Authors: Mari Carr & Jayne Rylon
“Goddamn idiots.” Bruce slammed down his toolbox as he headed toward the crowd. “Take a few minutes to rein it in, Jade, and then get your ass back behind the bar. I’m kicking those jackasses out once and for all. I’ve had it with this shit.”
Liam carried her out of the bar as she beat on his back, his ass, anything she could reach. Once they hit the parking lot, she expected him to put her down, but he didn’t.
“You finished?” he asked.
Liam had a way of talking to her sometimes that made her feel like she was a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. It never failed to calm her down. And piss her off.
“Yeah, asshole. I’m done.”
He placed her on her feet and crossed his arms. “What the hell was that about?”
“I don’t like being manhandled, Liam.”
“I’m not talking about that.” He pointed toward the bar. “I mean you and Rhonda. You know what she’s like. Hell, everybody in town—Roscoe included—knows what she’s like.”
“So we’re all just supposed to sit back and let her and her stupid boyfriend continually create this weekly drama? What’s it for? Our entertainment? Because it’s getting old. And boring.”
“All I’m saying is Roscoe is well aware of Rhonda’s affairs, but he’s never going to dump her. And Rhonda, for all her faults, seems to genuinely love Roscoe.”
Jade scowled and started to argue, but Liam continued speaking. “She just loves sex with other guys more.”
She laughed. “A lot more.”
“They’re harmless, Jade. A Compton Pass tradition. Rhonda cheats, Roscoe picks a fight, Rhonda cries, Roscoe forgives her and life goes on. Half of the guys who sleep with Rhonda want the fight with Roscoe more than the sex with her. Gives them a way to get their rocks off
work off some aggression.”
Jade released a long sigh. “I know that.”
“Then why the strong words?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ve been feeling edgy lately. Restless. I mean, look around, Liam. Is this all there is to life? Every single day is déjà vu and not in a good way. It’s like I’m trapped in the horror movie that is my life, forced to endure the same stupid things over and over and over again.”
Liam frowned. “So what are you saying? You want to leave Compton Pass?”
“No.” Jade closed her eyes wearily. “This is my home. I don’t want to leave. My whole family is here and with Vivi’s memory getting worse…” Her words fell away as her shoulders slumped. She was in a funk. Usually life didn’t get her down, but for the past few months, she’d struggled to shirk off her constant state of unhappiness. The worst part was she didn’t really know what was bothering her. She was suffering from what Vivi called a case of the blues. And she had it bad.
Liam reached out to touch her arm. “Maybe you’re just bothered about your grandmother’s illness. Alzheimer’s can take its toll and you’ve been watching Vicky’s decline for a couple of years now.”
She shrugged. “I
worried about Vivi, but I don’t think that’s what’s wrong with me. Not really.”
“I’m stuck in a rut. I work at the ranch. I tend bar here. I hang out with my cousins and you. I eat the same breakfast every day. The same damn lunch. I break up the same ridiculous redneck fights week after week. I’m coming out of my skin. It makes me want to do something crazy, wild, impulsive.”
“What else is new?”
She shot him a dirty look that he ignored.
“Fine, kiddo. Be impulsive.”
She released a quick snort. “Easier said than done. I’m Jade Compton, the sheriff’s daughter, one of the Compass girls. Sometimes it feels like I have a thousand eyes on me—all watching out, ready to protect me the second I step one tiny toe over the line into anything that could be potentially dangerous. I’m living my life swaddled in freaking Bubble Wrap.”
Liam laughed. “I don’t know about that. It seems to me you’ve managed to do some damage. Weren’t you the girl who got pulled over by her father for going a hundred and twenty on her motorcycle?”
“Yes. And I caught holy hell for it too. Uncle Silas is still reading me the riot act for that, and it happened nearly six months ago.”
Liam leaned against Bruce’s car. Her boss always parked in the alley. “I bet he is. That is one man I’d never wanna piss off.”
Jade blew out a long breath and tugged at her T-shirt. “It doesn’t help that it’s a gazillion degrees this summer. I’m tired of being hot. It’s like I’m living in a pool of my own sweat with my clothes sticking to my skin every time I step outside.”
“Attractive image. Thanks for sharing.”
She grinned. Liam always knew how to talk her out of her anger. No matter how mad or annoyed she might be, Liam managed to calm her down. “Okay. You win. I’m finished bitching.”
“So what’s your plan for getting out of your depression?”
She lifted her shoulders. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll just have to come up with something spontaneous and reckless. Maybe I’ll jump my motorcycle over Beyer’s Creek. I can sell tickets and put on a flashy pantsuit. I can even come up with a cool stunt-girl name like Jumpin’ Jade.”
“Selling tickets hardly makes it an impulsive act.”
She could tell he wasn’t taking her seriously and her pride kicked in, his
attitude rubbing her the wrong way. “Then maybe I should do something even more stupid.”
“And what would that be?” His casual tone tweaked her temper and made her long to wipe the smug smile off his face. As always, she acted without thinking.
“This.” She gripped his shirt in her hands and tugged him close, kissing him roughly. She felt him stiffen with surprise, the response appeasing her enough that she released him with a superior laugh. Served him right for dragging her out of the bar and then not believing her when she threatened to do something insane. He was her friend. The least he could do was play along when she was in a mood.
His eyes narrowed, pleasing her even more. Liam was a hard person to shock, so it felt good to shake the cocky man up.
“Oh my God, you should see your face right now, Liam.”
Her laughter died when Liam grasped her cheeks in his large palms and pulled her forward.
“Apparently you need a lesson in recklessness, Jade.”
“Wha—” She didn’t have a chance to ask what the hell he was doing before Liam placed his lips on hers and kissed her. Shock held her still for a full minute as Liam took charge of her mouth. His grip was firm, directing her face this way and that as he pressed her lips apart and started exploring her mouth with his tongue.
