Shades of Twilight (Chapter 8)

passed and logically he knew she had grown up, in his mind's eye she had still been the skinny, underdeveloped, immature teenager with the urchin's grin. He hadn't seen any trace of her in the woman who had approached him in the grubby little bar. Instead he'd seen a woman who looked so buttoned-down he'd been surprised that she'd spoken to him. Women like her might go to a bar if they were looking for revenge against a straying husband, but that was about the only reason he could think of.

But there she'd been, too thin for his taste, but severely stylish in an expensive silk camp shirt and tailored slacks. Her thick hair, dark in the uncertain light, was cut in a stylish bob that swung just below chin length. Her mouth, though … he'd liked her mouth, wide and full, and had the thought that it would feel good to kiss her and feel the softness of those lips.

She'd looked totally out of place, a country-club woman lost in a low-rent district. But she'd been reaching out to touch him, and when he'd turned, she had dropped her hand and looked at him, her face still and strangely sad, her wide mouth unsmiling, and her brown eyes so solemn he wondered if she ever smiled.

And then she'd said, "Hello, Webb. May I talk to you?" and the shock had nearly felled him. For a split second he wondered if he'd had more to drink than he'd thought, because not only had she called him by name when he would have sworn he'd never seen her before, but she had used Roanna's voice, and the brown eyes were suddenly Roanna's whiskey-colored eyes.

Reality had shifted and adjusted, and he'd seen the girl in the woman.

Odd. He hadn't spent the past ten years sulking about what had happened. When he'd walked out of Davencourt that day, he'd intended it to be forever, and he'd gotten on with his life. He'd chosen southern Arizona because it was starkly beautiful, not because it was about as far as it could get from lush, green, northwestern Alabama and still be inhabitable. Ranching was hard, but he enjoyed the physical work as much as he'd enjoyed the cutthroat world of business and finance. Always a horseman, he'd made the transition easily. His family had narrowed to include only his mother and Aunt Sandra, but he was content with that.

At first he'd felt dead inside. Despite the imminent breakup, despite the fact that she'd cheated on him, he'd mourned Jessie with surprising depth. She'd been a part of his life for so long that he woke up mornings feeling strangely incomplete. Then, gradually, he had surprised himself by remembering what a bitch she had been and laughing fondly.

He could have let the uncertainty eat him alive, knowing that her killer was still out there and wasn't likely to be discovered, but in the end he'd accepted that there was nothing he could do about it. Her affair had been so secret that there had been no hints, no leads. It was a dead end. He could let it destroy his life or he could go on. Webb was a survivor. He'd gone on.

There had been days, even weeks, when he hadn't thought about his old life at all. He'd put Lucinda and the others behind him … all except for Roanna. Sometimes he'd hear something that sounded like her laugh, and instinctively turn to see what mischief she was in before he remembered she was no longer there. Or he'd be doctoring a cut on a horse's leg, and he'd remember the concern that had darkened her thin face whenever she'd tended a hurt mount, Somehow she had wormed her way deeper into his heart than the others had, and it was harder to forget her. He'd catch himself worrying about her, wondering what latest trouble she had managed to get herself into. And over the years, it was the memory of her that still had the power to make him angry.

He couldn't forget Jessie's accusation that Roanna had deliberately made trouble between them that last night. Had Jessie lied? She certainly hadn't been above it, but Roanna's transparent face had clearly revealed her guilt. Over the years, given Jessie's pregnancy by another man, he'd come to the conclusion that Roanna hadn't had anything to do with Jessie's death and the murderer had instead been Jessie's unknown lover, but he still couldn't shake his anger. Somehow Roanna's behavior, though it paled in importance when compared with the other events of that night, retained the power to make him furious.

Maybe it was because he'd always been so dead certain of her love. Maybe it had stroked his ego to be worshipped so openly, so unconditionally. No one else on earth had loved him that way. Yvonne's mother-love was unyielding, but she was the woman who had spanked him when he misbehaved as a child, so she saw his flaws. In Roanna's eyes, he'd been perfect, or so he had thought until she had deliberately caused trouble just so she could get one up on Jessie. He wondered now if he'd ever been anything other than a symbol to her, a possession that Jessie had and she wanted.

