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It wasn't the long line so much as the company in it that was irritating Sara Brandon. Not only the company, but the way she was being watched, too.
He was lounging back against the nearby counter at the Jacobsville pharmacy, arrogant and amused, watching her with those icy Arctic-blue eyes that seemed to see right through her. As if he knew exactly what was under her clothing. As if he could see her creamy skin. As if
She cleared her throat and glared at him.
That amused him even more. "Am I disturbing you, Ms. Brandon?" he drawled.
He was elegant. Devastating, physically. Lean-hipped, tanned, broad-shouldered, with big, beautiful hands and big feet. His Stetson was pulled low over his eyes, so that only their pale glitter was visible under the brim. His long, powerful legs in designer jeans were crossed, just the feet of his expensive tan boots peering out from under the denim. His cham-bray shirt was open at the throat. Thick, black, curling hair was exposed in the narrow vee.
The beast knew he was
stimulating. That's why he did that, why he left those top buttons unbuttoned, she just knew it. She couldn't completely hide her reaction to him, and he knew that, too. It drove her mad.
"You don't disturb me, Mr. Patterson," she said, her voice sounding a little choked as she tried to keep it steady.
Those eyes slid down her slender, elegant body in narrow black slacks topped by a black turtleneck sweater. His smile widened as she pulled her black leather coat closer and buttoned it, so that her sweater didn't show. Her long, thick black hair dropped to her waist in back, waving around her exquisite face. Perfect, pouting lips led up to a straight nose and wide-spaced black eyes. She was a beauty. She wasn't conceited about it. She hated her looks. She hated the attention she drew.
She crossed her arms against her breasts over the coat and averted her eyes.
"Oh, I wonder about that," he drawled in his deep, slow voice. "You don't look at all calm to me."
"Do tell me what I do look like, then."
He shouldered away from the counter and joined her. He was tall. He moved a little closer, as if to force her to look up and see how much he towered over her. She retreated a step, nervously.
"You look like a young filly, just taking her first steps out into the pasture," he said quietly.
"I've been out in the pasture for a long time, Mr. Patterson, and I'm not nervous."
He just cocked an eyebrow. He pursed his sensuous lips. "Well, you look nervous to me. Left the flying monkeys at home, did we?"
Her mouth flew open. "You listen here
!" She winced at the sudden turning of heads and quickly lowered her voice. "I do not keep
flying monkeys at my house!"
"Oh, I know that. You probably have them hidden out in the woods. Along with the broom."
She ground her teeth together.
"Miss Brandon?" Bonnie called from the cash register. "I have your refill."
"Thanks," Sara said, and quickly moved away from the tall threat of Wofford Patterson's body. They called him Wolf as a nickname. She could see why. He was really predatory. And it was something of a bit of luck that he didn't like her.
She paid for her acid reflux medicine, smiled at Bonnie, glared at Wofford Patterson and started for the front door.
"Fly at a safe speed now," he cautioned in a good-natured tone.
She whirled, her long black hair whipping. "If I really had flying monkeys, I'd have them drop you in the biggest manure lagoon in the whole state of Texas, and then I'd throw a match in it!" she flashed at him.
Everybody started laughing, especially Wofford Patterson. Red-faced, Sara almost ran out of the building.
"I will have him shot," she muttered to herself as she stalked to her white Jaguar. "I will have him shot, and then I'll have them dismember him, and then
"Talking to yourself. Tsk, tsk," she heard behind her. He was following her.
She turned around. "You are the most obnoxious, unbearable, tedious, irritating, vicious man I have ever known in my life!" she raged at him.
He shrugged. "I doubt that. You do inspire people to dislike you."
Her small fists were clenched at her sides, the paper pharmacy bag gripped in one of them. She was almost on fire with anger.
She glanced beside her and saw Cash Grier, the Jacobsville, Texas, police chief, just coming up on the sidewalk. "I want him arrested!" she yelled, pointing at Wofford.
"Now, what did I do?" Wofford asked with a straight face. "I was only asking you to drive safely, because I worry about your health." He gave her an angelic smile.
She was nearly shaking with anger.
Cash tried to hide a grin. "Now, Ms. Brandon," he began gently.
"What exactly is a Miz?" Wolf wondered aloud. "Is it like a Mr. Woman sort of thing?"
She threw the bag of pills at him.
"She assaulted me!" Wolf exclaimed. "Assault is a felony, right?"
"Oh, I'd love to assault you," she muttered under her breath.
"You really would, honey," he drawled as he watched her come back up with the sack of pills. "I am a legend in my own time." He even smiled.
She drew back a little foot in a pretty shoe.
"If you kick him, I really will have to enforce the law, Sara," Cash reminded her.
She looked as exasperated as she felt. "Couldn't you just
well, wound him?" she asked plaintively.
Cash tried not to laugh and failed. "If I shoot him, I'll have to arrest myself. Think how that would look."
"You should go home," Wolf told her with mock concern. "I'll bet you haven't fed the flying monkeys all day."
She stamped her foot. "You pig!"
"Last week I was a snake. Is this a promotion?" he wondered aloud.
She took a step toward him. Cash got in between them. "Sara, go home. Right now. Please?" he added.
She blew a tendril of hair out of her face and turned back to the Jaguar. "I should have moved to hell. It would have been more peaceful."
