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Though he was looking at his iPad, Jared Weston didn't see the notes he'd entered on the screen. He could only see the dark blue eyes, long blond hair and lush body that still took his breath away. After six years of endless struggles to fight the memories, he still hadn't forgotten a second of the night he had spent with Allison Tyler
It had been at a June wedding reception at the then-new Houston country club. In the crowded ballroom, someone had bumped him, causing a chain reaction. As he brushed shoulders with the woman beside him, champagne splashed from the crystal flute she held. A tall, willowy blonde, she wore a pale blue dress with a jacket cut high above her narrow waist. The dress ended inches from her knees, revealing long shapely legs.
He grabbed a flute of champagne from a passing waiter and held it out to her, taking the opportunity to look into her eyes. With thick lashes darkened slightly by mascara, her eyes were an unusual indigo-blue. He was momentarily riveted, feeling a sizzling attraction.
"I'm Allison Tyler," she said, smiling at him, taking the flute with one hand and offering the other.
As her hand settled in his, tingles emanated from the contact and he silently swore. Shocked, he focused more intently on her. She may look twenty, but she would be about eighteen now. Too young for him.
"That might be good news, and it might be bad news," he replied, shaking her hand, reluctant to release her, feeling as if he would lose her when he did and knowing that was exactly what should happen. Allison Tyler.
She cocked her head and asked, "Why?"
Her older brother, Sloan, was his lifetime best friend. Sloan was also the world's biggest worrier. Jared understood his friend's worrying. Since they had lost their mother and a brother, Chad, in a plane crash, Sloan had become far more cautious and protective of his younger sister.
Jared was torn between what he wanted and what he should do. "I think at this point, I should say goodbye," he admitted. When she gave him a confused look, he explained, "I'm Jared Weston."
Her eyes widened and her smile grew bigger as she laughed and tightened her hand on his, startling him. "The forbidden man. I should have recognized you instantly but it's been a few years." She stepped back slightly to give him room to view her from head to toe. "Guess what, Jared? I've grown up."
He looked at her and he was captivated. Instantly. Of all the women on the earth, this was the sole woman he should avoid. So much younger than he was. His best friend's little sister. Why did she have to be so appealing?
"You have grown up. I didn't recognize you. You don't look at all like you did when you were seven or even twelve years old."
Her dark blue eyes sparkled with amusement. "Imagine that. I don't quite view you the same way I did then, either." He realized then that her hand still rested in his. "If we're going to hold hands, we might as well dance," he said. "One dance. I can't be a terrible influence in one harmless dance."
"Maybe it won't be so harmless," she said, flirting with him, sending his pulse racing faster.
"Allison, you're a temptation," he said, wanting to prolong the moment.
"Sloan does not run my life. We can dance if we want. Forget him."
Taking a sip of champagne, she set the flute beside his on a nearby table and joined him on the dance floor. When she stepped into his arms, her enticing scent enveloped him.
Looking at her, Jared could easily forget her older brother, his closest friend even now, although they saw little of each other any longer. "Do you still live at home in Dallas?" he asked, curious about her.
"Officially, but since I'm eighteen now and a freshman at the University of Texas, I'm in Austin."
"I'm twenty-four. Besides having Sloan's admonitions burned in my memory, I'm a lot older than you."
"An older man," she purred, those deep indigo eyes still twinkling. "That makes you all the more intriguing."
"You're a little on the naughty side, Allison," he said, smiling at her, trying to ease his conscience by telling himself a few dances were harmless.
"Well, isn't that more fun?" she asked, running her fingers lightly across the back of his hand. "I do not have to pay any attention to my overprotective brother, either. Since Mom died, he's been more a parent than my dad. And that's enough about Sloan. He's far away in Dallas, wrapped up in his own world."
"I have to pay attention to him. He's my best friend."
"Maybe I can make you forget that for a little while," she said in a mischievous tone, moving closer to him.
He had to laugh. "I think you already have. We're dancing, Allison, when I shouldn't be anywhere near you."
"I'm not scared of you or Sloan. Besides, you're having fun, and this quiet, uneventful reception has suddenly become more interesting for both of us. You can't deny it."
