Authors: Sherri Thomas
“Guarded how?” She tripped over a twig, and the cowboy grasped her elbow. “Thank you.”
“Because of April. She did a real job on him. On all of us I guess.” A dark shadow fell over his features.
Since he seemed to think she knew who this woman was and what she did to the Matthews family, Jordan refrained from asking questions. She’d save those for Darcy.
Looking ahead, she noted two men and a small boy hunkered down over an inanimate object in the corral. From the distance, she couldn’t be sure, but it resembled the shape of a bull.
“How’s it going?” Chris hollered to the trio.
“They’ll be ready for the real deal in no time,” Sam announced. “This kids a natural.”
“I’ll watch for his name in the next rodeo.” Her tour guide waved and bent his head toward her. “That’s Mr. Parker and his son. Sam’s showing them how to rope. We use a fake bull so no one gets hurt. And that,” he added as he nodded to the rounded woman and another boy standing nearby, “is his eight-months pregnant wife. She scheduled this trip last year,
she discovered her condition.” He chuckled. “When she found out about the baby, she refused to cancel. Guess this vacation was a present for her husband. He always wanted to be a cowboy.” He shrugged. “Anyway, here we are. Darcy’s in one of them.”
“Any time.” He hurried off in another direction.
“Hey, what are you doing out here?”
She pivoted as her friend exited the cabin with a bucket full of cleaning supplies. Her frayed jean shorts and gray top sported a couple of bleach stains, but a big smile lined her lips.
Someday she wished to emit as much happiness as her best friend. To feel a sense of rightness.
“Going crazy, but Chris was nice enough to show me where you were.”
“Let me leave these in the other cabin for later, and we can head up to the main house for a coffee or cold drink.”
“Coffee sounds excellent.”
Darcy set the container inside the next bungalow and joined her with a scowl. The expression even looked out of place on her face.
“What’s with the frown?”
“Where are the clothes you bought? Don’t get me wrong, I love your outfits, and you always turn everyone’s head, but I’d hate to see them get ruined.” She groaned. “Now I sound like your mother, ‘listen here young lady…’” She laughed.
“Ha. You’re too funny. Don’t worry, mother dear, I’ll be careful.” Not wanting to explore the sudden emptiness in the bottom of her stomach, she changed the subject. “You want help cleaning?”
“A couple of hours ago I would’ve taken you up on your offer, but now, no. I’m almost done.”
Climbing the stairs to the main house, Jordan held the door for her to enter. “I ah…went for a walk earlier.”
“Good. I’m glad you’re getting around and checking the place out.” Her hostess crossed the kitchen to the coffee pot.
“The exercise felt wonderful. I came across a ravine with some sort of shed at the bottom. Do you know what it’s used for?”
“The guys used to hang out there to get away from their parents and entertain their dates from what I understand.” She quirked a lip. “Nick shared a few stories with me that I’d rather not repeat.”
“Is there an access path or a trail leading to the base of the water?”
Darcy nodded. “If you walk a few minutes more on the path, there’s an opening that winds down the hill.” Standing on tiptoe, she grabbed two cups from the cupboard. “Nick took me once. The place is nothing but cobwebs.” She poured the java into both mugs and handed one over. “We didn’t stick around long. He said the structure wasn’t sound. It’s kind of creepy.” Her brown gaze searched Jordan’s with open curiosity. “You thinking of checking out the place?”
“If you do, have one of the guys take you, okay?”
“I’ll think about it,” she replied, having no intention of asking anyone to accompany her.
Her friend studied her for a minute. “Jordie, what’s going on? I get the feeling there’s a lot I don’t know. Especially about you and Trent. I mean, I don’t want to pry, but I thought we were close, then I find out you two know each other, and your name was Lynn?”
Not sure how much she wanted to share at this point, she exhaled. “My middle name is Lynn, and truthfully, there’s not much to tell. Trent and I spent the night at the shack when I met him six years ago. The next morning, we parted ways and never saw each other again.” Knowing how it sounded, shame filled her chest as she glanced out the window to the empty drive.
“Six years ago? But you had to of been what…eighteen?”
