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Authors: Lynnette Austin

Somebody Like You (10 page)

BOOK: Somebody Like You
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He pointed to the phone in her hand. “I know that one.”

He turned his back on her and slipped behind the Caddy’s wheel. Forced himself to drive away from the temptation that was Annie.

She wouldn’t give an inch. Well, neither would he. For every wall she erected, he’d find a way over. And now, he could call her at midnight if he wanted to. He wouldn’t, but knowing he could, while she lay in bed, all warm and tousled from sleep, made him smile.

Cash smacked the steering wheel, fighting off the wish they were home in his bed right now. What a disaster. And the blame lay right in his own never-thought-to-carry-a-condom pocket.

A
quick call to Ron, using her new cell, had netted no information. She’d learned nothing from the locals. Cash was beyond angry, and she’d gotten next to no sleep. Good morning! Hah!

Annelise took out her mad on the wall, slapping paint on it fast and furiously. But the roller fought back, and in no time, she had blue splatters on her face, in her hair, all over her clothes. She gritted her teeth and glared at the roller. “Go ahead. Cover me in paint. Doesn’t matter. I
will
see this job through to the end. I’m not going to be here long, but I refuse to live in a drab box.” The roller zigzagged across the wall. “More importantly, I will not give up and go home. I’ll finish both this and the job I came to do.”

Verdi’s
La Traviata
spilled out of her new, very cheap sound system. Stepping back, she studied the partially painted wall and smiled. Yes, she would get it done. Not yet eight o’clock, and already the morning sun poured through her windows, washed over the walls.

What a difference. The color transformed the space. A happy, bright blue, so different from the dingy white, so different from the staid colors in her parents’ Boston home. New life zinged through the apartment. She sniffed. It even smelled fresh and clean. She loved it!

Her thoughts wandered to Cash. What would he think of it? Her smile slipped. Damn him, anyway. She’d really looked forward to today. But thinking about last night could really put a damper on her mood if she let it.

Well, not all of last night. Some of it had been pretty fantastic. Her first nighttime motorcycle ride, with the stars above and Cash’s arms around her. A cowboy whose kisses topped out the Richter scale.

The end of the evening sucked, though. Big time.

Stooping to cover her roller with more paint, she squealed when someone rapped on the door. Her left hand flew to her chest. Oh, no! Had her parents tracked her down and sent someone to collect her? Whisk her back to Boston?

Well, she wouldn’t go.

Cautiously, she swiped at the paint on her face. The slick smear spread farther along her cheek. Why hadn’t she picked up some rags for cleanup? Well, too late now, so what the heck.

Her heart thundered as she marched through the kitchen, prepared to do battle. Instead, when she opened the door her mouth simply dropped open. Dressed in jeans and a faded green T-shirt that had, no doubt, once been the color of his beautiful eyes, Cash stood on the landing, two cups of go-coffee and a bag of donuts in his hands. Not Starbucks, but she’d take what she got.

He held them up. “Peace offering?”

Her eyes moved to the bag of donuts. To those long-fingered hands. Remembered what they’d done to her last night. Where they’d been.

He didn’t have his cowboy hat on this morning, and his hair curled at his nape. Delicious.

Embarrassed heat crawled up her neck.

He shifted uneasily. “I’m sorry about last night, Annie. I was out-of-line.”

“No, you weren’t. I—” She pushed at her hair, remembered too late the paint on her hands.

He caught a strand between his fingers, “Nice color.”

She gave a strangled half laugh. She felt awkward, didn’t know what to do with her hands. This man was her boss. Had come within a hair’s-breadth of becoming her lover last night. Her chest tightened. It was hard to breathe.

“I figured if we intended to work together, it might go better if we were actually speaking to each other.”

“Cash, I’m the one who needs to apologize.” She waved her hand, only then realizing she still held the paint-filled roller. “I overreacted.” Stepping to the side, she opened the door wider. “Come in.”

Walking back to her paint tray, she bent and laid the roller in it.

“We’re okay, then?” He stepped inside, shrinking the already small space.

Annelise nodded.

“Okay, so it’s water under the bridge. Nice look, by the way.” He nodded at her paint-splattered face.

“Argh, pretend you can’t see me. That I’m invisible. I’m a mess! There’s more blue on me than on the wall. How anybody paints for a living is beyond me. And why would they wear white to do this?”

Sniffing appreciatively at the coffee, she said, “Mmm, heaven.”

“Thought I could give you a hand with the painting.”

