Ten months earlier -
The Thompson millhouse had been on the market for several years and sat on thirty-eight acres of uncultivated land. It would be perfect for a rancher. Sophie decided it could remain uncultivated. She had never touched a real live horse or cow or goat in her entire life and didn't plan to add that to her "to-do" list any time soon. Dogs and cats were another matter. She had always sheltered strays. She agreed to buy the house, sight unseen, for back taxes, a new roof, and fresh paint, inside and out.
The millhouse had been converted to a residence fifty or sixty years earlier - she didn't know which and didn't care. It had long since been modernized and was perfect for her needs. The downstairs had a wonderfully large living area, four bedrooms and two baths. The kitchen walls were stone with a fireplace, the walk-in pantry bigger than the condo she sold in Miami before she moved. But the second floor... it was one huge room with floor to ceiling windows on two sides and hardwood floors. She thought she'd have an orgasm when she saw it. It would be a perfect studio.
The Lord definitely loves me, she thought, already contemplating combining two of the bedrooms into a gallery for her art, and pictured some of her pieces above each of the five fireplaces in the house.
The utilities had been turned on before she arrived, mail already in her box, and she shopped at the local grocery store, stocking the refrigerator and pantry while movers unloaded her belongings. Except for that one stop, no one laid eyes on her again for several weeks.
Like many artists, Sophie was comfortable living in organized chaos. The house had to be orderly for her to live in the chaotic atmosphere of her studio, where she was energized, inspired, and in another world. When she left her studio at the end of the day, she needed the neat and precise order of her home to relax, ease her mind, and pretend to fit into everyone else's world.
She was good at what she did and she knew it. But it was time to grow or stagnate. Sophie was considered an acceptable eccentric in the large and real world; in the small but worldwide community of fiber and textile artists, she was an eclectic, a dream weaver, and respected for her work.
She examined the wall of fibers she had created. There was a multitude of threads, yarns, strings, hemp, metallic bits and pieces, barks, birches and bamboo, and other embellishments that made her art unique. Much to her satisfaction, a giant, scruffy, yellow tabby had already moved in and made itself comfortable on the rug in front of the fire. She was ready to begin. But first, she needed more groceries.
Friday night was a busy shopping night at the local Mom and Pop general store and everyone knew everybody else. The attractive, slim brunette with the startling eyes drew everyone's attention, many of the women introducing themselves, welcoming her to town. Sophie was polite and a little shy, then relaxed at the warm welcome she was receiving. She made small talk, saying little about herself, and they politely respected her privacy - for now. Time enough later to get better acquainted.
She planned to make a celebratory dinner to toast her new home and her new studio, and selected veal medallions for the treat. She'd cook enough to freeze and accompany them with roasted peppers and braised onions, ziti in green sauce and maybe, make Sangria with the fresh fruit that she spotted in the produce section of the small store. She was out of Zinfandel, asked for it, and was directed to a barrel in the center aisle. She reached into it - naturally, it was near the bottom and she bent over the barrel's rim.
He spotted her as she bent over the wine barrel; pretty denim covered butt stretching her jeans taut, long legs that went on forever spread slightly apart. His brows arched as he felt his cock twitch in her direction.
Sweet ass, he thought, his palms itching to touch it.
When she stood, her face was slightly flushed and her hands moved to adjust her shirt to cover the spandex halter she wore under it. But his discerning eye had already caught a glimpse of well-endowed breasts and a tiny waist. Surreptitiously, he played pocket pool, adjusting his attentive cock. When he finally looked at her face, he inhaled sharply, wondering if she was real.
Purple eyes? Oh yeah, got to get an introduction.
She spotted him immediately - a tall muscular hunk of self-confident testosterone headed her way. His voice was deep and husky, a bit of a Southern drawl and it seeped through her like sugar molasses - sweet and raw - when he introduced himself. Sophie bit her lip as she felt the first hint of moisture between her thighs. She hadn't been this wet since... she couldn't remember when.
"Need a little help?" he asked, his killer megawatt smile set on high.
"Yes," she smiled back, not a novice at turning on the charm. "I'm trying to reach that bottle of white Zinfandel." She pointed at the barrel.
"Be glad to hold you while you bend over to reach it, ma'am," he grinned.
Sophie took a step back and pursed her lips at his audacity. "Would appreciate it if you'd put your long arm into the barrel and just hand it to me," she said politely, trying not to hiss.
"Are you sure?" he teased, hoping to get a smile out of her.
"Very," she answered and arched a brow.
"If you insist," he said, handing the bottle to her, his fingers accidentally brushing the back of her hand.
The electricity sparked, positive and negative ions charging the air around them. They both stopped in mid-breath and stared, Jess Lawrence, self-confident and successful businessman stymied by a female's touch for the first time in his life - Sophia Katerina Arnow responding to a man she didn't know and had been ready to dismiss as just another male fly waiting to be unzipped.
