Judith McNaught Historical Romances:
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, a sensuous stranger enters Katie’s life. By , her life is irrevocably changed forever.
, a sensuous stranger enters Katie’s life. By , her life is irrevocably changed forever.
Katie Connelly submerges her painful past in a promising career, an elegant apartment, and men she can keep at a distance. Yet something vital is missing from her life—until she meets proud, rugged Ramon Galverra. With his charm and his passionate nature, Ramon gives her a love she had never known. Still she is afraid to surrender her heart to this strong, willful, secretive man—a man from a different world, a man with a bold, uncertain future. Will Katie’s relationship with Ramon survive once the thrill of their simmering passion subsides?
…Chapter 1 & 2
Standing in brooding silence at the windows of the elegant penthouse apartment, the tall dark man gazed at the panorama of twinkling lights fanning out across the dusky St. Louis skyline. Bitterness and resignation were evident in Ramon Galverra’s abrupt movements as he jerked the knot of his tie loose, then raised his glass of Scotch to his mouth, drinking deeply.
Behind him, a blond man strode quickly into the dimly lit living room. “Well, Ramon?” he asked eagerly. “What did they decide?”
“They decided what bankers always decide,” Ramon said harshly, without turning. “They decided to look out for themselves.”
“Those bastards!” Roger exploded. In angry frustration, he raked his hand through his blond hair, then turned and headed determinedly for the row of crystal decanters on the bar. “They sure as hell stayed with you when the money was pouring in,” he gritted as he splashed bourbon into a glass.
“They have not changed,” Ramon said grimly. “If the money was still pouring in, they would still be with me.”
Roger snapped on a lamp, then scowled at the magnificent Louis XIV furnishings, as if their presence in his spacious living room offended him. “I was so certain, so absolutely certain, that when you explained about the state of your father’s mental health before he died the bankers would stand by you. How can they blame you for his mistakes and incompetence?”
Turning from the windows, Ramon leaned a shoulder against the frame. For a moment he stared at the remaining Scotch in his glass, then he tipped it up to his mouth and drained it. “They blame me for not preventing him from making fatal mistakes, and for not recognizing the fact of his incompetence in time.”
“Not recognizing the—” Roger repeated furiously. “How were you supposed to recognize that a man who always acted like he was God Almighty, one day started believing it? And what could you have done if you’d known? The stock was in his name, not yours. Until the day he died, he held the controlling interest in the corporation. Your hands were tied.”
“Now they are empty,” Ramon replied with a shrug of broad, muscled shoulders on his six-foot-three-inch frame.
“Look,” Roger said in desperation. “I haven’t brought this up before because I knew your pride would be offended, but I’m a long way from being poor, you know that. How much do you need? If I don’t have it all, maybe I can raise the rest.”
For the first time, a glint of humor touched Ramon Galverra’s finely sculpted mouth and arrogant dark eyes. The transformation was startling, softening the features of a face that lately looked as if it had been cast in bronze by an artist intent on portraying cold, ruthless determination and ancient Spanish nobility. “Fifty million would help. Seventy-five million would be better.”
“Fifty million?” Roger said blankly, staring at the man he had known since they were both students at Harvard University. “Fifty million dollars would only help?”
“Right. It would only help.” Slamming his glass down on the marble table beside him, Ramon turned and started toward the guest room he had been occupying since his arrival in St. Louis a week before.
“Ramon,” Roger said urgently, “you have to see Sid Green while you’re here. He could raise that kind of money if he wanted to, and he owes you.”
Ramon’s head jerked around. His aristocratic Spanish face hardened with contempt. “If Sid wanted to help, he would have contacted me. He knows I am here and he knows I am in trouble.”
“Maybe he doesn’t know. Until now, you’ve managed to keep it quiet that the corporation is going under. Maybe he doesn’t know.”
“He knows. He is on the board of directors of the bank that is refusing to extend our loan.”
“No! If Sid was willing to help, he would have contacted me. His silence speaks for itself, and I will not beg him. I have called a meeting of my corporation’s auditors and attorneys in Puerto Rico for ten days from now. At that meeting I will instruct them to file bankruptcy.” Turning on his heel, Ramon strode from the room, his long purposeful strides eloquent of restless anger.