Casually, he leaned toward her, made a big to-do out of searching for a paint-free spot, then gave her a friendly peck on the cheek. “Sleep well?”

“No.” Her pulse sped up in response to his closeness, the brief touch of his lips. The crisp, masculine smell of him. “You?”

“Nope. And I woke with the roosters this morning.” He stared down at the toes of his scuffed boots. “I really am sorry I got so short-tempered last night.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Cash. It was mine.” She stumbled.
Now. Tell him now.
“I need to—”

“No, Annie. No explanations necessary.” He hesitated. “On second thought, maybe you’re right. We do need to deal with the elephant in the room.”

She frowned and rested her hand on the counter. “What?”

“Sex.”

Her brows shot up.

“Or, rather, the lack of it.”

Her mouth opened, closed.

“C’mon, Annie. We’re both thinking about it. I sure the hell am. That’s what kept me up most of the night. I shouldn’t have come onto you like I did. I—”

“Don’t you dare apologize.” She shook her head.

“But—”

“No. Last night was—consensual—as far as it went. When I said stop, you stopped.” She eyed him. “Don’t tell me you’re sorry about what we did.”

“Sorry?” He laughed. “Hell, no. Believe me, I enjoyed every second of it. The thing is, Annie—” He swiped his toe across the ugly, cracked linoleum. “I’m as single as a one-dollar bill, and I like it like that. I’m not interested in a relationship.”

“Whew!” Annie sighed and rolled her eyes. “Thank God! I was afraid that, well, one kiss and you’d be thinking engagement rings, orange blossoms, and wedding bells. What a relief.”

One corner of his lip threatened to tip in a grin. “Anybody ever tell you you’ve got a smart mouth?”

“I think it’s been hinted at once or twice.” She swiped her hands on her shorts, leaving new smudges. “Now that we have that sorted out, what do you say we eat? Those donuts are calling my name.”

“You’re a strange one, Annie.”

She grinned. “Thank you.”

He jiggled the bag in his hand. “Okay, let’s sugar-up for breakfast, then slap some color on the rest of these walls.”

Setting the bakery bag on the end of the counter, he squinted at her current work zone. “Looks like you got a good start already.”

She gave a muffled grunt as she opened a cupboard door and took down mismatched plates and bright yellow napkins while he literally ripped open the bag of donuts. Mentally, she shook her head. So male.

“I think I’ll buy a few throw rugs to cover this horrible green linoleum.”

“Good idea. It really needs to be replaced.”

“Not today,” she said.

Sitting at her kitchen table, they ate and talked about the horses and Hank, about Cash’s sister and her kids. It was easy and comfortable. The sun played on his hair, kissing it with golden warmth.

The conversation turned to his parents’ trip.

“They brought back all kinds of nonsense. More souvenirs to gather dust. My mother’s a collector—of everything.” He smiled. “She’s all excited about some framed document certifying the biggest oil field find ever in Texas.”

Annelise’s scalp tingled.

“It’s hard to imagine something like that rattling around in a French antique shop, but there you go. It probably ought to be in a museum somewhere. However, if my mom is set on it decorating Dad’s office, then that’s exactly what it’ll do. She generally gets what she wants.”

The bite of donut stuck in her throat.

“I think you’ll like her, Annie. The two of you are both pigheaded.”

“Resolute and strong-minded,” she corrected.

Cash snorted. “Whatever.” Then he nodded at the last half of the donut she’d laid on her plate. “You gonna finish that?”

She shook her head, and he picked it up, wolfed it down in two bites. Then he stood, crushing the bag, and winged it into the wastebasket across the room. “Okay, let’s hit it, sugar. Get this show on the road. First, though, that music’s gotta go.”

“The music?” Her brow creased. “What’s wrong with the music?”

He cupped her chin and tipped her face upward. “Annie, darlin’, this is important now, so pay attention. You’re in Texas.” He wagged a finger in front of her face. “No high-brow classical music allowed in Maverick Junction.”

Annelise exhaled a slow breath as he moved away. It was as if his warm fingers still touched her.

He fiddled with the dial till he located a country station.

Tapping the top of the radio, he said, “Now, this is music, Annie. Tim McGraw, Josh Turner, Miranda Lambert, Reba. When we’re done with the walls, there’s gonna be a quiz. You gotta know who these people are if you’re gonna live here.”

Again, she shook her head.

“Hey, God’s truth.” He raised his hand as if taking an oath and then went to work unwrapping a second pan and roller. With his height, he didn’t have to climb up and down the stepladder to reach the ceiling and top of the walls, so he did those while she concentrated on the lower half.

