Driven by Fire(7)

By: Anne Stuart

“What about a rich husband as well?” he drawled, taking another sip of his whiskey.

“If you can dig one up that would be a nice bonus,” she said in a smooth voice. “Now why don’t you invite us in out of the midday sun instead of letting all that lovely air-conditioning out? Because I’m not going away and I expect you know it.”

He muttered something beneath his breath so shocking she would have slapped him if she’d been absolutely certain what he’d said. She couldn’t be, and she wasn’t about to wait. She took the slender hand of the young woman beside her. “Come with me, Soledad,” she said. “I think Mr. Ryder’s bark is worse than his bite.”

“Don’t count on it,” he said softly as she took a deep breath and started forward. For a moment she was afraid he wasn’t going to move out of the way. She really, really didn’t want to touch him, not when she had this inexplicable reaction to him. He stood in the doorway watching her, and at the last minute stepped back just enough so that she nearly brushed against him when she thought she’d been clear. It was only the lightest of touches, barely more than the sleeve of her silk suit brushing against his rumpled linen shirt, but heat shot through her body. Damn the man.

As she and Soledad entered the darkened hallway, she thought she could hear his soft laugh and her irritation rose even higher. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to drive away the feelings that filled her when she saw him, and nothing—not common sense, not experience, not Matthew Ryder’s own annoying behavior—could obliterate this strange thread of attraction. At least, thank God, he had no idea that she seemed to have developed a crush the size of Texas on him. He closed the door behind them, plunging the already-shadowy area into darkness, and Jenny blinked, trying to get accustomed to the gloom. She turned back to him, a bland smile on her face to meet his equally bland expression.

His mouth was pure sex. It was that mouth, she decided. If she could just avoid looking at it maybe she could avoid the sexual upheaval she was going through. Her brothers would tell her she needed to get laid. That was probably true, but Matthew Ryder was the last man she was going anywhere near.

“On the left,” he said, and Jenny turned into the large room, half dragging Soledad with her.

Whoever had been in charge of the restoration of the house on Magazine Street had done an amazing job. The room, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, was the right blend of business and social, and the comfortable furniture still felt in keeping with the original style of the place. Pulling her reluctant client along with her, Jenny sank down on one of the plush sofas, leaned back, and crossed her legs.

Which was in fact a major mistake. Ryder sat down opposite her and her movement immediately brought his gaze to those legs, and she felt oddly exposed. She was depressingly average and she figured she was probably ten pounds past her goal weight, but her legs were definitely her best feature, long and shapely, and for some reason she didn’t want him looking at them. Not that he seemed the slightest bit interested—he was simply, dispassionately taking her inventory. She sat forward and needlessly tugged her skirt down to cover more, which caught his attention, and a faint smile appeared on his usually expressionless face.

“So exactly what is it you want from me?” he said. “I can write you a check . . .”

“Money doesn’t solve everything, Mr. Ryder,” Jenny said, and then could have kicked herself—she sounded like a prim old lady. He was giving her an easy out—she ought to take it. “For now Soledad can stay with me, though my house is a little small and I’m in the midst of renovating it. I need a green card for her, I need a job for her, and in fact, I need someone to oversee her well-being.”

“That’s all well and good, Ms. Parker, but what does she want?”

Jenny could feel herself flush again, and she glanced at Soledad. “It’s what she wants too.”

Ryder turned those cool blue eyes on Soledad. “Why aren’t you letting her speak for herself?”

“Of course it is what I want,” said Soledad. “It is the American dream, is it not?”

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