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Jet Baron slammed on the brakes, nearly clocking his chin on the steering wheel in the process.
Dust kicked up from his truck's tires and wafted around the woman's silhouette. A blonde womana drop-dead gorgeous womanin a black dress stared at him curiously as he drifted to a stop.
She waved, mouthed hello, and all Jet could think was, all right, which one of his rodeo friends had set him up? They'd teased him mercilessly last night when he'd told them about the meeting this morning out in the middle of a field in Nowhere, Texas. Jet Baron, forced to work, they'd said. Not forced, he'd explained. More like emotionally blackmailed.
This had to be his friends' idea of a joke because there was no way this was J. C. Marks, their newly hired engineer at Baron Energies. Granted, he'd never met the man, but the point was, J.C. was a man.
"Ha, ha, ha," he said as he slipped out of his truck, the words Baron Energies on the sideunlike her truck. "Very funny."
The woman in the black dress stepped away from her vehicle and frowned.
"I beg your pardon?"
Eyes the same piercing blue of an Artic fox scanned first him and then his white truck. She had golden hair, the kind that glowed like pirate's treasure and hung well past her shoulders, and a heart-shaped face complete with a tiny chin and nose. Her huge eyes were outlined with black; it made her appear even more doll-like. This was no engineer with a master's degree in engineering. No way.
"You going to peel off your dress now? Or later?"
"Don't worry. It's not your fault. My friends didn't know I was meeting a man. A project engineer, actually, and you don't exactly look the part. Nice try, though."
Her mouth hung open a bit, and it was a plump, juicy-looking mouth, one that made him think of eating fruit for some strange reason.
"Let me guess. Jet Baron."
"One and the same." He gave her a welcoming smile, his gaze slowly sliding over her body. Damn. Wherever they'd found her, his buddies had outdone themselves. Hot didn't begin to describe her. Damn hot. Holy-moly hot.
"Why am I not surprised?" she asked.
Her sarcasm startled him, as did the way she eyed him up and down, her gaze skating over his jeans and black shirt. So direct. So appraising. So disappointed.
He straightened. "If you're going to start stripping, you better do it now. I'm expecting the engineer at any moment."
She had tipped her head sideways, her long hair falling in large curls over one shoulder. "You think I'm some kind of prank. An actress hired to, what? Pretend to have a meeting with you? Then strip out of my clothes?"
He'd started to get a funny feelinglike he'd walked into a room at the end of a joke. "Well, yeah."
She took a step toward him, and he would be lying if he didn't feel as if, somehow, the joke was on him.
"Tell me somethingwhat makes you think the engineer in question is a man?"
"I was told that."
He couldn't remember, but it didn't matter.
When his sister had told him to meet with their newest engineer, she'd said Mr. Marks hadn't she?
"I don't know who told me, just that I know he's a man. All engineers in the oil industry are men, but if you want to pretend you're part of the industry, have at it. Won't matter once you take off your clothes."
She took another step toward him. "Oh, but see? You're wrong." One more step. "There's actually quite a few of us women in the business. I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in geology." Another step. "I interned for the USGS out of Menlo Park while getting that degree, then moved back to Texas to get my master's in engineering. My father was a wildcatter, and it was from him that I learned the business, so let me reassure you, Mr. Baron, I can tell the difference between an injection hose and a drill pipe. I've worked on both drilling rigs and production platforms, but if you still insist only men can be engineers, perhaps we should call your sister Lizzie, the one who hired me."
He couldn't speak for a moment, and then all he could utter was "Oh, crap."
Her brows lifted, her extraordinary blue eyes scanning him up and down, her derision clearly evident. "Still want me to strip?"
He almost said yes, but he could tell that he was in enough trouble as it is. "I take it you're J.C.?"
Why hadn't Lizzie told him? Then again, why would she? Lizzie had her hands full between helping to run Baron Energies and being newly engaged, not to mention pregnant. The gender of their engineer wasn't exactly something you discussed during the course of a normal conversation, especially when that sister was perturbed with you because you weren't pulling your weight.
"I should apologize."
He almost laughed. "You've got to admit." He pointed a palm toward her dress. "You don't exactly look like an engineer."
She glanced down, then back up. "I have a meeting with our corporate attorney after this. The jacket that goes over this is in the truck, but I don't generally wear one when I'm out of the office and it's nearly ninety degrees outside."
