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Later, she would ask herself how she could possibly have missed all the danger signals emanating from the man. With the inevitable wisdom of hindsight, she would feel the lazy menace in him as clearly as she now felt her own deeply intrigued response, and Leya Brandon would wonder bitterly why her normally astute mind and intuition had betrayed her.
It was to be only the second time in all her twenty-seven years that she had allowed herself to be misled by a man, but Leya would take little comfort from that fact. She rarely needed a second lesson in anything.
But for the moment, on the dance floor of the secluded inn on the wild Oregon coast, Leya wasn't thinking of the future. The man held her in such an intimate dancing embrace that she was obliged to rest both hands on his broad shoulders. The way he shaped the curve of her waist made it impossible to concentrate on anything but the present. Leya tipped back her neat head, the long, sable-dark braid falling dramatically over one shoulder and across her breast, and smiled up into Court Gannon's sensuously narrowed tortoiseshell eyes. The look she met in the gold-flecked gaze caused her fingertips to flex ever so slightly against the subtly rough texture of his jacket.
The inviting, waiting look in Court's eyes deepened as he felt the small movement on his shoulders.
"You feel like a kitten trying to decide whether or not to settle in for the night," he murmured in soft amusement, turning his head slightly to touch her wrist with his lips. It was the lightest, most teasing of caresses, yet Leya was aware of the small shiver which coursed through her.
"Not for the night," she made herself answer, with a smiling ease that took a surprising amount of effort. The realization that it was going to be difficult to refuse Court's imminent invitation to share his bed hit her with some force. My God, she thought wonderingly, I've only known him two days! "But a few more dances would be welcomed," she concluded softly.
"It will be my pleasure to provide the dances," he growled in his dark, heavily shaded voice. "But I warn you I intend to use the time to my own advantage." The large, strong hands at Leya's waist tightened meaningfully and the golden brown eyes gleamed.
Leya's full, generous mouth curved a fraction more as she regarded her partner from beneath thick eyelashes. "Coming from someone who doesn't believe in exerting himself unnecessarily, that sounds rather energetic," she observed teasingly.
"The operative word is unnecessarily," he drawled. "And I'm coming to the conclusion that having you for an entire night is going to be very necessary, indeed!"
Leya felt the warmth flood her face even as she tried to retain her normally abundant common sense. "There's a certain lack of subtlety in your approach tonight," she accused chidingly as she sought for a light way of handling the increasing sensual tension between them.
"I've had the impression from the beginning that the usual games weren't going to be necessary between us, Leya," Court retorted almost gently, his eyes searching her features for the truth of her feelings toward him.
"It's not a question of playing games, Court," she replied, the smallest of frowns drawing her dark brows slightly toward each other. "It's a matter of being sure. Why does a man imply a woman is teasing or playing games when she is only trying to test the depths of her own reactions and those of the male involved?"
"Because he's horribly afraid that if he allows the woman to probe her feelings too deeply, she'll talk herself out of going to bed with him!" Court said and grinned candidly.
"So he deliberately tries to make her feel guilty by accusing her of being a tease?" Leya shot back, silver-green eyes deepening with a nonverbal rebuke.
"Exactly. Can you blame us? All's fair in love and war!"
"Situation ethics, Court? I'm surprised at you. I would have thought you were the type of man who lives by a definite set of principles," she mocked.
"And doesn't alter them to fit the situation? Well, in a sense, you're right." He smiled unabashedly. "It's just that the principles I choose to live by are my own."
"Developed by you and for you?"
"Umm," he agreed, his fingers kneading the contour of her lower waist with blatant pleasure.
Leya felt the pleasure in his hands as it communicated itself to her and knew she was going to have difficulty when it came time to say good-night. She refused to think of how difficult it would be when the moment for goodbye came, as it would in only a few short days.
But vacation romances, however pleasant, were doomed to appallingly short lives, she told herself firmly. They were meant to be enjoyed on a superficial level and then forgottenlight flirtations that could be ended without serious regret. For Leya, that meant not having to live with the knowledge that she had given herself casually to a man who wouldn't remember her name by the time his next vacation arrived.
