The Last Virgin

Excerpt from The Last Virgin a Harlequin Blaze May 2002 release:lastvirgin

ISBN-10: 0373790430
ISBN-13: 978-0373790432

Chapter One
“Noah, I’m desperate!” Panic laced Mona Freeman’s voice.

Noah Banks swallowed in discomfort. His stomach tightened. Normally women spoke those words to him with a sultry breathlessness, something he felt more adept at handling.

His gaze swung from Mona to Cliff Walker, Mona’s fiancé and his partner in this investment agency. Cliff sat rigid behind his massive walnut desk. His expression stoked memories of Noah’s father facing off with his mother, back in the days when they tolerated being in the same room.

Mona lunged toward Noah and he stiffened. Her almost child-sized hands clung to his arm, eliciting a sense of frustration. Why did he have this desire to help her, when he’d never been adept at defusing domestic squabbles?

Reluctantly, he placed his hand on hers. “What’s the trouble?”

“No!” Cliff burst from his chair, sending it listing at an odd angle. “I told you. He…” his finger shook as he pointed at his partner, “is not an option.”

Noah shot him a glare. What was up with Cliff? Though he had no idea what his partner was referring to, the words stung. Noah opened his mouth to protest, then shut it.

Cliff was right. Whatever his reasons for wanting to keep Noah out of it, something had the two of them in a tangle. Whatever it was, they could work it out without him. Cliff could take care of his own hysterical woman. Noah took a step toward the office door he’d unwittingly entered.

Mona swung along with him. “Cliff, Noah’s your best man, and our only hope.”

With a tight smile, Noah patted her stiff fingers. “I’ll come back later. Looks like you two need to work this out alone.”

“Oh, no.” Her eyes widened, turned pleading. “We need you.”

“No!” In an instant, Cliff stood before them, his dark hair sticking out at odd angles as though he’d literally tried to yank it from his scalp. “We’ll just have to tell her and let her get there on her own.”

“But, Cliff…” Mona’s bottom lip trembled. She blinked. “That will ruin it. She has to arrive precisely at nine, or the whole surprise will be ruined. You know how much I have riding on this. I’ve been planning it for weeks. She hates me. I need this party to win her over. Oh, please.” Huge tears rolled down her cheeks. She let out a choking sob.

Noah intensified his hand patting. The tightness in his stomach rolled into a knot. What was it about a woman’s tears that made him go all soft inside? Damn it, he’d never been able to say no to a female in need. “Who has to get where?”

“S-S-Sabrina.” Mona sniffed through another wave of tears. “She has to get to her surprise birthday p-party.”

“Sabrina?” Noah asked, unable to place the name.

“C-Cliff’s sister.”

Noah glanced at Cliff where he stood rigid and sullen. He’d mentioned a sister when they’d been at Auburn five years ago, but Noah hadn’t met her in the three weeks since arriving in Atlanta.

“That’s it? That’s what all these waterworks are about?” Women were such emotional creatures. He swung his gaze from Mona’s tear-streaked face to Cliff’s stony expression. “You just need someone to play chauffeur?”

“It would mean the world to me to win her over. I think this might do it.” Tears still glistened in Mona’s eyes as she stared up at him, but a grateful glow lit their blue depths. “You can’t let on about the party.” She let go of his arm to move beside Cliff. “Cliff will help you work out the details.” She tilted her face up to her fiancé. “Okay?”

“No.” His voice had lost some of its earlier vehemence.

Her fingertips traced his cheek. She brushed her body against his. “For me?”

He shut his eyes for a moment, then scooped his arm around her in surrender. “I really don’t like this.”

With a happy squeal, she threw her arms around him. “I love you. They’ll be in a public place. Then we’ll all be there to chaperone. It’ll be fine.”

She placed a fat kiss on his lips, then broke away to find her purse, her tears reduced to an occasional sniffle. “I’ve got to go see about the flowers for the wedding. You explain to Noah.” She swept from the room.