"Jess Lawrence," he murmured, extending a hand, hearing his words as he spoke them, the world around them rapidly fading, leaving only the beauty standing there.
"Sophie Arnow," she replied softly, accepting his hand, her eyes on his lips, wondering if they were soft.
Their hands touched again, and lingered... fingers touching... tingling... while they stared at each other. Jess inhaled sharply when he remembered to breathe; Sophie swallowed hard, suddenly frightened by her reaction to his touch. She pulled away.
"Have dinner with me tonight?" he asked, totally out of character to be pursuing a woman since they usually pursued him.
She shook her head no, her automatic response.
"The night after?"
"I'm busy," she said, her voice barely audible.
"For how long?" he persisted.
"For the rest of your life," she answered, walking away on the pretext of shopping for more items.
He followed her.
She ignored him.
"You have to eat some time," he insisted, his voice soft, keeping a slight distance.
She walked faster and turned into another aisle.
He performed a recon maneuver, showing up on the other side, blocking her way.
"I'm harmless," he gave her a gentle smile.
"And I'm Cleopatra," she muttered, trying to get around him.
"You could be," he agreed, admiring her pretty face, his eyes sweeping over her lovely form.
"Please get out of my way," she said quietly.
"I have references," he offered.
That made her laugh.
He smiled, thinking he was making progress.
"I'll carry your groceries to your car."
"Stay away," she said, steel creeping into her voice.
"You wouldn't hurt me, would you?" he teased, towering over her smaller frame.
"Yes, I would," she assured him with a genuine smile.
He stared at her. He was big. She was tiny in comparison. He was a hard muscular rock. She was soft and sweet curves. He was a man no one was foolish enough to cross. She didn't seem to notice that she was in his line of fire.
He was impressed. He followed her to the cash register. "Matt," he begged the owner. "Tell this woman I'm a regular guy."
"Why?" the man grinned, sizing up the situation, eager to tell the guys that Jess Lawrence was chasing a woman who wasn't susceptible to his charms.
"Because you like me," Jess grinned back.
"The hell I do!" Turning to Sophie, he asked her if the big lug was bothering her.
"Yes," she answered, grinning at Jess' discomfort. "Can you do something about that?"
"All you have to do is have dinner with him one night. Trust me, he won't bother you again."
"Matt...!" Jess warned.
She paid for her items and left, Jess hot on her tail, unabashedly following. He automatically took her grocery bag when she fished for her keys and she resisted. He pulled the brown paper bag toward him, determined to be chivalrous in spite of her protests and then watched it rip, the contents crashing to the paved parking lot. The bottle of Zinfandel shattered, spilling wine everywhere.
Sophie looked at her groceries on the ground - wine and broken glass on all the food.
"I apologize," he said contritely, surveying the damage and knew it was entirely his fault. "Let me take you out to dinner and tomorrow, I'll replace all of this."
"Please leave me alone," she said with quiet dignity, moving away from him to the driver's side of her Jeep, her temper barely in check.
"You have to let me replace this... make it up to you," he insisted, genuinely contrite and putting a hand on her arm.
"I don't have to do anything, Mr. Lawrence," she assured him, pulling her arm away and turning the key in the ignition. So much for dinner.
He followed her home, knocked on her door and stuck a booted foot in it before she could shut it in his face. "It's only right that you allow me to apologize and rectify my error," he said firmly, his mouth curved into a gentle smile.
"Is it?" she asked softly, meeting his gaze.
"Yes," he murmured, his body making other offers.
She seemed to take a step back, the lines of her body no longer tensed and he thought she'd invite him in so he could voice his regrets. She gave him a brilliant smile, shoved her fist in his chest pushing him back and slammed the door in his face.
He chuckled. She had bested him at his own game.
The next day, a package was delivered by special courier - a dozen bottles each of white Zinfandel, pink Zinfandel, Chianti and Port. There were enough steaks and veal medallions to fill her freezer for months, fresh produce and freshly baked bread. The accompanying note included apologies about the mishap from the night before and a request to share some of the wine with him. He was willing to grill the meat.
"Please let me know when to drop by." He had written his home and business phone numbers, including his cell.
Sophie considered sending it all back but she knew this had set him back a bundle and kept it. She called one of the business numbers, hoping for a secretary and got lucky.
"Please give my thanks to Mr. Lawrence," she said, giving her name.
"If you'll hold, I'm sure he'd like to speak to you," the secretary replied, already informed to put her through when she called.
"Please don't disturb him," Sophie said politely.
"Your phone number, please," the secretary almost begged, "so he can return your call."
"Not necessary, goodbye," she grinned, hanging up the receiver of the pay phone at the local gas station. For now, her personal number was a mystery. Let him work for it.
He's got a cute ass, her conscience remarked.
Damn fine ass, she agreed.
Tall and good looking, too. Nice muscles, it added.
Hmmm, Sophie nodded. Also an arrogant SOB.
Are we having dinner with him any time soon?
Maybe. We'll see. Got to let him stew for a while.