When he returned, his thick black hair was slightly damp from a shower, and he was wearing Levi’s. Roger turned and watched in silence as Ramon folded the cuffs of his white shirt up on his forearms. “Ramon,” he said with pleading determination, “stay another week in St. Louis. Maybe Sid will contact you if you give him more time. I tell you, I don’t think he knows you’re here. I don’t even know if he’s in town.”
“He is in town, and I am leaving for Puerto Rico in two days, exactly as I planned.”
Roger heaved a long, defeated sigh. “What the hell are you going to do in Puerto Rico?”
“First, I am going to attend to the corporation’s bankruptcy, and then I am going to do what my grandfather did, and his father before him,” Ramon replied tautly. “I am going to farm.”
“You’re out of your mind!” Roger burst out. “Farm that little patch of ground with that hut on it where you and I took those two girls from . . . ?”
“That little patch of ground,” Ramon interrupted with quiet dignity, “is all I have left. Along with the cottage on it where I was born.”
“What about the house near San Juan, or the villa in Spain, or the island in the Mediterranean? Sell one of your houses or the island; that would keep you in luxury for as long as you live.”
“They are gone. I put them up as collateral to raise money for the corporation that it cannot repay. The banks who loaned the money will be swarming over everything like vultures before the year is out.”
“Dammit!” Roger said helplessly. “If your father weren’t already dead, I’d kill him with my own two hands.”
“The stockholders would have already beaten you to it.” Ramon smiled without humor.
“How can you just stand there and talk as if you don’t even care?”
“I have accepted defeat,” Ramon said calmly. “I have done everything that can be done. I will not mind working my land beside the people who have worked it for my family for centuries.”
Turning to hide his sympathy from the man Roger knew would reject it and despise him for it, he said, “Ramon, is there anything I can do?”
“Name it,” Roger said, looking hopefully over his shoulder. “Just tell me and I’ll do it.”
“Will you loan me your car? I would like to go for a drive alone.”
Grimacing at such a paltry request, Roger dug in his pocket, then tossed his keys to his friend. “There’s a problem in the fuel line and the filter keeps clogging, but the local Mercedes dealer can’t take it in for another week. With your luck the thing will probably quit in the middle of the street tonight.”
Ramon shrugged, his face wiped clean of emotion. “If the car stops, I will walk. The exercise will help me get into condition for farming.”
“You don’t have to farm that place and you know it! In the international business community you’re famous.”
A muscle clenched in Ramon’s jaw as he made an obvious effort to control his bitter anger. “In the international business community, I have been party to a sin no one will forgive or forget—failure. I am about to become its most notorious failure. Would you have me beg my friends for a position on that recommendation? Shall I go to your factory tomorrow and apply for a job on your assembly line?”
“No, of course not! But you could think of something. I’ve seen you build a financial empire in a few short years. If you could build it, you could find a way to save a piece of it for yourself. I don’t think you give a damn anymore! I—”
“I cannot work miracles,” Ramon cut in flatly. “And that is what it would take. The Lear is in a hangar at the airport waiting for a minor part for one of the engines. When the jet mechanics have finished with it, and my pilot returns Sunday night from his weekend off, I will be flying to Puerto Rico.” Roger opened his mouth to protest, but Ramon silenced him with an impatient look. “There is dignity in farming. More dignity, I think, than in dealing with bankers. While my father was alive, I knew no peace. Since he died, I have known no peace. Let me find it in my own way.”
The huge bar at the Canyon Inn near suburban Westport was packed with the usual Friday night crowd. Katie Connelly glanced surreptitiously at her watch, then let her gaze slide over the laughing, drinking, talking groups, searching for a particular face among them. Her view of the main entrance was obscured by the profusion of lush plants suspended from macrame hangers and the tiffany lamps hanging beneath the stained-glass ceiling.
Keeping the bright smile fixed on her face, she returned her attention to the knot of men and women standing around her. “So I told him never to call me again,” Karen Wilson was saying to them.
A man stepped on Katie’s foot while stretching around her to get his drink from the bar. In the process of reaching into his pocket to extract some money, he jabbed her in the side with his elbow. He offered no apology, nor did Katie really expect one. It was every man, and every woman, for themselves in here. Equal rights.