Noah turned to Cliff with a grin. “That’s showing her.”

Cliff shook his shaggy head. “You have no idea.” He turned to stalk back to his desk. He lifted a legal pad, then slammed it onto the blotter. “I’d never agree to this if it wasn’t a last resort.”

“Got a light?” Noah perched on the desk and offered Cliff one of the cigars he’d retrieved from his pocket.

Cliff put the cigar in his drawer, but offered Noah a light.

“Thanks.” Drawing a long puff, Noah savored the tobacco’s pungent flavor. He rose, then paced to the far window to look out over Atlanta’s downtown skyline. The sun slanted low, casting long shadows across the rooftops. Six floors below, a long line of cars snaked through the street.

He turned back to Cliff. “So, I get to meet your sister.”

Scowling, Cliff stabbed his finger across the room at him. “Get her to her surprise party, but keep your hands to yourself! She’s a nice girl.”

Annoyed, Noah narrowed his eyes. “What are you all tense about? I haven’t got any designs on your sister. I’ve never even met her, which seems a little strange. I can see when we were at Auburn, but we’ve worked here together all these weeks, she lives in Atlanta, and I still haven’t met her. Why not?”

Cliff gaped at him. “I just told you. She’s a nice girl. I didn’t want her exposed to your…your personal habits. Believe me, I’ve tried everyone for this party. No one else is available.”

“Personal habits? I was thinking along the lines of a simple introduction, not a roommate situation.” Noah tilted his head, his aggravation with Cliff growing. “What’s wrong with my personal habits?”

With a sound of exasperation, Cliff gestured with his hand. “Blondes on Monday, brunettes on Thursday and redheads for the weekend. Sabrina’s not like that. She’s the romantic type, believes in love and happily-ever-after. I don’t want you corrupting that.”

Noah scowled. “Just because I enjoy women doesn’t mean I’d pounce on your sister. I resent that.” He twisted the blind pull. Atlanta’s skyline disappeared.

“Just get her to the party, none of your funny business or…or you and I are gonna go at it!”

“Go at it?” Noah chuckled. He had a hard time taking Cliff seriously with his hair mimicking electrotherapy. “You’re making too much of this. I can control myself. Besides, I haven’t said I’d do it.”

“Of course you’ll do it. You have to, and you will control yourself.” He blew out a breath. “I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t desperate. I’ve got that trip to Boca. You heard Mona. She hired caterers. She’s going all out. For some reason she has the silly idea that Sabrina doesn’t like her.”

All this to please a woman. Cliff had lost it. Noah squeezed his eyes shut. He’d learned the hard way there was no pleasing women—at least not in that sense. He’d given Rebecca everything: his time, his money, even offered her his name. Thank God she’d refused the last, but it hadn’t been enough. He’d left that relationship without any illusions. Cliff would have to learn for himself, but how could Noah get out of pinch-hitting for his partner?

He turned to Cliff. “You can see that your sister makes it to her party. I’ll go to Boca for you. Old lady Shoreland likes me.”

“No way. Her granddaughter’s visiting with her fiancé, not that that would stop you.”

“Wait a minute. I am not the sleaze you make me out to be. I’ve never stolen another man’s woman.”

“No, you’ve never had to. For some reason women flock to you. It’s disgusting.”

With a grunt, Noah moved to the desk. He snuffed out his cigar in Cliff’s marble ashtray. “Not all of them.”

“Oh?” Cliff turned, his brows raised. “You mean one of them hasn’t fallen swooning into your arms?”

“That new blonde on the fourth floor. I think she’s with the insurance agency.” He shrugged. “She’s been a little elusive.”

A smile spread across Cliff’s face. “Darcy. I had lunch with her yesterday. We kind of dated in high school.” He cleared his throat. “Of course, I’ve got Mona now. I mean, it was just lunch. There she was alone in that big booth–”

“You put moves on her?” Noah stared, surprised. Cliff’s cheeks resembled a red light district. Good old Cliff had been lunching with Noah’s pick of the month? How could that be?

