Authors: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Contemporary
“I don't do things like that,” she said slowly.
He emitted a lengthy sigh of regret. “I'm real sorry you feel that way because, whether you take my money or not, I'm afraid I'm not going to be on that plane with you this afternoon.”
“Are you telling me you're going to break your contract?”
“No. I'm just tellin' you that I'll be getting to Telarosa all by myself.”
She didn't believe him. “You signed that contract of your own free will. Not only do you have a legal obligation to fulfill it, but you also have a moral obligation.”
“Miz Gracie, you sound just like a Sunday School teacher.”
Her eyes dropped.
He gave a bark of laughter and shook his head. “It's true. Bobby Tom Denton's bodyguard is a damn Sunday School teacher.”
“I told you I'm not your bodyguard. I'm simply your escort.”
“I'm afraid you're going to have to find somebody else to escort, then, because I've decided to drive to Telarosa instead of fly, and I know for a fact that a fine lady like yourself wouldn't be comfortable closed up in a T-bird with a hell-raiser like me.” He walked over to her rental car and leaned down to peer inside the passenger window, looking for her keys. “I'm embarrassed to tell you that I don't have the best reputation when it comes to women, Miz Gracie.”
She trotted after him, trying very hard not to stare at the way that tight, faded denim clung to his hips as he bent forward. “You don't have enough time to drive to Telarosa. Willow is expecting us there by this evening.”
He straightened and smiled. “You be sure to give her my regards when you see her. Now are you going to move your car?”
He dipped his head, shook it regretfully, and then, with a quick step forward, snagged the shoulder strap of Gracie's purse and slipped it off her arm.
“Give that back right this minute!” She lunged for the clunky black bag.
“I sure will be happy to. Just as soon as I find your car keys.” He smiled agreeably while he held the purse out of her reach and riffled through it.
She certainly wasn't going to get into a wrestling match with him, so she used her sternest voice. “Mr. Denton, give me my purse back immediately. And of course you'll be in Telarosa by Monday. You signed a contract that—”
“Excuse me for interrupting, Miz Gracie, when I know you're just itchin' to make your point, but I'm a little pressed for time here.” He handed her purse back without having found what he was looking for and walked toward the house.
Once again, Gracie rushed after him. “Mr. Denton. Uh, Bobby Tom—”
“Bruno, could you come out here for a minute?”
Bruno emerged from the garage, a grubby rag in his hand. “You need something, B.T.?”
“I sure do.” He turned to Gracie. “Beg pardon, Miz Snow.”
With no more warning than that, he slipped his hands under her arms and began to frisk her.
“Stop that!” She tried to jerk away, but Bobby Tom Denton hadn't become the best pass receiver in the NFL by letting go of moving objects, and she couldn't budge as he began to pat down her sides.
“Easy now and we can get this over without any bloodshed.” His palms glided over her breasts.
She sucked in her breath, too stunned to move. “Mr. Denton!”
The corners of his eyes crinkled. “You have very nice taste in underwear, by the way. I couldn't help but notice last night.” He moved on to her waist.
Her cheeks burned with embarrassment. “Stop this right now!”
His hands came to a halt as he felt the lump in her pocket. With a grin, he pulled out the car keys.
“Give those back!”
“You want to move that car for me, Bruno?” He pitched the keys over, then tipped his hat to Gracie. “Nice to have met you, Miz Snow.”
Dumbfounded, she watched him stride down the drive to the Thunderbird and climb in. She began to rush toward him only to realize that Bruno was getting into her rental car at the end of the drive.
“Don't touch that car!” she exclaimed, immediately changing direction.
The engines of both the Thunderbird and the rental car roared to life. As she gazed helplessly back and forth between the two automobiles—one in the drive, the other blocking the drive—she knew with an unshakable conviction that if she let Bobby Tom escape, she would never get close to him again. He had houses everywhere and an army of flunkies to protect him from people he didn't want to see. She had to stop him now, or she would have lost her chance forever.
Her rental car, with Bruno in the driver's seat, shot forward and cleared the end of the drive.