He'd had women since Jessie's death. He'd even had one or two lengthy relationships, though he'd never been inclined to remarry. But no matter how hot the sex he enjoyed in other women's beds, it was dreams of Roanna that woke him in the cool early mornings before dawn, drenched in sweat and his dick standing up like an iron spike.

He was never able to remember the dreams clearly, just bits and pieces, like the way her bottom had rubbed against his erection, the way her nipples had pebbled just from kissing him, the way they'd felt when she pressed them against his chest. His lust for Jessie had been a boy's lust, a young man's hormone-crazed lust, a game of dominance. His lust for Roanna, disgusted as it made him with himself, always had an undertone of tenderness, at least in his dreams.

But she was no dream, standing there in the bar.

His first impulse had been to get her out of there, where she didn't belong. She had gone with him without protest or question, as silent now as she had once been mouthy. He was aware that he'd had too much to drink, known that he wasn't in complete control of himself, but putting her off until tomorrow hadn't seemed like a viable option.

At first he'd barely been able to concentrate on what she was saying. She hadn't even wanted to look at him. She bad sat there, shivering, looking every place but at him, and he hadn't been able to keep his eyes off her. She'd changed. God, how she'd changed. He didn't like it, didn't like her silence where once she'd been a chatterbox, didn't like the stillness of her expression where once every emotion she had felt had been written plainly on her little face. There was no mischief or laughter in her eyes, no vibrant energy in her movements. It was as if someone had stolen Roanna and left a doll in her place.

The ugly little girl had turned into a plain teenager, and the plain teenager into a woman who was, if not exactly pretty, striking in her own way. Her face had filled out so that her too-big features had assumed a more pleasing proportion. Her long, high-bridged, slightly crooked nose now looked aristocratic, and her too-wide mouth could only be described as lush. Complete maturity had refined her face so that high, chiseled cheekbones had been revealed, and her almond-shaped, whiskey-colored eyes were exotic. She had put on a little weight, maybe fifteen pounds, that softened her body and made her look less like a refugee from a World War II prison camp, though she could easily carry another fifteen pounds and still be slim.

Memories of the girl had haunted him. The reality of the woman had stirred his long-simmering lust to a hard boil.

But, on a personal level, she had seemed oblivious to him. She had asked him to return to Alabama because Lucinda needed him. Lucinda loved him, regretted their estrangement. Lucinda would give him back everything he'd lost. Lucinda was ill, dying. Lucinda, Lucinda, Lucinda. Every word out of her mouth had been about Lucinda. Nothing about herself, whether or not she wanted him to return, as if that long-ago hero worship had never existed.

That had made him even angrier, that he'd spent years dreaming about her while she seemed to have completely cut him out of her life. His temper had soared out of control, and the tequila had loosened any restraint he might .149

have felt. He'd heard himself demand that she go to bed with him as the price for his return. He'd seen the shock on her face, seen it quickly controlled. He had waited for her rejection. And then she'd said yes.

He was angry enough, drunk enough, to follow through. By God, if she was willing to give herself to him for Lucinda's benefit, then he'd damn sure take her up on it. He cranked the truck and drove quickly to the nearest motel before she could change her mind.

Once inside the cheap little room, he had sprawled on the bed because his head had been spinning a little, and ordered her to strip. Once again he'd expected her to refuse. He'd waited for her to back out, or at least lose her temper and tell him to kiss her ass. He wanted to see fire break through the barrier of that blank doll's face, he wanted to see the old Roanna.

Instead she had silently begun to take off her clothes. She did it neatly, without fuss, and from the moment the first button had slipped free he hadn't been able to think of anything else but the soft skin being revealed by each movement of her fingers. She hadn't tried to be coy; she hadn't needed to. His dick was pressing so hard against his fly that it probably had the imprint of his zipper running down it.

She had lovely skin, a little golden, with the faintest dusting of freckles across those classic cheekbones. She slipped out of her shirt, and her shoulders had a soft, mellow sheen to them. Then she had unhooked that plain, serviceable white bra and removed it, and her breasts had taken his breath. They didn't stick out a lot but were surprisingly round and upright, exquisitely formed, with her nipples drawn into tight, rosy buds that made his mouth water.

