Authors: Delilah Devlin
To anyone who’s ever hoped for a second chance at love…
Lone Wyatt picked up his saddle from the hot sidewalk and hoisted it over his shoulder. With a nod of thanks to the driver of the pickup he’d hitched a ride with since Tulsa, he glanced up and down the dusty excuse for a main street. Without any particular direction in mind, he stepped out, glancing inside shops with
signs suction-cupped to windows. It looked like the little Oklahoma town had rolled up the carpet. Everything was closed.
With his sorry luck, he’d be sleeping on a bench this night.
Not that he was particularly worried about his predicament. He had a roll of bills in his pocket. A small bottle of JD was tucked into the bedroll strung to his saddle. He’d mailed his suitcase to his home in Colorado, and a buddy had trucked his horse back to the ranch, so he was footloose and fancy-free. No more bulls to ride. No one looking for him to do a damn thing.
Yes-sirree. Lonny Wyatt might have quit the rodeo in his prime with his back still strong and his bones intact, but he had prospects.
Too bad they were all back in Colorado.
After flying in for his brother’s wedding two months ago, he’d given True full authority to manage the family ranch as he saw fit. Somehow, it had felt like the right thing to do. True would continue to send him his cut of the profits, but Lonny didn’t have to face another numbingly cold winter in the high mountain meadows.
Besides, True had hired permanent hands so he could spend more time with his pretty new wife, and Lonny knew True still had some issues to work through there. The fact Lonny had been there, sharing the warmth of Honey’s bed the first time True and Honey hooked up, still stuck in his brother’s craw.
Not that True had ever said a thing. In fact, he’d asked Lonny to come home. Left the door open if ever he wanted to return. However, Lonny wasn’t ready to settle down and be a rancher.
He’d done all right on the circuit this year. Rode a few nasty bulls into the dirt. But the thrill was gone. Buckle bunnies had lost their luster. Many of his old friends had retired and married.
Truth was, Lonny was at a loss to figure out what he wanted to do next. Watching True and Honey share their first kiss as husband and wife had caused a funny pang of envy to tighten his chest. They’d both looked so happy. His brother’s smile when he’d lifted his head and turned to face the guests had been radiant.
Not an expression Lonny had ever seen on his brother’s face before. But then, True had reason to be happy. Honey was a helluva woman—warm, giving—and completely in love with him.
And that was the real reason Lonny had left. He didn’t want to be an impediment. Didn’t want to remind them both he’d had the first kiss. That he’d tasted Honey Cahill and fallen just a little in love with her himself before he’d taken a step back and let his brother have her.
True needed her more.
Lonny took a deep breath and placed one booted foot in front of the other. Somewhere out there was his future. He just had to find it.
Charli Kudrow held the handwritten flyer against the corkboard and picked the tack from between her teeth. She stuck it into the white piece of paper with the tear-off telephone numbers, which stated in plain English the kind of man she sought.
Hardworking, honest, willing to accept a modest wage in exchange for room and board.
Fact was, she couldn’t afford much, but she hoped like hell some down-and-out cowboy would take her up on the offer. She and Drew were running on fumes. They needed help, and soon.
“Someone’s hiring. Things are lookin’ up,” Jake the bartender said as she settled onto a stool.
She sighed. “Money’s stretched thin, but we need help roundin’ up cattle. Have to move ’em closer to feed ’em. Pastures are burned to a crisp.”
The years-long drought had just about turned her ranch into a dust bowl, but somehow she and Drew had held on. There was money for another hand. Someone permanent rather than the temporary hands they hired during roundups and branding.
A song started up on the jukebox, too loud to continue the conversation. Charli gestured to indicate she needed a beer. From the corner of her eye, she saw a cowboy enter the saloon, a saddle balanced on his shoulder. His dark hair was a little long, his hat dusty. But beneath the brim, his jaw was strong, square, his mouth full and sensual.
A bottle tapped the counter in front of her, and she glanced back at Jake, who arched a brow. He was Drew’s friend and didn’t approve of her scoping out a stranger. Charli grinned and shrugged. What was the harm in admiring a handsome man? It wasn’t like she and Drew were married. Drew was her foreman, and they’d hooked up only once. They’d never made any promises. Too bad everyone else branded them a couple.
Since they were already seen as an item by the rest of the town, she wondered why Drew had never pushed for something more. He’d been her husband’s best friend. Maybe he felt guilty that he’d crawled into Daniel’s bed.
Again, the stranger drew her attention. He strode closer, then halted in front of the corkboard. His gaze swept the business cards and pictures of lost pets. His hand reached for the ad she’d posted, flicked the tear-off numbers, but dropped.
She let go of the breath she’d been holding. Was she relieved when he moved along, taking a seat farther down the bar, or disappointed? She didn’t need that kind of trouble. She had enough worries on her plate—like how much the hay she’d ordered trucked in from Arkansas would cut into her profits.
The song ended, and another, this one slower, started up. She took a sip of her beer, then pressed the bottle to the side of her neck, enjoying the cool against her sweaty skin. The temperature had climbed to over a hundred for the thirty-second day in a row. The unending heat sapped her energy, made her yearn for rain. A gully-washer. She didn’t care if it rose to the roof so long as the heat wave broke.
“Care to dance?”
Her foot slipped off the barstool rung, and she jerked forward, her gaze flying to the handsome cowboy who’d somehow managed to slip in unnoticed beside her.
