It’s been years since he saw her, but Lance never managed to get Jack out of his head or his fantasies. He knows only too well, though, she has plenty of reason not to spare him a second thought. Despite that, it’s clear her desire for him is still alive and well—and he’s not above exploiting it. He’ll keep things casual and give her what she wants, satisfying her every need, until she begs him to give her what he’s wanted for years. Not just her body, but her love.
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Two hours later, after playing you-can’t-catch-me tag with the big roan and finally convincing him it was in his best interests to carry her home, she rode into the ranch yard, thinking of nothing but a desperately needed cup of coffee and a can of chili. Sliding to the ground with a groan of relief, she led the horse into the corral. She clipped his bit ring to the dangling halter lead that always hung on the hitching post just inside the gate. Loosening the cinch, she dragged the big old roping saddle off his high back. He started shaking his ugly head, impatient for his evening meal.
“You ate two lunches, you big mule. You can just wait until I put the tack away and get myself something to eat, which, by the way, I’ve wanted to do for the last four hours. If you hadn’t played your damn games, you might be eating right now!”
She lugged the heavy saddle into the barn and settled it over the sawhorse by the tack room door, draping the damp saddle pad upside down over the saddle seat to let it dry. Grabbing a rag and a stiff brush, she stomped back out to brush and rub the horse’s rumpled coat before she ran fresh well water into the trough.
Leaning against the rough pole fence, she stared at the gelding as he drank his fill and headed over to check out the feed bin. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to take care of you? Never have to worry about where your next meal came from? Never have to get up and shower and get to work? Just put the bridle away and go feed your growling belly, girl…
After she put the bridle in the tack room, she trudged wearily back across the yard toward the house and stopped dead as she saw the gleaming black 4x4 pickup that was parked beside the rattletrap old Ford.
Company? When I look like I just lost a sand-wrestling match with a bear? Great. Jack shook her head. Oh, well. She’d see what they wanted and make it quick. She certainly wasn’t expecting anyone to drop by and Molly drove a blue van. She approached the black pickup, wondering who the hell would be coming out here and what they wanted.
She didn’t have to wait very long to find out, as the driver-side door swung open and a long, lean body unfolded itself from the cab of the vehicle to face her as she approached.
OMG. Her heart lurched. Her suddenly useless feet almost tangled and she drew in a sharp breath to steady her racing pulse.
No. Way. In. Hell.
She came to a stumbling halt, too shocked to move closer as she came face-to-face with her worst nightmare and her wildest fantasy.
Dark eyes swept over her dusty jeans and grubby shirt as he removed his black Stetson and ran a lean hand through his nearly waist-length hair. One look at that beautiful, intense face brought back all the humiliating memories of her wild teenage crush on the man…and the way he’d treated that crush. She was suddenly speechless. The silence that hung between them was just another reminder of her lack of savoir faire. She had always felt totally gauche around the man.
Finally managing to force words through her stiff lips, Jack nodded and said tightly, “Blackfeather. What brings you out here? Uncle Frank’s funeral was last week.” She couldn’t stop the little jab at his conscience. If he actually has one. He seemed to be considering his answer carefully as he trailed those lean fingers over the deep center dent of his hat. She shivered as she had a sudden image of those lean fingers trailing over the warm folds of her pussy.
Gah! Mind out of the gutter, Jack!
When he did finally speak, the sound of his voice sent shivers through her.
“I’ve been away for a while. I just got back. My condolences. Frank was a damn good man.”
She lifted her chin slightly to gather her damn pride around her like a shield against the sexy, mouthwatering aura he had always exuded. However, his unexpected response took some of the wind out of her self-righteous sails. He’s been away? She could accept that excuse.
“Thank you.” She swallowed hard to calm the rampant butterflies that had just headed down her throat to her stomach. Now what, Jack? At least act like you have some manners. “I don’t have much in the way of fancy hospitality, but I can offer you a cup of coffee, if you don’t mind reheated.”
Amazed that she’d actually had the courage to ask him if he wanted coffee, she removed her hat and dusted it off against her worn jeans. She started toward the porch and he raised his hand to forestall her.
“I don’t mean to impose.” His voice was husky. Sexy. And sending little flutters of lust into her belly. Damn it, Jack! How the hell can you even think of him that way after he tore your heart into little pieces? Her anger at herself translated to her tone when she spoke again.
“You aren’t imposing. If you have the courage to drink my lousy coffee, you’re welcome to it.” Trying not to notice his sun-bronzed face and that killer body as she passed him, she climbed the steps to the front door a bit stiffly. She didn’t have to look over her shoulder to know that he was following her. His boots scraped on the wooden steps and as she shoved the creaky front door inward he reached past her to hold it open, his chest brushing her shoulder. She almost gave a yelp as she jerked away, but managed to move without making it look like he’d just scared the hell out of her.
“Looks like the screen could use fixing.” His quiet observation brought a hot flood of color to her face.
Duh! Real observant of you, Blackfeather. “Yeah. It fell off the hinges last summer. Uncle Frank was going to fix it…” Her voice trailed off as she recalled all the times the old man had said he was going to fix that sagging screen door. She shook herself back to the present and waved toward the kitchen, forcing back the lump that filled her tight throat. “Make yourself at home. I’ll get you a cup.” She reached for two chipped mugs and said, “I was about to fix myself some chili. I can open two cans if you’re hungry.”
