“Did you want to come with me?” She asked so sweetly he knew she was deliberately trying to push his buttons. Going to town was the last thing he wanted to do. He wanted to run his hands down the long expanse of bare thigh that her shorts revealed. Too vividly, he could imagine sliding his hand into the open neckline of the shirt she wore and beneath the pink lace of the bra that its lack of buttoning displayed. “There is no way in hell you’re going to Fort Mavis dressed like that.”
Sarah’s lovely br**sts heaved with irritation. “I don’t remember giving you the right to tell me what to wear.”
“Do you want people to think that you’re a . . .” He stopped before he said the word.
Sarah jumped on his omission and snapped, “Whore? You mean like someone who would stay with you as your own personal sex toy? Someone you could buy with a favor or a promise of cash? Someone like that?”
Between gritted teeth, Tony said, “That’s not how I see you.”
With cheeks red with anger, Sarah said, “Yes, it is. If you think you can trade favors for sex with me, that’s exactly what you think.”
Tony removed his hat and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “You have me so crazy I don’t know what I am saying half the time.”
Sarah unclipped her seat belt and turned toward him, her legs dangling out of the open door of her vehicle. “That is the nicest thing you have said to me so far.”
He buried a hand in the back of her hair and claimed her mouth with all of the emotion swirling between them. So close to her, he could barely think. He thrust his tongue between her lips and savored how she eagerly welcomed him. His other hand went to her hip to edge her closer to him. He hungrily kissed her exposed collarbone and the curve of her neck. “Let’s go inside and forget about everything else.”
With a hand cupping either side of his jaw, she raised his face from her and said, “No.”
Aroused, confused, angry—he would have been hard-pressed to describe how he felt in that turbulent moment. He bent down to claim her lips again, sure he could change her mind, but she scooted away from him.
She folded her arms across her chest. “This is important to me. You can come with me or I can go alone, but I’m going into town.” When he didn’t say anything, she softened a bit and said, “I will gladly put on jeans and a T-shirt if you ask me to.”
Why did women have to make everything into an issue? Couldn’t she simply go change because she knew it was what he wanted? Apparently not, since she sat there, out of his reach, waiting for him to speak. Frustration rumbled in his chest.
Still, she waited.
He caved and ordered, “Go change.”
Suddenly excited, she leaned forward and rewarded him with a quick kiss on the lips. “And you’ll come with me?”
Then he tasted her and nodded wordlessly, forgetting everything in the fire of their kiss. Too soon, she broke it off and stepped away, saying, “I’ll be right back.”
I’ll be right here, Tony thought angrily. Trying to figure out exactly what the hell just happened.
Tony drove them into Fort Mavis. Sarah thoroughly enjoyed every bit of what they drove through to get to the center of town. The streets were wide and flanked with a mixture of historical and renovated buildings. The tall doors on the storefronts were freshly painted in white and black. Through their glass windows Sarah glimpsed a variety of wares: jewelry, clothing, and hardware. Even a bookstore inside a historic theater whose billboard promised vintage movies once a month.
They parked in front of what looked like a general store. Tony walked around the SUV to open Sarah’s door, and the guarded look in his eyes pulled at her heart. He slammed the door of her vehicle and stood protectively beside her. Sarah looked around and understood his earlier reluctance. People on the sidewalks stopped and stared. Faces peeked out from inside restaurant windows. She touched Tony’s arm, felt the tension building within him, and slid her hand down to hold his.
His eyes flew to hers, dark green with emotion. She entwined her fingers with his and gave a supportive squeeze. He looked away, but his hand tightened on hers. He cleared his throat. “I’m not well liked in this town.” His warning melted her heart.
“I don’t believe that.”
They stepped up onto the sidewalk together. “It may have something to do with how many times I’ve told them all to go to hell.”
Sarah held in the chuckle that his self-revelation inspired and said, “Then today, try saying hello instead.”
He stopped walking and halted her, waiting until she looked up at him before he said, “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Putting on her brightest smile, Sarah said, “I don’t care what these people think of me, Tony. I’m done apologizing for who I am. It’s a beautiful sunny day, I’m with you. There isn’t a thing anyone could say that could ruin this for me.”
Two teenage boys stopped when they saw Tony and set a course straight for him. Tony pulled Sarah closer to him and said, “I’m not so sure about that.”
One of the boys stopped several feet away; the older one came much closer. He stood right in front of Tony and said, “Mr. Carlton.”
Sarah felt a defensive tension pulse through Tony’s arm even though his face remained expressionless.
The young man said, “My dad told me what you did. Thank you.”
Some of the tension left Tony and he gave a curt nod.
Sarah took advantage of the opportunity to introduce herself. “Hello, my name’s Sarah.”
The young man took off his hat and briefly shook her hand. “Keith. Nice to meet you, ma’am.”
When the awkward silence dragged on too long, Sarah said, “Well, we’re here to get some things so we have to run, but hopefully we’ll see you again soon.”
Walking away, hand in hand with Tony, Sarah said, “See, that wasn’t so bad.”
Tony made a noncommittal sound deep in his chest.
“What was he thanking you for?”
“Nothing,” Tony answered automatically.
Sarah tugged on his hand until he looked down at her. “The amazing thing about conversations is they help people get to know each other better.” Except in this town, she wanted to say, but took another attack route instead. “I can keep asking you until I drive you so crazy you tell me to shut me up, or you can just tell me now. Your choice.”