Authors: Sherri Thomas
“I think you’ve spent too much time with Nick’s mom.”
Darcy chuckled. “You’re right. She does have a habit of going on and on to get things the way she wants. Sorry. I didn’t mean to blindside you. Once the idea presented itself, I ran with it, and I’m sure you’ve had your share of ranch emergencies growing up in Amarillo.”
“I grew up in Lubbock,” she said absently around another bite of the spicy supper.
She moved the food around on the plate with her fork. The job offer was a pleasant surprise, but with Trent close by, she questioned the logic of accepting. On the other hand, she couldn’t go much longer without a paycheck. Sure, a small portion of inheritance from her parents’ passing remained in the bank, but she dipped into those funds way too much as of late.
“You never told me.” A frown lined her friend’s mouth as she scooped a bite of food into waiting lips. “Come to think of it, you haven’t volunteered much information regarding your past.”
“Not much to tell that you don’t already know. I grew up a couple of hours from here and moved to Amarillo two and a half years ago when Dr. Sheffield offered me a job at the hospital. Maybe someday, when you’re bored, I’ll fill you in on all the exciting details.” She laughed out right. “Anyway, thank you for the job offer. Can I sleep on it?”
“Of course. Take as much time as you want. I do have to tell you, you’ll have to help a bit with the animals and guests if you take the job. Not as much as the rest of us, because your first priority would be nursing, but during the down times.” Her friend leaned back. “Man, I’m stuffed. If I keep eating this way, I’m going to need new jeans.” She stretched and glanced at Jordan’s outfit. “Speaking of, did you go shopping like I suggested?”
Brown eyes narrowed at her from across the table.
“I swear. I figured these”—she motion toward her capris—“would be okay for supper. It’s not like I’m traipsing around the barns.”
“True. You just always dress so impeccable. I wasn’t sure if you’d even consider wearing jeans and T-shirts.” Darcy sipped her wine. “Speaking of…you want to go horseback riding tomorrow?”
A weight settled on the center of her chest. “I haven’t ridden in quite a while.”
“You ladies save us any food?” a deep voice called as the door creaked opened.
Jordan turned toward the voice and suffered a bout of tunnel vision as her sights zeroed in on the one cowboy who tied her nerves in knots. Heart pounding, she waited in the deafening silence for him to speak, doubting she’d hear anything above the buzzing in her ears.
Trent placed his hat on the rack along with his brothers and joined the group, washing up at the large, two-sided sink.
She inhaled and put a hand on her stomach to quell the nausea. What gave him the right to be so calm, to look as handsome as he did all those years ago?
“Nope. We ate it all.” Her friend got up and grabbed plates.
“You don’t have to do that, sweetheart. We can wait on ourselves.” Nick kissed his fiancée’s cheek.
“Don’t knock it, big brother. From what I hear, once the honeymoon is over, you won’t get her to do a thing for you.”
Pulling her gaze from the man who unknowingly changed her world, she observed the shortest Matthews brother who’d mumbled the comment under his breath. Not that he was vertically challenged. He still topped her five foot six frame; he was simply shorter than the others.
“For that you can get your own supper.” Darcy placed one dish back in the cupboard and laughed when he groaned.
Sam chuckled. “That’ll teach you to keep your trap shut.”
Jordan found it difficult to concentrate on the banter when her stomach churned with uneasiness. From the way the men stood, Trent failed to notice her. What would he say when he turned around?
Butterflies the size of birds swooped down in the pit of her belly.
“How’s Sierra?” Her friend placed the plates on the table. “That’s the mare in labor,” she informed Jordan.
“Momma and colt are doing great.”
“She had a boy? That’s wonderful. I know y’all hoped for a stallion.” The brunette wrapped her arms around Nick; her face beamed with excitement as she placed a lingering kiss on his lips, earning wolfish whistles from the others.
“Grow up,” the eldest reprimanded without releasing his bride-to-be.
“A leg was hung up, but once we adjusted him, she gave birth like a champ.” The unknown brother told her as he crossed to the table, plate in hand.
