Fire and Ash (Immortal Touch) (10 page)

And as for Ash…wow, what an ego! Did he
seriously intend to hand over his Maserati when it became obvious that she wasn’t about to succumb to his dubious charms? No way…he’d welsh. The man couldn’t be taken seriously. And what was his deal, anyway - why was he picking on her? Because she was the only woman around who wasn’t following at his heels with her tongue hanging out? Probably. That’s how men were. If you showed them something and told them they couldn’t have it, what inevitably would wind up happening? Why, they’d break every rule in the book to get it, that’s what. Maybe it was just human nature to want what you couldn’t have.

Well,
gorgeous or not, he couldn’t have her.

S
he’d had her soak in the tub and was slapping together a sandwich when she heard the buzz-
click
of her room door unlocking and opening. Standing barefoot in the small kitchen with a butter knife in one hand, she turned her head to glare at the only person in the world it could possibly be.

“Hey, Green-Eggs-and-Sam. Glad to see you weren’t hacked to pieces during the night.” He hadn’t bothered to shave today,
allowing for an authentic bad-boy visage.

“What the hell do you call yourself doing?” she demanded, licking
peanut butter off the knife before dropping it into the sink.

“What, you’re not glad to see me?” To her astonishment, he actually opened the refrigerator door and inspected the contents. “You don’t have any beer?”

“No, I don’t have any beer! What does this look like, a 7-Eleven?”

“What’s that
purple stuff in the pitcher?”

“Kool-Aid.”

He closed the fridge door, turning to observe her. She felt sloppy and self-conscious in her frayed shorts and oversized t-shirt, damp hair tied back in a haphazard ponytail. Then she was pissed at herself for even giving a damn
what
she looked like.

“Kool-Aid and peanut butter? Looks more like
a preschool to me. Are we not paying you enough?” He seemed genuinely perplexed that anyone would deliberately choose to eat this way. What an unbelievable snob!

“Did you never learn to knock?” she inquired, ignoring his question.

“How’s the sunburn?” He ignored hers as well. She wondered if he ever bothered to listen.

“It’s better. A house call wasn’t necessary.”

“Actually I came to bring you a present.” From the pocket of his casual drawstring pants - the same ones he’d been wearing last night - he produced a gun.

Sami’s heart lurched. “
Holy fuck…

“Do you know how to use one?”

Oh.
Oh, God. For a split second there she’d thought… “Ash, you scared the crap out of me! What are you doing with that thing?”

“Thought it might make you feel a little safer. Here, take it.”

Instinctively she started to refuse, but the sensible side of her stepped in to suggest that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to have it around. It
would
make her feel safer, at that. She reached out a wary hand and carefully took it, studying the small semi-automatic handgun. It looked awfully familiar.

“Ruger LCP?” She felt a smug sense of self-satisfaction when
he appeared surprised that she was able to identify it. The jerk probably figured a woman’s knowledge was limited primarily to cookie recipes and shoe sizes.

“You’re familiar with this model?” He looked impressed.

“Mm-hm.” Actually the only reason she recognized it was because her brother had this same gun, and she’d gone with him to the range for target practice a few times. Ash didn’t need to know that, though. Let him think she was a bona fide weapons expert. Keep him on his toes. “Is it registered to you?”

“Yeah, but you can keep it here. Just be careful with it.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” She couldn’t believe he was actually doing something nice for her. How…uncharacteristic of him.

“No, it’s fine. I don’t need it.” He looked over at the peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the counter and shook his head with a bemused laugh. “
Christ. Why don’t we go out and get some
real
food - my treat.”

“I know what you’re trying to do, and it isn’t going to work.”

“What am I trying to do, Sami?”


You
know!”

“I’m simply asking you to come have dinner with me.
Nothing more. No strings attached.” He crossed his arms and grinned slyly. “Or are you afraid you can’t handle it?”

“You really wanna antagonize me while I’m holding a gun in my hand?”

Unconcerned, he continued to goad her. “I think maybe you don’t have enough self-control to spend any length of time with me. I think maybe you’re just trying to hide what you already know.” In a teasing voice he sang, “
You…want…me…

“Oh, shut up already!” Sami couldn’t help but laugh. “God, you are so full of yourself
! Okay, fine - I’ll have dinner with you. Dinner, and that’s it.”

“That’s it.” The triumph in his expression was infuriating.

“Straight home after.”

“Whatever you say, ma’am.”

“Can you give me half an hour to get dressed? I’m not going anywhere looking like this.”

“Sure. I’ll be back in thirty minutes.
Be ready, babydoll.” With a cocky wink, he strolled out of room 122.

So. He thought she couldn’t resist his animal magnetism, huh? What a joke. Men with attitudes like his were the biggest turnoff there was. Deluded idiot.

She placed the gun in the drawer of her bedside table and proceeded to get ready to prove him wrong.

~*~*~*~

He knocked this time, only to prove that he could behave like a gentleman in the name of social convention. Though barging into her room uninvited was way more appealing to him, simply because he knew it drove her nuts.

She opened the door, and very nearly took his breath away.

Dressed in a white halter-necked sundress that displayed more than a little cleavage, her chestnut waves hung loosely over bare sun-kissed shoulders in a sexy tousled style. She wore strappy beaded sandals, with coral polish and a silver toe ring adorning her delicate feet. And a light perfume that was intoxicatingly sensuous.

