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Patrick Tanner walked into Morgan's Pub and squinted to adjust to the dim light. The room had a long oak bar on one side, and several booths on the other. The sound of clinking glasses and laughter was muffled by the loud music coming from the jukebox.
The place was already crowded with Friday-night customers.
Patrick continued to look around. There were several women who returned an I'm-interested look, but he didn't reciprocate. Not tonight. His youngest sister, Nora, had called and said she needed to see him. And anyone who knew Patrick knew his family came first, even if he had to drive forty miles from the ranch into Portland.
A long, thirsty drive, he thought as he walked to the bar and sat down on the stool. The burly bartender was wiping his hands on a towel when he came up to him. "What'll it be?"
"A beer. Whatever's on tap."
The man nodded, then took a mug from the shelf, tilted it under the spout and pulled the lever. Once the golden liquid had filled the glass to the brim, he set it down on the bar. "Enjoy."
"Thanks, I will." Patrick gripped the handle and took a long swallow. He didn't drink often, but a beer once in a while didn't hurt. He would never let alcohol consume his life. He'd never be like his father. Never.
Patrick pushed aside the bitter thoughts and glanced at his watch. Nora should have been here by now. He was reaching for his cell phone when the door opened and two women walked in. A blonde and a redhead, both unfamiliar, walked toward an empty table, both tall and beautiful enough to turn just about every man's head in the room. Patrick usually preferred blondes, but this time the redhead drew all his attention. She had striking features, large dark eyes, a wide, kissable mouth .
He changed his focus to her attire, a blue-green blouse and a pair of jeans that encased long, slender legs. When she turned around and his gaze dropped to her shapely bottom, Patrick took a long drink of his cold beer. Oh, boy, he'd been spending too much time on the ranch.
Cynthia Reynolds had wanted to argue with Kelly when she'd suggested coming to Morgan's Pub, and now, seeing the good-looking man at the bar, she was glad she hadn't.
Cynthia guessed his age at about thirty-five. He was a little rough around the edges with shaggy dark blond hair that hadn't seen a stylist in a long time. He wore a chambray shirt and a pair of jeans, faded and soft from wear, and a brown belt that circled his slim waist. Cyndi found she was daydreaming about how she would pop open each snap on his shirt
She quickly pushed aside the thought. What was wrong with her? He wasn't even her usual type.
But when his gaze met hers, she couldn't seem to turn away. Those piercing eyes held herprisoner as a slow smile emphasized his already sensual mouth, and her breath suddenly locked in her lungs.
"See anything that interests you?" Kelly's voice broke through her reverie.
Cynthia hated that her sister could always read her so easily. Maybe that was the reason Kelly was such a good lawyer. She was not only beautiful, with her dazzling brown eyes and golden hair, but she'd also got the brains of the family.
"Maybe, but I'm not going to do anything about it."
The waitress came by for their drink order. Once it was given, their conversation started up again. "And what's wrong with having a little fun?" Kelly asked. "You can't work all the time. Besides, so far, no one has recognized you."
Cynthia was glad that people weren't asking for her autograph. She didn't want to be front cover in the tabloids, whether she did anything crazy or not.
"Maybe because I'm old news and I haven't actually been in a box-office hit in three years." Back then Cynthia Reynolds had had to turn movie scripts away.
"And that's going to change."
"Please don't tell me you set me up with a guy."
"No, I wouldn't do that." Kelly brushed back her shoulder-length hair and glanced around the bar. "I'm looking for my assistant, Nora. She's going to help us with your problem."
"My problem? What problem?"
Kelly's eyes narrowed in disdain. "The problem you've had since you were six years old. Your fear of horses."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"You've got to overcome that fear if you want to land the best movie role that's come down the pike in years."
Cynthia sighed. "You've been talking to Bernie."
Bernie Schwartz, her agent for the last fifteen yearsand a veritable tiger when it came to the business. For the past two months, Bernie had been bugging her about this project.
"Is this about the Western, Cheyenne?" Cynthia asked.
"Of course it is," Kelly said as the waitress returned with their drinks. "From what I hear, you're perfect for the female lead."
Cynthia frowned. "They're looking for someone under thirty."
"So, you can pass for thirty," Kelly said convincingly.
Plus five years, Cynthia said to herself. "Not in close-ups." She glanced toward the bar again. The man was still watching her. He nodded to her, then took a drink from his glass. Cynthia found herself lifting her own drink and nodding back, a flush heating her cheeks. What had gotten into her? She didn't flirt with strange men. But there was something about this cowboy that got her blood pumping. And that hadn't happened for a long time.
"It's so not fair," Kelly said, "especially when you know that the male lead will probably be at least thirty-five. That's discrimination. Just say the word and I'll"
"No! That won't help my situation," Cynthia insisted. "It's bad enough that lately my phone hasn't exactly been ringing off the hook for roles. I'm sure a lawyer screaming discrimination will silence it totally."
