Authors: Kimberly Raye
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General
going to watch.
That’s what Sabrina told herself as she drove back to the motel after yet another exhausting day at the rodeo arena.
So what if it was Saturday? The day of the semifinals? The ride that would dictate whether he went to the next level?
went to the next level and continued with one more week of their arrangement, or called it quits tonight.
She stifled the anxiety that rolled through her. If it ended, it ended. All the better. She was already having enough trouble getting herself out and about before he opened his eyes. Sleeping in would be a good thing. Welcome.
No, she wasn’t watching.
Not only couldn’t she care less if tonight ended their temporary arrangement, but she certainly didn’t want to see him in his element. It was one thing to know she was sleeping with a bona fide cowboy and quite another to see the proof for herself.
At least when he touched her in the dead of night she could pretend that he was as far from her Not Happening list as a man could get. She could even picture him in a three-piece suit or a policeman’s uniform or something equally acceptable. In the dead of night, he could be any man.
But seeing him thrashing about on a thousand-pound bull would only confirm what she already knew deep in her gut.
No, she wasn’t watching.
She scanned in the profiles she’d collected that day and emailed them to Kat for entry into the database. She did some online research on Silas Chisholm and the bank robbery. Oddly enough, the research didn’t stir the usual ideas when it came to a story. The more she discovered, the more she thought about Billy. But not about his childhood or the crime or a great angle to pursue for the story. Instead, she found herself thinking about the man he’d become. A man so different from his sorry excuse for a parent. Billy was kind and brave and honest and—
Ugh, she needed to think about something else. Anything else.
She gave up the research and turned her attention to Sarah. She and Livi were making slow and steady progress signing up cowboys, and while she knew she should devote her time and energy to that, she couldn’t stop thinking about the bakery owner. The woman was lonely. Sabrina had seen it in her eyes. The same loneliness she’d seen in her own mother’s eyes every time Sabrina’s father had walked out the door, which was why she’d agreed to help the woman in the first place. And so she spent the next few hours going over various date possibilities, including Harwin who called bingo at the VFW hall. While he ran his own plumbing company and spent most of his time in overalls and tennis shoes, he had been voted Hottest Bachelor Over Forty at last year’s Fourth of July picnic, which earned him a personal evaluation. While he wasn’t much in the looks department, he’d earned the title—which had been voted on by the single members of the ladies’ auxiliary—somehow.
Maybe he was the legendary lover Sarah was looking for.
She eyed the photo she’d found on Google depicting him midcall at last week’s bingo night. Receding hairline. Beady eyes. Double chin.
Still, she had to see for herself.
Her mind made up, she went back to doing anything—everything—except turning on the TV. She took a shower. She painted her nails. She painted her toenails. She ate three Reese’s peanut butter cups
Okay, so maybe she’d watch for just a few minutes.
The thought struck as she swallowed the last bite of peanut butter and chocolate. She should have known nothing good ever came from a triple dose of chocolate, but desperate times, as the saying went.
The ancient TV fired to life, the screen rolling and pitching as Sabrina flipped through the channels. She hit the local station and
the rodeo arena filled the screen. Thousands of screaming fans loaded the stands and in the center a bull kicked and pitched, desperately trying to throw cowboy number 13.
Her gaze went to the leaderboard in the background and Billy’s name, which sat next to the number 22. Each cowboy went three rounds, then the scores were added together and averaged for a final tally. Her gaze drank in the two scores posted. He still had number three to go.
Three more cowboys—all of whom hit the dust before the buzzer sounded—and Billy was up.
Sabrina perched on the edge of the bed, her heart in her throat as she watched the chute open. The bull pitched forward, but Billy held on tight.
One thousand one
Another vicious twist and he jerked to the right.
One thousand two. One thousand three
The bull reared up and Billy leaned forward.
One thousand four. One thousand five
Another twist and Billy went to the side.
And then the damnable TV flickered and the screen went blank.
* * *
?” Sabrina demanded the second she hauled open the door to her motel room.
It was one in the morning and Billy hadn’t even had a chance to knock. She’d obviously been waiting for him.
Worried about him.
A burst of warmth went through him and he barely ignored the urge to haul her into his arms and bury his face in her sweet-smelling neck. But hugging for the sheer closeness wasn’t part of their arrangement. That, and his shoulder hurt like a son of a bitch, despite a triple dose of ibuprofen the rodeo doc had given him and two hours spent in the training room with an extra-large ice pack.
