Of course Jolene knew everyone and shouted out greetings as they wound their way to the bar. She ordered beers while Valerie rustled up a table, which wasn’t difficult since most of the guys were off playing pool or standing around talking to one another. A few were dancing with some of the women, but so far the small dance floor remained sadly uncrowded.
Valerie aimed to change that. There were a lot of men present, and she intended to dance with as many of them as she could.
They took seats at the table and Valerie surveyed the scene. Not much had changed at Dirk’s since she’d last been here. The scarred wood floor was still covered in sawdust and discarded peanut shells. The long bar was littered with beer bottles, some filled, some empty. Raucous country music played—no, that wasn’t quite right—it
loud and hard, the heavy bass thumping with a wham wham wham she felt in her chest. The thwack of pool balls could be heard above the noise since several games were going on, followed by either a loud groan or a hoop and a holler when someone sank a shot.
And it was still early. The real action wouldn’t happen before ten P.M.
“This place is hoppin’ already.” Jolene scooted her butt onto a stool and slid the beers onto the table. “Great idea, Val.”
Valerie took a long drink and nodded. “I figured we could all stand to get out of that house.” Or at least she could. Two days and she was already suffocating in there. Being at Dirk’s was easy. She could blend in, wasn’t the center of attention.
Not until the door opened and Mason walked in with a bunch of the guys from the ranch. And everyone in the place smiled and waved at him.
Then all eyes turned to her.
In an instant, whether she liked it or not, they’d all made the connection.
In their eyes, she still belonged with Mason.
She’d see about that, would show them she belonged to no man. She downed the first bottle of beer in three swallows, slid off the stool and, ignoring Mason, marched her way to the bar and ordered another round.
“You’d better keep them coming,” she told Sandy, the bartender. “It’s going to be a long night.”
Beers in hand, she went back to the table, keeping her focus on her sisters, who both gazed at her with much amusement.
“Fuck off,” she said as she took her seat.
“The whole place is looking at you,” Jolene said with a smirk as she continued to sip from her first bottle of beer.
Valerie shrugged. “Let them. Nothing to see here.” And she still hadn’t looked at Mason, had no idea where he even was. Hopefully he’d spotted her and left.
No such luck. As soon as she scanned the pool area, there he was, shooting a game of eight ball with Gage, Walker and Sporty. He wasn’t watching her.
Good. Because she had every intention of pretending he wasn’t there. He had his life, and she had hers. The two of them were completely separate now. And it was about damn time everyone came to grips with that fact.
“You know, for someone who claims to have no interest in Mason, you sure are watching him a lot.”
Valerie’s gaze shot to Brea. “I am not. I just want to make sure he doesn’t come over here.”
Valerie downed her second beer. Just in time, too, because Sandy sent over another one. Valerie unscrewed the top and began to drink.
“You keep guzzling them like that and we’ll have to pour you into the truck,” Jolene said.
Valerie rolled her eyes. “Please. I can drink both of you under the table.”
“Is that right?” Jolene signaled for Sandy and held up three fingers. In short order, the bartender appeared with a tray and three shot glasses filled to the rim with amber liquid.
Valerie glared at Jolene. “You did not.”
“Let’s see you drink me under the table with beer and shooters.”
Jolene laughed. “Quit whining and knock it down.”
She did. An hour, two more shots and four beers later, she was feeling free and giddy and ready to dance. The bar was packed solid and she was damn sure there’d be at least one if not a dozen cowboys eager to take her up on her offer to sweat some of this alcohol out of her system on the dance floor.
“I’m off to pick up a man.”
“You sure you’re gonna make it?” Jolene asked.
“Please. I’m barely warmed up.” She hitched herself off the bar stool and made a slow trek through the throng of hot bodies now crowding the dance floor, though she didn’t do it in a straight line. Damn whiskey.
When she reached the other side, she kept herself from licking her lips at the slabs of male flesh occupying the game area.
