Lilia looked up from her computer as the glass door of Finesse opened with a bit of a crash and something dropped to the floor with a thud. She left her delicate reading glasses on her nose as she got up and walked to the door of her office.
“Howdy!” said a tall, tanned, younger version of the Marlborough Man. He wore western boots. He sported a belt buckle the size of a satellite dish, affixed to a hand-tooled leather belt that she was terribly afraid had his name etched into the back-—the distressing equivalent of a dog collar, as far as she was concerned. And worse, far worse, he actually wore a Stetson on his head.
The two-day stubble she could live with, since it was in vogue and somewhat George Clooneyish. The scarred, weathered hands might be a problem in his transformation. But his posture was good-—excellent for such a tall man.
And the bulge in his pants was quite impressive . . . shocked at herself for even letting her eyes wander there, Lilia blushed. She ended her quick inventory with a gracious hello.
“Are you Miz London?”
“I am. And you must be Mr. Granger. How are you?” Lil extended her hand.
He stuck out a big paw and shook it. “Cain’t complain.”
He had the warmest, firmest handshake she’d ever encountered. It almost dislodged her arm from the socket, though. He was roughly twice her size. “Pleasant flight?”
“The usual. Microscopic packets o’ trail mix and a weak soft-drink over too much ice. Lots of orders to fasten my seat belt and enjoy the ride.” Granger grinned down at her, seeming unwilling to relinquish her hand. He looked deeply and frankly into her eyes and she felt something inside her melting.
She slowly disentangled her hand, unable to look away from his sardonic and wildly sexy mouth. Rimmed by unshaven stubble, his lips sat cockily over a cleft chin set in a strong, angular jaw.
“Aw, do I have to give that back, Miz London?” He was referring to her hand. “I thought maybe it was mine to keep.”
Again, she fell into that smile, even though it was a cheesy line. This cowboy was something else. Her heart did a slow roll in her chest, and she blinked.
The man may not have manners, but he does have magnetism-—even if it’s all animal. “Nice compliment,” she said, by way of recovery. “Very good. We can work with that.” She nodded and smiled like a benevolent professor.
Granger shoved his own hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels as he looked down at her. His mouth twisted. “Thank you, ma’am. If I had a tail, I’d wag it for ya, in hopes of gettin’ a Scooby snack.”
Lilia tilted her head and evaluated him. Not stupid, in spite of the twang and the slang. He knew when he was being patronized. She’d have to be careful. “Why don’t we go into my office,” she suggested. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
“Just hot n’ black.”
She restrained herself from adding the words “please” and “thank you” for him, walked to the antique mahogany desk that had been her grandmother’s, and retrieved a neatly prepared file. “While I get that for you, you may want to have a look at our contract.”
“All right. Uh, d’you have somewhere I can put my hat?”
“Of course,” Lilia said automatically, and found herself holding the Stetson without the faintest idea what to do with it. She cast a glance at the bronze bust of her grandfather Henry London, who had been knighted by the Queen of England for distinguished work in the sciences.
Sir Henry sat on a pedestal in a corner of her office. He was terribly dignified and wore a bow tie. A wicked impulse took hold of her. For the next couple of hours, he could also wear a cowboy hat. She took it over to him and perched it on his head at a jaunty angle.
Granger grinned. “Gives the old pompous ass a little personality, don’t it?”
Lilia froze. With silent apologies to Grandfather Henry, she aimed a genteel smile in the cowpoke’s direction and said nothing. It would be rude to embarrass him, no matter how tempting. She handed him the file.
Granger took the file and sprawled into her visitor’s chair, denim-covered knees spread wide. He began to whistle while reading. He cracked his knuckles.
Oh, dear. Lilia didn’t slap herself in the forehead for taking on this handsome yokel, but maybe she should have. Could she really transform him?
She made a beeline for the kitchenette to get his coffee. She poured a cup for him and one for herself, using her grandmother’s Royal Doulton china: very thin, very old, hand-painted.
She sang softly as she set a tray with the cups, saucers, cream, sugar and linen napkins. She added a plate of artistically arranged cookies and fresh strawberries and two silver spoons, also her grandmother’s. Nana Lisbeth’s third commandment was: Food should always look pretty. It tastes better that way.
