Jared wasn’t sure who he should warn-Melissa that Anthony was a player, or Anthony that Melissa’s only life skill appeared to be flirting.
“I assume you moved my horse?” he said, instead, causing her to turn her head. Once again she looked both guilty and surprised to see him. And once again he was stabbed in the solar plexus with a shot of unwelcome attraction.
He determinedly shook it off.
“Melissa and I were discussing the treasures of Italy,” Anthony offered conversationally, but the set of his shoulders and the tightness around his mouth told Jared that he didn’t welcome the interruption. Too bad.
“You’re supposed to be thinking about Sierra Benito,” Jared reminded him, moving through the beam of the porch light, transmitting his clear intention to join the conversation.
“Business can wait,” said Anthony.
Jared made a show of glancing at his watch. “It’s been a long meeting already.”
“Give me five minutes. I will be right in.”
But Jared had absolutely no intention of leaving.
Melissa glanced back and forth between the two men. Her expression hadn’t changed, but the interest in her eyes was obvious.
“Since Melissa’s here-” Jared angled his body toward her “-maybe she has something to contribute. What do you think? Is Sierra Benito too dangerous for a humanitarian project?”
Anthony jumped in. “I am sure Melissa doesn’t want to discuss-”
“Do you mean right in Suri City?” she asked. “Or up in the mountains?”
Her answer surprised him. Most people had never heard of Sierra Benito, never mind its capital city.
“A little village called Tappee,” he told her.
Her head shook almost imperceptibly, but the small motion emphasized the bounce to her silky blond hair. “Horrible conditions up there. The villagers live in abject poverty.”
Anthony chuckled and swung an arm around her shoulders. “I welcome you to the debate, Senorita Melissa.”
Jared steeled himself against the urge to rip her out of Anthony’s arms. It was a ridiculous reaction. The half hug was a friendly gesture, nothing more.
“Do you have any idea what the gold miners do to the villagers?” Melissa asked. She didn’t react to Anthony’s hug-didn’t lean in, didn’t shrug him off, either.
“Do you have any idea what the rebels do to the gold miners?” Jared asked around the clamor of emotion inside his head.
What the hell was the matter with him?
What did he care if Anthony hugged Melissa?
She shook her head in disgust. “I can’t believe you’re going to exploit them.”
Jared jerked back at the accusation. “Exploit who?”
“I’m not going to exploit the villagers.” Jared’s gaze caught on Anthony’s hand and held.
Melissa was wearing a white cotton shirt. It was thin fabric, hardly a barrier between Anthony’s fingertips and her shoulder. Why didn’t she shrug him off?
She scoffed. “Right. You’ll subcontract the exploitation to Madre Gold to Tomesko Mining.”
“That’s a leap in logic,” he pointed out.
“There’s no other reason to go to Tappee.”
“We are building a medical clinic,” Anthony put in. “Not necessarily,” Jared countered with a warning glare.
Melissa glanced from one to the other with surprise and more than a little curiosity.
“How do you know anything about Tappee?” he couldn’t help but probe, watching her closely for signs of…he wasn’t even sure what.
“I read the Chicago Daily,” she answered with a blink, and her green eyes went back to neutral. “There was a story last year about a mining engineer who was kidnapped by rebels.”
“The company paid a million dollars.” Jared took the story to its conclusion. “And they killed the guy, anyway.”
“That was more than a year ago,” said Anthony. “And we are not going there to mine.”
“You think they care?” asked Jared. “Do you honestly believe they won’t take any Westerner hostage?”
“I believe they do care,” said Melissa.
“Yeah?” Jared challenged. “Is that conclusion based on your vast travel experience with the American national bus system?”
“Do not be rude,” Anthony cut in, anger clear in his tone.
Well, Jared was angry, too. He’d had about enough of the argument, and he’d had about enough of watching Anthony maul Melissa. He grabbed his Stetson hat from a peg on the wall and crammed it on his head.
“I’m going to walk Melissa back to her cottage,” he announced, linking her arm and moving her firmly out of Anthony’s grasp.