Silently she had removed her slacks and panties, standing naked before him. Her waist and hips were narrow, but the cheeks of her ass were as deliciously round as her breasts. The need to touch her was painful. Hoarsely he had ordered her to come to him, and she had silently obeyed, moving to stand beside the bed.

He'd touched her then, and felt her quiver under his hand. The column of her thigh was sleek and cool, her skin delicate in contrast with his tanned, work-roughened hand. Slowly, savoring the texture of her skin, he stroked upward and around to her buttocks; she had moved a little, rubbing herself against his hand, and mingled excitement and delight had roared through him. He had cupped the firm mounds and felt them flex, and she had begun to shake even harder. He teased her with a daring caress and sensed her shock, and he'd looked up to find that her eyes were tightly closed.

Somehow he couldn't quite believe it was Roanna who stood naked before him, yielding her body to his exploration, and yet everything about her was infinitely familiar, and far more exciting than ten years' worth of frustrating dreams.

He didn't have to imagine the physical details now; they were laid out before him. Her pubic hair was a neat, curly little triangle. It had drawn his gaze, and he'd been entranced by the delicate folds, shyly closed, that he could glimpse under the curls. The mysteries of her body had made him ache with need. Roughly he'd told her to spread her legs so he could touch her, and she had.

He'd put his hand on the most private part of her body, and felt her startled response. He'd petted her, stroked her, opened her, and eased one finger into her startlingly tight sheath. He was so hard he thought he might explode, but he held back, because here was the proof that the lust wasn't all on his part. She was slick and damp, and her soft, low moans of arousal had nearly driven him crazy. She seemed shyly bewildered by what he was doing, what she was feeling. Then he'd tried to slip another finger into her, and couldn't. He'd felt her instinctive withdrawal, and a sudden suspicion flared in his tequila-fogged brain.

She'd never done this before. He was abruptly certain of it.

Swiftly he tumbled her down onto the bed, dragging her body across his. With more deliberation he'd probed her body, watching her reaction, fighting the alcohol as he tried to think clearly. He'd been the first with a couple of girls, back in high school and college, and even once since he'd left Alabama, so he noticed the way she blushed, her slight flinch as he pushed his rough finger even deeper. If it hadn't been for her years of horseback riding, he doubted he would have been able to even get his finger inside her.

He should stop this, now. The knowledge seared him. His body damn near revolted. He hadn't meant to let it go this far anyway, but he'd been undone by the tequila, and by his own arousal. He'd had just the wrong amount to drink, enough to slow his thoughts and make him not give a damn, but not enough to soften his dick. He was disgusted with himself for making her do this, and he'd opened his mouth to tell her to put on her clothes when, for an instant, he saw how terribly vulnerable she was, and how he could destroy her with a careless word even if it was for her own good.

Roanna had grown up in Jessie's shadow. Jessie had been the pretty one, Roanna the plain one. Her physical self confidence, except where horses were concerned, had always been close to zero. How could it not be, when rejection had been more the norm for her than acceptance? For a split second he saw the raw, desperate courage it had taken for her to do this. She had stripped naked for him, something he was certain she'd never done with any other man, and offered herself to him. He couldn't imagine what it had cost her. If he rejected her now, it would devastate her.

"You're a virgin," he'd said, his voice hard and flat with frustration.

She hadn't denied it. Instead she had blushed, a delicate rose tinting her breasts, and the delectable sight had been irresistible. He'd known he shouldn't do it, but he'd had to touch her nipple, and then he'd had to taste her, and he'd felt the answering need in her slender body as it arched to his touch.

He'd offered to stop. It took every ounce of willpower he had to rein himself in and make that offer, but he'd done it. And Roanna had looked as if he'd slapped her in the face. She had gone white, and her lips had trembled.

"Don't you want me?" she'd whispered, the plea so faint that his heart had squeezed. His own defenses, already weakened by the tequila, went down with a crash. Rather than answering, he had simply caught her hand and dragged it down to his groin, pressed it over his erection. He hadn't said anything even then, staying silent as he watched the sense of wonder creep into her eyes, chase away the pain. It was like watching a flower bloom.

