Familiar denim-clad legs and a set of scuffed boots appeared at his side.
Lilah shoved her sunglasses to the top of her head and grinned at him. “You’ll notice I didn’t rear-end you.”
“I did notice.” He looked down at the duck on the leash. “Abigail.”
“Quack,” Abigail said.
“Funny thing about last night,” Lilah told Brady. “I fell asleep studying and woke up in bed. What do you think about that?”
“I think you need more sleep.”
“I can sleep after midterms. I’m looking for breakfast. You?”
“Definitely.” They walked into the convenience store together.
“Lilah Anne Young,” the woman behind the register said. She was possibly a hundred years old, with an unlit cigarette hanging out of her mouth. “What did I tell you about that duck?”
Lilah smiled. “To cook her at three hundred and fifty for an hour and a half before eating?”
The woman cackled. “Yeah, and don’t forget the pepper.” She turned her sharp eye on Brady. “Morning, Dr. Death.”
Lilah snickered and he sent her a quelling look that only made her snicker again. She had a bran muffin in her hand that he knew she would never eat and was looking over the drink choices when a guy walked up to her and slipped his arms around her waist as if she was his, whispering something in her ear.
Whatever he said made Lilah smile and lean back into him a minute before turning in his arms and giving him a hug that was warm and familiar and made Brady grind his back teeth together.
It was ten full seconds before the fucker took his hands off her, which Brady knew because he counted.
Lilah hadn’t objected. Nope, she’d cupped the guy’s face and grinned up into it. “When did you get back?”
“Late last night. Come on, I’ll take you out for a real breakfast.”
“Hey, Ian,” the lady behind the counter called out. “Nice that you’re back, but don’t you be taking my paying customers elsewhere.”
Brady decided it was a damn good time to come up behind Lilah, leaving just enough room for maybe a single sheet of paper to fit between them.
Ian took a long look at him, and from over Lilah’s head, Brady looked right back.
Lilah craned her neck and gave Brady a what-the-hell-are-you-doing expression, but he ignored it.
“Ian,” Lilah said with a little shake of her head, “this is Brady Miller. Brady, Ian runs an outfitter company out of Sunshine.” Lilah turned back to Ian. “And sorry, no breakfast date today. I already have one.” Again she looked at Brady, brows up, like yes, I’m still having breakfast with you even though you are a dumbass.
Fine. He was a dumbass. He could live with that.
“You want to explain that back there?” Lilah asked when they were outside on the sidewalk a few minutes later, with Abigail at their feet fussing with her feathers.
“Explain what?” he asked, leading her to one of the three small tables out front, where they sat to eat.
“The Neanderthal routine.”
Ian came out of the store with a bag, stopping to squeeze Lilah’s shoulder and give her another kiss on the cheek.
Brady considered his options. More Neanderthal-ness or play it cool. He went with cool because the poor bastard was clearly just another besotted fool. Probably another ex, which was baffling all in itself. For Brady, when things were over, they were over. He watched until Ian had walked away and shook his head.
“What,” she said. “He’s a friend.”
She shook her head. “It never got that far.”
Best thing he’d heard all morning. “And yet he’s still in your orbit. You have us all just circling you, you realize that, right? Just hoping for a piece of you.”
She stared at him, then laughed. “It’s not like that.”
“It’s exactly like that. We’re all pathetic.” He playfully tugged a strand of her hair. “Willing to take any piece of you we can get.”
“Yeah?” She cocked her head and studied him, amused. “Which piece would you want?”
Any piece you’d give me . . . “Guess.”
Her smile went a little naughty. “Well, I do have a few pieces you especially like . . .”
There were more than few actually, but he shook his head. This time he wanted something she wasn’t offering. Something he wasn’t even sure he wanted to admit to yearning for.
A piece of her heart.
Just a little piece so that when he left and felt the pain of the separation, he’d know someone else felt it, too. “Dell’s hinting around about me staying longer,” he said out of the blue, and sipped his coffee to shut himself up.
She choked on hers. “Did you tell him that you don’t do ‘stay’?”
Her smile slowly faded. “Don’t tell me. Just thinking about it has you rushing out of here.”
He took her hand. “Oddly enough, I don’t feel much like rushing.”
She nodded, face solemn now. “So . . . how much longer?”
He ran his thumb over her knuckles, scraped from her latest plumbing misadventure. “Eager to get rid of me, Lilah?”
She squeezed his fingers. “Maybe I just want to make sure you get that piece of me that you want.”
All of them, he thought, revising her earlier statement. I want all of your pieces.
Several days later a situation came up about a hundred miles north. A pack of three dogs were making pests of themselves on a small ranch owned by an older couple who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, take over the responsibility of placing the animals. If Lilah didn’t go get the dogs, they’d be euthanized.
She was just getting into her Jeep when her passenger door opened. Twinkles leapt into the back and then Brady folded his long body into the front seat next to her. He put on his seat belt and lowered his sunglasses over his eyes before he turned and looked at her.She stared at him while Twinkles leaned forward and licked her ear in greeting. “What’s up?”
Brady shrugged. “I thought about offering to fly you, but I didn’t have any wine to ply you with.”
“Because you fly better when you’re wasted.”
She rolled her eyes. “I mean, why are you here? In my Jeep?”
“Now see,” he said all long-limbed grace and testosterone. “That hurts. Maybe I just want to hang out with you.”
She stared at him. “Dell kicked you out of Belle Haven today.” She laughed. “He did, didn’t he, Dr. . . . Death?”
Brady swore and slouched in the seat, six feet of dark, brooding ’tude. “He said that they had some big rancher head honcho coming by today and that he and Adam couldn’t afford to have him catch wind of the Dr. Death thing.”
