Six Years Back
That night it rained. It had been so hot and so dry for so long I’d almost forgotten that it could. We’d all been waiting, watching, hoping for a while now. You didn’t live off the land in Montana without realizing you were at the mercy of Mother Nature.
I felt at the mercy of a lot of things lately. Waiting, watching, hoping. Not just for the rain. For Declan Hunt.
My father hired him to work on our ranch over the busy spring and summer. The first time I saw him, I swear it was like the earth stopped spinning on its axis. Strong jaw, broad shoulders, and a big old belt buckle on those slim hips. He’d looked at me with dark, smoldering eyes, his cowboy hat tipped down low, and I’d just about forgotten to breathe.
He barely noticed me, though. I was just a high school kid, the daughter of the boss man. But I hoped I could do something about that. I was 18 and had just graduated. Not a kid anymore.
But so far he’d hardly looked my way, even when I strutted around in short shorts and tank tops. Hell, I’d even washed my truck in front of him, deliberately lathering things up nice and slow, sloshing myself good with soapy water in my Daisy Dukes and bikini top. Nothing. I’d been trapped in a long, hot, dry spell.
But that night it rained. It caught me by surprise. Seven o’clock, Daddy and I had finished supper and I’d boxed up some leftovers for old Bill. He’d been working on our ranch as long as I could remember. A cranky, old bachelor, he never asked for a single thing, but he sure appreciated my homemade roasted chicken when I gave it to him.
I didn’t make it down to his cabin, didn’t even make it to the big old barn before the deluge began. Like mischievous cherubs had been waiting up in the clouds, giggling and shushing each other until they all-at-once upturned their filled buckets on the unsuspecting people below. Soaked in a heart-stopping instant, I started running, my flip-flops slipping and squashing in the mud.
I ducked into the barn, shocked, drenched, exhilarated, and stood there in the dark watching out the window. All hell breaking loose on us, just when we’d least expected.
I didn’t realize he was there, too, standing in the shadows. Until he took a step forward into the dim light filtering through the window. I started at his presence, gasping and bringing my hand up to my chest.
“Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?” His deep, rumbling tones, the sexy hush of his voice, I knew what took my breath away and it wasn’t outside, violent though that might be. Nothing raged stronger than the storm brewing inside me for Declan.
“You’re all wet.” He drew closer and damn if he didn’t describe me in more ways than one. In the shadows, the lines of his cheekbones, the strong cut of his chin, the hollow of his neck all stood out like an artist’s sketch. I could smell him there in the darkness, so virile and male. I could feel his heat, too, radiating off of him, drawing me to him as I started to shiver.
“You cold?” he whispered. I bit my lip and nodded yes, accepting that as my cover story. Shaking because of the cold. Not because he was so close to me, in the dark, the way I’d wanted for months now. My overprotective father wasn’t there to find us, neither were the other ranch hands. Just us, alone, in the shadows.
He brought his large hand to my shoulder, the touch of his palm felt so electric I drew in my breath, quick, my eyes widening. He seemed to feel it too, this charge between us, his eyes fixed at the spot where he touched me, his skin against my skin, flesh against flesh. My breathing started coming faster, shallow.
With one finger, just one, he traced a line across my shoulder up over to the strap of my tank top. It was a skimpy one, the kind of thing I’d taken to wearing in the pathetic hope I’d catch his eye. But he’d never looked my way before. I’d seen him around town a few times with girls who looked like they ran a lot wilder than me. Most did, I guessed. A sheltered little daddy’s girl like me, I didn’t exactly have a wealth of experience under my belt. And I’d never felt the urge, the impulse to get it.
The feel of his finger, thick and calloused from hard work, powerful as he toyed with my strap. It felt so flimsy in his grasp, as if he could tear it right off of me.
“What are you wearing?” he asked, his voice harsh and strained. I squirmed, nervous, shy and aroused.
“A tank top,” I managed, self-conscious under his scrutiny. Why was he asking? Did he not like it? Did he think I looked dumb?
He made a sound low in his throat, almost like a growl, and in two steps he had me up against the wooden barn wall, the planks rough on the bare skin of my back. He pinned me there, one hand at my shoulder, one at my hip. His gaze fixed on my chest, wet from the rain, illuminated by the fading dusk light of the window.
“Fuck,” he swore as if angry, frustrated, furious about something. I didn’t know what was happening, what he meant. I couldn’t think. All I could do was feel, his strength, the firm, commanding grip of his hands on me, pinning me down, holding me right where he wanted me.
