DONOVAN'S SECOND CHANCE
Just for St. Patrick's Day! And Donovan is part Irish.
I thought you'd enjoy this first chapter, introducing the town of Blarney, Arkansas....
How could the scent of baby powder make him feel so safe? Quinn Donovan wondered.
The soft, limp drape of his sleeping daughter’s limbs against him held the midnight terror at bay. Freshly bathed and sprinkled with “fairy dust”— otherwise known as baby powder— four-year-old Keely sighed against his throat, her tousled curls catching the breeze from Ferguson Lake.
Quinn cuddled her closer, laying his cheek against her soft one. He rocked her as he stood in the doorway of the old gristmill that served as their home.
He brought a chubby hand to his mouth and kissed it. Keely was his, a part of his body, his eternity. He’d fight to keep her safe. Just as he’d fight for his parents and cousins and the other residents of Blarney Flats, Arkansas. At thirty-nine, he’d learned that what was worth keeping was worth the fight.
Quinn gently nuzzled Keely’s black cap of curls. During the days, Keely’s bursts of giggles, her delight in fairy tales and butterflies, filled his heart. Yet he savored the quiet moments at night, holding his daughter against him.
When she was safe, and his alone….
The old mill settled for the night, the waterwheel still, the millpond’s water trickling softly.
He braced his legs against the hundred and twenty-five year-old floor of the gristmill and rocked Keely. Out on Ferguson Lake, Sir Elmo, a giant bullfrog, bellowed his supremacy from a lily pad. According to local legends, a new baby Loch Ness monster nestled in the very deepest waters. Fireflies skirted the stream leading from the lake to the millpond, and tree frogs sang in the night.
Quinn frowned as he thought of Maudie Culpepper’s heir, Taylor Hart. With a scrawl of his pen, Hart could destroy the safety of the small community.
“Not in my lifetime,” Quinn promised darkly and kissed Keely’s soft cheek. He’d failed at his dreams, and watched a career he’d forged crash to the ground. Quinn closed his eyes and remembered the rubble of the unfinished, poorly constructed office building.
As an up-and-coming New York architect, he’d tried a unique design and babied it into reality. When it collapsed, the destruction had nearly cost lives. The fault was his, an oversight he should have tended. Instead, he’d been distracted by his failing marriage and worry for his baby.
All his fine dreams had fallen with the building, and the last shreds of his marriage. He forced away the memory of Keely’s mother shaking her viciously when she was two months old. Then there were more nightmares before Nancy had signed over custody of the baby to Quinn.
He’d taken his baby to Blarney Flats, to his family, where Keely would be loved and protected, surrounded by doting grandparents and teasing cousins.
Quinn inhaled the scents of the night: honeysuckle mixed with freshly tilled earth and newly cut grass.
If Taylor Hart sold or developed Maudie Culpepper’s land and her small natural lake, Blarney Flats could die.
“Hart will have a fight on his hands,” Quinn whispered. He nuzzled Keely’s cheek and thought of the surveyors and land developers, who had been circling the Culpepper property in the past four months.
The next morning, Quinn jabbed the brush into the pink paint. He studied the old house’s “gingerbread” trim and began painting.
He’d made his decision: If Taylor Hart endangered Blarney, he would have to answer to one Quinn Donovan.
The late-May morning lingered in the dew on Maudie’s overgrown rose garden, where Keely served tea to her dolls. The Victorian-style two-story house, with its angular, jutting roofs and wide front porch, was very different from Quinn’s bare living quarters over Blarney’s gristmill.
Keely loved playing in the gardens and on the spacious front porch while Quinn repainted the house in Maudie’s favorite shade of powder blue. He’d also restored missing sections of the gingerbread trim, and had just begun to paint it this morning.
Quinn dipped the brush into the pink paint and stroked it along the intricate decorative molding. He enjoyed the sun on his bare back, while he angled his six-foot-four body across the roof’s sharp ridge. Lying on top of the wooden shingle roof— the best way to paint the high gingerbread trim on Maudie’s old house— Quinn surveyed Blarney’s single downtown street and traced its ambling path up the hill to Hummingbird Lane.
