“We’re planting flowers!” the mud-pie maker exclaimed, throwing her hands up, flinging mud everywhere.
“Cool. Can I watch?” He stepped inside, bracing himself for India’s reaction.
She didn’t growl or demand he leave, like he’d expected, she smiled the angelic smile that twisted his guts into a pretzel. “Sure.
Come on in. You can even help.”
The bespectacled boy asked, “What’s your name?”
“Colt. What’s yours?”
“Hayden.” He gave Colt a thorough once-over. “Hey, are you Buck’s cousin?”
“Yes. I am. Do you know him?”
“Uh-huh. He’s my big buddy.”
“Lucky for Buck. So, Hayden, think you can help me make one of these things?”
Hayden beamed. “Yes. It’s quite logical, really.”
The rest of the kids started talking all at once, offering suggestions. Crowding him, but he didn’t mind.
India clapped her hands. “Okay, munchkins, listen up. Once everyone has soil in their cup, we’ll move to the next step, the fun part; planting the seeds.”
“Eww. Gross. I hate carrots.”
“No, Anton. Sunflower seeds.”
Chatter rose again, but India focused her charges’ attention to the task at hand. Colt labeled each child’s name on their individual cups with masking tape.
After the seeds were planted, and another thin layer of soil sprinkled on top, and each cup was watered, the kids lined up at two sinks and washed up.
As India tried to get a handle on the mess, Colt handed out cookies.
During the brief lull, he managed to sidle closer to her.
She spoke before he did. “Surprised to see me?”
“Yeah. I didn’t know you did this sort of thing.”
“Normally, I don’t.”
“So how’d you end up doin’ it?”
“Torture and bribery.” She smiled. “Not true. I’m filling in for Domini. I usually help out during the fair and do face painting and airbrush tattoos. That’s a little more one on one, rather than ten on one.”
“Didn’t seem like you had a problem. You’re really good with kids, India.”
Parents started showing up, whisking their children away. Colt got into a lengthy conversation with Hayden’s mother in the doorway. When he returned to the empty room, India was stacking supplies in the corner cupboard. “Do you need help?”
“No. I’ve got it.” For the next few minutes she ignored him completely.
Colt placed his hand on her arm. “India? What’d I do?”
“Huh-uh. Tell me what’s wrong.”
She slammed the cupboard door. “Did you have fun showing your cowboy charm to that hot-looking redhead?”
“What? I was just talkin’ to her.”
“Fine. Forget it. See? It was nothing.” She stomped to the sink in the corner and turned the water on full blast.
India was…jealous? It shouldn’t make him grin, but it did.
India splashed cool water on her face, as close as she could get to a cold shower. The man set her blood on fire with a smoldering look. In a roomful of first graders. And did he have to spread that sexy sweetness all around? He’d just smiled at the hot mama and she’d practically fallen at his feet.
Not Colt’s fault. You know he didn’t do anything wrong beside stand there and look good.
She’d be better off dating a toad instead of a prince.
Prince? Right. He’s just a man. You’ve spent way too much time reading fairy tales to your nieces.
India reached for the bar of soap and the scent of musk and cotton surrounded her.
“Let me help you scrub up,” he said over her shoulder.
“Two hands are better than one. How about if you hold the soap and I’ll do all the dirty work?” His low, seductive voice whispered across her damp skin. Strong arms circled her waist and he tugged her to his chest, his hips tight against her backside. He nestled his chin in the slope where her shoulder met her neck and he removed the soap from her tentative grip.
She couldn’t move. She didn’t want to move.
When Colt’s hands began creating suds, she forgot to breathe.
“Relax,” he murmured.
His long, tanned fingers worked the hard bar of soap into creamy softness. The soft lather contrasted with the coarse edges of his fingers. He gathered her right hand inside his, scrubbing the thick soap into her palm, then slowly across her knuckles. He massaged the bubbles from her wrist to her fingertips, threading his fingers through hers, back and forth, his wide palm cradling the back of her hand.
With Colt’s body heat scorching her, she barely noticed the soapy swirls spinning down the drain. How could such simple contact be so unbearably erotic? She sagged into him, her hand slipped from his grasp.
“India?” His husky voice sent a shiver zinging through her.
“Do you want me to stop?”