Was there anything sexier than hot cowboys in Stetsons, boots, T-shirts and blue jeans? She didn’t think so. Now she just had to zero in on one available guy, grab him and take a twirl.
Deciding steering clear of the guys from the Bar M would be the wisest choice, she chose one leaning against the far wall. He wasn’t playing pool, just drinking a beer and watching the action. He watched her approach with definite interest in his eyes.
Oh yeah. He would definitely do. She made sure to use her sexiest saunter to keep that interest. His smile lit up when she stopped in front of him.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey yourself, darlin’. What are you up to tonight?”
She hooked her thumbs in her belt hoops, realizing how rusty she was at this flirting thing. “Just kicking back and relaxing. How about you?”
“Same.” He laid his beer on a nearby table and held out his hand. “I’m Cody.”
“Valerie. Nice to meet you, Cody.”
“You’re not from around here, are you?”
“No,” she lied. “I have family here that I’m visiting. I live in Dallas.”
He nodded. “The big city.”
She laughed. He was gorgeous. Broad shoulders, killer dimples. “So, Cody, would you like to dance?”
Before he had a chance to answer, some guy came up and whispered in his ear. Cody went pale, turned back to Valerie and tipped his hat.
“Some other time, ma’am.”
He backed away from her as if she had some kind of communicable disease.
What the hell was that about? Did the guy remind Cody he had a wife back home or something? If so, then it was a good thing he’d declined, because if she found out he was married she just might have to kill him.
Fine. He wasn’t the only guy in the place. She turned and hit on another, who politely declined. So did another. And another. And she saw a round of hands cupped to ears and whispers and fingers pointing to her.
Irritation set her foot tapping, and it wasn’t in time to the hard-driving beat of the music.
She faced all the guys leaning against the wall, her hands on her hips. “Okay, look. I’m a reasonably attractive woman who can hold a decent conversation. And trust me, I’m a great dancer. So what the hell is so wrong with me that has you all running in the opposite direction whenever I come near?”
“They think you belong to me.”
Oh. Now it all made sense.
She turned to face her ex-husband with murder on her mind.
mason fought a smile as valerie leveled a murderous
expression in his direction. Oh yeah, she was pissed. He’d seen it coming as one guy after another shot her down.
But hey, it wasn’t his fault that nearly every cowboy in town still thought of her as his wife. And to the cowboy code of honor, that meant hands off. They weren’t going to step in his territory.
“You did this on purpose.”
He shook his head. “I had nothing to do with it.”
“Tell them it’s not true.”
“What’s not true?”
“I’m not your wife anymore. We don’t have a connection.”
Her gaze narrowed. “Mason.”
She poked his chest. “Now you’re deliberately trying to piss me off.”
“Would I do that?” He turned and walked away, and even over the deafening noise and music he heard her squeal of outrage. He grinned and picked up a pool cue, leaned over the table and took his shot, then grabbed his bottle of beer and took a long swallow
“She’s pissed at you.”
Mason slanted his gaze to Walker Morgan, one of his best friends. “Yeah.”
“You intending to do something about it?”
“Man, that’s a hornet’s nest you’re stepping into.”
“Speaking of hornets,” Walker said, motioning behind Mason.
Someone tapped Mason on the shoulder. He turned, already knowing who it was. Valerie never was one to back down.
“If none of these other guys have the balls”—and she’d said “balls” loud enough for every person in Dirk’s to hear it—“to dance with me, then you’re going to have to do it.”
Mason laid his cue across the table, turned and grabbed her hand, dragging her onto the dance floor. “Fine. Let’s dance.”
valerie’s eyes widened as mason wrapped his arms
around her and drew her against him. The heat from his body soaked into her. Disoriented, she missed a step, while he stayed steady.
What the hell? She’d thrown that out as a challenge, knowing he wouldn’t take her up on it. Mason didn’t dance. Not once during all the years she’d known him had he ever danced with her, including their wedding day.
