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Authors: Desiree Holt

Tags: #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Western, #Historical, #Fiction

Stark Naked

BOOK: Stark Naked
7.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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Dedication

 

To the real Matt Stark. Thanks for the inspiration.

Chapter One

 

“I’m really glad you came out to visit tonight,” Amy Stark said, carrying two margaritas into the family room of Stark Ranch. “And that you moved here. It’s been too long since we saw each other.

Reenie Davenport accepted the drink, took a tiny swallow of the icy liquid and stared out at the landscape, the rays of the dying sun pouring in through the big picture window. She’d spent a fair amount of time getting ready for this visit. She hadn’t seen either her friend Amy, or Amy’s very good-looking brother, since college graduation, so shoot her for wanting to look her very best. She caught her reflection in the glass of the window and eyed herself critically. Jeans and a simple sweater that made the most of her petite figure. Her naturally sun-streaked hair loose and swirling to her shoulders.

California girl comes to Texas. How did she look to Amy? And how would she look to her brother?

Not that I care. I’m done with men. Finished. Living a blessedly single life.

“I don’t like cows. I’m not even sure I like cowboys.” She threw her arms up in the air. “So how the hell did I end up in Texas?”

Amy Stark took a sip of her margarita. “Because you got a good job offer and it was a chance to wipe California Dude out of your mind?”

Reenie made a face. “California Dude? Well, yeah, I guess that’s a good way to describe him. But I think I like Asshole Aaron better.”

Amy laughed, and Reenie found herself smiling, realizing the pain in her heart over the jerk’s betrayal had finally dialed back to a dull ache. Her old college roommate had always had the ability to make her smile, even laugh at herself. Which was why Amy had been the first one she called when she made the leap to Texas and a new job. And why she’d jumped at the invitation to spend a weekend at Stark Ranch.

Moving to Texas was the most impulsive thing she’d ever done, but suddenly the state of California hadn’t seemed big enough to hold both her and Asshole Aaron. Especially since his betrayal had screwed up both her personal and professional lives. When an agency client had come calling just at the moment she needed an escape, she jumped. They were taking their graphics and marketing in-house and wanted her to be part of the new department. It had taken a few weeks to make it all happen, weeks of avoiding Aaron at work, of dodging her friends’ questions. And all she knew about Texas came from watching reruns of that old nighttime soap
Dallas
.

But Southfork Ranch had been almost in downtown Dallas and filled with beautiful people. Stark Ranch, on the other hand, was in the middle of no place. The sprawling ranch house had impressed her at once, with its vast open rooms and comfortable furniture that even in its simplicity still shrieked “expensive”. But although it was nestled in a copse of shade trees, there was nothing as far as she could see except rolling pasture. She felt completely out of place, like someone who’d gone to sleep and woken up in the wrong room. How did anyone live with this much open space? She needed walls, definitions.

“I just can’t believe you actually live out here so far from…from…civilization,” she went on. “With all these…these…cows.”

“Cattle,” Amy corrected her. “Beef on the hoof.”

“Cattle. Cows. It’s all the same to me,” Reenie said. “I can’t imagine being out here with nothing but animals.” She turned and winked at Amy. “I prefer the two-legged kind.”

“Oh, we’ve got those.” Amy grinned. “And believe me, they’re mouthwatering.” She pushed herself out of the big leather chair and came to stand by her friend. “Anyway, I’ve never thought of this place as isolated. I can be downtown in San Antonio in forty minutes. It took you less than that to drive out here tonight.”

“I guess it just feels like you’re a world away,” Reenie protested. She frowned. “Somehow in the movies ranches always looked…busier. With more people. Doing stuff.”

“We are during the day. Life on a ranch, especially one this size, gets pretty hectic. Which is why on Friday nights the hands all get a chance to cut loose. Something you should do my friend. You’ve been strung tighter than a bow since you came to Texas.”

“I know, I know.” Reenie sighed. “I just can’t seem to put the pieces of my life back together. Taking this job was an impulsive move. I just wanted to get away from Asshole Aaron and California didn’t seem big enough to hold both of us. And you’re here and we haven’t seen each other since college.” She sighed again. “A long time.”