Keely was a favored child of the elderly people who lived along Hummingbird Lane— especially Maudie Culpepper. Small, spritely Maudie, with her collection of teapots and her beautiful antique furniture, had asked Quinn to paint and repair her home just before she passed away in January.
Little was known about Maudie, except that she had owned Ferguson Lake, which lay behind her house. The lake and the surrounding thousand acres had been a bridal gift from her husband, Samuel, the last Culpepper in Blarney Flats. Her family had visited twice, carrying with them a chill and a snobbish arrogance. “Poor dear Maudie,” the townsfolk had whispered.
Everyone wondered when Taylor Hart, the sole person to inherit Maudie’s estate, would arrive... and exactly what he would do with Ferguson Lake.
“Daddy? Do you think I can catch a leprechaun today?” Keely called up to Quinn as she cradled her favorite doll, Queenie. “If I do, I won’t ask for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’ll ask for my very own mommy.”
Quinn thought fleetingly of Nancy’s betrayal in their business and in their bed. He thought of the disastrous end of their marriage and Nancy trading Keely to him. She was his daughter alone now and believed her mother had “gone to heaven.” However, Nancy remained alive, and the custody papers said she would never come close to Keely again. One day he’d find a way to tell Keely the truth….
Quinn grinned down at her. “Poor me. How would I manage, a poor man pitted against two fairy princesses? A man wants meat and potatoes, not fairy dew and leprechaun cookies.”
Keely giggled delightedly, her black curls bouncing. Keely held Queenie and performed a jig that could entrance the coldest heart— if there were any in Blarney Flats.
Warm hearts… cows grazing in the meadows… twelve-year-old Danny O’Day’s famed shamrock-green kites flying in the breeze. Keely would be safe here, wrapped in love.
In the valley below, morning shadows and mist clung to Blarney’s one street. Quinn watched from the rooftop as metal glinted in the fog and an expensive-looking gray rental car slid up the hill to stop in front of Maudie’s white picket fence.
A tall, slender woman with black hair knotted on top of her head stepped from the car. Dressed in a classic gray business pantsuit, a white blouse and carrying a bulging, worn leather briefcase, the woman stood still on the sidewalk. Around shielding sunglasses, milky skin covered aristocratic cheekbones. From his viewpoint, Quinn glimpsed a firm mouth and hollowed cheeks.
The woman firmly pushed open the gate of the white picket fence and strode up the walkway. She stopped a few feet from the front porch and put her hands on her hips. She slashed impatient assessing glances at the flower and herb gardens and at Ferguson Lake, lying behind the house.
In the shadows, her body shifted restlessly on her long legs. She slowly lifted her face to him, her stylish sunglasses glinting like round twin mirrors. “Who are you, and what are you doing on my property?”
“Your property?” Quinn asked warily, skimming the restless feminine body in the stylish loose gray suit. He let the thought sink in and turned it over slowly. So Taylor Hart had sold Maudie’s property quickly. “Are you representing Taylor Hart?”
“I am Taylor Hart.”
“You’re a woman,” he stated flatly. Quinn had prepared to deal with a man... perhaps take him fishing, let him see the beauty that was Blarney. This woman, brisk and all business, was another matter.
Her jaw angled defiantly. “So it seems that I am a woman,” she said sharply. “Do you have a problem with that? Oh, I see. You were prepared to deal with a man. Doing business, or trying to do business, with a woman intimidates you.”
The carefully spaced words challenged Quinn’s peaceful morning. So this was Taylor Hart. A woman who spoke her name as if she were the high ladyship expecting bows from underlings.
“Quinn Donovan,” he replied, annoyed by her tone.
Few men or women had jerked Quinn’s temper, but those who had knew what lay on the far side of his charm. Quinn didn’t like revealing his dark side, and few had drawn it from him.
