Melissa appeared from behind Stephanie, and the jolt took his breath away. Where Stephanie was feminine, Melissa was sultry. She wore a shimmering thin silk sheath of a dress that clung to her figure like a second skin. Spaghetti straps adorned her smooth shoulders, while the gold and peach shimmered under the warm light. Her hair was upswept, her face flawless, and her long, tanned legs and spiked heels were going to invade his dreams for at least the next year. He swallowed.
“Is Royce here yet?” asked Stephanie.
When Jared finally dragged his gaze from Melissa, he saw the twinkle in Stephanie’s eyes. He had to hand it to his sister, she knew how to matchmake. Nothing would happen between him and Melissa, but it sure wouldn’t be from a lack of desire. Given his own way, he’d drag her off to his bed right now.
“Sunset Hill flooded out,” he answered. He’d talked to Royce a few minutes ago, and his brother had decided to wait the storm out at the main house with McQuestin.
Fine with Jared.
He didn’t particularly want Royce laying eyes on Melissa, anyway.
Stephanie’s lips pursed in a pout. “Why doesn’t he ride up?”
“Probably because he’d be soaked to the ass in the first half mile.” Jared gave a quick glance at Melissa to see if his coarse language had offended her.
Her little grin was the last thing he saw before the room went black.
Forks of lightning streaked through the thick sky, while thunder cracked and raindrops smashed against the roof and the wooden deck outside.
“Uh-oh,” came Stephanie’s disembodied voice.
“What happened?” asked Melissa.
“Could have been anything,” Jared answered as he made his way toward the mantelpiece. He found a box of matches by feel, struck one and lit a couple of candles. Power outages were common in ranch country, doubly so during storms.
Stephanie crossed to the front window. “I don’t see the cookhouse,” she said.
“Give it a minute,” Jared suggested, flipping open his cell phone. He punched in Royce’s number.
Melissa joined Stephanie at the window, and Jared let himself enjoy the view of her back.
“Why would you see the cookhouse?” asked Melissa.
“They have an emergency generator,” said Stephanie.
“Hey, bro,” came Royce’s voice on the phone.
“Lights out down there?” asked Jared. “Just now.”
“Us, too. Any problems?”
“The boys aren’t back from the canyon yet,” said Royce. “McQuestin worried?”
“Won’t be for a couple more hours.”
“Keep me posted?”
Melissa turned, and Jared quickly averted his lecherous gaze.
“Sure,” said Royce.
Flickering lights came on in the distance.
“Cookhouse is up,” said Jared, and Melissa turned back to the window.
“We’re striking up the gas barbecue,” said Royce.
“Don’t let McQuestin talk you into poker.”
Royce laughed as he signed off.
Stephanie had moved into the dining room. She was on her own cell phone, checking to make sure the employees were all accounted for.
Jared tucked his phone in his pocket.
“What now?” asked Melissa.
He checked to make sure Stephanie was out of earshot as he moved toward Melissa and the window. He kept his voice low. “Now I tell you you’re gorgeous.”
“My sister’s not stupid.”
“Your sister is Machiavellian.”
He moved his hand forward and brushed Melissa’s fingertips. “Seems a shame to let her down.”
“Seems a shame to lead her on.”
“Hey, she’s the one playing us, remember?”
“Mrs. Belmont left lasagna in the oven,” came Stephanie’s voice.
Jared reflexively backed off.
“Salad’s in the fridge,” Stephanie finished.
“I guess we’re dining by candlelight,” said Melissa.
“Romantic,” Stephanie put in, scooping one of the lighted candles and heading for the dining room. Melissa followed.
Jared allowed himself a lingering glance at Melissa as she walked away. “Better than poker with McQuestin,” he said out loud.
They settled at one end of the big table, Jared at the head, flanked by the two women. Lasagna, salad, rolls and a bottle of merlot were spread out in front of them. He’d lit a candelabra for the middle of the table, and kerosene lamps flickered against the rain-streaked windows.
Melissa’s soft blond hair shimmered in the yellow light. Her lips were dark. Her eyes sparkled. And the silk shifted softly against her body as she moved her hands.
“Do you have political aspirations?” she asked him.