Turning away from the bar with his drink in his hand, he noticed Katie. “Hello,” he said, pausing to flick an interested glance over her slender, curving figure draped in a clingy blue dress. “Nice,” he concluded aloud as he considered everything about her, from the shining reddish blond hair tumbling around her shoulders, to the sapphire blue eyes regarding him beneath long curling lashes and delicately arched brows. Her cheeks were elegantly curved, her nose small, and as he continued to survey her, her creamy complexion took on a becoming tint of pale rose. “Very nice,” he amended, unaware that the reason for her heightening color was irritation, not pleasure.
Although Katie resented him for looking at her as if he had paid for the privilege, she could not really blame him. After all, she was here, wasn’t she? Here in what was, despite what the owners and patrons preferred to think, nothing more than a huge singles’ bar attached to a tiny dining room to give it dignity.
“Where’s your drink?” he asked, lazily reexamining her beautiful face.
“I don’t have one,” Katie replied, stating the perfectly obvious.
“I’ve already had two.”
“Well, why don’t you get yourself another one and meet me over in that corner? We can get acquainted. I’m an attorney,” he added, as if that one piece of information should make her eager to snatch a drink and leap after him.
Katie bit her lip and deliberately looked disappointed. “Oh.”
“I don’t like attorneys,” she said straight-faced.
He was more stunned than annoyed. “Too bad.” Shrugging, he turned and wended his way into the crowd. Katie watched him pause near two very attractive young women who returned his considering glance with one of their own, looking him over with blatant interest. She felt a surge of shamed disgust for him, for all of them in this crowded place, but especially for herself for being here. She was inwardly embarrassed by her own rudeness, but places like this automatically made her feel defensive, and her natural warmth and spontaneity atrophied the moment she crossed the threshold.
The attorney had, of course, forgotten Katie in an instant. Why should he bother spending two dollars to buy her a drink, then put forth the effort to be friendly and charm her? Why should he exert himself when it wasn’t necessary? If Katie, or any other woman in the room, wanted to get to know him, he was perfectly willing to let her try to interest him. And if she succeeded sufficiently, he would even invite her to come to his place—in her own car, of course—so that she could indulge her equal, and much publicized, need for sexual gratification. After which he would have a friendly drink with her—if he wasn’t too tired—walk her to his door, and allow her to drive herself back to wherever she lived.
So efficient, so straightforward. No strings attached. No commitments made or expected. Today’s woman, of course, had equal rights of refusal; she didn’t have to go to bed with him. She didn’t even have to worry that her refusal might hurt his feelings. Because he had no feelings for her. He might be slightly annoyed that he had wasted an hour or two of his time, but then he would simply make another selection from the numerous willing women available to him.
Katie raised her blue eyes, again scanning the crowd for Rob, wishing she had arranged to meet him somewhere else. The popular music was too loud, adding its clamor to the din of raised voices and forced laughter. She gazed at the faces around her, all different, yet all similar in their restless, eager, bored expressions. They were all looking for something. They hadn’t found it yet.
“It’s Katie, isn’t it?” An unfamiliar male voice spoke behind her. Startled, Katie turned and found herself looking into a confidently smiling male face above an Ivy League button-down shirt, well-tailored blazer and coordinated tie. “I met you with Karen at the supermarket, two weeks ago.”
He had a boyish grin and hard eyes. Katie was wary and her smile lacked its normal sparkle. “Hello, Ken. It’s nice to see you again.”
“Listen, Katie,” he said, as if he had suddenly devised a brilliant and original scheme. “Why don’t we leave here and go somewhere quieter.”
His place or hers. Whichever was closest. Katie knew the routine and it sickened her. “What did you have in mind?”
He didn’t answer the question, he didn’t need to. Instead he asked another. “Where do you live?”
“A few blocks from here—the Village Green Apartments.”
“Two lesbians,” she lied gravely.
He believed her, and he wasn’t shocked. “No kidding? It doesn’t bother you?”
Katie gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence. “I adore them.” For just a fraction of a second he looked revolted, and Katie’s smile widened with genuine laughter.
Recovering almost immediately, he shrugged. “Too bad. See you around.”
Katie watched his attention shift across the room until he saw someone who interested him and he left, slowly shoving his way through the crowd. She had had enough. More than enough. She touched Karen’s arm, distracting her from her animated conversation with two attractive men about skiing in Colorado. “Karen, I’m going to stop in the ladies’ room, and then I’m leaving.”
