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Middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma
What was she doing? Or had just done? Miriam Cole sucked in a breath and squeezed her eyes tight. It didn't change a thing. He was still there.
Miriam peeked over her shoulder at the man smushed up against her body. His legs were tangled over hers and his hand gently gripped her breast. The angle was awkward, but she could make him out perfectly in the morning light.
She sucked in a breath as she gazed at his sexy, slightly curling dark hair. That full bottom lip that did such dangerous things to her body. That face that looked almost boyish in his sleep.
Boyish, because the man beside her was twenty years old.
Twenty. Twenty? She had to get out of there.
How had this happened? Two days ago, getting a rental and driving from Dallas to see a prospective author in Oklahoma had seemed like such a great idea. A couple of hours in the car with the top down. See a part of the country she'd never seen before. Relax. Take a break.
But the clean air smelled weird, the wildflowers untamed, and after mentally going through her to-do list, she remembered why she hated time alone with herself. She had nothing but work on her mind.
When she returned to the office, she'd fire the person who'd suggested she take a vacation. Even if he was her brother.
The man beside her shifted and snuggled closer into her pillow, burying his face in her hair. She closed her eyes again, loving the feel of his skin against hers. Miriam began to curve her hand along the hardness of his biceps. Nothing felt as good as a man's strong arms. Jeremy's strong arms especially. Maybe a quick
Her body jerked. Stop. If she went down that road again, he'd be awake. What had it been, four? Five times? Besides a little bit of sleep, the man didn't need much else to be up and raring to go. As tempting as round five or six soundedescape was what she needed.
She slowly tugged her hair out from under him and slid gracelessly to the floor. He shifted, and she made every muscle in her body go still. She held her breath. After counting to ten, she slowly stood. Although way more prudent, she refused to crawl. Some dignity must be maintained. She was a major player in the publishing industry after all.
Oh, her brother Ian would laugh his head off if he knew she'd tiptoed naked to the bathroom. Brought down. Brought down by a temperamental sporty little red car and no bars on her cell phone. Stranded. Stranded somewhere in the middle of a place called Arbuckle Wilderness.
Her cell phone beeped and she dashed for it. No way did she want Jeremy waking up. He'd want to do something gallant like fix her breakfast or slay some kind of dragon.
"Hello?" she answered quickly.
That's when she realized that what she held in her hand wasn't her phone. What had seemed so funny the day before, that she and Jeremy had picked out the same built-in ring tone, now was another in an ever-growing list of events that had led her to the colossal mistake of falling into his arms last night.
The long pause on the other line was ended by a strangled throat clearing. "Who is this?" the woman demanded, her tone clearly not expecting any subterfuge.
Rather than answering, Miriam padded across the floor and shook Jeremy's shoulder. "Phone call for you," she told him as he opened his eyes and she met the blueness of his gaze, reminding her just why she'd kissed him that first time.
With a sexy shrug, he sat up in bed, the sheet slid down his legs. Don't look.
"Hello?" His voice sleepy and so appealing to her. Oh, what did she have left to lose really? Her gaze drifted lower.
And Jeremy sat up straighter. "Oh, hi, Mom."
She shouldn't have looked.
She was going to be sick.
Two Weeks Later
"YOU LOOK LIKE HELL," Miriam said.
Ian Cole slumped into the burgundy leather chair in front of his editor's glass-and-chrome desk, ready for his latest assignment.
"That's a bit harsh," he told his sister.
"It's true. Have you seen yourself in the mirror?" Maybe she had a point. He certainly felt like hell, and he probably looked it, too. Yeah, well, what else was new? "I've just spent three weeks tracking drug runners. You're lucky I caught a shower before catching the redeye back to the States."
"Maybe you should try catching a shave and a haircut. And three days worth of sleep."
"The boys gave me a good send-off before I broke for the airport. A little R&R," he said, rubbing his temples, and trying to remember just what they'd done.
Maybe too good a send-off.
Miriam's lips thinned. "I'm not sure the parties those guys cook up could be cataloged as either rest or relaxation. They're certainly not good for you."
"We were all of legal age, and you didn't have to bail me out of jail, so I'm calling it good," he said, blinking against the light beaming through her large office window overlooking Manhattan.
Miriam shuddered, as she walked toward the window to close the blinds. "Thanks for the reminder. You should have heard me explaining to our accountant that bail money was a legitimate tax expense."
"You're lucky you got to bail me out. There are quite a few pissed-off officials who'd just as soon kill me as have me share the luxury of their penal system. There'll be no welcome mat for me in Mexico."
"True," his sister said, reaching for the wand on the blinds.
"Come to think of it, there'll be no welcome mat for you, either."
Miriam turned on her heel and glared at him. "You're right, and I have a time share in Mazatlan I'll never see again. I left my skinny swimsuit there, so screw your hangover. It's your own darn fault you're in this condition, so you can live with the sunlight. I like my view and I like my rays."
Ian looked around the office. "You worked hard enough to get here."