Shrugging her shoulders, she didn’t comment. Meeting a cowboy, giving him an alias, then sleeping with him, she’d lived up to every name the kids at school gave her.
A warm hand lightly touched her arm. “Let’s sit out on the porch. It’s a bit stuffy in here.”
Following her out the door, Jordan sat on a chair by the railing. “You have to believe me, Darcy. I had no idea he was Nick’s brother or I would’ve said something. I never knew his last name.”
“I believe you, hon. And really, it’s none of my business. I just care about you and don’t like the stress I see all of this causing you.”
Feeling as though she owed her friend, she went on. “When I first met Trent, I wasn’t too sure of him, so I gave him my middle name. After we talked for a few hours and got to know each other, I never bothered to correct him. Seemed safer to keep it that way. He couldn’t track me or tell my parents.” Jordan shrugged, trying like hell to keep her voice strong and steady. The last thing she needed was for Darcy to suspect how deeply that night affected her.
A movement in the distance caught her attention as a horse and rider approached. A tingling traveled under her skin, and her heart beat tripled as the cowboy neared.
“You don’t have to say anymore. I can tell you’re uncomfortable, and the last thing I want is to cause you any distress over the situation.”
With her back to the barns, the soon-to-be bride failed to see Trent.
“Hey, I know, why don’t you grab a pair of jeans and go for a ride? Might help clear your head.”
Her stomach fluttered with unwanted excitement. Another step toward the teenage years. She toyed with the idea of refusing while a part of her yearned to accept the offer.
“You can take my horse, TJ.”
Oh, God, she really, really wanted to.
“Come on. Why do you beat yourself up over these decisions?” Darcy smiled as she inclined her head in a confused jester.
Too many situations propelled her closer to the past. The odds of slipping into her old ways stacked up. Still… “You’re going with me, right?”
The cowboy reined his horse in at the base of the steps, and Jordan found she was hard pressed to tear her gaze away.
“I wish, but we have a big group coming in tomorrow, and I need to finish the chores. You can do a couple loops in the corral to get comfortable since it’s been a while, and I’m sure one of the guys would show you around. That reminds me, it’s Nick and my turn to take the guests on a two night camping trip. You wanna come along? It’ll be fun.”
“No. I’ll be okay.”
Listening with half an ear, she admired the way Trent swung his languid body out of the saddle. He tied the reins at the base of the railing and winked in her direction. She quickly pulled her gaze from the male who busted her staring.
“Are you sure? I feel bad leaving you—again. Never mind. I’m sure I can get one of the boys to take my place.” Darcy sipped from her mug.
“I didn’t come here to uproot your routine. I’ll spend time at the hospital, getting reacquainted with the staff and making nice with the higher ups.” So much for asking about April; she’d have to save those questions for another time.
The clunk of boots on the steps drew their attention.
“Hey, Darc.” Trent tapped the brim of his Stetson. “Jordan.”
Was it just her, or did his voice sound deeper, smoother, more throaty when he said her name? She met his hot stare. “Hello.”
“Any left?” He nodded toward the coffee.
“You know Ms. Liz keeps it brewing.” Darcy rose. “Let me get you a cup.”
“I’ll get it. Didn’t mean to interrupt.” Opening the screen, the hunky cowboy disappeared inside.
Looking straight ahead at nothing in particular, listening to the sounds coming from the kitchen, Jordan crossed one leg over the other and clasped her hands together around the cup.
If you act calm, you’ll be calm
, she told herself. She glanced up, found a sad smile on her friend’s face, and stood. “I took up enough of your time today. Besides, if I’m going to take you up on that ride, I should go change.”
The door banged on the hinges.
“How’s the shoulder?” Darcy asked, clearing her throat.
“Nice shiner you gave my fiancé by the way. Thanks.” She scowled.
Trent rubbed his jaw line. “He had it coming.”
Jordan sat back down as she noted a puffed up bruise on his chin. She caressed his face with her gaze, traveling over every inch, wondering what happened between the brothers. A gleam in his chocolate depths captivated her as a lazy grin lifted the side of his sexy mouth. She bit her bottom lip.
“You both need to grow up,” his future sister-in-law huffed, folding her arms over her chest.
