Blue-Eyed Devil Page 49

I glanced at him sharply. "Why do you say that?"

"Two years ago, not long after you got married, I was called to do the Texas Monthly shoot for the piece they did on Cates. At his request. I spent the better part of the day with him. We talked about a lot of stuff, but what I realized near the end of the shoot was that every thread of conversation had led back to one person . . . he kept asking questions, digging up information, wanting private details . . . "

"About Liberty," I muttered.

"Hell, no, not about Liberty. About you."

"What?" I asked faintly.

"He said you two had met at the wedding."

My heart seemed to stop. "Did he tell you how?"

"No, but it made an impression on him, to say the least. So I made it clear you were off-limits. Told him you were married. And that didn't seem to matter to him one damn bit. He still wanted to know more. I got a bad feeling about it, even then." Joe stopped and looked down at me with eyes the same dark brown as my own. "And now you're coming off a divorce, and vulnerable, and he's after you."

"He's not after me, he just asked me to dance."

"He's after you," Joe repeated firmly. "Of all the women in this room, you're the one he went for. Why do you think that is, Haven?"

A wave of coldness went through me. Shit. Maybe I was being the woman in the Astrodome again. Maybe my attraction to Hardy was a form of self-destructive masochism.

"He's got some kind of plan," Joe said. "He wants to make his mark, get back at the Travises, get something from us. And he'll have no problem using you to do it. Because he's figured out there's no bigger turn-on for you than a guy your family doesn't approve of."

"That's not true," I protested.

"I think it is." Joe dragged his hand through his hair, looking exasperated. "For God's sake, Haven, find someone else. You want to meet guys, I know a ton of — "

"No," I said sullenly. "I don't want to meet anyone."

"Then let's go back to the table."

I shook my head. The idea of returning to my family's table like a chastened child was unbearable. "You want to dance?" Joe asked.

That provoked a reluctant grin from me. "With my brother? No, that would be too pathetic. Besides, you hate dancing."

"True," Joe said, looking relieved.

"I'm going to the ladies' room to check my makeup," I said. "I'll be back at the table in a few minutes."

After Joe left me, I wandered disconsolately through the room. Obviously I shouldn't have gone to the theater opening. I should have stayed home. I needed to think about things, including the question of why, in spite of my better judgment and my family's conviction that it was a mistake, I was still attracted to Hardy Cates.

But before I was even aware I was doing it, I had gone to the bar.

It was easy to locate Hardy's tall, rangy form. He was half leaning against the bar, a rocks glass in his hand. It appeared he was talking to someone, although his shoulder blocked the view. I approached him hesitantly, tilting my head a little as I tried to get a glimpse of his companion.

He was talking to a woman. Naturally. It was inconceivable that a man with his looks wouldn't attract female attention. The woman was slim and busty and dressed in a sparkling gold gown. All that, along with her light blond hair, made her look like an awards show statuette.

I stiffened as I saw her face.

"Hi, Vanessa," I said weakly.


Vanessa Flint gave me a look I was familiar with, the one that said she didn't want to be interrupted. But her voice was warm and friendly. "Haven, how nice to see you here! Are you having fun?""Words can't describe it," I said. It was just not my night. Of all people for Hardy to hook up with, it had to be my boss from hell. Fate was trying to get it through to me that this wasn't going to work on any level.

Hardy set his glass on the bar. "Haven — "

"Hi, Mr. Cates," I said coolly. "Have a good night, you two. I was just leaving."

Without giving either Vanessa or Hardy a chance to react, I turned and pushed through the crowd. Nauseous and white-faced with fury, I acknowledged that my family was absolutely right about Hardy. He was trouble I didn't need.

I'd made it about halfway through the room when I felt him come up behind me, his touch on my arm. I stiffened and turned to face him. His face was as hard as granite.

"Go back to Vanessa," I told him. "If she thinks I've taken you away from her, I'll be cleaning the office bathroom for the next week."

"I wasn't with her, I was having a drink. Was I supposed to wait alone in the corner while you were trying to make up your mind about me? "

"Not in the corner, no." I glared at him. "But you could have at least waited five minutes before finding a replacement."

"She wasn't a replacement. I was waiting for you. And it took you a hell of a lot longer than five minutes to decide if you wanted to dance with me. I'm not going to take that shit from you or your family, Haven."

"After the way you've behaved in the past, what do you expect? Flowers and a parade? They have every right to distrust your motives."

"What about you? What do you think my motives are?"

"I don't think you want me to answer that in front of all these people."

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