels. He did not want to leave it like this. "Maybe the next time she's home," Mrs. Remington offered gently before putting an abrupt end to the conversation. The door shut and silence fell on the wide front porch of the elegant limestone ranch house.
Lewis stood there a moment longer, aware he hadn't felt this foolish since he was twenty-three and failed to get up the nerve to talk to Lexie when she was home from college on fall break. Eight years had passed...and apparently little had changed. Swearing silently to himself, he turned and started down the porch steps to his SUV. He was almost there when he heard what sounded like a tapping noise. He turned in the direction of the house and saw Lexie Remington framed in an upstairs window, looking as heart-stoppingly beautiful as ever. She motioned to him, and pointed urgently toward the rear of the house. Then, with one last glance over her shoulder, to see if he were following, she disappeared from view.
A mixture of anticipation and excitement rippling through him, Lewis strode around the ranch house. At the rear of the house, Lexie was standing in an open second-floor window in what appeared to be an old-fashioned white lawn nightgown, with a high neck and long, billowing sleeves. Her strawberry-blond hair flowing in untamed waves around her slender shoulders, she looked like a princess in a turret. All she was missing was the tiara and he wouldn't have been surprised if she'd had one of those around some place. Arms on the sill, she leaned down toward him and invited in a soft, mischievous voice that further fueled his dreams, "Come on up."
Lewis didn't know whether to laugh or try and wake himself up from what was obviously the wildest fantasy he'd ever had. "How?" he whispered back, aware it was only seven-thirty and Lexie was already dressed for bed. Another anomaly in this increasingly bizarre situation. The Lexie he recalled had always been as much of a night person as he was. No way she would have gone straight from dinner into bed, even if she had just crossed theAtlantic Ocean. No way she would have worn such a ridiculously old-fashioned nightgown.
"Climb up the trellis," she urged merrily, her alluring lips curving into a sexy smile.
Blood rushed through Lewis's veins. Had her breasts always been that curvaceous and full, her features so delicate and sensual? "You're kidding." He couldn't take his eyes from her face.
Her lovely features took on an air of challenge. To his disappointment, she tossed her head and shrugged as if it didn't matter to her in the least. "Do you want to meet me with me or not?"
Lewis didn't have to be asked twice.
LEXIE STOOD GUARD in her dimly lit bedroom while Lewis
McCabe climbed up the trellis with a great deal more ease than she expected. By the time he hauled himself over her windowsill and into the bedroom she had inhabited during her youth, her heart was pounding. Why exactly, she couldn't say. It wasn't as if the two of them had ever meant anything to one another. They'd barely spoken to each other, although, it had been hard not to be aware of Lewis McCabe. He was just so darn smart. And, when he let his guard down, witty. She had lived for his subtle wisecracks and droll sense of humor.
Not that he had ever cared. Or noticed.
But he was here now. To see her. And how time had changed them both. He was taller than she recalled. Much taller. At least six-three. And buff. His shoulders were broad, his arms, chest, abdomen and legs — solid muscle. His face had filled out, too, giving him a ruggedly masculine appeal, a big departure from the hopelessly nerdy boy she recalled from her youth.
These days, his well-defined lips had a confident slant, and his angular jaw emanated power and determination. And yet, despite the fact that Lewis McCabe was now very much a man's man, some things remained almost the same. His lively blue-gray eyes were still framed by the wire-rimmed glasses she had always found oh-so-sexy. His spiky light brown hair had hints of chestnut and gold woven throughout, although Lewis still hadn't found a good barber. His clothes were...well...horrendous, but that was why he was trying so hard to see her. Because he knew he needed her help retooling his image. And he might not know it, yet, but she needed his help, too.
Lexie decided to cut straight to the chase. "I heard you talking to my parents and I know what you wanted to ask me. The answer is yes."
Lewis couldn't seem to stop looking at her long, white nightgown. Good thing he didn't know how little she had under the deftly camouflaging fabric.... Now if only she could get her body to stop reacting to his presence.