“I don’t dance,” she croaked, then cleared her throat. A blush crept up across her cheeks at the way his green eyes narrowed as they swept her face.
She knew what he saw. A thin woman, a little older than he was. Sun and hard luck had carved a line or two into the brackets beside her mouth and the corners of her eyes. She hadn’t moisturized in ages, hadn’t worn makeup in even longer. What was the point? Her husband was dead, and she had a ranch to run.
“All you have to do is hold on. I’ll move you around the floor,” he said, his voice soft and seductive. A dimple dug a crease into one cheek as he smiled. It perfectly matched the notch in his chin.
Her tongue tickled as she thought about pushing the tip into that groove. She straightened on her seat. “If I said I wasn’t interested, would you move along to someone else?”
He shook his head, then tilted up the brim of his hat. “Name’s Lone, but you can call me Lonny.”
Charli’s mouth twitched, but she couldn’t hide the glimmer of a smile his persistence evoked. “You ever have a woman say no?”
His sage eyes lit with humor. “Not once. You wouldn’t wanna mess up my perfect record, now would ya? It’s just a dance.”
She sighed and ignored Jake’s scowl. When Lonny extended his hand, she placed hers inside his and hoped he didn’t mind a callus or two.
His fingers closed tighter, and he tugged her off the stool. Standing beside him, she felt her heart flutter because he was tall and broader across the chest than she’d noticed. She liked feeling dwarfed by a man. Her day was definitely looking up.
Lonny led her between the round tables to the parquet dance floor, then turned and pulled her into his embrace, his arms encircling her body.
She cocked her head and drew back, lifting a hand to indicate she expected something a little less invasive.
He didn’t argue. Instead, he flashed an easy grin and lifted his hand, waiting until she slid her palm across his. He placed his other hand lightly on her hip and shuffled her backward on the dance floor.
They made several turns before he leaned toward her. “You lied. You do too dance.”
Charli chuckled. “Not in a long time, cowboy.”
“Swear I wouldn’t have minded if you’d stepped on my toes. Would’ve given me an excuse to pull you closer. We could have swayed together.”
“You know any speed other than fast?”
A pang of regret tightened her chest. Something of what she felt must have registered on her face, because he pulled her closer, not relenting until she laid her head against his shoulder. Now they did sway slowly together. And it was nice.
His cheek rubbed her hair. “This is nice. Didn’t I tell you?”
She snorted, surprised his words so closely matched her own thoughts. “You’re awfully pushy.”
“Can’t resist a pretty girl.”
“You’re not gettin’ into my pants with flattery.”
“Then what’ll it take?”
She should have been insulted, but her body softened the shock, melting ever so slightly closer to the hard-bodied cowboy. “I’m not easy.”
“Sounds like a challenge to me,” he murmured beside her ear. “You married?”
And she’d stopped wearing Daniel’s ring a year ago.
“Then there’s nothing in the way.”
She leaned away to glance up into his face. “What if I have a boyfriend?”
“Sweetheart, if you had a man in your life, one you wanted in your bed, you wouldn’t be here with me right now.”
Her gaze slid away. She ought to be feeling guilty. The glances she was getting from Jake were sternly disapproving.
But while it was true Drew was a part of her life, she’d never felt a spark of fire this hot. Hadn’t since she was a teenager and Daniel pulled her clothing from her body for the first time.
“See there?” he murmured. “You’re thinking about it now. What it would be like to lie down with me.”
“I’m not like that.”
He nodded, his grin widening. “I know. Makes it all the sweeter.”
She laughed and shook her head. Her face was on fire, and she’d never been so glad the lights were dim inside this bar. However, that heat was nothing compared to the slow simmer melting honey between her legs.
When his thigh slipped between both of hers and his hand pressed against her hip to coax her into riding it, she didn’t resist. She dropped her head to hide her expression, and let him slide deeper between her legs, each step forward rubbing against her crotch, building friction. Her breath hitched at the sensation. Her hand tightened inside his.
His chest rose and fell a little more deeply, like he too felt that spark of attraction catch fire. They moved fluidly around the dance floor, their movements graceful, as though they’d done this before.
Her nipples pebbled, and she let her chest rest against his, enjoying the added sensations of all that hard muscle softly buffeting hers.
This wasn’t just a dance. It was a seduction, and her body warmed. Fluid drenched her panties, and she wished she had the courage to be shameless and let him lead her outside.
The song ended. She drew a deep breath and tugged her hand from his, forcing him to pull away. “Thanks for the dance,” she whispered.
“Pleasure was all mine, ma’am.”
Face burning, she turned on her heel and walked away, past the bar where Jake delivered a scowl, through the glass door and into the baking heat outside. The sun had set, but the pavement hadn’t cooled.
Jake could put her beer on her tab. She didn’t need his bristling disapproval. Not right now, when her body was still pleasantly warm and languid.
She dug into her pocket for her truck keys and didn’t look back to see if the cowboy followed. She knew her place. It was back at the Lucky K. Not mooning over a younger man.
“Why are you in such a hurry? Did I scare you off?”
Her head whipped up, her gaze landing on the young cowboy.
He stood beside her truck, his gaze shadowed beneath his hat. “I’d like to buy you a drink. Get to know you.”
“I can’t stay,” she blurted. “I’ve got someplace to be.”