Authors: Candi Wall
Tags: #letting go;trust;Texas;Texan;western;big city
“Tomorrow?” He nibbled lightly at the corner of her mouth before sucking her bottom lip gently. “I’d like you to come over for dinner.”
She tried to shake her head but her body wouldn’t listen. Evidently her silence was enough of an answer, and for the moment she was thankful for it. He pulled her close and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “I’ll pick you up at six.”
No. Wait. What? She hadn’t agreed to anything. So why not say so? Her throat tightened and she clamped her jaw shut. She had no idea what would pop out of her mouth if she spoke, so for now, radio silence reigned.
In a dazed fog of confused thoughts, Chloe let him lead her down the road. She needed to get the hell out of Texas. And away from Nick Westing.
Nick pulled the truck to a stop and shifted into park. He scanned the old farmhouse, smiling when he found Chloe and Miya settled beneath one of the numerous apple trees that made up the vast orchard on the huge farm owned by Miya’s parents, George and Dora-Lee Jackson. They were nowhere to be seen, but that didn’t surprise him. If he knew them well enough, Dora-Lee was in the kitchen, and George would be in the barn with some of the other men sneaking a cigar. Nick’s brother Cash had shown up as well, though instead of being curled up with the women as Nick would have expected, he was out in the field throwing a football with Shawn.
Miya’s gaze followed Shawn, a soft smile curving her lips. Nick couldn’t be happier for them. After so many years of being apart, the fact that they had found each other again was amazing. Shawn had been his best friend forever. They’d grown up down the road from one another, went to school together—hell they’d shared so many girlfriends over the years he’d lost count. But then Shawn had fallen in love with Miya. And when Miya had left, Shawn had changed. It was nice to see his friend smile. It was nice to see the love between them.
He pushed the door open with his foot and grabbed the huge basket of pies his aunt had sent over with him. The scent of her county-famous peach-and-cream pie had filled his truck on the ride over and he’d been tempted to sample his favorite dessert. But his aunt had given him fair warning, and he liked his balls where they were.
He’d made it ten feet from where Chloe was seated when a loud, excited screech stopped him cold. “Nick Westing, oh, I’m so happy you’re here!”
Nick turned to catch Amy Atwell as she launched into his arms. “Hey Ames. How are you?”
She smiled, the huge dimple in her cheek just as big as always. “I’m great. You?”
“Can’t complain.” He shifted the basket and looped an arm over her shoulder. “How’s school? Any boys I need to come up there and kill?”
Amy’s eyes widened and she popped a fist against his stomach. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Oh, I would. Matter of fact—” he pointed to where Chloe sat, glad to see he’d caught her attention, “—see that blond over there? That’s Chloe. She’s from New York too. I’ll have her spy on you when she gets back and if I hear one thing about you and any guys—”
A heavy hand landed on his shoulder. “Stop picking on your cousin.”
“Uncle Reb!” Nick shook his hand. “When’d you get in?”
“Just this morning.” The old Army general kissed his only daughter on her cheek before taking the basket from Nick’s hand. “You young people go on and play. I’ll take these in to Dora-Lee.”
Nick chuckled, wondering how long it would take for old Reb to be booted out of Dora-Lee’s kitchen for stealing food. Nick grabbed Amy’s hand and pulled her along toward the others. “Come on.”
Nick couldn’t keep his eyes off of Chloe. Her shorts were just short enough to show the slim lines of her thighs, the off-white jeans material hugging her ass perfectly. Her pale blue-and-green tank top sculpted her tiny waist and the curve of her back, accentuating her breasts as she lounged back on her elbows. She glanced in his direction, her eyes shaded by dark sunglasses. But he didn’t miss the slow, seductive motion of her tongue when she licked her lips.
Miya jumped up and rushed over. She hugged Amy and rattled off a string of questions. Nick took the moment to disentangle himself from the two and walked over to block the sun shining in Chloe’s face. She tipped her glasses up, sliding them on top of her head. “Your ever-so-yummy bod is blocking my sun. It’s setting pretty quick too.”
Visions of the previous evening, her panting, pinned to the tree as he stroked deep into her body blasted through his mind. He knelt down and draped an elbow across his knee. She’d gone cold on him last night when he’d walked her home, and it would be interesting to see where her detached psyche was today. “How ya doing, doll?”
Her gaze moved over his entire body. “I’m good. You?”
“Better now.” Her legs parted slightly, and she stretched, kicking off a sandal to run her toes along the inseam of his jeans. Guess she’d gotten past her run-for-her-life moment. “Especially when you do that.”
