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Breathless For The Bachelor
By Cindy Gerard
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-373-76564-9
"If you call me cute one more time, I swear I'm going to break every bone in your foot."
Ryan Evans lifted a considering brow and gauged the scowl on Carrie Whelan's face across the booth where they sat in the Royal Diner. She meant business. She wasn't just scowling; she was close to breathing fire as hot as the straight, shining length of silky red hair brushing small shoulders stiffened in a pique of anger.
Carrie was way too much fun to tease. Always had been. And hell, at fourteen, she had been cute. At twenty-four, however, it was obvious the idea that he - or any man - would regard her that way, rankled.
Sheer orneriness prompted him to push another hot button. But safety first. He cleared his throat, pulled himself up straighter and very deliberately drew his long legs back under the faded red plastic booth seat so the simmering Ms. Whelan couldn't stomp the three-inch stiletto heel of her designer boots into his instep.
"That time of the month again, is it, sweetie?" he asked with the sage and patronizing compassion of a wise and understanding man.
When she growled, he blinked, all innocence and mystified male guile. "What? What'd I say?"
She tilted her head to the side and studied him as if he were a wad of gum she'd like to scrape off the bottom of her boot. "You know, for a man of such reputed and vast experience with women, you know exactly the wrong things to say to impress a lady."
He couldn't help it. He gave it up and grinned. "Oh, so you're a lady now, are you?"
It wasn't all that long ago that little Carrie Whelan - cute little Carrie Whelan, his best friend, Travis Whelan's, kid sister - had declared to anyone within earshot that she was gonna be a cowboy and she'd have to be dead before anyone would catch her in anything but denim and her cowboy hat and boots.
Well, he could testify for a fact that she was still alive - very much alive - even though she'd traded denim for silk and her worn Ropers for butter-soft Italian ankle boots a few years ago. She also wore a different kind of hat these days - several different kinds, actually. Thanks to the trust fund Trav had set up for her, she didn't have to work, but the darling of Royal, Texas, society was always involved in something. If she wasn't volunteering at the Royalty Hospital burn unit or at the library, she devoted many hours a week at a tax-supported day-care center - and all that was in between organizing fund-raisers and squeezing moldy money from kindhearted old and not-so-old men with deep pockets, who were sympathetic to her causes and suckers for her smile.
And yes. She was definitely alive, Ry thought again before he could curb a quick, appreciative glance at the full, healthy breasts pushing against the ivory silk of her blouse.
But he wasn't supposed to notice that. He wasn't supposed to notice anything remotely sexy or female about Carrie.
He tugged his hat brim lower over his brow. The problem was, she was right about one thing. She wasn't cute anymore. She was beautiful ... supermodel gorgeous, in fact, with those snapping hazel eyes, her tall, willow-slim body and a mouth that made a man wonder what it would feel like pressed against his bare skin.
Not him, of course. He didn't think of her that way. At least, he tried like hell not to.
Frowning, he schooled his gaze to her face again - to those mossy-green eyes - and forced a mandatory return back to surrogate-brother role. "What's got your tail in a twist, Carrie-bear?"
The look she threw him could have peeled paint off the bumper of his black four-by-four Ranger. "You're worse than my brother," she sputtered, and tipped her coffee - muddy tan and loaded with cream and sugar - to her lips. "Neither one of you takes me seriously."
Ry slumped back in the booth, resisting the urge to own up to exactly how seriously he did take her. How he'd seriously like to take her and how she could seriously mess up his head if he didn't herd his thoughts back in the right direction.
"What'd Trav do now?" he asked instead.
"What does he always do? He treats me like a child."
"He loves you," Ry said softly, and watched some of the starch ease out of her stiff spine.
She turned those hazel eyes on him. They made him think of wispy, glittering smoke. Like a night fire, embers banked but smoldering.
"What are we doing here?" she asked abruptly and with such earnest inquiry, he sobered.
"Well, the way I remember it," he said carefully, because he didn't want her getting wise to the fact that at Trav's request, Ry had been sticking pretty close to her for the past week or so, "I called to see how you were doing, you said you'd had a long day, wanted to unwind and asked me to meet you here for a cup of coffee."
She was already shaking her head. "No, I don't mean, what are we doing here, at the Royal Diner. I mean, what are we doing here - you and me? Look at us. It's Saturday night, for Pete's sake. Why aren't we out on the town with our respective dates, drinking champagne - or in your case, your beer of choice," she added with a smarty-pants smile, "and looking forward to a night of hot, passionate se -"
"Hold it right there." He sat up straight, pushing a hand into the space between them.
When she actually shut up, he wiped that same hand over his jaw, then resettled his hat. This was territory he had no intention of invading. "I don't think I want to be discussing my love life with you."
Excerpted from Breathless For The Bachelor by Cindy Gerard Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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