Authors: Sherri Thomas
Jordan’s stomach somersaulted at the use of her cowboy’s name. As much as she longed for the man in her dreams at night, the daytime was another story. She did not need another confrontation from her past. Not now.
“Sierra’s one of the mares Trent bred with his prize stallion,” Darcy explained, oblivious to her distress.
“Need anything while we’re out?” Sam leaned a hip on the counter.
“No, but thanks for asking.”
“Anytime. I thought he’d beat me here.” Glancing out the window, he straightened. “Ah, there he is.”
Alarm bells sounded in Jordan’s head. She wasn’t ready to face that past. Would he remember? Doubtful. He’d been a twenty-one year old boy with raging hormones six years ago. She, a notch on his belt buckle he probably forgot. But having dealt with the repercussions of their encounter repeatedly throughout her life, she never would forget.
“I should be going. I don’t want to be late for my meeting, and I have a few places to stop beforehand.” Hurrying toward the door, she gave Sam a quick nod. “Nice meeting you.”
“I’m working at the law office this afternoon, but make sure you text me what happens.” Her friend crossed the kitchen floor and gave her a hug.
“I will.” Jordan spun on her heels and rushed out…only to collide with a very solid chest.
A familiar spicy, sweaty, male scent invaded Jordan’s senses, and she bit back a moan. The years melted away as she struggled for control. No matter how hard she tried, she failed to erase the memory of his touch, the way he’d held her like a precious gift.
Some gift she turned out to be.
Large hands encompassed her upper arms. “Easy, sweetheart,” came the deep, southern drawl.
Two words and goose pimples rose on her skin, and a moment of panic filled her.
Forcing her sights up the six feet plus inches of testosterone to the small scar on his chin to creamy brown eyes, she commanded her brain to focus. “I-I’m sorry.”
“No harm.” Chocolate orbs narrowed beneath the black cowboy hat, recognition settling on his face as one side of his mouth lifted. “Don’t I know you?”
The crooked smile caused a tightness in her chest, and she jerked away. “I’m late.”
Sprinting to her truck, Jordan held her breath until she was locked safe and sound inside. With shaking fingers, she inserted the key and turned the ignition three times before the engine rumbled to life. Glancing in the rearview mirror, she inhaled several gulps of air. The cowboy stood on the porch staring in her direction.
Her stomach plummeted. Her skin tingled. Even from a distance, he affected her.
Best course of action
avoid the sinfully tempting male.
Throwing the gears into reverse, she backed out of the parking area and then drove hell for leather away from the ranch, away from the past, and all the unwanted memories.
Trent stared in the direction of the raven-haired woman’s taillights. He’d recognize Lynn anywhere, the sway of those tempting hips, the electrifying affect of those blue eyes, those luscious lips.
What was she doing here? And why’d she bolt? Hurrying off without as much as a hello?
Maybe the mystery woman wasn’t her. It
been quite a few years since he’d seen her; the breasts looked larger, the hair longer. But she felt…like his Lynn.
Maybe the medication caused the hallucination.
He cursed. Most days, he avoided the tablets, but stacking hay and falling asleep in the barn yesterday left him little choice. The searing heat in his shoulder burned as if someone branded his skin with an iron.
Shaking off the illusions, he entered the kitchen.
“What took you so long?” Sam asked, setting a cup in the sink.
Ah, the finer points of his day…answering to his family. “Finishing up a few things,” he growled, then nodded in acknowledgement to Darcy as she passed in front of him and exited the room.
Crossing to the table, Trent yanked out a chair and winced as pain ricocheted down his arm. Stars danced behind his lids. The majority of the time, the injury didn’t give him much trouble, but this week bore an unusual amount of work with the over abundance of guests vacationing at his family’s dude ranch, and chore after chore needing done. He lowered himself onto the wooden seat.
“Trent, we don’t have time for you to get comfortable. We were supposed to be on our way to town an hour ago.” A scowl formed on his sibling’s face.
“Give me a minute.” Resting his head in his hands, he inhaled. Why was everyone always in such a hurry?
Boots scuffed on the floor. A heavy hand landed on his good shoulder.