Whoa.

“This is a definite improvement over the straitlaced librarian look,” he approved.

She raised her eyebrows. “I don’t dress like a librarian.”

“You were the first time I saw you.” He ushered her into the hallway with a hand at the small of her back. “And you always wear your hair pulled back when you’re working.”

“That’s just to keep it out of my face.”

“You’re so damn…
practical
.”

“So what’s wrong with that?”

“It’s boring, that’s what’s wrong with it.”

“So now I bore you?” she bristled.

Ash sighed. He couldn’t say anything to this uptight shrew without her getting all defensive. He saw Patsy at the front desk notice them together, and out of his peripheral vision caught her poking Lara and jerking her head in their direction. The staff were used to seeing him with an array of women, but up until now never an employee.

“That’s not what I meant. I just meant you need to loosen up some.” He opened the door to the skywalk and held it for her. “Relax,
why don’t you?”

“What
…don’t I look relaxed to you?” With a toss of her hair, she smiled provocatively.

Oh, so now she was resorting to flirting. He put his arm around her and said softly, “You
smell good enough to eat.”

He felt her stiffen. “Then if I tell you to
eat me,
you won’t take offense?”

“Anybody ever tell you, you have the mouth of a sailor?” Annoyed by her hot-and-cold behavior, he dropped his arm.

“Now who’s the straitlaced one? Planning on washing my mouth out with soap?”

“I can think of much better things I’d like to
do with that mouth.” They’d reached the parking garage, and they took the elevator to the third level.

“I’ll bet.” She sounded disgusted.

“Your ex was
such
a lucky man,” he commented sarcastically. “I can’t
imagine
why he would have dumped you.” He knew he was pushing his luck with that remark, but she had it coming.

A hurt look entered her amber eyes, vanishing just as quickly as it came. “He didn’t dump me. I was the one who broke off our engagement.” Her words were clipped.

Ash unlocked the Maserati and opened the door for her, watching her slide gracefully inside. Once he was seated beside her, he asked, “Why?”

“I don’t want to talk about him. Do you mind?” Her eyes roamed over the car’s luxurious interior and he knew she was assuming it would soon belong to her.

“Wrong,” he murmured, backing the car out of the parking spot.

“What?”

“I know what you’re thinking. And you’re wrong. You’re not gonna win that bet.”

“Oh, yes I am,” she said confidently. “You better kiss this baby goodbye
, ’cause in a month you’ll be taking the Bay Town Trolley instead.”

This made him laugh. She had a witty
sense of humor, even if she was as frigid as an ice queen. “This isn’t the only car I own.”


Now why doesn’t that surprise me?”


We can put the top down on the way back if you like.”


Sure.”

“Music?”

“Okay.”

He selected the Sirius satellite radio option and chose the preset number for his favorite channel, keeping it low enough that they could still converse. Over
Percy Faith’s
Theme From A Summer Place
he asked, “You like seafood?”

“I love seafood.”

“Royal Marlin okay with you? I went ahead and called for a reservation.”

“Fine with me. I’ve never been there.”

“You’re in for a culinary delight then, my dear.” In their confined space, the scent of her perfume wafted over to once again tease his senses. Damn, did that stuff contain pheromones or something? It was stimulating him to no end. He wondered what she’d do if he reached over and tried to cop a feel. Break his arm, more than likely.

Mm, t
hat could be fun…

Seated in the restaurant by
a window overlooking the water, she seemed more at ease. Maybe she felt safer with him in a public place. That was a good sign…it meant he was starting to break down her defenses. Hopefully the peach daiquiri she ordered would relax her even more. He sipped his own Tropical Hurricane and watched her over his menu. Unfortunately alcohol had no effect on him, but he’d acquired a taste for it long ago.

“Ever had the Caribbean Mahi Mahi?” she asked.

“No, I haven’t tried that. I know the stuffed flounder is really good.”

“Everything on here sounds good. How about the Lobster Thermidor?”

“It’s good, but lobster isn’t really one of my favorites.”

By the time the waitress reappeared, Sami had decided on the stuffed flounder after all and he ordered the same, observing the friendly way she interacted with the server. A total stranger, a woman she’d never even met, and already she’d warmed to her more than she had to him. Why was that? From the moment she’d first set eyes on him, she had treated him with nothing but
derision.

“Tell me something, Samara. Why is it you have a genuine smile for everyone but me?”

She squirmed, looking somewhat uncomfortable at his direct question. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well…frankly, it’s your narcissistic attitude. You act as if you’re the only person in the world that matters.”

He rested his arms on the table and leaned forward, looking her dead in the eye. “
Maybe I am.”

“See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about! That self-centered mindset. You represent
everything that’s wrong with the human race.”


The human race, hm?” She was way off the charts with
that
one. Too bad he couldn’t make her aware of just how far off she was. Well, not yet anyway…not until he was done breaking her strong will and she had nothing left to offer in the way of entertainment. “Seems I’ve made quite a negative impression on you. I have an idea - what say we start fresh? I’ll try not to be a self-centered asshole, and in return you can try not to be a total bitch.”

Instead of getting mad, she actually laughed
at this. Maybe that daiquiri was kicking in already. They did tend to use a generous portion of alcohol here. “Okay, deal. The bitch is off duty for the night.”

“Glad to hear it. She was overdue for a night off.” He lifted his glass and grinned. “Now tell me about your ex.”

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