“Rob didn’t show up?” Karen said distractedly. “Well, look around—there’s plenty more where he came from. Take your pick.”
“I’m going,” Katie said with quiet firmness. Karen merely shrugged and returned to her conversation.
The ladies’ room was down a short hall behind the bar, and Katie worked her way through the shifting bodies, breathing a sigh of relief as she squeezed around the last human obstacle in her path and stepped into the relative quiet of the hallway. She wasn’t sure whether she was relieved or disappointed that Rob hadn’t come. Eight months ago, she had been wildly, passionately dazzled by him, by his clever mind and teasing tenderness. He had everything: blond good looks, confidence, charm and a secure future as the heir to one of St. Louis’s largest stockbrokerage firms. He was beautiful and wise and wonderful. And married.
Katie’s face saddened as she recalled the last time she had seen Rob. . . . After a marvelous dinner and dancing they had returned to her apartment and were having a drink. For hours she had been thinking of what was going to happen when Rob took her in his arms. That night, for the first time, she was not going to stop him when he tried to make love to her. During the last months he had told her a hundred times, and shown her in a hundred ways, that he loved her. There was no need for her to hesitate any longer. In fact, she had been about to take the initiative when Rob had leaned his head back against the sofa and sighed. “Katie, tomorrow’s paper is going to have a story about me in the society section. Not just about me—but also about my wife and son. I’m married.”
Pale and heartbroken, Katie had told him never to call her again or try to see her. He did—repeatedly. And just as tenaciously, Katie refused his calls at her office and hung up the phone at home whenever she heard his voice.
That was five months ago, and only rarely since then had Katie allowed herself the bittersweet luxury of thinking of him, even for a moment. Until three days ago, she had believed she was entirely over him, but when she answered her phone on Wednesday, the sound of Rob’s deep voice had made her whole body tremble: “Katie, don’t hang up on me. Everything’s changing. I’ve got to see you, to talk to you.”
He had argued vehemently against Katie’s choice of this for a meeting place, but Katie held firm. The Canyon Inn was noisy and public enough to discourage him from trying to use tender persuasion, if that was his intention, and Karen came here every Friday, which meant Katie would have feminine moral support if she needed it.
The ladies’ room was crowded and Katie had to wait in line. She emerged several minutes later, absently digging in her shoulder purse for her car keys as she walked down the hall, then stopped at the crowd blocking her reentry into the bar. Beside her at one of the pay telephones on the wall, a man spoke with a trace of a Spanish accent: “Pardon—could you tell me the address of this place?”
On the verge of pushing her way into the tightly packed mass of humanity, Katie turned to look at the tall, lithe male who was regarding her with faint impatience while holding the telephone to his ear. “Were you speaking to me?” Katie asked. His face was deeply tanned, his hair vitally thick and as black as his onyx eyes. In a place filled with men who always reminded Katie of IBM salesmen, this man, who was wearing faded Levi’s and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up on his forearms, definitely did not belong. He was too . . . earthy.
“I asked,” the Spanish-accented voice repeated, “if you could tell me the address of this place. I have had car trouble and am trying to order a towing vehicle.”
Katie automatically named the two intersections at the corner of which the Canyon Inn was located, while mentally recoiling from the narrowed black eyes and patrician nose in a foreign, arrogant face. Tall, dark foreign-looking men reeking of coarse masculinity might appeal to some women, but not to Katherine Connelly.
“Thank you,” he replied, removing his hand from the mouthpiece of the telephone and repeating the names of the streets Katie had given him.
Turning away, Katie confronted a dark green Izod sweater stretched across the masculine chest that was blocking her way back into the bar area. Eyeball to alligator, she said, “Excuse me, may I get by?” The sweater obligingly moved out of the doorway.
“Where are you going?” its wearer inquired in a friendly voice. “It’s still early.”
Katie raised her deep blue eyes up to his face and saw his smile broaden with frank admiration. “I know, but I have to leave. I turn into a pumpkin at midnight.”
“Your chariot turns into a pumpkin,” he corrected, grinning. “And your dress turns into rags.”
“Planned obsolescence and poor workmanship, even in Cinderella’s time,” Katie sighed in mock disgust.
“Clever girl,” he applauded. “Sagittarius, right?”
