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Crystal Green

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A CHANGE OF FORTUNEA CHANGE OF FORTUNE

Harlequin Special Edition #2263
June 2013
ISBN: 978-0373657452

HOOKED…BY MISS INDEPENDENT?

One glance at fiercely single Laurel Redmond, and Sawyer Fortune was a goner. It wasn’t her blond hair or her blue eyes—super-rich, super-flirtatious Sawyer could have his pick of beauties in Red Rock. No, what made Laurel stand out was her unspoken message that she just wasn’t that into him.

All Laurel really wanted was for the cocky, well-heeled rancher to leave her alone. She’d lived enough heartache to know that Sawyer was trouble she just couldn’t afford. Yet the trademark Fortune charm was slowly reeling her in. All right, she thought, what would be the harm of just one…little…affair? No harm at all—until Mr. I Don’t suddenly decided he wanted a bride!

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Excerpt from A CHANGE OF FORTUNE

Laurel could feel yet another guy sidling up to her, eyeing her.

This again.

She didn’t look at him as she said, “Not to be rude, but I’m just here for the soda pop, understand?”

The brush-off was milder than most, but just as to-the-point as always.  Thank God the guy split.  Good thing, too, because she wasn’t into preppy stuff like red-and-black checkered shirts and Dockers—two elements of his wardrobe she’d seen from her peripheral vision.

Honestly, she wasn’t into cowboy hats or disco duds or... Heck, just about everything she’d seen in this club tonight. 

She’d just had a long day at work, flying a businessman connected with one of the Fortune companies to Houston, then Dallas, then back here.  But that’s what she did for a living now—charter flights, flying lessons—and she usually loved it.

Except when the client made what he thought were funny, subtle innuendos the entire day about landing the plane and stopping at a hotel with him.

She’d held her tongue, but when she’d come back to the airport to the Redmond’s Flight School office, she’d told Tanner to strike this client from their customer list.  No jerks allowed.

She was still the new girl at work, but she had no problem speaking up.

As she tasted her grape soda—light, sugary, calming stuff—she mellowed.  She’d only come out here tonight to see what the fuss was about, not to see how many guys could approach her and flame out.  And maybe, just maybe, she’d wanted to get out of her apartment since it was the beginning of summer, and she’d always loved American summers in the south with their long days and lazy sounds.  And when you compared the heat to some of the places she’d been the past years, where the desert fried you through to the bone, summers here were to be treasured.

She looked up and watched the TV, which was playing a soccer match, totally drowned out by the start of a Tim McGraw song.

And that’s when she felt another guy coming in for a flyby.

Maybe her back wouldn’t have stiffened if she hadn’t spent her entire life fighting off the advances of men who thought she was just nice to look at and that’s it.  Maybe it had something to do with a dad who’d taught her early and well that guys didn’t stay.  Or maybe she was remembering how that lesson had been emphasized during the one and only time she’d fallen in love, only to be robbed of her heart as well as her bank account.

Her tongue itched to say something preemptive to this pick-up artist, too, but as she felt him coming close to her, she smelled leather—an expensive kind of scent—and she wasn’t sure if it was from a fancy saddle or an office chair.

Something about the smell of him got her curious, and she slyly glanced over.

As an unidentified feeling violently jumped in her chest, she almost looked away before he could read the sudden attraction on her face.

Almost.  Because, damn, he had the bluest eyes.  And thick dark-sand brown hair.  Tall.  Solid with muscle, dressed in his jeans and an untucked white Western shirt with faint embroidery.

The capper was a smile that melted the iceberg in her—just the tip, but there was a heat that she couldn’t deny, tossing and turning in her. It was a sexy smile that told her this one was too confident to be chased off.

“You look bored,” he said in a voice that reminded her of thick, rich cream.  “You should be out there dancing.”

She was a creature of habit, and no matter how hot he was, her defenses were already up.  “I don’t dance.”

He didn’t seem taken aback.  It was actually the opposite—the guy was amused.

“We’re in a dance club,” he said over the music.  “I don’t think it’s out of line to ask you to dance, especially when you’ve been tapping your boot since this song started.”

She hadn’t realized it, but he was right, and she stopped tapping, pronto.

But she felt like starting up again, out of a jumpy sort of adrenaline rush this time, because those baby blues were locking with her gaze so...

Um, hotly?

She blinked, then made sure she was still in the leave-me-to-my-soda posture she’d adapted since sitting down.

“Dancing’s really not my thing,” she said, hoping that would do it.

He laughed, low and nice.  Nice for flipping her traitor belly upside down, that is.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” he asked.