“No! No, nothing like that. Darcy’s more your speed. She…well, kind of got around in high school. Of course, people change…”

Noah perked at the news. Darcy sounded like what he needed—a nice unencumbered relationship. After the disaster with Rebecca, he didn’t think he’d ever want anything else from a woman. “I can work with that.”

With his hands jammed into his pockets, Cliff faced his partner. “Look, are you going to help me, or what?”

Noah pulled his mind from Darcy’s long legs and bountiful curves. With luck, he’d be spending Friday night with her. “Can’t you find someone else?”

“There isn’t anyone else! I wouldn’t have asked you if someone else was available.”

With a frown, Noah scooped the legal pad off the desk. Why would Cliff not trust him with his sister? She must be one China doll to make her brother so over-protective. He scanned the page-long list of scratched-off names. “You asked Fred, the mail guy?”

“I told you I was desperate.”

Noah tapped the pad. “My name isn’t even on here.”

Cliff glared at him. “Okay, what will it take? How much?”

“What? You’re bribing me now?” A chuckle rose from Noah’s throat. “No go. You couldn’t pay me enough.”

“Darcy!” Cliff’s eyes widened. He moved toward Noah. “That’s it. You take Sabrina to dinner, then get her to the party. I’ll put in a good word for you with Darcy. I’ll even invite her to the party.”

Visions of Darcy’s full bosom and rounded backside flashed through Noah’s mind. Anticipation raced through him. How bad could one dinner with Cliff’s sister be? Besides, Cliff had taken Noah on after he’d walked from a larger agency. He owed his old roommate. After another moment’s hesitation, Noah bit down on his cigar and thrust out his hand. “Deal.”

Relief flowed over Cliff’s face. Even his hair seemed to relax. He clasped Noah’s hand. “Deal. You take Sabrina to dinner, then bring her by the house. My flight gets in around ten, but Mona wants you two there at nine sharp. I’ll tell Sabrina Mona’s going to Boca with me and we won’t be back until Sunday. You can say you’re feeding the dog.”

“Dog?” Noah narrowed his gaze. “That German Shepherd wannabe who hates men?”

Cliff blinked. “Opal is part shepherd, and she doesn’t hate all men. She’s gotten used to me. She’s just protective of Mona. Anyway, you won’t have to deal with her.”

“Right.” With a nod, Noah moved toward the door.

“Wait.”

Noah stopped, then turned back toward his partner.

Cliff paused, staring hard at him. “There’s something else you need to know about Sabrina. She isn’t the kind of woman you’re accustomed to.”

“Right. You already told me. She’s the romantic type. Don’t worry, I’ll take her someplace nice.”

“Good.” Cliff’s jaw bunched. “But that isn’t what I’m getting at.”

Noah drew an impatient breath. “So what are you saying?”

A cool warning slipped into Cliff’s gaze. “I’m saying…she’s a virgin.”

* * *

Sabrina Walker groaned. She yanked the wall calendar from its place beside an old fuse box. After brushing away the cobwebs that clung to the calendar, she stared at the big squares representing the days of the week, zeroing in on the upcoming Friday. The thirteenth, this Friday was the thirteenth. What kind of day was that to have a birthday?

“This is a bad omen, Walker,” she murmured to herself. “A very bad omen.” The depression that had hovered over her for months descended. Everyone she knew was engaged, married, or working on his or her second or third child.

Everyone but her.

She plopped into the rickety desk chair she’d bought second hand to go with the metal desk she’d inherited after buying this bookstore four years ago. After a minute of searching through the pile of catalogs and order sheets on her desk, she unearthed the phone. She punched in a number, then waited through three rings.

“Hello?” Bess Anderson, her best friend, answered.

“Life is passing me by, Bess.”

“Sabrina?”

