“You need some clothes. That towel’s not going to cut it. Though I do like seeing you in it.” She blushe
d and looked down at herself. “Why don’t you head back to those boutiques you saw the other day and buy yourself some things?”
“Oh, I don’t think so.”
“I don’t feel right going and spending your money like that.”
Huh. That was a new one. I didn’t think I’d ever heard anyone say that before. “You do need some clothes, Kara.” I tried logic. She still looked reluctant. “Or, no, that’s right, you have that t-shirt from last night. The one I ripped in half. We could put a button in the middle and you could wear that around. I could pop it open whenever I wanted.”
“Not going to happen.” At least now she was smiling.
“I need your help,” I improvised. Why hadn’t I started with that? Kara could never resist doing a favor.
“Really?” Kara brightened visibly at the prospect.
“I need you to buy a baby gift. My property manager in Bozeman and his wife just had a baby.” I’d gotten a text early that morning. The baby had come two weeks early, but was a perfectly healthy seven-pound boy.
“A baby?” She clapped her hands together with a big smile. I wanted to tell her a few more things that would take her hands away from that towel. It had slipped an inch.
“Could you pick something out?” I asked. “I’m terrible at that kind of thing.” That was true, too, but of course my PA Angie typically took care of all those sorts of needs. I had to admit, though, I liked the idea of Kara picking something out for Brett and his wife. She’d have fun doing it, too.
“Sure, I could do that. Anything else?”
So eager. I had to wash my mind out with soap. “Yes, while you’re out shopping, buy yourself some clothes to wear in New York. And Kara,” I said, serious. “Make sure you spend lots of money.”
Nutty piece of work that she was, her response was a small, defiant pout.
Firm and in control now, I pointed my finger at her. “When you come home, you’re going to model it all for me. I want to like what I see. Don’t disappoint me, or I’ll have to discipline you.”
“What?” She looked at me wide eyed, suddenly nervous.
“You heard me. Now get going.” I turned back to the computer. She walked out of my office.
I wanted her nervous, anticipating tonight. I liked the idea of her going shopping for me, choosing things I might like that she could model for me. Clothes that I could take off. Because as much as I loved that defiant spark in her, tonight I’d enjoy teaching her some discipline.
“Princess?” At the sound of my father’s voice, I paused at the front door. I was heading down to bring Bill his mail. He didn’t get much, so it wasn’t any trouble to sort it and bring it down to him on Sunday mornings. I usually gave him some of the extra fliers and sales circulars Daddy and I would have thrown out, too. I knew he enjoyed looking through it all.
“What is it, Daddy?”
“While you’re down there, would you check in on Declan? He’s been fighting a nasty flu. The man won’t stop working even with a raging fever.”
I didn’t need to be asked twice. I about flew down to Bill’s, leaving his mail on his porch after I rang the doorbell instead of staying to chat a few minutes like usual. Rushing over to Declan’s cabin, I wondered how long he’d been sick. I’d been avoiding him like it was my job for the last two weeks. Ever since that night.
The night he’d caught me. I’d snuck down to his cabin and pleasured myself on his bed. He’d watched me do it, seen me come on my fingers as I’d called out his name.
I still couldn’t believe that had happened. No wonder I’d been hiding the past two weeks. I was around a lot more—Bruce was already off at college for pre-season football so I was officially single—but mostly I stayed in the house. I was hiding and I knew it was ridiculous on my own family’s ranch, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what Declan had seen. And what I’d done on his bed.
I’d been restless that night, as I had been so often with Declan on the ranch. I couldn’t sleep. In the heat, the sticky sheets, the air that wouldn’t move, I’d lain on my bed throbbing and aching. Then, in the middle of the night, I’d been drawn down to Declan’s cabin like a sleepwalker, in a trance, pulled irresistibly down to where he lived.
I had a key to his cabin. We had keys to every building on the ranch. I knew it was wrong. I knew I shouldn’t be going in. But he was out of town, or supposed to be. I told myself he’d never know.
I’d never felt more mortified, never been more panicked then when I’d heard Declan’s voice in the doorway. After I’d come on my own fingers in his bed while calling out his name. He’d caught me. There was no going back. Now, without any shadow of a doubt, he knew exactly how I felt about him, how much I longed for him. And he knew what a nasty girl I really was.
Since then, I’d literally hid in the house. I’d managed to avoid him almost completely. Except one time for about the longest 30 seconds on record in human history. I’d made the mistake of heading down to the barn and then he’d walked in, no shirt, sweaty with his jeans low on his hips. He’d stood there like a caveman, a big piece of lumber tossed over his broad shoulder. He stopped in his tracks when he saw me. All of the air left the barn. I stood, trembling, unable to look away from his heated gaze, scared and nervous and desperate to touch him. Then Bill had come in, thank God. I’d fled as fast as I could.
