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He's here again tonight.
Netherland Brooms inhaled deeply as she watched the man enter her restaurant. Not waiting to be escorted to a table by a hostess, he moved across the polished floor and took a seat at one of the vacant tables in the rear. His overwhelming presence demanded attention. And he was getting it.
Sheer panic made Netherland take another breath, an even deeper one. Ashton Sinclair was intent on breaking her resolve and making her do the very thing she had never done in all her twenty-eight years, which was to lust after a man. But then, after glancing around the room, she concluded that lusting after Ashton Sinclair wasn't such a hard thing to do when she noticed she wasn't the only female suffering from that same dilemma. She could tell by the way the other women were licking their lips that, unlike her, they didn't think lusting after him a serious problem. After all, he was the epitome of everything male and then some.
Half African-American and half Native American, the man was jaw-dropping, stomach-churning, eye-crossing handsome. And to top that off, he exuded strong male animal sexuality that was seductively dangerous. He was tall, almost six-four, and beautifully proportioned. His hair, which flowed freely down his back and around his shoulders, was coal-black and framed dark eyes, high chiseled cheekbones, a strong nose and full lips. At the moment, it was his dark eyes that were giving her the most worry because they were focused dead on her. They were piercing, compelling and challenging. The last of which was what she resented the most since the challenge in them was always directed at her. Whenever he looked at her, it was as if he saw something he intended to have.
Netherland felt her breasts tingle against her blouse. She took another deep breath, refusing to let Ashton Sinclair get next to her again tonight. After all, he was totally wrong for her, and she had told him that on several occasions. As handsome and alluring as he was, in her eyesight he had one tiny flaw she couldn't discount or overlook.
He was military.
She was what one would consider a military brat. Her father had made a career in the army, which meant her family was never able to put down roots anywhere. She couldn't recall ever living in the same place for more than two years at a time. The constant moving had never bothered her mother or her four brothers. But with Netherland things had been different. She had grown up feeling like a gypsy, never having a place to really call home. And she had never stayed in one place long enough to develop lasting friendships with anyone. She envied women whose friendships had spanned years. She had never been that fortunate, which was one of the reasons she had established Sisters. Sisters was an exclusive restaurant located in the heart of Houston's downtown district for women to meet, be entertained and establish lasting friendships with other women. Not surprisingly, anywhere sisters assembled in huge numbers, the brothers were sure to congregate, as well. So, on any given day, it wasn't unusual to find just as many men patronizing her establishment as there were women.
Netherland sighed. Although Ashton Sinclair had to be the most tempting man she had ever met, she would not get involved with a man who didn't have roots, and a man who was a replica of her father and brothers. All four of her brothers had followed in their father's footsteps and entered military life. Paris, the oldest at thirty-two, was in the army; Belgium, at thirty, was in the navy; Rome, at twenty-seven, was in the marines and Dakota, the youngest at twenty-three, was in the air force. All of Ernest and Nadine Kalloren's five children had been named after the places where they had been born.
"I see your admirer is here again tonight, Nettie."
Netherland broke eye contact with Ashton to glance over at Rainey Gilford, head hostess for the restaurant as well as her good friend. Rainey was always observant, which usually was a good thing. However, tonight, to Netherland's way of thinking, it was not. "Yes, he's back."
Rainey smiled. "Evidently he doesn't take no for an answer."
Netherland couldn't help but return her friend's smile. "Evidently he doesn't. I don't know what else to do."
"You could bend a little and give the brother a break," Rainey said between chuckles, knowing Netherland was too stubborn to do such a thing. Netherland saw Ashton Sinclair's presence in the restaurant each night as a nuisance, but Rainey and most of the other women considered it sheer pleasure. Men couldn't get much finer than Ashton Sinclair. Unless, however, you considered the three Madaris brothers and their childhood friend Trevor Grant. But since the four of them were now married, they no longer counted. And she didn't want to even think about the good-looking Trask "The Max" Maxwell, ex-football star who broke a lot of hearts when he got married on New Year's Day. Now whenever the Madaris brothers, Trevor Grant and Trask Maxwell patronized Sisters, they came with their wives. Fortunately, Ashton Sinclair was single, but unfortunately, he only had eyes for Netherland.
"Oh, Nettie, I wish I was in your shoes right now," Rainey whispered. "Do you know what I would do if I were?"
Netherland shook her head. She really did have an idea but wanted to hear it from Rainey's lips anyway, just in case she was mistaken. "No, what?"
"I would waltz right over to Ashton Sinclair and tell him that I've changed my mind and that I will go out with him."
Netherland smiled. She had figured as much. "Rainey, going out with him won't serve any purpose. You know how I feel about military men."
"Yeah, but take a look, Nettie, there is never anything military about him whenever he comes in here. Every time I see him I want to submit his picture for the cover of one of those romance novels. Can you imagine taking a book with his picture on the cover to bed every night? Talk about pleasant dreams."
