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Authors: Becky McGraw

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BOOK: Worth the Trouble
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When he got to the common room,
Leigh Ann was dragging her heavy suitcase across the floor, something he was sure she'd never done before.  Her face was red and if he wasn't mistaken she had broken a sweat.  Maybe that would be a reminder to her that she needed to pack lighter next time.

A
little of the skunk musk smell had dissipated in the outer room, but it still reeked, as did the beauty queen when he passed by her on his way to the door.  The situation really was funny, and if  he was in a better mood he'd probably be sitting on the couch laughing his ass off.  Three months ago, that's exactly what he'd be doing right now. 

T
he temporary lightness he'd felt earlier had dissipated though, leaving behind a darker funk than he'd been in before.

"Goodnight,"
Ethan said grumpily then walked through the front door which Leigh Ann had left open.  "You might want to shut the door," he advised, then added with evil glee, "Those skunks might still be around and think their kin is inside." 

Ethan
heard a comical squeak behind him, and grinned darkly as he slammed the door behind him and made his way across the porch to the golf cart.

 

CHAPTER
FOUR

 

At four thirty in the morning, Rocky finally gave up on trying to sleep.  She threw back the covers in frustration and sat up on the side of the bed.  Every time she'd closed her eyes, she kept seeing Ethan Cassidy sitting on the floor of the bathroom with Leigh Ann in his lap.  She didn't know what had led to her sister being suctioned to him like a vine on a tree, but whatever the reason, it was not any less than she expected.

It always happened that way. 

Every man that Rocky ever had an interest in, had been dumbstruck after they met her sister.  They quickly started comparing her to Leigh Ann, and always found her lacking. Even though her sister was a prissy drama queen, along with being Miss Texas USA, they didn't see it because they were blinded by her sparkle and shine.

As much as men said they hated drama, they
didn't seem to mind it when it was dished out by a beauty queen.  Disgust swirled in her stomach, as she pushed up off of the bed and grabbed her clothes to head to the shower.

An hour later,
Rocky felt a little better after showering and downing two cups of coffee.  Stepping out onto the porch, she stretched her arms above her head then sucked in a lungful of the cool, clean smelling predawn air. 

Usually, she loved this time of morning when the world was still sleeping.  It was quiet and peaceful, and she could hear her thoughts.  This morning she didn't want to hear them, but didn't have much choice.

Walking down the steps she headed for the barn to start the morning feeding.  Half the horses were out on the trail, so it would only take her a couple of hours today.  Maybe she'd go on a sunrise ride after that to clear her head.  She needed to purge Ethan Cassidy and his hot kisses from her mind to make sure that it didn't happen again. 

Last night,
Ethan Cassidy had ripped his britches with her. 

Seeing him
fall prey to Leigh Ann had just proven he was like every other male she'd ever met, including Ashton.  Not that she hadn't known that before, but that just affirmed it, and it gave her the incentive she needed to never ever let herself want the man again.

Forcing herself to think of something else, she focused on what
Wes Jepson had given her to think about at dinner.  He needed a vet assistant and wanted her to help him on her off days.  The pay wasn't squat, but she loved animals and actually thought she could help him.  It would also keep her busy, and keep her mind off of things she shouldn't be thinking about. 

She wanted to help Wes too, because h
e had helped out the ranch enough when Joel was having money trouble at the beginning.  The man was too generous with his talents, but just like she did, he loved the animals more than he loved money. 

She respected that mentality, and she respected him.

When she finished her degree in equine science, she even considered going to vet school herself, but at the time she needed to get away from Dallas as fast as she could.  Ashton had been going to med school, and she didn't want to ever run into him again. 

S
ince there was no way she was going back home to live with her mother, she had to get a job, which turned out to be her first as a ranch hand.  If not for her mother's interference and drama, she would probably still be at that ranch outside of Dallas.

