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When Ellie Lee stretched and opened her eyes, she found herself staring straight into Robby Robriquet's baby blues. They captivated her gaze, warmed her insides, then continued holding her attention as surely as his arms had held her the previous night. "How long have you been watching me?" she croaked sleepily.
"All my life."
"Impossible. You were born first."
"All your life," he corrected.
Shifting her gaze, she let it drift down a hard, muscular bare chest coated with wild, tangled raven hair. She eyed the sheet wound around his torso, then returned her attention to his face, her lips parting in frank appreciation of his heart-stopping good looks.
Damn, she thought. They just didn't make many studs like Robby, especially not around Banner, Mississippi. He had a strong, Romanesque nose, unusually full lips, a face so sculpted that it could have been crafted from marble. His eyes were as piercing as the rays of a hot sun, as blue as a summer sky, and as deep as an ocean.
She had blue eyes, also, and dark hair, just as he, and if the truth be told, she'd started dreaming years ago about how cute their babies would look. She'd had a crush on Robby since she'd first laid eyes on him, when she was twelve years old, but only in the past year, since he'd finished his M.B.A. and returned to Banner, had he finally realized she'd turned into a woman.
So much for all the heartbreak years ago. Countless times, she'd put on sexy hot pants and halter tops, hoping to wow him if he came to the Lees' house to visit her middle brother, Cordy, often with J. D. Johnson in tow. Ellie's best friend, Susannah, had been just as lovesick, but J.D. had been her focus. The two girls had triedeverything to get the boys' attention, whether getting stuck while climbing trees, or shrieking like banshees while practicing gymnastics in the yard.
Nothing had seemed to work. The boys would run off, to hunt or fish, totally oblivious. Everything was different now, though. J.D. and Susannah had been married for six years. And exactly six months ago, Robby had dragged Ellie to bed, acting as proprietary as a caveman. Ever since, they'd managed to meet at every possible moment, despite hectic schedules.
That was the other great thing about Robby, she thought, still eyeing him. He worked even harder than she, a trait she'd never found in another man. In fact, she thought Robby worked too hard, something she'd previously never guessed she could see as a flaw in another human being. But how could she help it? Business was important, but she wanted Robby in bed all the time, too, and because he always said he had to work, it could be downright maddening.
Yes, now she understood all the young men she'd discarded during her own college years. Often they'd complain, calling her a workaholic, but now .
Robby was gazing at her bare breasts, his dazed eyes darkening with lust. "Hey, gorgeous," she whispered. "I think I'm reading your mind."
"What? Like Mama Ambrosia?"
Mama Ambrosia was a local fortune-teller. Ellie shook her head. Lifting her hands, she squeezed his shoulders, drawing him closer, enjoying the warmth and smoothness of his skin. "No. What I see in your thoughts is far too suggestive for a stranger's clairvoyant eyes, even a professional's."
He glanced at the clock, his glistening teeth flashing as he smiled. "Well, sweetheart," he drawled, "I figure we've got time for a quickie before we get to work and have to pretend we're only colleagues."
"You've been a bad boy on the job," she returned, stroking his pectorals with a fingernail.
He was all innocence. "Bad?"
"A hand up my skirt during a meeting. Pinching my butt at the water cooler. A box of condoms appearing magically in my purse," she enumerated.
"That wasn't me," he defended. "That was the condom fairy." She smiled. "If we don't tell my father about our affair soon," she said, dragging his mouth down for a quick, wet kiss, "he's going to guess." Her father, otherwise known as Daddy Eddie, was the owner of Lee Polls, a century-old family-run polling company for which both she and Robby worked.
"Then we'd better hurry and have sex, so you'll have time to run home, change and do something about your mussed hair."
She smirked. "You really are a workaholic. It's Saturday."
"And I've got to work, anyway."
Frowning, she considered. She loved Robby, she really did, but she was beginning to wonder if he'd ever feel completely comfortable in his own skin. He'd been so young when he'd lost his mother, only three, and he scarcely remembered her. Worse, his dad, Charlie, had seemed to go off the deep end after the loss, taking up drinking and gambling. At least, that was the story around town.