She glanced around them. “Did you think about fucking me all day?”
Considering her cold behavior at the end of their night, he was surprised by her question. Not enough to ignore it though. She’d hit that nail on the head. If she hadn’t run away, he would have enjoyed spending the entire night and day making her body tremble.“I had a hard time thinking about anything else.”
She smiled. “Good.”
“Why’s that?” He sat down on the blanket, resisting the urge to lean in and kiss the tip of her sun-pinked nose. She was a different woman than what he was used to dealing with. As long as they talked sex or were fucking, she was fine. The moment he dipped a toe too far into get-to-know-you territory, she went cold.
She dropped her glasses back over her eyes and tilted her face toward the sun. “Because I was hoping we could do a repeat tonight. It would be a nice way to end my vacation, since Dora-Lee’s impromptu picnic messed up our dinner plans.”
He leaned in close, unable to resist pressing a couple kisses along the inside of her knee. If the only way to connect with her was through sex, he’d take it. “I’d be happy to accommodate.”
She shook her head. “What about Dora-Lee’s party?”
“We’ll be out of here by nine.”
“Really?” She glanced at the huge food table in front of the main house skeptically. “Looks like she’s planning one heck of a spread.”
Some things never changed, and he was damn glad for it. “Trust me. Dora-Lee will have everyone fed and the food cleaned up, packaged and sent on its way home with the guests by seven. Miya’s dad and the uncles will be drunk by eight, and anyone still considered in the ‘kid’ category is expected to disperse or disappear. Which still includes us, thankfully.”
“Sweet.” She nodded. “In that case, you’re on.”
“Nick!” Shawn yelled from across the field. “Come on. You’re on my team.”
Several other cousins, friends and invited guests were dividing into two teams. He knew he’d regret taking part in a football game with this group, but he couldn’t resist. He eased closer to Chloe and slid his hand up the inside of her thigh. Her breath caught when he neared the hem of her shorts. “I guess I’m needed elsewhere for now. You mind?”
She laced her fingers through his and drew his hand higher. “Not in the least. So long as you don’t hurt anything vital for tonight’s plans.”
“No worries.” He slid a finger under her shorts to brush over her damp curls, swallowing a curse. “And I appreciate your concern for my well being.”
She bit into her bottom lip as he stroked her. Sitting up, she drew his hand away and brought it to her lips. Licking the pad of his damp finger, she smiled. “As long as your cock works, I’ll do all the work. Now go have fun.”
Damn woman had him hard as a rock. He shifted to ease the ache from the confining stretch of his jeans. “You’ve got to be the most perfect woman I’ve ever met. Let’s just blow everything else off. I’ll call in sick for work and we can spend every moment until your plane leaves doing anything you want.”
“Ummm, the possibilities.” Then she shook her head. “But I couldn’t do that to Miya. You’ll just have to wait.”
“There’s that soft spot again for Miya.” He jumped to his feet, reining in the need pulsing through his wayward cock.
“Always.” She leaned back on the blanket and stretched. “She’s the only real friend I’ve ever had. So, yeah. I’d do anything for her.”
“Sexy and soft,” he murmured.
He almost laughed when she sat up, her eyes hard. “I’m not soft. I just love Miya to death.”
“It’s a form of softness, and it’s nothin’ to get all riled about.” Man, she was prickly. “You love your friend. That’s great. It tells a lot about who you are inside. And it shows me that when you shake off the city, you’d fit in perfectly in small-town life.”
Her entire frame stiffened. “Yeah, well small towns are not in my future. It would be suffocating.”
“That’s too bad. Seems to me you like it here. A lot more than you admit.” He’d pegged her for the no-commitment type, but he hoped to convince her to hang in with him for a bit. Even with the distance between them, just to see what they could be. That didn’t mean he needed her it’s-not-you-it’s-me attitude. “Whatever you decide. I’m here for the party. If you say these last days are all we are, so be it. If you want to try at long distance, great. Either way, I figure you should know I’m here if you want to give it a go beyond sex.”
“Nick!” Shawn shouted. “Come on!”
Nick backed away. “We good?”
She nodded. “Yeah. We’re good.”
He smiled, wondering how quick she planned to run now that he’d mentioned something more than sex. “I’ll be back soon.”
Chloe nodded, following the sinfully sexy movements of his body as he jogged over to where the other men were gathered. Even if his suggestion for something beyond sex had struck a get-the-hell-out chord, the way he’d dealt with her panic was sweet. He’d responded with honesty, and that wasn’t something she was used to. And damned if it didn’t kick him up a rung or two on the perfection ladder.