The only thing that kept her from giving Wes an answer last night was she didn't want to lead him into thinking she was interested in him.  From the minute they got into his truck to go to dinner, it was obvious he was in wooing mode.  Then
Wes tried to kiss her goodnight when he dropped her back off at the ranch, but she stopped him.

Ethan's
intoxicating kisses had been too fresh in her mind and Wes was her friend. Gently, but firmly, she had explained to him that she wanted to keep it that way.  As sweet as he was, she just didn't feel that way about him.

The picture of Leigh Ann wrapped up with Ethan in the bathroom flitted through her mind and she flinched. 
That old familiar feeling of feminine inadequacy tweaked in her chest and she pushed it to the back of her mind again where it belonged. 

Long ago she had acknowledged that her sister was the feminine one in her family.  Rocky had
never aspired to compete with her for that title, and she wasn't going to start now.  She was not changing for a man. 

It really hacked her off though when men rubbed it in her face. 
Ethan had rubbed it in her face last night.  One minute he had kissed her because she was handy, then the next he had Leigh Ann curled up in his lap.

Men
were such visual creatures, they wanted shiny and sparkly, and didn't care if there wasn't anything behind the sparkle.  Substance, stability, honor and hard work didn't mean shit to them.  That's why not a one of them had meant a thing to her to date. 

Except for her dad, he had
and appreciated those qualities.  Damn she missed that man, and cursed her mother yet again for driving him to an early grave.

With a
frustrated sigh, she picked up a feed bucket.

As she passed stalls on her way to the
feed room, her equine friends stirred and neighed greetings.  Rocky understood horses, they had been her only friends for years.  More times than she cared to count, she had poured her heart out to them, when she couldn't talk to anyone else.  They couldn't talk back, of course, which meant they were good listeners.

Too bad that easy friendship didn't translate to the human species.  Sometimes, she just couldn't figure people out, especially men.
  At this point, she was thinking maybe it wasn't worth the mental energy spent trying to figure them out.

Once she dumped the last bucket of feed in the stall nearest the
barn door, she stepped back and enjoyed the cacophony of munching sounds in the barn.  Now all she had to do was disperse flakes of hay and fill water buckets then she could go riding for an hour or so, before she started her other chores. 

As she filled
her last bucket with water from the heavy long hose, the sun crested the trees outside of the barn painting the sky vibrant pink and orange.  Perfect timing, she thought taking a minute to admire the beautiful sight, before she shut off the hose then backed out of the last stall and locked it.  Dropping the nozzle to the ground, Rocky walked to the hose reel and started coiling it neatly.

"You'd make a helluva fireman," a deep sex
y voice said behind her.

The wheels on Ethan's wheelchair s
plashed through the water she had spilled on the ground, as he moved nearer.  Rocky did her best to ignore him, but his freshly showered masculine scent wafted past the smell of hay and horses to tease her.  Yesterday, it had been mixed with clean sweat and had acted like an aphrodisiac then too. 

Irritated because that just reminded her of how good he tasted when she kissed him, Rocky asked shortly,
"What do you want?" then finished reeling the hose.

"I want to explain what happened last night," he told her
evenly.

"I don't care what happened,
" Rocky told him with disgust then turned and walked toward Reed's stall.  She heard Ethan following her and turned to face him angrily when she finally reached it.  "Just. Go. Away," she grated.

"You care, or you wouldn't be pissed," he corrected and his firm lips kicked up at
one corner irritating her further because he was right.  She wasn't going to let him know that though.

Coolly she sucked in a breath then said,
"I'm not pissed, I'm just done playing games with you.  Leave me alone and we'll get along just fine."

"That's what I like about you," he
complimented, but Rocky was unsure what he was talking about, then he clarified, "You
don't
play games.  That's why I'm wondering why you're doing it now."

"No games here, Ethan," she told him
with a glare, then wrestled the latch on Reed's stall out of the loop, before sliding the door open.

"Your sister got sprayed by a skunk last night.
  I was just trying to help her fumigate herself," he told her with a chuckle.

