“May I join you?”
At the sound of the warm baritone, Carae Harrington turned. A handsome male with brown eyes and long dark hair spilling over broad shoulders stood just inside the open French doors. Behind him, people, lights, and music filled the large room.
Yet once she looked into his eyes, the world behind and around them seemed to dissolve into the background. Lost in the magic of his almost hypnotic gaze, she imagined him astride a big stallion with the sun’s rays kissing his bare chest and arms while glinting down on his hair.
For the first time, she understood the appeal of the many Native American capture romances her friends had devoured in high school and college. As his warm, intimate smile reached out to melt the chill she’d felt since Tommy had told her he wanted to see other women, she knew she would happily submit to any sexual designs this intriguing male might have on her.
He walked out onto the patio.
The dark suit he wore fit his six foot plus frame perfectly, emphasizing the width of his shoulders and the impressive span of his chest. He had long legs and six-pack abs. Masculinity reeked out his pores, overwhelming her senses until all she could think of was hot, raunchy, raw, rough sex. She imagined him kissing and sucking her breasts before paddling her bare cheeks. Then when they burned and she was on fire with the need to feel him inside her body, she would turn onto her belly or straddle him and ride him hard and wild until he erupted deep inside her, filling her with his seed.
Embarrassed by her graphic thoughts, she swallowed and tore her gaze from his. Caren was right. It was definitely time she got another man in her life.
Oh, no. “Not Lelia’s brother?”
He arched a brow. “Guilty as charged.”
She distinctly recalled Lelia saying her brothers didn’t date her friends. Still, she was a firm believer in there being an exception to every rule.
“And who do I have the pleasure of meeting?” He extended a big hand with long fingers that would feel heavenly caressing any part of her body.
“Carae Harrington,” she said, putting her hand in his.
His fingers closed around hers.
She suppressed a shiver as a jolt of warmth and desire sizzled through her. Here was a man who made a woman thankful to be female.
“Carae? Lovely name.” He released her hand. “Should I expect some irate male to come storming out here to inform me that you’re with him?”
“You’re in luck. I came alone.”
He glanced over his shoulder. “There are single men of every hue here. Why aren’t you inside dancing?”
She shrugged. “I wasn’t really in the partying or dancing mood.”
“Then why come?”
“Lelia and Caren insisted I come.”
“Is she here?”
She shook her head. “I wish she were.”
“You sound wistful. Is she far away?”
“Yes. She and her husband are teaching in South Africa.”
“Has she been gone long?”
“Yes. Too long. I haven’t seen her for over six months, although we talk at least once a week. I still miss her.”
“She’s your twin?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “How did you know?”
He shrugged. “Maybe because I have an identical twin, I can sometimes tell when other people do as well. Why did Lelia and your sister insist you come?”
“They said it was time I got back in the game.”
“Ah, getting over a bad breakup?”
After a moment of indecision, she nodded. Considering how attracted she was to him, talking to him was surprisingly easy.
“So you’re Lelia’s friend.”
“Yes,” she reluctantly admitted.
He sighed. “I see. Well, I have a feeling his lost will be some other man’s gain.”
She smiled. Maybe her friendship with Lelia wouldn’t be a disadvantage after all. “Are you flirting with me?”
“No. I’m simply stating a fact.”
“I’d rather you flirted with me.”
He smiled. “Are you in the mood for a moonlight stroll?”
Even though she was starting to feel a little chilly, she nodded. “Yes.” Unable to resist the lure of being so close to him, she slipped her arm through his. “Do you mind?”
He looked down at her with his lids lowered. “This way,” he said.
As they walked around the beautifully landscaped grounds of the large, multi-million dollar brick mansion, she wished she’d paid more attention on the rare occasions Lelia had talked about her many brothers.
She knew the Grayhawks were Cherokee and that they were tri-lingual, speaking Tsalagi, English, and at least one other language. She knew they valued education and that most of them held a master’s degree at a minimum. If memory served, at least three of them held doctorate degrees.
