Ella scrambled to write her check and hurry outside, her heels clicking furiously on the scratched wood floor. The article had slipped to a corner of her mind. She knew Ruby Shoes and its patrons well enough to fudge that part of the article. She ignored the calls from old neighbors and long-ago acquaintances. What she really wanted to know was where Dev had gone. And how on earth she could convince him to sign the papers so she could leave this backwoods town behind her forever. He owed her now. She had just made sure of it by buying him off the stage. He was at her beck and call for forty-eight hours. What she wanted would only take a few seconds.
The air outside had cooled and it kissed her skin, damp from the close atmosphere inside the bar. Her feet halted abruptly. Dev was leaning against the tailgate of his pickup truck, the same two-tone brown Lariat he'd driven to the courthouse on their wedding day. It had several more dents and rust spots now. He'd put his shirt back on. Thank God. Because seeing all those planes and angles while he'd flashed that knowing dimple at her had been torture. It had brought back memories she'd rather stayed buried.
She didn't want to be married to him any more. That had nothing to do with the fact that seeing him strip off his shirt had made her want to touch him. Taste him. Make love to him. It was plumb crazy, but her libido had spoken loud and clear--it was listening to her memory, not her head.
A small grin curled up the side of his mouth and her breasts tightened. She needed him to sign the decree. Now. So she'd never have to see him and his sexy grin again. So she could finally move on.
"What are you doing here, Ella?"
His voice was a little soft, a little rough, and it rode the endings of her nerves, sending shivers up her spine. She straightened her shoulders. There was no way on God's green earth she would let him know he got to her in any way. And he sure didn't want to spend two days with her. Not once in twelve years had he made any effort to see her whatsoever. She'd let him off the hook all for the price of his name beside the X.
She lifted her chin, tucked her notebook more firmly into her handbag. "Does it matter?"
He nodded, slowly. "You bet your designer bag it does. And I'm pretty sure paying two thousand dollars for two days with me wasn't the reason. Though we could have a lot of fun in two days, don't you think? For old times' sake?"
Memories of bygone days swirled around her, seducing. "Shut up, Dev," she murmured.
He boosted himself away from the truck and came closer. She could smell his woodsy aftershave, feel his body invade her personal space and hated herself for liking it. Craving it.
He leaned into her ear while the hairs on her neck stood up from the close contact of his breath on her skin.
"You could have had me for free."
She planted her hands on his shoulders and pushed, skittering away on her heels. "I...I was sent on a story. It had nothing to do with you, you egomaniac."
He snorted, looking at the ground and scuffing it with the toe of a sorry looking boot. "A story. Of course. Makes sense to send a big-city reporter to a dive like Ruby's for some trumped-up charity event."
He wouldn't understand. He never had. This was why she'd sent him divorce papers several times, even back when the legal fees to do so meant she had to eat peanut butter for a few weeks. "There's something bigger at work than Betty Tucker's illness, you know." She straightened her blouse and raised an eyebrow at him. Damn straight. There was corruption from the top down, and Betty Tucker was only one victim. Bringing an expose against Betty's insurance company would guarantee Ella her choice of assignment.
"I bet Betty Tucker wouldn't think so. Do you think a woman who might be dying cares at all about how many newspapers get sold in Denver?"
Damn him. He'd always had a way of making her feel small when that wasn't what she'd meant at all. Couldn't he see it was a greater-good issue? But Dev had never been one to see the big picture. He'd had the most annoying tunnel vision of anyone she ever met. Right and wrong. Black and white.
"I don't expect you to understand," she huffed, lifting her nose and moving to walk past him to her car. Forty-eight hours. Hmph. If he'd sign by the X right now, he'd be off the hook and she'd consider it two thousand dollars well spent. They could end this farce of a marriage and get on to their respective lives.
He reached out and grabbed her arm.
"You never expected me to understand, Ell." The words were laced with unexpected venom. "I understand a hell of a lot more than you think."
His fingers burned holes in her sleeve and she fought back the thrill of excitement thrumming through her just by having his hands on her again. It shouldn't happen after all this time, but he'd always had that effect on her. She pasted on the brightest smile she could muster. "Brilliant. So why don't you tell me what I'm thinking right now?"
He still had a firm grip on her biceps and she tilted her chin way up to look at him. Even with her heels on, he was taller than her. Over six feet of manly sexiness. Her gaze caught on his lips. Those lips had known every inch of her when they'd been little more than kids. She blinked. Back then he'd been the solution, not the problem. The savior, not the devil.
"You're thinking, how am I going to get Dev to sign those papers I've got sitting in my car?"
She twisted out of his grip and stomped to the car as his knowing laughter echoed behind her. She had been thinking exactly that. Along with wondering how his mouth would feel over hers when she wanted nothing more than to be free of him. For good. How was it possible to think both at the same time?
"Well. You're smarter than you look," she answered, determined he not know the effect he was having on her. If ever she'd needed confirmation that she'd done the right thing by not looking back, here it was staring her in the face. She couldn't even manage a simple conversation with him without losing perspective.
"Yep. So where to now, Ell? Because according to your terms of purchase, we've got forty-eight whole hours."
A shiver went through her at the possibilities. But possibilities got a girl absolutely nowhere. "You sign these now, and we'll call it even. Both of us free as a bird."
He came towards her, walking with that lazy long stride she remembered. His T-shirt was untucked and had a line of dust across it from the floor inside. She wanted to reach up and brush it off. But she didn't. She couldn't touch him. Not after the way her body had reacted when he'd whispered in her ear.
She backed up against the door of her car, her breath hardly moving her chest.
"I'm in no rush, Ella McQuade."
"You never were." She said it with a snarky twist so he'd be sure to get the insult. "And don't call me that."
His body was warm as they hovered only inches apart. If she leaned forward the slightest bit they'd be touching in several places. Her body strained against her clothing while her head warned her to stay put.
"Why not? It's your name."
He lifted his hand and traced a finger down her sleeve. She shivered. He'd always been that way. He'd always known what a simple touch could do to her. They'd learned together, discovering all the special spots. Only now it was worse. Now they were older, wiser. Knowing he still had that effect on her hurt. She should have moved on by now. Moving on was the entire reason she'd brought those papers to begin with.
"It is until I sign those."
"Please, just sign them then. Sign them and I'll be out of your hair for good."
His finger went up her sleeve and down again. "Not yet. Come back to the house. I still have some things of yours anyway. You can pick them up."
"Devin." She looked up at him, censoring him with her eyes. "You know that's not a good idea."
Dammit, saying it did nothing more than give credence to the attraction shimmering between them.
"When have you and I ever had good ideas?"
The door to Ruby's opened and shut again and she sighed. Did she really want to argue this in a public place?
"Almost never," she admitted.
"Forty-eight hours. That's my deal, Ell. You spend the weekend with me, and at the end of it I'll sign your precious papers. You'll be free as a bird, as you said."