“Hello to you, too.” He moved past her into the small motel room and tossed his hat onto the dresser. “I’m a little bruised up but I’m okay.” He couldn’t help his grin as reality hit him. “You watched me ride.”
“Not on purpose.” She shrugged as if trying to dismiss the truth. “I was looking for
and there you were.” Her gaze met his and he saw the worry swimming deep. “But then the TV messed up before your last ride ended. I saw you go to the side and then the screen went black.” Concern fueled her voice. “What happened? Did he throw you?”
“Damn straight he did.” He sank onto the edge of the bed. “But I managed to hang on anyway.”
“Not so great. Hanging on sideways doesn’t exactly command a high score. I lost major points for losing my seat, but I still hit the buzzer.”
A grin pulled at the corner of his mouth. “And I made the finals.”
“That’s great!” She smiled, and damned if the sight didn’t make him forget the pain in his shoulder for those next few moments as the realization of what that meant sizzled in the air between them. “I mean, um, that’s great for you,” she rushed on when his own grin widened. “You’re one step closer to your dream.”
“Damn straight.” He leaned down to pull off his boots, and his shoulder cried with the motion. He winced and caught his breath.
She was beside him in that next instant. “What’s wrong?”
“Damn bull pulled my shoulder out of socket.” He noted the sudden brightness of her gaze and something softened inside him. “But I’m fine now. Sore, but everything’s back where it needs to be.”
“Maybe you ought to soak in the tub, or at least climb into a hot shower.”
He shook his head. “I already had a shower. All I really want to do now is get into bed.”
She nodded and helped him pull off his boots. A few seconds later, his clothes lay in a heap next to the bed. He crawled between the sheets and sank into one fluffy pillow while she shed her clothes and crawled into bed next to him.
She looked so soft with her hair mussed and her face free of most of the makeup she usually wore, and something tightened in his chest.
She wasn’t the most beautiful woman he’d ever been with. Logically, he knew that. But damned if he could recall even one that was sweeter or more perfect than the woman next to him.
The realization sent a wave of panic through him and he kissed her roughly on her full lips and rolled over, putting his back to her before he gave in to the urge to lose himself in her tight, hot body.
“What are you doing?”
“Going to sleep,” he grumbled into the pillow.
“But you can’t sleep. I mean, I know you had a close call and all, but you’re okay. You are okay, right? That bull didn’t stomp any important parts, did he?”
He couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips. “Nothing below the waist, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m just exhausted.”
And scared shitless because not once had Billy been so focused on any one woman. Ever.
And not just for the past few seconds.
Her image had haunted him all evening while he’d walked the rodeo arena and watched the other contestants. When he’d climbed onto the bull for a ride that would make or break his career. When he’d hit the dust after hanging on for dear life. Especially when he’d hit the dust.
For a few seconds as the pain had gripped his body, he’d thought that maybe that was it. That he was biting the dust once and for all. And instead of thinking what a damn shame it would be because he was this close to nabbing his own championship, he’d thought of her.
Her sweet face. Her sexy body.
Not that it would last.
Billy had been there and done that, and while it felt really good right now, he knew it would end. It always ended.
Better to put a little distance between them until his head was screwed on straight again. The fall he’d taken after the buzzer. That’s what had knocked his senses loose. That was why he was thinking such foolish thoughts, like how he wanted to curl up next to her and nuzzle her neck even more than he wanted to slide into her hot, tight body.
Holy crap, that bull really had jarred something loose upstairs.
That, and he really
tired. Every bone in his body hurt. His head throbbed. No wonder he wasn’t thinking straight.
“Sweet dreams,” he murmured.
“Maybe for you,” she grumbled as she rolled the other way.
Billy closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, the effort stirring a sharp pain, thanks to his bruised ribs. He sucked in another deep breath and bit back a groan.
She didn’t move for a long moment, but then the mattress dipped as she turned over and scooted up next to him.
In the back of his mind, an alarm bell went off, but the pain was still needling him and so he didn’t heed the warning. He felt the soft press of her lips on his temple and his heart stopped for a long moment. The familiar scent of warm woman and fresh peaches filled his nostrils and soothed the throbbing at his temples. Her arm slid around him and her fingers lightly stroked his rib cage, and it was the last thing he remembered before falling asleep.
that passed, Billy was finding it harder and harder to remember that this was just sex. Temporary.
