Authors: Mari Carr & Jayne Rylon
“I have no idea. Of course, I’m not sure I could tell you the difference between a daisy and a dandelion. Celia took care of all that stuff on her own when we were planning our wedding.”
Daniel’s brow creased. “I hope all these plans aren’t bringing up bad memories for you.”
Liam appreciated Daniel’s concern. A few years ago, he probably would have struggled with the preparations, but the passage of time had eased that pain, taking it from the sharp, bullet-to-the-chest agony he’d experienced shortly after her death to a dull ache that only crept in occasionally. “I’m fine, Daniel.”
As always, Daniel found a way to alleviate the heaviness of the moment with humor. “You know, I still think fate will throw a woman in your lap soon enough and when it does, you’ll start jumping through all these fool hoops too. By then, I’ll be on the other side, laughing my ass off at you.”
Liam rolled his eyes. “Get out of here. I’ll see you tonight.”
Daniel climbed into his pickup and drove away as Liam turned toward the corral. He didn’t bother to start the training again. Instead, he rested his chin on his hand against the top rail of the fence and let his mind wander. He glanced toward Compass Ranch.
The path between his home and Jade’s was empty. Not that he was surprised. Jade hadn’t made the trek to his house since he’d kissed her at Spurs. Just thinking about her had his cock twitching, thickening. It was starting to become a recurring state for him and it was chafing. Literally.
Then a scheme began to take shape. Taking a straightforward approach with Jade wouldn’t work. For one thing, she’d been swearing off serious relationships since she was sixteen, insisting that marriage was something she wouldn’t succumb to. He’d never questioned her decision because for too many years, he’d given up on the idea of settling down as well. After Celia’s death, it seemed like he’d never find anyone he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
Suddenly, being a part of a couple again sounded pretty damn good. Not that he was going to tell Jade that. He’d have to ease her into the idea, sneak up on her from behind. The woman had built defensive walls around herself that were ten feet thick.
He considered his trip to Compass Ranch tonight. While he was going to help with the wedding preparations, he could kill two birds with one stone. The more he thought about it, the more certain he was his plan was good.
The only thing he needed to do was persuade Jade to go along with it.
Chances were slim Jade would agree to what he intended to propose, but it didn’t matter.
He’d find a way to convince her.
Because there was only one thing he was confident of right now. He wanted Jade in his bed…and his life.
God help him.
Jade and Sterling laughed loudly at Jake’s off-color story as Jody and Leah began clearing the dinner dishes. Liam shook his head at the packed-to-the-gills room. Considering most of the Comptons lived on or near Compass Ranch, big family meals were the norm. Even so, Liam wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to the holiday-like atmosphere surrounding a simple weeknight dinner.
For Liam, the only time his family’s dining room saw more than just him for a meal was at Christmas. His father had died of a massive heart attack when Liam was twenty-five, so running the ranch fell to him. The youngest of three children—and the lone son—Liam had been the only sibling still living at home when his father passed. Both of his sisters had married and moved to Denver prior to their father’s passing. Liam’s mother—a city slicker at heart—had decided she’d had enough of ranch life shortly after his dad’s funeral. Without her husband tying her to the country, she moved to Denver as well, anxious to play the role of full-time grandmother to the three nieces and two nephews his sisters had already given him.
Which left the family homestead and business to Liam. Not that he minded. He’d known from the cradle he would never leave Compton Pass or Circle H Ranch. It was home.
“Jake,” Sawyer said, his tone laced with a warning that indicated he didn’t appreciate the ranch hand talking about unusual sexual positions with his daughter and niece.
“Sorry, Sheriff.” Jake gave Jade and Sterling a wink. “I’ll finish the story later.”
Sawyer shook his head, but Liam caught the man’s grin as he muttered something about it being no wonder the girls were so wild.
Seth leaned forward, capturing Liam’s attention. “What’s the word on this new bull I keep hearing about? He really as good as everyone claims?”
Liam grinned, perfectly aware of where Seth had gotten his information. Jade was determined Fearless was going to be the greatest rodeo bull who’d ever bucked off a cowboy.
“He’s tough, but it’s too early in the game to tell. We haven’t had a rider on him yet.”
“Even so,” Jade joined the conversation, “he’s definitely got what it takes. I’ve never seen an animal with a kick like Fearless. It’s incredible.”
Though he’d claimed the chair next to her at dinner, Jade had made a concerted effort at ignoring him throughout the meal, opting instead to chat with Sterling who was seated on her right.
This was the first time she’d acknowledged he was even in the room.
Liam shook his head, amused by her enthusiasm. “Jade. We’ve only had the strap on him. How a bull responds to that isn’t always a good indicator of how he’ll take to a rider.”
“Fearless is going to be great. Mark my words.”
Liam didn’t bother to argue because he actually agreed. Jade saw the same things he did. He’d considered trying to drag her away from her job on Compass Ranch more than a few times over the years. Jade was born to work with the cattle. She’d participated in rodeos throughout her childhood and high school and even had an offer to ride with the amateur circuit after graduation, but she’d turned it down.
Jade, like him, was a homebody at heart. They’d both flap like fish out of water if someone tried to take them out of Compton Pass.
Lucy came into the dining room. Silas rose and pulled out a chair for her, while Colby walked toward the kitchen. Her husband gave her a sympathetic smile. “I’ll get your plate, Lu. Jody’s keeping it warm in the oven.”
Lucy had skipped eating with the family, opting instead to sit next to Vicky’s bed. There were times when Vicky’s memory failed and being surrounded by the large group of relatives left her disoriented, agitated. Vicky Compton was one of the strongest women Liam had ever met. He could only imagine how frustrating it was for her to suddenly struggle to remember the names of her children and grandchildren.