“I know I made that vow at sixteen, but I thought I’d find love by now.” Sabrina twisted the phone cord around her finger. “I’m in a rut. I’m sitting here and nothing is going on in my life. There’s no one to greet me at the end of the day.” She swallowed. “No hope of having a child.”

“Aw, Bree…you can borrow one of mine, or how about all three?” One of Bess’s daughters shrieked in the background. “Excuse me a minute.” The phone made a clunking sound, then Bess yelled for her offspring to quiet. “Sorry,” she said as she came back on the line.

Sabrina’s finger purpled. “All I need is a jump start.”

“Tom has this new guy working for him–”

“I’m seriously thinking of going for it–”

“Really? Great, we’ll have you both over–”

“Popping the cork, losing the old cherry–”

“What?”

“Maybe it’s time I lost my virginity.” Sabrina squared her jaw. Saying the words out loud sent a wave of satisfaction coursing through her. She pulled her finger free, shaking the blood back into it.

“Now, hon, who is he? You’re not going to do anything hasty, are you?”

Sabrina laughed. “I’ve been celibate for nearly twenty-five years. What’s hasty about that?”

“You know what I mean. Who is he? Do you love him? Why haven’t–”

“I don’t know who he is, or will be. The way I feel, the next available male I come across might get lucky.”

“Sabrina?” Toby Baxter, a high schooler she’d hired to fill in afternoons, poked his head around the office door. “Could you cover the front? I’ve got to take a leak.” “Sure, Toby. Just a minute.”

He smiled his thanks, then withdrew.

Grimacing, Sabrina turned back to the phone. “Okay, well, maybe the next available male.”

“Look, Sabri–”

“I’ve gotta go. Thanks for helping sort this out, Bess.”

“Wait, don’t–”

She hung up. Nothing Bess could say would change her mind. Besides, Bess was no paragon of knowledge. Look at the mess she’d made of her own life. Sabrina sighed and shook her head.

Poor Bess. At sixteen, they’d cried together when she discovered she’d gotten pregnant by Tommy Anderson, her first “real” boyfriend. To Sabrina’s horror, Bess, with her runway model looks, tossed aside her future in high couture to marry Tom and have his baby.

Nine years and three children later, Bess was still stuck in Atlanta, still stuck with Tom. Sabrina’s heart twisted. Sure Bess loved her kids, but what a life she could have had. How many nights had they stayed up planning her career as a high fashion model, her New York apartment, and her picture on the cover of Vogue?

Sabrina stood. For herself, all she’d ever wanted was a nice home, a husband who loved and appreciated her, and children. With one last glare at the calendar, she stalked from the office. Friday the thirteenth! Of all the friggin’ days to have a birthday!

The door stood open, catching the May breeze. Sunlight flooded the row of floor to ceiling windows that graced the shop’s front. Plants hung in baskets near the windows, and topped the many bookcases, lending a cool touch of green. The brassy strains of jazz drifted from overhead speakers.

With a sound of relief, Toby raced for the back room, leaving the small bookstore empty, except for Sabrina and Libby Conrad, one of their regulars. A flowered scarf held Libby’s dyed red curls back from her face. She stretched to reach a high shelf in one of the many bookcases.

“Need help?” Sabrina asked.

With a wave of her hand, the older woman dismissed her. “Don’t mind me, dear. I’m fine. I know you’ve got work to do.”

Sabrina sighed in relief as she picked up a watering can from behind the counter, then went to work on a basket of Creeping Charley. Caring for her plants usually calmed her. In her present mood, she might snap at the dear old woman.

Libby seldom bought or traded books. Mostly she browsed and chatted with other customers. Though Sabrina had grown fond of the elderly woman, she sometimes tired of her unending conversation. She often talked nonstop, wavering in and out of a long ago past.

Done watering, Sabrina pulled out her customer request notebook, to check it against her recent book shipment. She still carried a generous assortment of new product, though with all the mega-booksellers moving into the area, she’d expanded her used section. Cliff had been appalled when she’d told him she was veering in that direction, but otherwise, she wouldn’t last long against that kind of competition.