He'd been in prison for years now, for manslaughter. Even before that, Charlie had embarrassed his son. Nightly, he could be found spending his paycheck at a local watering hole called the Night Rider, running up a tab, then going further into debt by placing bets with a man suspected of being the town bookie, Max Sweeney. Sheriff Kemp had often looked the other way, just to spare Robby, who, from an early age, had so often dragged his dad out of the bar and home for the night.
Manslaughter had been too much to overlook, though. And while Ellie was glad her own father, Daddy Eddie, had intervened and offered Robby a job at Lee Polls after high school, her heart had broken when she'd seen just how hard Robby had worked, losing too much sleep, not to mention nights and weekends, always sweating the smallest details.
His determination had earned Daddy Eddie's trust, and he'd often claimed Robby was more valuable than all his own sons combined. Not that Ellie's ne'er-do-well brothers had minded, not even when Daddy Eddie had sent Robby to college and graduate school. Robby had worked odd jobs, too, not wanting to take charity and trying to make clear he was pulling himself up by the bootstraps. Now, no matter how successful he became, Robby seemed to think he owed Daddy Eddie something, which he didn't.
Yes, that was the problem. Robby idolized her dad, since Daddy Eddie was the exact opposite of what Robby's had been, but it was sure putting a damper on romance. Robby feared Daddy Eddie's reactiondespite all that he'd achieved, was he good enough for the man's only daughter?
Robby had turned out to be loyal and hardworking, whereas every one of Daddy Eddie's sonsGil, Cordy and Kylewas worthless when it came to running Lee Polls. They preferred to hunt, fish, play golf and chase women. So, although it was a family business, Ellie and Robby, who reported directly to Daddy Eddie, did most of the work.
"You're really going into the office?" she asked.
"Only after I meet Susannah for breakfast." Saturday breakfast was usually set aside for her best friend.
Robby's voice was low, sexy. "Then we'd better get a move on. Kiss me, baby."
She wiggled her eyebrows as he pushed a lock of hair away from her eyes. "Where?"
"Here." Leaning, he gingerly toyed with her breast, brushing the gold charm that hung from a chain around her neck. Engraved on the metal were the words Remember the Time. She and Susannah had the matching necklaces made years ago, and both still wore them always.
Robby palmed a breast, bending and roughening the sensitive skin with his chin stubble before flicking a tongue across the nipple, sending a shock of longing to her core. Her hips arched, her chin tilted back and for a moment, she simply got lost in the pleasure. Easy enough, as both hands found her, pushing her breasts upward from beneath. As he squeezed hard, her mind spun dizzily, her nipples tightening further, straining for the touch.
Throatily, she whispered, "I thought I was supposed to kiss you, not the other way around."
He merely locked his lip to a bud and kept suckling, the silken wetness making her shiver. With a sigh, she pressed her thighs together tightly, as if to hold in the delicious sensations he was soliciting. Soon, he'd be on top of her, she knew. Or she'd be on top of him. And then
He blew on the flesh he'd just dampened, then caught a nipple and rolled it between his fingers, causing goose bumps of anticipation to rise all over her skin. "Oh, Robby "
"Nothing." But she wanted to say she could come from nothing more than this kind of sweet teasing. She gasped as his huge, warm hand slid downward, over her ribs, then her belly. Arrowing his fingertips, he urged apart her smooth thighs as his mouth found her neck. He was all tongue nowstroking the column beneath her chin as she shifted her weight and let him untangle her legs.
"Wider," he drawled softly.
Was this really happening? she wondered vaguely as she gave him increased access. Was she really sharing a bed with the heartthrob of her adolescent years? It had become clear the relationship was headed for so much more. Already, they were in serious terrain. Inseparable and intense, their lives completely intertwined.
A soft senseless murmur escaped her lips as his fingers grasped her curls, toying with them. He tugged playfully, then a slick finger slid open her lower lips completely, and she could only suck another breath through clenched teeth as he circled the nub of her clitoris. "You're so good " she whispered. "But it could be better "
His voice was catching now, and the one word was nearly lost in his throat, since his breath was quickening. Yes, she thought hazily, as he probed where she was growing so slick and damp for him. As he thrust a finger inside, testing the moist heat, preparing her, she arched once more, turning in his arms, her nipples peaking, becoming painfully taut, every fiber of her being craving his mouth once more.