Part of her was compelled to shove him away. She’d only meant the kiss as a joke. This was Liam, for God’s sake. For eight years, he’d been her best friend. They didn’t kiss.
But damn if he didn’t know his way around a mouth. Jade lifted her hands to his shoulders. Her initial intention had been to push back, but once her fingers found the firm muscles on his upper arms, she decided to indulge in a little exploration of her own.
Liam twisted them until she was pressed against Bruce’s car, his body leaning into hers. One of his hands left her face, caressing its way along her neck, briefly touching her breast before latching on to her waist. He used his grip to tug her lower body even closer to his.
Shit. Liam had a hard-on. For her?
She didn’t turn him on. Did she?
He pressed her more firmly against the vehicle, and Jade let him take the lead, take over. She wasn’t a meek lover—at least she never had been in the past—but she was definitely allowing Liam to hold the reins, following along as he pushed her arousal higher.
He slipped one hand beneath her T-shirt, his fingers stroking the sensitive skin there. She moaned, the sound captured by his mouth. Too much more of this and he’d have her purring like a kitten.
His hand moved higher, cupping one of her breasts tightly in his large palm. He squeezed, slowly applying more pressure until Jade thought her body would spontaneously combust from the heat. Then he dug his fingers beneath the lace of her bra. She knew what he was seeking. When his fingers closed around her nipple, her head flew back as she searched for air.
Liam growled—an actual fucking
—and tugged her face back to his, his lips claiming hers once more. Then…he pinched her nipple. Roughly.
Jade jerked against him, wondering if she’d ever felt anything more painfully beautiful. “Harder,” she breathed against his lips.
Liam hesitated for only a second, then he gave in to her demand, his fingers tightening around the taut nub. Her panties were wet, soaked, and for a brief moment, she actually considered saying to hell with it, tugging them and her jeans down, and demanding Liam take her—Spurs drunks be damned.
She could feel just how thick his cock was as he pressed against her. He was large and long. She wanted to see…and feel…more.
What was she doing?
She shoved on his shoulders, dragging her lips away from his, despite how much she really,
wished she could keep kissing him. Liam pulled his hand out from under her shirt.
She swiped at her mouth, the slight taste of the beer he’d been drinking still lingering on her lips. “What the hell was that?”
Liam gave her a cocky, nonchalant grin. “You said you wanted to do something spontaneous. That seemed a hell of a lot less dangerous than a motorcycle stunt.”
With that, he turned and headed back to the bar. For a minute, she wondered how he was walking so casually with that fence pole in his pants. How could he pull himself together so quickly?
When he opened the door, he looked over his shoulder at her. “You coming, kiddo?”
Her legs felt like they were sunk in quicksand, but somehow she managed to put one foot in front of the other until she stood next to him. She opened her mouth to say something, but she didn’t have a clue what. So instead, she shut it and kept walking.
Was the kiss Liam’s attempt at one-upmanship? Teaching her a lesson for teasing him? She wouldn’t put it past him to employ such a trick. After all, they both possessed an unhealthy amount of pride. She’d started the game and he had definitely finished it. Asshole.
But that didn’t really explain the erection he’d made damn sure she felt.
No, it was a lark. Just a joke. It had to be that, right?
Consoling herself with the idea Liam was jerking her chain, she took a deep breath and dismissed the kiss completely.
Returning to her station behind the bar, she began filling drink orders and consciously
looking toward the back room.
She managed to ignore the temptation to take a peek for all of twenty minutes. Then her willpower dried up and she glanced over to the pool tables.
Liam was leaning against the far wall, pool cue in hand. But he wasn’t watching the table or the game. Instead, he was looking right at her.
Her stomach fluttered at the intense—holy crap—hungry expression on his face.
Nope. It hadn’t been a game.
And Liam had lied.
The jump on her motorcycle would have been much less dangerous.
Liam looked across the campfire and grinned. Jade and one of the Compass ranch hands, Jameson, were standing off to the side of the campsite, throwing knives at a tree trunk where Sterling had etched out a makeshift bull’s-eye. They’d turned it into a competition—each of them shedding a piece of clothing if their throw was farthest from the center. Jade hadn’t missed the spot yet, much to Jameson’s chagrin. The poor hand was down to his boxers and still hadn’t wised up enough to know he should quit now.
Sterling retrieved the knives from the thick trunk, handing Jameson’s to him and shaking her head. “You sure you don’t want to concede?”
Jameson looked around the campsite, then down at his boxers. “Maybe I should. There are a lot of ladies present.”
Jade scoffed. “There’s no one here except us Compass girls, so the ladies excuse is flimsy at best.”
“Hey,” Sienna called out from her spot next to Daniel at the campfire. “I’m a lady.”
Jade rolled her eyes, letting her
sure you are
expression answer for her. “Just throw the knife, Jameson. Want to see if Sterling was exaggerating about what you’re packing under there.”
“Hey now, that’s getting a bit personal.” Jameson glanced at Sterling.
Sterling laughed. “You have a bad habit of losing. I gave you an out on strip poker too, but you insisted on taking it right down to the bitter end.”
Jameson laughed and cupped his cock. “You didn’t think it was bitter later that night, Sterling.”
Jade gestured to the weapon. “Gross. Just throw the knife, J.”
Jameson took one last look around the campsite, obviously searching for support. His gaze landed on Liam.
Liam shrugged, refusing to be pulled in. “You’re the one who made the bet.”
Clayton shook his head, jumping into the conversation. “Don’t get too excited, girls. I saw his hairy ass in the bunkhouse too many times. Was damn relieved when Wyatt made lead ranch hand and we scored our own place. You’re not gonna get much of a show.”