“Wrong,” Katie said, extracting her keys from the bottom of her purse.
“Then what is your sign?”
“Slow Down and Proceed with Caution,” she flipped back. “What’s yours?”
He thought for a moment. “Merge,” he replied with a meaningful glance that faithfully followed every curve of her graceful figure. Reaching out, he lightly ran his knuckles over the silky sleeve of Katie’s dress. “I happen to like intelligent women; I don’t feel threatened by them.”
Firmly repressing the impulse to suggest that he try making a pass at Dr. Joyce Brothers, Katie said politely, “I really do have to leave. I’m meeting someone.”
“Lucky guy,” he said.
Katie emerged into the dark, sultry summer night feeling lost and depressed. She paused beneath the canopied entrance, watching with a suddenly pounding heart as a familiar white Corvette ran the red light at the corner and turned into the parking lot, screeching to a stop beside her. “I’m sorry I’m late. Get in, Katie. We’ll go somewhere and talk.”
Katie looked at Rob through the open car window and felt a surge of longing so intense that she ached with it. He was still unbearably handsome, but his smile, normally so confident and assured, was now tinged with an endearing uncertainty that wrung her heart and weakened her resolve. “It’s late. And I don’t have anything to say to you if you’re still married.”
“Katie, we can’t talk here like this. don’t give me a hard time about being late. I’ve had a lousy flight and it was delayed getting into St. Louis. Now, be a good girl and get in the car. I don’t have time to waste arguing with you.”
“Why don’t you have time?” Katie persisted, “Is your wife expecting you?”
Rob swore under his breath, then accelerated sharply, swinging the sports car into a shadowy parking space beside the building. He got out of the car and leaned against the door, waiting for Katie to come to him. With the breeze teasing her hair and tugging at the folds of her blue dress, Katie reluctantly approached him in the darkened parking lot.
“It’s been a long time, Katie,” he said when she stopped in front of him. “Aren’t you going to kiss me hello?”
“Are you still married?”
His answer was to snatch her into his arms and kiss her with a combination of fierce hunger and pleading need. He knew her well enough, however, to realize that Katie was only passively accepting his kiss, and by avoiding her question he had told her that he was still married. “Don’t be like this,” he rasped thickly, his breath warm against her ear. “I’ve thought of nothing but you for months. Let’s get out of here and go to your place.”
Katie drew an unsteady breath. “No.”
“Katie, I love you, I’m crazy about you. don’t keep holding out on me.”
For the first time, Katie noticed the smell of liquor on his breath and was unwillingly touched that he had apparently felt the need to bolster his courage before seeing her. But she managed to keep her voice firm. “I’m not going to have a sleazy affair with a married man.”
“Before you knew I was married, you didn’t find anything ‘sleazy’ about being with me.”
Now he was going to try cajolery, and Katie couldn’t bear it. “Please, please don’t do this to me, Rob. I couldn’t live with myself if I wrecked another woman’s marriage.”
“The marriage was ‘wrecked’ long before I met you, honey. I tried to tell you that.”
“Then get a divorce,” Katie said desperately.
Even in the darkness, Katie could see the bitter irony that twisted his smile. “Southfields do not divorce. They learn to live separate lives. Ask my father and my grandfather,” he said with angry pain. Despite the doors opening and closing as people drifted in and out of the restaurant, Rob’s voice remained at normal pitch, and his hands slid down her back caressing her, then cupping her hips, forcing her against his hardened thighs. “That’s for you, Katie. Only for you. You won’t be wrecking my marriage; it was over long ago.”
Katie couldn’t stand any more. The sordidness of the situation made her feel dirty, and she tried to pull away from him. “Let go of me,” she hissed. “Either you’re a liar, or you’re a coward, or both, and—”
Rob’s hands tightened around her arms as she struggled. “I hate you for acting like this!” Katie choked. “Let me go!”
“Do as she says,” a faintly accented voice spoke from the darkness.
Rob’s head snapped up. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded of the white-shirted figure that materialized from the shadows beside the building. Retaining his grip on one of Katie’s arms, Rob glowered menacingly at the intruder and snapped at Katie, “Do you know him?”
Katie’s voice was hoarse with mortification and anger. “No, but let go of me. I want to leave.”
“You’re staying,” Rob gritted. Jerking his head toward the other man, he said, “And you’re going. Now move, unless you want me to help you on your way.”
