Born in a Small Town / Page 16

Page 16


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He slipped on one of the new jackets he’d bought that day and slid his wallet into the inside pocket. Then he left the room. He pulled the door nearly shut, changed his mind and went back in to switch on a lamp beside the bed.

That was better—soft glow, nice and romantic. A king-size bed was a lot of room for one person. You never could tell. He might get lucky tonight.

HANNAH MADE HER WAY to a table and sat down. She was promptly joined by a young man in leathers and dreadlocks and covered with piercings. He had to be all of twenty. “Mind if I join you?” She hesitated, then shook her head.

“I’m waiting for some friends,” she lied. Darn her sister, anyway! How sick could she be?

“Me, too,” he said, setting down his pint of beer. Some of the foam sloshed over the side and onto the fake marble tabletop. “You want a drink? I could get you one.”

She felt rattled. The call to Emily and then dumping her purse like that. What a klutz. And in front of that man! Had he overheard her? A stockbroker or something. A lawyer, maybe. He looked very trim, very city, very…handsome.

“Oh, no thanks. I’m waiting until my friends come,” she said. She didn’t want a drink. She needed to figure out what she was going to do next—she needed to get out of here. She’d stay a little while, just to let Emily think she might’ve had a good time, then she’d take a cab to Emily’s house. She didn’t want to show up too soon, not when Steve or Nigel or whoever was there. Sick! Hannah didn’t believe it for a moment. In fact, she wouldn’t put it past Em to have planned the whole thing.

“I’m Phil. What’s your name, babe?” The man in leathers asked. He seemed friendly enough, although definitely not her type. Usually men didn’t waltz up and talk to her. They sure didn’t call her babe. Was it the crazy outfit she’d worn? The hair? It had come out a lot redder than it had looked on the package. Oh well, it was supposed to wash out in eight shampoos. She’d be back to her usual brown by the time she had to return to work.

“Name? Er, Annabel,” she said; she had no idea why, except that she didn’t want him to know her name. Besides, Hannah was kind of…old-fashioned. Annabel was so old it was new—chic, modern, trendy.

“Hey, Annabel!” he said, thankfully not extending his hand. “Cool club, eh?” He glanced around and so did Hannah. She’d like nothing better than to leave right now and drive back to Glory. This had been one of her really stupid ideas. She should have followed her instincts and turned Emily down flat and stayed home tonight for the trick-or-treaters.

Some trick she’d pulled on her sister! And Emily wasn’t even here to find out that Hannah could dress up and have fun just like everyone else if she wanted to. It was just that she didn’t really want to—she’d rather be home with Joan and Mr. Spitz.

Hannah narrowed her eyes. She was positive she’d spotted the man she’d seen in the hotel lobby, but when she stared toward the club entrance again, he wasn’t there. Wishful thinking, Hannah Parrish. Besides, no man like that would ever be interested in you.

Just then a crowd of men in dreadlocks and leathers, and girls with various metal bits thrust through their lips, cheeks, eyebrows, ears, you-name-it, one wearing a lime-green fright wig, came up to the table. Hannah leaped to her feet.

“Here, you take my place,” she offered, grabbing her purse, which she’d thrown over the back of the chair.

Phil protested.

“No, really! I’ll find somewhere else to sit.”

As she stumbled through clumps of people toward the door, the band started to play. Some horrifically loud crashing and screaming by the singers, and lights flashing everywhere. This was not her kind of place. If only she could get through the crowd that had materialized in the past fifteen minutes. The club’s opening party was obviously a success.

“Looking for someone?” The voice was very close to her left ear. She raised her head. That man!

“Oh!” She didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t imagined him this time, he was here. “No, no—I’m just trying to get out so I can leave.”

“Already?”

“I…um,” Hannah paused and looked around again. People seemed to be enjoying themselves. Some were dancing. She saw the young man who’d been at her table moving toward her, yelling.

“Hey, Annabel! You left this—” He handed her the jacket she’d draped over her chair. “Whew! I see you found Annabel!” he shouted, addressing the man from the lobby. “Lucky thing, in this crowd.” Then he turned and made his way back.

“Nice fellow. Friend of yours?”

“Not really. He was at my table.”

“You alone?”

“Yes.” It had just slipped out. She hadn’t told the young man with dreadlocks that she was by herself. Why had she told this man?

“Here, let me take that.” He slung her jacket over his shoulder and reached for her hand. Then he shouldered his way through the crowd, with her in his wake.

At the side of the club, near the mirrored wall, he smiled at her. “Well, you’re not alone now, Annabel. I’m Jack.” He held out his hand. “Jack Gamble.” He had a wonderful smile. Even white teeth. Dark eyes. A healthy tan.

“How do you do?” she murmured, taken aback. She shook his hand quickly. “I’m, er, not Annabel.” She didn’t think he’d heard her. Oh, well. What did it matter? It was Halloween; she could be whoever she wanted.

“Would you like a drink?” he asked, raising a hand to catch the attention of the waiter.