"Damn straight," she said, her angry attitude vanishing. He knew his big sister could never stay mad at him for long.
Kicking off her pointy black power heels, she rounded the corner of her desk. She tossed a manila folder on her brother's lap. "I have a new assignment for you. In fact, I think you'll like it. You've talked in the past about doing more feature writing, less fieldwork. I have a book for you to look over."
It physically hurt to make the face that expressed how he felt inside.
"You're going to tell me you're the only reporter who's never secretly longed to write their own book?" she asked. "A book is a long way from a feature spread in a magazine."
"Think of it as one hundred features strung together. I need this to work. Cole Publishing has just acquired the rights to an exciting new concept book," she told him as she reached for her ever-present bottle of water.
Ian sat up in his chair. "Ah, the side trip to Oklahoma. I see it went down smoothly."
Miriam coughed on her water.
Expanding into books had been a dream of their father's, which he'd inherited from their grandfather, who'd founded Cole Publishing. They'd spun off a few books from their newsmagazine to other publishers in the past, but the dream of becoming a major player had eluded their father. Since Miriam had taken the reins, his big sister had streamlined production, lowered costs and developed a nice, healthy bottom line.
Looked like Miriam thought the time to revisit the dream was now.
Apparently she planned to drag him along, too.
"And you want me to do the writing? Isn't that backwards? Aren't authors supposed to bring the completed manuscript to us?"
His sister straightened in the large executive leather chair. It had been their father's. That and the two leather seats in front of the desk were the only things she'd kept. The rest of the office had her stamp: rounded corners, sunburst motifart deco all the way. "She's an academic, a doctor of anthropology as a matter of fact. Her writing is somehow, well, awkward."
How like his sister. She was tough as nails, battled reporters, distributors and every yahoo who didn't think she could run a company with the big boys. She was all business. But when it came to talent, she never liked to criticize anyone.
Years ago, Ian had found his sister's weak spot; she feared an utter lack of talent in herself. Artistically speaking. And to be honest, her fears were quite well-founded. She couldn't sing, dance, paint and her writing was terrible. Even her carefully worded memos to staff needed a good editor. So unlike their graceful and talented mother. So unlike him, minus the graceful.
Well, he liked to think he exuded grace in one area. In bed. No complaints there.
His sister called the doc's writing awkward. That must mean it read like an academic snooze fest.
"Why me?" he asked.
Miriam didn't meet his gaze. "Because you're my best reporter and photographer."
Ian dropped his elbows to his knees and leaned forward. "Reporter being the operative word there. Why would you want me to help write it?"
"You can work magic with words. And this project definitely needs some sparkle."
"Don't say sparkle around any of the guys. So what's the story about?"
"I haven't settled on a title yet, but she's calling it Recipe for Sex." Miriam's brown gaze dropped from his.
Ian snorted. "Just to ensure I'll never be taken seriously in the world of journalism again?"
His sister shook her head, her dark hair not budging from the neat knot on top of her head. "You're a crime and war reporter. You're jaded. It's time to do a little something different."
Yes, and here it came. The big lecture on his lifestyle. He'd walk if she called him a danger junkie. But his sister was a businesswoman, and he knew how to fight dirty. He'd attack her bottom line.
He settled back against the leather chair. "Jaded appears to be selling. Readership's up twenty-five percent."
"And my migraines are up forty-five percent. One hundred percent because of you."
She couldn't be serious about yanking him. Hot stuff was brewing in South America. He itched to cover it. "What is it you're saying?"
"I'm saying you've become a pain in the ass.After your last series of escapades, I need to keep an eye on you."
Ian gritted his teeth. "You may be my big sister, but I'm plenty capable of taking care of myself."
"How about three arrests in two years in countries that change names as quickly as the next coup can be organized? How about the broken ribs you got while fighting some rebel over the film you shot? How about the"
He cut her off before she really got into this topic. His dangerous lifestyle tended to prove a favorite of hers. "Those are occupational hazards."
Miriam smiled, her eyes taking on a serious gleam. Crap. Now he was in for it. A smile was never good from his sister. He'd seen too many smiles induce too many lawyers, investment bankers and arrogant reporters into a false sense of security. She would get what she wanted.
But then, as her beloved brother, he was usually immune.
"This book is important to the company. It's important to me. I want this transition to go smoothly, and I know you can deliver it."
His immunity held firm. "Not gonna happen."
"I promised Mom."
Well, hell. And yes, the smile still worked. He'd been sucker punched, and it was a low blow. Miriam was the only one who kept in semiregular contact with the woman who'd left when Ian had been a toddler.
Theirs was a relationship filled with uncomfortable telephone calls, stilted conversations and now an extra drink at dinner to make it all not seem so bad.
Ian didn't need that lone semester's worth of psychology to realize all three of them held some strange, undeniable need to gain the distant, nonmaternal woman's approval. The fact that his mother showed even a bit of concern was infuriating.
And gratifying. "Think of it as a favor," his sister suggested. He raised an eyebrow. "A mandatory favor."