She rolled to her side and groaned when he peeled off his shirt. Shawn and the other members of one team did the same. Go figure. As if she wasn’t hot enough, now Nick’s sweaty, dirty muscles would be doing all kinds of bulging and grinding. She’d never survive it.
It didn’t take long, either, and by the second time the men ran a play and wound up skidding through the damp fields, she was considering finding a place to relieve her pent-up sexual need when Miya came back.
“Now that is a reason to love football.”
Chloe choked back a laugh. “Love it? Hell, I’m about to get off just from watching.”
Miya settled on the blanket as well, her eyes riveted to the men. “I wish you didn’t have to leave. I miss you.”
“I miss you too.” And she did. So much. “But
is crazy right now. Crawford’s being more of a cunt than ever. If I don’t come up with a new angle for the next issue quickly, something that will blow the competition out of the water, she pretty much said I could kiss the promotion goodbye.”
Miya shook her head. “I’m sorry to hear that. What are you going to do?”
“Don’t know yet.” Nick caught the ball that Shawn threw and ran toward a huge guy blocking his path. Chloe cringed, but instead of the brutal impact she’d expected, he merely swerved to the right and ran past the other guy. “Whew. That was close.”
“These boys will be hating life later.” Miya jerked uncomfortably as Shawn was taken down by two cousins. “Oh, I’m going to have to rub something tonight. I can hear it now. Anyway, so any ideas yet? You’re a freaking brilliant magazine mind. You’ve got to have something brewing.”
Chloe shook her head. She might be known for her epic covers, but her well of inspiration had run dry lately. For some reason, nothing clicked. “I’d actually hoped getting away would help. I really don’t know what to do. But I’m sure I’ll come up with something.”
“You will. I have faith in you.”
“So you and Shawn are doing good?”
Miya sighed, resting her chin on her hands. “Better than good. Chloe, I love him so much it hurts sometimes.”
Such intensity of emotion boggled the mind. She couldn’t imagine. All her misplaced, childish dreams of fairytale romance, undying love and happily ever after lay beneath the concrete of New York City. But she was happy for Miya. “Girl, most people wait a lifetime for that feeling. I’m glad you two worked it out.”
Miya turned her head, her gaze steady. “What’s with you and Nick?”
Skepticism arched her friend’s brows. “Nobody could just screw Nick Westing. He’s too good of a guy.”
“I did.” But where she usually didn’t care what the man felt, Nick’s easy personality, manners and his passion for life made it difficult to ignore how good it felt just to be in his presence. Tack on the fact that he was hot as hell, and she could see any girl in the world falling for him. He’d make some woman happy someday. “And yes, he seems to be a good guy.”
“I think he likes you.”
Instant wariness set in. “Miya, don’t even think about it. You know me. I’m not the loving kind. Just because you’re sickeningly happy and head-over-heels in love, doesn’t mean I need to be.”
“It is kind of sickening isn’t it? Mom said the same thing the other day.” Her smile broke brilliant. “Said we were worse than Casey and her husband.”
Chloe laughed. “I bet.”
“But be careful with Nick.” She rolled back to watch the men. “His heart is so big; I’d hate to see it crushed.”
A spark of defensiveness ran through Chloe. “I’ve been honest with him from day one. He knows how I feel.”
“No doubt. It’s what he can’t help but feel for you that worries me. As much as you detest the thought, you really are quite lovable. Guys fall for you all the time; you’re just too busy to notice.” Dora-Lee yelled from the kitchen, and Miya sat up. “Mum needs my help. I’ll be back in a bit.”
Lovable? That description, attached to heavy-handed, brass-balls-in-her-purse, kick-ass magazine executive Chloe Garrison, just didn’t jive. It was laughable. Enough that she actually chuckled.
“Whatcha laughin’ ’bout?”
A little boy with bright blue eyes way too big for his head stared at her expectantly from behind the nearest tree trunk.
“I just had a funny thought in my head.”
That seemed to appease his curiosity, and he limped around the tree to stand next to the blanket. “I’m Henry Albert Jackson. And you’re pretty.”
See, now if men stayed in this form—short, cute, unobtrusive and sweet—she’d have much more use for them. “Why thank you, Henry. I’m Chloe.”
“I know.” He held out a handful of foliage with tiny blue-and-yellow flowers that resembled pansies. “Nuncle Ick sent me over to give you these. They’re Johnny jump-ups. He paid me a buck.”
“Nuncle Ick?” She glanced at Nick and he waved. Returning her attention to Henry, she smiled. “Well, your Nuncle Ick is busy and has abandoned me. Will you keep me company?”