But regardless of what happened between them, Leya knew she wouldn't forget Court Gannon's name for a long, long time. Nor would she forget anything else about the man with the tortoiseshell eyes and matching hair. Large and solidly built without being an ounce overweight, he topped six feet by about one inch, she estimated, and she found pleasure in the way his wide shoulders narrowed into a lean waist and strong thighs.
There was power in this man, and Leya was honest enough to admit it attracted her. Only later would she tell herself she should have been wary of that primitive attraction. But the mastery and strength were cloaked in what was, for Leya, an enormously appealing laziness and self-control.
The variegated deep gold and dark brown of his thick hair was cut short in an apparent effort to tame the broad wave that threatened to fall across his wide forehead. More than once, Leya had been forced to exercise a degree of control in order to restrain herself from reaching up to thrust curious, sensitive fingers through the curve of that hair. She knew her own weakness for tactile sensations and deliberately avoided the temptation.
Heavy brows and long lashes shielded the well-spaced and deep-set brown-and-gold eyes. A bold, no-nonsense hand had chiseled Court's face, leaving an aggressive nose and an unconsciously arrogant tilt to the strong chin. Broad, jagged planes that left no room for soft handsomeness marked the high cheekbones and tightly fleshed skin beneath. The column of his neck was strong and browned in the same sun-colored shade as his face and hands. The tan was an excellent foil for the crisp whiteness of his shirt collar and cuffs. Leya flexed her fingers once again, enjoying the texture of his richly woven wool jacket. He wore the close-fitting slacks and coat with an ease that suggested expensive if conservative tailoring.
Leya had no notion why she had looked up from the book in her lap yesterday morning to find Court Gannon watching her from across the heavily beamed and elegantly rustic lobby of the inn. She had responded automatically to the mildly prickling sensation of being observed and lifted her head to meet the unexpected impact of the gold-marked eyes. The moment she had acknowledged his presence, he had started forward with a deliberate, lazy stride that brought him inevitably to where she curled in the corner of the old Victorian couch in front of the roaring fire. There had been a few other people seated nearby and she had told herself he was heading for one of them until it became apparent she was the focus of his attention.
A little uneasily she had listened to his brief, polite introduction as he seated himself beside her, stretching out long legs toward the huge stone fireplace which dominated that end of the room. The initial unease had been natural enough, given the fact that Leya had no illusions about being an eye-catching beauty.
The truth of the matter was that she thought of herself as rather average. An average five-and-a-half feet in height, an average, perhaps overly rounded figure that required an average amount of dieting and an average, attractive set of features. She knew full well she had above-average intelligence and sense of humor but she didn't really expect most men to notice or appreciate those two virtues. Especially not clear across the lobby!
In spite of her own dismissing assessment of her looks, more than one man in the past had been attracted by the very un-average and unusual combination of long, sable-brown hair with the strange silvery green of her eyes. The effect was a subtle one and not usually noticed consciously at first, but it was there. It allowed Leya to wear the strong, bold colors she favored. Her features were feminine but not soft. They betrayed the intelligence and self-awareness lying underneath, as well as the strength those two factors ensured. Her firm chin, straight nose and perceptive eyes were gentled a bit by long lashes and the ready curve of her mouth.
No, not a great beauty, Leya had told herself wryly, and dressed as she was yesterday in well-washed jeans and a brilliant burnt orange velour top, it was natural enough to wonder why a stranger had picked her out of the crowd. Of course, she had added in silent amusement, the crowd was very small. It was winter, the summer tourists were long gone, and not everyone favored the fiercely rugged southern Oregon coastline at this time of year. Only those with a penchant for the intriguing wildness of a storm over the sea or the mystery of a fog-shrouded stretch of beach came at this time of the year. They felt themselves amply rewarded.
"What are you thinking about?" Court broke into her thoughts to demand suddenly, the rather hard line of his mouth quirking at the corner as he studied the flicker of thought in her eyes.
"Yesterday," she admitted simply.
