Battle Prize

Free Battle Prize by Stephanie James

Book: Battle Prize by Stephanie James Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephanie James
sorry, but you're not going to earn your bounty fee off my hide!"
    She had picked the only weapon she knew could sting him, and as usual it worked. She saw the anger wash chillingly into his gray eyes, watched the grooves at the edge of his mouth tauten. For a moment she thought he might do something violent, but in the next instant he had himself severely under control again.
    Unhappily Rani wondered if the whole evening had just been ruined.

    When you look back over this evening and wonder what went wrong, you won't have far to search," Rani declared in exasperation as they walked back out to her car after the tension-filled meal. "You'll have only yourself to blame!"
    Gage slid her a quelling glance, his features still set tightly. He hadn't lost his temper during the argument that had raged back and forth over the chicken Marengo, but he had steadily tried to erode her defenses, alternating between assaults of logic and outright bribery. Rani had stood firm against both, but she was beginning to realize she'd paid a steep price. It could have been such a lovely evening!
    "For God's sake, Rani, you're too old for this kind of behavior!"
    "Thanks!" she muttered dryly. "You do have a nice turn of phrase."
    "Oh, hell, you know what I mean," he grumbled disgustedly as they reached her car.
    " Ummm , yes, I believe I do. Nothing sadder than an aging female, is there? I'm certainly lucky King Tanner is willing to overlook my advancing years. There aren't many men who will even look at a woman after she turns thirty, you know," Rani informed him chattily as she slid behind the wheel. "Terrible discrimination against a woman after she turns thirty. I expect it will be even worse after I've reached forty."
    "Will you stop going on about your age? I'm talking about your mental age, not your chronological one, and you know it!" Gage buckled his seat belt with such force that Rani realized he would much rather have been using his hands on her. "You're behaving like a willful teenager!"
    "Reliving the lost days of my youth, no doubt" Rani guided the Mazda out into the street and headed back toward Gage's home. Was the man going to berate her all evening? It appeared so. Perhaps he had no more strings in his bow. The logic and the bribe hadn't worked. What else could he use?
    Gage was silent for a long moment after her last jibe, staring sternly out the window. When he finally spoke again, his words surprised her. "Thank you for dinner."
    "My pleasure," she retorted sarcastically. "The next time I take a man out, however, I think I'll make him sign a contract to the effect that he will be pleasant and sociable. As the one picking up the check, I think I have a right to expect at least some semblance of witty and charming conversation!"
    There was a suspicious silence from the other side of the seat, and Rani threw a quick look in that direction. She discovered Gage's mouth curved upward in the first smile he had indulged in since the chicken Marengo.
    "What's so funny?" she demanded.
    "I was just thinking about what you said."
    "Well, it's true! That meal cost me nearly sixty bucks with wine and tip. The least you could have been was pleasant!"
    "Exactly how men have felt since time immemorial!" he shot back smoothly. "It's nice to get your money's worth out of a date!"
    "Of all the male chauvinist remarks!" Rani gasped. But the outrage was tempered by her rising sense of humor, and in spite of herself she realized she was smiling.
    Gage turned in his seat, one arm braced along the back of it, and studied her profile intently. "I'm sorry I ruined the evening for you," he finally said gently. "But you knew it was going to be partly business."
    "Partly! More like one-hundred percent!"
    "The night isn't over yet. And the business portion of the evening is finished as far as I'm concerned."
    "Am I supposed to be grateful?" she challenged caustically.
    "You're supposed to accept my invitation to come in and have a

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