Because it felt more permanent than anything else in his life. More right. He found himself looking forward to the little things. Counting on them. Seeing her smile when he kissed the tip of her nose. Holding her until the crack of dawn. Listening to her off-key singing in the shower.
her off-key singing in the shower.
Sabrina Collins was the last woman he needed to fall into like with. She was out of here in less than four days. She’d made no false promises, left no room for maybe.
Soon their arrangement would be over and she would be long gone, and Billy could get back to his career and finishing up the additions to his cabin and the stuff that really mattered.
Not the crazy feelings pushing and pulling inside him. It was time to switch those off and simply enjoy his last few nights with her.
At the same time, he couldn’t help wanting her to feel the same way. To miss him when he climbed out of bed in the morning, to look forward to his company every night, to want to see him in a capacity that didn’t involve getting naked.
Hell, maybe she already did.
The thing was, there was no way to really know because the sex was muddying the waters. She might already like the little things as much as he did. She might like him.
Enough to stay?
He wasn’t sure, but there was only one way to find out.
* * *
” Sabrina stood at the island stove, in the middle of Billy’s newly renovated kitchen, surrounded by pots and pans and black granite countertops cluttered with all the ingredients for Billy’s infamous Hell, Fire & Brimstone Chili.
“I make it for the cowboys every year before the finals. I competed once in the actual cook-off when I was sixteen—Eli made me since I was too young to ride and he was trying to get me more involved at the arena—and it was such a huge hit that I still cook up a mess every year and drop it off at the rodeo grounds for the workers. It’s my own recipe,” he’d told her earlier that afternoon when he’d stopped by her booth at the festival to tell her they would have to postpone tonight’s rendezvous. He had too much to do to get enough chili ready for thirty rodeo hands by tomorrow morning. All night. That’s what he’d said.
Unless she wanted to help him. They could get it done in half the time and get on with the sex.
And so she was here, smack-dab in the middle of her worst domestic nightmare, because Sabrina had never been much of a cook. She’d never wanted to be after watching her mother slave away for her father, who’d never appreciated it.
But this wasn’t cooking for the sake of pleasing some ungrateful cowboy. This was just part of her arrangement with Billy.
At least that’s what she told herself as she moved about his kitchen while he stood at a nearby countertop and seasoned a mountain of ground beef. He’d pulled his shirt tails free of his jeans and unfastened the top buttons of his Western shirt. The vee afforded her a glimpse of silky chest hair and tanned skin.
Her stomach tingled and her nipples tightened and all was right with her world.
That’s all it was between them. It wasn’t as if she liked standing next to him, working side by side, as a slow, twangy country song drifted from a nearby radio. It was all about the heat that raged between them. The intense lust. The overwhelming physical attraction.
She held tight to the thought as she rinsed the uncooked pinto beans and dumped them in a large pot. Thankfully, she could feel his eyes following her as she filled the pot with water and left the beans soaking, to turn her attention to the stove. Her skin prickled with awareness as he moved next to her and fed the seasoned meat into another pot before kicking up the heat. Her nipples tingled. Her tummy quivered.
He turned and his arm brushed against her breast. A tiny thrill of excitement zipped up her spine. He stared deep into her eyes and for a split second, she felt him lean forward. His warm breath brushed her lips and she closed her eyes. This was more like it. They could forget all this domestic crap and get to the really good stuff. He was going to kiss her—
“I’ve got a few more pots in the car,” he murmured before planting a kiss on the tip of her nose. “Hold down the fort. I’ll be right back.”
Her nose. He’d kissed her nose, of all things.
Her skin tingled and a strange warmth stole through her. Okay, so it was nice, but still. It wasn’t what she’d expected.
The sound of his footsteps drew her from the emotional push-pull. Her eyes popped open in time to see him disappear outside and she found herself alone.
Her chest hitched at the thought. A ridiculous reaction because the solitude gave her a few minutes to pull herself together and remember that she wasn’t here for
She drew a deep, shaky breath and reached for a nearby spoon to stir the meat that was slowly starting to brown.
She spent the next few minutes stirring and trying to convince herself that she hated every second. Even if the meat did turn the most perfect shade of sizzling brown.
“It looks good.”
The deep voice stirred the hair on the back of her neck and sent a jolt of awareness through her. Her hands trembled and her grip on the spoon faltered. It fell into the pot and landed with a splat on top of the pile of beef.
Billy’s deep chuckle sent a tingle through her body. “I usually add cayenne at this point.” He eyed the sinking spoon. “Trying something new?”
