Lucy cleared her throat and eased past Kenny to step onto the porch. “Don’t worry if I’m late,” she said.

 Kenny tugged her wrist and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. “Text me and let me know your plans. So I don’t worry.”


 His droll attempt to play mother hen made her smile. “Very funny. But yes... I’ll be in touch.”

 At last she had to face Jeff. He stood a few feet away, his expression inscrutable. In a dark tailored suit, with a crisp white dress shirt and blue patterned tie, he looked like a man in charge of his domain. A light breeze ruffled his hair.

 His sharp, intimate gaze scanned her from head to toe. “Let’s go” was all he said.

 Lucy sighed inwardly. So much for her sexy black cocktail dress with spaghetti straps. The daring bodice showcased her cleavage nicely. Big surly rancher barely seemed to notice.

 They descended the steps side by side, Jeff’s hand on her elbow. He helped her into the car, closed her door and went around to slide into the driver’s seat. The car was not one she remembered. But it had all the bells and whistles. It smelled of leather and even more faintly, the essence of the man himself.

 For the first ten miles silence reigned. Pastures of cattle whizzed by outside the window, their existence so commonplace, Lucy couldn’t pretend a deep interest in the scenery. Instead, she kicked off her shoes, curled her legs beneath her, and leaned forward to turn on the satellite radio.

 “Do you mind?” she asked.

 Jeff shot her a glance. “Does being alone with me make you nervous, Lucy?”

 “Of course not.” Her hand hovered over the knob. More than anything else, she wanted music to fill the awkward silence. But if Jeff saw that as a sign of weakness, then she wouldn’t do it.

 She sat back, biting her bottom lip. Now the silence was worse. Before, they had simply been two near strangers riding down the road. Jeff’s deliberately provocative question set her nerves on edge.

 “While we’re on our way,” she said, “why don’t you tell me what these conditions are? The ones I have to agree to so you’ll loan me the money?”

 Jeff didn’t answer her question. “I’m curious. Why doesn’t Kenny go out and get his own loan?”

 “He’s shoveled everything he has back into the farm. His credit’s maxed out. Besides, his solution is selling to Samson Oil. I explained that.”

 “True. You did.”

 “So tell me, Jeff. What do you want from me?”

                       Nine

 What do you want from me? Lucy’s frustrated question was one Jeff would have been glad to answer. In detail. Slowly. All night. But first there were hurdles to jump.

 Though he kept his hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road, he had already memorized every nuance of his companion’s appearance. Everything from her sexy black high heels all the way up to her sleek and shiny hair tucked behind one ear.

 Her black cocktail dress, at first glance, was entirely appropriate for dinner in the big city. But damned if he wasn’t going to have the urge to take off his jacket and wrap her up in it. He didn’t want other men looking at her.

 He felt possessive, which was ridiculous, because Lucy was definitely her own woman. If she chose to prance stark naked down Main Street, he couldn’t stop her. So maybe he needed to take a different tack entirely. Instead of bossing her around, perhaps he should use another very enjoyable means of communication.

 Right now, she was a hen with ruffled feathers. He had upset her already. The truth was, he didn’t care. He’d rather have anger from Lucy than outright indifference.

 He could work with anger.

 “We’ll talk about the specifics over dinner, Lucy. Why don’t you relax and tell me about your work in Austin.”

 His diversion worked for the next half hour. In his peripheral vision, he watched as Lucy’s body language went from tense and guarded to normal. Or at least as normal as it could be given the history between them.

 Later, when he pulled up in front of the luxury hotel in the heart of the city, Lucy shot him a sharp-eyed glance.

 He took her elbow and led her inside. “The restaurant here is phenomenal,” he said. “I think you’ll enjoy it.”

 Over appetizers and drinks, Lucy thawed further. “So far, I’m impressed. I forgot to eat lunch today, so I was starving.”

 Jeff was hungry, too, but he barely tasted the food. He was gambling a hell of a lot on the outcome of this encounter.

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