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She would win this man’s attention if she had to strip down to bare skin to get the job done!
Tess set her glass down on the coffee table with an audible click. She turned and aimed every bit of cleavage she had directly at Jordan’s chiseled profile. “Dinner can wait,” she said in the most come-hither whisper she could produce.
Jordan turned his head then. And looked. And stared. At last he raised his gaze, inch by inch, until it finally locked with hers. “Are you, by any chance,” he said very softly, “trying to seduce me?”
Tess lost her temper. “Of course I’m trying to seduce you! Why else would I go to all this trouble? And you have the nerve to tell me you can’t wait to eat dinner!”
Hazel eyes wide, Jordan set his glass down with a clunk and rose. His own temper seemed to flare. “Do you know how long I’ve been ready? Willing, and damn eager, as a matter of fact?”
Now her eyes went wide. “So why didn’t you do something?” she asked, her voice quiet.
“Because I thought you weren’t ready,” Jordan replied.
Tess took a deep breath. “I’m ready.”
What better way to celebrate June, a month of courtship and romance, than with four new spectacular books from Harlequin American Romance?
First, the always wonderful Mindy Neff inaugurates Harlequin American Romance’s new three-book continuity series, BRIDES OF THE DESERT ROSE, which is a follow-up to the bestselling TEXAS SHEIKHS series. In the Enemy’s Embrace is a sexy rivals-become-lovers story you won’t want to miss.
When a handsome aristocrat finds an abandoned newborn, he turns to a beautiful doctor to save the child’s life. Will the adorable infant bond their hearts together and make them the perfect family? Find out in A Baby for Lord Roderick by Emily Dalton. Next, in To Love an Older Man by Debbi Rawlins, a dashing attorney vows to deny his attraction to the pregnant woman in need of his help. With love and affection, can the expectant beauty change the older man’s mind? Sharon Swan launches her delightful continuing series WELCOME TO HARMONY with Home-Grown Husband, which features a single-mom gardener who looks to her mysterious and sexy new neighbor to spice up her life with some much-needed excitement and romance.
This month, and every month, come home to Harlequin American Romance—and enjoy!
Associate Senior Editor
Harlequin American Romance
For my family, the whole wonderful bunch
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born and raised in Chicago, Sharon Swan once dreamed of dancing for a living. Instead, she surrendered to life’s more practical aspects, settled for an office job, concentrated on typing and being a Chicago Bears fan.Sharon never seriously considered writing a career until she moved to the Phoenix area and met Pierce Brosnan at a local shopping mall. It was a chance meeting that changed her life because she found herself thinking, what if? What if two fictional characters had met the same way? That formed the basis for her next novel, and she’s now cheerfully addicted to writing contemporary romance and playing what if?
Books by Sharon Swan
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
912—COWBOYS AND CRADLES
“I think it’s time you took a lover,” one of Tess Cameron’s closest friends told her. “And I mean now. This summer. You’re too young to let life of the more intimate sort pass you by.”
Tess threw her head back and laughed out loud, her blue eyes sparkling with amused surprise at the unexpected turn in the conversation. They’d been discussing men in general over coffee at the round breakfast table set in a corner of her large, sunny kitchen. But this was a long way from general.
“And where do you suggest I find one?” she asked, for the sake of argument more than anything. “You have to admit the pickings are slim in Harmony.”
Not that the small city nestled in the low mountains northeast of Phoenix was all that far from Arizona’s largest, Tess reflected. Still there was no denying that the majority of males in the immediate vicinity fell into one of three categories when it came to potential lovers for a widow about to turn thirty: too young, too old or too married.
“Slim, but not hopeless,” Sally Mendoza maintained with a firm shake of her head that sent her dark shoulder-length hair swinging. “You wouldn’t be looking for a husband and daddy replacement, after all, which is admittedly harder to find.” Deep brown eyes, slanting up at the tips, narrowed thoughtfully. “At least, I assume you wouldn’t.”
Tess sipped her coffee, well aware that she’d never raved about her marriage, to Sally or anyone else. “You’re right, I’m in no hurry to take another walk down the aisle.”
She’d been in too much of a hurry the first time, she recognized in hindsight, too full of youthful ideals and boundless expectations of eternal bliss, to take a step back and consider the wisdom of leaping into a lifetime commitment. Too inexperienced in the ways of the world to know that love alone couldn’t conquer all, that two people had to find some common ground, share an understanding of the path they wanted to take in life, one that satisfied them both, before they could share a happy future.
