There he was. Oh, there he was.
Sliding from the driver’s seat, her heart in her throat, her stomach
churning, she stood in the wedge of the open door smack dab in the middle
of the ranch’s main road, her hands curled over the frame above
the window as she got her first glimpse of man and beast at work.
Her cowboy sat astride a big horse – chestnut, she thought the
color was called – his back straight, the reins in one hand, a
coil of rope in the other held against his thigh. He used those thighs
to move the animal, cutting quickly to one side then back to the other
before returning to where the two as a team had begun.
Tess pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head, feeling a smile spread
across her face as she listened to his sharp whistles and the sounds – oh,
that voice – she guessed equated to words of praise and commands.
She found herself captivated by way the horse paid attention – ears
flicking, head bobbing, nostrils flaring – and by the flex of the
muscles in its massive hindquarters as it backed across the stretch of
ground, snorting and huffing as it did.
The man giving the orders was equally impressive, his shoulders broad,
his torso tapered, his biceps tight as he pulled back, left, right on
the reins. Though it was late winter with spring on hovering on the horizon,
the damp fabric of his shirt clung to the small of his back above jeans
that rode low on his hips, that sat against his flat belly. And then
there were those thighs.
She shook her head, slid her sunglasses back into place, wrapped her
tunic-length cardigan more tightly around her body even though she wasn’t
particularly chilled. The early February morning was surprisingly bright,
the temperature mild. But this was the Texas Gulf Coast; there was no
guarantee tomorrow wouldn’t be stormy and dark.
She supposed the cowboy knew that, too, and was taking advantage of
the day, though she imagined he spent plenty in the rain doing exactly
what he was doing now, putting both himself and the horse through their
paces. Whether the horse was his or part of the stock he supplied for
rodeos, Tess had no way of knowing from here.
What she did know was that he was the source of the shivers tickling
her skin, and that just wasn’t like her. She was more attracted
to a man’s brain than his brawn or the roman numeral after his
name, and all she knew of this one was that he looked damn fine on a
horse and could turn her to jelly with a low-spoken word.
Except that wasn’t all she knew, was it?
It took more than powerful thighs and a talented tongue to coax the
horse beneath him to obey. He had to use the head on his shoulders in
concert with his body which rolled fluidly with the animal’s quick
That’s what Tess was responding to. That package. That combination.
The skill he showed off with each order given, with the anticipation
of each response.
She looked away, across the pasture that was on the verge of being swept
from winter brown to the green of spring, reminding herself that this
was work, not pleasure, and that a fling with a cowboy would not be worth
what her mother would put her through should she ever bring one home.
And then she looked back, feeling once again in control, more centered,
only to find him looking at her, his hat pulled low on his forehead,
just not low enough to hide what he was thinking, or the words her imagination
heard. Silly, the things going through her mind, this intense reaction
tightening her skin, the hairs on her arms tickling.
Was this what sent the women she’d interviewed into one cowboy’s
bed after another? Was it this physical pleasure as much as the thrill
of bringing the arena’s conquering hero to his knees? Even if it
wasn’t her thing, she understood the psychology of the latter,
the power and confidence such a triumph instilled.
But the former?
Pleasure she could get from a man wearing Armani as easily as from a
man in chaps, boots and jeans. For that matter, she had no problem taking
care of those needs herself – yet even as she had the thought,
she realized that the things his look had her imagining went deeper than
Okay . . . where had that come from? She could relate to being physically
itchy; the women she’d talked to held back nothing when describing
their sexual encounters – the quickies with boots on in pickups,
the blow jobs in country western dance halls, the hands inside clothing
in broad daylight offering sexual relief.
But none of those titillating depictions should have done more than
temporarily raise her temperature.
They should never have her thinking that this cowboy was looking at
her like she had more to offer him than her body, or have her wanting
to give him – this man she’d never seen before, this man
with dark and dreamy bedroom eyes – anything he had on his mind.