With perfect posture, Lilia lifted the tray and glided back towards her office, ignoring Shannon who winked at her and lifted her Diet Coke can in a parody of English manners, waving her pinky finger in an exaggerated fashion. Shan’s hideous rendition of “God Save the Queen” did make her laugh, though.
She swept into her office with a smile still on her face, though she felt it wobble when she beheld Dan Granger’s booted foot propped against the edge of her desk.
“What exotic-looking boots you’re wearing, Mr. Granger!” she exclaimed, hoping he’d take the hint.
“Elephant hide,” he nodded. “Check ‘em out.” He slid the boot further onto her desk for her perusal. “Cost me a damn arm and a leg, but well worth it.”
She kept her smile fixed in place as she moved around the other side of the desk and placed the tray squarely in the middle of it. “I do hope the elephant agrees with you.”
Dan guffawed and didn’t move his boot in spite of the proximity of the food.
Lilia squinted meaningfully at it, but he must have been convinced that she was admiring the awful footwear. She slid the tray closer to the boot, and then closer, until she actually nudged it and he took the hint. “Your coffee, Mr. Granger.”
He eyed the beautifully set tray uneasily. “The Sunday china, huh? I’m honored.”
“No, no. I use this every day. Here you are,” she said as she handed him his cup and saucer. He needed to get comfortable with this sort of thing.
His big paws dwarfed the delicate bone china and he looked at it as if it might bite. “I’m awful afraid I might drop this.”
“Of course you won’t,” she said with loads of cheer.
He lifted the cup by its tiny, finely crafted handle, which disappeared entirely behind his big fingers. He took a slurp and then gingerly set cup and saucer down on the corner of her desk, watching as she prepared her own coffee.
“Would you like a cookie? A strawberry?” she held the plate out to him. Granger snagged a cookie and popped the whole thing into his mouth while she watched, horrified and yet fascinated by the clean, no-nonsense appetite of the gesture.
She had to admire the even white teeth crunching down on the cookie, devouring it in a single bite. And the nod and grin of simple appreciation as he said, “Mmmm. That’s good.”
She also couldn’t help but notice the heavily
muscled, tanned arm that helped perform the gesture. In fact, his bicep was quite delicious. And look, there’s a matching one right over there. Plus an intriguing, broad expanse of chest under the snug T-shirt, a flat belly underneath and . . . oh, dear. She was looking there again.
How could she? But just that tiny peek had revealed a . . . well, she really shouldn’t have noticed, but . . . it . . . went quite a distance down his right thigh from where it originated.
“Miz London? Your file?”
She blinked. He’d extended her manila folder back to her, across the desk. “Oh, yes, of course. Excuse me.” She put out her hand to take it, her cheeks heating, and fixated on that sexy mouth and chin again. Suddenly an image of them right between her legs shocked her and she reared back, dropping the file. What in heaven’s name was wrong with her?!
The papers hit the floor in a messy cascade, and she reached down for them at the same time he did, their faces almost colliding. “Excuse me!” she said.
“Pardon me,” he said. He straightened and took a step back, hip jogging the corner of the desk and then, most unfortunately, the Royal Doulton cup and saucer. They crashed to the floor and splintered while black coffee splashed onto her hand-embroidered cream rug.
“Oh! Oh, oh!” Lil repeated stupidly, staring at the mess.
“Dad Gummit!” exclaimed Granger, his expression appalled. Then he peeled off his T-shirt.
“What! What are you–”
He dropped it onto her carpet and placed his boot on it, mopping up the excess coffee while she sputtered and stared at his naked, furred chest and flushed bright red and then sputtered some more. “No! Thank you. Don’t rub! Blot.” she finally managed to get out. Then Lil ran for the kitchenette and club soda and carpet cleaner.
Jane was there, peering into the refrigerator with a hopeful expression. “What’s the matter?”
“Spill,” Lil said. “Destroyed Royal Doulton, Nana Lisbeth’s. And he’s half-naked in my office! Give me the club soda, please.”
Jane looked at her as if she were an escaped lunatic. “Half naked in your office? Cow patty man?”
Lil nodded and rushed off with the soda, the carpet cleaner, a dish towel and the dustpan. Not surprisingly, Jane followed, unable to resist.