The men advanced, and Jordan bit her lip. The anticipation over the next few minutes circled in her chest. Feeling as though she was free falling off a large cliff, she grabbed the edge of the table.
“Chris, I don’t think you met my best friend, Jordan,” Darcy introduced, extracting herself from her fiancé’s arms. “Chris is the odd ball and lives here in the main house.”
“Why move into one of those small cabins when I have this whole place to myself. Unless of course Mom and Dad are in town or we have guests, but hey, even then, I have the whole right wing.” He reached out to shake her hand. “Nice to meet you. She talks about you constantly.”
“That’s reassuring.” Jordan pried her fingers from the wood and gave his hand a squeeze.
“And don’t believe everything you hear about me. It’s only half-true.” He winked, holding her hand a second longer than the other two brothers had.
Letting go, she nodded in acknowledgement and peeked over at the remaining cowboy.
Here it comes…the moment of truth
Please don’t let me embarrass myself by passing out.
Because right now, that was exactly how she felt.
“And I believe you ran into Trent yesterday morning,” Darcy continued.
He stood by the island where pots and pans hung from the ceiling, his smile falling to a frown as his eyes narrowed. “Jordan?”
Without a word, he stepped forward and his palm connected with hers, swallowing her fingers in a warm, tight grip. An electrical shock tingled up her arm.
Skeptical brows narrowed. “Jordan?” he repeated.
“Hello.” She met his confused gaze. Keeping her feelings under control deemed no easy feat. Years ago, she’d given herself to this man and lived through hell because of the misguided actions. Now, it was all she could do to remain in her seat.
A throat cleared.
“You gonna eat or stand there all night gawking at the company?” Sam winked in her direction and brushed past Trent.
Jordan withdrew her hand in haste, grabbed her wine, and without thinking, took a long sip. The liquid traveled down her throat to her belly, landing in a pool of acid.
The cowboy straightened. “Just waitin’ on y’all to get out of my way.” He yanked out the empty chair and straddled the seat beside her.
She glanced around at the others, wondering if anyone would notice if she made a bee-line for the door. Catching Darcy’s eyebrows raised in question, she sighed and resigned herself for a long evening. Of course, her friend would care and be suspicious as to why she hurried out of there, which ended her internal debate. She tried mentally to remove herself from the situation. A tactic she used as a child whenever she wished to be someplace other than with her parents.
But this time, her imagination failed to engage her fully as a spicy male scent wafted over her senses. A thigh brushed hers, leaving heat in its wake.
Not wanting to draw attention, she placed a bite of food in her mouth and shifted away at the same time.
Funny how the once fiery-hot casserole now tasted bland. Her gaze rose yet again and caught the grim yet knowing frown on the handsome face to her right. She reached for her water, and over the next half-hour, played with the remaining food on her plate, refusing to look at the man crowding her space.
The glass of wine drew her attention more often than not, mocking the years she’d gone without. Maybe the liquid would help get her through the night…
Trent’s shoulder brushed hers. A tingling swirled from the limb to her toes, and she sucked in a breath. What the hell—anything had to help at this point. Grabbing the goblet, she drank a healthy swallow then another, with less guilt than she expected at breaking her vow. Her limbs relaxed a little more with each taste. The notion of excusing herself filtered in and out, but every time she got up enough nerve, Darcy pulled her into whatever conversation was flying around the room. Not sure if her answers even made sense, she observed the others, her attention pausing on the one person responsible for her discomfort.
Their gazes caught.
Trent shoved the plate of half-eaten casserole away as the legs of his chair scraped the wooden floor. The air snapped with tension as he stood and stared down. “You ready to end this charade,
All conversation ceased, and she froze.
“Trent, that’s no way to speak to a guest,” Nick scolded.
The brothers made eye contact for a split second. “I used to know her.”
She fisted her hands, digging her nails into the palms. Five pairs of eyes fell on her, and heat crawled up her neck. Oh, how she’d give anything to be anyplace else right this moment. Why did he have to do this
“We met at a bonfire over at Charlie’s the weekend he graduated.”
the one you spent the night with. The reason April—”
“Shut up, Chris.”
