Bri managed a halfway credible shrug. “I mean, I’ll look up a woman hunter.”
“You will not go after that killer with a woman hunter.”
“I’ll go with whom I please,” she said, her voice calm, resigned.
Although his eyes flashed with anger, he exhaled a quiet sigh of concession. “Okay, you win. I’ll take you with me. But I’ll have one thing understood before we go any further with this.”
“And that is?” Bri had a hard time containing her sense of victory, along with a thrill of excitement.
“I give the orders.”
“And you will follow them, at once and without protest or question.”
Bri went stiff with outrage. Just who did this guy think he was? she railed in silent frustration. Unable to keep her feelings inside, she shot back, “I am not a child to be ordered around. Who do you think you are?”
“I’m the bounty hunter you want or you wouldn’t have sought me out in the first place.” He smiled, stirring all kinds of emotions inside her. His gaze skimmed her from head to toe, flooding her body with heat. “Just for the record, I’m well aware you’re not a child. However, those are my demands.”
Defeat was a bitter pill to swallow, but Bri knew she had little choice. She had deliberately sought him out, and not only on the advice of her friends or his cousins.
Bri was thorough in everything she did. She had done her research. She had pulled the information that not only was Tanner considered one of the best bounty hunters around, many believed him to be the best at finding his man in rough terrain like mountains.
“All right,” she reluctantly agreed. She thought she should feel steam spewing from her ears; instead she felt…protected? She gave a mental shake of her head. No, Tanner Wolfe wasn’t feeling protective of her; he was very likely feeling superior.
“Good.” He flicked a hand at the table. “Have a seat. We’ve got a lot of plans to go over.”
Wary but resigned, Bri slid onto the chair she had vacated moments before. She picked up the mug, took a sip, made a face and set it down again.
“That’s gotta be cold.” He grabbed the mug along with his own and turned away. “I’ll get us refills.” He raised his eyebrows. “What about your scone?”
Bri shook her head. “No, thank you. It’s fine this way.” Raising the pastry to her mouth, she took a bite. “It’s very good.”
“Whatever.” Shrugging, he turned away.
Chewing another bite of the scone, she watched him, studying him from the rear. It was a very nice rear, narrow, firm and taut. His back and shoulders weren’t bad, either, broad and muscular, not in a pumped-up way, but more lean and rangy.
Mugs refilled, Tanner returned to the table, giving her another chance to more closely examine the front of him. That was even better.
His flat, muscled chest veed to a slim waist. His legs were long, straight, his thighs nicely straining the denim of his jeans as he arranged his tall frame in the chair. He regarded her in calm, watchful silence.
Quiet and composed, his features appeared sculpted from marble, sharply delineated. His nose was straight, cheekbones high, jawline defined, square and hard, as if the sculptor had carved it lovingly. If it weren’t for those soft eyes and that tender smile, he’d look like a statue. That tiny flare of excitement flashed inside her again. Why? The question hammered at her mind. Bri couldn’t find the answer, and that seriously bothered her.
“What are you staring at?” His quiet voice jolted her out of her reverie.
Damn, once again he’d caught her brooding, staring. What in the world was the matter with her? she chastised herself. She had never been so strongly affected by any man. The closest she had ever come to feeling so drawn to a man had been a disaster, for he had proven to be a handsome, charming son of a bitch, a practiced user of young, susceptible women. At the time, she had been both.
“You,” Bri admitted, but that was all she intended to admit. “I’m trying to figure you out.”
He grinned. “How are you making out?”
“Not too well,” she said, deliberately grinning back at him. “You’re not easy to read.”
“Don’t feel bad,” he said, growing serious. “I can’t figure you out, either. You’re sure not what you appear to be.”
Bri raised her brows. “How do I appear to be?”
He studied her a moment. “My first impression of you was of a beautiful woman, very well dressed, well-bred and educated.”
Despite her suspicion of easy compliments—the SOB had been extremely easy with them—Bri felt her cheeks grow warm, flushed not only by his words but by the open admiration in his eyes. “I—I don’t know—”
Tanner silenced her with a quick shake of his head. “Don’t get all flustered. I doubt you’ll be as pleased with my opinion of how you’re different from my snap impression.”
Bri raised her mug to her lips to sip at the hot brew, looking relaxed, while in fact she was steeling herself for whatever he said next. “Go on.” How in the world she had managed a cool tone, Bri hadn’t a clue.
“I think you have been spoiled rotten,” he said with blunt honesty. “You want what you want, when you want it. I read you as self-centered, self-confident and too damned sure of yourself.”
Why Tanner Wolfe’s assessment of her personality should hurt her, she couldn’t imagine, but hurt it did, like the very devil. Odd, usually she wasn’t so sensitive to anyone else’s opinions of her. Since the episode with the silver-tongued weasel, she thought she had grown a thick skin.
“Now you want to take a shot at me?”
“Of course,” Bri said. “But first I’d like to know how you managed to come to that conclusion in such a short time with me.”
“Easy.” Tanner laughed. It sounded relaxed, genuine. “I recognized the traits because they’re very similar to my own.” He paused to laugh again. “The only difference is I’m not beautiful.”
“You’re spoiled?” She couldn’t help laughing, thinking he was wrong on one point. He was beautiful, just in a different, masculine way.
“Sure,” he answered, laughing with her. “I have great parents. While instilling morals, values, ethics, good behavior and good housekeeping skills into their sons, they also spoiled the hell out of us. In a good way,” he quickly added, grinning.
“You have two brothers, both older than you, right?” she asked, although she knew the answer.
“Yeah.” He nodded. “Justin’s the oldest, now thirty-two. Then Jeffrey, thirty. And lastly, yours truly, twenty-nine.” He grinned again. “There’s also a slew of cousins.”
“So I’ve heard.” She grinned back at him.
“How old are you?”
Well, no one would ever accuse him of being hesitant. The thought brought a smile to her lips. “I’m twenty-seven.”
“You’re too young to risk your life traipsing around in the mountains, looking for a killer.”
Bri rolled her eyes while heaving a sigh. “I believe we’ve already plowed that field, Mr. Wolfe. I’m going, period.”
“I know, but I had to try one more time.” His sigh was heavier than hers. “And the name’s Tanner. It would get pretty tiresome hearing Mr. Wolfe over and over for who the hell knows how long.”