"I can't possibly refute that," he said, tightening his arm around her tiny waist. Was it because she was forbidden to him that he wanted her? She was a kida college freshmanand he had finished college two years earlier. He was too old for her, but she beguiled him. He wasn't cutting short the dance or the evening.
"We're going to forget my brother. I'm of age, and I can take care of myself."
He should have heeded that challenge and kept her brother in his thoughts. Instead, he wiped Sloan clean out of his mind. Even the undercurrent of guilt swiftly washed away.
A fast number played next, and as they danced, she shed the tiny blue jacket, revealing a tight spaghetti-strapped dress that took his breath away. He wanted to unfasten her updo, and impulsively he reached out and removed the pins. A cascade of pale yellow-gold hair fell over her shoulders, and his heart raced with excitement.
As she danced, her sexy moves fueled his fiery attraction. Whatever he felt, she gave indications she shared the same sizzle.
They continued into the next dancea balladand he drew her closer this time. Her silky hair held a faint, inviting scent ofjasmine and orange blossoms.
Slow dancing became a torment. Soft, warm, curvaceous in his arms, she fit perfectly against him. Her full lips made him want to kiss her. How would she taste? How would she respond?
During a break between dances, they sat on the darkened terrace, drinking champagne while they flirted with each other. How much of the night had been because of the effects of the champagne? He wished he could blame it all on the bubbly, but he knew he couldn't. A hot, intense attraction had flared the first moment they had looked into each other's eyes.
It was one o'clock in the morning when she said she should leave the reception and get back to her hotel room. He took her to her hotel, and they stopped in the bar for a drink. Within minutes they were headed to her room. The moment he closed her door, he reached for her, drawing her into his embrace while he leaned down to kiss her.
Wrapping her arms around his neck, she returned the electrifying kiss, which fanned desire to a blazing intensity. He had only planned on having a nightcap and then kissing her good-night, but his sensible plans were forgotten instantly. Instead, white-hot passion consumed him. She was as eager as he was. He wanted her as he had never wanted anyone before. Able to fight no longer, he surrendered.
Naked. Passionate. A virgin. All of those described the woman he took to bed. That she was innocent shocked him, briefly cooling his ardor, making him pause in their love-making. But then she wrapped those enticing legs around him and whispered a sigh in his ear and he was lost. He could never say no to her. So he made love to her, discovering a passionate woman and an ardent partner, whom he knew he'd never forget.
Later they showered together and made love again. The second time he took it slowly, with more than an hour of foreplay, trying to make it as great for her as possible by dedicating himself to pleasuring her.
She was like a flame, igniting his passion, burning it, until it finally devoured him, leaving him spent.
With the light of day, however, came reason.
They knew they could not see each other again because there was no future in it. Allison had college to get through. He had a career that was commencing, and they both had Sloan to contend witha friend Jared did not want to hurt and a brother she wanted to keep happy.
So they agreed the nightthe wonderful searing nightwould be their secret.
He gave her a sweet, fleeting kiss goodbye at the door of her hotel room and walked away .
Jared inhaled deeply. Wiping his brow as if to erase the memories that had haunted him for six years, he shoved away from his desk, the iPad notes long forgotten. With little provocation, he remembered that night with Allison as if it had happened yesterday. And he remembered her still.
They had never had contact again. Through the years, each of them had guarded the secret, kept their promises to never contact each other. He had seen her brother often at charity events, college football games, rodeos, occasional meetings if their businesses crossed paths and more recently in a breakfast club. But never in those encounters had he said a word to Sloan about Allison.
The last time he had seen Sloan, her brother had casually mentioned that she was thinking about marrying some guy. The news gave Jared a peculiar stab of pain that he shook off as ridiculous. She meant nothing to him. He had merely shared one night of passion with her. A night that was buried in silence, although never really forgotten.
Right now he could recall the entire night, moment by moment. His memory was flawless, he was sure, of making love to her, her passionate responses, her softness, her enthusiasm.
Jared walked to the window to look out at the sprawling city of Dallas as seen from the top floor of the Weston Energy building. Two flags in the distance fluttered in the March breeze. He wished it could blow away his memories just as easily.