She shook her head and her cheek scraped his scruffy beard.
Colt switched hands, repeating the process, with more excruciating slowness. Long, sensual strokes. Light. Then firm. Oh-so-painstakingly adept.
Desire swamped her, left dampness on her belly, her spine, between her legs. His breath crested over the wet spots beading on her neck.
After sluicing warm water from the ticklish bend in her elbows, to her fingertips, Colt ripped off a paper towel and dried her as thoroughly as he’d washed her.
She hissed at the abrasive feel of the towel’s nap on her moist, over-sensitized skin.
He turned her around. “I missed you.”
“It’s been one day.”
“One very long day.”
His eyes were blue flames of pure desire. As he traced a rivulet of water trickling down her cheek, India was shocked the heat between them didn’t evaporate the tiny droplet into steam.
Colt angled his head, slanting his mouth over hers.
India felt his breath on her lips. Anticipation hummed between them like an electric current. Her heart raced, her blood ran fast. Her lashes fluttered, her mouth parted slightly. She leaned in, a silent plea for him to close the distance.
He’d almost made contact; she’d nearly experienced the warmth of his tempting mouth, the flicker of his velvety tongue against hers, when Cam’s booming voice echoed into the small space. “Colt! I thought that was you.”
At the sound of Cam’s voice, India jumped back and lost her balance. Rather than letting her smack her head into the bottom of the cabinet, Colt caught her, losing his footing in the process, and hitting his chin on the cupboard door.
“Are you all right?”’ “Gives the phrase, ‘taking it on the chin’ new meaning.”
She tried to get him to lift his face. When he finally did, she gasped, “Omigod Colt, you’re bleeding.” She handed him the paper towel. “Here.”
“Lemme see it,” Cam barked.
Colt whirled around. “It’s just a scratch, leave it be. What the devil were you doin’ sneakin’ up on us like that anyway?”
“I wasn’t sneaking. I didn’t see India behind you. She’s such a little bitty thing she gets lost in your shadow.”
“Oh, bite me, McKay.”
Cam and Colt said, “Gladly,” in stereo. Then they laughed in stereo.
“Now I know you’re fine if you can slip in a lewd comment.
That’s my cue to leave.”
“Wait,” Colt said.
“No, that’s fine, I’ll leave,” Cam said.
“Wait, just a damn minute. Both of you.” He faced Cam.
“Why’d you barge in here in the first place?”
“I tracked you down to ask if you wanted to come over and watch ESPN tonight. The Broncos are playing. Kansas City.”
Colt seemed torn.
India kissed his cheek. “You sure you’re okay?”
He pulled the paper towel away. “See? It already stopped bleeding.”
“Good. Thanks for your help tonight. Now go cheer on the Broncos.”
Dating Week Two
“Hey, India, can I talk to you for a second?”
She turned from her conversation with Bert Spotted Tail and smiled. “Sure. Almost done here.”
“No hurry.” What a lie. It took every ounce of control not to drag her away from the old coot who’d been monopolizing her time for the last twenty minutes.
If it wasn’t for that coot, you wouldn’t even know her.
Bert called out, “Heya, Colt, one of these days we’re gonna get you to participate in the circle of trust.”
“Don’t count on it.”
The circle of trust was an exercise where one person stood in the middle of a circle of people and fell back trusting someone in the circle would catch them. Colt didn’t trust anyone so blindly. So while they’d been doing this exercise for the last few months, Colt stood on the sidelines. He took some crap about it, but he didn’t care. No way was he taking some psychiatrist’s version of the Nestea plunge.
“You playin’ in the basketball game for at-risk youth tomorrow night?” Bert asked.
With this dating business, he’d forgotten. “Yeah. Thanks for the reminder.”
“No sweat. You oughta bring India. In fact, if you promise to come, I’ll save you a courtside seat, eh?”
“Sounds like you’re asking me on a date, Bert.”
A date? Like hell. Colt growled. India and Bert both gave him a strange look.
“Shee. I’m too old to be tryin’ to win the tattooed hand of a wild thing like you. But back in my heyday…I was as rough and rowdy as a mustang. Sorta like McKay.” Bert’s contemplative gaze pinged back and forth between Colt and India. “Maybe you oughta be datin’ him.”
India lifted her pierced brows at Colt.