Now, again at the door of Declan’s cabin, I paused a moment so I could catch my breath. It wouldn’t do to show up panting and sweaty, especially if he were feeling just fine. But Daddy said he had a nasty flu. What if he wasn’t OK?
I knocked. No answer. Knocked again, then tried the doorknob. It was open, so I let myself in.
The room was dark and dank, shades drawn and no lights on. It felt like no one had let air into it in a couple of days. “Declan?” I called out. No answer.
Movement on the bed about made my heart stop. Declan lay there, eyes closed.
“Declan? Are you OK?” I rushed to his side. He didn’t open his eyes. Even in the dark room, I could see he looked sweaty and flushed. I brought my hand to his forehead. He was burning up.
Swearing under my breath, I headed to his bathroom. Did a pig-headed man like Declan have any medicine or did he just plan on walking it off all the time? Opening his medicine cabinet, I found a First Aid kit and then, on the bottom shelf, an old bottle of Aspirin. That would have to do. Shaking, I shook a few pills into my palm. In his kitchenette, I found a glass in a pile of dirty dishes in his sink. That would have to do as well.
Back at his side, I tried to coax him awake. “Declan?” I brought a hand to his hot forehead. His black hair lay plastered to him. I smoothed it back. “Declan, you need to sit up. You have a fever. You need to take some medicine.”
Suddenly, his hand grabbed my wrist and pinned it down to the pillow. He looked at me, wild-eyed and crazed with fever. “Don’t you dare!” he spat out.
“Declan, it’s Kara.” Frightened, I brought a hand to his unshaven cheek. “You’re sick.”
Panting, he sank back down, exhausted, eyes on me still. I grabbed the Aspirin and water from his bedside table and brought it to his mouth, half-expecting him to bash it away against the wall. Instead, watching me, wary and guarded like a wounded animal, he parted his lips. I placed the Aspirin in his mouth and brought the glass to his lips. He drank a sip and swallowed, then drank more, finishing the whole glass. Then his eyes shut again and his hand fell off of my wrist. His body slumped, passed out.
“Declan?” I tried, knowing it was probably useless. His lips looked so cracked and dry. “You should drink some more. You look dehydrated.” My hand still shaking, I brought my palm to his burning forehead. He didn’t move.
I hadn’t seen a thermometer in his bathroom. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing he’d have anyway. Thermometers were for worried moms taking their kids’ temperatures. I was surprised Declan even had Aspirin.
Nothing to do now but wait and see if his fever would come down from the medicine. I busied myself cleaning up, opening the windows to let in some fresh air, washing the dishes in the sink. I found a large water bottle and filled it with cold water. I filled his empty ice cube tray and set it in the freezer.
Back at his bedside, Declan lay looking more peaceful in a deep sleep. Tentatively, I brought my hand to his forehead. It felt cooler. My entire body sighed in relief. If the fever could be controlled with medicine, he’d be all right. Probably. He just needed someone to make sure he took it.
I wondered how long he’d been down there sick by himself. Had he spent all day yesterday passed out, no water, alone in his suffering? I’d been around yesterday, I could have cared for him. I felt sick I hadn’t known that he needed me.
I grabbed a towel and filled a bowl with cold water. At his bedside again, I brought the cool, wet cloth to his forehead. He stirred slightly under the sensation, but didn’t wake. I had to guess it felt good, he must have been so uncomfortable, sweaty and dehydrated and alone. I wet the towel again, then brought it to his face. His cheekbones stood out more prominently, his stubble longer than I’d ever seen it. Even gaunt and sick, this man looked like the hottest thing I’d ever seen.
The sheet lay bunched down by his stomach. He didn’t wear a shirt. It was a testament to how sick he was that I hadn’t fully noticed that fact until now. Unsure yet driven on, I dipped the cloth back into the cool water, then brought it to his chest. He lay there, unmoving. Slowly, I drew the cloth along his pecs, so defined, bare for me to study. I’d watched him so many times, seen him from a distance without his shirt, but now here he was, at my touch.
Tattoos played across his muscles, tribal swirls along one shoulder, a band around his bicep. I traced them with the damp cloth, using that as my excuse to touch where I’d wanted to for so long. I might have been cooling him down, but I was heating up.
The cut of his pecs, the ridges of his abdomen, I drew the cloth slowly along every inch. This man was pure, packed muscle. Down at his side, I noticed the white, tough skin of a scar. Tracing my fingers along it lightly, I wondered what had happened. It had faded so much I hadn’t noticed it before. It had to be old, something he’d gotten years ago, but it had to have been painful, several inches along his stomach. There was so much I didn’t know about him, but I wanted to know it all, every untold story, every secret.