“No.” He paused, considering. “But I think she’ll change her mind.”
“Just make sure to keep business separate from your sex life,” Cal said.
“Absolutely. Just like you did with Morgan.”
Dalton turned his back and walked away, laughing at his brother’s grumblings. Months ago, his sibling’s constant ribbing about his sex life would’ve shot him into a temper with a thirst for a fight. Now he recognized the affection beneath, and the ease they’d had when they were younger had returned. It was nice to have his brothers back on good terms. He’d forgotten how much he enjoyed spending time with them.
He headed down the hill and pulled away in his black Ford Bronco. It was almost lunchtime, and he needed to pick up some supplies close to My Place. Maybe he’d swing in for a quick lunch and see if he’d be able to persuade Raven to let him touch her bar. Of course, if she was still as prickly as last time, he’d get another pink froufrou drink and maybe a stinging verbal slap.
The real problem was he liked her attitude. He rarely met a woman who didn’t enjoy his company. After the initial surprise, he’d found she intrigued him, seemingly hiding layers beneath the surface. Dalton adored exploring every side of a woman, not just her body. A better sexual experience revealed itself when he got to know not just how she liked to be touched, but what her fears were, her fantasies, her vulnerabilities. He’d refined seduction to a fine art and made damn sure both partners enjoyed the experience. But Raven threw him off guard, and he still hadn’t figured out a way to keep his balance.
It was kinda hot.
He pulled into the graveled lot and found the early crowd was just shuffling in. The outside of My Place was simple, with a blinking sign, dark brown shingles, and a saloon-type entrance. Dalton noted the worn condition of the roof. It would need replacing before winter, and the pathway leading up had too many broken cracks for liability purposes. He pushed his way through, enjoying the cool rush of air chasing away the thick humidity. He drew in the smell of frying meat and smiled at the familiar strains of “Piano Man” by Billy Joel. Sliding onto his favorite stool all the way to the left, he watched Raven in action.
Her long hair was caught up in a casual clip, and large gold hoops dangled from her ears. Her black cotton tank top showed off her smooth olive skin, and jeweled letters scrawled out I HAVE NO TIME FOR IDIOTS across her chest. She was multitasking with her usual economical but graceful motions, stacking glasses, tapping at the cash register, checking on the new pot of coffee brewing. He studied her tight ass, cupped perfectly in faded denim, and the lean length of her legs, which would make a Rockette jealous. The image of those legs wrapped around his hips hit him so hard, he skipped a breath. Her diamond nose ring sparkled as she turned her head to say something to a customer, shooting the guy a flirty wink that meant nothing but got Dalton hard, ready to go, and a teensy bit jealous. Damn. He’d been attracted to a thousand women, but there was an extra squeeze in his gut along with the one in his dick that threw him off. Raven pivoted on her heel and snagged him with her gaze.
And just like that, her smile disappeared.
Dalton mourned the loss. With a slight frown, she headed down the bar to stand in front of him. “What are you doing here? It’s not even noon.”
He threw up his hands in mock defense. “I’m addicted to the sweet potato fries. Plus, I have a pickup down the road. Figured I’d swing in for lunch.”
“Lucky me.” She let out an irritated sigh that made him itch to force her to look at him. Really look at him. “Anything else?”
She didn’t respond, just put in his order for the fries, headed to the coffeepot, poured him a large mug, and slid over creamer and sugar. “Here you go.”
“Thanks.” He ignored the condiments and sipped the steaming black brew. Then coughed, pounding himself on the chest. “Damn, you may want to put a warning on this stuff.”
“Too hot for you?”
“Did you grind up the entire Colombian field for this pot? Forget putting hair on my chest. This’ll turn me into the yeti.”
A gleam of laughter sparked in her dark eyes. “Too manly for you, Slick?”
“This is the third time you’ve insulted my manhood. Perhaps you’re baiting me to prove myself?”
Ah, interesting. She caught her breath, and a flicker of awareness passed over her features. She wasn’t immune. She was hiding.
He loved a game of hide-and-go-seek.
“No need. I’ve heard through the grapevine you’re a sure thing.”
He almost spluttered the awful brew onto his shirt. “What?”
She ran a towel over the damp bar and shot him a smug look. “Women talk, especially around alcohol. Your name came up a few times.”
He cupped his hands around the mug and cocked his head. “Not gonna leave me hanging, are you?”
She played with the chain around her neck, studying him. “Well, you certainly don’t leave any of your women hanging, Slick. Don Juan has nada on you. Seems you’re amazing in the sack, good company out of it, and always respectful. There’s been a line of women through my door, and you seem to have been acquainted with a lot of them. Yet none of them had anything bad to say about you. In fact, most got swoony and said they’d see you again if only you’d ask.”
He lifted his brow, waiting for the knockout. “And still you don’t like me. Won’t go out with me. Why?”
Her smile was luscious and real slow, just the way he liked it. “Because I’m looking for a husband.”
Raven had trouble keeping a straight face when she caught the flash of horror in those wicked blue eyes. He looked like a trapped animal, growing super still and alert, as if waiting to dodge away at the slightest movement.
She’d thought about her problem with Dalton the past few nights. She desperately needed him to keep his distance due to the intense attraction between them. She was also ready to dig to see what he knew about their parents. If she got to know him better, built up some trust, he might share more. Getting close to him without using sex was an issue, but the perfect solution had finally appeared.
Tell him up front she was the marrying kind. His fear of commitment was stamped on his actions clearer than a tattoo. But Raven sensed the man held a code of honor. Sure, he slept with any female who moved, but they all seemed happy and content with his behavior. A man-whore asshole wouldn’t elicit such a reaction from his exes. It would be impossible. That told her he must be up front about his limitations, and charming enough to disengage at the exact right time to minimize casualties of love. Brilliant. But not mean.
Raven could work with that.
Besides, she wouldn’t mind finding a deep, meaningful relationship. It was time to meet a man who could get real with her. Handle her past without judgment. Be a partner in business and life, not just for one night.
Her mission was clear. Force him to back off but keep him close enough to spy on.
She tried hard not to smile as the horror on his features morphed into shock. His voice was a delicious growl of sound, mixing velvet with gravel, and it ruffled her nerve endings. “You want a husband?”
She nodded. “I’m twenty-seven. I’ve done my fooling around, and now I’m looking toward a solid future.”
He rubbed his head, mussing up all that thick golden hair. “But, why?”
“Don’t you ever get tired of endless affairs and little substance?” she asked curiously.
He blinked. Those thick, dark lashes and the sheer beauty of his face distracted her for a moment. “No. Besides, my affairs have plenty of substance. I’m not a touch-and-go type of guy, no matter what you originally thought.”
She nodded. Point taken. “Why do you seem surprised?”
“You don’t look like the type to want to settle down.”
His stark words stole her breath. Red-hot anger stabbed at her. Yes, she owned a bar, had a tat, and had always been dubbed a sexpot, just from her looks. She dressed like a confident woman, comfortable in her identity. Usually she shrugged off others’ opinions like a cheap shawl, but she’d hoped Dalton wouldn’t have made such judgments about her. Why was she surprised? He only wanted to seduce her, pat her on the head, and make her feel good about the whole encounter the next day. Or maybe even the whole week. Damn him for assuming she was easy. Time to set him straight.