Kelly had a successful practice as a divorce lawyer in Portland and she had always fought for the underdog. "Then how about a more subtle approach?"
Cynthia was having trouble concentrating. Her cowboy at the bar was too distracting. "And just what would that be?"
"You learn how to ride a horse and go after this role." She raised a hand. "And before you get all worked up, just hear me out. Nora has assured me that you can overcome your fear if you have the right teacher."
Cynthia's attention strayed to the bar again as a tingle ran through her. She wouldn't mind if this man taught her a few things.
"Cyndi, are you hearing anything I'm saying?"
"Sure I am. You think I should learn to ride."
Kelly looked toward the bar, then back at Cynthia with a smile. "My sister has good taste. So what's stopping you? Go talk to him. Just don't forget that we're going to be meeting with Nora in a little while."
"I can't promise that I'll get on a horse, Kelly, but I'll talk to her."
Cynthia stood and made her way across the room. She told herself she was crazy to do this, but her heart still raced. Her attraction to this man was not to be denied. As she got closer, that thought was the only thing that kept her from running in the other direction. That and his eyes were a brilliant, mesmerizing blue. His smile, she noticed, was slightly off center, only adding to his appeal. Her knees weakened as he stood up and pulled out the stool next to his.
She sat down. "Hi," she said breathlessly.
Patrick had been crazy to encourage this woman. Any minute his sister could walk in and he would have to end things. And he definitely wanted to spend time with this tall, gorgeous woman.
"Hi, yourself. I haven't seen you in here before," he said, wishing he could come up with something more clever.
She leaned in close so he could hear her, and he caught a whiff of her intoxicating perfume. "I'm from out of town," she offered as she stuck out her slender hand. "I'm Cyndi."
He clasped her small palm in his and immediately felt a warm, sexual charge. He nearly forgot his name. "Patrick."
Again she leaned in and gave a smile that had him forgetting everything. "Nice to meet you, Patrick."
He didn't release her hand, liking how it fitted into his. She didn't seem to object. "It's nice to meet you, too." Suddenly his ringing cell phone broke the spell. "Excuse me." He pulled it from his pocket and saw that it was his sister. Great, this woman not only made him forget his name but his sister. "Where are you?"
"That's what I'm calling about, Patrick. I had a flat tire."
"Tell me where you are and I'll come and fix it."
"No, it's already done. I did it myself. But I'm a mess so I'm on my way back to my apartment. I know you have a long drive back to the ranch, so I didn't want to hold you up."
"I thought you needed to talk."
"I do, but tomorrow's Saturday, so I'll just come out to the ranch and we'll talk then. Is that okay?"
Patrick looked over his shoulder at the sexy redhead beside him. "Sure. I'll look forward to it."
"Patrick, I'm going to be bringing along a friend and.I want you to keep an open mind."
Suddenly Cyndi's body brushed against him as she made room for more people at the bar. He felt a stirring in his gut and he had to work to keep focused on what Nora was saying. "So I'll see you then. As you can tell, Morgan's is noisy as usual." He said good-bye and pocketed the phone.
Cyndi's dark, questioning gaze met his. "Your wife?"
He shook his head. "My sister. I'm not married. How about you?"
Smiling, she shook her head and it nearly did him in. There was no way in hell he was going to let her slip away. He tilted his head toward hers to say something, but suddenly the jukebox came to life with another song and patrons raised their voices to be heard. "How long will you be in town?"
She shrugged. "About ten days," she shouted. "I'm visiting my sister." She nodded toward the woman at the table. This was perfect. Maybe they could spend some time together while Cynthia was in Portland.
"What do you say we go some place where we can hear ourselves talk?" He found he was holding his breath waiting for an answer.
"Do you know of such a place?"
Hell, he hadn't done anything like this in years. "There's a quiet lounge just down the street at the Grand Hotel. We could walk there from here."
Amazing herself, Cynthia nodded in agreement. Now she just had to convince Kelly that she was perfectly sane. "Just let me tell my sister where I'll be."
She walked back to the table to find her sister wasn't alone. Two men were seated with her and she seemed engrossed in conversation. Cynthia took her aside. "Would you mind if I go and have a quiet drink with Patrick?"
"Cyndi, you don't have to ask for permission. Besides, he's sexy as hell. It's about time you had some fun."
Cynthia blushed. "We're just going to the lounge at the Grand Hotel."
"Then go for it. Nora just called and apologized for not being here. She had car trouble. So we rescheduled for tomorrow, and she wants us to come out to her family's ranch. She insists if anyone can help you with your fear of horses, it's her brother." Kelly cocked an eyebrow. "That means I'm coming by your hotel early."
Cynthia didn't want to talk about herfears orher fading career now. "Fine, then I'll see you tomorrow." She walked to the door and to Patrick. Tonight she wanted to get lost in this cowboy's eyes.