Then she had turned her hand to hold him and had said, "Please," and he was lost.

Still, he had tried grimly for control. Even as he shucked off his clothes, he had been sucking in deep breaths, trying to cool the fire inside him. It hadn't worked. God, he was so ready he'd probably come as soon as he put it in her.

He had damn sure wanted to find out.

Somehow, he managed to hold himself back. His control hadn't extended to prolonged foreplay. He had simply mounted her, tucking her delicate body under his much more powerful one, and kissed her while he forced his erection in her to the hilt.

He'd known he was hurting her, but he couldn't stop. All he could do, once he was inside her, was make it good for her.

"Ladies first" had always been his motto, and he had experience in achieving his objective. Roanna was startlingly, overwhelmingly responsive to his every touch, her hips moving, her back arching, hot little cries breaking from her lips. Jessie had always held back, but Roanna gave herself without restraint, without pretension. She had climaxed fast, and then his own orgasm had seized him and he had come violently, more violently than he'd ever experienced before, pounding into her and flooding her with semen.

She hadn't pulled away, hadn't jumped up to run into the bathroom and clean herself. She had simply dozed off with her arms still looped around his neck. Maybe he had dozed, too. He didn't know. But eventually he had roused himself and slid off her, turned out the light, tucked her under the covers, and joined her there.

It hadn't been long before his cock had stirred insistently, lured by the silken body in his arms. And Roanna had welcomed him without hesitation, as she had every other time during the night that he'd reached for her.

It was almost dawn now.

The effects of the tequila had faded from his system, and he had to face the facts. Like it or not, he had blackmailed Roanna into this. The hell of it was, he hadn't needed to. She would have fain down for him without it being a condition for his return.

Something had happened to her, something that had robbed her of her zest, her spontaneity. It was as if she had finally been defeated by all the efforts to force her into a certain mold, and had surrendered herself.

He didn't like it. It made him furious.

He wanted to kick himself for becoming just one more person in a long line of people who had forced her to do something. It didn't matter that she had responded to him. He had to make it plain that his return didn't depend on her giving him the use of her body. He wanted her-hell, yes, he wanted her-but without any conditions or threats between them, and it was his own damn fault that he was in this situation.

He wanted to make his peace with Lucinda. It was time, and the thought of her dying made him regret the lost years. Davencourt and all the money didn't matter, not now. Mending fences mattered. Finding out what had extinguished the light in Roanna's eyes mattered.

He wondered if they were prepared for the man he'd become.

Yeah, he'd go back. Roanna seldom slept well, but she was so exhausted from the day of hard travel and emotional stress that when Webb finally let her sleep, she dropped immediately into a hard, deep slumber. She was groggy when she woke, unable for a moment to remember where she was, but over the years she had become accustomed to waking in places where she hadn't gone to sleep, so she didn't panic.

Instead she lay quietly while reality reassembled itself in her mind. She became aware of some unusual things: One, this wasn't Davencourt. Two, she was naked. Three, she was very sore in all her tender places.

It all clicked into place then, and she bolted upright in bed, looking for Webb. She knew immediately that he wasn't there.

He'd gotten up, dressed, and left her alone in this cheesy motel. During the night his heat had melted some of the ice that had encased her for so many years, but as she sat there naked in a tangle of dingy sheets, she felt the cold layer slowly solidify again.

It was the story of her life, it seemed. She had always felt that she could offer herself to him body and soul, and he still wouldn't love her. Now she knew for certain. Along with

her body, she'd given him her heart, while he'd simply been screwing.

Had she really been silly enough to think he cared for her? Why should he? She'd done nothing but cause him trouble. He probably hadn't even been particularly attracted to her. Webb had always been able to get any woman he wanted, even the prettiest ones. She couldn't compare with the type he was accustomed to, in either face or body; she had simply been handy, and he'd been horny. He'd seen an opportunity to get his rocks off and taken it. Case closed.

Her face was expressionless as she slowly crawled out of bed, ignoring the discomfort between her legs. She noticed then the note on the other pillow, scribbled on the scratch pad stamped with the motel's name. She picked it up, recognizing the black slash of Webb's handwriting immediately.

