J.D. Sterling’s heartbeats were thumping loud as a bass drum at the sight of the red sedan as it pulled into the circular driveway, stopping just behind the other realtor’s Hummer. He had purposely seated himself in a corner of the wide porch, away from the glare of the noonday sun, where climbing vines and shade would enable him to be concealed from the woman’s line of sight. He didn’t want her to know he was there, at least not right away. J.D. needed to see her first, to get his feet under him. At least, that’s the excuse he'd given himself. For someone who always planted his feet solidly in the middle of any situation, this was one time the spotlight was not what he sought. His pulses were racing as he saw the driver’s door swing open, and two slender ankles encased in gray high heels became visible as they touched the ground.
The woman stood up, one hand pushed her sunglasses further up on the bridge of her nose, and then she closed the car door behind her. She slung the straps of her leather bag over her shoulder and moved around the hood of the car, her heels making soft crunching sounds on the pea gravel along the drive. In the early afternoon stillness of the ranch, those sounds seemed to be amplified.
The eyes in the shadows drank in the features of the woman as she moved toward the house. Nowhere in sight was the country girl he had last seen. The vision that approached was confident in her stride, her head up and shoulders resolute. The girl he used to know was just short of being painfully shy and always hesitant to stand out of any crowd. Sunglasses concealed her eyes from view so he couldn’t see if they were still the amazingly vivid blue he remembered and had even immortalized in song once. They had filled his dreams on many a night and gotten him through some really hard times. It was those eyes he would see when he closed his own as he sang across the bright lights into the dark recesses of some huge arena, packed with screaming fans and loud music. He would sing to the girl in his dreams… the one he had left behind but never left out of his heart.
“Hello, Mandy,” he spoke softly from the shadows.
Amanda’s head swung in its direction. Her eyes sought to focus on the tall figure that stepped from darkness into light. She went to take a quick breath but found she couldn’t. In fact, for some reason, the light was receding, and the darkness was swallowing them all up.
“I have other business in town also,” Amanda spoke up. “I don’t know why I was called out here but…”
“Because I want you.” Those jade green eyes pinned her to her spot.
J.D.’s choice of words knocked the air out of Amanda’s lungs for a moment. Did he think that he could turn that look on her, along with that famous half-grin that sent deep grooves down his cheeks and made fingers itch to touch them and females swoon at his feet? He was still the lying, no good cowboy who had played her for a fool and then left her behind when the bright lights beckoned. He wanted her? Well, he'd had her once, but never again.
Cold blue eyes pinned him. “People don’t always get what they want, J.D. But sometimes they do get what they deserve.”
When Mandy stood looking at him with those blue eyes, where once there had been the warmth of love glowing in them for him, there was now a cool curtain, devoid of anything but a banked anger mixed with a dash of indifference. For some reason, he felt he had been judged and found lacking in her estimation. He definitely had to regroup. There was another battle ahead, and he had fought many in his lifetime and won each of them. This would be the most important one. Losing was not an option.
“Let’s keep this business, shall we?”
That stopped him. His eyes lost the green glow. Now they looked at her in a narrowed search.
J.D.’s tone was no longer light when he next spoke to her. “I had hoped we could get back on track. I know it’s been a while since we last saw each other, but I think we share a lot of history from way back…”
“History is just that,” she interrupted him. “Things that are in the past. We were foolish kids back then. Thankfully, we grew up. And I don’t have any more time to waste today.” Amanda stood and headed toward the open doorway. His hand on her arm stopped her. He brought her around to face him. That lazy smile was not in evidence. His eyes bore into hers.
“What did you do to the girl I used to know? I sure would like it if Mandy could be found again.”
The nerve of the man! “What did I do to that girl? That’s rich. Did you really think that she would still be here waiting for you to decide to take a stroll down memory lane sometime? What happened, J.D.? Did you get bored with all your groupies throwing themselves at you? Wanted a change of pace? Well, I can sell you a ranch, but that is the only thing that is for sale around here. When you want to sign a contract, you can call me. Until then, I intend to forget we had this conversation. And my name is Amanda.”
*Release date from Astraea Press is July 29th.