The accented voice became extremely courteous, almost frighteningly so. “You may try if you wish. But let her go.”
Pushed past all endurance by Katie’s continued implacable stubbornness, and now this unwanted intrusion, Rob vented all his frustrated wrath on the intruder. He dropped Katie’s arm and, in one smooth continuous motion, swung his huge fist directly at his opponent’s jaw. A second’s silence was followed by the terrible crack of bone connecting with bone, and then a resounding thud. Katie opened her tear-brightened eyes to find Rob unconscious at her feet.
“Open the car door,” the foreign voice ordered with an insistence that brooked no argument.
Automatically, Katie opened the door of the Corvette. The man unceremoniously shoved and folded Rob inside, leaving his head lolling over the steering wheel as if he were passed out in a drunken stupor. “Which is your car?”
Katie stared at him blankly. “We can’t leave him like this. He might need a doctor.”
“Which is your car?” he repeated impatiently. “I have no wish to be here in the event someone saw what happened and called the police.”
“Oh, but—” Katie protested, looking over her shoulder at Rob’s Corvette as she hurried toward her car. She drew up stubbornly at the driver’s door. “You leave. I can’t.”
“I did not kill him, I only stunned him. He will wake up in a few minutes with a sore face and loose teeth, that is all. I will drive,” he said, forcibly propelling Katie around the front of her car and into the passenger seat. “You are in no condition.”
Flinging himself behind the steering wheel, he banged his knee on the steering column and uttered what Katie thought must have been a curse in Spanish. “Give me your keys,” he said, releasing the seat back into its farthest position to accommodate his very long legs. Katie handed them over. Several cars were coming in and leaving, and they had to wait before finally backing out of the space. They swooped down the rows of parked cars, past a battered old produce truck with a flat tire, which was parked at the rear of the restaurant.
“Is that yours?” Katie asked lamely, feeling that some conversation was required of her.
He glanced at the disabled produce truck, then slid her an ironic sideways look. “How did you guess?”
Katie flushed with mortification. She knew, and he knew, that simply because he was Hispanic she had assumed he drove the produce truck. To save his pride she said, “When you were on the telephone you mentioned that you needed a tow truck—that’s how I knew.”
They swung out of the parking lot into the stream of traffic while Katie gave him the simple directions to her apartment, which was only a few blocks away. “I want to thank you, er—?”
“Ramon,” he provided.
Nervously, Katie reached for her purse and searched for her wallet. She lived so close by, that by the time she had extracted a five-dollar bill they were already pulling into the parking lot of her apartment complex. “I live right there—the first door on the right, under the gaslight.”
He maneuvered the car into the parking space closest to her door, turned off the ignition, got out, and came around to her side. Katie hastily opened her own door and scrambled out of the car. Uncertainly, she glanced up into his dark, proud, enigmatic face, guessing him to be somewhere around thirty-five. Something about him, his foreignness—or his darkness—made her uneasy.
She held out her hand, offering him the five-dollar bill. “Thank you very much, Ramon. Please take this.” He looked briefly at the money and then at her face. “Please,” she persisted politely, thrusting the five-dollar bill toward him. “I’m sure you can use it.”
“Of course,” he said dryly after a pause, taking the money from her and jamming it into the back pocket of his Levi’s. “I will walk you to your door,” he added.
Katie turned and started up the steps, a little shocked when his hand lightly but firmly cupped her elbow. It was such a quaint, gallant gesture—particularly when she knew she had inadvertently offended his pride.
He inserted her key into the lock and swung the door open. Katie stepped inside, turned to thank him again, and he said, “I would like to use your phone to find out if the towing vehicle was sent as they promised.”
He had physically come to her rescue and had even risked being arrested for her—Katie knew that common courtesy required that she allow him to use her phone. Carefully concealing her reluctance to let him in, she stepped aside so that he could enter her luxurious apartment. “The phone’s there on the coffee table,” she explained.
“Once I have called, I will wait here for a short while to be certain that your friend”—he emphasized the word with contempt—“does not awaken and decide to come here. By then the mechanic should have finished his repairs and I will walk back—it is not far.”