“Maybe.” She scooted a few feet away toward the utensils drawer. “Do you always sneak up on people?” She tossed him a sideways glance as she rummaged for a pair of tongs.
His eyes twinkled and his sensuous mouth crooked. “Are you always so touchy when you cook?”
“I don’t cook very much.” The words were out before she could stop them. This wasn’t about having a conversation. It was about getting to the good stuff. The physical stuff. “My mom tried to teach me, but I was never very interested. In my mom, not the cooking.” The words were out before she could think better of them.
“I pretty much taught myself. Jesse never could cook to save his life, and Cole was always too busy chasing women.”
“And that never kept you very busy?”
His grin was slow and wicked and her heart skipped a beat. “I never had to do any chasing, sugar. They come running after me.”
Before she could stop herself, she popped him with a dish towel and his grin faded into a look of pure shock. “What the hell?”
“You’re too cocky for your own good,” she said, turning back to the pot of meat. She retrieved the spoon with the tongs and set them to the side. “Somebody needs to bring you down a notch or two.”
“So why didn’t you like being in the kitchen with your mom?”
“I thought we changed this subject.”
“You brought it up.”
“My mom is the type of woman who bends over backward for any and every man in her life. She bent and they let her. They used her.”
“Your dad, too?”
“My dad was the worst. She was with him the longest. She did everything for that man, but it wasn’t enough to keep him at home. To keep him faithful. He walked out on us when I was thirteen years old. My mom’s been looking for his replacement ever since. The trouble is, she keeps finding him and the pattern repeats all over again.”
Her mind rushed back to the past and she saw her mother standing in the kitchen, slaving over her father’s favorite red velvet cake. She’d made four batches of cooked white frosting before she’d managed to get it right, and all for nothing. He’d never even come home from work that night. Instead, he’d gone straight to the local beer joint and spent the night with some barmaid.
He’d come home smelling like Emeraude and Aqua Net the next morning and her mother had simply sliced the cake and served him a slice as if he was fresh out of the shower after a hard day’s work.
“I’ll never kill myself for a man like that.” She didn’t mean to say the words, but they came out anyway.
“You shouldn’t have to.”
She turned then and her gaze caught his. Sympathy gleamed so hot and bright in his eyes and a sudden rush of warmth went through her. A feeling that had nothing to do with the lust that burned between them and everything to do with the fact that Billy Chisholm actually understood her feelings. Even more, he was on her side.
“So, Eli taught you to cook?”
“Sort of. He taught me to just throw it all together and see what happens. I practiced on my own to come up with this recipe.” He grabbed a bottle of garlic and handed it to her. “Add a little bit of this.”
She grabbed the spice, popped the cap and shook once, twice, a third time.
“That’s not enough,” Billy’s deep voice whispered into her ear as he came up behind her. One hand slid around her waist while the other closed over hers.
“You don’t have to do this.”
What the hell?
a voice whispered. This was exactly what he needed to do. To get them off the topic of mothers and brothers, and back onto the real reason she was here—sex.
She knew that. But her heart beat double time anyway, as if there was much more at stake than a little mattress-dancing.
The fingertips that held her frantic grip on the garlic powder slid down until his thumb massaged the inside of her wrist. The heat from the bubbling chili drifted up, bathing her face and making her cheeks burn. Air lodged in her chest and she couldn’t seem to catch her breath.
“Give it another shake,” Billy murmured, the words little more than a breathless whisper against the sensitive shell of her ear.
She wanted to say something, to argue the point, but she couldn’t seem to find the words.
“That’s it.” His thumb slid from the inside of her wrist, up her palm, leaving a fiery trail. “Now you’re cooking like a real champion.”
Boy, was she ever.
She became instantly aware of his hard male body flush against hers, her bottom nestled in the cradle of his thighs. His erection pressed into her, leaving no doubt that he was turned on.
Her mouth tingled and she had the insane urge to turn into the warm lips nuzzling her ear.
A perfectly natural reaction, given the situation. A perfectly physical reaction.
Yet there was more at stake at the moment.
She felt it in the double tap of her heart. In the strange fluttering in the pit of her stomach. Both physical reactions. The thing was, she’d never felt either with any man before. Cowboy or otherwise.
Because Billy wasn’t just any man.
The thought struck and before she could drop-kick it out of her mind, she turned.
And then she wasn’t just thinking about kissing him, she was actually leaning forward, sliding her arms around his neck and pressing her lips to his.