“You okay?” Concern filled Sam’s voice.
Damn, he hated when they worried over him. “I’m fine. Just off my mark today.” He met his older brother’s stare.
“Shoulder giving you problems?” Sam shook his head. “I told you, you were doing too much.”
“No.” Every day he pressed forward, repeating the steps. The morning meetings at the main house with the rest of the Matthews clan, caring for the animals, taking care of the guests—if any. He ate his meals, fixed fences, showered, swallowed pain medicine if required, and fell into bed exhausted. Just to get up and start over the following day—not feeling anything but physical pain. The struggles with his limb a steady reminder of his past. Two years later and April still haunted him. The night she shot him embedded in his mind forever.
Dating off and on during high school, he knew her better than anyone. Or so he thought. She’d hid the dark side from him well. Friends told him stories, but he refused to believe them until the mood swings.
Fury washed over him. He spent too much time kicking himself for not seeing her sickness. Too many nights lying awake listening to the sounds, waiting for something to happen.
Trent tightened his jaw and challenged his elder’s glare.
“That’s why you took meds, right? Don’t bother denying it. I can tell by the glassiness of your eyes.”
He stood. “Let’s go so we can get back and get things done.”
“What the hell were you thinking?” Sam rubbed his jaw while scrutinizing him. “You can’t work under the influence of muscle-relaxers. Stay here. I’ll go to town myself.”
“No.” Damn it, he was capable of taking care of himself. For too many months, his family coddled him. Not anymore. Two years was long enough.
His brothers had even gone as far as buying him a flat screen television and leather recliner after his first surgery. The gifts were intended to keep him entertained while he healed, but much to his family’s displeasure, and the doctor’s, the presents failed to keep him immobile for long. He refused to plant his ass in the soft rawhide and let everyone else do the work around the ranch.
According to Dr. Ryhe, his non-compliance was what led to the second and third surgeries. The last one three short months ago. His continual refusal to rest caused the ligaments to tear and the damn thing to dislocate on a regular basis, but he couldn’t stop, work was the only thing that kept him going.
“I’m off to Attorney White’s.” Darcy entered and stopped, glancing from one brother to another. “What’s wrong? Something happen?”
“Just Trent being Mr. Hardhead as usual.”
His future sister-in-law frowned and crossed the room until she stood in his direct vision. “Is it your shoulder again?”
Great, now she was going to go all motherly. “I’m fine,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Too bad Jordan hurried out of here. She could’ve helped.” Her gaze traveled to Sam.
Trent snarled at the two of them. “Who the hell is Jordan? And what does he have to do with anything?”
is my friend, remember? The one who’s staying with us for a while. You passed her on the way in. Black hair, yellow sundress?”
The description fit the woman he ran into. The meds really were screwing with his head. “What’s so all fire great about her?” he asked, his tone sharper than intended.
“She’s an RN.”
“Give up, Darcy. Mr. Hardhead isn’t going to let anyone help him. He can do everything himself.” Sam jammed his hat in place. “I have to go.” The door slammed shut behind him.
Hurrying to catch up, Trent grabbed his Stetson and followed to the red F350.
“You aren’t working on the ranch today and that’s final,” his brother informed him when he climbed inside the cab.
“Jesus. Would you give it a rest already? I didn’t take a full dose.”
Mr. Boss-man swung the vehicle out onto the main road. “Don’t matter.”
“There’s no pleasin’ you people. First you hound me to take the shit, and now you’re pissed I did.” He reclined in the passenger seat and closed his eyes, shutting out the world.
“I’m not pissed you took the medication. I’m ticked, because you think it’s safe to work with them in your system.”
“It’ll be worn off by the time we get back.”
Tired of arguing, he ignored the comment and hunkered down in his seat. He needed to clear his head and relax. Pulling his hat over his eyes, he let his mind wonder over the attractive nurse. Something about the black-haired beauty piqued his interest in a way that puzzled him. A smile tugged at the corners of his lips. The high, round breasts, the never-ending tan legs, the slim waist line that had his hands itching to hold on to the woman for starters.
