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By Brenda Jackson
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTara Matthews hated weddings.
She had done a pretty good job of avoiding them until she had met the Westmorelands. Since then she had attended two weddings within an eighteen-month period. She'd had even been maid of honor when her good friend, Delaney Westmoreland, had married a desert sheikh almost a year and a half ago.
And today, like everyone else in the grand ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Atlanta, she had come to celebrate the wedding of Delaney's brother, Dare Westmoreland to the woman he loved, Shelly Brockman.
The worst part, Tara thought as she glanced around her, was that she couldn't really complain about having to attend the weddings. Not when the Westmorelands had become the closest thing to a family she'd had since that fateful day in June two years ago. It was to have been her wedding day, but she had stood at the altar in complete shock after the groom, the man she had loved, who she thought had loved her, had announced to all three hundred guests that he couldn't go through with the wedding because he was in love with her maid of honor - the woman she'd considered her best friend for over fifteen years. That day Tara had left Bunnell, Florida, hurt and humiliated, and vowing to her family that she would never return.
And so far she hadn't.
A few days later she'd accepted a position as a resident pediatrician at a hospital in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Leaving her hometown had destroyed her and her father's dream of working together in his pediatric practice.
While working at the hospital in Kentucky, she had met Delaney Westmoreland, another pediatrician, and they had become the best of friends. She had also become good friends with four of Delaney's five older brothers, Dare, Stone and the twins, Chase and Storm. The initial meeting between her and the fifth brother, Thorn, had been rather rocky. She'd "gone off" on him about his unpleasant mood. Since then, they had pretty much avoided each other, which suited her just fine. At six foot-four, thirty-five-years of age, ruggedly handsome and sexy as sin, Thorn Westmoreland was the last man she needed to be around; especially since whenever she saw him she thought of scented candles, naked bodies and silken sheets.
"I'm going to the ladies' room," she whispered to Delaney, who turned to her, nodded and smiled. Tara smiled back, understanding that the older woman Delaney was talking to wasn't letting her get a word in. Glancing at her watch to see how much longer she needed to put in an appearance, Tara made her way down a long, empty hallway to the restrooms.
Her thoughts drifted to the fact that next month she would be moving from Kentucky to the Atlanta area. She was moving because an older married doctor with clout at the Kentucky hospital had been obsessed with having her in his bed. When she'd rebuffed his advances, he'd tried making her work environment difficult. To avoid the sexual harassment lawsuit she'd threatened to file, the hospital had decided to relocate her and Atlanta had been her first choice.
Tara was so busy putting her lipstick case back in her purse after leaving the restroom that she didn't notice the man coming out of the men's room at the same time, until they collided head on.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I wasn't looking where I was -"
Any further words died on her lips when she saw that the man she had bumped into was Thorn Westmoreland. He seemed as surprised to see her as she was to see him.
He returned her greeting in an irritated tone as his intense dark eyes held her gaze. She frowned, wondering what he was upset about. He hadn't been looking where he was going any more than she had, so the blame wasn't all hers. But she decided to be cordial for once where he was concerned. "I apologize for not looking where I was going."
When he didn't say anything, but frowned and narrowed his eyes at her, Tara decided not to wait for a response that undoubtedly wasn't coming. She made a move to pass him, and it was then that she noticed he had not removed his hand from her arm. She looked down at his hand and then back at him.
"Thanks for keeping me from falling, Thorn, but you can let go of me now."
Instead of releasing her, his hold tightened and then he muttered something deep in his throat, which to Tara's ears sounded pretty much like, "I doubt if I can." Then, suddenly, without any warning, he leaned down and captured her lips with his.
The first thought that came to Tara's mind was that she had to resist him. But a second thought quickly followed; she should go ahead and get him out of her system since he had been there from the day they'd met. Shamefully she admitted that the attraction she'd felt for him was stronger than any she'd ever felt for a man, and that included Derrick Hayes, the man she had planned to marry.
The third thought that whipped through her mind was that Thorn Westmoreland definitely knew how to kiss. The touch of his tongue to hers sent a jolt through her so intense, her midsection suddenly felt like a flaming torch. Emotions, powerful and overwhelming, shot through her, and she whimpered softly as he deepened the kiss with bold strokes of his tongue, seizing any sound she made, effectively and efficiently staking a claim on her mouth.
A claim she didn't want him to make, but one he was making anyway.
He used his hands to cup her bottom boldly and instinctively she moved closer to him, coming into contact with his straining arousal. When she placed her arms around his neck, he arched his back, lifted her off the floor and brought her more snugly to him, hip-to-hip, thigh-to-thigh, and breast-to-breast. His taste, tinged with the slight hint of champagne, went right to her head, and a dizzy rush of need she couldn't explain sent blood rushing through all parts of her.
When he finally released her mouth and placed her back down on solid ground, they were both breathless. He didn't let go of her. He continued to hold her in his arms, nibbling on her neck, her chin and her lips before recapturing her mouth with his for another bone-melting kiss.
He sucked on her tongue tenderly, passionately, slowly, as though he had all the time in the world to drive her mad with desire. It was a madness that flooded her insides and made her moan out a pleasure she had never experienced before. Potent desire, stimulating pleasure, radiated from his hands, his tongue and the hard body pressed to hers. When he finally broke off the kiss, she slumped weakly against his chest thinking that in all her twenty-seven years, she had never been kissed like that.
She slowly regained her senses as she felt him remove his hands from her. She slid her hands from his shoulders and looked up into his eyes, seeing anger radiating there. He apparently was mad at himself for having kissed her, and even madder with her for letting him. Without saying a word he turned and walked off. He didn't look back. When he was no longer in sight she breathed deeply, still feeling the heat from his kiss.
Tara nervously moistened her lips as she tried to regain control of her senses. She felt it was fairly safe to assume, after a kiss like that, that Thorn was now out of her system. In any case, she was determined more than ever to continue to avoid him like the plague.
Two years ago she had learned a hard lesson; love, the happily-ever-after kind, was not meant for her.
Excerpted from Thorn's Challenge by Brenda Jackson Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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