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He'd approve of the way the garment's draping neckline made the most of her long neck and modest cleavage, the slinky short skirt skimming her legs. Privately, she thought they were her best feature, shapely and muscular thanks to an active lifestyle.
Seeing herself as more Australian stock horse than thoroughbred, she usually threw on whatever suited her schedule, not much caring about the result.
Realizing what she was doing, she flung the dress onto the bed, where it pooled innocently. Why did she care what Ryan thought of her appearance? He was only one of the boys her father and mother had fostered throughout most of Judy's life.
After she was born, they'd been unable to have more children although they'd desperately wanted a large family. Her father still treated her like fragile china, although these days he was the frail one with a heart that threatened to stop beating at any moment.
She frowned at her mirrorimage. Des Logan was the reason she was going out with Ryan tonight. Not on a date, but to decide how best they could help her father. Des wouldn't accept money, not that Ryan had much to offer. Of all the Logan foster sons, he was the least successful. He supported himself doing casual jobs on cattle stations throughout the Kimberley. Nothing wrong with that, but by Ryan's age most men had something more substantial going for them.
If Judy hadn't run across Ryan unexpectedly when she flew supplies to a remote Kimberly cattle station where he'd been working, he would still be estranged from them all. He hadn't wanted to live with the Logans in the first place, she recalled. He'd claimed he was doing fine looking after himself. According to him, losing his mother and having no idea where his father was didn't mean he needed help to run his life.
At the memory, Judy felt reluctant admiration sweep through her. As a boy he'd lived on his own for almost a year after his mother's death, convincing the authorities that a friend of hers was his caregiver when, in fact, he'd had nobody. When the truth came out, he'd been dragged literally kicking and screaming into the Logan household.
Then he and Judy had spotted each other. Like a wild buffalo transfixed by a car's headlights, he'd stopped fighting Des and stared at his new foster sister.
He'd looked her up and down with the insolence of a grown man. Too thin from eating whatever he could rustle up, he'd been lanky and awkward, but his eyes - how she remembered those midnight blue eyes - had been alight with masculine interest. She'd known he liked what he saw long before he'd told her he was in love with her and would marry her one day.
A shiver shook her. What had such a stripling known of love? She'd known even less. Oh, she'd been aware of the facts of life. You couldn't grow up on a million-acre cattle station and remain ignorant for long. But the chemistry between male and female had been a compelling mystery.
Nevertheless, they'd both felt its power. But with him being only fourteen then and her newly into her teens, she hadn't had a clue what her feelings signified or how to deal with them. Des Logan had solved the problem by calling Ryan into his study and ordering him to get any foolish ideas out of his head. Ryan had retorted that nobody told him how to run his life and he was going to marry Judy one day, with or without Des's approval.
Neither of them had been aware of Judy hunting for a tennis ball in the bushes under Des's office window. To her, it had seemed romantic to have a young man defy her father over her. These days, she knew Des had been right. They had been mere children, their feelings the result of overactive teenage hormones, nothing more.
Less than a year later, Ryan had run away, eluding Des's and the authorities' efforts to find him. Later Ryan told Judy that he'd lied about his age in order to get work as a jackeroo on remote cattle stations.
He hadn't stayed anywhere for long, she'd learned when they'd met again. She hadn't been able to tell if he was pleased to see her or not. His manner had been surly and distant, al-though he was obviously a world away from the difficult teenager she'd once known.
For one thing, he was all man. Taller, fuller in body and so broad-shouldered she'd had to look twice to assure herself he really was Ryan Smith. His red-gold hair and hair-trigger temper had convinced her. There couldn't be two men with that blend of startling good looks and fiery temperament in the Kimberley.
Since their reunion three years before, she'd persuaded him to return to Diamond Downs a number of times, although he'd never stayed as long as she'd hoped he would. She looked forward to his visits, but no more than those of her other foster brothers, she assured herself. She blamed the fact that Ryan's arrival made her heart beat faster on his dynamic personality and raw masculinity, enough to turn any woman on.
Judy wasn't immune to male appeal. She relished her physicality, whether piloting her plane, mustering cattle on horseback or enjoying a relationship to the full, provided a man accepted that she could want him without needing him. She couldn't imagine Ryan playing by this rule. He was the type to want more than she was prepared to give, so she kept a safe emotional distance.
Ryan and her father got along tolerably well these days in spite of the undercurrent simmering between them. After all this time, Judy wouldn't allow that it had anything to do with her. More likely, the mistrust mirrored two bulls in the same paddock. They were similar in temperament, neither giving an inch.
Pleasing Ryan with feminine fripperies should be the last thing on her mind. To prove it, she cast the dress a withering look and flounced out of the homestead. Passing the bunkhouse and cottages occupied by the dwindling number of staff still on the station payroll, she found him in the hard-baked earth area used for car parking.
The only sign of him was a pair of jeans-clad legs protruding from under the ancient car he'd jacked up and supported on blocks. Long, long legs betrayed his height as over six feet. His scuffed R. M. Williams boots were a size eleven at least, and she felt a blush starting as she remembered the supposed connection between men and large feet.
Automatically she frowned at the sight of tools scattered over the ground. As a bush pilot, she hated to see good tools mistreated. Evidently Ryan's drifter ways extended to the care of his equipment.
She hunkered down in time to see him lower the transmission pan in both hands and tilt it to spill the fluid into a drain tray beside him. "Need a hand?"
Without looking he said, "You can pass me the awl so I can get this grommet out."
Excerpted from Deadly Intent by Valerie Parv Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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