But as he recalled the decision he'd made only days earlier, he knew there was no chance he'd be forgetting about Allison anytime soon.
He had just hired Tyler Antiques and Appraisals for a job he needed done and learned it would be Allison who would be doing his appraisal. In days the lover he'd never forgotten would be back in his life.
Thirty minutes later, composed, professional and looking slick in a custom suit, Jared walked into a downtown restaurant for a business lunch. He watched the youngest, tallest and the last unmarried Delaney approach their table from the opposite direction. He greeted Ryan, shaking hands with his friend, gazing at friendly dark brown eyes and an infectious smile.
"How's everything in Dallas?" Ryan asked.
"Everything is fine. How are your brothers?"
"Great. Will is being Will, still taking charge of the rest of the family. His wife is fine, and Caroline is crazy about her little brother."
"And your world-traveler brother? How does marriage suit him?"
Ryan grinned. "You won't know Zach. He's a desk jockey now. Goes to the office nine to five. He's retired from fieldwork and stays in the office. Very domestic. Phoebe is almost nine months old. She's a cutie."
"I can't imagine Zach sticking to an office. That's beyond me. I asked you to lunch so I could talk about my inheritance of the Delaney mansion in Houston."
"Talk away," Ryan said, sitting and picking up a menu.
As soon as they had ordered and the waiter disappeared, Jared leaned forward. "Ryan, it's your inheritance from your dad."
"I know that technically it's my inheritance, but it's because of our dads' friendship."
"Friendship and gratitude for the time our dads were both roughnecks, working in the oil patch. When that fire broke out on a rig, your dad saved my dad's life. The mansion is just a thank-you."
"I had nothing to do with any of that."
"Dad had it in his will that, if your dad is deceased, the mansion is to go to you. It's yours to do with as you please."
"One of the Tylers commences cataloging the contents of the mansion this week. Have any of you changed your mind about the mansion or its contents?"
"Absolutely not. I asked my brothers again, just for you, and they gave me the same answer. We don't want any part of the mansion. We never spent time there, and it's meaningless to all of us. Stop worrying about it. The mansion doesn't hold fond memories for any of us." Ryan reclined back in his chair, looking fully relaxed and filled with his usual self-confidence. "We inherited enough from Dad, and we're happy you have the mansion."
"It's a marvelous inheritance and I appreciate it."
"On the phone you said you'd hired Herman Tyler to do the appraisal. You have your own appraisal company now in addition to owning Weston Energy. Why hire Herman?"
"He's the best. I still have an offer to buy his business, merge it with mine and let him run his part, but he wants to keep it. Actually, I bought my appraisal company to try to entice Herman to run both and work for me, but he won't sell. I keep the offer open. Ryan, as far as the house and antiques are concerned, what about Sophia?" Ryan's half-sister was an artist. "I'd think she'd want some of the paintings."
"Will asked her, as well as Zach. That's not her type of art, and, no, she doesn't want any of it. None of us do."
"Even if I sell it?" Jared asked, intending to make certain no Delaney had regrets.
"If you didn't sell it, we would. Hear me," Ryan said, leaning in, "we do not want the mansion or its contents."
Jared put up his palms. "I'll take you at your word and drop the subject."
"Good. I'm riding in the Fort Worth rodeo later this monthbull riding. Are we competing again?" he asked, his eyes sparkling with devilment.
Jared had to grin. "We're competing, and I'm going to beat you."
"We'll see on that one," Ryan said, his lips twitching in a crooked smile. "Want to bet an extra hundred, plus a burger and a beer for the winner?"
"You're on," Jared said, enjoying the friendly competition he had with Ryan.
"I can't wait." Ryan tilted his head to study Jared. "You know, we're kindred souls."
"We both like life on the wild side."
"You're like I amneither one of us wants to look back with regrets."
"Amen to that," Jared replied. "That's what my dad did."
When lunch was over, as Jared drove back to his office, he thought twice about his decision to involve Tyler Antiques and Appraisals in the Houston property. The call he had made to Mr. Tyler had not been what he had expected.