Toby emerged from the back, heading for a carton of used books on the counter. “I’ve logged these already,” he said, scooping up an armload. “Some of this old stuff is rad.” He hummed something Sabrina didn’t recognize as he disappeared down a book-lined aisle.

Libby made a sudden beeline for the counter.

Sabrina braced herself.

“Has Henry called for me?”

Sighing, Sabrina mustered a smile. “No, Libby. I’m sorry, but no one’s called for you.”

The woman’s hopeful expression sagged. “Well, he will. He promised,” she said in her usual raspy voice.

Sabrina squeezed the woman’s hand. Without fail, they played out this scenario whenever she came to the shop.

Normally, Sabrina controlled the inevitable tug on her emotions. Today, however, her heart lurched and her eyes stung. What had happened to Libby’s Henry?

“Yes,” her voice caught. “He will.” She blinked back embarrassing tears. This ridiculous birthday disaster had her tied up in knots.

Libby shook her gnarled finger. “He’s an incredible lover, you know.”

Sabrina straightened. This wasn’t part of the routine. “I’m…I’m sure he is.”

“Has all the right moves.”

“How…how nice for you.”

“He plays his harmonica,” she rasped, “and I do this dance. I’ll show you.”

“That’s not necessary.” Sabrina glanced around. No other customers had come in and Toby was probably lost in the bowels of the sci-fi area. “I wouldn’t want you to go to any trouble.”

“Oh, yes, dear. You must learn, so you can try it on your own young man.” She threw her hands in the air and swiveled in what she must have meant to be a seductive motion. The music curled around them. “Gets ’em in the mood, you know.”

Not sure how to handle her, Sabrina cleared her throat, then came around the counter, and reached futilely toward the woman. “I don’t…I don’t have a young man.”

“No? Maybe…that’s…because…you…don’t do…the dance.” The older woman’s rasp intensified and her breathing became labored. “Gets the…blood pumping.” “Libby…please, why don’t you sit down and rest a minute? I think I get the gist of it.”

“No…no…you must!”

Sabrina frowned. The woman looked ready to have a stroke and determined enough to keep at it until Sabrina joined in. “Okay,” she said, raising her arms and swaying. “Just for a minute.” She glanced around again to ensure no one saw.

“More…hip.” Libby’s hips pivoted in exaggerated circles.

Sabrina chewed her lip in concentration. After a few moments, her muscles warmed and she smiled. The music flowed over her. Her body moved in tune with the sax’s sultry strains. “There. I think I’ve got it.”

“Oh, you’ve got it all right,” a deep masculine voice sounded from behind her. “The question is, are you giving any of it away?”

Embarrassment flooded Sabrina as she swung around to face a tall stranger. He stood a few feet inside the shop’s door. The light breeze ruffled his dark hair. His eyes, as black as coal, shone with undisguised admiration. His gaze ran over her hips, then up, pausing a long moment at her breasts, before rising to meet her eyes.

A shiver ran through her. Men had noticed her before, more often than she’d cared for, but their attentions normally had little affect on her. This man’s gaze sent butterflies flurrying in her stomach. His lazy smile showed he hadn’t been fooled by her simple cotton dress.

“See, you caught one.” Libby nodded in the newcomer’s direction. “Not bad for your first time out.”

The man chuckled and headed toward them.

Heat spread up Sabrina’s neck and across her cheeks. She’d never been more mortified. He moved with the grace and precision of a panther. Sleek. Sensual. His gray suit draped him as if it were tailor made, his broad shoulders and tapered hips filling its precise lines.

“So, are you?” His voice rumbled through her.

Another shiver struck her, this one in the pit of her stomach. The dancing must have made her dizzy. “Excuse me?” “You go on!” Libby swatted his arm. “Sabrina doesn’t give a thing away.” She eyed Sabrina. “Maybe that’s the problem.”