Now she was older, and hopefully wiser.
Not that being married to Roger had been terrible. No, that wasn’t true at all. It just hadn’t been terribly good after the first year. The only really wonderful thing to come out of it was their daughter, Ali.
“So a lover is what’s needed,” Sally summed up matter-of-factly.
“Maybe,” Tess’s sense of honesty had her conceding. She’d been without a man in her life for three years, and her body was increasingly reminding her of that fact. “I can hardly haul one off the street, though—provided there was anything interesting walking around out there to begin with.”
Sally lifted one shoulder in a small shrug. “What about Mr. Mysterious, your new next-door neighbor?”
Tess leaned back in a far-from-new bentwood chair. Despite its age, the faded flowered padding provided a comfortably cozy cushion for her body. Given the choice, she knew she’d take comfort over style any day, even with an unlimited bank account to draw on. That was strictly her preference. The most stylish furniture on the market wouldn’t have won a second glance from her, not if it didn’t look comfortable.
And even more important than comfort was contentment. To her, it was vital. Rather than taking her good fortune for granted, she routinely thanked her lucky stars that she was content, both with who she was as a person and with the life she’d chosen—even if it might be lacking in one particular area. Then again, having a man around wasn’t everything, she reminded herself, although she had to admit to some current curiosity when it came to a certain member of the male species.
“He’s mysterious, all right,” she said, cocking a light brown eyebrow. “It’s been almost a week since he moved in, and I’ve barely glimpsed him pulling in and out of his garage.”
“Well, sometimes you can tell a lot about people by what they drive.” Sally tapped a crimson-tipped finger on the glass-topped table. “Is it a sports car—something sleek, sizzling scarlet, and sexy as sin?”
Tess smiled. “Sorry to shatter that little fantasy, but it’s a fairly late model SUV, probably of the four-wheel-drive variety, and it seems to be black under all the dust.”
“So he’s not rich,” Sally concluded, “though not poor by any means, given the money they want for those all-terrain numbers, and he’s probably been too busy lately to wash it.”
“Or he’s been waiting for the wife and six kids to show up and do the job for him,” Tess tacked on dryly.
Sally finished her coffee and set her mug down. “Uh-uh. No wife and kiddies. Leslie Hanson told me when I ran into her at the supermarket yesterday that a ‘single gentleman’ had rented the house her great-aunt left her. A short-term lease, she said.” A sly grin appeared. “And it just so happens that your darling child will be gone all summer, visiting her grandparents. I’d say that’s fate, Tess.”
“Yeah, right.” Tess made a face. “He could easily wind up being the stuff women’s nightmares are made of, complete with sweaty palms and a bobbing Adam’s apple.”
“Or he could turn out to be your dream man,” Sally countered as she got to her feet. Today her lush figure was shown to advantage by a navy halter top and walking shorts.
“I don’t have a dream man,” Tess said firmly, rising. Her yellow T-shirt and ancient jeans outlined a slender body that was, she knew, far from lush. She was content with that, as well. Most of the time, at any rate. She just had to stay away from Victoria’s Secret catalogs. “What I have is a daughter I love more than anything in the world, a job I’m crazy about, and definite plans for a good, solid future.”
“Which is absolutely great, and I’m delighted for you. But all of that still won’t provide what a full-grown female needs, at least on occasion, in the middle of the night.” Sally rinsed her mug out in the sink and leaned against the ivory-tile counter. “A lover, on the other hand—”
“Okay, Sal, I get your drift.”
“Then give it some consideration,” said the mother of cheerfully rowdy, seven-year-old twin boys who was happily wed to a hunk of a husband she blatantly adored—and who clearly returned the favor. “There’s no reason to do without certain pleasures when you don’t have to. So think about it.”
Tess thought about it after Sally left, mulling over her friend’s advice as she stared out a curtained kitchen window into the brilliant sunshine so much a part of long summers in the Southwest. Certainly, she had plenty of time to think in the middle of a quiet Saturday morning with Ali away. Too quiet, it seemed, without the sound of well-used running shoes thumping up and down the stairs.
Not that there weren’t things to do, she reminded herself. The ever-present laundry, for instance. Vacuuming and dusting, too. Or, in the real-challenge category, she could try to coax the plump cat regally tolerating her presence in her own house into unbending enough to share a companionable hour tending the flowers in the backyard.
But she didn’t, she had to admit, feel like tackling even the simplest of those chores. Not today.
Today she felt…restless.
