“That’s evil,” Ryan said. “I like it.”
She saw Jazz off at the door, then straightened her shoulders. Ryan was in his office. She might as well tell him about the note now. If she left it too long it became a big deal, and she didn’t want that.
His phone rang before she could reach his office, so she veered away and entered her own. She tried to speak to him several more times throughout the morning, but between the group home, the ranch, and some new rodeo venture, he was constantly either on the phone or in motion.
At three o’clock his office fell silent, but his door remained closed. She could see him through the glass wall panel, but he was engrossed in his work and didn’t notice her. She was about to knock anyway when a newcomer entered the central lounge.
He dropped a bag on one of the leather sofas and sat down beside it, and checked his watch as if waiting for an appointment. He looked vaguely familiar, although she couldn’t place him until he turned to her and she saw both sides of his face. His left cheek was a mass of scar tissue that puckered the skin and drew the corner of his mouth slightly off-center.
She didn’t follow professional bull riding, but Miles Decker’s story had been all over national news for days as people waited for word on his recovery. A former professional bull rider, he’d been working as the PBR spokesman until a tragic accident during a photo shoot had resulted in his being gored by a bull. Its horn had hooked on Miles’s left shoulder, then gouged his left cheek from his chin to his temple. The scar, while disfiguring, wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. He’d been lucky he wasn’t blinded or killed.
And the scar wasn’t what had her staring. He owned the self-assurance of a man who didn’t give a damn how he looked on the surface because he knew he was still hotter than most men alive. He left her a little weak in the knees, too. It was hard not to admire the depth and breadth of his self-confidence.
He took off his hat and settled it on his knee. “Miles Decker,” he said, introducing himself with an accompanying bob of his chin while keeping his eyes locked steady on hers. Montana men had a unique blend of politeness, modesty, and seduction in their manners that proved fairly potent. Their mothers had raised these men right. “I’m here to see Ryan O’Connell. I have an appointment for three.”
It was on the tip of Elizabeth’s tongue to explain she wasn’t Ryan’s administrative assistant, then asked herself what difference it could possibly make when she was standing right outside his office. “I’ll let him know.”
She knocked on his door and poked her head in.
He’d unbuttoned his collar and rolled up his sleeves. He wore a smudge of grease on one corded forearm. He’d been in and out of the office all day and the machine shed must have been one of his stops. Her breath raked against her ribs. She’d never met two men less alike, and yet, they elicited the exact same response from a woman. Miles Decker knew he was hot. Ryan, on the other hand, hadn’t a clue that the whole dark, mysterious, and brooding image worked equally well in his favor. Some women went nuts over that look.
She did too. A little. Her poor father would flip.
“Your three o’clock appointment is here, Mr. O’Connell,” she said brightly.
Confusion colored Ryan’s expression. “What the…” he began, hopefully mystified by being calledmisterand not from reading the direction her thoughts had taken. Then his gaze drifted past her shoulder, he saw he had a visitor, and the lightbulb blinked on. Amusement flirted with the grim angles of his mouth. “Thank you, Elizabeth, that will be all. Hold my calls for the next hour. Oh, and would you mind bringing us coffee?”
“Not at all.” She’d squeeze it in between her conference call with the local high school guidance counselor and prepping for upcoming counseling sessions.
A few minutes later, she stood in front of the burbling coffeepot, wondering how far she should push this. How good was Heathcliff’s sense of humor?
She loaded a tray with two heavy white porcelain mugs of coffee, a tiny pitcher of cream, and a matching bowl of sugar. She carried the tray to Ryan’s office and carefully placed it on his desk. She lifted one of the mugs and passed it to him without comment, but met his eyes with a silent challenge in hers.Go ahead and drink it. I dare you.
Ryan considered the mug with suspicion for a long moment. He set it down. “Miles, I’d like you to meet Elizabeth Benson. She’s the case manager for the Endeavour’s group home and in charge of its programming. Elizabeth, Miles will be running the Endeavour’s new circuit rodeo.”
Miles offered her his hand along with a slow, sensual smile that drew a woman’s eyes from his ruined cheek to a pair of very promising lips. He was, as her grandmother liked to say, completely and utterlysex on a stick. “Pleased to meet you, Elizabeth.”
Ryan donned his dour, Heathcliff persona. The dark look he telegraphed her read,“Don’t you have your own work to do?”
She took the hint. This was a business, after all. “Enjoy your coffee, gentlemen,” she said, injecting extra cheerfulness into her tone. She let her gaze drift Miles’s way. Heathcliff should take a few lessons on the right way to attract a woman’s attention. Miles was a natural flirt and there was no harm in flirting back.
“I’ll be right next door if you need me for anything.” She remembered why she’d been trying to corner Ryan all day. She fished the note from her pocket and passed it to him. “When you get a few moments, I’d like to speak to you about this.”
She returned to her office and closed the door so she could take that conference call with the school in private, smugly satisfied with herself. She wondered how long it would take Ryan to discover she hadn’t done a thing to his coffee.
Ryan tucked thepiece of paper under his day planner to deal with later. Right now, he was more preoccupied with the hiring mistakes he’d been making of late. First Elizabeth, who Miles hadn’t taken his eyes off, and now Miles—because Elizabeth had responded to him in kind. She’d acted as if she’d never seen a cowboy, before.
Was she going to create a problem for him with every male on the ranch?
“That’s who is in charge of a group of delinquent teenaged boys?” Miles asked. The twist of his mouth and the doubt in his tone conveyed the same opinion Ryan held on the matter—only an idiot would ever think that will go well.
“Looks can be deceiving,” he said, because while no, he didn’t believe it would work either, he also discovered he didn’t like having anyone think Elizabeth wasn’t competent. “Elizabeth is a licensed professional with a master’s degree in social work and a great deal of practical experience. She can take care of herself.” The cooling mug of coffee caught his eye.Exhibit A.No way was he touching that.