Read an Excerpt
She was born to please a man.
The auburn-haired waitress behind the wooden counter had lush, come-hither looks. Her pouty lips promised sexual gratification. The sensual way of moving her ripe body made a man think of hot sex. Judging by her flat stomach, it was difficult to believe that she was three months pregnant. Her cutoffs revealed long, shapely legs that added to her appeal. At ten o'clock on a July Saturday night, male customers in the smoke-filled Texas honky-tonk constantly watched her move around the room. Matthew Ransome was certain that Olivia Brennan was so accustomed to men staring at her that she wouldn't wonder about his glances.
In the red T-shirt and cutoffs that was her uniform at TwoSteppin' Ribs, she waited on a customer in a nearby booth. Three musicians played country-western music while boot-scooting couples circled the dance floor. Even though he occasionally chatted with passing friends, Matt's attention remained focused on Olivia.
In the time since he had arrived and ordered his rib dinner, slowly eating and sipping one cold beer, Matt had watched half a dozen men hit on her. Some touched her, taking her hand or her wrist, patting her rear. She twisted free, or shaking her head, sidestepped groping hands, and he guessed she was being asked either to go out after work or--judging from the rough crowd--to have sex. He was surprised by her solemnity. She rarely gave more than the most perfunctory smile, not at all what he had imagined about her.
Matt watched locals he knew--Pug Mosley, the manager of the honky-tonk, openly flirted with her and several times during the evening let his hand brush her bottom. Once she spun around, telling himsomething. He grinned, shrugged and said something in return before he walked away in his usual swagger.
Fighting the urge to step in when Pug talked to Olivia, Matt intended to keep his approach to her low-key.
From what he had learned about her from the Fort Worth private detective he had hired a week ago, she wasn't dating anyone and there hadn't been a man in her life since Matt's brother Jeff. Matt found that difficult to believe except he had great faith in his P.I. With her body and mane of unruly auburn hair, she looked sexy and wild, like a woman with many partners.
Jeff could get mixed up with some shady people and seldom had there been a woman in his life that he had brought home. Including Olivia, who was carrying Jeff's child.
Nearing midnight, another local drifted to Olivia, just as obviously flirting with her as other men had. And received the same reception that was so cold Matt could discern her response without hearing a word of her conversation. Since she had been unreceptive to every man in the place, Matt reassessed his opinion of her as easy. He had never seen a female his younger brother couldn't charm, but Matt was beginning to wonder if Jeff was one of few men with whom she had ever had a relationship. Matt's opinion of her climbed a notch.
A small voice inside Matt insisted that he walk away now and never look back. Logically, he knew he should forget Olivia Brennan, but he couldn't any more than he could stop breathing.
Finally, after midnight, she was alone, standing behind the counter with no one around her. Silently warning himself he was seeking a hell of a lot of trouble, he slid out of the booth and circled the dance floor, crossing the room beneath revolving ceiling fans.
When he stopped in front of her, she looked up at him, turning the full force of big green eyes on him. Even in the dim light of the honky-tonk, he was mesmerized, and for a moment, she seemed as ensnared as he.
Attraction, as hot and tangible as a lightning flash, burst between them. The bar and people around them vanished from Matt's consciousness while he focused totally on her. Desire aroused him, a startling need to explore every inch of her ripe body and her sensual mouth. Once again, he knew why his brother had been attracted to her and why every man in the place seemed aware of her. She exuded a blatant sexuality that was all the more powerful up close.
While seconds passed, she stood as still as he did. Then, inhaling deeply, she turned her head, and the eye contact was broken.
As she started to walk away, Matt regained his wits. "Wait--" he said. When she paused, he held out his hand. "I'm Jeff's brother Matt."
Her eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry about your brother," she stated coolly without taking Matt's hand. Once again, she moved on.
"Wait a minute. I want to talk to you," Matt said, catching up with her. "When do you get off work?" As silence stretched between them, even in the dim light, he saw the flash of fury in the depths of her eyes.
