“Really? That’s cool.” I felt his excitement. Plus it might have been the first time he’d used my real name. It made me positively lightheaded.
“It is. I’ve got a bunch of ideas. I’m talking to a couple of other places—” He stopped his own enthusiasm, looked down and kicked a floorboard. “Anyhow.”
“Maybe we could do it here?” I wanted to see him light up again. If I’d thought he was magnetic before, when he got excited about something he was like a force of nature. “Do you think we could? Would people pay to come out here?”
“They would,” he nodded, more reserved.
“That would be so fun!” I could see a whole future roll out before me. I’d love hosting guests at the ranch, new people coming in with stories and lives to learn about. They could have breakfast up in the big house with Dad and me. We had the room. “I could bake!” I clapped my hands.
Declan gave me a half-smile, looking almost rueful. “You’re quite the little homemaker.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that.” This man could put me on the defense as quickly as he could stoke my fires.
“Not if you end up with the right guy.”
I looked up, so close I could see the subtle shades of brown in his eyes, lighter around the pupil, then a dark chocolate. He looked away first, running a hand through his hair and then heading back over to the saddles. Putting distance between us.
“Your father’s not going to go for it.”
For a second, I didn’t fully process what he was talking about. For a second, I thought he might be talking about him and me. Thank goodness I came to my senses before I started babbling about how my father loved him and his work ethic and he wouldn’t object to us dating. I really was the ultimate loser around Declan. He was talking about turning our ranch into a resort.
“Have you talked to him about it?” I wasn’t surprised to hear my daddy was set in his ways.
That’s all he said. Hmm. Maybe I could talk to my dad. I’d see. Declan turned his back to me, focused on his work.
“Guess I’ll head back to the house,” I said, slightly wistful.
No response. The filter between my brain and my mouth being broken and all, I found myself saying out loud, “What are you up to tonight? Are you heading out? Or are you staying in? Because I just baked some—”
“Run along now, Kara.”
I turned around and left real fast. That man knew how to take the air out of my tires right quick. I didn’t know why I kept insisting on driving right over the same damn nail over and over again.
My truck was super dirty. It needed to be washed. I had a bikini top and some short shorts. I decided maybe I’d try something different.
I was tired of how Declan dismissed me, ignored me, pat me on the head like I was five years old. It was time for a change. I decided I’d clean my truck like a music video where you see girls washing cars with super soapy water in buckets and on sponges, wearing very little. I’d see if Declan could ignore me then.
In the late afternoon, I knew he’d be over in the east pasture. The hay there needed to be cut and I’d overhead him and Bill talking in the yard. Bill had been planning on doing it but it was going to be real hot again that day and Declan said he’d take care of it. That was the thing with Declan, to me he was an asshole but I saw signs of him being a stand-up guy to everyone else. He saw everything that needed to be taken care of around the ranch and did it before anyone else even noticed, let alone thought to do it. He let Bill take it easy while he took on the toughest jobs. Chivalrous, like a knight in shining armor.
Except to me. Well, if he was going to be mean to me then I would try to get back at him. I had some nice curves. I’d see if I could get his attention that afternoon. I’d park my truck right along over where he could see me. My dad was out of town at a cattle convention until tomorrow. Bill and the other guys were nowhere to be seen. It would just be me and him.
I pulled up alongside a shed, stepped out in my cowboy boots, short shorts and bikini top. He was out on the tractor but he looked up all right and quick.
I gave him a sweet smile and a wave and called out, “Hi, Declan!”
He shook his head and turned his attention away. I’d see what I could do about getting it back.
I took a big white plastic bucket out of the shed and filled it with soapy water. We had a hose and a couple of big sponges and rags in there and I brought them out. Slowly now, having fun, I started to play with the water, spraying the hose on the truck, then up overhead like a waterfall. It was a hot day and the cool sprinkles of water felt so refreshing on my skin. They also plastered my bikini top to my curves.
I bent over the hood of the truck and swished the soapy water around in big swirls. I wasn’t going to leave an inch untouched. If it took me a couple of hours, that would be fine. I was going to give Declan a big, long show.
Ass up in the air, I bent over and lathered up the grill. I’d never given my truck this much love and attention. I didn’t know if Declan was watching. I worked my way around to the side and washed along the door while I checked in the mirror. Bingo. Mr. Aloof and Too-Cool-for-School was watching. Riveted.
Unable to suppress a smile of success, I kept on washing, giving my ass a little wiggle. I decided it was time for more water. I put the sponge back down into the bucket and took out the hose. After spraying the truck, I playfully aimed it up over myself again, laughing in the droplets.
“What are you doing?” A harsh, angry voice called out to me.
Declan had leapt down off the tractor, in a hurry apparently as he’d left it running. He now stood a few feet away from me on the other side of the fence.
“What?” I asked innocently, water dripping down over my breasts in my bikini top.
He looked so angry, his jaw locked, his eyes feasting on my wet body. I grew hot under his gaze, the heat in his eyes. His hands gripped the fence, white-knuckled, his whole body tense, coiled, pent-up. The passion blazing in his dark eyes nearly took my breath away. My lips parted and I found myself starting to breathe raggedly.
“Declan—” I don’t even know what I meant to say. My voice came out pleading, needy.
“Stop.” He closed his eyes tight, blocking me out, refusing to see me anymore. “Stop it and leave. Now.”
“Declan, I—” I took a few steps toward him, needing to be closer.
“Get the fuck out of here, Kara. And don’t come back.”
Stumbling back to the truck, I climbed in, leaving the bucket and sponges behind. Tears fell freely as I drove back to the main house. What was wrong with me? Why had I suddenly lost my mind and was acting like a slut? A pathetic one, too, doing the whole wash-the-car routine, only it hadn’t worked, had it? He’d just brushed me off again. I was such a disaster.
Why had I done it? I had a boyfriend who actually liked me and wanted to spend time with me. Why didn’t I devote any time and energy to Bruce?
A date, I decided. That’s what I needed. I’d let Bruce take me out. I’d get all done up for him, see if I couldn’t breathe some life into what we had between us. Anything to stop me from making even more of an ass of myself for Declan.
“Princess! Bruce’s here. Hussle up!” Daddy’s voice traveled up loud and clear from the kitchen.
“Just a second,” I hollered down from the bathroom. I still had some time. They’d be fine. Daddy loved shooting the shit with Bruce, and Bruce loved it right back. In fact he’d arrived early to pick me up for our date so he could do just that. He was a natural politician, like his daddy the mayor.
I was trying hot rollers, my friend Mandy’s suggestion. Fixing them up in my hair felt as easy as balancing giant water balloons in a tiny spoon. They kept flopping around, falling off my head. Maybe it was growing up without a mom or a sister, maybe it was just me, but I didn’t have the knack for all the glamorous stuff. Mandy was always trying out a new shade of lip gloss or a perfume
she read about in a magazine, a celebrity’s top picks. Sometimes I felt like there was something wrong with me that I didn’t care about all that stuff. Most of the time I just didn’t care.