?” His name came out of my lips, half-question, half-plea. So close, I could see the stubble along his chin, his full, sensual mouth in the dim light. He licked his lips, as if seeing something delicious he wanted to bite right into. A shiver tingled down my spine.
“You’re soaked.” His voice sounded strangled with need as he stared at my heaving chest. I followed his gaze and saw what he was fixated on: every inch of me revealed to him, the thin cotton of my top soaked through, the light gauzy lace of my bra offering no cover. My breasts were on full display, the fabric plastered to them, outlining, highlighting, and my nipples were hard as rocks. The swollen tips pushed out urgent, erotic, begging for him.
“Why’d you come in here, Kara?” he growled, not taking his eyes off of me, holding me, pressing me there. He kept his body tight, coiled, tension lacing through him as if he were trying to hold himself back.
“I… it started raining.” I squirmed under his stare. Heat stole through me, flooding my senses, starting to build between my legs, my sex growing slick. “I needed shelter.”
“You came in here to get shelter.” He repeated my words as if finding them ironic, wickedly funny. Dipping his head lower, he dropped in close, his mouth so near to my skin. He scented me like an animal, drinking me in, filling his lungs as if he could sustain himself on that alone. The feel of his breath against my bare throat made me start to pant.
“You thought you’d found someplace safe.” His voice mesmerized me, low, and dangerous. His lips traveled the length of my throat, so close to my skin, but not touching. Then, so slowly, such a light whisper of a touch, he flicked out his tongue to taste. He pressed it against my skittering, racing pulse, licking me there. It almost felt as if he were marking me.
I gasped. His tongue felt so teasing, so irresistible. Unable to stop myself from responding, I tilted my chin back, baring my throat for him.
“Instead, you found me,” he said, gruff. In an instant, his mouth was on me, hot and full down around my breast.
“Ah!” I cried out, eyes closing, engulfed in sensation as his mouth claimed me, sucking, licking me right through my shirt, heated and wet on my shivering breast. Finding my sensitive, aching nipple he sucked, hard, bringing his teeth down lightly, right on the tip. A jolt of pleasure and pain rocketed directly to my pussy, and I gasped, clutching his shoulder.
At my other breast, he sucked, licked, his large, rough hands up to cup and massage, bringing my tip right into his mouth where he enclosed it in his heat.
“Oh! Declan!” I cried out as he teased me, licking, trailing his tongue in a circle around my nipple, not touching it, not giving me what I needed. “Declan!” I nearly screamed, until he closed his hot mouth directly over my aching bud, pulling it hard between his teeth, harder than last time. The intensity of it shocked me, how bad and good it felt all at once.
I smacked my head back against the wall, mouth open, eyes closed, my breasts in his hands, in his mouth, ready for all of it, everything, anything he wanted to give me. I’d wanted him for so long, so much, I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. He was finally touching me, here, in the dark, just us, the way I’d wanted. The way I’d fantasized about late at night, touching myself, guilty and secret in my bed, coming with his name on my lips. Now it wasn’t a fantasy, it was really happening, and it was so much better than I’d ever imagined.
But just as suddenly as he was on me, he pulled away. I lost his warmth, his power. The flames consuming me turned cold.
“Get out of here,” he barked, striding back into the shadowy depths of the barn.
“What?” I asked, breathless. He couldn’t be telling me to leave. “Declan?”
“Now!” he bellowed, leaving no room for questions, no opening for discussion. Commanding, firm. Brutal.
Tears burning my eyes, I did as I was told, the leftover roasted chicken forgotten on the floor, my feet somehow finding their way back up the hill. Crushed, I was unable to forget his heat, or the coldness in his abrupt dismissal.
But up in my room, I made up my mind. We still had a whole summer ahead of us, a summer of nights, dark and hidden and hot. Somehow I was going to find my way to him again. Now that I’d felt his passion, the way he wanted me just like I wanted him, I didn’t care what obstacles we faced. I knew we were meant to be together.
I strode down the city sidewalk in my cowboy boots, powered by a mixture of adrenaline, fear and something else I didn’t want to admit. It felt too much like excitement. Arousal. I swallowed in anticipation. I was about to see Declan, the man who’d made me pant with need. The man who’d broken my heart.
I hadn’t seen him in six years. Not since that summer when I’d thrown myself all in, wide-eyed and naive, no idea what kind of pain lay before me. Now I knew. What reason did I have now for going to see him? I should know better. You stuck your hand on a hot stovetop once, people felt sympathetic. You stuck your hand on the same damn heat a second time around and people just looked the other way. You had only yourself to blame.