When she’d arrived, Lelia had introduced her to five of her brothers, three of whom were married to African-American women of various body types with looks ranging from plain to supermodel gorgeous. Although younger than all three Grayhawk wives, she knew most men considered her worth a second look and generally viewed her curves favorably. So there was no reason she shouldn’t be able to hold Brandon Grayhawk’s interest for more than a few hours.
After a half hour of walking in silence, he led her to a sheltered, moonlit glade that contained several chairs, tables, a portable mini-bar, and a beautiful covered swing.
“Would you like a drink, Carae?”
He gestured to one of the chairs.
She shivered as a breeze touched her bare arms and sat on the swing.
He removed the jacket of the dark suit he wore and placed it over her shoulders. “Is this better?”
Losing herself in the warmth of his jacket, she smiled up at him. “Nothing like a warm, cologne-scented jacket on a chilly night.”
He sat across from her and stared at her in silence for several moments.
They were close enough to the house that she could clearly hear the music. Maybe he’d ask her to dance. “You’re staring,” she said.
“Are you hungry?”
She shook her head. “No. Thanks. Tell me why you’re staring at me and why you singled me out for a moonlight stroll.”
“Why does any man stare at any woman or want to walk with her in the moonlight?”
“I’m not interested in why any man does anything. I’m interested in your motivation.”
“Clearly, I find you worth walking in the moonlight with and staring at.”
She smiled, delighted that the last dress she’d bought hoping to rekindle Tommy’s ardor had captured Brandon Grayhawk’s attention. It was a cream-colored A-line dress with spaghetti straps and a V neck that offered just a hint of her cleavage and fell around her calves.
“The feeling is mutual.”
“Tell me about yourself.”
“What do you want to know?”
He glanced at her left hand. “Everything, but start with your marital status.”
“Why? You interested in marrying me?” She asked, holding up her left hand to show it held no ring.
He smiled. “Does that mean you’re single?”
He nodded. “But I want to hear about you. Tell me everything.”
“I’m a Real Property Evaluator, single, twenty-eight, and I share an apartment in Fairmount with a friend.”
“A female friend?”
She hesitated before shaking her head. “No.”
His gaze narrowed. “Male?”
“And are there any benefits attached to this friendship?”
“We have separate bedrooms,” she said, hoping he wouldn’t make it necessary for her to admit that she and Jim had slept together several times in the past.
He stared at her in silence for so long that she almost felt he knew of her deception by omission. Finally, when she was about to look guiltily away, he spoke again. “Are you seeing anyone?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Who was the bad breakup with?”
“Do you give every woman you meet the third degree or should I feel special?”
He smiled. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“Is there any reason why I should?”
“Is there any reason why you shouldn’t?” he challenged.
“You mean besides the fact that it’s really none of your business?”
He shrugged. “That’s never stopped me from asking questions to which I wanted answers. And the answer is?”
She found his self-confidence attractive. “We broke up about six months ago.”
“Did it ever occur to you that this might be a painful subject I’d rather not discuss with you?”
He gave her a probing stare. “Is it?”
“No,” she admitted. “If you must know, he said after two years things between us was a little stale and he wanted to see other women.” She paused, realizing the sting that admission usually caused was absent.
“He hurt you?”
“I thought we were…I was clearly more into him than he was into me so it stung when I realized he wanted more than me. But I’m over him now.”
“And back on the market?”
Big time. “Yes. Now that you’ve wormed all of my secrets out of me, let me grill you.”
He abruptly rose and turned his back to her. “Why don’t I save you the trouble and tell you that if you think you’re interested in me, you’ll be even more interested in my twin, Bancroft.”
As a woman with an identical twin with whom she had virtually nothing in common, it annoyed her when people assumed that Caren and she were interchangeable. “Why?”
“Because Bancroft is everything that I’m not.”
“What can he possibly have that you don’t?”
“He’s charming, inclined to find something attractive in every single woman he meets, and he generally has a more agreeable temperament than I do. Plus, he tells me he’s the better looking twin.”
“Some might say he sounds perfect.”
