It wasn’t that I didn’t want to look good—I did. I wanted to look kick-ass. I just didn’t enjoy taking all my time getting that way. Guess that meant I wasn’t a girly-girl. Which was good seeing as how I lived on a ranch.
I knew Bruce wasn’t planning on a rancher’s life. Son of our town’s bigwig politician, off to college in the fall, he was talking big. That was fine, he seemed happy. I knew we probably didn’t have a future, but that didn’t bother me much. He was good for here and now, seniors enjoying our last month of school. People kept telling me he was such a catch and I guessed they were right.
I looked in the mirror and applied some mascara. Fluttering my lashes, I gave myself a sexy look. Or what I hoped was sexy.
I wondered what Declan was up to this Friday night. He’d probably head out to the local bar. But I shouldn’t be thinking about him. I should ignore him, the way you ignored a meteor that had shot into your kitchen and set everything ablaze.
I couldn’t stop thinking about that moment when I’d been washing my truck when his gaze had nearly burned me. He’d told me to leave but the way he’d looked at me. As if he might, too, somehow be wanting what he couldn’t have.
OK, so if I couldn’t stop thinking about him, I could be busy. Out and about. I was popular, captain of the cheerleading squad with a gang of friends and a handsome quarterback of a boyfriend. We were all about to graduate. I had stuff going on. I’d been hanging out around the ranch way too much, skulking around hoping he’d notice me. Not anymore. I planned on living it up, celebrating the end of this chapter and launching into the next. I’d hardly even have time to think about Declan, let alone see him.
It shouldn’t matter that right now he was probably standing outside the main barn directly across from our house, wrapping things up with Bill and the other guys. Quitting time on a Friday, they usually lingered, going over it all. I knew that if I timed it right, he’d be there when I came out of the house in full view.
I told myself I was gussying myself up for Bruce. Tonight was Friday night date night, after all. The Dairy Queen called. After that, one of Bruce’s buddies on the football team was supposed to be getting a keg. Sure as the month was May, we’d all end up tailgating in some pasture, pickup trucks circled up, girls sitting and giggling in clusters, boys horsing around, drunker by the minute.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my hometown and had no plans of leaving. But sometimes it did feel like the same shit different day. The DQ and a keg didn’t exactly inspire me to go all out.
But Declan. I wanted him to see me looking good. He’d ignored and dismissed me so much, wounding my pride. I wanted him to see me heading out into the night, hand in hand with my boyfriend, enjoying life, not caring about him in the least. I knew I wasn’t being cool. It was bitchy, but I couldn’t help it. Declan did it to me, he made me crazy. And that crazy part of me wanted it to play out like slow motion, him standing there checking me out head to toe so he could see exactly what he couldn’t have.
That meant I had to look good. My closet had plenty of tees and tanks. Tonight, though, I thought maybe I’d rock a sexy little halter top. Backless besides a narrow neck strap, it had a deep V-neck front, showing generous cleavage. I’d have to deal with Bruce’s roaming hands later on, but if I timed my exit right I’d give Declan a show. I wanted him to see me looking so hot I left a trail of flames down the stairs behind me. Plus I wanted him to get a nice, clear image of Bruce’s arm around my waist as I headed off with him and him alone. Take that, Declan.
I pulled on my favorite pair of skinny jeans, then searched for my boots with the 3-inch heels. They made my legs look about a mile long.
“What are you doing up there, sewing your own clothes from scratch?”
“Very funny,” I yelled down. My dad loved to tease me, but he never really got mad. I had him wrapped around my little finger. But he had me wrapped around his, too. We were a tight family, the two of us.
“Are you going to be ready tonight or should I have Bruce come back tomorrow?”
“Down in a second!”
A few moments, later, I bounded into the kitchen with my big, bouncing curls. I’d slipped on a cardigan sweater at the last minute so my father wouldn’t have a heart attack. The cleavage in my halter top really didn’t leave much to the imagination.
“Hey, mop top!” My father gave me a kiss on the forehead like I was five years old. Mop top. Not exactly the look I’d been going for, and in the mirror upstairs I’d thought I looked pretty cute, soft flips and dips in my hair framing my face.
“You look amazing. As always.” Bruce gave me a kiss on the cheek. So chaste around Harlan. He turned it up when it was just the two of us, or at least he tried to. We hadn’t gone all the way yet, but he was gunning for it to happen on prom night. Around my father, though, he played the choirboy. He knew my daddy wasn’t the type to just threaten about a shotgun. He had one hanging right by the front door.
