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Mitch Carver hesitated as he came into the bright, shiny new chrome and glass office he'd been assigned. Everything in him was rebelling. How many times had he vowed he would never work here in his family's company? And yet, here he was.
He swore softly to himself, looking at the huge desk, the sleek computer, the neatly stacked booksthe shackles of a business-man's life. And then he caught sight of himself in the reflection from the floor-to-ceiling window. He was wearing a suit, for God's sake. The hair that was usually long and untamed, the better to let him slip unnoticed into life on the wild side, had been trimmed short and neat. The beard and mustache were gone. It had been years since he'd looked so conventional. And he hated it.
"You win again, Dad," he muttered dryly. But only for one year. That was all he'd promised.
A sound turned his head. It was coming from what he assumed must be his new executive lounge. He stared at the closed door. He'd been told this entire floor was emptya clean slate he was to fill with his own entrepreneurial genius, such as it was. Somethingor someonehad been overlooked. There seemed to be humming going on.
A feminine voice sang out, low and bluesy. Mitch cocked an eyebrow. This was interesting. The voice was incredibly sexy.
Then her voice trailed off as though she'd forgotten the words.
He bit back a grin. There was definitely a woman in his brand-new washroom. A stowaway. Maybe a squatter. And if she looked anything like she sounded The hair on his arms was bristlingalways a good sign.
Surely she hadn't been left here on purpose, just for him. But you never did know. This bore looking into and was certainly more interesting than any business he was going to be conducting today.
"Hello," he called out.
There was no answer, but suddenly a weird hush hung in the air.
"Who's there?" he tried again. Nothing. He frowned. He couldn't leave it at that.
"I'm coming in," he warned, waited a moment for a response, then tried the door. It opened to his touch and there stood a young woman, dripping wet and naked except for a fat, fluffy towel, which was slipping precariously.
"Hey!" she cried, reaching quickly to stop the towel's impending dive toward the cold tile floor.
"You!" he said in turn, wondering for a fraction of a second if he was dreaming. This was a face, after all, that had haunted his sleep for months a year or so ago. A faceand a bodyhe couldn't forget, even while slogging his way through the Brazilian rain forest or trekking past the hidden villages that dotted the foothills of the Himalayas. He'd known her for how long? Less than forty-eight hours. And yet, out of all the women he'd ever met, she'd stuck in his thoughts like like the refrain of a low, bluesy song you couldn't get out of your mind.
Yeah, he told himself cynically. A guilty conscience will do that to you.
Guilty for treating a woman such as this like a one-night-stand. Guilty for seducing a woman whose relationship to an old friend had never been made exactly clear. Guilty for letting a strong attraction take over and push away all concerns about anything but his own raging desire. He could try to blame it on the exotic intoxication of a Paris night, but he knew very well it had been his own fault. She'd bewitched him, but he'd asked for it.
"Mitch Carver?" she said, dark eyes wide with shock.
He grimaced. The feeling was mutual.
No one liked to face a reminder of his own weakness.
"Darcy Connors," he recalled, noting her confirmation as she nodded, looking numb. "Did I get the wrong office?" he asked her quizzically. "Or are you just passing through?"
She was still staring at him as though she were seeing a ghost.
He shrugged. "Never mind. I'm always happy to share with an old uh friend," he said, silently cursing himself for hesitating before the word. "Carry on. I'll just go and "
"What are you doing here?" she demanded, clutching the towel up to her chin. "I thought you said you'd never come back to Texas."
He wasn't any happier to see her than she was to see him, but he was beginning to feel she was overdoing it a bit. The tragic look she was giving him was hardly fair. After all, he wasn't an ax murderer or anything like that.
"I've said a lot of things I shouldn't have in my time," he admitted. "Things change. Sometimes you've got to eat a little crow. See this?" He gestured toward his mouth. "Covered with feathers at the moment. That was one tough bird."
She frowned as though she was still too surprised at seeing him to get his little joke. He took in all of her, the dripping hair, the shimmering drops on her thick eyelashes, the creamy skin and those long, lovely, silky legs he remembered from that moonlit night.
That unforgettable moonlit night. For just a moment it flooded back, the soft air, the sound of water parting as the Bateau Mouche moved along the Seine, a distant jazz singer, notes from an accordion, lights making patterns against a set of statues, trees, wrought-iron balconies. She'd shivered slightly and he'd put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to keep off the chill. She'd curled up against him and whispered something and he'd laughed, catching her scent and turning .
Wow. Snap out of it, he told himself sharply, remembering exactly why this woman was so dangerous to him. For some reason she'd appealed to his senses in a basic, primal way he couldn't ignore. And looking at her now, he knew nothing had changed. Everything about her seemed to tug at his libido.
And that just didn't make any sense. She wasn't his type at all. She had "happily ever after" written all over her. And he was a "here today, gone tomorrow" type of guy. Oil and water. They didn't mix well and it was dangerous to try. At least that was the way it was in his world.
"So you're not in France anymore," he noted.
She stared at him so intensely, he almost took a step backward, and at the same time, he realized there was one thing that had changed. She'd fallen for him that night just as hard as he'd tumbled for her. He'd seen it in her eyes, felt it in every move she made. But that was all gone now. Her gaze was wary and speculative. Her body language was defensive. She looked like a woman who expected to be under attack. And she definitely wished he hadn't shown up on her doorstep.
That triggered his curiosity. He knew why he wanted to stay away from her. But why did she want to stay away from him? Was she angry that he hadn't tried to contact her in the last two years? Or did it have something to do with that same guilt he was feeling?
"No, I'm not in France anymore," she admitted. "I transferred to Atlanta first, but they needed me here, so I packed up again and moved to the San Antonio area. And here I am, in Terra Dulce."
Here she was. Which meant they were going to be working in near proximity for the next year. He nodded, not really sure why that gave him such a feeling of foreboding. After all, when you came right down to it, they hardly knew each other. Just because they'd shared that one night in Paris didn't mean they had to be buddies. They didn't have to see each other socially just because they had both landed back in the same town. They would probably just greet each other in the halls now and then and leave it at that. He wasn't going to be here all that long, anyway. Keep it casual. That was the ticket.
"I heard about what happened to Jimmy," he said softly, mentioning the friend whose Paris apartment was the place he and Darcy had met. Jimmy had been killed in a race car incident just days after Mitch had left France for Brazil. "Sorry I didn't hear in time to make the funeral."
She looked nonplussed for a moment, then nodded.
He could have said more. He could have explained that he was in a South American jail about the time Jimmy was being eulogized, not sure if he was going to make it out alive himself. Of course, he obviously had been released. The odd time in various jails was just one of the minor drawbacks of his chosen line of work. But that seemed a bit much to lay on her at the moment.
Jimmy had been their tie, and at the same time, what might now stand between them.
Mitch and Jimmy had been childhood friends. They'd lost touch after high school, but he'd heard that Jimmy was working in Paris, and when he was passing through, he'd looked him up. He'd found his old friend changed and a bit distant, but he'd also found Darcy. She was living with Jimmy but it was never clear to him just what their relationship was, and he had to admit, he hadn't really wanted to know. She had seemed eager to get out of the tiny, cramped apartment so the two of them had left Jimmy behind and taken in the sights and sounds of the French city. Very quickly it had been as though Jimmy didn't exist. For the next day and a half, they had been so wrapped up in each other, nothing else seemed to matter.
"He was a great guy," he said gruffly.