Marriage at the Cowboy's Command(10)

By: Ann Major

She’d been hotter than ever, maybe because she’d known exactly what she wanted. Or maybe she’d missed him…really missed him, as he’d missed her.

Like the kiss today, the memory of the long-ago evening when he’d made love to her still had the power to sear him. He hadn’t gone looking for trouble that evening, but it sure as hell found him.

He’d knocked on her door, looking for her daddy. He’d needed an advance against his wages since Bubba had drunk up the rent. She’d come to the door in tight shorts that skimmed her curvy bottom and said, “Maybe he’s in the barn.”

Only, she’d known he wasn’t when she’d followed Luke out there, closing the big, heavy doors behind her, calling to him across the dark in that raspy purr of hers. Then she’d undone her hair so that it tumbled around her shoulders. When she’d held out her arms and told him she loved him, he’d tried to talk some sense into her, even as his heart thundered.

“You don’t know what you’re doing, girl,” he’d warned.

“But I’ve always known how I feel,” she whispered, “ever since I first saw you.”

“You’re too young to know anything. Folks around here think I’m nothing.”

“I don’t care. I don’t want to go my whole life wanting you like this…and never having had you.” She moved toward him. “Just once. That’s all I’m asking for.”

“No one can know,” he said.

“Nobody but us,” she’d whispered, sliding into his arms, her soft curves melting against his hard muscles.

She’d felt right, perfect.

“Just us,” he’d murmured, kissing her passionately.

For him, that time with her had been special. No other woman had ever come close to mattering so much. But then, no other woman had used her mother to throw him out like he was nothing. That had been equally hard to forget.

Had she just wanted to scratch an itch? Had she known then she would have to marry Wakefield if she wanted to get her precious ranch back? For years Luke had tormented himself with those questions.

She’d been the first girl he’d loved—and she’d be the last. She’d taught him love held a dark power. She’d taught him there were worse things than having a mean old man for a father. She’d taught him there were worse things than being born poor. She’d taken a hatchet to his heart and soul.

Swearing she loved him, she’d given herself to him on a bed of hay that night in the barn. Then, as soon as she could, she’d married Robert Wakefield, no doubt because he was the son of the banker who’d repossessed her family’s ranch.

But life had a way of being messy, and nothing had worked out as she’d planned. Robert had died. The ranch was in trouble again, and she was a struggling widow with a son.

A son. Funny that he hadn’t seen the kid. Not that he wanted to see Wakefield’s kid, who was living proof that she’d been with another man these past six years.

Some people were good at letting go. Luke envied them. Not that he didn’t go through the motions of a man who’d moved on. He owned a glamorous penthouse in London. Invitations to his parties were sought after. He dated the most beautiful women in Europe. Except for his friend Nico Romano, an Italian prince with an independent wife from Texas, his married male business associates said they envied Luke his carefree life.

Although he didn’t pick up the report again, Luke barely spared a glance out the tinted windows. He didn’t have to. The harsh brown scrubland was deeply engraved into his consciousness.

He’d accomplish this errand for Hassan as quickly as possible. Then he’d figure out once and for all what was behind Hassan’s obsessive interest in Caitlyn.

Not that he hadn’t tried to find out after Hassan had met her at Keeneland. When Luke hadn’t reacted to the Wakefield name, Hassan had pressed, asking him if he’d known Caitlyn Wakefield personally.

“Yes, I worked for her father.”

“And? Did you care for her?”

“It doesn’t matter. Her mother fired me. I left Texas and never saw any of them again. Why do you want to know?”

“You don’t talk about Texas much.”

“I’m not all that proud of who I was in Texas, or of how people treated me. It’s something I’ve tried to put behind me.”

He’d thought that was the end of it. Then Hassan had asked Caitlyn to help him with Sahara and had invited Luke to Deauville without telling him he’d hired Caitlyn as Sahara’s trainer. When Luke had seen her working with the stallion, he’d asked Hassan again why he was so interested in her. It would have been so much easier to use a world-class French trainer instead of bringing Caitlyn from the States.