Rocky had smelled the musk when she walked into the bunkhouse, she couldn't miss it,
but she smelled the stink here too.  "Oh, that's original," she said with a snort.  "That required holding her on your lap and hugging her, I'm sure."

"She was crying
.  She was upset...something about your mother making her marry an old man."

That would be
because her sister hadn't found her backbone yet.  Unlike Rocky, she still let her mother run her life.

"My mother is always trying to marry her off like she's selling a prized race horse.  She'd be doing the same to me if I let her
, and if she wasn't embarrassed at how I turned out."

"And how is that?" Ethan asked curiously.

"A tall, gangly tomboy, definitely not beauty queen material."

"I think you're beautiful," he told her earnestly

Rocky cast a dis
believing look over her shoulder, then said sarcastically, "Yeah, right.  You've met my sister right?"  Once a man met Leigh Ann Baker, he didn't forget her, and he never looked at Rocky again.  That was just the way of things, and it was fine with her, but Ethan trying to pacify her wasn't.  "Don't patronize me, Ethan."

"
I'm not patronizing you," he told her.  "You are prettier than your sister in my opinion, because your beauty is inside
and
out, and you don't have to use bottles and jars to make yourself beautiful."

Her traitorous
heart kicked in her chest wanting to believe he actually thought that way, but she tensed up to stop it.  It was obvious he was telling her what she wanted to hear thinking that would make things better.

"Let's cut through the crap Ethan.  I'm not your type, and you're not mine.  Things got out of hand
at the wedding, and then yesterday.  Let's just leave it at that.  You're a free man, if you want to pursue my sister or any other woman, have at it," she told him and the kick in her chest dropped to her stomach. 

Writing it off to not eating breakfast, she left him
standing there and went into the stall, closing the door behind her.  She waited to hear his wheels splashing through the water as he left, but the sound never came.

"What happened yesterday is what I want to talk about.
  I don't need or want your pity, Roxanne.  You kissing me for that reason is what's patronizing and insulting," Ethan said loudly, his voice tinged with anger and hurt.

He thought she'd kissed him because she felt sorry for him? 

Surprise floated through her, and Rocky considered letting him continue to think that, so she could maintain a scrap of dignity.  He would never know that seeing him with her sister had hurt her and piled more insecurity onto the heap that she already had.  That would be the easy thing to do, but it would also give him even more reason to feel sorry for himself.  God knew Terri didn't need to deal with more of that.

Cursing her damned
honesty, Rocky's hand hesitated near the latch, before she flipped it then pushed open the door and stepped out into the aisle again.

"Get something straight, Ethan Cassidy," she told him and pointed a finger at him.  "I don't do anything I don't want to do.  What happened yesterday had
nothing
to do with pity, but it shouldn't have happened.  We just need to accept what happened at the wedding was a one time thing, and the kiss was a mistake and move on."

"
Looks like you didn't have a problem doing that, and just a couple of hours after it happened," he told her then dragged his eyes away to stare at the stalls on the other side of the barn.  "I'm sorry, it takes me longer to
move on
after kissing someone like that,
especially
after what happened after the wedding."

"What are you talk--oh, you mean Wes?" she asked and a light bulb went off in her head.  He was jealous because she went to dinner with Wes Jepson.

"I don't give a damn what his name is...I prefer not to know."

"Wes is t
he vet we use here at the ranch and he's a friend.  He had a proposition for me," she told him defensively.

"I'll bet he did.  Did you take him up on it?" Ethan asked and swung angry green eyes back in her direction.

Rocky was tired of his insinuations.  "As a matter of fact, I did."

"
What?!?
" he shouted, his hands gripping the arms of the wheelchair like he was about to vault out of it.  His jaw had gone rock solid and his face was mottled red.

"
He asked me to be his vet assistant on my off days," she told him flatly.

Ethan snorted then said, "What else did he ask you to
assist
him with?"

Ignoring his snide comment,
Rocky told him smugly, "I'm joining his new equine search and rescue team." 

BOOK: Worth the Trouble
12.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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