But as he held firm to the small of her back, he was relaxed and moved against her with an easy rhythm.
She cocked a brow. “You son of a bitch. You can dance.”
“Never said I couldn’t. Just don’t like to.”
“So what the hell are you doing dancing with me now?”
He gazed down at her and smiled. “I feel kind of bad that no one else will.”
She tried to pull away from him, away from the butterflies flitting in her stomach. She wasn’t used to being this close to him. It threw her off balance and she didn’t like it one bit. Distance gave her clarity, but Mason didn’t let go. “I don’t need a pity dance.”
He laughed. “You think I pity you?” He laughed, then shocked the hell out of her when he bent her over, dipped her and planted his lips on hers.
Her entire body combusted into flames as Mason slid his lips over hers right there in front of God and her sisters and practically the entire town. Their past, all the arguments and hurts, disappeared, and she was once again the sixteen-year-old girl madly in love with the hot cowboy. She was the eighteen-year-old girl who wanted to marry the man of her dreams. She was in her bedroom, getting naked with Mason, his mouth and hands all over her body, awakening her desires, taking her to screaming heights she’d never known before, or since.
When he lifted her upright again, she was panting, her nipples tight points of need throbbing against her bra. Her panties, moist with desire, clung to her skin.
But most of all, she was confused.
“Why don’t you hate me?” she asked.
“I don’t hate you, darlin’. I don’t feel anything at all for you.”
That was a downright lie, because as he continued to lead her around the dance floor, the hard ridge of his cock rode against her hip. She glanced down between them, then back up at him with a smile. “I beg to differ.”
“You make me hard. Doesn’t mean I still love you. Or even that I want you.”
She laughed. “That makes no damn sense. Of course you still want me.”
“First you don’t want to have anything to do with me. Now you’re trying to get me to admit that I want you? What do
At the moment, she had no idea. As always, being with Mason confused her, made her feel things she didn’t want to feel—things she shouldn’t feel.
The song ended, and Mason took a step back, tipped his hat. “Thanks for the dance.”
He headed back to his friends and grabbed his beer, took a long swill and didn’t even bother looking back at her. He’d just left her standing there like she’d been dumped.
She went back to the table where both her sisters smirked at her.
“Guess he was the one who walked away this time,” Jolene said, looking way too amused.
“Bite me.” Valerie grabbed the shot in front of her and downed it in one swallow, then chugged her beer. Dancing with Mason had gotten her hot in more ways than one.
“You should just jump him and get it over with.”
Valerie’s gaze shot to Jolene. “That would be the worst thing in the world. I’ve been gone two years. Things between us are finally settled.”
Brea snorted. “Yeah, things looked real settled between you.”
“Uh huh. You totally behaved like a divorced couple out there on the dance floor,” Jolene added.
“It was one dance. It didn’t mean anything.”
“You kissed him,” Jolene said.
“I did not. He kissed me. It didn’t mean anything. It was just for fun.”
“Are you trying to convince us, or yourself?” Brea asked. “Because it looked meaningful as hell from where I’m sitting.”
Her sisters could be so irritating at times. “Look. Nothing’s going to happen between us. I don’t want to give Mason false encouragement, or let him believe there could ever be anything resurrected between us. It wouldn’t be right. It would hurt him, and I’ve hurt him enough.”
“Right, because he’s just pining away without you. One word from you and he might just curl up and die.” Jolene motioned with her head toward the other side of the bar.
Valerie followed Jolene’s head motion. Mason had his arm around a gorgeous blonde dressed in skintight skinny jeans that showed off one fine ass, and a body-forming, belly-hugging top that surrounded enormous tits. They were laughing, their heads bowed together. The scene was obviously intimate. The woman had her arm around Mason and rubbed his back in a very familiar way.
Maybe the hard-on he’d sprouted on the dance floor was for the blonde with big boobs, and not for her at all.