He knelt to refill his tray, and a blob of blue dripped from her roller onto his nose.

“Oh, oh.” She stood motionless. “It’s your own fault,” she said quickly. “You should have moved away from where I’m painting.”

“Oh, yeah?” Still crouched, he looked up at her. “Maybe I like sharing spaces—and paint.”

He moved quickly, burying his head into the curve of her neck. Then he twisted his head back and forth, streaking the paint onto her.

She laughed and pushed away, trying to ignore the heat that flashed through her when his breath skittered along her neck. “I feel so sorry for your mother. You had to have been an awful child, Cash Hardeman.” She took several steps back and wiped at the paint with the shoulder of her already-ruined shirt.

“Want help?” He inched toward her, reminding her of an animal bearing down on its prey.

Her heart raced. The man was impossible, too tempting by far. “No. Go paint your wall.”

“You sure?”

She nodded, almost sorry when he picked up his roller again.

But four hours later, the walls glistened. Stepping back to admire their handiwork, they high-fived each other.

“I can’t believe we’re done.” Annelise grinned. “This is awesome.”

“To say nothing of colorful,” Cash said.

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” Her grin grew. “Thank you.” She threw her arms around him. “I’m not sure I could have done it alone.”

“You would have.” He hugged her back, then stepped away. “Somehow, some way. You’re one determined lady, Annie. Like I said, pigheaded.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Particularly since you’ve compared me to your mother.”

His green eyes darkened. “It was meant as one.”

“Then thank you again.”

With the Tiffany blue in the living room/kitchen area, she’d done one accent wall in a softer hue. She’d painted two bedroom walls the quieter blue and two in cream. A nice combination, she thought. The bath was solid Tiffany.

“You planning on wearing sunglasses when you’re here?” Hands stuffed into his back pockets, Cash stood in the center of the living room and turned in a circle, taking in the change.

“They’re not that bright.”

He shrugged. “Guess not.”

“Come on.” She bumped him with her shoulder. “Admit it. You love them.”

His lips drew together. “Honest? The colors aren’t what I’d have picked, but they suit you. And that’s what’s important.”

“What colors did you use in your house, Cash?” She blushed and cleared her throat. “I mean…well…I really didn’t notice last night.”

He laughed. “And I’ll take
that
as a compliment. But, no, I guess you wouldn’t have. We were otherwise engaged.” He wound a piece of hair that had come free of her ponytail around his finger. “Tell you what. How ’bout I have you over for dinner one night? You can see for yourself.”

“You cook?”

“I can grill a steak with the best of ’em. And I’ll sweet-talk Rosie into throwing together a salad for us.”

“That sounds good.”

“It’s a date, then.”

Her pulse skittered. “Yes. Yes, it is.” Her eyes drifted to the Felix-the-Cat wall clock she’d found at LeRoy’s. “Are you hungry? I’ve got a frozen pizza.”

“I wouldn’t say no.”

“All right.” She retrieved the pizza from the freezer, removed all the wrappings, and slid it onto a plate. Standing in front of the microwave, she chewed at her lip.

“What’s wrong? You gonna nuke that thing or what?” He nodded at the pizza.

“Nuke it?” She frowned.

“Yeah. Cook it.”

“Yes, I will, but I need to figure out how this works.”

“You can’t use a microwave? Where’d you grow up? Mars?”

“Almost. A different world, for sure.”

He frowned.

“Kidding,” she said. “Just kidding. Every microwave’s a little different, you know?”

Cash contemplated that, not sure he believed her. What exactly was going on here? One minute Annie seemed so worldly, the next so naïve and inexperienced.

Riding into Maverick Junction on that Harley of hers, dressed in black leather with those mile-long legs, she’d quite simply been the sexiest woman he’d ever seen. She’d also been cocky and full of attitude. Last night, she’d more than given back everything he gave. Kiss for kiss. Heat for heat. And yet, there’d been something about her that shouted innocence.

A mystery here, and he generally loved a good mystery. But darned if he could unravel the clues. Not yet, anyway. But he would.

“Need some help with that?”

She set the pizza inside the microwave, closed the door, and cocked her hands on her hips. “Yes, actually, I do.”

He crossed the room, pushed a couple of buttons, and watched as the pizza circled inside the microwave. “Not rocket science.”

“Guess not, but, well, let’s say I wasn’t ever expected to do much around my house. Heck, the truth is I was actually discouraged from doing anything.”

BOOK: Somebody Like You
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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