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It wasn't that he minded the dinner so much, or the business talk that followed it. What bothered Evan Tremayne was the way Anna sat and watched him.
She was nineteen, blond, buxom and blue-eyed, a statuesque young woman with long tanned legs that looked incredible in shorts. Evan had tried for the past year not to notice her, despite the fact that he and her mother did a lot of business together. At thirty-four, he was the eldest of four brothers, and he had almost total responsibility for their mother. The family business was mostly under his control and his life was one long tangle of cattle, personnel problems and financial headaches. Anna was the last damned straw.
Especially, he thought, in that pale blue dress that showed too much of her golden tan and her full breasts. Surely her mother should have said something about that. He wondered if Polly Cochran noticed how fast her daughter was growing up. Polly was never home, though. She seemed always to be busy with some new facet of her real estate business. Anna's father was an airline pilot, but he and Polly had separated years ago. He lived in Atlanta, Georgia, while they lived in Texas. In fact, Anna had been given most of her upbringing by Lori, the family housekeeper. Nobody seemed to have had much time for her.
Polly had excused herself to take a phone call, and Evan was left uncomfortably alone with Anna.
"Why have you been glowering at me for the past ten minutes?" Anna asked softly. Her blond hair was piled on top of her head, and she looked sophisticated and very mature for a change.
"Because that dress shows too much of you," Evan replied with customary bluntness. His dark eyes glanced from her face to the swell of her breasts. "Polly shouldn't have bought it for you."
"She didn't," Anna said with a grin. "It's one of hers. I borrowed it when she wasn't looking. She hasn't even noticed that I'm wearing it. You know how unobservant she is. Everything with Mama is business."
"Your mother's dresses are too old for you," he replied, softening the words a little with a smile. He tended to be more abrasive with Anna than with anyone else in his life because of his unwanted attraction to her. "You should wear something more appropriate for your own age."
She took a slow breath and her eyes gently worshipped him before they dropped to the table. "Do I really seem so young to you, Evan?"
"I'm thirty-four, little one," he said, his voice deep and slow in the silence of the dining room. "Yes, you seem young."
Her blue eyes settled on her folded hands. "Mama's giving a party Friday night to celebrate the opening of that new mall in Jacobsville that she sold the property for," she said. "Are you coming?"
"Harden and Miranda might," he murmured. "I stay busy."
She looked up, her eyes searching his dark, broad face relentlessly. "You could dance one dance with me. It wouldn't kill you."
"Wouldn't it?" he asked with graveyard humor. He touched his linen napkin to his wide, chiseled mouth and laid it down beside his plate. He got to his feet, towering over her. He was a giant of a man, all muscle and streamlined, from the broad wedge of his chest to his narrow hips and long, powerful legs. "I have to go."
She stood up. "Not yet," she pleaded.
"I've got things to do," he said.
"No, you haven't," she said, pouting. "You just don't want to be alone with me. What are you afraid of, Evan, that I'll assault you on the table?"
He lifted an eyebrow over twinkling brown eyes. "And get mashed potatoes all over my back?"
She let out an irritated breath. "You won't take me seriously."
"I wouldn't dare," he said, fending her off with the ease of years of practice. "Tell Polly I'll see her tomorrow at the office."
"I could be dying of love for you," she said quietly. "And you don't even care that you're breaking my heart."
He grinned. "Hearts don't break, especially at your age."
"Yes, they do." Her eyes ran up and down his big body, lingering on his broad chest. "You might at least kiss me goodbye."
"Let Randall do that," he replied. "He's still at the experimenting age, like you."
"And you're over the hill, I guess?"
He chuckled. "Feels like it sometimes," he confessed. "Good night, little girl."
She colored delicately, which heightened the blue of her eyes. "I'm not a child!"
"You are to me." He picked up his Stetson from the sideboard without looking at her. "Give my apologies to your mother. I can't wait for her. Thanks for dinner."
Before she could come up with a reply, he was out the door and gone, without even seeming to hurry.
