Home > Prey (Linda Howard)(14)

Prey (Linda Howard)(14)
Author: Linda Howard, Abby Crayden

Harlan blew out a big sigh of relief. “Atta girl. I was afraid you’d turn him down flat.”

“If I could afford to, I would. But if I could afford to, I wouldn’t be selling in the first place.”

“I know.” Now that he could relax some, he took a big gulp of coffee. “I’ll see what he says. In the meantime, I’ll set things up with a home inspector and an appraiser, okay?”

“Sure. Let me get you a key, in case you can get things rolling while I’m gone.”

The extra key was in her bedroom. She took it from the bureau drawer and stood there a minute, clutching it in her hand while she did deep breathing exercises. She could do this. Even if Dare Callahan made the only offer, even if she couldn’t afford to turn him down, she could do this.

He had to know that if he stuck to his guns, she could make counteroffers until she was blue in the face, but eventually she’d have to take his offer. The bastard.

Angie was so furious that as soon as Harlan left, she made a beeline to the computer in the den and e-mailed her pals in Billings. “Want to guess which asshole is trying to buy my place for thirty thou less than the asking price???”

Not that they could do anything other than join in her outrage, and offer some outlandish but satisfying suggestions for revenge. That was the best thing about female friends: the instant, unquestioning support, regardless of common sense or practicality. They were all at work, of course, so she didn’t expect to hear back from them right away—

As soon as she had the thought, her e-mail pinged, and she saw she had an answer from Lisa, who had worked with her in the hospital administrative office. She’d sent the e-mail to Lisa’s home account, so this had to be a coincidence. She clicked on the e-mail to open it.

“Got a new BlackBerry! Can get e-mail all the time now. That rat bastard. Makes you think of harvesting some mountain oysters, doesn’t it?”

She typed back: “His would be poisonous.”

“Well, if you can’t even eat his nuts, what good is he?”

A few exchanges later Lisa said she had to get back to work, but by then Angie’s mood was much lighter. She’d done the adult thing and made a counteroffer. The ball was now in Callahan’s court, and until Harlan got back to her, she was wasting her time stewing about the entire situation. She still had work to do, and she’d be better off focusing on that. She couldn’t do a damn thing about Dare Callahan and what he did or didn’t do, but she could definitely make certain she did her job as a guide. That had to count for something, didn’t it?

She just wished … well, there was no point in wishing, because nothing could change the past. Yet she was always aware of a deep sadness whenever she thought of Dare Callahan, a sadness she kept carefully buried under a thick layer of anger, because there was no point in letting herself feel anything other than anger. Reality was what it was.

But still, for a giddy while, back when they’d first met, her stomach felt as if it had taken flight, her heart rate had soared, and despite all common sense she’d let herself get lost in anticipation. She could remember the exact moment when they’d been introduced—in the feed store, standing beside fifty-pound sacks of grain. She’d looked up into the strong face shadowed by the brim of his black hat, met those vivid blue eyes, and it felt as if the world had fallen away. She remembered the feel of his hard, warm hand wrapping around hers, the calluses on his palm, the steely strength held firmly in check so he didn’t crush her fingers. “Miss Powell,” he’d said briefly, his voice so hoarse she’d wondered if he had a cold or something. Then she’d noticed the scar on his throat, and knew that raspy tone was permanent.

“Call me Angie,” she’d said, and he’d given a curt nod.

Then someone else had called his name and he’d turned away, and though she’d lingered a little longer than necessary in getting her supplies, feeling as obvious and awkward as a fourteen-year-old trying to get a boy’s attention, she didn’t think he’d so much as glanced in her direction again. She had a million things to do to get ready for the guide trip she had booked for the next day, and there she was, wasting time, hoping he’d say something else to her.

Finally she’d given herself a mental shake and checked out. The feed had been loaded in the back of her pickup, and as she climbed into the cab he’d come out of the feed store. Angie hadn’t let herself pause; she’d cranked the engine and started to put the transmission in gear when he motioned for her to lower her window.

She pressed the button and the window slid down. Deliberately she kept her expression neutral, because she was a tad embarrassed at herself for dithering in the feed store the way she had. After her wedding fiasco, she’d made it a point to keep men at a distance, but a set of (very) broad shoulders and a pair of (very) blue eyes had all but blown her self-control to smithereens, whatever a smithereen was.

That blue gaze had pinned on her like a laser. “Have dinner with me tomorrow night,” he said abruptly, no lead-in, no chitchat, just a bald and blunt invitation.

Regret almost made her sick. Why tomorrow night? She was leaving early in the morning and wouldn’t be back for a week. Why couldn’t he have given her a decent lead time, at least a week? “I can’t,” she blurted, her refusal just as blunt as his invitation.

She didn’t have time to explain. He gave a curt dip of his head, turned around, and walked to his truck before she could get another word out.

And that was that. When she’d returned from the guide trip, tired, with another million things to do before yet another group of clients came in, she’d nevertheless raced into the house to check her answering machine, to see if he’d called during her absence. There had been a couple of calls, but his hadn’t been one of them. As days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, he still hadn’t called. Disappointed, after a while she’d stopped expecting him to.

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