"Look, Jeff and I parted ways a while back," she said. "I don't know why you found me, but there was no longer anything between Jeff and me. You and I have nothing to talk about." Her words poured out swiftly in a throaty voice that was as sexy as everything else about her. "There was a baby between you," Matt reminded her. "A baby that you and I will both be related to and need to talk about," Matt continued as his insides coiled in a knot. "I'm the uncle, so you give me a few minutes."
She bit her full underlip with even, white teeth and her mouth tempted him to forget the object of why he intended to talk to her.
"I can't guess what you want. Words won't do you any good," she insisted, shaking her head. "I'm through with your family. I don't want to see any of you." Suddenly she leaned closer, lowering her voice. "If you think I'm giving up my baby, you can forget it!" She turned her back and started to walk away.
Momentarily taken aback, Matt stepped in front of her, blocking her way. "I'm the baby's blood relative. You can't dismiss me like that. I want to talk--when and wherever you agree to. If you don't consent, we'll discuss the baby in a court of law. Take your pick."
Glaring at him, she visibly bristled. As she inhaled deeply, he was aware of the strain of the red shirt across her lush breasts. "I don't get off here until two in the morning when we close," she said.
"I'll wait. I promise you, we're going to have a discussion."
"All right. Two o'clock in the parking lot," she said in a level tone of voice even as her eyes sparked with fury.
"Fine. In the meantime, you can bring me some coffee. I'm in a booth on the other side of the room."
Nodding, she walked away and he couldn't keep from watching the sway of her hips.
She turned and slanted him a look over her shoulder, catching him watching her. He clamped his lips together. She had to be aware of the effect she had on men. At least she hadn't been coming after him for money which had surprised him because as soon as he learned about the pregnancy from Jeff, that's what he had expected.
"Damn, Jeff," Matt said under his breath, anger and pain mingling as he thought about his reckless younger brother whose wild lifestyle had caught up with him when he'd died climbing mountains in the Himalayas.
Matt dallied over the cup of coffee until it was obvious that closing time approached. As he stepped to the cash register, Olivia lingered to take his money.
"You can wait out front," she said, giving him another blast of her mesmerizing green eyes. Her low, seductive voice glided hotly over his every nerve. "Employees park in the back and when I'm finished closing, I'll drive my car around to the front. Our chat has to be brief. It's late, and I've had a long day."
He nodded. When he stepped outside, he heard the lock click in the door behind him as it shut. Yellow light from a tall lamp shed a bright glow over the graveled lot. Beneath a sliver of July moon a south breeze tugged at locks of his black hair.
Wondering how long it would take to close, Matt strolled behind the wooden building. Brown paint peeled in spots and the big blue trash bin overflowed with cartons and bottles. Another light on a tall post shone over the graveled area. Three ancient cars with assorted dents and scrapes were parked in the back. Matt's jaw tightened with disgust when he looked at the empty lot. Beyond the circle of light was a field with a grove of scrub oaks. Without security of any sort, the lot was no place for a woman alone at two in the morning.
Matt waited while the employees locked up, dimmed the lights and left, two women and a man coming out at the same time. As the burly man started toward Matt, Olivia caught his arm and said something to him. Giving Matt a long look, the man walked to his car. While the man and woman climbed into separate cars and drove out of the lot, Matt strolled over to Olivia. She stood with her hands on her hips.
"Jeff and I split. I don't think you and I have much to talk about."
"You're carrying his child. He told me and he was certain the baby was his."
"This is his baby, all right," she said. Her face was bathed in light, and Matt could see the fire dancing in her eyes and hear the anger in her tone which heightened his own irritation over her uncooperative attitude.
"Look, I'm related to your baby. Jeff told me you don't have any family and you're on your own. I want to help you."