“No.” She took a deep breath. “Thank you, anyway. I’m not going to stay.”

“Why not?” He looked concerned. “You could keep me company. I’m here alone, too.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be just fine,” she returned dryly. She couldn’t help smiling at him. What a line!

“I…I’ve got to get back to my sister’s place. She’s sick.”

“Is she the one who’s, er, being fed chicken soup by a gentleman friend?” he asked, still smiling. “She sounds fairly well taken care of.”

He’d heard! She felt her face go a furious red. “You heard me talking to her!”

He nodded, not abashed in the slightest.

“She was supposed to meet me here. She talked me into coming. I, uh…well, I’m sure you’re not interested in the whole stupid story.”

“I am, actually.” He held up her jacket. “I’ll check this at the lobby desk for you. Just take a sec. Then let’s dance.”

“S-sure,” Hannah agreed, slipping her purse strap over her shoulder. The music didn’t seem too bad anymore. Besides, wasn’t that why she was here— to have fun? To meet people? The best-looking guy in the place had just asked her to dance. Could you believe the luck? And no Emily to witness it!

NOW WHY HADN’T HE suggested they share a bottle of wine up in his room? Or at least invited her to accompany him to the piano bar on the tenth floor? It would be a lot quieter there. They could talk. Then, if it looked promising, they could go to his room….

But something didn’t seem right to Jack. This woman wasn’t as smooth or sophisticated as she appeared. Maybe she didn’t get out much. She was ready to leave the club less than an hour after she’d arrived. She was alone. If he hadn’t come across her, she’d probably be on the bus already, heading for her sister’s place. In long leather boots and a tank top.

“Ready?” He reached for her hand again. She had a gorgeous smile. She’d actually looked relieved to see him when he’d met her in the club a few minutes ago, and that didn’t feel too bad, either.

They danced all evening. They ducked out to the hotel bar for a quick glass of wine and a breather. That was when he found out her name was Hannah, not Annabel. She didn’t explain the mix-up, nor did she seem inclined to talk much about herself. Then, instead of ending up in his room, as he’d hoped, they went back to the club and danced some more.

Just after eleven-thirty, Jack saw her checking her watch. “Turning into a pumpkin?”

She laughed, the delightful laugh that made bubbles fizz in his bloodstream. Like fireworks. Or good champagne. “It was the carriage that turned into a pumpkin, remember? Cinderella’s supposed to lose her pretty ball gown and end up back in rags.” She glanced down at her skimpy skirt, the slinky tank top that just brushed the swell of her breasts—Jack knew; he’d already taken a quick peek—and the long sexy boots. “This is hardly a ball gown.”

“Nice substitute,” he murmured, bending to brush her knuckles with his lips. “I prefer it, frankly.”

They’d been like this all evening. Back and forth. Lighthearted. Having a good time. She seemed comfortable with him, as though she truly had no idea what he’d originally had in store for her. For her and him both, he decided firmly. Mutual pleasure. He was no predator. He was only willing if the lady was willing.

They’d danced a few close dances, and he liked the feel of her in his arms. Perfect. He’d been tempted to kiss her. Wanted to, badly. Something held him back. Honor? He must be getting foolish in his old age.

No, it had to do with intentions. He had no honorable intentions with regard to her—she was just a lucky pickup, or so he’d thought at the beginning of the evening. A good-time girl.

But it hadn’t turned out like that, either. Beneath all that sexiness and sass and apparent sophistication was a sensitive vulnerable woman. Jack sensed that, and he realized, too, that he didn’t want to be the one to hurt her. He got the feeling she could definitely be hurt.

But not by him. He no longer had time for these kinds of games. Life had become serious for him the moment he’d heard his uncle was so sick. “Ready to go? I can drive you.”

She blushed again. She did that delightfully. “I can get a cab.”

“No way. I’ll drive you. Where does your sister live?”

Hannah told him, then allowed him to help her on with her jacket at the desk. He had the hotel valet bring his car around, his old Mustang, the car he kept at a buddy’s place in Calgary whenever he was out in the field. He’d already put an ad in the paper to sell it. A sporty muscle car was not suitable transport for a farmer, and it hadn’t been much use for a prospector, either. He’d barely put ten thousand kilometers on it during the two years he’d owned it.

He handed her in on the passenger side and shut the door firmly. He gave the attendant a ten-dollar bill in return for his keys.

“Have a nice evening, sir,” the valet said, with a grin and a wink.

Jack nodded and got into the driver’s side. He checked the rearview mirror and the side mirrors and shifted into gear. The Mustang moved away from the curb like a tightly leashed panther. It was a beautiful machine. Harvesters were beautiful machines, too, he reminded himself. Harvesters, tractors, grain trucks.

“Snazzy car,” she said, with a smile and one eyebrow raised. The low bucket seat brought her minuscule skirt even higher on her silk-clad thighs. Her knees were pressed together and turned demurely toward the door. With an effort, Jack wrenched his eyes back to the road.


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