"What about yesterday?" he persisted softly, using his hands to press her more intimately against his hard leanness. He was using the dance as an excuse to make love to her, Leya realized with a small sense of shock. She felt her pulse quicken in response to the barely disguised arousal in him.
"The way you came toward me through the lobby as if you knew me." She smiled. "I was afraid you were someone I should know, whose name I couldn't remember!"
"You were right," he told her meaningfully. "I was someone you should know. The only reason you couldn't remember my name was because I hadn't given it to you yet."
"That opening conversational gambit of telling me the ending of the novel I was reading was clever, too." Leya grinned cheerfully. "It ruined my plans for the entire day, since I had intended to spend the whole of it reading that book!"
"I wanted you free to spend the time with me."
"So I gathered," she said dryly. "But it wouldn't have worked if you hadn't turned out to be every bit as lazy and uninterested in tennis as I am! "
"Oh, I knew we were two of a kind from the moment I spotted you across the lobby," he assured her humorously, the laughter reaching his eyes and warming them nicely. "Let's face it, only a certain type of person is going to come here at this time of the year."
"Someone who has no aspirations to be the next tennis star or golf hero?" she quipped, aware that the music was drawing to a close.
"Someone," he told her deeply as he took her arm and guided her back to the small table, "who understands that walking along a beach at dawn is life's only important sport! "
"I'm afraid my dedication to the ideal falls somewhat short," she murmured ruefully as she took the seat he held for her. "I have to admit to finding dancing a very interesting alternative. And for someone who claims to be too lazy to do anything except walk for exercise, you do a pretty good job on the dance floor!"
"But dancing with you isn't a form of exercise," he pointed out, lifting the glass snifter in front of him and taking a man-sized swallow of the potent cognac.
"No?" Leya inquired, arching one brow with a hint of warning.
"No," he confirmed, heedless of her faintly quelling expression. "It's a prelude to making love to you, and I would never," he added in a soft rasp, leaning forward to watch the color in her face, "make the mistake of classifying sex with you as a sport or a game!"
"Court!" Leya snapped, determined to let him know that he had stepped too far out of bounds. "That's enough on the subject. You wouldn't want me to think you have a one-track mind, would you?" She made an effort to inject a caustic note into the small setdown she had attempted to deliver. But it was difficult to maintain that faint air of outrage beneath the glittering light in his eyes. Her real reaction to his blatantly sexual talk was an unfamiliar weakness that left her feeling pursued. Leya Brandon was not accustomed to the role of hunted female. And, she promised herself silently, she did not intent to allow this man to treat her as prey. She was glad he found her attractive because the feeling was mutual, but she had very definite ideas on equality in a relationship. She also had very definite ideas on the depressing nature of relationships based purely on sex. The last thought firmed her mouth and Court was far too observant not to have seen the faint hardening in her silvery green eyes as well.
"A one-track mind is exactly what I seem to be developing around you, Leya," he confided with a sensual twist of his lips. "Do you know what my first thought was this morning?"
"What?" she asked warily, reaching for her own snifter and sipping delicately. In the candlelight the deep emerald color of her long-sleeved gown glowed. The light reflected warmly from the unusual green pendant set in gold that hung in the deep opening of the dress.
"I thought that it was all wrong I should be waking up alone. You should have been there with me," he whispered, with such intensity that Leya blinked uncertainly.
"I've told you the conversation has gone far enough," she breathed, forcing her willpower to the fore. It was not a characteristic in which she normally found herself deficient. "I suggest we either switch to another topic or say good-night."
"You don't like knowing that I want you?" he queried whimsically. "Or are you afraid of admitting that you want me, too?"
"If you think you're going to trap me into answering a double-edged sword of a question like that, you're considerably less intelligent than I originally believed you to be!" she informed him loftily, forcing back the rush of laughter she was experiencing.
"It was worth a try." He shrugged with massive resignation, an answering grin in his eyes. "Well, what would you like to discuss? I'm at your service, I assure you. At least until I can think of a way to steer the conversation back to my main interests!"
"Limited though those interests appear to be?" she mocked.
"There's nothing limited about them," he informed her kindly. "You're just jealous because I know how to establish priorities and stick to them! "