She was right. They were out in a field, on a plot of land his dad had bought years ago and that they'd just recently received the EPA's approval to develop for oil. Nothing but flat pasture as far as the eye could see with a few trees here and there and prickly pear cacti dotting the landscape. He had already begun to sweat, but not because of the heat.
"Okay, I see your point."
"Great, can we get started, then? I have to be in town by five."
Which was probably why she drove her personal vehicle. She was going straight home after her meeting. Damn. Could he have gotten it more wrong?
"Sure, what have you got for me?"
She leaned away from him, her eyes scanning him once again. Whatever she saw must have satisfied her. "Well, as you can see, your dad marked the preliminary drill site."
He glanced at a wooden stick protruding from the ground, one with a neon strip of tape on it and the only indication that something would happen there shortly.
"X marks the spot," he said with a smile.
She ignored his attempt to lighten the mood. "Actually, the presence of reservoir rock affiliated with some uplift erosion there and there" she pointed toward a slight bulge in the land "is what marks the spot, but what do I know?"
"I'm guessing a lot more than me," he muttered.
"What was that?"
"Nothing, nothing. Go on."
He might not have spent a whole lot of time working at Baron Energies, but he knew the oil business well enough to recognize an expert, and as she walked him around the job site, pointing toward where they would drill for water and where she thought the reserve pit should go, he admitted she knew her stuff. He'd cut his teeth on rigs, had spent most of his summers working for his dad. When he was fifteen he'd been part of the biggest oil strike on company record. Listening to her speak was oddly titillatingas if he were in a foreign country and discovered someone who spoke his own language. A sexy someone. Someone with a mouth that drew his attention over and over
He realized she waited for him to answer, didn't know what she'd just asked, and so said the first thing that came to mind. "I think we've covered everything." He added a smile.
She stared at him like a teacher who'd caught one of her students with a comic book between the pages of a math textbook. "No, we have not covered everything. I just asked you about the access road."
For the first time in a long, long while he felt his cheeks color. "What about it?"
At some point she must have grabbed a tablet from her truck. Jet didn't remember her doing it. In between watching her mouth and debating with himself on whether or not she had a boyfriend, he'd been a bit distracted.
"If you're not here to play ball, just go on home." She flipped the cover of her tablet closed. "Go back to rodeo riding or climbing rocks or BASE jumping or dropping out of helicopters or whatever thrill-seeking adventure you have scheduled this weekend. God forbid you should actually work for a living."
So she'd heard about his hobbies. Interesting. Except, he wasn't so sure that was a good thing.
"I rodeo full-time."
"That's not a real job."
Actually, it was, but he could tell he'd never make her believe it.
" You're right." He swiped a hand over his hair. "It's not a desk job, and this isn't my usual vocation. At least, it hasn't been for a long while. But with my dad out of commission, I was told I needed to help you manage this project and, believe it or not, I have the experience to do exactly that. It's just gonna take me a while to get up to speed."
"Then maybe you should pay attention."
She stared at him as if she could crack his skull open and see inside, and then, finding nothing of interest, shook her own head. "All right, fine. Let's talk about the road." She eyed him skeptically. "Again." She flipped open her tablet once more, sidled up next to him and pointed at the screen. Jet noticed she indicated to a plot map.
Man, she smells nice.
"As you can see, the most direct route would be this way."
Like a flower garden.
"But that would mean building a bridge over the wash."
Was it shampoo? Or perfume? Or maybe body spray.
"As you know, bridges are expensive."
Why hadn't he seen her at the office before?
Because you 're never at the office.
"It requires engineering and an EIR."
It was true, he rarely made more than an appearance at their downtown office, and it drove his family nuts. His father had never really minded his commitment to rodeo before, but lately he'd been dropping hint after hint that Jet needed to play a bigger part in Baron Energies, especially since Brock's injury. Stupid old fool had climbed on a bull at a seniors' rodeo and damn near broken his neck. Thankfully, it'd just been a broken leg, but he'd been told to stay off his feet and forced to hand over control of Baron Energies to Jet's sister Lizzie. His father had been as subtle as a brick ever since, but his sister's ever increasing girth had sealed the deal. She'd be out on maternity leave soon and his dad had made no bones about Jet stepping in to fill her shoes while she was out of commission. Of course, if Jet had known J.C. was there this whole time, he might have come on board earlier .
