Cypress Corners, Florida
Harmony Brooks jumped at the deep voice, dropping her notes. She looked up at the large man looming in front of her and her heart stopped. Adam. She blinked up at him, tilting her head to one side to block the late afternoon sun shining over his broad shoulders. She took in a breath. Not Adam, thank God. His features were stronger than Adam’s, and he looked to be about thirty. He was good looking. If you liked the polished type. Well, she didn’t. Not anymore.
“May I help you?” she asked.
He stepped closer. “What are you doing on this site?”
She took a few steps back. The low plastic tape marking the edge of the work site hit her calves and she forced herself to stop her retreat. This wasn’t Adam. This was just a stranger dressed in rugged outdoor clothes from an expensive catalog. Then she noticed where his big booted feet were planted. “Watch out, you’re—”
“Listen,” he cut in. “It’s my job to secure this site. This project was contracted months ago.”
She pointed to the mound at his feet. “But you’re—”
“And by my guess, miss, you’re trespassing.”
As he started to recite some rehearsed corporate line, she watched first one fire ant then another crawl up the perfect crease of his right pant leg. A few more joined the march over his pristine hiking boots and she opened her mouth to warn him again.
Suddenly he cursed, slapping at his leg as he fell on his backside. She bit her lip for a moment, then she lost the struggle. She couldn’t help it. She laughed.
“Son-of-a… !” he yelled. “What the hell?”
She quickly sobered and stepped over the tape to reach him. “Easy.” She brushed away the few ants still clinging to his pant leg, lifting the cuff to make sure the culprits under it were gone too. She stood. “I think you’re all right now.”
“Damn.” He pinned her with his gray eyes. “What was that? My leg’s on fire.”
She picked up her backpack and returned to him. “Fire ants,” she said. “They can really sting.”
He cursed again. “Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
She took out a water bottle and a spare T-shirt, pouring the water onto the cotton.
“This will help cool the bites.”
She crouched down and held the damp cloth to the red welts rising among the crisp dark hairs on his skin. He had a nice build. Why he bothered ironing his camp shirt and chinos was beyond her. He certainly had strong legs beneath those pressed pants. “Is that any better?”
He closed his eyes and nodded. She ran her gaze over him as he visibly relaxed. His hair was a glossy black, thick and rich, and he smelled delicious, crisp and musky. Clean-shaven cheeks couldn’t hide the shadow of a beard on his square jaw.
“Yeah, that’s better,” he said. He opened his eyes. “Thanks, babe.”
She gasped as she stared into his eyes. They were as gorgeous as the rest of him, a lovely gray like the lake on a cloudy day, and framed by black lashes. Then his hand covered hers and a prickling of heat shot up her arm, hotter than any fire ant’s bite. She jerked away, leaving the T-shirt in his hand.
“Well.” She pressed her hand against her belly. “Um, what were you yelling about before the ants bit you?”
His compelling eyes turned flinty. “You’re trespassing, miss. On my work site.”
Back to that, then. Good. She could use the focus.
She straightened. “As much as I hate to break this to you, you can’t build on this spot.”
He came to his feet and nearly stepped on the ant mound. She braced her hands on his chest and pushed.
His eyes widened as he stumbled and almost fell on his backside again. “What the—
? What are you doing?”
“The ant mound, buddy,” she said. “Sheesh.”
Her palms tingled with the memory of the hard muscles beneath that ridiculously-crisp shirt and she fisted her hands. Oh, she could smell him again. She swallowed. Hard.
“Thanks.” He cleared his throat. “We can’t build here? Since when? Chapman Financial finalized the contracts for this job months ago.”
“Things have changed.” She focused on the scrubby plant to her left. “There’s a protected species on this site.”
He looked around, his brows drawn together. “I saw some grasshoppers big enough to be batter-dipped and fried. They’re protected?”
She shook her head and pointed to the wild buckwheat. “No. But this is.” She gathered her notes and shook the sand off of them. “Eriogonum longifolium. A wild scrub buckwheat.”
“Eriggigg… what?” He stared at her for a beat. “A plant? A friggin’ plant?”
She braced a hand on one hip. “Look. I feel bad about the fire ants, but this plant is endangered and construction can’t commence until the Cypress Corners Institute says so.”
“That’s ridiculous.” He thrust the damp T-shirt toward her. “You can’t make us stop because of one weed.”
She grabbed the shirt from him. “It’s not a weed,” she said. “This is a valuable find.”
He snorted. “Is this about money?”
She ran her eyes over his perfectly pressed clothes. “I’m not the one who bought out the Banana Republic.”
He pulled back. “Maybe you’re the one with her eyes on the cash.”
She stiffened. “I don’t raise funds for the Institute. I certainly have no financial stake in the development, if that’s what you’re implying.”
He shook his head. “I’m not implying anything, miss. The Institute approved this site and the Cypress execs signed off on it. We got the damn contract. We have to get the thing finished before the year’s end.”
“The Recreation Café,” she said. “A snack bar so hikers can take a break for gourmet coffee before continuing on the nature trails. Yeah, I know all about it.”
“Look, there are people I need to answer to. Believe me, honey. Some friggin’ weed won’t stand in our way.”
“That’s it,” she said. “I don’t have to listen to this. I answer to the Institute and not to you.”
He smiled and, though handsome, it wasn’t a pleasant expression. “We’ll see. I’ll speak with the developer. He’ll get with the Institute and before you know it you’ll be out of here on your cute little butt.”
She blinked at the back-handed compliment. Cute little butt?
She lifted her chin. “Do what you want to do. But I’ll do what I have to do.”
He grabbed up his sunglasses and stalked back through the brush, rubbing his leg as he limped a bit. She gave a sharp nod. Good for him.
She watched him for a moment, her heartbeat at last returning to normal. He was sexy. His butt wasn’t so bad, either. His mood, on the other hand…
She shoved her notes into her backpack and zipped it closed. Another smooth city fool.
She wouldn’t make that mistake again.
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