She whirled toward the Thunderbird. “Don't leave! We have to go to the airport!”
“Y'all have a good life now, y'hear.” With a jaunty wave of his hand, Bobby Tom began backing out.
In a flash she saw herself returning to Shady Acres to take the job the new owners had offered her. She smelled Ben-Gay and Lysol; she tasted overcooked green beans and mashed potatoes covered with gelatinous yellow gravy. She saw the years slipping by, saw herself wearing elastic stockings and heavy cardigans while her arthritic fingers tried to pound out “Harvest Moon” on the battered upright that wouldn't hold its tune. Before she'd ever had the chance to be young, she'd be old.
The scream came from the very center of her being, the place where her dreams lived, all those glorious dreams that were slipping away forever.
She bolted toward the Thunderbird, running as fast as she could, her purse banging awkwardly against her side. Bobby Tom had turned his head to check for traffic in the street, and he didn't see her coming. Her heart raced. Any second now he would be gone, sentencing her to a life of dreary monotony. Desperation gave her strength and she ran faster.
He pulled out and shifted. She increased her speed. Air filled her lungs in short, painful gasps. The Thunderbird began to move forward just as she drew even with it. With a wrenching sob, she threw herself headfirst over the convertible's passenger door.
The jolt of the brakes sent her upper body pitching forward off the seat. Her hands and upper arms hit the floor mats, while her feet still dangled over the door. She winced as she tried to catch herself. Cold air slithered across the backs of her thighs, and she realized her skirt had flipped over her head. Mortified, she groped for it, at the same time trying to wiggle the rest of herself into the car.
She heard a particularly offensive obscenity that was undoubtedly common among football players, but seldom heard at Shady Acres. Normally, it was uttered in one syllable, but Bobby Tom's Texas drawl extended it to two. Her skirts finally under control, she slumped breathlessly back into the seat.
Several seconds ticked by before she worked up enough nerve to look at him.
He was gazing at her thoughtfully, his elbow propped on the top of the steering wheel. “Just out of curiosity, sweetheart; did you ever talk to your doctor about givin' you some tranquilizers?”
She turned her head and stared straight ahead.
“See, the thing of it is, Miz Gracie, I'm right now on my way to Telarosa, and I'm going by myself.”
Her eyes shot back to him. “You're leaving
“My suitcase is in the trunk.”
“I don't believe you.”
“It's the truth. You want to open that door and get out?”
She shook her head stubbornly, hoping he couldn't see how close she was to reaching the end of her resources. “I have to go with you. It's my responsibility to stay with you until you reach Telarosa. I have a job to do.”
A muscle ticked in his jaw, and with a great deal of trepidation, she realized that she had finally managed to chip away at his phony country boy affability.
“Don't make me throw you out,” he said in a low, determined voice.
She ignored the shiver of trepidation running up her spine. “I've always thought it was better to solve disputes with compromise rather than brute force.”
“I've played in the NFL, sweetheart. Bloodshed's about all I understand.”
With those ominous words, he reached for his door, and she knew within seconds, he would come around to her side, pick her up, and toss her out on the street. Quickly, before he could push down on the handle, she grabbed his arm.
“Don't throw me out, Bobby Tom. I know I irritate you, but I promise, I'll make it worth your while if you let me go with you.”
He turned slowly back to her. “Exactly what do you mean by that?”
She didn't know what she meant. She had spoken impulsively because she couldn't face the idea of calling Willow Craig and telling her that Bobby Tom had set off for Telarosa by himself. She knew all too well what Willow's response would be.
“I meant what I said,” she replied, hoping she could bluff her way out without getting down to specifics.
“Generally when people say they're going to make something worth your while, they're offering money. Is that what you're doing?”
“Certainly not! I don't believe in bribery. Besides, you seem to have more money than you know what to do with.”
“That's true, so what do you have in mind?”
“I—. Well—” She frantically searched for some glimmer of inspiration. “Driving! That's it! You can relax while I do all the driving. I happen to be excellent behind the wheel. I've had my license since I was sixteen, and I've never once gotten a ticket.”