Whoa, boy, get a hold of yourself
Showing any interest in his future sister-in-law’s friend would create nothing but disaster. Besides, it’s not as if he didn’t have his pick of the opposite sex if he wanted…key being
He’d been out a couple of times since the shooting, but only for physical release. Pure and simple. The females he hooked up with knew the score—no strings, no phone call the next day, no chance of exploring a relationship. Bottom line, he’d needed sex.
The last six months of celibacy loomed too long—that explained why the raven hair from long ago had crept into his mind.
“Hey, sleeping beauty, we’re home.”
The amused voice broke through the haze as a hand shook him awake.
“What? When?” Feeling disoriented, Trent lifted his hat off his face, opened his eyes to an empty truck, and stumbled from the passenger side.
“You dozed off on the way to town. Never even flinched when I shut the door.” Sam’s voice sounded from the rear of the vehicle.
Wow. He slept through the whole journey?
A high-pitched squeak assaulted his ears as the tailgate lowered.
“You get everything?”
“Yep.” Sam tossed a bundle of shingles over his shoulder. “Why don’t you take the day off? Not much going on anyway.”
“I’m replacing that section of roof on my cabin as planned.”
“It wasn’t planned. You decided this morning, and you’re like a dog with a bone. Once you get your teeth into something, you don’t let go.”
“You get the supplies from the vet?”
“In the bag.” Mr. Authority nodded and trotted off toward the storage shed.
Growing tired of this song and dance, Trent snatched up the remaining sack. Carrying the medical provisions to the horse barn, he stopped and checked on Sierra. The mare greeted him with a whinny.
“How you feeling, girl?” He opened the stall and ran a hand over her body. A few muscles contracted, and she pranced in place. Much to his relief, she didn’t appear distressed or uncomfortable.
“I’ll be back later.”
Exiting the barn, he was surprised at the stillness. Not one sibling in sight. Good. Maybe now he could get down to business without anyone harping in his ear.
Crossing to the shed, he lifted a package of roofing materials. His shoulder tightened and pain ripped down the extremity. So much for muscle-relaxers. The medication did nothing but make him tired. Teeth grinding together, he dropped the pack on the back of a four-wheeler parked close by and, as anger fisted inside, punched the wall with his good arm, cracking the board. He
to give in and sit on the sidelines while his brothers handled the ranch.
Grabbing a box of nails and a hammer, he returned to the ATV.
“Trent, wait up.”
Groaning at the sound of his eldest brother’s approach, he stowed the tools in the compartment under the seat. Swinging a leg over the machine, he crossed his arms over his chest and watched Nick hurry toward him.
“I already let the horses out and fed the smaller animals.” Gravel crunched as he stopped in front of the four-wheeler. “So, if you want help…”
Trent readjusted his hat, but kept silent.
“If you need a hand.” His gaze wavered. “Hell, I’m screwing this up.” He sighed. “Why do I let Darcy talk me into these things. Listen, everyone’s worried. You don’t laugh. You never smile. I’d feel better if you’d punch something or me, show some kind of emotion.”
“Want an instant replay of the last five minutes?” he asked, shaking out the soreness in his knuckles and thinking of the new hole in the wall.
Giving a little humph, he grumbled, “How’d you get elected to play therapist?” Not wanting to hear the response, he started the ATV, wishing to forget how dumb he’d been. That was the worst part, being reminded everyday how he mistook habit for love.
Nick reached over and switched off the key. “You ever think I came over here to make amends?”
“For what?” Squinting against the sunlight, he waited for his brother to elaborate.
An uncomfortable silence stretched while his self-appointed shrink stared off in the direction of the pasture. Talking like this bordered on unnatural, but since Darcy entered the picture, more and more the love struck groom-to-be embarked on these meaningful conversations.
been as sappy when he’d dated April?
No. Just young and dumb.
Walking around in a haze of glory, carefree, with a willing woman on his arm—who manipulated every minute of his…
“I saw the changes in April, her erratic behavior. I chalked her moods up to moving in here and the pressures of the wedding. I never once imagined a chemical imbalance.” Nick’s gaze cast downward, then shot back up. “Let me help you with the roof, because I’m your brother.”