Marriage at the Cowboy's Command(6)

By: Ann Major

Her hand flew to her lips and she took a step backward. She’d almost said too much. Maybe she had said too much. Notching her chin higher, she held her ground. “Nothing,” she said. “I want you to leave! Now! You haven’t been welcome here for a very long time.”

“Is that so?” He glanced upward to the barn. “I remember a time when things were very different between us.”

She remembered, too. They’d made wild, sweet, un-forgettable love in the hayloft. Ever since, he’d haunted her dreams. Even after he’d abandoned her, he’d cast a long shadow over her marriage.

“When you were a teenager, you followed me everywhere. I couldn’t load a bale of hay without finding you watching me,” he said. “You damn near threw yourself at me.”

“I was a young, stupid fool!” she cried, hating that she’d once made no secret of how intensely she’d felt about him.

“I was the fool. Hell, maybe I still am.” He grabbed her by the waist, pulled her close. “If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll figure out why Hassan really sent me here. I thought he wanted me to marry the woman I’m dating, Teresa. Then suddenly he sends me here. Why?”

She jerked free of his grip because she couldn’t concentrate when in his arms. “I thought he sent you to solve my money problems.”

“There’s another reason. I’m sure of it. You made him think we’re still connected.”

She shook her head in denial. “I didn’t.” Frantic to distract Luke, she said, “Teresa? Is she another of your gorgeous supermodels?”

“No. A countess.”

In spite of the fact that his love life was no concern of hers, Caitlyn was suddenly crushingly aware of how plain and unappealing she must seem in her dusty jeans. He’d become a mega-success while she was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Only by biting her tongue until she tasted the coppery flavor of blood was she able to remain silent. Too bad that the minute she quit biting it, she lost the battle to prove she could behave like a lady.

“If she’s so perfect, you’d be a fool not to propose to her!”

“She’s a little young. Nineteen. I was actually considering asking her to marry me, when Hassan started in on me about coming here. Ever since he met you at Keeneland, he’s asked questions about my life in Texas. He won’t say why, but I think he’s decided I’m still hung up on you. Well, I’m not! I don’t believe in rehashing or whining about the past, and I’ll do whatever it takes to convince him—even work with you on your finances.”

She caught a whiff of his musky scent mingling with minty cologne, and her feminine hormones flared. “So marry your precious Teresa and prove you and I are ancient history!”

His eyes slid over her. “You don’t look much like ancient history. You look as sassy as ever. So, no man’s tamed you yet? Not even your husband?”

“Leave him out of this! He’s dead, you know.”

“I’m sorry.” There was genuine regret in his deep tone. “This is a big place. In the middle of nowhere. It must get lonely out here.”

Unimaginably lonely, especially at night, when the wind blew and the eaves groaned and the coyotes howled as she lay in the dark, her head spinning with money worries.

She’d lain awake, alone, for too long. But she had a ranch to run, son to raise, hence little time for fun.

Too aware of the hunger that sparked in Luke’s green eyes and her own vulnerability, she took a step backward.

When he reached out and took her by the hand, she fought to pull it free. He held on tight, lifting her palm and inspecting it closely.

“You’ve been working hard. Too hard.” The sympathy in his voice surprised her and temporarily lessened her anger. Without thinking, she quit tugging and leaned closer to him.

What was she doing? Softening toward him? She should fight him harder, yank her hand free, but her emotions were escalating too fast to control. His tall, powerful body and his understanding intoxicated her. She’d done without a man’s passion for too long. Done without him. If only she’d had an inkling she’d see him today, she could have steeled herself.

Instead of trying to run, she froze. His beautiful green eyes—eyes she had so adored—stared straight into hers, igniting her soul, burning away the years and the hurt and the hatred, and melting her resistance.

He lifted her callused palm to his lips and kissed it. Only then did she jerk her hand from his. “You probably prefer women with soft hands.”

“I thought I did. These days I don’t meet many women who work outside with animals the way you do. When I left Texas, I dated lots of women. Until I saw you working with Ramblin’ Man, I thought I’d put you totally behind me.