Blue-Eyed Devil Page 34

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"It's beautiful."

It had been so long since I'd gotten a compliment of any kind that I was desperately tongue-tied.

Hardy was watching me with an intent stare. "I never thought I'd have a chance to say this to you. But that night — "

"I'd rather not talk about that," I said hastily. "Please."

Hardy fell obligingly silent.

My gaze focused on the hand resting on the countertop. It was long-fingered and capable, a workman's hand. His nails were clipped nearly to the quick. I was struck by the scattering of tiny star-shaped scars across some of his fingers. "What . . . what are those marks from?" I asked.

His hand flexed a little. "I did fencing work after school and during summers while I was growing up. Put up barbed wire for the local ranchers."

I winced at the thought of the wicked barbs digging into his fingers. "You did it with your bare hands?"

"Until I could afford gloves."

His tone was matter-of-fact, but I felt a twinge of shame, aware of how different my privileged upbringing had been. And I wondered about the drive and ambition it must have taken for him to climb from a trailer-park life, the aluminum ghetto, to where he'd gotten in the oil business. Not many men could do that. You had to work hard. And you had to be ruthless. I could believe that about him.

Our gazes caught, held, the shared voltage nearly causing me to fall off the barstool. I flushed all over, heat gathering beneath my clothes, inside my shoes, and at the same time I was overtaken by a nervous chill. I had never wanted to get away from anyone so fast.

"Thanks for the drink." My teeth were chattering. "I have to go, I'm . . . It was nice to see you. Good luck with everything." I got off the chair and saw with relief that the crowd had thinned out, and there was a negotiable path to the door.

"I'll walk you to your car," Hardy said, tossing a bill on the counter. He picked up the jacket of his business suit.

"No, thanks, I'll get a taxi."

But he walked with me anyway.

"You'll lose your place at the bar," I muttered.

"There's always another place at the bar." I felt the casual pressure of his hand at the small of my back, and I recoiled instinctively. The light touch was instantly withdrawn. "Looks like it's still raining," he said. "Do you have a coat?"

"No," I said abruptly. "It's fine. I don't mind getting wet."

"Can I drive you somewhere?" His tone had gentled, as if he recognized my increasing distress even if he didn't understand the reason for it.

I shook my head violently. "A taxi's fine."

Hardy said a few words to one of the doormen, who went out to the curb. "We can wait inside," he said, "until a car pulls up."

But I couldn't wait. I had to escape him. I was so full of anxiety standing beside him, that I was afraid I was going to have a panic attack. The side of my jaw was throbbing for no reason at all, and my ribs ached where Nick had kicked me, oven though I was all healed now. The resonance of old wounds. I'm going to fire my therapist, I thought. I shouldn't be nearly this screwed up after all the time I've spent with her.

"Bad divorce?" Hardy asked, his gaze falling to my hands. I realized I was clutching my purse in a death grip.

"No, the divorce was great," I said. "It was the marriage that sucked." I forced a smile. "Gotta go. Take care."

Unable to stay inside the bar any longer, I dashed outside even though the taxi wasn't there yet. And I stood there in the drizzle like an idiot, breathing too hard, wrapping my arms around myself. My skin felt too tight for my body, like I'd been shrink-wrapped. Someone came up behind me, and from the way the hairs on the back of my neck lifted, I knew Hardy had followed me.

Without a word he draped his suit jacket around me, cocooning me in silk-lined wool. The feeling was so exquisite that I shivered. The scent of him was all around me, that sunny, soft spice I had never forgotten . . . God, it was good. Comforting and stimulating at the same time. Absolute world-class pheromones. I wished I could take his jacket home with me.

Not him, just the jacket.

I turned to look up at him, at the raindrops glittering in the rich brown locks of his hair. Water fell in tiny cool strikes on my face. He moved slowly, as if he thought a sudden move might startle me. I felt one of his palms curve along the side of my face, his thumb wiping at the raindrops on my cheek as if they were tears.

"I'd ask if I could call you," I heard him say, "but I think I know the answer." His hand moved to my throat, caressing the side with the backs of his fingers. He was touching me, I thought, dazed, but at that moment I didn't give a damn. Standing in the rain, wrapped in his jacket, was about the best feeling I'd had in a year.

His head lowered over mine, but he didn't try to kiss me, just stood looking into my face, and I stared up into intense blue. His fingertips explored the underside of my jaw and wandered to the crest of my cheek. The pad of his thumb was slightly callused, sandpapery like a cat's tongue. I was filled with mortified fire as I imagined what it might feel like if he —

No.

No, no . . . it would take years of therapy before I'd be ready for that.

"Give me your phone number," he murmured.

"That would be a bad idea," I managed to say.

"Why?"

Because there's no way I could handle you, I thought. But I said, "My family doesn't like you."

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