Cowboy, Gray Sterret, accepted the job at Alabama McCall's ranch unprepared for the scope of the work. The barn is full of swallows, the bunk house crumbling, a mile of fencing down, and her driveway washed in.
Gray’s frustrations rushed out, and he whirled, releasing a grunt. He trailed his gaze around the dilapidated farm. As she’d said, this wasn’t a ranch. It was a house on a few untended acres with a handful of neglected animals and a beautiful woman that he couldn’t quit staring at who hadn’t a clue what she was in for and very little money to deal with it. How exactly did he explain that to her?
“Is something wrong? I mean, I knew it was bad …”
She popped in his view, her face upturned, and he reeled, overcome by her nearness. She blinked, long delicate lashes fanning those blue eyes, and what had sent him backward now brought him in, her alluring fragrance creeping stealthy up his nose.
“Gray,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
He snapped awake. What was he doing? Last thing he needed was another entanglement. Getting too close had caused problems at the last place. No matter what she looked like, or how he reacted, he wouldn’t do it again. “The bunk house,” he said. “Can I see it?”
She nodded and led him back to the front of the barn. They crossed the driveway to a tiny structure that was more the size of a shed. Standing there, his mouth dry, he took in the sight of a building too far gone to save. The roof, the walls, and the floor were caving in. Gray grasped a post, and it crumbled in his fingers, with it any separation from her and the twins.
“It’s bad. Isn’t it?” she asked, her tone tinged with regret.
He glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah, it’s bad.”
“And I’m sunk?”
Gray revolved in place. He crossed his arms over his chest. Alabama McCall was in way over her head, and now, looking at her, his blood pumping faster, everything in him wanting to take her in his arms, so was he. He couldn’t explain his need to be here or why he wasn’t fleeing the other way. Sure, he had nowhere to go, but if he was smart, he’d cut and run just the same.
Only, Bone Saw had been here, so he knew how bad things were when he’d called, and that knowledge alone made him question his friend’s reasoning. Had he really wanted to find her a cowboy to fix up the ranch or had he predicted what would happen between them once he got here?
“I need to make some phone calls,” he said evenly, “and you need to make some phone calls as well. I’ll make you a list. The bunk house is …” He paused. “Bunk.”
“I’ll sleep on the couch for now. I’ll also try to cut corners where I can. And forget my first month’s salary. Put it toward fill dirt and fence wood.”
“Why … why would you do that?” she asked.
Against, his better wisdom, he closed the space between them, and she looked upward again, elongating her throat. His palms dampened. “Because you need me,” he said, his voice low. And to be needed was the biggest draw to staying, in spite of the risks.
“Thanks,” she replied.
He nodded, and for a brief moment, gave into the sensation that kept urging them together, the buzz in his brain taking over his thoughts. He awakened to find her eyes wide, everything on her mind written plain. She really didn’t have a clue where men were concerned, didn’t understand his reaction, and was afraid of the result.
“You’re safe with me,” he said, as much to himself as to her. “I promise.” His words stretched between them, and she accepted with a dip of her chin. “Now, we better get to work,” he said.
He held her gaze a second longer then turned around and walked toward her car. He didn’t move, couldn’t move, briefly, when he got there, the beat of his heart suddenly too much for his chest.