“But now we’re making up for it. And I’ll do my best to get your mind off the Double A.”

“Double A?” Reenie couldn’t help grinning. How appropriate.

“Well, he is. Anyway, I thought we’d hit Charlie’s. It’s the end of the week so the place will be packed. All the ranch hands will be ready to raise hell.”

“Oh. Well.” Reenie let out a breath. “Actually, Amy, I don’t think I’m quite ready for the meet-and-greet scene yet. I need some distance from it.”

“Double A really did a number on you, didn’t he?”

Reenie hated the sympathy in her friend’s voice. “No more than I allowed him to. It just took me too long to see him for the self-centered, conceited jerk that he was.” The sex was so good I didn’t even look around to see he was banging half the women in the office and stealing my promotion out from under me. So, no, I don’t think I’m quite ready yet to jump back into that pool.”

“Maybe tomorrow night. See how you feel then. You’re here for the weekend, so tonight we could just pop in a DVD, watch a chick flick and get trashed on margaritas. Girl stuff.”

“That sounds pretty good. Thanks.”

Amy pushed herself out of the chair. “Okay, then. First let me at least give you a tour of the barns so you can say you know what happens on a ranch. You can’t visit a ranch without seeing what it’s really all about. And Stark Ranch is one of the best operations around. Then I’ll get us margarita refills and junk food.”

“Okay, okay.”

Amy opened the back door at almost the same moment a man on the porch raised his hand to knock on it. He had to be close to sixty. His dusty jeans and boots indicated he’d been outside working. He pulled his worn Stetson from his head and walked over to Amy.

“Everything’s bedded down,” he reported. “Night shift’s about to take over. I’ll just be heading into town if that’s okay.”

“Go ahead, Hank. I guess everyone else is already at Charlie’s.”

He looked at Reenie, then back at Amy. “You ladies planning to join us? Might give your friend a taste of Willow Creek.”

Amy shook her head. “No, thanks for the invite, but we thought we’d just hang here and get blitzed. Anyway, I don’t think my friend’s really into noisy cowboys and local bars.”

“Shame. She doesn’t know what she’s missing.”

“I tried to tell her.” Amy laughed.

“Well, whatever you do, don’t set her up with that brother of yours. I swear he’s written a whole new set of rules for male behavior. All right, ladies. Have a good night.”

“Isn’t he a little old to be a cowboy?” Reenie asked Amy after Hank left. “And to be out boozing it up?”

“Are you kidding? Hank’s tough as nails. He’s been doing this forever. He might miss a step now and then, but he can still take on the new hands anytime.”

“What did he mean about your brother?” Amy had never said much about Matt Stark, although Reenie knew the two were close. She vaguely remembered a picture of a young man with hair and eyes as dark as Renee’s at graduation, but that had been twelve years ago and a lot of water had rushed over the dam since then.

“Oh, just that Matt’s a player who goes through women the way the cattle go through feed. But my brother’s a hard worker. When our parents moved to New Mexico after Dad’s heart attack most of the responsibility for the ranch fell on Matt’s shoulders.”

“I guess that’s a lot to take care of.”

“Uh huh. It’s a big operation, Reenie, one that takes a lot of hard work. I might disagree with his social outlook but I don’t begrudge him. We’re two different people, that’s all.”

“Where is he tonight, anyway?”

“We signed a huge contract to supply beef today, so my guess is he’s out celebrating with the buyers. Or out with one of his women. Like I said, he plays as hard as he works. And he always does it with such style you can’t even be mad at him. So, if we aren’t going to Charlie’s let me at least give you the nickel tour. We’ll take a quick run through the barns and you can see what goes on there.”

“Oh, Hmm. The barns?”

Amy laughed. “Come on. If the cattle or horses try to bite you I’ll be your protector.”

She followed Amy who walked with a long-legged easy gait, her black pony tail swinging with the rhythm of her body. It was obvious she was completely at ease in this environment, and while Reenie stepped gingerly into the first barn, Amy walked as if she owned the place. Well, duh. She did indeed. She and the horny brother, Matt.

