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By Lori Foster
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"You can't be a coward forever."
Carlie chuckled, despite her nervousness. "Quit pushing, Bren. You're not going to provoke me into rushing out into the party dressed like this."
"Rushing? You're already ten minutes late." She had parked in the back of the house, away from the main flow of human traffic entering the party. Small, twinkling lights surrounded the pool and pool house, even though the weather was too brisk for swimming.
"And that's your fault. What were you thinking, to pick me a costume that was so ... so ..." Carlie couldn't quite find the words to describe the skimpy harem outfit her best friend had chosen for her. If she had to go to Brenda's stupid Halloween party at all, she would have preferred to be a pumpkin or a witch. Anything that was less revealing.
"So ... what? You look fantastic. What's wrong with that? I want you to have fun tonight. I want you to loosen up a little and try socializing. Talk to people."
"You mean men, don't you?" Carlie shook her head. "I'm not a hermit, Bren. I have my students and more than enough school activities to keep me busy." Then she glanced down at herself. "What were you thinking?"
"You said you didn't have time to pick out an outfit yourself." Brenda lifted one shoulder in a halfhearted shrug. "Besides, you make a very sexy harem girl. All the single men here tonight will drool. It'll do you good to realize how attractive you can be when you aren't hiding behind those hideous suits."
Carlie winced. She was feeling far from attractive. Exhibited, displayed and downright exposed was more accurate. She was pretty certain she looked ridiculous more than anything else. "Which single men, exactly, did you invite?"
Brenda waved her hand in dismissal. "You've met almost everyone, I think. Some of Jason's associates, a few neighbors, friends ... Tyler."
Carlie went perfectly still for a heartbeat, then frowned at Brenda. "Tyler Ramsey at a costume party? I didn't think your notorious brother-in-law would bother with something so -"
"Don't make fun of my party, Carlie."
"I wasn't. I just thought fancy banquets were more his speed." Carlie couldn't imagine Tyler dressed in a costume. He always seemed so ... suave. And he always had a very sophisticated, very elegant woman on his arm.
"Tyler came because Jason asked him, and he would never let his brother down. You know how close they are." Brenda shook her head and added, "You know, you and Tyler actually have a few things in common."
Carlie turned away. "You're dreaming, Bren. We live in different worlds."
"You just don't understand Tyler. He had it pretty rough growing up, too." Then she touched Carlie's arm. "But at least Jason was always there for him."
"My brother had his own life," Carlie said. "And he was right, my problems were my own."
"Jason would never turn Tyler away if he needed help."
"Jason's a terrific guy. But he and Tyler are nothing alike."
"Not now, maybe, but they used to be," Brenda said with a grin. "But then, Jason met me. I think Tyler will be the same. When he finds someone he cares about ..."
Carlie narrowed her eyes and stiffened her shoulders. "That will be a little hard for him to do when his relationships rarely last long enough to get to know a woman."
Brenda stared at Carlie, her eyebrows raised. "You seem to be keeping pretty close track of my young brother-in-law."
"He's not that young." But Carlie flushed at being caught. "I mean, he's a grown man. He must be in his early thirties ... oh, never mind."
"Tyler's a good guy, Carlie. He may change dates a lot, but that's because the women he usually hooks up with are only impressed by his status in the community and his expanding financial portfolio. Tyler thinks he wants a no-strings attachment, but he's never satisfied with it."
Carlie had a feeling it was Tyler's looks and outrageous charm that really attracted women, but she kept her mouth shut. She certainly didn't want Brenda to get the idea she had a crush on Tyler Ramsey.
Good grief. A crush! No, she didn't. Certainly not.
Carlie was shaking her head at her errant thoughts, even as she said, "You don't have to defend Tyler to me, Bren. What he does is no concern of mine."
"Fine. Then if you're done stalling, can we get back to the party now? I think it's about to rain."
Carlie glanced up at the dark sky and smelled the moisture thick in the air. "You go on, Bren. I think I'll just wait a few more minutes."
Brenda hesitated, then she nodded. "Don't be too long."
Too long? Carlie wondered if another hour or so would be too long. She truly didn't relish the idea of going inside, not that anyone would recognize her. Dressed so differently, no one would see her as Carlie McDaniels, grade-school teacher and spinster extraordinaire. Her persona this evening was as far from her usual self as a woman could get. Even her hair and eyes were different, thanks to the wig that came with the costume, and the colored contacts she was wearing.
She was a coward, true, but it had been two long years since her divorce, and though that had been enough time for her to gain her independence and put some order to her life, it hadn't been time enough to repair her confidence in herself as a woman. Brenda claimed Carlie was attractive and appealing. Carlie's ex had made an entirely different claim.
Shivering, she forced her mind away from the disturbing memories, mustered her courage and started toward the door. She could make Brenda happy by mingling for an hour or so, then she could make her escape. The thought of her small, tidy, empty house seemed very nice all of a sudden.
Excerpted from Impetuous by Lori Foster Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.