“Taylor Hart. Feminine gender,” the woman clarified crisply. “Don’t tell me my great-aunt Maudie’s house comes with a painting gargoyle on the rooftop.”
She sidestepped a pink drop that fell from his brush. It splattered her gray business pumps. When her sunglasses lasered up to him, the tight knot on top of her head shone blue-black in the sunlight shafting through Maudie’s maple tree.
Quinn’s stomach tightened. At this moment, Taylor Hart— female— wore trouble like some women wore lipstick— smooth, glossy, and dangerous. Taylor Hart riffled Quinn’s pleasant morning like a storm’s wind tossing waves on a lake.
When he met her stare, refusing to give more than she did, the woman pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head. “You must be the handyman Aunt Maudie hired. I’m her great-niece and heir. I own this place now, and I won’t be needing your services.”
Quinn smiled tightly. “I promised Maudie that her house would look its best— for you, Taylor Hart,” he said, too gently, smugly.
The woman shifted her weight, slashing out an impatient hand at her side. “I see. Well, I don’t want to waste time over this. You can keep whatever she paid you in advance. But if you don’t leave in the next five minutes, I’ll have the local law serve up a trespassing warrant.”
Quinn thought of Moriarity, the local sheriff and judge, his cousin twice removed. No one was ever arrested in Blarney except on Saint Patrick’s Day, and then only for the major crime of not wearing green.
Moriarity’s grandmother had claimed that the grain Quinn milled for her was the finest ever, and that she would curse anyone who offended him. Moriarity’s wife wanted Quinn to refinish her great-grandmother’s dowry chest. It sat in his workroom at the mill now, waiting to be stripped and tightened.
“Do what you must do,” he invited quietly, and set aside the disquieting ripple the woman had caused in his peace.
Then he took a long look at her legs and wondered how she would look beneath him.
The thought hit Quinn broadside, winding him. Then a second thought swept away the first, as he wondered how her hair would look loose around her shoulders. Quinn jabbed the brush into the paint, crediting his thoughts to sleepless nights and nightmares.
Taylor scanned the blue house intent.y, a woman set on her course— to dissect it, and calculate its dollar value. “Ghastly colors. Old houses are always white.”
“Look around,” he invited, swirling the brush along the gingerbread trim.
The woman glanced up and down Hummingbird Lane, a cobblestone street lined with magnificent old houses of every color, with their sprawling porches and gardens.
“Fine. I know that backwoods Arkansas moves in a different time zone, but I don’t have the time or patience to debate anything, especially not with a handyman,” Taylor said, anger trimming her low, husky tones. Her frown swung up, pinning him. “Get off that roof and off my property. Now.”
Quinn noted with satisfaction that her knuckles whitened as she gripped her briefcase.
“Lady, you must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed,” he said slowly, and wondered who was loving her in the early morning hours.
Then Keely moved into the arena of their silent war. His daughter tugged at the woman’s hand, looking up at her. “My name is Keely Donovan. Will you be my mommy?”
“Keely!” Quinn knew he had spoken too sharply the moment his daughter’s name left his lips.
Unused to the admonishing tone, she looked up at him, her eyes round, her bottom lip trembling. Tears shimmered in the green eyes matching his own.
“But, Daddy, we don’t have one,” she stated unsteadily. “You said that we couldn’t have ladies who wore wedding rings. She isn’t, so can we have her?”
Taylor Hart-woman wrapped Keely’s hand firmly in hers. The icy expression she lifted to Quinn challenged him. “I am certain that Keely is only voicing an honest request. She’s only trying to help you, though it is clear to me why the position is vacant.”
Quinn inhaled and pressed his lips closed. With Keely’s eyes round and her bottom lip trembling, setting Taylor Hart straight would have to wait.
“The wrong side of the bed, my foot!” Taylor muttered as she entered the house, noting absently that the door was unlocked.