She allowed herself to take a long look at him—even longer than she had before—and then shook her head.  “Afraid I don’t.”

“We’re almost family.”

She kept shaking her head.

“Then here’s a hint,” he said.  “Your brother’s wedding last year...?”

“Nope.”  She hadn’t exactly been in a social mood at the wedding—imagine that—and she’d kept to herself most of the time.  Even years after her breakup she’d still been smarting, especially at an event that was so full of hearts and flowers, which she didn’t believe in anymore.  She’d been overjoyed for Tanner, but being totally dumped and worked over by Mr. Crappy Boyfriend had soured her on love for the rest of her life, and she’d just wanted to curl into a ball in her room, not facing anyone, because she’d wanted to tell Tanner that even if he was happy now, it wouldn’t work out.  Didn’t he remember what’d happened to Mom when their father had left?

No one needed That Girl at a wedding, so she’d gone early.  But she’d been wrong about Tanner’s marriage—he and Jordana were as happy as could be, with a baby who was as sweet as apple pie. 

She smiled to herself, thinking of little Jack, and the hot man in front of her picked up on her improved disposition.

“You may not remember me,” he said, “but I remember spotting you at the wedding.”

“Sorry about that.”  She drank from her soda.

Was he going to go away?  Finally leave her in peace?

Fat chance.  He’d set his beer on the bar, as if he’d claimed the area next to her.

And why did part of her not mind?

She snuck another glance at him, and her heart tumbled.  Yeah, her heart, doing gymnastics like it was a young girl on a balance beam, not quite falling off, but not quite stable, either.

But it felt...refreshing.  She hadn’t experienced a reaction like this in such a long time.  What if...?

Oh, no.  No what-ifs.  They’d gotten her into trouble with Steve Lucas, when she’d given him all her trust, all her emotions.

And access to her bank account.

The fast song that’d been playing melded into a slow one.  Vintage Willie Nelson.  Romantic, lazy—just like the summer days she’d always loved.

Hot Wedding Guy must’ve seen her loosen up, even just for a moment, because he bent a bit closer, warming her ear with his words.
“Last chance to dance.”

Who was he, and what was he doing to her?

She sent a lowered look his way.  “You’re going to be on me all night about this, aren’t you?”

“Probably.  But if you want me to bug off, all you have to do is say so.”

She thought of a hundred excuses to chase him away: she had a boyfriend.  (Hah!)  She had to get home to wash her hair.  (Clean as a whistle.)

But...those blue eyes.  That smile.

My God.

“See?” he said, all lethal charm.  “You do want to dance.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you would’ve already zapped me, just like you’ve been doing to every other guy who dared to break your force field.”

“How--?”

“I couldn’t help seeing you in action.”  He jerked his chin toward a spot down the bar, where he’d probably been sitting. 

He did it in such an assured, masculine way that another spike of attraction bolted through her, making her shift in her seat.

She melted a little more.  Dammit.  But she didn’t look where he’d gestured. 

“Why were you at that wedding?” she asked instead.

“Jordana’s my cousin.”

He was a Fortune?  And he seemed very pleased that she hadn’t noticed that fact right away.

How often did he go undetected by someone when the family was always in the papers?  Had he been enjoying that she hadn’t known him from Adam just now?

The slow song was in full play now, couples two-stepping around the dance floor. 

Still, he stood there, smiling that smile, breaking her down second by second.

Okay.  Would one dance do any harm?  After all, it was fun to be flirting.  She’d almost forgotten how liberating it was.  Just because she was doing it didn’t mean they’d have to get engaged or anything.

“All right,” she said.  “One song.”

He angled his head in acknowledgement.  Teasingly?  Whatever it was, she couldn’t help but bite back her own smile.

Flirting.  Just a little.  Just for a short time, then she’d go home.

She left her soda at the bar, and Blue Eyes did the same with his beer.  The bartender nodded at them, silently promising he’d save her place.

Then, on the floor, the guy took her in his arms, and it felt...

Good God, it felt better than she’d remembered. 

Being held, feeling a man’s strong arms around you, allowing him to guide you.

Hormones skittered through her, and she gave way to them.  Why not?  What was the harm for five damn minutes?

“Which cousin did you say you were?” she asked as they began to circle the floor.

“Jordana’s.”

“Stop teasing.  I’m asking your name.”

He seemed to recognize that she’d given up a smidge of ground, and he grinned at her, twirling her stomach once again. 

She held back another smile.  Oh, but he was cute.

“I’m Sawyer,” he said.

 

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