"Be back at ten," it read. The note wasn't signed, but then that wasn't necessary. Roanna smoothed her fingers over the writing, then tore the note from the pad and carefully folded it and slipped it into her purse.

She looked at her wristwatch: eight-thirty. An hour and a half to kill. An hour and a half of grace before she had to listen to him tell her that last night had been a mistake, one he didn't intend to repeat.

The least she could do was crawl back into her severely stylish shell, so she wouldn't look pitiful when he gave her the old heave-ho. She could bear a lot, but she didn't think she could stand it if he felt sorry for her.

Her clothes were as limp and wrinkled as she felt. First she washed out her underwear and draped it over the noisy climate control unit to dry, then turned the temperature control to heat and set the fan on high. She carried her slacks and blouse into the tiny bathroom with her, and hung them over the door while she took a shower in the minuscule stall that sported a cracked floor and yellowed water stains. The cubicle quickly filled with steam, and by the time she finished, both blouse and slacks looked fresher.

The climate control unit was a lot louder than it was efficient, but still the room quickly became stuffy. She shut it off and checked her panties; they were dry except for a lingering bit of dampness in the waistband. She pulled them on anyway, then quickly dressed in case Webb came back earlier than he'd said. Not that he hadn't already seen everything she had, she thought, and touched it as well, but that was last night. By leaving the way he had, he'd made it plain that last night hadn't meant anything to him beyond physical release.

She combed her straight, heavy hair back and left it to dry. That was the major benefit of a good cut: it didn't require much maintenance. The small amount of luggage she'd brought was locked in the trunk of her rental car, which was presumably still parked outside that grimy little bar just off the highway, but she wasn't certain exactly where she was in relation to it. The only makeup she had in her purse was a powder compact and a neutral-colored lipstick. She made quick use of it, not looking at her reflection in the mirror any longer than was required to get the lipstick on straight. She opened the door to let in the freshness of the dry desert morning, turned on the small television that was bolted to the wall, and sat down in the lone chair in the room, an uncomfortable number with a torn vinyl seat, which looked as if it had been stolen from a hospital waiting room.

She didn't pay much attention to what was on, some morning talk show. It was noise, and that was all she required. Sometimes when she couldn't sleep, she would turn her own television on so the voices could give her the illusion of not being utterly alone in the night.

She was still sitting there when a vehicle pulled up right outside the door. The motor cut off as a cloud of dust blew in. Then a door opened and was slammed shut, there was the sound of booted feet on the concrete walk, and Webb filled the doorway. He was silhouetted against the bright sunlight, his broad shoulders almost stretching from one side of the door frame to the other.

He didn't come any farther inside. All he said was, "Are

you ready?" and she silently got up, turned off the light and the television, and picked up her purse.

He opened the truck door for her, his southern manners still holding sway despite a decade of self-imposed exile. Roanna climbed inside, concentrating on not giving any flinches that betrayed her physical discomfort, and settled herself. Now that it was daylight, she could tell that the truck was gunmetal gray.. with a gray interior, and was fairly new. There was an extra stick shift on the floor, meaning it was four-wheel drive, probably a necessity for taking it across the range.

As Webb slid behind the wheel, he slanted her an unreadable glance. She wondered if he expected her to either start planning a wedding or pitch a fit because he'd left her alone this morning. She did neither. She sat silently.

"Hungry? She shook her head, then remembered that he liked verbal answers.

"No, thank you."

His lips thinned as he started the motor and reversed out of the parking spot.

"You're going to eat. You've gained a little weight, and it looks good on you. I'm not going to let you catch your flight without eating."

She hadn't booked a return flight, because she hadn't known how long she would be staying. She opened her mouth to say so, then caught the flinty expression in his eyes and realized he had booked one for her.

"When am I leaving?"

"One o'clock. I managed to get you on a direct flight from Tucson to Dallas. Your connection in Dallas is a bit tight, forty-five minutes, but it'll get you into Huntsville at a reasonable hour. You should get home around ten, ten thirty tonight. Do you have to call anyone to pick you up in Huntsville?" "No." She had driven herself to the airport, because no one else had been willing to get up at three-thirty to perform the service. No, that wasn't fair. She hadn't asked anyone to do it. She never asked anyone to do anything for her.