Donovan could distract and charm his daughter with a dazzling grin and an offer of ice cream, but he still wasn’t wanted on the premises. Taylor didn’t like the quick slash of anger in his dark eyes or the set of his jaw when she’d told him to leave. The wind had caught his shoulder-length hair, lifting it away from his dark skin, reminding her of a warlock defending his lair. The folded red bandanna across his brow had emphasized the lashing contempt of his deep-set eyes.
The air had sizzled between them, steaming with heavy silence. Now, with the sun at his back, she couldn’t see Donovan properly through the parlor window, but she caught the sheen of perspiration on his jutting cheekbones, and the taut cord of muscle running down his jaw.
She traced the sound of footsteps across the roof. A ladder creaked and beyond the lacy white curtains, Quinn Donovan’s tall, lean body struck the ground like a javelin, worn running shoes first. Deep black waves of hair flowed down the back of his neck. His back and arms rippled as he scooped up his daughter and tossed her into the air.
The closed windows muffled a masculine chuckle and a childish squeal of delight. Donovan locked his legs apart, the worn jeans molding his taut backside before flowing over long, long legs.
Taylor tightened her lips and crossed her arms. While Donovan’s daughter was dressed in a pretty ruffled yellow sundress, the father’s clothing— what there was of it— was worn, faded in obvious places and sagged low on his hips. The hole on his upper thigh was dangerously revealing, showing the bottom of an inside pocket; a gaping hole low on the back of his thigh exposed dark, hair-flecked skin.
The little girl— Keely— wrapped her arms around her father’s broad shoulders. She smacked him with a juicy kiss, tucked a daisy over his ear and grinned. Donovan smiled, said something, then buried his face in her neck. There were rumbling, growling noises that raised the hair on the back of Taylor’s neck. Delighted by her father’s play, Keely wiggled and squealed with laughter.
Clearly, Donovan knew how to manage his mommy-hunting daughter.
The pain of forgotten memories ricocheted through Taylor before she pushed them back into a familiar hole. She latched the mental gate with a skill born of practice.
Then, beneath the rolled red bandanna across his brow, Donovan’s fierce scowl shot through the lacy curtains to scald her, jerking her from the weak moment.
Sunlight gleamed on the tight skin covering his cheekbones, and his eyes flashed in the shadows cast by thick brows and lashes. Donovan held the girl protectively, wrapping her against him with strong, pink-spattered arms before lifting her to straddle his bare shoulders. He shot Taylor another fierce warning, then strode away as if sweeping his daughter to safety.
“Barbarian,” Taylor muttered. She tugged her stare away from that tapered, muscled back and those low slung jeans. She forced herself to dismiss the irritation that was Donovan. Six days at Maudie’s left little time to deal with anything.
Deeply exhausted from business and the trip from Chicago, Taylor had missed a connecting flight. She’d decided to rent a car and drive the rest of the way to Blarney Flats, commonly called Blarney.
“Not that it’s his problem, but I did get up on the wrong side of the bed. A very lumpy bed,” Taylor admitted to a teapot that looked like a hippopotamus. She scanned the green, rolling Arkansas hills quickly, her body tense.
Determined to arrive at her aunt’s home quickly, Taylor had bypassed lovely bed-and-breakfast places along the winding rural highway. When she almost fell asleep at the wheel, she’d decided to take whatever lodging came next
The Last Hawg Cafe and Motel had been as bad as its name. Her first night in an Arkansas motel hadn’t been a highlight of her life. Beer drinking, good old boys dressed in plaid shirts and dirty jeans— the “How bout-it-babe?” sort— infested the roadside cafe and motel. Spiked with various belching contests, which carried through the paper-thin walls, the beer party in the next room had continued until dawn. The motel had finally fallen silent then, but Taylor had had enough, and she’d left an hour later.
To worsen her mood, she’d discovered that a beautiful, well-kept bed and breakfast inn lay just one mile from the Last Hawg.
She wrapped her arms around herself and surveyed her great-aunt’s home. Daylight, muted by the lacy curtains, settled on the sheets and dustcovers in the parlor. Taylor carefully eased aside a ruffled, starched doily to place the briefcase containing her computer and her files on an old pedestal table.
