Early the next morning Tomilola stood next to the table where she'd set Demola's roses, her nose buried in the burgundy blooms. They smelled so good. Bold, sweet...heady.
Much like the man who'd sent them.
Smiling ruefilly, she took another deep whiff and straightened, trying not to let her mind wander, once again, back to the thoughts that had kept her awake most of the nights. Thoughts of Demola Adenuga.
But it was impossible.
She couldn't get the man out of her head. Couldn't get the heat of him standing behind her, his hard body brushing hers, out of her mind. He'd almost kissed her last night. And she'd almost let him.
She needed a clear head for the decision ahead of her - whether she was going to make the Big W her home. And she needed that decision to be unbiased and well-grounded. She couldn't let herself decide to stay on the ranch just because Demola made her heart pound and her palms sweat. Even if he did seem to have a depth to him, a tenderness she'd never seen in a man before.
If she was going to stay on the Big W, make it her home, it had to be because it was right for her. With the issues about her father cleared up, it certainly had potential. But if she decided to stay, it had to be be because of the estate - not the man.
Of course, if she decided the Big W was the place for her in a totally unbiased and well-grounded manner, Demola would be fair game. Right?
Lord, she was hopeless. She walked over to the big window behind the table and stared out at the open vista behind the house. The day was just starting, the pink rays of dawn glinting off the h ills. God, it was beautiful here. The thought of staying, making it her home, planting those roses pulled sweetly at her. The thought of finally, finally, having a real home was an intoxicating elixir. One she;d have to be careful of.
Because the reality was she didn't know anything about this estate, except she liked the scenery and her father had once owned it. She'd have to know a lot more than that before she made any real decision about staying.
And as long as you're standing around twindling your thumbs, girl, you're not going to know anything. Get outta here and go see what this place has to offer. She pivoted away from the window and headed for the kitchen. After the sleepless night she'd had, she was in dire need of a little caffeine.
Five minutes later, full mug in hand, she headed onto the porch. The early morning air sent goose bumps dancing over her skin. Pulling the door shut behind her, she took a sip of coffee and peered out over the estate. It had been quieter the last few days at the corrals here by the house.
Across the way, the door to Demola's house opened and he strode out.
"Hey, Dem." Without the usual hustle and bustle, she barely had to raise her voice for the words to carry across the road.
He swung his gaze to the big house, spotting her immediately. He froze midstride, the corners of his mouth tipping down and his brows scrunching together.
She wondered if he was thinking of yesterday's almost-kiss, too. Wondered if he regretted the interruption or was glad for it.
But before she could discern any real idea of his thoughts from his expression, he smoothed his face into an inscrutable mask. "You're up early."
"Actually, I never went to sleep." So he was going to pretend the almost-kiss hadn't happened.
Okay with her. While she didn't understand why he was as reserved about the attraction growing between them as she was, his reservation certainly made life easier. The man was hard enough to resist as it was. If he was actually trying to pursue her...she'd be sunk. So she'd let him get away with pretending nothing had happened yesterday. For now, anyway.
He strode across the dirt road and joined her on her father's porch. "Another sleepless night?"
She held up her mug. "Thank God for caffeine."
He chuckled, raising his hands. "Amen to that."
She tried desperately not to notice the spicy scent of his aftershave, the sensuous line of his lips. "Where are you heading?"
"Sight seeing. Do you mind?"
As the car moved over the dirt roads that seemed to wind throughout the estate, she sipped at her coffee and stole an occasional glance at Demola. She couldn't stop staring at those lips. Couldn't stop wondering what they would have felt like on hers if only the delivery boy hadn't shown up. Couldn't stop wondering about the man himself.
She forced herself to turn her head and look out the side window. She was not going to think about that kiss. She was not going to wonder if Demola had been born around here, if he had a family nearby, or a girlfriend. Those things were none of her business.
Except. . .
He was the executor of this estate. If she stayed, shouldn't she know something about the men who worked for her?
Of course she should.
In fact, it was her responsibility to know the men. She turned back to Demola. "So, tell me about yourself, Demola. Tell me about your family, your mom and dad. Do they live nearby?"
He stilled, tension filling his frame.
Odd. He was so dedicated to her father she would have thought he'd be close to his own family. But if the current silence meant anything, such wasn't the case.
Finally, he said, "They live a couple towns over from here." There was a tightness in his voice that clearly indicated there wasn't anything casual about the subject for him.
She briefly debated changing the subject, but he certainly hadn't been shy about pushing her to look at unpleasant events in her past. "How close is a couple towns over? Do you get to see them much?"
A muscle in his jaw ticked. A beat of silence. Then. . . "The Big W keeps me pretty busy, not much time for visiting."
"I see. What about brothers and sisters? Have any?"
He looked away, but not quickly enough to hide his frown. "No."
She cocked her head, studying him. What could possibly be so upsetting about being an only child?
She was formulating just the right question when Demola pointed out the window, relief in his voice. "Here we are."
She gave up.
She looked out the window, they were in a garden.
Tomilola turned to him, her eyes shining. "I'm going to stay, Demola. And I'm not going to sell the estate."
Triumph surged through him. "Not a problem. We'll work it out."
"Yeah, we will." She gave him an enthusiastic hug. But what started as innocent excitement quickly changed to something else.
The air around them heated.
Her eyelids dropped to half-mast. Her breathing quickened. Her smile turned seductive. "And now that I have that little detail taken care of. . . Let's move on to other things, shall we?"
His heart tripped.
She looked up at him with those sultry eyes and ran a finger down his jaw. "Kiss me, Demola."
Oh, God. Every nerve in his body exploded. He needed to get out of here. Before things spiraled out of control. He'd done his job. He'd convinced her to stay. Now he needed to run.
But his feet didn't move.
Her knees bumped his. The soft plumpness of her breasts pressed against his chest. Her hand, soft and warm, cupped his face.
God help him. He wanted to kiss her. Wanted to taste the excitement shimmering through her. Wanted to pretend, if only for a moment, that he was a normal man with a mundane past and a bright future stretching before him.
But that wasn't the case. And pretending wouldn't be fair.
He closed his eyes and clenched his hands at his sides, resisting the urge to touch her by sheer force of will. He needed her to let go. Back off. Quit pressing her sweet little body against his. "Tomi. .."
"Shh." She placed her fingers over his lips. "Stop thinking about whatever lies beyond this moment, Demola. I'm not asking for a profession of love or any big commitment or your firstborn child. I'm just asking for a kiss. One. . ." She leaned closer, her breath whispering over his cheeks. "Single. . ." Her arms slid around his neck. "Kiss." Her lips whispered over his.
His will snapped.