By the time she ate, as he seemed determined for her to do, she would have to leave almost immediately in order to turn in her rental car at the airport and make it to the gate in time to board. He hadn't left her any breathing space, probably by design. He didn't want to talk to her, didn't want to spend any more time in her company than necessary.

"There's a little place not far from here that serves breakfast until eleven. The food's plain, but good."

"Just drop me off at the bar so I can pick up my car," she said as she looked out the window, anywhere but at him.

"I'll stop at a fast-food place."

"I doubt it," he said grimly.

"I'm going to watch every bite go into your mouth."

"I eat now and then," she replied in a mild tone.

"I learned how."

"Then you won't mind if I watch."

She recognized that tone, the one he used when he'd made up his mind that you were going to do something, so you might as well not argue. When she'd been younger, that tone had been of infinite comfort, symbolizing the rock steadiness and security she had so desperately needed after her parents' death. In an odd way it was still comforting; he might not like her, might not desire her, but at least he didn't want her to starve to death.

The little restaurant he took her to wasn't much bigger than the kitchen at Davencourt, with a couple of booths, a couple of tiny tables, and four stools lined up at the counter. The rich scent of frying bacon and sausage was in the air, underlaid with that of coffee and the spiciness of chili peppers. Two sun-baked old men were in the back booth, and they both looked up with interest as Webb escorted Roanna to the other booth.

A thin woman of indeterminate age, her skin baked as hard and brown as that of the two old men, approached the booth. She pulled a green order pad out of the hip pocket of her jeans and held a stubby pencil at the ready.

Evidently there was no menu. Roanna looked at Webb in question.

"I'll have the short stack, ham and eggs on the side, sunny side up," he said, "and she'll have an egg, plain scrambled, with dry toast, bacon, and hash browns. Coffee for both of us."

"We can't do eggs sunny side up no more. Health Department rules," the waitress said. "Then I want them well done but take them up early."

"Gotcha." The waitress tore the top sheet off the pad as she walked over to an opening cut out in the wall. She laid the ticket on the sill.

"Betts! Got an order."

"You must eat here often," Roanna said.

6'1 usually stop by whenever I'm in town."

"What does plain scrambled mean?"

"No peppers."

it was on the tip of her tongue to ask if they called that fancy scrambled but bit the comment back. How easy it would be to fall into the old habits with him! she thought sadly. But she had learned to curb her quips, because most people didn't appreciate even the milder ones. Webb had once seemed to, but perhaps he'd been kind.

The waitress set two steaming cups of coffee in front of them.

"Cream' she asked, and Webb said, "No," answering for both of them.

"It'll take me at least a week, maybe two, to get things squared away here," he said abruptly.

"I'm keeping my ranch, so I'll be flying back and forth. Davencourt won't be my sole concern."

She sipped her coffee to hide her relief. He was still coming home! He'd said he would if she'd sleep with him, but until now she hadn't been certain he'd meant it. It wouldn't have made any difference if she'd known for sure he was lying; no matter what the day had brought, last night had been a dream come true for her, and she had grabbed at it with both hands.

"Lucinda wouldn't expect you to sell the ranch," she said.

"Bullshit. She thinks the universe revolves around Davencourt. There's nothing she wouldn't do to safeguard it." He leaned back and stretched out his long legs, carefully avoiding contact with hers.

"Tell me what's been going on there. Mother tells me some of the news, and so does Aunt Sandra, but neither of them know anything about the day to-day operations. I do know that Gloria has managed to move her entire family into Davencourt," "Not all of them. Baron and his family still live in Charlotte."

"Being under the same roof with Lanette and Corliss is enough to make me think about buying my own place in town."

Roanna didn't voice her agreement, but she knew exactly what he meant.

"What about you?" he continued. "I know you went to college in Tuscaloosa. What changed your mind? I thought you wanted to attend college locally."