Sabrina stared at her. Words refused to form on her tongue.

The man in turn stopped short. He drew up straight. “Sabrina?” He stared at her with disbelieving eyes.

“Yes.” She offered her hand, grateful to have found her voice, though it held a strange, breathless quality. “Sabrina Walker. Was there something I could help you find?”

“Well, actually…” He sandwiched her hand between his big palms. “I came to find you.”

“Me?” She blinked. Her heart beat triple time, as the warmth of his hands melted into hers. A little tremor ran from her fingers up her arm. She fought the alarming urge to lean into him. What could a gorgeous man like this want with her?

“That’s right.” Releasing her, he spread his arms wide. “I’m Noah Banks. I work with your brother.”

Bewilderment swirled through her. “Noah? Oh, my…this is a surprise. Cliff’s told me so much about you.” Like how she should run the other way if she ever chanced to meet him.

Noah’s eyes shone. “I can just imagine. Probably only half of it was true.”

“I don’t know. I have a feeling he wasn’t too far off the mark.” She’d always doubted Cliff’s college roommate’s sexual prowess. Until now. Cliff had been right to warn her. Noah emanated danger…and excitement.

She stepped back and nearly knocked over Libby. “Goodness, I’m sorry. Where are my manners?” Sabrina gestured to the woman. “This is Libby Conrad, my most valued customer. Ms. Conrad, Noah Banks, lady killer.”

Noah put a hand to his chest. “You wound me!” He took Libby’s offered hand, kissing it with a flourish. “I always leave a woman smiling, and very much alive.”

“I’ll bet you do.” Libby snatched back her hand. “You’re a handsome rascal, but I’m afraid I’m spoken for. My Henry’ll be here any moment and he’s the jealous type.” Sabrina’s heart gave another squeeze.

Noah darted a look over his shoulder, as if he were afraid of encountering the elderly woman’s lover. “Henry?”

“Henry Thomas Watson, of Decatur, a real man’s man.” With shaky fingers, Libby extracted a golden locket from between her breasts. She flipped it open and held it toward him.

Despite herself, Sabrina crowded beside him to catch a glimpse of the infamous Henry. Two tiny portraits, one of a young woman with flaming red hair and a familiar smile, the other a wavy haired man, handsome, but serious, stared back at her. She sighed. They must have been terribly in love.

Noah straightened, releasing the locket and brushing against her. “A hell of a lucky man, your Henry.”

“Damn right.” Libby dropped the locket back into her cleavage.

Sabrina swallowed and tried to calm the hundreds of butterflies that had stormed her stomach at Noah’s accidental touch. She had to get a grip. He was just a man.

An available man.

She drew in a breath and let her gaze drift over his broad shoulders, trim waist, then lower. That fluttery feeling spread. He cleared his throat. Her gaze flew to his. Though he stood ramrod straight, the heat in his eyes pierced her.

So, this was desire.

“Listen, I’m going to get out of your way and let you two get acquainted.” Libby patted Sabrina’s arm. “Live a little.” She winked, then wandered off after Toby.

Noah shifted beside Sabrina. Her brother had to be wrong. No way was she a virgin, not with the way she moved, or the way she looked at him with her hungry eyes. Her body had called to his with her siren’s dance and her throaty voice alone was enough to do a man in.

“Cliff has kept you such a mystery. He’d gotten my curiosity up. I’ve been trying to figure out how to meet you.” His gaze swept the crowded rows of books. Somehow, he couldn’t look at her and tell his half-truth. “I was drilling Tiffany, at the office, about what to get him and Mona for a wedding gift and she mentioned that I should ask you.”

He glanced up and was again caught in her blue gaze. “So, here I am, come to humbly ask your advice, and to check out the mystery woman, of course.”

She cocked her head. “Does Cliff know you’re here?”

“Uh, no. I didn’t announce where I was going.”

She smiled and her eyes lit with pleasure. “Well, I won’t tell him if you won’t.”