“I thought you’d think so.”
“I didn’t say I thought so. I said some might say he was. Even if he’s everything you say he is—”
“I assure you he is.”
“Even so, you’re the one I want to hear about, Brandon. Not him.”
He turned back to face her. “There’s not much to tell except that I’m a financial consultant with offices in Philly and New York, where I spend most of the week. I’ve never been married and…”
“And at forty-two, I’m far too old to dally in the moonlight with you.”
She rose and walked across to look up at him. “Then what are you doing out here dallying in the moonlight with me?”
“That’s a good question.”
“What’s the answer?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Why are you with me instead of one of the women inside who look as if they could easily grace the cover of any upscale woman’s magazine?”
“Because none of them interest me even half as much as you do.”
“What a sweet thing to say, Brandon. Now tell me, do you have a woman in your life?”
She watched a frown mar his face. “I’m not married or engaged.”
His failure to answer her with a simple no probably meant there was someone in his life he was unwilling to discuss. “That still doesn’t tell me whether or not you’re seeing anyone special.”
“If I were, I’d be with her instead of you.”
“Men have been known to step out on their significant others.”
“I’m aware of that. However, I have never felt the need to cheat in a relationship. If I was happy, there was no need to cheat. If I wasn’t, I’d end the relationship. I don’t cheat. Period.”
“So there’s no one in your life or on your horizon who has any reason to object to my dazzling and enchanting you?”
“Then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t keep each other company tonight.”
“Oh, there are several reasons,” he said, his voice brusque.
“Is one of them a woman?”
“I told you I’m not married or engaged or seeing anyone special.”
“Are you in love with someone who, for some strange reason known only to God, is not in love with you too?”
“Are you flirting with me, Carae?”
“Hell to the yes, Brandon. So tell me, is it working?”
He stared at her before he laughed. “Ah, Carae, you make me feel…”
“What? What do I make you feel?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Is that a good I don’t know or a bad one?”
“I don’t know that either, but commonsense dictates it’ll probably be bad… for you at least.”
“Commonsense isn’t really that common anymore. So why don’t we dally in the moonlight and figure out what you’re feeling.” She slipped her arm through his and smiled up at him.
“What I’m feeling?”
“I already know what I’m feeling, Brandon.”
He inhaled. “You need to know something about me.”
“I’m all ears,” she said, leaning against him.
“I don’t date Lelia’s friends.”
“Lelia who? The name doesn’t ring a bell. If we met at all, it was so long ago, I really couldn’t claim to be her friend.”
He sighed. “Even if you weren’t her friend, I’m fourteen years older than you. I’m not interested in a serious relationship, and even if I were, trust me when I tell you I’m dragging around a lot of emotional baggage.”
“Well, damn, you’re full of cheer. Aren’t you?”
“What you see is what you get, Carae.”
“Yeah? Because what I see is a big, sexy, magnetic man I’d like to get to know.”
“That’s what you see?”
“Yes, but you should know you might want to be careful with your assumptions.”
“You’re assuming that I don’t prefer older men, that I’m interested in a serious relationship, and that I’m looking for a romantic bargain.”
“Do you prefer older men, Carae?”
She stroked her free hand up his chest to touch his hair. “No, but I won’t deny that I find you interesting enough not to care about your age.”
“And the other considerations standing between us?”
Standing between them? Clearly, he was more interested than he was willing to admit. “I already told you that I don’t know your sister and that you shouldn’t assume you know what I want in a relationship or even if I want one with you. I seem to recall being quite happy contemplating the beauty of the night alone when you came along and insisted on joining me.”
“I didn’t insist but touché.”
“If you’re going to make a habit of reminding me when I’m wrong, you’re going to quickly get on my bad side.”
“Do you actually have a bad side, Carae?”
“You are definitely flirting with me.”
He arched a brow.
“Anyway, now that we have that straightened out, you can offer to drive me home later.” She removed her arm from his and walked back over to the swing. Slipping her arms into his jacket, she sat down.