Lucy smiled when Colby set the plate in front of her. “Vicky is asleep.”
“She doin’ okay?” Silas asked.
It was rare to ever see any weakness on Silas’s face, but Liam had glimpsed the sheer desolation in the oldest Compton son’s eyes quite a few times in the past year.
“She’s fine. Once I got her away from all the noise and hubbub, she settled right down. I read to her until she fell asleep.”
Sienna toyed with the stem on her wineglass. “I shouldn’t have asked everyone to come here for the wedding meeting. We could have had dinner at my house.”
Sterling shook her head. “All of us eating in your tiny kitchen? That would have been fun to watch. Don’t do this, See. Vivi was fine this morning and looking forward to the big meal. Sometimes she’s okay in this situation. We just have to play it by ear.”
Jade had confided in Liam shortly after Vicky’s diagnosis that it was her grandmother’s desire to live out the remainder of her years in an assisted living community rather than at home. So far, the family had managed to convince her to remain on the ranch, each of them taking a turn caring for Vicky. He knew Jade hoped they’d be able to keep Vicky with them forever, but on more than one occasion, her grandmother mentioned moving to the nursing home.
Each time, Jade would excuse herself, escaping either on her motorcycle or horse—always racing away as fast as her mode of transportation would carry her.
Liam had vowed that when her grandmother finally disappeared from them forever, either physically or mentally, he would be there for Jade the same way she’d stood by him after his father’s death. When he looked back now, he realized he wouldn’t have made it through the funeral if not for Jade’s constant, comforting presence.
As various family members started drifting to other parts of the house, Liam decided the time was right for his talk with Jade.
Sienna and Daniel were discussing music for the ceremony with Leah. Colby and Silas kept Lucy company as she ate her dinner. Jody and Hope were in the kitchen preparing dessert and coffee, while the menfolk escaped to catch a bit of the baseball game—the Cardinals were taking on the Reds.
Jade started to follow Sterling into the living room, but he captured her hand.
“Hey,” she said, resisting as he tugged her down the hallway. “Liam. I want to watch the game.”
“No, you don’t. You hate baseball. Said it’s the equivalent of watching paint dry.”
He didn’t bother to release her hand until he’d dragged her out onto the screened-in back porch. Since the rest of the family was in the front of the house, it provided them a quiet place to talk. And privacy.
He closed the door behind him, positioning himself in front of it. He didn’t trust her not to try to leave.
She crossed her arms and gave him an annoyed look. “What do you want?”
“Why are you ignoring me?”
She scowled. “I’m not.”
He tilted his head. “Don’t fib, Jade. It makes me want to spank that pretty ass of yours.”
Her spine stiffened at his warning. He couldn’t help but noticed the flush creeping along her cheeks—though he had no idea if it was interest or anger driving the color. If he wasn’t careful, Jade was likely to give him a swift knee to the balls.
Regardless of that, he felt the need to test the waters. His sexual needs ran a bit toward the extreme. Jade’s reaction to his rough kiss and the hard pinch he’d given her nipple gave him hope they shared the same proclivities.
He’d engaged in several BDSM affairs in the years since Celia’s death, releasing the darker desires he’d always tried to stifle when he was with his fiancée.
“Tell me the truth or I’ll pull down those tight shorts of yours and give you a taste of my brand of punishment.”
When Jade’s eyes darkened with lust, it felt like his world shifted, tilted. Then he realized it was just the opposite. Too many pieces were finally falling into their proper place.
Jade recovered quickly. “Who the hell do you think you’re talking to? You’ve lost your mind, Liam Harrison. First that kiss in the parking lot, then that power play in the tent where you insisted on holding me all night, and now you’re threatening to
me? Where is this coming from?”
He took a step closer, the alpha in him provoked when Jade backed away. She matched his pace—the two of them engaging in an odd version of chase—until he trapped her against the sidewall. He lifted his arms and caged her in.
Liam studied her response to his capture—on the off chance he was wrong about Jade’s sexual tendencies. He didn’t want to scare her, and if he was mistaken, he needed to rein in his dominant side.
Her breathing had accelerated and, God bless the USA, her nipples had tightened, the buds straining against the thin cotton of her T-shirt. She gave him a dirty look through heavy-lidded eyes that didn’t fool him for a minute. She was turned on by his dominance.
And it pissed her off.
Jade was stubborn as a mule and mean as a pit bull if cornered. He knew her well enough to know he’d have to let her believe she was calling the shots…at the beginning. Once he got her under him, that tune was going to change damn fast. The image of Jade tied to his bed floated through his mind. His dick twitched.
“I’ve been thinking about your dilemma.”
She frowned, her gaze darting to the door that would deliver her back to the safety of her family’s house. He leaned closer, letting her know she wasn’t getting away from him.
He stroked her cheek with one finger. Jade shuddered. “You’re bored. Looking for some excitement. I’d like to offer my services.”
She considered his proposal, then gave him a superior grin. “You’ll let me take a spin on Fearless?”
He barked out a laugh at her attempt to distract him. “Good God, no.” She’d been after him for weeks to let her ride the wild creature. Hell would freeze over before he ever agreed to let her do something so dangerous and stupid. Jade knew it, but that didn’t keep her from pestering him about it.
“Then there’s nothing you have to offer me.” Jade raised her hands to his chest and tried to shove him away. He didn’t budge. Liam had never really let her see his strength, never tried to overpower her. Until now.
She licked her lips. Liam tried to decide if the action was an invitation…or perhaps nerves. Most likely it was both. “Cut to the chase, Liam. Spit it out.”
“You know what I want.”
She narrowed her eyes, her face proving she knew exactly what this conversation was about. “Say it anyway.”