“My lips are sealed.”

Her hair shone deep mahogany in the sunlight slanting through the open door. He knotted his fists to keep from reaching out to touch the lock draped over her shoulder. “You don’t look like your brother, except for your hair color.”

His traitorous hand rose. His fingers threaded through her dark strands. Satin and silk. He leaned forward and caught a whiff of wildflowers. His pulse kicked up a notch.

“Um…wedding gift.” Her voice floated to him, soft and hesitant.

He met her wide gaze. Clear and bright, her eyes pulled him in, until he felt he was drowning in them. They held a purity he’d never known.

With a mental shake, he dropped his hand and straightened. It was true. She was a virgin. Innocence radiated from her.

“Yeah.” He cleared his throat, attempted to clear the haze from his mind. “I know they’ve got a registry going, but I was thinking I’d like to get them something different.”

“Different,” she parroted, as her brows drew together in concentration. “Let’s see.” She tapped her fingers against her chin, then suddenly brightened. “I know. Mona likes that new gallery in Buckhead, the one with the stick figures out front. Contemporary art. The owner knows her. She can help you pick something.” Her mouth twisted in a wry curve. “As long as you please Mona, Cliff’ll be happy.”

“Well, great. Contemporary art.” He nodded. He knew the place. That done, his palms moistened. He had to ask her out for Friday night, but his usual confidence and finesse had fled. He stood like a schoolboy ready to ask out his first crush. What if she said no, or worse, what if she was seeing someone?

He grimaced. He never concerned himself with details. What was wrong with him?

“So, I’m glad you stopped by. It’s interesting to compare the myth to the reality.” Her eyes sparkled.

Noah fisted his hands. For some inexplicable reason, he hated that she knew of his exploits. “Myths can sprout into such tall tales.” His voice ground out rougher than he’d meant, but she smiled, nodding thoughtfully.

A moment of silence fell. She glanced over her shoulder as a new customer entered. “I guess I’d better get back to work.”

He gritted his teeth. His tongue felt too thick for his mouth. When had he ever had trouble asking a woman out?

She turned toward the counter, stopped, then faced him again. His gut tightened. Her cheeks flushed. “Maybe we could get together sometime,” she said.

“Friday night…” He shook his head, then tried again. “Could I take you to dinner…Friday, this Friday night?” His heart pounded. “I mean, I just thought that since you’re Cliff’s sister and all, it wouldn’t hurt for us to get to know each other…” He snapped his mouth shut. Why was he babbling?

“Okay.”

“Okay?” His heart lifted and he wanted to smack himself for the relief flowing through him.

“Yes.” She raised her chin. Her eyes gleamed. “I’ll go out with you Friday night.”

“Great. About seven then?”

“Seven’s good. Here, I’ll give you my address.” She moved to the counter, scribbled something on a piece of paper, then handed it to him. “My phone number, too, in case you need it.” A spark lit her eyes. “I’ll be looking forward to Friday.”

Her voice held a sultry tone. As he grabbed the paper her fingers drifted over his. He swallowed hard and crammed the paper and his fist into his pocket.

With an effort, he kept from turning tail and running. What in God’s name was wrong with him? With a mumbled farewell, he stepped back, then strode toward the door. He forced himself not to look back, but the weight of her intense gaze followed him all the way to the sidewalk.

Once out of sight, he stopped to wipe the sweat from his brow. He hadn’t had much exposure to virgins. It made sense that he’d suffer some adverse reaction. He was allergic, that was all. He blew out a breath and relaxed. Surely in the three days to come he’d regain his composure.

One evening, a few short hours. He could manage that long with Cliff’s sister. Once he got her to the party, he’d be done with her.

Then he’d claim his prize.

He smiled, forcing Darcy’s image to mind. Dinner with Sabrina would be a walk in the park. He just had to remember to avoid her eyes and not to touch her. A dark cloud passed over the sun. He frowned and hurried to his car.

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