Her body craved something it had done too long without. She couldn’t deny that any more than she could magically turn the brown cap of natural curls framing her face into long, straight tresses.
So how did she satisfy that craving? With a willing man, was the obvious answer.
Not a husband, though.
She truly didn’t want marriage, not now. But she did want…intimacy, she supposed she could say. More than sex, certainly. Sex had never sent up any skyrockets, not for her. But the closeness that came with it, being held in the grip of strong arms.
Yes, that she couldn’t help wanting.
Tess sighed, soft and low. Maybe—just maybe, she thought—it was time to take a lover.
THE LAST THING HE NEEDED was a woman in his life, Jordan Trask told himself. Right now, it was the very last thing. Even thinking along those lines was a mistake.
Too bad that didn’t stop him from recalling the special comforts only the opposite sex could supply—something that had been happening more and more and with greater interest, it seemed, since he’d given up a job that, in a perfect world, would never have to be done.
Too bad the world wasn’t perfect. And too bad he was having a difficult time deciding how to deal with the future stretching out in front of him like a unmarked road to an unknown place, full of twists and turns. At the moment, that journey held a lot more questions than answers.
Then again, he was lucky, he reminded himself. Damn lucky. He’d gotten out while he could still smile with genuine humor, still laugh on occasion for the sheer pleasure of it. His former profession sometimes destroyed the ability to do both, but he’d survived intact.
He could still feel, really feel, thank God.
And, whether it was wise or not to get involved with a woman at this point, what he felt now was need—the need to touch some silky, smooth skin covering gentle curves, the need to be touched, as well. He was a healthy male in his mid-thirties, after all.
So he had needs. Whether he wanted them or not at this particular time, he had them.
A soft whine drew Jordan’s eyes across the width of a homey kitchen to a thick oak door, its upper half etched with squares of sparkling glass topped by a length of ruffled, blue-checked fabric. That the back door led to a spacious, grassy yard continued to be somewhat of a wonder.
Renting a graciously aging house in a quiet neighborhood had been the first of his attempts to experience a whole new way of life. It was the sharpest contrast he could imagine to the series of modern three-room apartments in his past.
Adopting a young, abandoned male basset hound just this morning at the local pound had been another. He’d never had a pet. Not so much as a goldfish, as far as he could remember. And even if he had, this brand-new arrival was a long way from a goldfish.
Oddly enough, though, while the house still felt strange to him, the dog had seemed to settle right in.
Jordan pushed away from the old yet sturdy refrigerator he’d had one shoulder propped against and walked toward the door, making his way over speckled-blue tile. “Time to go out, pal?”
A fast, enthusiastic wag of a skinny tail silently answered the question.
“It’s a good thing you’re housebroken,” he added, meaning every word. Given the life he’d been leading until now, he was far better equipped to handle a coiled rattlesnake primed to strike than a puppy in need of toilet training.
He let the dog out and shoved the door shut—only to wrench it open again with a swift jerk as all hell seemed to break loose outside. The peacefulness all around him seconds earlier, broken only by birds chirping in the tall pines, dissolved in a storm of frantic barking.
What in blazes was going on?
He found out, in a flash, when he stood on the long, covered porch and caught sight of a fat gray cat lounging on the wide top rail of the white, slatted wood fence standing at one side of the yard. The cat gazed down with clear feline disdain as the basset hound defended home territory with a zeal that might have been admirable if it hadn’t been deafening.
Before Jordan could try to bring order, the cat had jumped down from the railing and effortlessly landed on the far side. The dog, in an attempt to follow, shoved a quivering black nose through a thin space between the narrow slats, then wiggled back and roamed the length of the barrier that foiled him, growling nonstop.
“Give it up, pal, it’s over,” Jordan called, thinking it was—until the dog began to claw a path under the fence at a spot toward the rear of the yard where the ground had eroded.
Jordan noticed that slight dip for the first time. And it was too late.
Dirt flew. The dog squeezed through.
Then all hell broke loose again.
It was a woman’s startled cry that sent Jordan racing headlong toward the chest-high fence. He scaled it with little trouble, landed flat on booted feet with a soft thump, and steeled himself, more than half expecting to find a silver-haired matron on the verge of the vapors, dead certain he’d rather deal with a hundred of the meanest rattlers ever born than a single bout of hand-flapping hysterics.
It turned out he didn’t need to.
At least he figured as much when he found a far-from-matronly woman crouched down on jean-clad knees in the grass beside a two-story, wood-framed house very much like the one he’d rented. His was painted blue. This one was white.