“And you're actually proud of that?” He shook his head in amazement. “Unfortunately, sweetheart, nobody but me drives my cars. Nope, I think I'm going to have to throw you out after all.”
Once again, he reached for the door handle, and once again, she clutched at his arm. “I'll navigate.”
He looked annoyed. “What do I need a navigator for? I've made this trip so many times I could do it blindfolded. No, sweetheart, you'll have to come up with something better than that.”
At that moment, she heard a peculiar buzzing sound. It took her a moment to realize that the Thunderbird was equipped with a car phone. “You seem to get a lot of calls. I could answer them for you.”
“The last thing I want is somebody answering my phone.”
Her mind raced. “I could, uh, rub your shoulders while you're driving, to work out the kinks. I'm very good at massage.”
“That's a nice offer, but you have to admit, it's hardly worth taking an unwelcome passenger all the way to Texas. To Peoria, maybe, if you do a good job, but not any farther. Sorry, Miz Gracie, but so far you haven't offered a single thing that's caught my interest.”
She tried to think. What did she have that a worldly man like Bobby Tom Denton would find at all interesting? She knew how to organize recreational activities, she understood special diets, drug interactions, and had listened to enough of the residents' stories to have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of World War II troop movements, but somehow she couldn't imagine any of that persuading Bobby Tom to change his mind.
“I have excellent vision. I can read road signs from incredible distances.”
“You're grabbing at straws, sweetheart.”
She smiled enthusiastically. “Are you aware of the fascinating history of the Seventh Army?”
He gave her a faintly pitying look.
How could she make him change his mind? From what she had seen last night, he was only interested in two things, football and sex. Her knowledge of sports was minimal, and as for sex . . .
A pulse leaped in her throat as a dangerous and very immoral idea popped into her brain. What if she offered her body for barter? She was immediately appalled. How could she even think of such a thing? No intelligent, modern day woman who considered herself a feminist would consider . . . The very idea . . . Of all the . . . This was definitely the consequence of allowing herself too many sexual fantasies.
a devil inside her whispered.
Who are you saving it for?
He's a libertine!
she reminded the lusty part of her nature that she tried so hard to suppress.
Besides, he wouldn't be interested in me.
How will you know if you don't try?
the devil replied.
You've dreamed about something like this for years. Didn't you promise yourself that having a sexual experience would be one of the top priorities in your new life?
An image flashed through her mind of Bobby Tom Denton lowering his naked body over hers. Her blood raced through her veins and her skin prickled. She could feel his strong hands on her thighs, pushing them open, the touch of his— “Is something wrong, Miz Gracie? You're looking a little red in the face. Like somebody just told you a dirty joke.”
“Is sex the only thing you think about!” she cried.
“I refuse to sleep with you just so you'll let me come along with you!” Appalled, she snapped her mouth shut. What had she done?
His eyes twinkled. “Shucks.”
She wanted to die. How could she have embarrassed herself like this? She swallowed hard. “Forgive me if I've leaped to an incorrect conclusion. I know I'm a homely woman, and I'm certain you wouldn't be sexually interested in me anyway.” Her face grew redder as she realized she was making things worse instead of better. “Not that I would be interested, either,” she added hastily.
“Now, Gracie, there's no such thing as a homely woman.”
“You're being polite, and I appreciate it, but that doesn't alter facts.”
“See, now you've piqued my curiosity. You may be right about being homely and everything, but it's kind of hard to tell with the way you cover yourself up. For all I know, the body of a goddess might be hiding underneath that dress.”
“Oh, no,” she said with brutal honesty. “I assure you, my body is quite ordinary.”
Once again the corner of his mouth kicked up. “Don't take this the wrong way, but I trust my judgment a little more than I trust yours. I'm sort of a connoisseur.”
“I believe I already commented on your legs last night.” She flushed and struggled for an appropriate response, but she had so little experience conversing on a personal level with virile males that she found it difficult to know exactly what to say. “You have very nice legs yourself.”