"How long have you worked for us?"
She slammed the tablet closed, shook her head in obvious disgust, and said, "I'll have my assistant type up a report and leave it on your desk. I assume you have an office, yes?"
He didn't know. He assumed he did. "Of course." He'd make sure he did.
"Great." She turned away before he could say so much as goodbye.
She kept walking.
Somehow he managed to catch up and then wedge himself between her and her vehicle. "Look, I really am paying attention."
She released a disdain-filled huff.
"I'm listening to every word. Don't build the bridge. It makes more sense to cut a road coming in from the south. Asphalt is cheaper than steel and an Environmental Impact Report will take months. If it means the laborers will have to drive a few extra minutes to get to the job site, oh, well."
She lifted a brow. A blond brow. Must be her natural hair color, unless she dyed them .
"Pretty sure that's what you were going to say, which is why I asked the question. You're good at your job and I'm just a little flabbergasted, is all. You're young, maybe a couple years younger than me, yet you already have a masters? It took me five years to get my bachelor's degree in business management. Of course, I was competing on the PRCA circuit full-time, but still. You must have started college in preschool."
She clutched her tablet as if she wanted to hit him over the head with it. "I was home schooled," she admitted. "I started college when I was sixteen."
"Did my first two years of college from home through a university extension program. Transferred at eighteen to Berkeley. Graduated when I was twenty with a bachelor's in geology. Spent the next two years working on my masters in engineering. I'm twenty-four and I was hired by Baron Energies right after Lizzie was put in charge, which is probably why I was hired. She understands that a woman can do a man's job."
Yes, his sister did. And J.C. was the same age as him, which made it easier to do the math. "So what have you been doing for the past two years?"
"If it took you two years to get your masters that means you graduated when you were twenty-two. I'm just curious what you've been doing for the past two years."
It was as if he'd turned her into a block of ice, or at least her eyes. "My point is, I'm qualified to do the job." And her words were the frosty equivalent of "it's none of your business."
"My sister wouldn't have hired you if you weren't qualified."
"Your sister strikes me as highly intelligent."
She didn't say the words, but he could have sworn he heard them. It didn't offend him. Not in the least. He liked that she didn't give a fig that he was Jet Baron, Brock Baron's son, heir apparent to Baron Energiesif his dad had anything to say about it. His last name meant he had his choice of women. And if his last name didn't work, he could usually charm the pants off the opposite sex with a simple smile. Not J. C. Marks.
"What does the J stand for, anyway?"
None of your business, her eyes said.
"Just-ina leave me alone?" he quipped.
She stared at him.
"I don't Juan-ita anything to do with you?" he added. She crossed her arms. She held the tablet in front of her as though it was some kind of shield. "You're a Jac-queline-ass?" The arms unfolded.
"Me," he clarified. "I'm the Jac-queline-ass."
"It stands for Jasmine. Jasmine Caroline Marks, and if we're through here, I have an appointment."
He could tell he wasn't getting anywhereand he kind of liked it. Challenges were what made the world go around, he thought, although he'd never let it get any further than a flirtation. The last thing he needed was his dad breathing down his neck over a sexual harassment lawsuit.
"Sure. Okay. I think we can call it a day."
"Great." She gave him a smile nearly as frosty as a summer soda. "I'll have a cost analysis ready for you in the morning."
"Why don't we meet for breakfast? There's this terrific little coffee shop right down the street from the office."
"I'll see you at the office."
"But the pastries there are terrific. You don't have to eat if you don't want to, though. I'll listen while I chew."
"How does eight-thirty sound?"
"I don't think well on an empty stomach." He really didn't. He was one of those "eats a truckload of food" kind of guys, or so his family claimed.
She headed back to her vehicle. "Then eat before our meeting."
"I'd rather eat with you."
"Not in this lifetime."
"What was that?"
"Nothing," she called, opening the door to her vehicle. He watched her slip inside, grab her cell phone from somewhere, check the display, then tuck it back away.
"See you tomorrow," she said, reaching for her door to slam it closed.
"Looking forward to it."
She started her truck.
"Damn," Jet muttered. Maybe going back to a desk job wouldn't be so bad after all.