Katie, who had not even considered the possibility that Rob might come here, froze in the act of taking off her slim-heeled sandals. Surely Rob would never come near her again, not after being verbally rejected by her and physically discouraged by Ramon. “I’m sure he won’t,” she said, and she meant it. But even so, she found herself trembling with delayed reaction. “I—I think I’ll make some coffee,” she said, already starting for the kitchen. And then because she had no choice, she added courteously. “Would you like some?”
Ramon accepted her offer with such ambivalence that most of Katie’s doubts about his trustworthiness were allayed. Since meeting him, he had neither said nor done anything that was in any way forward.
Once she was in the kitchen, Katie realized that in the anxiety about seeing Rob tonight she had forgotten to buy coffee, and she was out of it. Which was just as well, because she suddenly felt the need for something stronger. Opening the cabinet above the refrigerator, she took out the bottle of Rob’s brandy. “I’m afraid all I have to offer you is brandy or water,” she called to Ramon. “The Coke is flat.”
“Brandy will be fine,” he answered.
Katie splashed brandy into two snifters and returned to the living room just as Ramon was hanging up the telephone. “Did the repair truck get there?” she asked.
“It is there now, and the mechanic is making a temporary repair so that I can drive it.” Ramon took the glass from her outstretched hand, and looked around her apartment with a quizzical expression on his face. “Where are your friends?” he asked.
“What friends?” Katie questioned blankly, sitting down in a pretty beige corduroy chair.
Katie choked back her horrified laughter. “Were you close enough to hear me say that?”
Gazing down at her, Ramon nodded, but there was no amusement in the quirk of his finely molded lips. “I was behind you, obtaining change for the telephone from the bartender.”
“Oh.” The misery of tonight’s events threatened to drag her down, but Katie pushed it fiercely to the back of her mind. She would think about it tomorrow when she would be better able to cope. She shrugged lightly. “I only made the lesbians up. I wasn’t in the mood for—”
“Why do you not like attorneys?” he interrupted.
Katie stifled another urge to laugh. “It’s a very long story, which I’d rather not discuss. But I suppose the reason I told him that was because I thought it was vain of him to tell me he was one.”
“You are not vain?”
Katie turned surprised eyes up to him. There was a childlike defenselessness to the way she had curled up in her chair with her bare feet tucked beneath her; an innocent vulnerability in the purity of her features and clarity of her wide blue eyes. “I—I don’t know.”
“You would not have been rude to me, had I approached you there and said that I drive a produce truck?”
Katie smiled the first genuine smile of the night, soft lips curving with a winsome humor that made her eyes glow. “I would probably have been too stunned to speak. In the first place, no one who goes to the Canyon Inn drives a truck, and in the second place, if they did they’d never admit it.”
“Why? It is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“No, I realize that. But they would say they were in the transportation business, or the trucking business—something like that, so that it would sound as if they owned a railroad, or at least an entire fleet of trucks.”
Ramon stared down at her as if the words she spoke were a hindrance, not a help, to his understanding her. His gaze drifted to the red gold hair tumbling over her shoulders, then abruptly he jerked his eyes away. Raising his glass, he tossed down half the brandy in it.
“Brandy is supposed to be sipped,” Katie said, then realized that what she had meant as a suggestion sounded more like a reprimand. “I mean,” she amended clumsily, “You can gulp it down, but people who are accustomed to drinking brandy usually prefer to sip it slowly.”
Ramon lowered his glass and looked at her with an absolutely unfathomable expression on his face. “Thank you,” he replied with impeccable courtesy. “I will try to remember that if I am ever fortunate enough to have it again.”
Squirming with the certainty that she had now thoroughly offended him, Katie watched him stroll over to the living-room window and part the nubby beige curtain.
Her window afforded an uninspiring view of the parking lot and, beyond that, the busy four-lane suburban street in front of her apartment complex. Leaning a shoulder against the window frame, he apparently heeded her advice, for he sipped his brandy slowly while watching the parking lot.
Idly, Katie noticed the way his white shirt stretched taut across his broad, muscled shoulders and tapered back whenever he lifted his arm, then she looked away. She had only meant to be helpful, instead she had sounded condescending and superior. She wished he would leave. She was mentally and physically exhausted, and there was absolutely no reason for him to be guarding her like this. Rob would not come here tonight.
“How old are you?” he asked abruptly.
Katie’s gaze flew to his. “Twenty-three.”