"The flying monkeys would have felt at home, too," Wolf mused.
"One day," she said, raising a fist.
"I am always at home," he pointed out with a grin. "Come on over. I'll find some boxing gloves."
"Will they stop a bullet?" she asked hotly. She added a few choice words in Farsi. In fact, she added a lot of them, in a high, provoked, angry tone. She stamped her foot to emphasize that she meant them.
"Your brother would be shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear such language coming out of his baby sister's mouth," Wolf said haughtily. He glanced at Cash. "You speak Farsi. Can't you arrest her for calling people in my family names like that?"
Cash was looking hunted.
"I'm going home," Sara said furiously.
"I noticed," Wolf replied lazily.
She told him what he could do in Farsi.
"Oh, it takes two for that," he replied in the same tongue, and his pale eyes absolutely howled.
She got into the car, revved it up and roared off down the street.
"One day," Cash told Wolf, "she'll kill you, and I'll have to appear at her trial to say it was justified self-defense."
Wolf just laughed.
Sara broke speed limits. She was still shaking when she pulled up outside the house her brother, Gabriel, had bought in Comanche Wells, just down the road from Jacobsville. She wished Michelle was home from college, if only briefly. Michelle would listen and commiserate with her. She would understand. She knew more about Sara than local people did.
Michelle knew that Sara's stepfather had assaulted her, almost to the point of rape when Gabriel had all but broken her bedroom door to get to him. Sara had to testify at the trial that sent her stepfather to prison, sit in the witness chair and tell total strangers exactly what the animal had done to her. And about the disgusting things he'd said while he was doing it. She couldn't force herself to tell it all.
The defense attorney had been eloquent about Sara, a young girl teasing an older man and getting him so worked up that he had to have her. It wasn't that way, but she was sure some people on the jury listened.
Her stepfather had gone to prison. He'd died when he got out. Sara shivered violently, remembering how and why. Sara and Gabriel's mother had shoved them out the door after the conviction and left them on the streets. One of the public defenders who was in Sara's corner at a second trial, when her stepfather was shot by police, had a maiden aunt who took them in, spoiled them rotten and left them most of her enormous estate.
She was worth millions, and the public defender refused to hear a word about Sara and Gabriel turning down the inheritance. They still thought of him as family. He'd been kind to them when the world turned against them.
The Brandons' mother moved away, grieved herself to death over her second husband and refused to have any contact afterward with either of her children. It had been devastating, especially to Sara, who felt responsible.
The experience had sickened her, turned her into a recluse. Sara was twenty-four, beautiful and all alone. She didn't date anybody. Ever.
The way Wolf Patterson looked at her, though; that was new and unsettling. She
liked it. But she couldn't afford to let him know. If he pursued her, if things heated up, he'd figure out her secret. She couldn't hide her reactions to any sort of physical intimacy. She'd tried once, just once, with a boy she liked at school. It had ended with her in tears and him leaving in a temper, calling her a stupid tease. So much for dating.
She locked the door behind her, tossed her purse onto the side table and went upstairs. She'd had a light lunch before she left for the pharmacy, so the rest of the day was hers to do as she pleased. She was rich. She didn't have to work. But she had no social life. At least, not in the real world. In the virtual world, however.
She turned on her state-of-the-art gaming computer and pulled up the World of Warcraft website. Sara was a secret gamer. She didn't tell anybody about her habit. Gabriel knew, but nobody else did. She had a beautiful Blood Elf Horde toon, a character with almost white-blond hair and blue eyessort of a reverse Sara, she liked to think, chuckling. It was a world away from the black-haired brunette that she really was.
She pulled up her character, Casalese, a powerful warlock, and walked into the game. The minute she came online, she was whispered.
Want to do a raid with me? he asked. "He" was a level 90 Blood Elf death knight named Rednacht. The two had met at an in-game holiday event, started talking and had been online friends for a year or so. They didn't do the Real ID thing, so she had no idea who he really was. She didn't want a lover. She only wanted a friend. But they did friend each other, using the generic ID she used for her account, so she knew when he was online. And vice versa. They'd both turned level 90 at the same time. They'd celebrated at an in-game inn with cake and juice, and shot off the fireworks they were gifted with out in the countryside of the new area, Pandaria.
It had been a magical night. Rednacht was fun to be around. He never made really personal remarks, but he did mention things that were going on in his life from time to time. So did she. But only in a generic way. Sara had real issues with her privacy. Because of Gabriel's profession, she had to be especially careful.
Most people didn't know what her brother did for a living. He was an independent military contractor who worked frequently for Eb Scott. He was a skilled mercenary. Sara worried about him, because they only had each other. But she understood that he couldn't give up the excitement. Not yet, anyway. She did wonder how that might change when Michelle, who had become their ward with the sudden death of her stepmother, graduated from college. But that was sometime in the future.
I feel more like a battleground, she typed. Rough morning.
He typed back lol, laughing out loud. Same here. Okay. Shall we slay Alliance until our blades are no longer thirsty?
She laughed back. That sounds very nice.
A couple of hours of play, and she felt like a new woman. She signed off, told her friend good-night, had a light dinner and went to bed. She knew that she was hiding from life in her virtual playground, but it was at least some sort of social life. In the real world, she had nothing.