"Thanks, but no thanks. You don't owe me anything, and I'll take care of my baby," she declared stiffly with a toss of her head that sent her thick mane swirling across her shoulders.
"Why make it more difficult for yourself and for the baby?"
"Jeff didn't want any responsibility for his child. Far from it. His exact words were: 'I don't want to ever know or even see your kid," she flung at Matt, and pain stabbed him. "He told me I should have been more careful. He was right there. I don't want any part of anything or anyone connected to Jeff!" she exclaimed firmly and turned to walk to her car.
Matt bit back angry words. It hurt badly to hear that Jeff had denied his child. Jeff hadn't told him that, but then, his kid brother would have known how Matt would react to such news.
Matt hurried ahead of her and blocked her from getting into her car.
"Get out of my way," she said.
"I want to talk. Surely you can give me a few minutes." She inhaled deeply, and he resisted letting his gaze lower to her full breasts, but it was an effort.
"All right, for only a few more minutes." She crossed her arms over her middle and raised her chin and he knew he was in for a fight.
"This baby will be the only one of the next generation in my family."
"You can't have children?" she asked.
"I'm not a marrying man. I'll never marry anyone."
"That didn't slow your brother down. And he didn't care if this baby was the last of your family. Blood relations didn't seem important to him," she said, and Matt could easily hear the bitterness in her voice. Her fists were clenched, and he realized instead of a rift between Jeff and Olivia, Jeff had created a bottomless chasm. She was all but shaking with fury.
Matt fought to bank his own anger that she was being so almighty unreasonable when he offered help that she seemed to desperately need.
"As I recall, there were several of you--a brother, Nick, a sister, Katherine. Can't they produce grandchildren?"
Matt shrugged. "Perhaps someday, but who knows? Nick and Katherine are on the wild side and not likely to settle down soon."
"Like Jeff," Olivia said with bitterness in her voice again.
"None of us is as wild as Jeff was," Matt snapped. "Jeff took whatever he wanted and indulged himself. He thought he was invincible, but it turned out that he wasn't."
"Look, I'm trying to help--"
She shook her head. "No, you're not. You want something. If it's my baby, forget it. And don't think you can go to court and get my precious baby. I'll fight you every inch of the way."
"Will you listen to me?" he said patiently, and she arched her eyebrows.
"I'll listen, but you're on limited time that's growing shorter." Matt wanted to shake her. Instead, he nodded. "I'm sure you don't make much money as a waitress here. I want to take care of you and the baby financially."
"I don't need your help. End of conversation. You have no claim on me. If you want to go to court over it--go. Since you're not the father, you won't have a strong case. They would give a father rights, but an uncle? I'm willing to take that chance. You stay out of my life. Your brother was a jerk! Now get out of my way."
She slid into her car, slammed and locked the door. The engine rumbled to life with a persistent knock. She backed up, swung in a circle and drove away, crunching gravel beneath the tires.
"Dammit!" Matt swore and clenched his fists. He strode angrily to his pickup, climbed in and headed toward Rincon, Texas where he knew she lived on the fringe of town.
He would try to talk to her one more time before he called his attorney. Little stubborn witch!
Jeff disowned the baby. Matt gritted his teeth as he reflected that most of his life he hadn't understood his kid brother. Without a doubt, the feelings had been mutual. Matt knew his single parent father had done the best he could, but he had been too indulgent with all of them. Jeff, the youngest, he had spoiled rotten.
Matt drove through the neighborhood of small frame houses with dented, ancient cars parked in front yards and lawns high with weeds. When he reached her darkened house, he discovered that Olivia had not come straight home. She might not be coming home tonight at all.
In disgust, he wondered if she had taken up with a man. He shrugged away the unwanted notion, reminding himself that there hadn't been any mention from the P.I. of a boyfriend. Tonight she had given the cold shoulder to every man in the honky-tonk.
He slowed and parked in front of the house. In the next block he saw a man stumbling along the sidewalk until he turned and disappeared inside a house.