How could this man affect her so powerfully, almost magically? How could he affect her at all when he'd never spoken a word to her? His face was beauty personified, yes, but that wasn't enough to entrance her like this, to leave her weak and shaky every time she glanced at him.
There had to be something more to him, something elemental. Something beyond physical beauty that lured her every feminine desire. At the moment, though, she could not think past his physique, and slowly, so slowly her gaze moved over him. He was granite-hard, his abdomen ridged with sinew, his shoulders wide and firm. All of this gave his tall, sculpted frame a dangerous aura—dangerous and utterly sensual. He belonged in the woods with raw, naked branches surrounding him. Yet he stood out side among a brilliant crimson and yellow drapery of azaleas, somehow the absolute essence of masculinity.
"Mmm," she sighed, her eyelids fluttering closed. Her hand dropped to her side. "If only you were real.…"
But he wasn't. He was formed entirely of smooth, gray stone—a beautiful statue, nothing more. This was one of the ironies of fate, she supposed, that the first man to ever truly captivate her belonged in a mu seum and not in her bed.
Why was she surprised by her infatuation with a beautiful, silent, unreal man, anyway? Having grown up with five older brothers, she knew just how annoying real men could be. They burped and scratched in public, cracked derogatory jokes, and somehow man aged to charm the pants off women before losing in terest and moving on to other conquests.
Her stone warrior could not offend her. He couldn't choose someone else if he thought her unattractive or too tall, because he was permanently mounted to the colored marble base that stood in her garden gallery. A marble base she now stood upon.
Another sigh slipped past Katie's lips, and she fought a deep, primitive urge to touch him again, to hold him, to discover some sort of comfort or acceptance she'd never gained with the procession of men she dated.
This is wrong. I should walk away.
But she didn't.
The cool Dallas breeze ruffled the tight constraints of her ponytail but did little to cool her ardor, and with each passing second the stone warrior's stare unraveled the very fabric of her reservations. Finally, Katie gave in to her craving. She dragged her fingers across his jawbone, loving the slightly bearded tex ture that reminded her of a man just before his morn ing shave. She traced the curved outline of his ears and imagined what he would feel like had he been the flesh and blood man she so desired.
Fiery heat rippled across her nerve endings.
Of their own accord, her fingertips wandered lower, caressing his neck. His shoulders. His chest. She even circled his small, puckered nipples. A soft moan of pleasure wafted to her ears, the timbre low, raspy and masculine.
Katie jerked back in surprise. After a moment she relaxed, even experienced a twinge of disappoint ment when she realized her imagination was simply running wild. Again. Hadn't she sometimes felt his breath upon her face when she drew close? Hearing him moan was no more fantastical than that.
Gravel crunched as a car meandered along her driveway.
Katie jerked around and watched wide-eyed as a black sedan halted just in front of her dilapidated, Victorian-style mansion. Tendrils of mortification raced up her spine, heating her cheeks. She'd been so lost in her scrutiny of the stone warrior, she'd forgotten about prying eyes and midday sunlight.
Just what had this intruder seen?
She scrambled from the dais. The moment her feet hit the soft grass, she counted to ten, using the time to calm her racing heart. She should have re sisted the statue's allure; instead she'd acted like a teenage girl kissing her favorite rock star's poster. Well, no more, she thought, determination stiffening her spine. There will be no more touching the statue. In fact, there will be no more looking at him, and ab solutely, positively no more thinking about him.
She watched a handsome, familiar male emerge from the sedan. Never one to back down from con flict, she maneuvered around the bushes and flower beds of her "pleasure garden"—so dubbed by the previous owner because the entire enclosure was lit tered with naked sculptures similar to the warrior she wasn't going to think about ever again—and marched to the driveway.
"Damn it, Gray. What are you doing here?"
Her visitor grinned, not the least put out by her brusque tone. Above them, the sun breathed peacefully, its powerful rays illuminating his tall frame and wide shoulders with an orange gold halo. "You owe me a quarter for cussing, little sister."
Frowning, Katie dug into her pocket, snatched out a quarter and tossed it to him. "I only cursed be cause you surprised the shi—" Thankfully, she stopped herself in time. "You startled me, okay. For God's sake, call before coming over."
"I called. You didn't answer. You were supposed to be home."
"So you started to worry," she said. For some reason, all of her brothers still thought of her as a deli cate flower in need of twenty-four-hour, seven-days-a-week protection. So what that she was now six feet tall and in top physical condition. So what that she'd attended numerous self-defense classes.
Gray shrugged, sheepish. "Yeah. I started to worry."
"Did you consider I might have just stepped out?" She flashed him an exasperated but loving grin. "Don't answer that. Just tell me what you need."
"I wanted to see your newest acquisition. From out here it looks like a dump, by the way," he added good-naturedly, motioning to the house with his chin. "Why aren't you painting or laying tile or doing something to fix the place up? That's your job, isn't it?"
At that moment, Katie's tense muscles relaxed. Gray hadn't seen her with the stone warrior. Otherwise he would have been cracking jokes at her ex pense instead of inquiring about her activities. "I worked on the upstairs bathroom all morning and needed some fresh air."
He gave the mansion another once-over. "Fresh air? I don't think so. My guess? You feared the walls were about to cave in and got out while you could."
"Honey, I sure hope you knew what you were doing when you signed the deed."
"I've been buying, fixing and selling houses for four years. Give me some credit." She might have chosen an unusual career for a woman, but she loved what she did. Even better, she had an instinct for real estate, knew when and what to buy, knew when to sell, and she almost always made a profit.
A dedicated skeptic, Gray remained unconvinced. "Please tell me you negotiated a good deal. I seri ously doubt anyone will ever snap this baby up."
"I'm willing to bet I sell this house for more money than you make in an entire year."
"I'll take that bet." Grinning, he stroked his fingers over his jawline. "To even the odds, you only have to make five thousand dollars over the purchase price and restoration costs."
Katie didn't hesitate. "Deal."
"If you win, I'll wear a dress to the next family luncheon. If I win, you have to have dinner with Steven Harris. He's a new detective in my unit," Gray rushed on before she could protest. "Everyone likes him."
She groaned. Her brother meant well, he truly did, but she wasn't going out with any more of his friends. The...
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