He stood staring at her in silence for several moments before he slowly walked over to stand at her side.
She smiled up at him, slid over, and patted the seat beside her.
He sat beside her but stared straight ahead.
”Will you drive me home?”
He frowned. “You’re ready to leave all ready?”
“I have a feeling you’d prefer it if I left. Am I right or am I right?”
“You’re not only wrong but you’re also not right,” he said, sounding amused.
“Who knew being so wrong could feel so gratifying?”
He shifted so he faced her. “What idiot let you go?”
“The one who wanted to sleep with other women.”
“When he had you?”
She shrugged. “I guess it’s a man thing to always want more than you have.”
“Must be, but let’s discuss why there isn’t a special woman in your life.”
“Should there be?”
“Well, by your own admission, you’re no spring chicken.”
“No. I’m not.”
“Do you have any kids?”
He stiffened. “No.”
“Do you want any?”
He didn’t answer.
He sighed. “There was someone very special once,” he said after a pause.
She touched his arm. “What happened? Can you talk about it?
He shook his head.
“Not even to tell me in general terms what happened?”
He closed his eyes. “When she was murdered just over three years ago I lost her and the baby she was carrying.”
Hearing the pain in his voice, she slipped her arm through his and impulsively kissed him on the corner of his mouth.
He jerked back but instead of rising, as she expected, he pushed her against the back of the seat, held her there with the weight of his body, and feverishly pressed his lips against her ear and the side of her neck.
After a moment of surprised immobility, she realized he was shivering and whispering something incomprehensible against her ear. She put her arms around him and held him until he abruptly jerked away from her and rose.
She stared up at him. “Brandon?”
He stalked across the grass and disappeared around one of the tall hedges surrounding them without a word.
Had he just kissed and caressed her ear and neck or had he blindly sought comfort within her arms? Uncertain what to make of what had just happened between them, Carae remained on the swing. Surely, he would return once he regained his composure.
After what felt like an eternity, she decided he wasn’t returning. As she walked around the hedge, she saw him strolling towards her.
“Brandon!” Relieved, she rushed forward and slipped her arm through his. “Feeling better?”
He removed his arm and stepped away from her. “Yes. Thanks.”
After their intimate and frank conversation, the chill she heard in his voice confused her. “Is something wrong?”
“Then why are you suddenly so standoffish?”
“My apologies for leaving you alone for so long.”
“Good. Now we should go back inside.”
“There’s no point in our remaining out here alone.”
She frowned. “So you’re Bancroft.”
He narrowed his gaze. “I think you know I’m not Croft.”
“I think the only thing I know is that it’s time for me to leave.” She took off his jacket and held it out to him. “Will you drive me home?”
He took his jacket and placed it back around her shoulders.
Viewing the gesture as a peace offering, she smiled at him. “Whether you like it or not, I think you know that I like you.”
“You don’t know me.”
“You’re right, but that doesn’t stop me from being attracted to you.”
“Unfortunately, the attraction is mutual.”
She widened her smile, satisfied that they were back on as intimate footing as he was probably going to allow. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“I wouldn’t count on that.”
“I am counting on it and I’m in the mood to dance in the moonlight. Are you going to oblige or are you going to argue me down?”
“Is your physical relationship over?”
She stared at him. “I didn’t say we had a physical relationship.”
“So I noticed, but we both know that you did.”
“Why do you think you know that?”
“I knew when I touched you.”
She blinked. “Excuse me?”
“I can often tell what people are thinking and feeling when I touch them.”
“I often know what people are thinking and feeling when I touch them.”
“Are you saying…what are you saying?”
“Haven’t I made myself clear? I knew when I touched you. Some people consider this…ability invasive, so it’s not something I do often or without permission.”
“Yet you did it with me without my permission.”
“It wasn’t intentional, Carae. I just…”
“You just what? Invaded my thoughts?”
“Not intentionally. I felt a rush of feelings and emotions when I touched you.”
“Wow. Ah, then it’s just as well I’d already admitted I think you’re to die for.”
“You should be.”