Netherland smiled. "He is kind of handsome, isn't he?"
"Kind of? Nettie, no man has caused such a stir in this place since that time a few years back when Dex Madaris walked in. You have to admit Mr. Sinclair has been good for business. Just look around. This place is packed and has been every night since word got out about him. You're the envy of every woman here. Do you know that some are taking bets?"
Netherland lifted a dark brow. "Taking bets on what?"
"On how much longer you'll be able to resist his sexual pull, his magnetic draw, his sensual smile."
"If you believe that, then you're in deeper waters than I thought."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I can't help noticing you're starting to return his hot looks."
"I am not!"
"You are, too. And if you don't realize it or acknowledge it, you're in real trouble." Rainey heard Netherland's soft grunt and allowed her smile to deepen. "If you are immune to him, then prove it."
"Prove it how?"
"Take his dinner order. It's obvious that whenever he comes in here he prefers for you to wait on his table. But he's too much of a gentleman to hurt our feelings and specifically ask for you."
Rainey smiled. "No. That's a man who's patient yet determined."
Netherland looked at Rainey. As the owner of Sisters, her duties were administrative. She seldom had the time to serve the customers unless there was some special event. "Take his order, huh? You don't think I can handle it, do you?"
"Oh, you'll handle it on wobbly knees, with bated breath and a luscious pool of heat between your legs like the rest of us. If his smile doesn't get to you, then his voice certainly will. It's so sexy."
Netherland had to agree. He did have a sexy voice. But she had to believe she could be strong and resist everything about Ashton Sinclair. Hadn't she done a good job of resisting his charm at Trevor Grant's wedding last year? Ashton and Trevor were good friends from Trevor's military days. At the reception Ashton had cornered her and had again asked her to go out with him. She had almost been overcome with weakness since he had looked so darn good in a tux. But luckily, she had gotten a firm grip on her senses before agreeing to date him.
"Taking his order isn't a big deal," Netherland said, pulling a menu out of the rack.
"So you say."
"I can do it."
"So you claim."
"And nothing will happen."
"So you think. Good luck."
Netherland glared at Rainey. She then took a deep breath before moving across the room. She didn't need good luck. What she needed was a good prayer.
Ashton Sinclair watched Netherland as she walked toward him, all formal and businesslike, with a menu securely in her hand. From her intense expression, he could tell she felt she was at her wits' end with him. Well, as far as he was concerned, she hadn't seen anything yet. He was getting ready to turn up the heat. He had only six weeks of leave time before he had to report to Washington. He intended to spend every chance he got pursuing his future wife. Soon she would discover that denying what was between them would be pointless, a definite waste of time.
He leaned back in his chair. What a woman. She was beautiful, sexy and intensely stubborn. His smile widened. He could handle her stubbornness. He rubbed his jaw thinking he could handle just about anything Ms. Brooms dished his way. The result would be well worth it.
Tension gripped Netherland's entire body as she continued walking toward Ashton on wobbly knees with each bated breath she took. The pool of luscious heat between her legs that Rainey had warned her about got almost unbearable when she saw his gaze roam over her from head to toe. His gaze was blazing with intensity as if burning to ashes every barrier she had erected between them. She knew a lot of other gazes were on her, wanting to see if she could or would resist his sexual charm. She sighed, hoping she would not make a fool of herself. Talk was cheap and when she had taken Rainey up on this dare, she had felt confident she could handle things. But now, the closer she got to where Ashton was sitting, the more she wanted to turn around and hightail it the other way.
She fought to control the intense desire that was running rampant in her midsection and the increased tingling of her breasts against her blouse. No man should have this much of an effect on a woman. No man.
Angry with herself as well as with him for placing her in such a predicament, she took a deep, calming breath when she reached his table. She met his gaze with exasperated eyes. "Ashton."
She took another deep breath upon hearing her name spoken in a satin-smooth tone from his lips. "Welcome to Sisters tonight."
She placed an opened menu in front of him. Before she could recite that night's dinner special, he said, "I don't need that. I know exactly what I want." He closed the menu.
She nodded, thinking he probably did since he had patronized her restaurant every single night this week. "All right. What is it that you want?"
Ashton's eyes darkened even more, exuding strong sensuality, virility and masculinity. When he spoke, his words were husky, sexy and unerringly clear.
"I want you, Netherland."
The look in Ashton's eyes told Netherland he was as serious as a heart attack and just as lethal. The four words he had spoken suddenly changed the rhythm of her heartbeat when their impact sent a jolt of desire through her. It wasn't what he had said. It was how he had said it and how he'd looked at her while saying it. Then to top things off, without warning, the most devastating smile caught the corners of his mouth and extended deep into his dark eyes.
Netherland cleared her throat. She noticed that a hush had spread across the restaurant and wondered if Ashton's words had been loud enough to be heard by others.