Wednesday, April 15, 2009


After checking to make sure Brady was in a deep sleep, she slid into her one-piece bathing suit and the matching terrycloth cover-up then grabbed the portable baby monitor from the bedside table and walked through the sitting room to the door of her suite. She opened it slowly, not wanting to run in to anyone since her cover-up was short and she felt uncomfortable walking around only half dressed.

Common sense told her she had no reason to fear. It was late. She was on the first floor. Her boss’s suite of rooms was on the second floor. Slim had a cabin behind the homestead. Only a few hands actually slept in the bunkhouse, but even they were so far from the house that no one would see her – if they were awake. She was perfectly safe.

She took a breath, stole down the short hall that led to the kitchen and then slipped into the family room with French doors that led to the pool. In another two steps, she was standing on the stone patio.

Silence descended on her like a warm blanket. The city always had sound. Background noise. A person might grow accustomed to it and not "hear" it, but it was always there. On this ranch, so far away from civilization, she learned the meaning of the word silence.

Removing her cover-up, she glanced around in awe. Except for dim lights illuminating the blue water of the pool, this world was also inky black. Remembering something about seeing stars in the country, she quickly glanced up and sighed.

"Oh, my gosh."

"Oh, my gosh what?"

On gasp, Sophie spun around to find Jeb walking out of the shadows behind her. Anger rose like hot lava in her veins and her first instinct was to turn and walk away. But the closer he got, the more her anger was replaced by confusion. Water flattened his thick black hair and droplets cascaded from his shoulders and down his broad chest, making trails through whorls of dark hair leading to six-pack abs. Wet black swimming trucks clung precariously to lean hips and a butt made for a woman to sink her fingernails into in the throes of passion.

Even as her mouth went dry, she groaned inwardly. How could she be attracted to the man who had just fired her?

"Oh, my gosh what?" He repeated his question as he walked over to her, stopping within arm's reach.

Awareness shimmied through her. With her cover-up in her hand and wearing only her bathing suit, she wasn't quite as naked as he was, but they were both scantily dressed, alone, in the darkness.

She pulled in a breath, reprimanding herself. Not only were they were both sufficiently covered, but also she was furious with him and he clearly didn't like her. She didn't intend to continue their argument, but she wouldn't cower from him either.

She forced herself to meet his gaze. "The stars. There are so many."

"You have big city syndrome," he growled, back to being the grouch boss. He looked up into the star spangled darkness and back at her. "The sky is always lit over a city, blocking one of nature's greatest gifts. A starry night."

He took another glance up at the sky and her gaze skimmed his broad chest and perfect tummy. He was, quite literally, the sexiest man she'd ever seen.

"Yeah. We certainly don't have stars like this in the city." She swallowed, desperately trying to will away her attraction. He was a self-centered grouch, who had fired her. He was the last person she wanted to feel anything for. But she couldn't deny that being this close to him, her whole body hummed. She told herself it was just plain foolish to be attracted to a man she didn't even like. Yet, here she stood, her breathing erratic, her nerve-endings on red alert, just from standing close to him.

"I’ll just go back to my room now."

He snatched a huge green towel from a nearby chaise. "No, I'll go. I'm done with my swim. In about ten seconds the patio will be all yours."

A nervous laugh bubbled up from her. There was no way she'd let him leave his own swimming pool on account of her. No way she'd give him another thing to complain about. "No. That's okay. You stay. I only came out here to get a breath of fresh air."

She watched his gaze move from her face, down her one-piece suit, pausing on the length of leg exposed beneath the high-cut bottom.

"If you only came out for fresh air, then why are you in a swim suit?"

Her breathing, which had been erratic, stalled in her chest. His voice might have been strong, detached, but the look he'd given her had been long and slow. He'd taken in every square inch of her and lingered on the part of her that usually drew a man – her legs.

She swallowed.

Not sure what to think, she tried to fall back on humor. "All right. You caught me. I'm guilty as charged. I wanted a quick swim, but I didn't realize you were using the pool or I wouldn't have come out."

He took a step closer. "I didn’t picture you as the one-piece suit type. I figured you more for a bikini girl."

Another nervous laugh escaped her. If he made a pass at her, she wasn't sure if she would melt or faint. They both knew she was leaving in three weeks. And maybe that was why he was suddenly behaving so different with her? If he made a pass at her, nothing would come of it but an affair.

She took a breath. One little look shouldn't have her automatically assuming he was after an affair! She had to stop jumping to conclusions. So far he hadn't said or done anything out of line. She might have even misinterpreted the look he'd given her. What if he wasn't attracted at all, but actually confused by her choice of swimwear?

"Why a bikini?"

"Don't you surf?"


"Hum. A California girl who doesn't surf. Another myth debunked."

Relief skittered through her. She had been correct. He wasn't attracted to her but confused by her. She could breathe again. "You think all California girls surf?"

He caught her gaze, his pale eyes soft and serious in the moonlight. "Yes."

Realization of how close they were slid over her. He was a very different man when he wasn't yelling at her. In fact, from the way he was looking at her she'd never guess he had a problem with her at all.

She licked her suddenly dry lips, feeling reactions and emotions that were more instinctive than conscious. Her eyes desperately wanted to move down again, soak in the beauty and masculinity of his chest, and she struggled to keep them locked with his. Her nerve endings sparkled like the stars overhead. Her breathing became forced, labored.

He stepped back, his gaze still locked with hers. "You'd do well to remember that I'm a grouch and check to make sure the pool isn't occupied the next time you want to swim."

Embarrassment poured through her in a rush of heat. Good grief! So much for him behaving differently! Why did she keep making mistakes with this guy? Normally, she was a better judge of character. Yet, this was the third time she'd totally misread him.

"I"m sorry. Next time I want to swim I'll ask."

"There's no reason to ask. Just remember that I swim every night around ten-thirty and don't come out and we'll be fine."

Though his words were appropriate, his voice went back to being soft, hypnotic, resurrecting the sprinkle of gooseflesh that covered her body. She peeked at him, confused again. What was going on here?

She took a breath, reminding herself it didn't matter. She'd be gone in three weeks. Dropping her cover-up to the chaise, she turned to the pool. Before she dove in, she glanced over her shoulder and saw him walking toward the French doors. Her sigh of relief was swallowed up by the splash she made when she plunged into the water.

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