Three blocks to go to his office building in Billings. I’d parked a ways away, knowing I could use a walk to stretch my legs and calm my nerves. I’d been driving for hours, four and a half to be exact. Montana was a big state and our ranch was way out in the middle of nowhere, exactly where I liked it. Here in Billings my boot heels made a sharp, clipped sound against the concrete, not like the dirt and grass of home.
I would never be here if I weren’t desperate. Bankrupt was the technical term. If I had somewhere else to turn, I’d be there. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined doing this, seeking out the man who’d fed my teenage heart into a paper shredder and throwing myself at his mercy.
But word on the street was that Declan could help. Apparently he’d made a pile of money over the past six years. He’d taken some of those big ideas he’d had back when he was nothing more than a 21-year-old ranch hand without a penny to his name, and somehow he’d made good on them.
I still hadn’t thought to turn to him for help. It hadn’t occurred to me until Dot, my boss at the diner where I worked, had suggested it.
“You should go see Declan Hunt,” she’d said out of nowhere about a month ago while punching in receipts. She still used one of those old, black calculators as big as a football.
I’d nearly dropped the plates I was carrying. Hearing Declan’s name had that effect on me.
“About the ranch,” she’d continued, like we were talking about the blue plate special. “See if he’ll help you out.” She hadn’t even looked up as she said it. Dot wasn’t big on shows of affection. Six months ago when my father died of cancer she’d told me I could drink as much coffee as I wanted on the house. That was about as touchy-feely as she got.
The next day, before I could talk myself out of it, I typed his name into the browser on my phone and everything popped up real quick and easy. Declan Hunt, CEO of Obsidian Investors, phone number a click away. I clicked. His secretary scheduled me an appointment on a Friday at eleven o’clock. To discuss a business proposal.
At 10:49 I crossed a street, now only one block away. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a window: long hair pulled back in a ponytail, t-shirt and jeans like I was still at the ranch, shit-kicking cowboy boots stomping their way along the sidewalk. I wasn’t going to dress up for him. He might have made himself a fortune, turned himself all city slick, but I hadn’t changed. Not one bit. And I’d be damned if I put on airs for him. I had my pride, even if it felt like I was swallowing it all down like a big, fat horse pill with no water, coming to him hat in hand asking for help.
Shoulders back, chin up. I could do this. I had to do this. I’d ask for a loan, one I fully intended to pay back. I’d work hard to do it, and if he had a job for me, I’d take it. I didn’t know all the details about how he’d made his fortune. Hell, I’d deliberately blocked my ears when it came to Declan. It hurt too much to hear about him. But I cou
ldn’t completely avoid the gossip. You didn’t rise from ranch hand to real estate mogul without people talking. Apparently he now owned and operated properties all over the state, maybe all over the country. So he must need people to help, right? I knew about running a ranch. Our foreman Bill could keep things going if I had to spend some time away. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but I’d take any job he offered, do anything to save my family’s ranch.
The sun beat down fierce in the clear blue June sky. I ran my wrist up and across my forehead. It had been like that the summer we’d been together, every day soaring into the 90s and sometimes beyond. Declan would take off his shirt in the heat. I supposed some of the other ranch hands did as well, but I never really noticed. Declan was all I could see, his shoulders, broad and roped thick with the kind of real muscle you earned from hard labor. His chest, glistening with sweat, cut, defined pecs with a couple of tattoos that made me seethe with jealousy, the way they got constant access, pressing and licking their way along his skin. The way his flat abs rippled, all leading down to a tantalizing, flat V.
A car horn beeped. I guessed in this town you needed to look both ways before crossing the street. I needed to get my head in the game. Focus.
I strode up the imposing steps of what had to be the largest office building in the city. A glass revolving door swept me into a gleaming, cold entryway. A uniformed man behind a desk asked where I was headed and directed me to the bank of elevators. Obsidian Investors owned the top floor. Figured.
Breathe in, breathe out. I waited for the slowest elevator in the history of all elevators and tried to keep my knees from buckling. I wondered if the man behind the desk could hear my heart pounding.
Why hadn’t I written myself notes? Or a script, even? I could have printed it out on big sheets of paper. Then, when I met with Declan I could have held them up between us. Win/Win. I could have read straight off of them and prevented myself from having to look directly at him at the same time.