“But you’ve almost managed to derail my question. I know there are or were benefits attached to your relationship with this roommate of yours. What I don’t know is if it’s over.”
She moistened her lips, while trying to decide how much she should admit. “It is.”
“He’s not the man who let you go. Is he?”
“No. Now perhaps you’ll tell me why you felt the need to fillet and grill me, given the fact that you don’t date Lelia’s friends.”
“So you remember her after all?”
Her lips twitched. “She’s too good a friend to deny. Now you’re the one attempting to derail my question.”
He shrugged. “Nothing mysterious about my interest. I just want to know about you.”
“In case you haven’t figured it out, you intrigue me, Carae.”
“I can excite and delight you as well,” she said.
He nodded. “I have no doubt you can do that and more.”
“Am I going to be given the opportunity?”
“No,” he said.
“I’ve already told you why not.”
“I know, but let’s face it, Brandon…do you have a nickname or shall I call you sweetie?”
“My younger siblings call me Hawk.”
She frowned. “But that’s what Lelia called Layton when she introduced us.”
“It’s a family nickname that we use and share as a sign of respect and affection for our elder siblings. I call Layton Hawk because he’s older than I am. I’m a few minutes older than Bancroft, so he and all our younger siblings call me and Layton Hawk. In turn, Croft is also called Hawk by our younger siblings.”
“It must get confusing.”
“Actually, it doesn’t. In addition, occasionally, Layton and Croft call me Hoss.”
“Hoss? I think I like it, but I might like sweetie a little more. Do you mind?”
“I don’t know that there’s going to be any occasion for you to call me anything but Brandon.”
If she had her way, there would be countless occasions for her to call him sweetie. “Is that your way of telling me I shouldn’t expect to see you again?”
“I’m sure we’ll see each other on the odd occasion…in the company of other people.”
“So you don’t foresee any more moonlight strolls in our future?”
He shook his head. “That wouldn’t be wise.”
“So what are we going to do about our mutual attraction?”
“I’m going to admire you from afar and suggest you might want to consider one of my other brothers who are closer to your age.”
“And you’d be all right with that?”
“Even if you’d be all right with that, I wouldn’t. Trust me when I tell you I have zero interest in any of your brothers.”
“You haven’t met them all.”
“I don’t need to. I’ve met you, Brandon.”
“I’m sure some lucky woman here tonight would love to stroll in the moonlight with him.”
“But not you?”
“No. Not me.” She spread her hands along his chest until her fingers brushed against the thick, glossy hair that reached well past his shoulders. “I’m interested in you, Brandon and only you.”
He briefly caressed her cheek. “Oh, damn, Carae. If I were just a little younger and if things were different—”
“I’ve already told you I don’t care about your age and we can work on the other things you think stand between us.”
He shook his head. “You deserve far more than I can give you.”
“I have a feeling it’s not going to be easy, but I’m going to make sure you understand that I’m old enough to make my own romantic decisions, Brandon.”
“We’re going around in circles. Come back inside. I’d like you to meet Croft anyway.”
She turned her head and brushed her lips against his hand. “Maybe another time. Right now I think it’s time you drove me home.”
“What are you planning to do about your car?”
“Leaving it here will provide a perfect excuse for me to return tomorrow.”
He laughed. “That sounds like a plan except that this is my brother Layton’s house. I live in the Old City area and won’t be here tomorrow.”
She placed her hands on his chest. “But you’ll drive me home?”
“Of course I will.”
“Don’t you want to know where I live before you agree?”
“I’ll happily drive you anywhere you want to go.”
“Yes, Carae, I will,” he said, staring down at her. “However, you told me earlier that you lived in the Fairmount section of the city.”
“So I did. What about my car?”
“I’ll drive it to your house while one of my brothers follows in mine.” He rose and offered her his arm.
She stood and slipped her arm through his. “Lead the way, Brandon and I’ll follow.”
“Where will you follow?”
“Anywhere you lead.”
Revisit the Grayhawk clan in Long Line of Love 4: Carea’s Touch