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By Peggy Moreland
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn the days of the Old West, gunslingers usually chose to sit facing the door, rather than turn their backs to it, wanting to see trouble coming, before trouble found them. Twenty-first century lawmen often did the same and for much the same reason. Single men hanging out in bars preferred that position, as well, although safety had nothing to do with their preference in seating. On the prowl, all they cared about was seeing the available women who passed through the door.
Ry Tanner wasn't a gunslinger or a lawman, and he sure as hell wasn't interested in women, available or not. He sat with his back to the door because he wanted to be left alone. Period. He'd come to the River's End seeking oblivion and was damn close to finding it at the bottom of a glass of whiskey.
This was the fourth night in a row he'd spent in the rear booth at the River's End in downtown Austin, Texas, a restaurant that promised corn-fed beef and liquor that wasn't watered down. Due to its proximity to the State Capitol and the University of Texas campus, the restaurant was frequented by legislatures and college students alike.
Ry had chosen it because it was within walking distance of the hotel he currently called home.
A month ago home for him was a Spanish-style villa, in Austin's exclusive West Lake Hills, an area inhabited by Austinites well able to afford the privilege of living in the prestigious community. Once owned by the CEO of a computer software company, the house came with a state-of-the-art media center, an Olympic-size swimming pool and a thermostatically controlled five-car garage, complete with an efficiency apartment above it, should the owner ever have need for a live-in housekeeper or nanny. His ex had gotten the house in their divorce settlement - along with just about everything else she could lay her hands on.
He didn't miss the house ... or his ex-wife, either, for that matter. His discontent ran much deeper than that. He couldn't put his finger on exactly when the blue mood had settled over him, but it had slowly eaten away at him like a cancer, robbing him of his enthusiasm for life and his dedication to his profession as a plastic surgeon.
Desperate to find peace once again, he'd sold his surgical practice, a decision which had brought an abrupt end to his marriage, two radically separate areas of his life that he wouldn't have thought would have an effect on the other. He guessed it just proved that it was the money and prestige Lana, his ex, had loved and not him.
A flash of movement in his peripheral vision had Ry glancing to the left where a waitress was delivering the bill to a couple seated at the table next to his. The waitress was the same one who had kept a steady supply of whiskey coming his way for the past four nights.
He guessed her to be about twenty, judging by her youthful appearance, and more than likely a student at the University of Texas, which made him feel about as old as dirt, since he'd earned his bachelor degree from UT about the time she was starting first grade. But the wide gap in their ages didn't keep him from looking ... or admiring. The woman was definitely easy on the eyes.
If standing, he could rest his chin on the top of her head, which would put her at about five-six or -seven, based on his own six-foot-two-inch frame. His brother Rory would call her a hard body, but Ry imagined all that well-toned flesh would soften quickly enough beneath the right man's hands. She had long, blond hair she'd pulled back in a ponytail that streamed halfway down her back, and big, brown eyes, a shade or two darker than the last finger of whiskey he swirled in his glass.
But it wasn't her looks that drew him back to the River's End each night. It was her smile. Bright, open, natural. She radiated a sense of happiness and exuberance that Ry hadn't experienced in a long, long time.
Though he'd like to believe she reserved her smile just for him, he'd be a fool to think so, as she shared it with all of her customers equally. What she found to smile about gave him something to puzzle over, while he drank. Night after night he'd watched her haul heavy trays back and forth from the kitchen, clean up messes a pig would've been proud to call its own and deal with cantankerous customers, who blamed her for everything, from the way their food was prepared to the noise level at the next table. And she did it without ever losing her smile.
Though the change in her expression was there and gone in the blink of an eye, Ry caught it, having built his reputation as a renowned plastic surgeon on his ability to study the faces of his patients, noting each imperfection and variance in facial movement, no matter how minuscule. Intrigued, he watched her stare at the money the man had dropped onto the table. She was disappointed. Probably in the size of the tip the man had left.
To her credit, by the time the couple stood, she had her smile back in place and her call of "y'all come back and see us," sounded sincere to Ry's ear. She quickly cleared the table, stacking the remaining glassware and soiled napkins on her tray, with an efficiency and economy of movement that spoke of experience. Tucking the ticket and cash into her apron pocket for later tabulation, she headed his way, balancing the tray on her open palm.
Her smile brightened when her gaze met his. "Hey, cowboy," she called. "How's it going over here in the back forty?"
Ry didn't blink an eye at the nickname "cowboy." At the moment, he preferred the anonymity it offered over the title he'd worn for the last ten years. That of doctor.
He narrowed his gaze on her, as she stopped beside his booth. "He stiffed you, didn't he?"
She blinked, obviously unaware that anyone had witnessed the slight, then lifted a careless shoulder. "I guess he didn't like the service he received."
That she didn't attempt to shift the blame for the couple's discontent elsewhere, upped his opinion of the waitress another notch.
"Nothing wrong with the service," he assured her.
"The guy's a tightwad. Pegged him the minute he walked through the door."
He lifted his glass. "May he reap what he sows." He tossed back the whiskey, then shoved the empty glass to the edge of the table, his lips pressed together against the burn. "Bring me another whiskey."
"How about a cup of coffee, instead?" she suggested. "I just made a fresh pot."
Though he heard the concern in her voice, was even remotely touched by it, he shook his head. "Whiskey."
She hesitated a moment, as if she wanted to refuse, then smiled and picked up his glass. "Whatever you say, cowboy."
Excerpted from Tanner's Millions by Peggy Moreland Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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