“Then you are old enough to have a better sense of priorities.”
Katie was more perplexed than annoyed. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you think it is important that brandy be drunk in the ‘proper’ way, yet you do not worry if it is ‘proper’ to invite any man you meet into your apartment. You risk soiling your reputation and—”
“Invite any man I meet!” Katie sputtered indignantly, no longer feeling the slightest obligation to be courteous. “In the first place, I only invited you in here because you asked to use the phone, and I felt I had to be polite after you had helped me. In the second place, I don’t know about Mexico, or whatever country you come from, but—”
“I was born in Puerto Rico,” he provided.
Katie ignored that. “Well, here in the United States, we do not have such antiquated, absurd ideas about women’s reputations. Men have never worried about their reputations, and we no longer worry about ours. We do as we please!”
Katie absolutely could not believe it. Now, when she wanted to insult him, he was on the verge of laughter!
His black eyes were warm with amusement, and a smile was hovering at the corner of his mouth. “Do you do as you please?”
“Of course I do!” Katie said with great feeling.
“What is it that you do?”
“What is it that you do that pleases you?”
“Whatever I want.”
His voice deepened. “What do you want . . . Now?”
His suggestive tone made Katie suddenly and uncomfortably aware of the raw sensuality emanating from his long muscular frame outlined in the revealing Levi’s and closely fitted white shirt. A shudder ran through her as his gaze moved over her face, lingering on her soft full lips, before dropping to leisurely study the thrusting curves of her breasts beneath the clinging fabric of her dress. She felt like screaming, laughing, or weeping—or a combination of all three. After everything else that had happened to her tonight, Katie Connelly had managed to latch onto a Puerto Rican Casanova who thought he was now going to make himself the answer to all her sexual needs!
Forcing herself to sound brisk, she finally answered his question. “What do I want now? I want to be happy with my life and myself. I want to be—to be—free,” she finished lamely, too distracted by his dark, sensual gaze to think clearly.
“Of what do you wish to be free?”
Katie stood up abruptly. “Of men!”
As she came to her feet, Ramon started toward her with a slow deliberate gait. “You want to be free of so much freedom, but not of men.”
Katie continued backing toward the door as he advanced on her. She had been crazy to invite him in here, and he was deliberately misunderstanding her reason for doing so, because it suited his purpose. She gasped as her back bumped into the door.
Ramon stopped six inches away from her. “If you wished to be free of men as you say, you would not have gone to that place tonight; you would not have met that man in the parking lot. You do not know what you want.”
“I know that it’s late,” Katie said in a shaky voice. “And I know I want you to leave now.”
His eyes narrowed on her face, but his voice gentled as he asked, “Are you afraid of me?”
“No,” Katie lied.
He nodded with satisfaction. “Good, then you will not object to going to the zoo with me tomorrow, will you?”
Katie could tell that he knew she was acutely uneasy with him and that she had no desire to go anywhere with him. She considered saying that she had other plans for tomorrow, but she was positive he would only press her to name another time. Every instinct she possessed warned her that he could become extremely persistent if he chose. In her tired, overwrought state, it seemed more expedient to simply make the date and then not be here when he came. That rejection even he would understand and accept as final. “Okay,” she feigned. “What time?”
“I will come for you at ten o’clock in the morning.”
When the door closed behind him, Katie felt like a spring that was being wound tighter and tighter by some fiend who wanted to see how far she could be twisted before she snapped. She crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling. She had enough problems without having to cope with some amorous Latin who invites her to the zoo!
Rolling over onto her stomach, Katie thought of the sordid scene with Rob and squeezed her eyes closed, trying to escape her tired misery. Tomorrow she would spend the day at her parents’ house. In fact, she would spend the entire Memorial Day weekend there. After all, her parents always complained that they didn’t see enough of her.
Judith McNaught is the New York Times bestselling author who first soared to stardom with her stunning bestseller Whitney, My Love, and went on to win the hearts of millions of readers with Once and Always, Something Wonderful, A Kingdom of Dreams, Almost Heaven, Paradise, Perfect, Until You, Remember When, Someone to Watch Over Me, the #1 bestseller Night Whispers, and other novels. There are more than thirty million copies of her books in print. She lives in Houston. Please visit her at JudithMcNaught.comand on Facebook at AuthorJudithMcNaught.