Dear God, the man’s back . . . a beautiful, bronzed jigsaw of perfectly placed muscle, moving with sinuous grace as he blotted her carpet with his own T-shirt–the savage. The sweet, helpful, magnificent barbarian. In that ridiculous leather belt with D-A-N carved into the back of it.
Despite the idiotic belt and the fact that he’d destroyed Nana Lisbeth’s china, a hot electric flash drove through her core. Part of her wanted to grab him by the belt buckle that ate Dallas and pull off his pants, too. She ignored the renegade impulse. It wasn’t at all ladylike.
“Thank you, Mr. Granger,” she said firmly, taking over. “Really, you didn’t have to use your shirt for clean-up.”
He moved aside and shrugged. “I got ten more in my carry-on bag. No big deal. I do apologize for bustin’ your dishes. I really, really do. Can I buy you a new set? I know how you women are about matched sets of things.”
You can’t replace a sentimental, family piece. Lil poured club soda over the soiled area of the rug. “No, no, of course not. These things happen. You’re very sweet to offer, though.” She forced herself to smile at him, set him at ease again, minimize his embarrassment and guilt. That was the polite thing to do.
But it was a bad idea, since she couldn’t seem to look away from his pectorals and that quite stunning abdomen and . . . no. She would not look lower again. There are some packages that are not meant to be opened.
As she blotted up the stain, he must have noticed Jane in the doorway. “Haaaaaaaaaaaaa.”
“Hi,” Jane said, a tremor of amusement in her voice.
“Dan Granger, Ma’am. Clutz at large.”
“Jane O’Toole. You’re obviously not from around here.”
“Amarillo, darlin’. Pardon me while I grab another shirt from my bag.”
”Oh, feel free,” Jane said.
Lil and Jane both watched as he rummaged through a beat-up canvas duffel and pulled out a spare shirt. They continued to watch as, oblivious, he raised his arms with a ripple of muscle and then stuck his head through the neck hole, with yet another ripple. Lilia’s mouth went dry and she found herself on the receiving end of an infuriating smirk from Jane. “Nice to meet you, Dan,” she said. “I’ve got to get back to work.” And with a knowing grin in Lil’s direction she did so.
Well, that settled it. Even if Granger spoke proper English, was the last virile man on the planet, and her life depended upon it, Lil would never ‘go there.’ Because Jane wouldn’t ever let her live it down.
Granger was now digging deep into the pocket of his Wranglers, which only served to pull the fabric hard against his—-that, uh, most interesting bulge. Lil pressed her lips together. She knelt down and concentrated on sweeping the shards of Nana Lisbeth’s cup and saucer into the dustpan.
“Here,” said Granger’s voice. “I’d really feel better if you’d take this.”
She looked up, straight into his crotch, and dropped the dustpan. The shards scattered again. He held out a wad of green bills.
Soft laughter came from the hallway and she saw Shannon disappearing into the kitchenette. Lil had to admit that she and Granger must make an interesting vignette: she on her knees in front of him, while he held out a wad of cash.
“Mr. Granger, I couldn’t possibly–”
“Dan,” he said. “Just call me Dan, honey.”
That was another thing they needed to address: he couldn’t walk around calling every female he met ‘sweetheart,’ ‘darlin’,’ or ‘honey.’ “Mr. Granger, I know that things are different down south, but–”
“Dan,” he repeated, squatting down with her and gently taking the dustpan from her hands. They spoke at the same time.
“—-you mustn’t use terms of endearment with women you don’t know, as you risk–”
“Don’t worry, in London I’ll call the ladies ‘love.’”
They squatted on her rug, knee to knee and face to face. She could see the pores in his skin, the tiny lines on his lips, the intense, hungry look in his eyes.
He swept the shards back into the dustpan. “Besides bustin’ your china and trashing your rug,” he drawled, “do I offend you, Lilia?”
She opened her mouth to say yes. Then no. Then yes.
His blue gaze engulfed her, spread over her skin like the soft sting of an astringent; cool and hot at the same time. After a moment, he reached out an index finger and stroked along her jaw to just under her chin. He tilted it up and angled his face over hers while her heart galloped around in her chest like a mad thing. He was much, much too close to her.
She was much, much too close to him.
And she didn’t want to do a damn thing about it.