She paused to look over her shoulder and realized that he was so close she could move back half an inch and lean into that rock-hard body. OMG. Space! Need to put some space between his front and my back—now!
She moved quickly to the stove and checked to see if there were any hot coals left to ignite the kindling she had gathered earlier from the quickly dwindling wood supply out back. Nope. It was stone cold. She grabbed a sheet of old newspaper out of the box next to the stove and crumpled it, added some kindling to get the fire restarted and then reached for the box of matches. Empty! Damn! Another thing that has to be purchased next time I’m in town. Well, maybe she could afford a box of matches. Just not much else.
A long arm brushed past her and, with a soft click, Lance lit the paper with a lighter. He was almost flush against her back as she straightened and she closed her eyes and swallowed the tight knot in her throat. “Thanks,” she said tersely as she reached to move the cold pot of coffee back to the heat plate of the stove.
He moved back a step as she turned to face him and she motioned toward the little table with its pair of white wooden chairs. Damn, but he has absolutely no concept of personal space. “Grab a seat. Did you want that chili or not?” Here I am blushing like a sappy idiot again just because he’s looking at me in that damn sexy way of his.
He hung his hat on one spindle of the chair he chose and he sank onto the seat slowly, apparently testing its capability of handling his weight. “I ate a while ago. I’ll just have some of that coffee.”
God, but he was still as gorgeous and as well built as she recalled. She had hoped he would have gone gray and grown a paunch like most of the men around here seemed to. But no. He had to remain hot and sexy and…
She swallowed and forced her thoughts away from him. No use thinking about him. Nothing had changed, except she was older and wiser and not as apt to drool over him openly like she had at sixteen.
As she moved around the kitchen opening a can of chili, then setting it on the stovetop to heat in the can, she could sense his eyes following every move she made, making her feel oddly clumsy. She nearly dropped the long spoon she’d stirred the chili with before getting it safely into the kitchen sink. She washed her hands and reached for a tea towel.
When there was no further excuse to keep her back to him, she turned and leaned against the countertop, folding her arms defensively over her chest. “It was real nice of you to drive all this way to offer your condolences. I know you and Uncle Frank were friends. And I really appreciate the help you were to him all these years.” She chewed the corner of her bottom lip and drew a calming breath. “But I get the feeling that’s not what you came out here for. I gather you saw my ad in the papers? You want to buy me out, since this is right in the middle of your spread? I plan to have it sold as soon as possible.” Jesus. I’m babbling.
He inhaled deeply and frowned. “You can’t sell the ranch.”
She stared at him stonily. “I don’t have a choice. I don’t have any other way to settle the remainder of his debts. I sold everything that wasn’t nailed down to pay off his creditors. Do you want to buy me out or not? I’m not asking much—just enough to pay off the rest of his bills and the funeral.”
Damn him. He’s got that look on his face, like he feels sorry for me.
Tremors of weariness hit her but she didn’t want to show any weakness to him. She turned to stare out the little window above the sink, afraid she would begin to bawl like a baby. “Look, it’s been a real rough day. I know you have important things to do…”
He was suddenly right behind her again and she drew a ragged breath. Damn! How the hell could he move that fast without her hearing him? His closeness set off all sorts of alarms in her body. His hands settled gently on her shoulders as he murmured softly, “I’m sorry. I sure as hell didn’t come here to upset you.”
She drew a calming breath. “It’s okay. It’ll sort itself out. I know it won’t bring much on the market, but at least I can pay off the bills that are left. Just make me an offer.”
His fingers tightened on her drooping shoulders and he turned her to face him. “Maybe you should sit down.” His voice was quiet as he glanced toward the table and chairs.
“Sit down? That sounds pretty ominous.” Her eyes searched his face for a moment and then his words began to sink in. Her belly knotted as she tried to calm her heart rate. This isn’t a social visit. He had come to deliver some bad news. His dark eyes told her that. Then she whispered, “Exactly why can’t I sell the ranch, Blackfeather?”
He hesitated, then murmured quietly, “This piece of land is on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The tribe owns all the land here. Frank was only leasing it.”
Her heart was hammering as she swallowed and whispered shakily, “Leasing it?” She drew a painful breath. That’s why there was no land title on file? Her lips trembled. It made perfect sense now. But he had always told her that the ranch would be hers someday. That implied that he owned it outright. Didn’t it? This was getting so crazy…
She allowed him to ease her onto the chair he’d been sitting on. Her thoughts swirled dangerously. Just how was she supposed to pay off what he still owed his creditors? God knew she had nothing more to sell…of his or hers. What about the cost of his funeral? They had buried him on her promise to pay the costs from the proceeds of the estate. She closed her eyes and swallowed the nausea she felt. Oh God.
She sensed Lance sinking to his haunches in front of the chair and she forced her eyes open to meet his gaze. “I don’t understand. He led me to believe this would be mine someday—that I would have a place to come back to.” She shook her head. “I just assumed…” Her voice trailed off.
“He had a twenty-year lease. He always figured you would still have the ranch to come back to if things went sour.” She saw the pity in those almost-black eyes and she stopped herself from saying any more.
The last thing she needed or wanted from Lance Blackfeather was his pity.
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