Apparently, his family knew all about her
their night together. Humiliation struck hard, and her heart skipped a few beats. The wine and acidy food swirled in the pit of her stomach, getting ready to erupt. Bile rose in her throat, causing her to breathe deep through her nose.
“Ah hell,” Sam exclaimed, tossing his napkin on the center of the table.
How could she even begin to explain the past to these people? More importantly, how would she explain to
Her gaze found the familiar brown one from that precious night long ago. Panic edged its way in, and breathing became difficult.
Trent held out a large palm. “We need to talk,
Not wanting to have this conversation in front of the whole family, Jordan rose as Trent seized her hand.
“Lynn? Who’s Lynn?” Darcy asked, following the pair to the door. “What’s going on?”
“Darc, let them go. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.” Nick’s voice filled the room behind them.
Heart hammering in her chest, Jordan hurried down the steps and across the yard. Not that she possessed much choice with her fingers tucked in the cowboy’s tight grip.
“Will you stop? Or do you want me to break my ankle?” With great effort, she pulled her hand from his.
He glanced to her sandaled feet and adjusted his pace.
“Where are we going?”
“Someplace to talk without bein’ interrupted,” he answered, his drawl thick.
Some time ago, she loved how his southern tone intensified when he was aroused; apparently this rang true when he was upset as well. She’d loved listening to him talk while laying side by side in the back of his pickup, loved the feel of his chest rumbling when he laughed, loved the feel of his naked body next to hers.
Jordan shook off the recollection. Traveling down memory lane wasn’t a road she wanted to visit, but had a feeling in the next few minutes, the choice wouldn’t be hers.
“Key.” He stopped at her cabin, holding out his hand.
“It’s not locked.” She stepped past him, opened the screen and interior door before entering the living room. The sound of the latch clicking shut echoed in the silence.
Trent raised a hand to his hair and frowned.
Taking a guess at what he was looking for she commented, “Your hat’s at the house.”
His hot gaze shot through her as he stormed to the sink and splashed water on his face. Tan hands braced on the edge of the white counter as he bowed his head. His muscular back flexed with the movements.
Why was he distraught? He wasn’t the one facing the firing squad. Or had he somehow found out…
Does he know?
Feeling a bit too warm, she pulled at the collar of her shirt.
“Why a fake name?” His voice filled the room, but he kept his back toward her as he stared out the window. “It’s not like we ended things on a bad note. And why didn’t Darcy tell me I knew her best friend?” He turned around.
Being face to face, staring him in the eye, she wasn’t sure how to explain or how much she needed to explain.
“I don’t make a habit of giving people a rundown of my past.”
“I got the impression you and Darcy are close?”
“We are.” Her hands turned cold, and she clasped them together. “And not once had you mentioned your last name.”
“Neither had you. Not to mention you lied about your first.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Back there in the kitchen, why’d you pretend we were strangers?”
Straightening her spine, she countered his question, “Why’d you go along with it?”
His low voice captivated her, as did the small scar along his jaw and slow swagger as he started across the room. The years dropped away…
Jordan remembered being nervous the day her and her friend, Rachelle, attended that party a couple of hours from home. The afternoon sun blazed hot, and she hadn’t known anyone there. Someone handed her a beer, and the alcohol felt good going down her parched throat. After drinking the courage in a bottle, she found herself letting loose and dancing in the back of a white pickup truck until a sexy cowboy helped her down and into his arms. When Rachelle had wanted to leave so they wouldn’t miss curfew, she wasn’t ready to go. Choosing to disobey her parents, yet again, she stayed at the party with Trent. Someone who let her be herself. Someone who made her feel special.
But if I’d been home at curfew, I could’ve saved my parents.
“Why’d you tell me your name was Lynn?”
His low voice and breath on her face brought her back to the present. Jordan fought the urge to step back, holding her ground while her knees wobbled, threatening to give out. She wanted nothing more than to stay composed and not be affected by him, but her body defied all reasoning and leaned forward, inhaling his spicy, animal mixed scent.