One final shove pitched her against him. She bumped into a muscular chest. A strong arm encircled her before she could fall, and she caught a faint whiff of scotch. She tried to pull away, but he hadn’t yet made up his mind to release her, so that proved impossible.
Her sudden helplessness was frightening. He stood nearly a head taller than she, and there wasn’t an ounce of fat on his lean, conditioned body. She had to force herself not to struggle to get free because she knew he would crush her if he sensed her weakness.
An image flashed through her mind, of her body naked beneath his, and she immediately pushed it away. If she thought about that part of it, she wouldn’t have a prayer of pulling this off.
His cupped hand slid up her arm. “Well, now, I don’t think I ever got a birthday present quite like this one. You guys got more tricks up your sleeve than a deer’s got ticks.”
The sound of that deep, country drawl immediately steadied her. He might have the body of a warrior, but he was only a football player, and not a very intelligent one at that. The knowledge of her own superior brainpower gave her enough confidence to look up into those pale eyes as he slowly released the grip that held her captive.
“Happy birthday, Mr. Bonner.” She had intended her voice to sound sultry, but instead it sounded professorial, as if she were greeting a student who’d slipped into class late.
“He’s Cal,” Junior said. “It’s short for Calvin, but I’d advise you not to call him that because it pisses him off big time, and making the Bomber mad isn’t something I’d recommend. Cal, this is Rose. Rose Bud.”
He lifted one eyebrow. “You guys brought me a stripper?”
“That’s exactly what I thought, but she’s not. She’s a hooker.”
Distaste flickered across his expression, then disappeared. “Well, now, I thank y’all a whole lot for thinkin’ about me, but I’m gonna have to pass.”
“You can’t do that, Cal,” Junior protested. “We all know how you feel about hookers, but Rose, here, ain’t your ordinary street corner whore. Hell, no. She’s a real classy whore. Her family came over on the Mayflower or something. Tell him, Rose.”
She was so busy trying to absorb the fact that she—Dr. Jane Darlington, a respected physicist with only one lover in her past—was being called a whore that it took her a moment to muster a haughty response. “A Bud served with Miles Standish.”
Chris glanced toward Melvin. “I know him. Didn’t he play for the Bears back in the eighties?”
Melvin laughed. “Damn, Chris, did you spend any time in the classroom while you were in college?”
“I was playing ball. I didn’t have time for that shit. Besides, we’re not talking about that now. We’re talking about the fact that it’s the Bomber’s birthday, we got him the best freakin’ present money could buy, and he wants to freakin’ pass!”
“It’s because she’s too old,” Willie exclaimed. “I told you we should have gone for somebody younger, but y’all kept sayin’ how she wasn’t supposed to remind him of Kelly. She’s only twenty-four, Cal. Honest.”
Just like that, she’d lost another year.
“You can’t pass.” Chris stepped forward, a belligerent look in his eyes. “She’s your birthday present. You got to fu—er—bonk her.”
Her skin grew hot, and since she couldn’t be caught blushing, she turned away and pretended to study the living room. Its low-pile white carpet, gray sectional sofa, stereo equipment, and large-screen television were expensive but uninteresting. She noticed various containers tossed down on the carpet: a plastic cup, a KFC bucket, an empty cereal box. In addition to being a hayseed, Mr. Bonner was a slob, but since messiness wasn’t genetic, it didn’t concern her.
He flipped the golf putter he’d been holding from one hand to the other. “Tell you what, guys. People exchange presents all the time. How about I trade her in for a steak dinner?”
He couldn’t do that! She would never find anyone more perfect to father her child.
“Shit, Bomber, she cost a hell of a lot more than a steak dinner!”
She wondered how much. Junior had handed her the money, which she’d tucked into her purse without looking, then slid under the front seat of her car. First thing tomorrow, she’d donate every dollar to the college scholarship fund.
He drained the liquor in his glass. “I appreciate the thought, guys, but I guess I just don’t feel like having a whore tonight.”
Anger hit her like a molecular collision. How dare he talk about her like that! Her emotions sometimes betrayed her, but her mind seldom did, and now it was shouting at her to do something. She couldn’t give up this easily. He was ideal, and somehow she had to find a way to make him change his mind. Yes, he was physically terrifying, and she didn’t believe he would be a gentle lover, but a few minutes rough handling wouldn’t kill her, and hadn’t she chosen him because he was her opposite in every way?
“Aw, come on, Bomber,” Willie said. “She’s hot. I’m getting hard just looking at her.”
“Then take her.” Bonner jerked his head toward the hallway. “You know where the spare bedroom is.”
They all turned to stare at her.
She thought of his cornpone accent and reminded herself that he wasn’t anything more than a simpleminded football player. The pills gave her courage. All she had to do was outwit him. “I’m not a piece of meat that gets passed around. I work under exclusive contract, and my contract calls for me to practice my craft only with Mr. Bonner.” Avoiding his eyes, she looked toward the other men. “Why don’t you gentlemen leave now so he and I can discuss this privately?”
“Yeah, why don’t we do that,” Melvin said. “Come on, guys.”
He didn’t have to convince them. They rushed toward the foyer with a speed that was at odds with their size.
Melvin turned back to her at the last minute. “We expect our money’s worth, Rose. You give Bomber the works, you hear? Anything he wants.”
She gulped and nodded. A moment later, the front door slammed shut.
She and the man they called the Bomber were alone.
Jane watched the Stars’ quarterback refill his glass from a bottle sitting on the coffee table. As he raised the tumbler to his lips, he studied her with pale piercing eyes that looked as if they could carry out a scorched-earth campaign all by themselves.
She had to come up with some way to seduce him before he threw her out, but what? She could simply strip off her clothes, but since her small-breasted body wasn’t exactly pinup quality, that might be the quickest way to get thrown out. Besides, it was hard to get enthusiastic about undressing in front of a stranger who was standing in a fully lit room that had a wall of curtainless windows. When she’d envisioned the nudity part of this, she’d imagined someplace very dark.
“You might as well go on with ’em, Rosebud. I believe I told you I ain’t much for hookers.”
His atrocious grammar renewed her commitment. With every one of his linguistic mistakes, her unborn child’s IQ dropped another few points.
She stalled for time. “I’ve always found it inadvisable to stereotype any group of people.”
“You don’t say.”
“Condemning a person solely on the basis of ethnicity, religion, or even that person’s professional activities is illogical.”
“Is that so? What about murderers?”
“Murderers aren’t, strictly speaking, a cohesive group, so it’s hardly the same thing.” She knew that engaging him in a debate probably wasn’t the best method of turning him on, but she was a much better debater than seducer, and she couldn’t resist driving her point home. “America was founded on principles of ethnic diversity and religious freedom, yet blind prejudice has caused most of the evils in our society. Don’t you find that ironic?”