“Oh, Aunt Maudie...” she whispered longingly to the shadows.
Taylor’s family said Aunt Maudie was “unique,” “unusual” and “interesting.” That meant she didn’t follow the Hart business-and-profits-or-die mold.
Sixty-five years ago, Maudie had followed her heart and married a man without an education. A graduate cum laude of an elite college, and the black sheep of the Hart family, Maudie had returned from a sightseeing trip in Arkansas and declared that she was marrying a man she’d fallen in love with at first sight.
Her father— Taylor’s great-great grandfather, and a Yankee carpetbagger, if the truth be known— had promptly disinherited Maudie. Her name had never again been mentioned in his presence.
When Taylor’s great-aunt Cecilia passed away, Taylor had inherited her journals, which mourned her sister, Maudie. On a whim, Taylor had written to Great-aunt Maudie. The resulting warm note was scripted elegantly, and had arrived with a sprig of lavender. It was an invitation to visit that Taylor had never found time to accept, though she had enjoyed writing to her aunt.
Aunt Maudie’s letters had a sense of timelessness, of warmth and home. There was a balance of reality, charm and dreams and always love. Along with the rest of her elderly peers, Aunt Maudie had loved Blarney Flats and fretted about the blight on her roses and the farmers’ crops. The ladies’ tea circle had admired her collection of teapots and china cups and saucers, which Taylor had added to frequently.
Taylor slowly drew away the dustcovers in the parlor. The elegance and warmth of the 1880s flowed through the room. A china teapot and cups sat in the crater of the round pedestal table. Propped against the rose-blossom-shaped teapot was a small white envelope. “Taylor,” Aunt Maudie had written, a slight tremor in her elegant, slanting script.
With trembling fingers, Taylor slid the note from the lavender-scented envelope. “Hello, Taylor,” Maudie had written. “I’ll be gone when you read this. I’m sorry I missed you and that we never actually met, but I feel I know you just the same. There are things that will need tending after I’m gone, and you are just the lovely person to take care of everything. The roses, my Samuel’s beautiful furniture, and most of all the people, because they are mine, just as surely as if I’d had children. Love them for me, won’t you? You’ll do what’s best, I know. That makes the going easier~
I love you, Taylor. Never forget love, my dear, because love is magic. The Flynns and the Donovans say it’s the work of the fairies, the good ones. Whatever you do, make time for love. I’ve never regretted loving Samuel, nor disobeying my father. That is what I would wish for you, my dearest Taylor. Love. I’ve been happy here. You could be, too. Remember that. Your Aunt Maudie.”
Taylor placed the note over the ache in her heart and walked slowly through the downstairs rooms.
Tinted with the promise of summer, May spilled into the house, the scents of lavender and roses and love drifting through the shadows and sunshine. A bouquet of dried pink rosebuds filled a blue antique vase, and the sturdy ornate 1880s furniture was covered with doilies and gold-framed photographs. A china cabinet with big claw feet held teapots and cups and saucers, sugar bowls, and cut-glass spoon holders. Taylor placed her palm over the smooth glass, letting the delicate bygone beauty swirl around her.
Yellow accents skipped merrily throughout the old-fashioned kitchen. Like the other rooms, it was covered with flowery wallpaper. The spacious room was cluttered with cooking utensils, dried herbs hanging by the window, spice racks on the walls. Tattered cookbooks filled with notations and clipped recipes lay on a table with an assortment of unopened mail dated after Maudie’s passing. Quinn Donovan’s business card, which read Miller, Carpenter, Furniture Restoration and listed an address and telephone number, was tucked on top of the mail.
Taylor stirred the dried petals and leaves in an elegant shallow bowl, and a delicate fragrance— roses and lemons— filled the room. A small, gloomy collection of medicine bottles and pill vials sat near a can decorated with glued paper and shell macaroni. Keely’s name, written in a childish scrawl in red crayon, rambled over the paper.