She looked around with a mixture of curiosity and distaste, wrinkling her nose at the mingled aromas of hay, sawdust and manure. What did people like about this, anyway? It all looked so different in the movies.

Give me the Malibu sand and the roar of the surf any day. Even the smell of fish is better than this. Why oh why did I think Texas would be a good place to live?

She did her best, however, to be polite as Amy rattled off details about the various horses in the stalls, toured her through something called the tack room, explained how the horses had to be trained to do specific jobs. But she balked at something called the breeding barn.

“If you’re going to show me cows fucking I’m going home,” she said and made a face. “Of course, they’re probably getting more action right now than I am.”

Amy smiled. “Actually, it’s pretty scientific, but I think we’ll skip that for now. Maybe tomorrow. It’s really Matt’s bailiwick. He can tell you about it better than I can.”

Reenie controlled a tiny shudder. Just what she needed. The horny cowboy telling her about horny cows. Outside Amy pointed to the pastures where the cattle were grazing, explained how they moved them around to allow the hay to grow back, how they separated the heifers, whatever they were, from the yearlings, whatever
they
were, and other details that blew past Reenie’s head.

“Okay, okay,” Amy laughed as they walked past the corral. “I can see you’re on overload and this isn’t exactly your thing. I’ll take pity on you and fix us more margaritas.”

“You really do have a great operation here,” Reenie said politely.

Amy laughed again. “And you’re a very good guest. Come on. The tequila’s calling.”

They were sprawled in the family room watching a chick flick, working on their third round of the citrusy drinks, when Reenie heard the roar of a truck engine, the squeal of brakes and the slamming of a vehicle door. She looked at Amy, raised an eyebrow.

“Probably Matt. He’s not exactly a quiet driver. Although that’s a little noisier than usual.”

The front door opened, slammed shut, and boots clacked on the hardwood floor.

“Well, well.” The low drawl sent a shiver dancing along Reenie’s spine. “Amy, you didn’t tell me we were having company. I’d have come home a lot sooner.”

His words were slurred just a little, but Amy seemed to pick up on it right away. “She’s my company, not yours, hotshot.” She frowned. “And exactly how much have you had to drink?”

Reenie stared, the man’s lopsided grin making her stomach do funny flips as it had years ago.

“Just a few shots to toast our good fortune.”

“I hope the others aren’t as toasted as you are. And that you got drunk after the papers were signed.”

“Of course.” He winked at her. “And our fortune is really, really good, kiddo.”

“I know, but holy crap, Matt. You look like the tail end of a Friday night at Charlie’s Bar.”

“Hey, give me a little break here.” He staggered into the family room, stumbled slightly and leaned against the wall for support.

“Please tell me you didn’t drive home this way.” Anxiety washed over Amy’s face.

“At least give me credit for
some
brains. I called the bunkhouse and Andy Givens came and fetched me.” He chuckled. “Think I cut into his night life a little. He sure took off out of here like a bat out of hell.”

“I’ll send someone to pick up your car first thing in the morning.” Amy’s voice was tight with disapproval.

“Already covered. Someone will bring it home later tonight.”

Amy sighed. “I can’t believe you got this blitzed, Matt. This just isn’t like you.”

Reenie stared at the man and the sight was a punch to the gut. Every hormone in her body raced full tilt. She’d remembered him as being cute, but
this
? God, this was beyond cute. A surge of lust rolled through her, making her pulse kick
way
up and an insistent throbbing pounded between her thighs. No wonder he was a player. He probably had to hand out numbers.

Even in his present state he was sex on the hoof. Tall and lean, his tanned face was framed with thick black hair that at the moment fell in disarray over his forehead. His long legs were encased in dark slacks that kissed every muscle and the plaid western-style shirt was open at the throat, sleeves rolled up, revealing dark hair curling on his chest and dusting his skin. The Stetson on his head was tilted to the side.

BOOK: Stark Naked
7.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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