And the woman was clearly seeing red.
With gloved hands clenched at her sides, and sporting a thunderous frown, she viewed a disaster in progress right in front of her as Jordan’s canine companion chased a furry target straight down the middle of a long flower bed.
This lady wasn’t hysterical, he told himself. Or upset. Even irritated wouldn’t begin to cover it. She was, in a word, furious.
Still braced for action, he gave some thought to making a fast return trip over the fence and leaving the hound to face the consequences. What had prompted him to think he needed a pet, anyway, he wondered. Sheer insanity, he was beginning to believe.
Then the choice to stay or retreat vanished when the cat suddenly changed course and headed straight for him, followed in a heartbeat by the dog. Both made a swift circle around him, then headed back and retraced their path through the flower bed to complete the destruction before racing off toward the far side of the house.
Rather than following their progress, a sharp, clear blue gaze pinned Jordan where he stood. He’d always been a sucker for blue eyes. Usually they’d been attached to a tall, cool blonde. As the owner of these eyes surged to canvas-shod feet, he noted she was neither tall nor short. Just about average height for a full-grown woman, he decided.
Her figure was neat and trim, her hair a shiny cap of honey-brown curls. Her face was more heart shaped than round. And if she wore makeup, it wasn’t obvious, even in stark sunlight. The flattering color on her cheeks might be due to sheer fury, but the rosy shade of her lips seemed natural.
Why he should think of wholesome to describe her, he couldn’t say, especially since she looked ready to wrap her hands around someone’s throat. Probably his.
“Is that your dog?” Even brisk with anger, her voice came out as soft as the grassy ground under his boots.
“If I say no, will you let me live?” He folded his arms across his chest, grateful she wasn’t shouting the place down, and tried for a wry smile.
Steps away from him, Tess stilled completely for a moment. The question, and the smile, had taken her off guard.
No one had a right to be that damn attractive was her first thought as she found herself staring frankly. Her second thought was that no one would ever judge this man as ordinary. Even dressed in well-worn denim, he made one heck of an impact. And no one would ever know you had a brain in your head right now was her next reflection, directed squarely at herself, as reality returned and had her blinking.
So what if a broad-shouldered, lean-muscled, flat-out devastating male, the type of man she’d never, by any stretch of the imagination, expected to appear in her backyard, suddenly had?
So what if he was tall, dark, and not quite classically handsome, but close enough?
So what if that crooked smile rattled her pulse and the hazel eyes above it seemed to bore right into hers?
So what? She was supposed to be livid.
“I’d say your survival could well hinge on getting that animal out of here,” she told him, clipping the words.
“I’ll do my best,” he hastened to assure her, his voice deep and low, rough around the edges, but not at all unpleasant to the ear. “I hope your cat’s okay.”
Tess let out a breath. “It’s your dog that will probably be in trouble when Roxy gets tired of fooling around.”
As if to prove that statement, a gray streak of fur came zipping around the house with a brown-and-white blur in hot pursuit. All at once, the cat spun around in midair, hissing, and swatted the hound flat on the nose with some well-placed claws. Then, to the tune of canine yelps, the victor leaped back on the fence rail and calmly stretched out, acting as if nothing unusual in the least had happened.
“Guess I don’t have to worry about Roxy,” the man muttered as the dog, head bent, trotted over to stand beside him. “Had enough?” he asked, looking down, and got a soft whine in reply.
Once again those hazel eyes met hers. This time, Tess was ready for the jolt and managed to view him coolly. He’d never know, she thought with satisfaction, that her pulse was still none too steady. In fact, at the moment she was sure he looked a lot more uncomfortable than she did.
“I suppose I should introduce myself before I take the culprit away. I’m Jordan Trask. I rented the place next door and moved in a few days ago.”
“I knew someone had moved in,” she offered in return. But I never anticipated anyone like you.
“I really am sorry about the flowers,” he added, sounding as if he meant just that.
Tess tossed a rueful glance over her shoulder. There was little chance to save anything, she knew. The damage was too complete. “I’ll have to replant,” she thought out loud.
“I’ll gladly pay for whatever you need to get the job done. And I’d be willing to help, if you’ll let me.”
Tess slowly swung her head back around and took a moment to consider her options. Three quickly came to mind.
She could tell Jordan Trask to just get lost—even in a nice way, if she wanted to be polite.
She could also accept his money and decline the assistance—again diplomatically, if she cared to.
Or she could go with the final choice and take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to get to know her new neighbor.
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