Taylor’s fingertip brushed the can, and she fought the sudden surge of emotion rising within her.
How she had wanted her baby. How she would have loved—
She jerked her finger away from the can and curled her hand into a fist, locking it against her side. She closed her eyes and willed away the pain that rarely escaped her leash.
The next instant, Taylor turned, gripped the smoothly polished walnut banister like a lifeline and hurried up the stairs. She had a job to do, and she would do it the best way she knew how.
The two bedrooms were just like the downstairs: Maudie’s house was well kept, but packed with years’ worth of furniture, doilies and keepsakes. Glancing at the ticking clock beside Maudie’s bed, Taylor noted that she had spent four hours wandering through the house.
She slowly descended the stairs, her hand trailing on the elegant, timeworn curved banister. She continued to touch here and there, absorbing the nuances of a woman she’d never met. Screened against insects, Maudie’s back porch held a folded cot, a wooden table and two chairs.
The screen door creaked when Taylor opened it to wander down the walkway. A push mower rested in the shade by the redwood picnic table. An old-fashioned wooden lawn chair sat overlooking the clear blue lake glistening in the morning sun.
Drawn to the chair, Taylor sat slowly and watched an orange butterfly meander around the garden, then perch on a brass sundial. Birds sang in the distance, and the sun warmed her. Drowsy, Taylor leaned her bead back against the chair and closed her eyes. She realized then that she was still clutching Maudie’s note, and that whatever time or effort was needed, she would carefully tend Maudie’s lifelong possessions.
“Oh, Aunt Maudie, how I wish I’d met you,” Taylor murmured as she stood and stretched her arms high, rolling her taut neck. She eased the pins from her hair, winnowing her fingers through it as she inhaled the fresh scents of the spring afternoon. “I’ll do my best.”
Discarding her shoes, Taylor wiggled her stocking-clad toes in the cool grass, the freshly cut scent rising like perfume around her. On an impulse, she stripped off her jacket and tossed it to the chair, following it with her ankle-length hose.
The grass was lush between her toes. After Maudie’s attorney belatedly notified her of Maudie’s death and the inheritance, Taylor had decided she would tend to the matter personally. She’d been in steady motion for one month, scratching time away from her busy schedule as CEO of Winscott Incorporated.
Working overtime and catching naps on office couches had taken their toll. Taylor slid her watch from her wrist, dropped it in her pocket and chafed the reddened skin. She’d tightened the band to allow for her recent weight loss. Running on coffee and little else for the past few weeks had left her drained and tense.
The breeze from the lake slid along her body, catching her silky blouse and stroking it against her like a lover’s caress.
She’d stopped wearing a bra when she hadn’t had time to shop for a new size, deciding instead to use a light camisole. In her lifetime, she’d always dressed very precisely, wearing lingerie to suit business clothing, and she enjoyed the new freedom from restriction. Lifting and stretching her arms, she allowed her hair to catch the wind. She closed her eyes, giving herself over to the freedom of fresh air.
A twig snapped. The hair on the nape of her neck lifted, and the slight breeze stilled for a heartbeat.
“Yes?” she asked, more harshly than she intended and turned to the man in the early afternoon shadows. Quinn Donovan stood, long legs braced apart, his shoulders filling his open white shirt. Caught at the back of his neck, his long hair gleamed in a bit of sun shooting through the leaves of the big oak tree. His shirtsleeves were rolled back, exposing forearms lightly sprinkled with hair.
When he placed a covered container on the wooden picnic table, Taylor suddenly sensed that Quinn was a deliberate man. His long fingers slid slowly away from the container decorated with shamrocks, and the movement reminded Taylor of a caress. His gaze ran down her body, lingering, touching, seeking, and something within her stirred and grew taut.
“My mother sent potato soup. She’s worried you’ll have a poor picture of the people hereabouts.”
Taylor pressed her lips together as she sensed that Donovan’s low voice shielded his real thoughts. She shifted uneasily, uncomfortable with the leaping sense of awareness in her body, uncomfortable with his eyes watching her carefully. “The thought was nice, but I can find a restaurant.”
