Bound, Branded, & Brazen(2)

By: Jaci Burton


She climbed the long staircase with her bags in hand, walked down the hall to her bedroom and opened the door.

Yeah, some things never changed. The room was exactly as she’d left it, the bronze lace curtains billowing in the breeze from the open windows, the hope chest that had belonged to her mother sitting just underneath the window. The top of the old, scarred chest was always adorned with fresh flowers thanks to Lila, their housekeeper—“manager” was more appropriate, since Lila took care of everything related to the house. The dresser and nightstand gleamed as if freshly polished.

Valerie stared down at the queen-sized bed that Mason had always complained wasn’t long enough, that his feet hung over the edge. Though they’d had plenty of room to make love. She stared at the patchwork quilt, remembered how she and Mason would kick it down to the end of the bed every night during their tussles together.

There had been so many things wrong with their marriage, but the sex? That had been oh so right. She still remembered the feel of his unshaven jaw rubbing against the skin of her face. She used to love his scratchy beard, would slide her palm across his jaw because it made her tingle all over.

And his kisses—good Lord the man could kiss. Even now, years later, she had vivid memories of his mouth on hers, the fullness of his lips, the taste of sweat and outdoors and the earthy scent of him whenever he came in from working cattle. He was such a . . . man. He felt like one and smelled like one and God he could turn her knees to jelly.

He was so masterful at what he did, as if he’d been born to pleasure a woman. And even when she’d been young and inexperienced and asked him to take it slow, she’d felt the fires of passion barely banked inside him, and knew how explosive his desires were.

His touch on her breasts, between her legs, the way he could coax her to orgasm faster than a brushfire in the hot, dry summer . . .

She shuddered. Two long years of drought, without a man, without Mason. And just thinking about him could light that flame again.

There were a lot of reasons she’d divorced Mason Parks, but sex definitely hadn’t been one of them. If there’d been a way she could still jump that man’s bones, without the ties of marriage, she’d have been on him in a heartbeat.

But somehow walking out on your husband and serving him with divorce papers didn’t make that man look kindly on his ex-wife or in any way make him want to swoop her up and give her an orgasm.

“I heard you were coming in today.”

She pivoted, her heart in her throat as she faced the man she’d just been reminiscing about, and reminiscing in a decidedly sexual way, too.

Two years hadn’t changed him much. Still tall, still with that unshaven look, still wearing dusty blue jeans, cowboy boots and a work shirt with the sleeves rolled up, showing off impossibly muscled forearms. He took off his cowboy hat and ran his fingers through his hair. Yeah, everything was still the same. His hair was still brown, his eyes the same color as his hair, and he still goddamned took her breath away.

“Hi, Mason.”

“Val.”

He swaggered into the room—because he didn’t even walk like a normal man. More like a man who commanded a woman to look at him. And really, what woman wouldn’t?

She stood frozen to the spot as he circled the bed and moved toward her. Her first thought—run. Run like hell. Her heart started pounding as he stopped in front of her.

“Jolene said she’d asked you to come.”

“Yes.”

He cocked his head to the side. “Didn’t think you would.”

“Why not?”

“Because you couldn’t wait to get away from here. And when you left you said you’d never be back.”

Damn him for remembering. “I’m here for the funeral.”

“You hated Ronald.”

“I’m here for Jolene.”

He arched a brow. “Seems to me that Jolene asked you plenty of times to come. And you didn’t. Why now?”

She shrugged, clasping her hands together so he wouldn’t see them shake. “It’s time Jolene and Brea and I settle a few things about the ranch.”

“You could do that by phone and mail.”

She circled around him, moved toward the window, needing some air to clear her head. Being near Mason jumbled her brain cells, made her think of the past, of what she’d missed. She finally turned to face him. “I didn’t come back here to argue with you, Mason.”

“No, you never liked doing that, did you? God forbid you should say what was on your mind.”

He moved in on her again, trapping her between him and the window.

She lifted her gaze to him. “I’m not going to do this with you.”

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