Demola crouched by the rear tire of his truck, still cursing as he cranked the last nut on the lugs as quickly as he could. The sun had peeked over the horizon a good half hour ago. He needed to get this tire changed and get out of here before -
The front door of the big house creaked.
Damn. He hadn't been quick enough.
Footsteps echoed on the porch. He didn't bother to look over his shoulder. He knew who the footsteps belonged to. Knew where they were heading.
He swore as he set the crowbar aside and started lifting the tire from the rear axle.
The footsteps crossed the drive and stopped beside him.
He tossed the tire aside and narrowed his gaze at Tomilola from his crouched position. "Slitting tires is pretty low, don't you think?"
She shrugged, taking another sip of coffee from the mug she cradled in her hands. "I did think about just letting the air out, but I was afraid you'd fix that too fast and be on your way before I could catch you. You're getting pretty good at this avoiding me thing."
Apparently, not good enough. He straightened to his full height. "We're in the middle of roundup, remember? I have work to do."
"Charles said the last of the cows - excuse me, cattle - were driven back to the open pastures two days ago. That sounds like roundup's over to me."
Note to himself: strangle Charles next time he saw him. In the meantime, he might need a more direct approach. "Maybe I think we could both use a cooling off period."
She looked up at him through her lashes. "Maybe I don't want to cool off."
Desire slammed through him, hot and hard. Gritting his teeth, he turned away from her and strode to the tailgate. "We've already been over this."
"You've been over it. I don't recall you letting me have much say in the matter."
"That's because there isn't anything to say."
"Oh, there's plenty to say. Like, I think what's important is who you are today, not who you were all those years ago. And I like who you are today. I like the honour and quiet determination that make up the core of you. Like the way you watch out for me. And. . ." she shot him a sexy smile "I like the way you kiss me."
And he liked the way she kissed back. Too damned much. "You're romanticizing a bit. Honor and determination." He snorted with contempt. "For crying out loud, I'm an executor, doing my job. End of story."
"I'm not romanticizing anything. I've given this serious thought, and. . ."
"If you've thought about it and still think getting involved with an ex-con makes an ounce of sense, you're either very naive or not thinking as seriously as you should." He pulled the spare out of the truck's bed and went to work putting it on."
She sighed. "You know, if you weren't so damned honorable and determined, you wouldn't be fighting me on this. And I did give it serious thought. Getting involved with a man isn't something I take lightly anymore. In fact, I declared a moratorium on men after I left my ex. I thought if I was going to figure out what I wanted in life, it was best not to have any distractions while I did it."
So that's why she'd kept her distance in the beginning. He'd wondered. "A moratorium sounds like a good idea to me. I'd think twice before abandoning it."
"Oh, I did. But, thanks to your help. . ." she tossed him a cheeky grin . . ."I know what I want. I want to make the Big W my home and use it as a financial base for the Angels' charity. So you see, I don't need the moratorium anymore."
"If you don't show better judgment than you are right now, you need it more than you think." He put the last nut on the lugs, grabbed the tire iron and started lightening them, doing his best to pretend she wasn't there. Doing his best to ignore the aching need gnawing at his gut.
"Man, you're stubborn."
Not stubborn. Determined. Determined to give her everything Wole Adeyemi had wanted for her. Everything good and wonderful and bright. But that determination was weakening by the second. He needed to do what he'd been trying to do all week. Put some distance between them. "Don't you have things you need to be doing?"
"Actually, I don't. Certainly not anything as fun as this. Do you have any idea how sexy you look changing that tire?"
He lunged out of his crouch and closed the distance between them in two quick strides. "Stop it. Just stop it."
She smiled. "Why? Because. . ."
"Because teasing is only going to make this harder for us. And it's not going to get what you want."
Her gaze, warm and knowing, skated over him. "I'm thinking it might get me exactly what I want."
The sound of a car horn tooting twice broke through her words.
They both turned, looking for the source of the disturbance. A car, its headlights still shining in the early morning light, was moving along the road that led in from the highway.
She looked back to him. "One of the hands coming early?"
He shook his head. "I don't recognize the car." But he was damned glad for its arrival. Two more seconds of her teasing and he'd have been tempted to strangle her. And God knew where that would have led.
The car drove down the road that snaked between the paddocks. heading toward them. Suddenly, brown heads were poking out of every window Shrieks and hollers and hey-Tomilolas split the morning quiet.
Tomilola turned back to him with a wry smile. "Take a deep breath, you've got a temporary reprieve. The Alphine Angels have arrived."
Thank God. Not just for the moment, but for the buffer they would offer for however long they stayed. "Did you know they were coming?"
She shook her head. "I've been talking to them about things on the phone since I came. They said they'd be coming eventually, but I didn't expect them this soon."
Things? He wondered uncomfortably if he was one of those things.
The car pulled to a stop, the girls piled out and then there was nothing but hugs and how-are-you's. Eventually Tomilola took a step back. "Ladies, I'd like you to meet the foreman of the Big W, Demola Adenuga. Demola, this is Rose, Yemi and Amaka." She pointed to each girl as she introduced her.
Despite the fact that they were all brown and very close to the same age, Demola noted they were easy to tell apart. Rose was tall and statuesque. Yemi was tiny, a flat five-foot-nothing with the frame of a humming bird. And Amaka, well, Amaka was all curves and raw sexuality. Not his type, but he imagined she attracted men like honey attracted flies.
He shook their hands and gave them polite nods. "Welcome to the Big W."
Their looks were sharp and knowing as they gave him the once-over.
Great. So much for wondering if he was one of the things Tomilola had discussed with them. He obviously was. Which did not bode well. He was having enough trouble with Tomilola without adding three more scheming females to the mix.
"You guys hungry?" Tomilola asked. "We can go in and I'll cook you breakfast."
"That sounds great," Rose said. "Then after breakfast, you can show us around the estate. I can't wait to see the cattle. Then tonight, we can put our party dresses on and go dancing. We spotted a place not too far down the road. Looks like a place that knows how to dish out fun."
Demola nearly choked. Tomilola at the local meat market? He didn't like the sound of that one bit. "That place can get pretty wild. You might want to just stay in, rent a movie."
Amaka laughed. "Wild is the Angels' middle name. Of course, you could come, help keep us out of trouble." Pure calculation sparkled in her eyes. They hadn't been here five minutes and they were plotting already. "Sorry, I have business here."
The curvy one just shrugged and smiled. "Too bad, it ought to be fun." She turned to Tomilola. "I brought plenty of let's-go-dancing, turn-the-boys'-heads clothes. Perfect for a little celebration to kiss your moratorium on men goodbye."
Tomilola looked to him, her eye gaze locking on to his in challenge.
Just the thought of Tomilola in another man's arms made him crazy. But he couldn't let himself be sucked into the girls' machinations. If he snuggled up to Tomilola on a dance floor, it would be all over. They'd be in bed before the night was through. Not an option. He looked away, refusing to even play the game.
"Jimmy's it is," Tomilola finally said, a definite edge to her voice. "Drinking, dancing and good-looking guys. Sounds like a good time to me."
They strolled off toward the house, arm in arm, chatting and giggling.
He stared after them, trying to pull air into his lungs. Tomilola was not going to that bar looking for a man. She was just trying to make him jealous.
And damn her sweet, curvy little hide, it was working.