The hell of it was that he was fiercely attracted to her. In fact he could probably fall head over heels in love with her. But she was much too young for a serious relationship. At her age she was likely to fall in and out of love weekly. Besides, she was almost certainly a virgin. Evan was six-four and weighed over two hundred and thirty pounds. A brief love affair had ended in near tragedy because, in his desire for the woman he lovedan innocent woman, like Annahe hadn't been able to control his great strength. Louisa had run from him, terrified. It had scarred him, made him hopelessly wary of innocents like Anna. His size had been a sore spot with him ever since childhood, when he was forever coming to the defense of his three brothers. He'd always had to pull his punches. He'd even put a man in the hospital once when he'd underestimated his strength. The risk with a sheltered girl like Anna was just too great. No, he couldn't afford another episode like that, he couldn't take the chance. Better to stick to experienced women who weren't afraid of him.
Back at the brick mansion, Anna was raging over the things Evan had said. He was treating her like a teen with a crush, when she was dying of unrequited love for him!
"Where's Evan?" her mother asked, pausing in the doorway. She was tall and thin and fiftyish, dark, where Anna was fair like her father.
"He left," Anna said curtly. "He was afraid I might bend him over the table and seduce him in the green beans and mashed potatoes."
"What?" Polly asked, laughing.
"He's afraid to be alone with me," Anna muttered. "I suppose he thinks I'll get him pregnant."
"Child, do watch your language," Polly chided. "Never mind Evan. You've already got a beau, much closer to your own age."
Anna sighed. "Good old Randall," she mused. "With the wandering eyes. I like him a lot, but he flirts with every woman he sees. I can't believe he's serious about me."
"He's only in his twenties," Polly said. "Plenty of time to get serious when you're older. Marriage is for the birds, honey."
Anna glared at her. "Just because you and Daddy weren't happy together doesn't mean that I can't have a good marriage."
Polly's eyes darkened and she turned away to light a cigarette, ignoring Anna's disapproving glance as she reached for an ashtray. "Your father and I were very happy at first," her mother corrected. "Then he started flying overseas routes and I got into the real estate business. We never saw each other." She shrugged. "Just one of those things."
"Do you still love him?"
The older woman cocked a perfect dark eyebrow. "Love is a myth."
"Oh, Mama." Anna sighed.
Polly just laughed. "Dream your dreams, child. I'll settle for CDs in the bank and plenty of stocks and bonds in my safety deposit box. Where did you get that dress?"
The younger woman grinned. "It's yours."
Her mother gave her a mock glare. "How many times have I told you to stay out of my closet?"
"Only twenty. You won't buy me anything this sexy."
"I suppose you wore it to tempt Evan," Polly mused. "Well, you might as well give up. Evan's too old for you, and he knows it, even if you don't. Go and change. I'll treat you to a movie."
It was nice to have a mother who was also a good friend, Anna thought as she complied with the request. But nobody seemed inclined to take her feelings for Evan seriously. Especially Evan himself.
Sometimes Anna thought it would be nice if she had a job that would put her in constant contact with Evan. But she couldn't work cattle and she knew nothing about bookkeeping or finance. The best she'd been able to manage was secretarial work at her mother's real estate office. That did bring her into fairly frequent contact with Evan, because the Tremayne brothers were always looking for investment properties. Since Evan was the eldest and headed the company, he was the one her mother saw most frequently. That meant Anna got to see him. She was working on the premise of water dripping on stone. If he was around her enough, he might notice her more.
There were, of course, better ways than just sitting around hoping. Anna had the pursuit of Evan down to a science. She could wrangle invitations to parties he'd attend, she found ways to track him down at lunch and accidentally run into him. She occasionally waylaid him at the post office or the feed store. Most people found her relentless chase amusing, but more and more she sensed that it was affecting Evan. If only he'd just look at her!
It was a well-known fact that Evan hated alcohol. He had an intense aversion to it for reasons nobody understood. So all Anna had to do to attract his interest at her mother's office the next day was to sit two bottles of unopened whiskey on her desk before he was due at the realty company.