"You're serious," Lewis said incredulously.
He didn't have to look so surprised, Lexie thought irritably, as she brushed her hair away from her face. "I know you need my expertise in this area, and I am perfectly willing to help you come up with a personal style that better suits your position as CEO and president of McCabe Computer Games. You're not just a computer genius, Lewis, you're a successful executive now. You've got to dress the part."
To Lexie's surprise, Lewis wasn't looking as pleased by her offer as she had expected. Perhaps because he had taken offense? Call it a hazard of her profession, but she did tend to be a tad blunt when summing up a client's style woes. She flushed self-consciously and forced a smile. "I'll waive my regular fee."
Again, Lewis McCabe didn't appear to know whether to be pleased by her generous offer, or insulted.
"Instead," she forced herself to continue matter-of-factly,
"I want something much more valuable from you."
Having apparently recovered from the sight of her in the impossibly chaste nightgown, he strolled past her and settled confidently on the edge of her four-poster bed. He flashed her with a challenging half smile. "Okay, I'm all ears," he prodded dryly.
Lexie swallowed, trying hard not to notice how at home he looked in her bedroom. "I heard you and your brother Brad have a ranch now — with horses."
Lewis nodded, interest clearly piqued. "The Lazy M." Lexie raked her teeth across her lower lip. Her heart pounded at the implacable note in his low voice. "I want to go riding tonight." The brisk October weather was perfect for an evening ride.
Lewis shrugged, unconcerned. "Put your jeans and boots on. I'll take you."
She edged close enough to inhale the brisk masculine scent of his cologne. "It's not that simple," she said, keeping her voice low enough so they wouldn't be overheard.
Some emotion Lexie couldn't quite identify flickered in Lewis's eyes. "Of course it isn't," he replied knowingly.
Lexie felt the heat in her chest spread upward to her face. She told herself it was tension — and not his proximity — causing her heart to pound. "I can't just walk out of here."
Lewis cocked his head. "I don't see why not," he told her frankly. "You are a grown woman."
Yes. She was. Unfortunately, not everyone around her accepted that. "My parents want me home tonight." And every other day and night for the next two weeks.
"I gathered that." Lewis rubbed the flat of his palm across the underside of his closely shaven jaw. Still keeping his eyes focused firmly on hers, he added playfully, "The question is why are they locking you in your little tower up here?"
"I'm not locked in! Well, not literally anyway," Lexie amended hurriedly, as his gaze trailed lazily over her hair, face and lips before returning to her eyes. "And the reason Jenna and my father are working so hard to keep me home and undisturbed is that they have gotten it into their heads that I need to catch up on my rest."
Lewis couldn't mask the concern in his eyes. "You want my opinion?" he asked. "You are looking a little...peaked."
Lexie knew her skin didn't have the sun-kissed glow of his. She rolled her eyes. "Give me a break. I've been in London, where it's done nothing lately but rain."
He narrowed his assessing gaze even more. "A few cloudy days don't cause skin to be that pale."
How was it that Lewis saw what those who were supposed to be close to her had failed to notice? "Then it's the nightgown," Lexie argued back, refusing to admit to the real reason behind her pale skin and tense, agitated state. "The white color washes out my skin."
He grinned, all mischief again. "I was wondering about that," he teased, getting slowly and deliberately to his feet. "You used to be such a tomboy." He sauntered closer, inundating her with his size.
Her pulse racing, Lexie leaned her head back, to better see into his face. "Still am, at heart," she drawled right back, knowing that much was only too true. As a child, she'd played outdoors constantly and rarely wore a dress — and then only under protest.
Lewis fingered the stand-up lace collar. "Then why the frilly getup?" he teased.
She drew a breath and stepped back before his hand brushed the delicate skin of her throat, or the equally sensitive under-side of her chin. "All the clothes I brought with me from England are in the wash. So I had to pick something that was still in my closet here to wear when I got out of the shower."
A muscle worked in his jaw. "You really wore something like this?" he asked, doing a double take.