Lilah grinned. “Well, lucky for you, I’m not nearly so selective.” She hit the gas and they took off. Brady was quiet but there was no denying he was nice company and even nicer to look at. Halfway there, she had to stop for fuel. Brady pumped the gas while she headed into the convenience store, coming out arms loaded. “Got us some goodies.”
He took the bags from her and the driver’s spot.
“You’re a control freak,” she said.
“I like to drive.”
He didn’t bother denying that. He searched through the bag and gave a very male sound of satisfaction as he pulled out a loaded hot dog.
Lilah tossed Twinkles a doggie bone and pulled out the nachos for herself. “I know the way to your good side,” she said to Brady.
“I’ll show you a better way later.”
She smiled. The truth was, he could show her anything he wanted. “Uh-huh. Promises, promises.”
“What does that mean?”
“That I’m thinking you’re all talk and no go.”
He slid her a look.
“You’re going to be taking that back.”
She smiled, like that had been her goal all along, and images of taking her right here and now in the Jeep flooded his mind.
“Take the next exit,” Lilah said. “Echo Canyon.”
He shook his head. “Granite Flat is faster.”
She didn’t protest, but she did give him a long look.
“Problem?” he asked.
“No. I don’t have a problem with your control issues at all.”
He rolled his eyes.
“In fact,” she said, “in certain areas, your control issues are kind of hot.”
Again his gaze swiveled her way. “Certain areas?”
“In bed, for instance.” She sucked some melted cheese off her finger.
“Lilah,” he said, voice a little lower now.
“Yes?” She sucked on another finger.
She kept sucking. “Stop what?”
Without warning, and gaze still on the road, Brady reached out with quick, accurate precision and wrapped his fingers around her wrist. “What did I tell you about payback?”
“That I love it?”
He laughed softly, and sucked her last cheesy finger into his hot, wet mouth.
When her eyes drifted shut with a soft moan, he nipped her finger with his teeth, making her gasp. “And when I say later, I mean it.” Smiling, he let go of her and turned his concentration back to the road.
They drove in silence for a while as Twinkles napped—and snored. Brady enjoyed the relative quiet. Lilah was wearing softly faded jeans that whenever she leaned forward to adjust the radio, sank low in the back, giving him peek-a-boo glimpses of smooth skin and the very hint of incredibly sweet twin dimples.
He wanted to dip his tongue in those dimples.As for that ass, he wanted to cup it in his hands and—
“You’re on the shoulder of the road, Brady.”
Fuck. He swerved back. “Well, if you’d stop distracting me . . . ”
“Distracting you?” She pulled one of her legs up and beneath her, twisting to smile at him. Her shirt gaped a little, revealing a curve of breast and another hint of baby blue silk. The lingerie from the Pharmacy. “How can I be distracting you? I’m just sitting here,” she asked, the picture of innocence.
“I’ll pull over,” he warned her.
Damned if she didn’t look intrigued, making him both groan and laugh at the same time.
“No,” she finally said. “I don’t think you will.” She ran a hand up his thigh, found him through his jeans and outlined him with a finger.
He nearly jerked them off the road again. Luckily the narrow two-lane highway was utterly deserted. He pulled over so fast they both were rudely yanked back by their seat belts.
Twinkles scrambled for purchase on the backseat.
“Wha—” was all she got out before he’d unhooked her seat belt and hauled her over the console and into his lap.
He had his mouth on hers and his hands in her pants in one heartbeat, and in the next he had her whimpering for more. He kept that up for long minutes until she was rocking her h*ps and panting.
“Oh God.” She arched to him. “Please . . .” She was breathless, head back, eyes closed. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. “Come for me,” he whispered in her ear, stroking her in the way he knew made her crazy, making her gasp and cry out his name.
And she did. She burst and shuddered in his arms and while she made her way back to planet Earth, he held her close against his chest, face buried in her hair. She would probably call it cuddling.
He called it regaining his sanity.
Holding her was his sanity.
Before she’d stirred a muscle, her cell phone rang from somewhere in her purse on the floor. She lifted her head and stared at Brady, hair all wild, face flushed, mouth open. “My ears are ringing.”
“It’s your cell.”
She looked so adorably, gorgeously befuddled. “Oh. I knew that.” Feeling around for it, she finally got it open. “Hello? Yes, ma’am, we’ll get there before dark.” Craning her neck, she looked out the window.
It was already dusk. Her eyes caught on his obvious erection straining the denim, then met his, and in them was an apology but also amusement.
He pushed her back to her side of the Jeep and put it into gear before pulling back onto the road.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I owe you.”
He liked the sound of that, but it didn’t help his condition any. He shouldn’t have touched her, but he couldn’t help it—she was the hottest, sexiest thing he’d ever seen, and watching her come was his new favorite drug of choice.
“Don’t you think we should fix this before we get there?” She reached out to touch, stroking him through the denim, making him groan. “Later,” he said.
“You’ve got a lot of laters.”
“Don’t worry, I always collect my debts.”
They got to the ranch fifteen minutes later, right at sunset. Years before, the owners had given up the actual ranching to their kids, and then their kids’ kids. Mr. Leo Johnson was a big guy, but it was clear that his wife, Ellen, was completely in charge. She took one look at Brady and raised a penciled-in brow. “Dr. Death! Honey,” she said to her husband, “look, it’s Dr. Death! Nice article.”
“Thank you,” Brady said, sliding a glance at Lilah, who was grinning. He wanted to be annoyed, but the sight of her genuine amusement always derailed him.
Ellen introduced them to the three homeless dogs she’d found, each a Collie mix and probably litter mates as well. They were clearly neglected but dying for affection and made immediate friends with Twinkles.