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Authors: Tanya Anne Crosby

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BOOK: Lady's Man
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At the top of the stairs, Lady stared after him and then once the door closed she turned those big brown eyes on Annie.

Annie narrowed her eyes at her dog. “What does he know?”

Lady continued staring, those dark, soulful eyes seeming far too knowing, and Annie slammed her book shut and set it down on the armrest.

“I should have named you Benedict! Do you know who Benedict Arnold is?”

Lady whined, swishing her tail nervously on the wooden floor.

“He was a traitor,” she informed her dog. “Just like someone we know.”

Seriously, what could some guy she just met know about her outdoor habits?

 

                        

 

On the way back from the bank, Annie kept peering into her rearview mirror to see what he saw. Her skin wasn’t exactly tawny, but she didn’t look like a vampire either. She was still bristling over the insult when she returned to the house to find him hauling a hose into the back yard. Her instinct was to keep driving, but since the road ended abruptly in approximately one hundred feet and he’d already spotted her, she didn’t intend to prove his point.

She wasn’t compelled to avoid him.

She didn’t even know him! Why on Earth would he think that? Just because he’d treated her to the full Monty didn’t mean she couldn’t be an adult and put
it
out of her mind.

However, the problem, precisely, was that she was an adult and it had been way too long since she’d seen a naked man—and maybe never one quite so generously endowed.

Damn it.

He stopped and waited for her to pull into the driveway and get out of the car and Lady bolted to his side the instant Annie opened the car door.

“Turncoat,” Annie muttered beneath her breath. She had no idea her sweet, loyal dog could be bought for a smile and a bowl of water!

He dropped his hose and stooped to pet Lady vigorously and Annie approached the pair, both so totally engrossed in their display of mutual affection that it seemed she was invisible.

While she watched them, she took the opportunity to study Jamie a moment. He wasn’t exactly George Hamilton either, but he was no stranger to the sun. His thin white sport shirt clung to the muscles of his chest and it was obvious he worked out. Annie was suddenly a little disconcerted by the thought of wearing her bathing suit around the house. She barely had any tummy at all, but she had never been blessed with washboard abs like the ones she was sure existed under that shirt—nor had she ever been particularly obsessed with the thought of attaining them … until this moment.

He didn’t appear to notice her, but his eyes met hers the instant she opened her mouth to call off Lady. “No trouble with the cashier’s check?”

Of course, he would have guessed she’d run straight to the bank. But then, who wouldn’t immediately cash a check for three grand? “No.”

Decorum dictated she should thank him, but Annie somewhat resented having to. By now, her grandmother would have probably dropped everything to bake him a cake and maybe even set out to buy him a few new pair of boxers—since apparently, he didn’t have enough to wear around the house. But that was the problem with guys like him; women were always scurrying to please them.

“Anyway, so thank you for being so accommodating,” she offered. “The upstairs suite is perfect.”

He stopped fondling Lady’s fur and stood. “Glad to hear! You were right, there were no rooms available.”

“You checked?”

“Just a phone call. There’s only one hotel on the Island, but I was hoping to at least give you girls a choice—ain’t gonna happen this weekend.”

Annie seemed to have a sudden persistent problem with eye contact, but he didn’t, she noticed. He held her gaze, smiling warmly and Annie forced herself not to look away, all the while fighting the urge to shield her gaze from those perceptive blue eyes. His look had that unhurried Southern aspect, lingering just an instant too long, but not long enough to signify any real interest.

Her body didn’t seem to understand that, however. She swiped her damp palms nervously on her shorts. Jesus. Why did she suddenly feel like an awkward teen?

Guys like him were typically not interested in girls like her, she reminded herself. She didn’t wear tight Gucci skirts and three-inch Manolo Blahnik heels. But he was cute. That much she would give him.

“Well … glad you’re satisfied,” he said.

Of course he was glad. She was a customer. “Yeah … well, thank you. So I guess we’ll be going.” She started away, expecting Lady to follow.

“You guys have plans?”

She turned around to find Lady lounging at his side tail wagging happily, but this time his attention was centered on Annie and there was something about the way he looked at her that sent goose bumps racing down her arms. She rubbed them absently. “Not really,” she said.

But the truth was, Annie was never without a plan. In fact, if there was one thing she had in super abundance, it was plans.

He smiled, a lazy smile that reminded her of Elvis. “Good. I thought maybe I’d ask Lady here out on a date … sort of.”

Annie’s brows collided. “You want to ask my dog on a date?”

“Of sorts. I wanted to see if it was OK to take her out on the boat. She’s a Lab—Labs are made for water.”

Something like disappointment sidled through Annie. She repeated, making sure she’d heard correctly, “You want to take my dog on your boat?”

His grin turned lopsided. “Yeah … how ‘bout it?”

Annie immediately shook her head. Sharing the house with him might necessarily have become part of her plan, but sharing her dog was not. “I … don’t know … really … she’s never been on a boat. It would be a first for her and I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Actually, it would be a first for both of them, but she wasn’t about to admit that she’d made it to thirty four without ever seeing the ocean up close.

“You can come too,” he cajoled.

The sheer ridiculousness of the conversation made Annie crack a smile. “Let me get this straight. You’re asking me to be a third wheel on your date with my dog?

He laughed, giving her a glimpse of perfectly white teeth. “When you put that way … yeah, I suppose I am.”