He stopped dead when he saw them, his dark brows knitting over deep-set brown eyes shaded by the brim of the Stetson pulled low over his forehead.
"What the hell is that for?" he demanded, gesturing toward the bottles.
"Medicinal purposes," Anna said smugly. She was wearing a white linen suit with a pink blouse, her hair in a plait, and she looked both businesslike and feminine.
He glared at her. "Try again."
She glanced around to make sure none of the other women in the office were listening, and she leaned forward. "It's to treat snakebite."
The scowl got worse. "There aren't any rattlers in here."
She grinned. "Yes, there are." She pulled open her bottom drawer to reveal two huge plastic snakes with realistic fangs.
Evan's eyes widened. "Good God!"
"These are for people who need an excuse to drink the whiskey."
"Are you out of your mind?"
"If I was, how could I be using it to talk to you?"
He gave up and went past her, shaking his head. Anna watched him, her blue eyes lazily adoring on his tall, powerful body. He was perfectly built, with broad shoulders tapering to slender hips and long legs. He had a rodeo rider's physique, except for his great size. Evan had hands the size of plates. He was even intimidating to some of the women in the office, who made innuendoes that Anna was too sheltered to understand. But Anna found nothing frightening about him at all. She loved him.
He was aware of that silent stare, but he didn't react to it. She was playing games again, he knew it. She had to be aware that the whiskey would draw his attention. It had worked. He had to be more careful from now on, not to fall into her little traps.
But it wasn't that easy. When he came out of Polly's office, Anna wasn't at her desk. He found her outside near his car, on her hands and knees beside the small white Porsche her mother had bought her, looking through a small toolbox.
"Looking for something?" he asked. "Yes. For my left-handed Johnson wrench." He sighed impatiently. "There's no such thing."
"There is so. Johnson is the local mechanic and he's left-handed. I borrowed his wrench and now I've lost it." He threw up his hands. "What's gotten into you today?"
"Maddened passion," she said, standing up, her eyes wide and theatrical, like her audible breathing. "I'm dying for you!" She threw her arms wide and sprawled against the side of the car. "Go ahead, ravish me!"
He was having to choke back laughter. "Where?" he asked, glancing around the big car park.
"On the hood of the car, in the trunk, I don't care!" She was still holding the pose, her eyes closed.
"The hood would break under your weight, never mind mine, and I don't think I could get my head and shoulders in that tiny trunk."
She opened her eyes and glared at him. "On the pavement?"
He shook his head. "Too hard."
"Chiggers and fire ants." He folded his arms over his chest, and his eyes ran down her body slowly and without his usual detachment. In fact, the bold gaze unnerved her. No one, not even Randall, had ever looked at her in that particular glittery way, as if he knew what she looked like with her clothes off.
Defensively, she folded her arms across her jacket. "Don't do that," she said softly.
"You started it, honey," he reminded her, and moved deliberately closer, threatening her with his size and strength. She looked nervous now, which was what he intended. Playing games with grown men could be dangerous. Someone needed to prove it to her.
"Evan " she said uneasily.
The car park was deserted, and Anna's bravado was quickly disappearing. Flirting was one thing, but she still wasn't quite sure of herself in any intimate situation. She could handle Randall, but Evan had an untamed look about him. He might seem like a big teddy bear at times, but the Tremayne brothers were a fiery bunch and he was the eldest. Probably Connal, Harden and Donald had learned all they knew from his example.
"What's the matter?" he asked with a mocking smile when she backed against the car like a kitten at bay. "Not as safe as you thought?"
She didn't know what she thought anymore. He smelled of cologne and soap, and his height and size were intimidating.
"It's broad daylight," she pointed out.
"I know that." He pursed his wide lips and smiled down at her, but it wasn't any kind of smile she'd ever seen on his lips before. Or on any other man's, come to think of it. It was sensuous and masculine and very arrogant, as if he knew that her knees were weak and her heart was beating her to death.