He took a few steps nearer, and Taylor found her hand locked to the back of the chair. Donovan topped her five-foot ten-inch height by half a foot. His broad shoulders, narrow hips, and carelessly combed hair only served to enhance his raw masculinity. He’d discarded the red bandanna tied around his forehead, and his black brows and lashes gleamed in the sun, shadowing his jutting cheekbones.
His eyes pinned hers…. Donovan’s were a curiously dark shade of green that matched his daughter’s. His dark skin gleamed as it crossed his cheekbones and his jaw; a tiny fresh cut lay along his jaw, as though he’d just shaved.
Taylor jerked her eyes away from the grim set of his mouth. Despite his apparent dark mood, Donovan’s mouth was beautiful, and her heart quivered and flip-flopped just once. There was a beauty about Donovan, a raw male look— an arrogance, a certainty— and beneath it lay a fine, grim anger that startled her.
Taylor shifted her weight impatiently. Few men could intimidate her, and she disliked the sense that this man— this Quinn Donovan— knew exactly what she was thinking. Despite her resolve not to give him another inch, when Donovan took another step toward her, she released the chair and stepped backward.
A quick flare of satisfaction soared through Donovan’s narrowed eyes, and Taylor’s throat tightened.
She straightened her shoulders. She refused to be intimidated by a towering bully. She caught his scent— soap, freshly cut wood, sweat, and a dark, masculine tang that she knew she’d remember forever.
Taylor stepped back again, then quickly regretted the action. Donovan was hunting her now. The dark meadow green eyes skimmed her mussed hair, the loose, untucked blouse open at her throat. His stare caught the fast beat of her heart, then flowed down her body to linger on bare toes locked in the grass.
The heat of his body snared her; his inspection of her feet too intimate.
Taylor reacted immediately. “I haven’t invited you to spoil my day. Creeping up on me this way is trespassing.”
“I don’t creep.” Donovan’s flat statement cut into the clean spring air.
His voice reminded her of the rumble of a storm, of a dark beast rising from his lair. From his narrowed eyes came the glittering thrust of a sword, raised and waiting.
Taylor shifted restlessly. She didn’t like being questioned or intimidated by a man who could clearly throw her down on the lush grass and—
She pushed back the thought of Donovan’s big body lying over hers. Given his arrogance, his raw beauty, he’d probably helped himself to enough willing women. Taylor’s friend, Lacey, would have sighed, “Dish... Hunk...”
Donovan’s looks were just the sort to be found on a beefcake calendar— a heated look from those hard green eyes, that hair curling from his opened shirt widened to expose a broad, darkly tanned chest, perhaps with the snap of his jeans opened— Taylor pushed back that thought.
“You are trespassing, and you crept up on me,” she tossed back at him.
He moved slowly and reached to lift a curl from her shoulder. He played with the tip, studying the colors. An expert at keeping people emotionally distanced from her, Taylor stared at him coolly and waited for him to step aside. But he didn’t move away.
“Well now, Taylor Hart, I reckon that’s the first time anyone has ever used those words to me. As for the creeping part, anyone could have heard me. Except someone who was deep in thought— like you. As for the trespassing... I have business here.”
His drawl stilled the trembling air, the tense heat rising between them. Taylor refused to give Donovan the pleasure of knowing her unease, her sense that she should run and never look back.
Taylor squared her shoulders. She’d never run from anything in her life. “What do you want?”
Donovan’s eyes flickered, his gaze drifting over her face, touching her mouth, her cheeks, and settling on her eyes.
She didn’t trust what lurked behind that dark, glittering emerald stare, any more than she trusted the unsteady beating of her heart.
“For one thing, there’s the fixing and painting I promised Maudie would be done to put the place in tip-top shape for her heir. The second reason I’m here is to talk with you.”
“Make it fast,” she shot back, color rose in her cheeks, the stance of her body taut, challenging.