Annie just looked at him, unsure how to respond. Some part of her wanted to jump at the opportunity, but the word “yes,” stuck somewhere in her craw. It wasn’t simply fear of being out on the water for the first time it was him—something about the guy made her feel unnervingly out of control.

But he was just some dude who happened to own the house she’d rented—and it just so happened that she knew the bulge in his shorts wasn’t extra padding—nor was it a sign of his attraction. It was just his stuff completely at ease with the world—a state she was working very hard to achieve for herself.

So what harm could there be in going?

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were scared.”

Annie slid her hands into her back pockets and straightened her shoulders. She made an outraged face. “Of you?”

He grinned boyishly—except that there was nothing boyish about him and Annie had never been more aware of a man in her life. “Actually, I was thinking my boat?”

“Hah!” she exclaimed. “No boat ever gotten the best of me! Why would you think that?”

His hands went to his hips as he scrutinized her and even his stance seemed a bit of a challenge. He was back to grinning again. “So you’ve been on a boat before?”

Annie felt a little cornered, but she’d already started down this path and she wasn’t backing down. “Of course!” she lied. “Big boats. Little boats. I like boats!” she rambled nervously.

He chuckled. “Alrighty then, give me about thirty minutes to get the boat ready and come on down and prove it.”

Like furious little NASCAR drivers, nervous prickles raced down her spine. “Yeah, well …. alright. OK!”

He eyed her speculatively. “Thirty minutes,” he said, like it was a challenge that he didn’t believe she’d rise to.

“Alright! I’ll be right back,” she declared and found herself grinning stupidly as she turned to go inside.

She had no idea what had just happened, but she was pretty damned sure he’d just asked her out.

OK, Gram, point made—again—not all things unexpected felt bad and some surprises felt quite nice. If you’re up there still trying to prove your point, you can stop now.

It didn’t occur to her to call for Lady and Lady didn’t come.

“Don’t worry. I’ll watch your dog until you get back,” he called after her.

Startled at having forgotten Lady, Annie spun around, walking backward, marveling at how Lady had taken to him so quickly. She was on her back squirming happily while he rubbed her belly.

Like children, Dogs had very good instincts when it came to people. If Lady really liked him, he was probably A-OK. “Don’t let her out of your sight, alright?”

He gave her a spirited captain’s wave. “She’ll be fine. Don’t forget your bathing suit.”

“Alright!”

“Watch where you’re going!”

Annie whirled about and grazed her cheek on the back deck column. Yelping, she ducked around it, hurrying inside, her pride injured slightly more than her cheek.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                        

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

 

Upstairs, in the bathroom, Annie stared in the mirror, contemplating whether to put a little rouge on her cheeks. In the end, she decided against it, realizing it would take far more than a little make-up to cover up the blossoming bruise. Anyway, it was just a boat ride, right?

Right.

Precisely thirty minutes later, by her watch, wearing shorts and a shirt over her suit, she hurried down to the dock to where Jamie was removing the mooring line. Lady was already settled into the boat wearing a life vest.

He was polite enough not to mention the glowing red mark on her cheek, but his gaze lingered there.

Annie pretended not to notice. “You already had a dog vest? I didn’t even think about that!”

“I have gear for all walks of life,” he revealed and bent to retrieve one lying at his feet. He tossed it over to Annie. “Remember how to put one on?”

Annie caught it. “Yeah, sure.”

But her cheeks warmed as she wrestled with the vest, trying to find the right holes for her arms. Fortunately, if she was blushing, he probably couldn’t tell.

He watched for a moment, and then smiling just a bit, stopped what he was doing to come to her aid.

“It’s been awhile,” she offered sheepishly.

“Figured.”

He finished snapping her in and brushed a finger across her cheek, so lightly that it sent a tingle down Annie’s spine.

The sun was beginning to go down, turning the horizon a coral pink and casting a warm dusky glow on the wetlands. It was the perfect camouflage for her bruise. “Lovely afternoon for a boat ride, huh?”

“Sure is!” He studied the sky the way a sailor might, deliberately and thoroughly. A brown pelican touched down on the end of the pier and then took off again, apparently not quite at ease with her canine audience despite that Lady merely eyed it with interest. “Those are on the endangered species list,” he said, gesturing toward the fleeing bird.

“No kidding?” She watched it fly over the salt marsh, scoping the wetlands for dinner. It was hard to imagine that something so threatened could appear so untroubled.

Even the breeze in this place was lazy, warm and gentle and it seemed somehow the pace of her life had slowed to the span of a single heartbeat. She sighed, feeling an unexpected sense of easiness that she hadn’t experienced since she was a child.

Had she really been on Folly Beach only a few hours?

Lady sat patiently in the boat, watching her human companions with a certain canine understanding.

Jamie picked up a set of oars that were lying on the dock. “Let’s not keep my date waiting,” he teased.

Annie nodded and turned to join Lady.

The tide had come in since this morning, lifting the little dory nearly to deck level and Annie stepped in with confidence only to shriek in surprise. It happened so fast. The boat flipped. She heard Jamie shout her name as she and Lady both went tumbling into the river, dispatching a furor of protesting birds from the surrounding marshland.

Luckily, the water wasn’t deep.

Spewing muddy water from her mouth, Annie found her footing and instinctively reached for Lady who was splashing about awkwardly. She peered up at Jamie, mortified, until she saw the look on his face.

Morphing quickly from alarm to a look of pained restraint, he was trying desperately not to laugh.

BOOK: Lady's Man
12.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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