She had gone away because for a long time that had been easier than staying home. Her sleeping problems hadn't been as bad while she was away, the memories hadn't been as acute. But it had been over a year after he'd left before she had started college, and it had been a year of hell.

She didn't tell him any of that. Instead she shrugged and said, "You know how it is. A person can get along without it, but to have all the right contacts you have to attend the university." She didn't have to elaborate on which university, because Webb had gone to the same one.

"Did you do the sorority bit?"

"It was expected."

A reluctant grin tugged at his mouth.

"I can't see you as a Greek. How did you get along with the little society snobs?"

"Fine." They had, in fact, been kind to her. It was they who had taught her how to dress, how to apply makeup, how to make social chitchat. She rather thought they had seen her as a challenge and taken her on as a makeover project.

The waitress approached with three plates of steaming hot food. She slid two plates in front of Webb and the remaining one in front of Roanna.

"Yell when you need a refill," she said comfortably, and left them alone.

Webb applied himself to his food, buttering the pancakes

and soaking them in syrup, then liberally salting and peppering his eggs. The slab of ham covered half the plate. Roanna looked at the mountain of food, then at his steely body. She tried to imagine the amount of physical labor that required that many calories, and felt an even deeper sense of respect for him.

"Eat," he growled.

She picked up her fork and obeyed. Once she couldn't have managed it, but keeping her emotions controlled had allowed her stomach to settle down. The trick was to take her time and take tiny bites. Usually, by the time everyone else had finished their meal she had managed to eat half of hers, and that was enough.

That was the case this time, too. When Webb leaned back, replete, Roanna laid her fork aside. He gave her plate a long, hard look as if calculating exactly how much she'd eaten, but to her relief he decided not to push it.

Breakfast taken care of, he drove her to the bar. The rental car sat forlornly in the parking lot, looking abandoned and out of place. A CLOSED sign hung lopsidedly on the front door of the bar. In daylight, the building was even more ramshackle than it had appeared the night before.

Dust flew around the truck as he braked to a stop, and Roanna allowed the gritty cloud to settle while she fished the ignition key out of her purse.

"Thanks for breakfast," she said as she opened the door and slid out.

"I'll tell Lucinda to expect you."

He got out of the truck and walked over to the rental car with her, standing right beside the door so she couldn't open it.

"About last night," he said.

Dread filled her. God, she couldn't listen to this. She put the key in the lock and turned it, hoping he would take the hint and move. He didn't.

"What about it?" she managed to say without any expression in her voice.

"It shouldn't have happened."

She bent her head. It was the best thing that had ever happened to her, and he wished it hadn't.

"God damn it, look at me!" Just as he had the night before, he cupped her chin in his hand and lifted her head so that she faced him. His hat was pulled low on his forehead, shadowing his eyes, but she could still see the grimness in them and in the line of his mouth. Very gently, he touched her lips with his thumb.

"I wasn't exactly drunk, but I'd had too much to drink. You were a virgin. I shouldn't have made that a condition to going back, and I regret what I did to you."

Roanna held her spine very straight and still.

"It was as much my responsibility as yours."

"Not quite. You didn't know exactly what you were getting into. On the other hand, I did know that you wouldn't turn me down."

She couldn't escape that hard, green gaze. This was very like the night before when she had stripped herself naked in front of him, except now she was emotionally naked. Her lower lip trembled, and she quickly controlled it. There was no point in denying what he'd said, because her actions had already proved him right. When he had given her the opportunity to call a stop to what was happening, she had begged him to continue.

"It's never been a secret how I feel about you," she finally said.

"All you had to do at any time was snap your fingers, and I'd have come running and let you do anything you wanted to me." She managed a smile. It wasn't much of one, but it was better than weeping.

"That hasn't changed." He searched her face, trying to pierce the remoteness of her expression. A kind of angry frustration flashed in his eyes.

"I just wanted you to know that my return doesn't depend on your sleeping with me. You don't have to turn yourself into a whore to make sure Lucinda gets what she wants."

This time she couldn't control her flinch. She pulled away from him and gave him another smile, this one even more strained than the first one.

"I understand," she forced herself to say with fragile cam-L "I won't bother you."

"The hell you won't," he snapped.