“What’s the fun in that?” Trent chuckled. “Anyway, he sent me to grab those papers on the horses you discussed with Mom and Pop.”
“I think they’re in the office.” She raised a brow in Jordan’s direction. “Nick and Sam want to dedicate a couple of weekends throughout the year to holding special camp-outs for different organizations and groups, like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, even for handicapped kids. These horses are supposed to be as sound as they get.”
“Let me know if you’d like help.” She peeked over at the maddening male on her right, and a rush of heat ran the course of her body.
“I hoped you’d say that.” Darcy faced her future brother-in-law. “Jordan’s a registered nurse.”
“Wouldn’t it be great to have her on hand in case of an emergency?”
“Sure.” His attention didn’t waver.
After another quick eyebrow raise, she headed inside. “I’ll…ah…go get those papers.”
Sooner or later he’d have to look away, right? Jordan straightened in her seat and sipped the coffee to wet her parched throat, then made a project of wiping an imaginary spot off her shorts. The sun’s rays caused perspiration to bead between her breasts. Shifting in her seat, she wondered how long they could sit in silence. Where the heck was Darcy? The documents couldn’t be that hard to locate.
Trent drank more of his coffee and set the cup on the railing, never taking his gaze off her.
“Here ya go.” The brunette returned and handed over the folder.
“Thanks.” He snatched the file, tipped his hat back, and stalked over to stand in front of Jordan.
Her heart rate tripled, and her breathing became shallow as she gazed up the length of his never-ending body and over the hard contours his clothing outlined. A surge of desire ignited low in her belly.
Leaning down, his lips brushed hers, barely making contact, yet touching her too much.
Her toes curled against her sandals.
“I’ll see you later.” Angling his Stetson, he descended the stairs, remounted, and glanced up once more before heading toward the barn.
He was lethal.
“Okay, well, today certainly turned into a scorcher,” Darcy chortled. “Why don’t you go change and meet me at the barn. I’ll introduce you to TJ.”
Jordan’s legs refused to move. She didn’t know if she was angry at Trent for the public display, or angry at herself for sitting there and letting him kiss her. How could the mere brush of his lips cause her to go all tingly everywhere?
A giggle caught her attention.
“It’s either that or a cold shower.”
A ride sounded much better than icy water. Besides, she could use time away from the tempting and distracting cowboy tying her insides in knots. “You talked me into it.” Getting up with her empty mug, she crossed to the door.
“I’ll take that. You go get ready.” Her friend plucked the cup from her hand, and Trent’s from the railing.
Feeling the strain of the last few minutes in her chest, she drifted down the steps and headed toward the cabin, only to spot the troublesome man atop his horse. Not wanting to draw his attentions, she slowed her pace and hung back in the shadows.
Trent made an absolutely devastating, sexy image in the saddle, from the way he sat tall to the wide berth of his shoulders to the hat shadowing his handsome face. Her equilibrium tilted and dizziness washed over her.
A movement off to the side caught her attention, and she stopped in her tracks. The small boy she saw with the pregnant mom earlier snuck out from between the cabins and ran in the same direction as Trent. His feet traveling faster than his body, he stumbled, toppling over on to hands and knees. A cry broke through the air.
Instinctively, Jordan hurried to his side. “Are you okay, honey?”
The child struggled to right himself.
“Here, let me help you.” She guided him to his feet.
Shrugging her off, he rose with tears streaming down his chubby freckled cheeks. Torn jeans revealed spots of red on the skin beneath. Eyes wide, he reeled toward the sound of a horse approaching and groaned.
“I’m okay.” His bottom lip puffed out. “I’m tuff.”
The envy on his little face as the rider neared tugged at her heart strings. “Let’s bandage these up before you run off into the sunset?”
“Hey, partner, what happened?” Trent reined in his gelding and swung out of the saddle.
“Tripped over a stupid rock.” He swiped the wetness off his cheeks.
Even the kid failed to be immune to the cowboy. The frustrating male bent on his hunches and inspected the damage.
“Don’t look too bad, but best to let the nurse decide.” He glanced up and smiled.
She stood motionless, observing the tenderness he showed toward the child.
“Aw, I don’t need no girl.”