“You be a gentleman now tonight with my baby.” Daddy gave Bruce a warning look.
“I will, sir.”
He still talked tough, but I knew Bruce was exactly the type of guy Daddy wanted to see me with, from a good family with a promising future. I’d heard the speech many times. Sometimes I wondered if I were dating Bruce more to make my father happy than myself. It wasn’t like it was torture or anything, but that was the problem: it wasn’t anything.
Bruce took my hand in his and I felt… fine. I smiled up at him. Like I’d smile at a brother if I had one. If Declan took my hand, I was pretty sure it would feel different. Not that he ever would. But still.
“You two have fun tonight.” Daddy cracked open a can of beer and headed toward the TV room. He’d find a game to watch and probably still be there when I got home. I worried sometimes about him being lonely, but he never seemed sad, just solitary. I was the same way, come to think of it. I didn’t mind time on my own. It suited me fine.
But not tonight. Tonight I was going to be Out and About.
“I’ll take good care of her tonight, sir,” Bruce assured my father.
I had to make myself not roll my eyes at the ‘sir.’ I liked him being respectful to my father and all, but sometimes Bruce laid it on a little thick.
“Come here.” Bruce pulled me in close and gave me a kiss.
I swatted him away. “Not in my daddy’s kitchen.”
“Then let’s get out of here.”
I followed after him, slipping off my sweater as I did. I was going for the full effect.
Out on the porch, I saw him. Bill was walking away, slightly stooped over as he headed toward his cabin in the remaining sunshine. Declan still stood by the barn, listening to one of the other ranch hands talk.
He looked so rugged, long and lean, his legs in his worn jeans, his belt slung low across his hips. He had a thumb hooked in his front pocket, weight to one side. He looked like an ad for cologne or beer, some product sold by sex. One look at him and you’d buy whatever he was selling. Those broad shoulders, that strong chin. I put my hand down on the railing to steady myself.
He looked up and met my gaze. Soon as he did, everything else melted away. It was just him and me, standing there for each other. He drank me in, slowly as if savoring every inch, caressing my curves, down to my boots and on up again. When he looked back into my eyes, heat flooded his gaze, intense and locked in on me. I could barely breathe. I felt glued to the spot, yet wanted to run, fast as I could, straight to him and beg him to take me somewhere we could be alone.
Sometimes I felt like I was making everything up, that there was nothing between us and he was as indifferent to me as a rock. Sometimes, though, it all felt so real I could taste it. How taut and rigid he was holding his body, the fierce intensity in his eyes, as if electricity hummed and crackled between us. I knew he wante
d to grab me as much as I wanted to rush over to his arms faster than I could think.
Then Bruce’s arm snaked around my waist. He bent down and planted a big, wet kiss on my cheek. Claiming me. Because he was my boyfriend. I looked down, forcing myself to stay by his side.
“Let’s get a move on.” Bruce grasped my hand firmly in his own and moved me down the porch steps. I focused on my boots, moving them down, taking in a breath, letting one out.
He let go of me to open up the door of his truck and climb into the driver’s seat. Alone for a few seconds as I rounded the truck, I looked up again. Declan was gone.
It took a while to get set right again. I wasn’t used to this kind of crazy. I’d always been the level-headed one, the one who rolled her eyes as her friends blabbered all boy-crazy. This felt different from that, though. It didn’t feel giggly and bouncy and fun. It felt like getting leveled by a Mack truck.
Thankfully, Bruce didn’t notice. He was happy to blast his favorite tunes, windows rolled down, cute girl in the cab of his truck until we got to the DQ. Once there, he joined his buddies, I mine, clustered together as always in the parking lot.
“Got your favorite.” Mandy handed me a small vanilla shake. I nodded my thanks. “Dale got three kegs, one for tonight then two for tomorrow out by the lake.”
“Cool.” I used my shake as an excuse to not talk, letting the joking and flirting of my circle of friends waft over and around me. I had to snap out of it, I knew that, but I couldn’t. Something was happening to me, I just didn’t know what. I’d been shaking like a leaf ever since I’d seen Declan. What the hell was wrong with me?
When I saw him stroll through the parking lot, at first I thought it was my imagination. What was Declan Hunt doing at the Dairy Queen at 6 o’clock on a Friday night? I’d never seen him there before. And believe me, I’d done my time in that parking lot.