Instinctively, her hand rose, threading in his hair, her heart stuttering as the wild, bed-tossed strands of jet-black ran through her fingers feeling like water. As he pushed another finger inside her, she gasped, her fist tightening, closing around the wisps of his hair, pulling his face closer so her mouth could brush his. Electrifying, she thought. Heavenly.
Then for another moment, she shut her eyes. Sensations cascaded over her like a waterfall. Tension built, climbing, threatening to shatter. When she opened her eyes again, he was watching her, his blue eyes as warm as summer, his smile inviting. "Feels good, huh?"
His hairy chest slowly rising and falling with the pace of his increasing breath. "Yeah," she whispered as he visibly shuddered, then slid a finger from inside her and moved on top of her.
She loved him. That's all she could think as she looked into his eyes, her heart racing. But she had to get him to commit. She'd wanted him her whole life, and this past six months had been pure torture. Always, he'd been the only man for her. Sure, she'd fooled around at college, but no one could hold a candle to Robby. She wanted more .
"Honey," she began, her voice a soft drawl, her heart hammering harder as his legs fell between hers. She could feel the heat and power of his erection now, touching her through the sheet that had tangled between them.
He rested on an elbow, a hand beneath his cheek and flashed a bad-boy grin. "Yes, honey?"
"I want to ask you something."
"When are we going to tell my dad?"
"You know. About us."
They were at a crossroads. Daddy Eddie was retiring in just one more week, and he'd already told her he was naming her head of the company. President, she thought now, with a sigh of happiness. It was more than she'd dreamed possible. Robby aside, running Lee Polls had always been her dream, too. The venerable company had been housed in Banner since 1898, and a Lee had always been at the helm. Never a woman, of course.
Until now. That was mostly due to the fact that none of Ellie's brothers had possessed an interest in facts and figures, nor the knack for math that it took to analyze statistics. By contrast, Ellie could eat and breathe mathematics. And so, it had been she, not her male siblings, who had spent hours visiting her dad at work.
By age five, she'd picked out her own office, right next door to Daddy Eddie, and on her tenth birthday, he'd placed a gold plaque on the door, engraved with her name.
"How 'bout that, Ellie girl," her dad had said. "One day, all this really will be yours."
Now that same office was stacked high with statistical manuals and files of client information. Soon, as her father had always promised, that old plaque would come down and the new one would replace it. The one that said, "President."
"Daddy's retiring in a week," she suddenly whispered in a rush. "We don't have much time, Robby. I want him to know how things are between us."
Dammit, why was she so spineless? So closemouthed? Why couldn't she just say she really wanted to get married? After all, her best friend, Susannah, had been married for six years now, even if her and J.D.'s road had turned a little rocky. And yet even though she was a modern woman it wasn't really a woman's place to ask a man for his hand. Hell, she was going to be the president of a company by this time next week, but there were still some things in life a man had to do.
Besides, there was another uncomfortable fact, in that Robby was going to report to her. As macho as he was, she could only hope he wouldn't have trouble dealing with that. Certainly, they'd traded a lot of jokes about the possibility. And he didn't seem to mind
Why should he? she thought now. The company had been in her family for a century, and she'd grown up under the strict tutelage of her father. Oh, Robby was good, of course. Better than she at some aspects of the job, in fact. Maybe he was even completely on a par. But the bottom line remained. Having a Lee in the top spot was an unbroken tradition. "Really," she began again. "We need to talk to Daddy." She started to continue, but something in his eyes stopped her, and instead, she squinted and said, "What?"
"I I have something to ask you."
Her heart pounded against her ribs. He was going to ask her to marry him, she realized. Right now. In this very instant of time. Inadvertently, her lips parted and she breathed in deeply, bracing herself. She wanted to savor this moment, so she could remember it always. "Yes?"
"Would you mind terribly if "
Her cheeks heated, her heart bursting with feeling. He was such a guy. A man's man. Of course it wasn't easy for him to ask "If?" she encouraged.