Cord wore a towel. A small towel. Even when her hormones did the boot scootin’ boogie from the sight of all that yummy bare man flesh and bulging muscles, she noticed the dejected set of his shoulders, the swollen bump on his jaw, the mouse under his eye and the cut on his cheekbone.


He sighed. “That bad, huh?”


“What?”


“You should see the look on your face, AJ.”


“This look?” She made a funny face and his faint smile appeared.


“Like I said, baby doll, you’re a real laugh a minute.” He kept a hand on the towel and pointed. “The bed make you so mad that you ripped it apart?”


“No. Just getting it ready.”


Cord sighed again. “No offense, but I’m not really in the mood tonight. In fact, I’ll probably be lousy company so it might be best if you went on home.”


“Huh-uh. The hottest man I know is stark naked right in front of me, no way am I going anywhere. Lay face down on the mattress, McKay.”


“This bossy side of you is new.”


“Hah. Ky wouldn’t agree. He once said I was as bossy as…well, you if I recall.”


He smiled slightly again.


“Besides, I hide my bossiness except when I’m in professional mode.”


“Professional?”


“What part of ‘massage therapist’ is confusing to you?”


“You’re gonna give me a massage?”


“Well, you already told me a blowjob was out for options.”


“Amy Jo Foster, that is beyond ornery.”


She laughed because she’d actually shocked him. “I like it when you get all prissy.”


“I like it when you get all raunchy,” he countered.


“Good.” She patted the bed. “Lose the towel. Lay on your stomach and spread your arms above your head in a Y and prepare to be wowed.”


Cord did exactly as he was told.


“Usually I’m standing, but tonight I have to improvise. Here.”


He looked at the baggie full of ice wrapped in a towel. “What’s this for?”


“Your jaw. It’ll keep the swelling down.”


Something beyond gratitude shone in his eyes. “Thanks.”


“You’re welcome. Try to relax. Remember this isn’t sexual.”


“I’ll try to remember that,” he said dryly.


“You want music playing?”


“No. This is fine.”


AJ poured oil on her palms and started at the base of his skull, working her fingers down his neck. Cord remained tense, not that she blamed him. A first time professional massage was different than the well-meaning back rub from a loved one. He finally loosened up with a deep, heartfelt groan of satisfaction when she moved down to work on his shoulders.


“You are amazingly good at this, AJ.”


“Thank you.”


“No. Seriously, wonderfully, awesomely, astoundingly good. How much school do you have left before you graduate?”


“One trimester, which is mostly clinical work. Then I can hang out my shingle.”


“You’ll be overrun with customers. And marriage proposals from all sorts of men who’ve experienced your magic hands.”


Would that last group include you?


Don’t go there, AJ. She kept her mouth shut and concentrated on his biceps and triceps.


But Cord wouldn’t let it go. “Where you thinkin’ of settin’ up shop?”


“Keely and I talked about opening our own place either in Sundance or Moorcroft, but that was before things changed.”


Cord tensed up again. “What sort of things?”


“Things like Mama selling the ranch. Things like Jenn and the kids moving to Billings. Things like my potential partner/roommate/BFF Keely neglecting to tell me she’d rather not be a massage therapist.”


“What? What does she want to do?”


“To continue her schooling and get a dual degree as a certified physical therapist and an occupational therapist.”


“Where does that leave you?”


Lost. “In Denver. It’s a real crapshoot at this point where I’ll end up come January.”


He didn’t respond.


She allowed her brain to slide into professional mode as she finished his upper back.


On to the gluteus maximus—or the best butt she’d ever had her hands on. How could she stay neutral while rubbing and stroking perfectly squeezable man flesh? Without thinking of how she’d clutched it tightly while Cord pumped in and out of her with such passion?


If she looked closely, she might even see scratches from her fingernails.


“What’s wrong?”


“Here’s the deal, McKay. It’s up to you whether I skip your very fine butt and move on to your very fine legs.”


“Why up to me?”


“In a situation where I’m not intimately acquainted with the client, it’s not a problem. We both know that’s not the case. I’ve had your tight tush in my hands. I don’t know if I can massage it without remembering my death grip the last time you—”


“Are you tryin’ to give me a hard-on, AJ? ’Cause it’s workin’.”


She bit back a smile. “No. We actually have a class entitled, ‘The Male Erection: Nothing Personal’ which is my favorite class.”


“This one’s personal,” he growled, “very personal. Intensely personal.”


“Okay, then I’ll focus on the backs of your legs.”


“Fine.”


AJ tried not to look at the area between his thighs. But her gaze was continually drawn to the heavy sac covered in crinkly dark hair, a contrast against the stark white sheet.


“Stop starin’ at my butt.”


I’m not. I’m staring at your balls. “Sorry.”


“Do you usually talk to your clients while you’re doin’ this?”


“Sometimes. Mostly they’re trying to relax so it’s minimal conversation. Lots of people wear iPods.”


“Don’t that bother you?”


“No.”


“It bugs the hell outta me.”


AJ pinched her thumbs down the center of his right calf. “Why?”


“It’s like no one can stand the sound of silence. Always gotta have music playin’ or TV blarin’ or noises blastin’ out of some handheld game. Even Colt can’t work without some shit rattlin’ his brain. Hell. Maybe that’s his problem.”


Here was her opening. “So what happens between you two now?”


“It ain’t like I can fire him. Even though I wanted to today and yesterday when he didn’t show up and I only got half the damn field hayed.”


“That’s why you were late?”


“Yeah. Sorry. Lost track of time. Worked ’til damn near dark, then I hadta call Ky.


Shoulda called you too.” He moaned when she hit a sore tendon by his ankle. “I was a dickhead earlier at the bar. I’m sorry.”


His sincere apology surprised her. She honestly thought he’d be too stubborn to admit he was wrong. “You’re forgiven.”


“It ain’t gonna be that easy for Colt. Thing’s been goin’ to hell in a handbasket where he’s concerned. Yeah, he’s a thirty-one-year-old adult male and he oughta know better than to make such stupid decisions, but he don’t. He never learns. Makes me question his decisions about the ranch, if you wanna know the truth. We all excuse his behavior and laugh it off as him sowin’ his oats. Well, no more.


“Dad’s goin’ over there to talk to him first thing in the mornin’. Guess Ma and Aunt Kimi are gonna fumigate the place tomorrow afternoon. Colt ain’t gonna be workin’ with me or anyone else for the time bein’.”


“I’m sorry.”


“I’m sorry too. And I sure as hell didn’t need to end my long-ass day by getting into fisticuffs with my drunk brother.”


“Wrong. You’re ending your day with a massage.”


He smiled over his shoulder at her. “Much as I appreciate it, I’m gonna ask you don’t massage my feet. They’re sore, they smell and they’re—”


“Ticklish?”


“That too.”


“Huh. The tough cowboy does have a weak spot. I’ll have to remember that.” And exploit it at some point. She slapped his naked flank. “It’s time for you to turn over anyway. I need to get busy on your front.”


Chapter Seventeen


Cord wouldn’t survive those clever fingers.


He was in deep with this woman. Her feistiness in the bar turned him on. Her sweetness in the aftermath of the shit that’d gone down with Colt had turned him on even more. But her hands? All over him? Soothing and tempting and taking away all sorts of aches and pains externally and internally? He’d gone beyond turned on.


“AJ, I don’t think I can stand havin’ you touch me without wantin’ to touch you right back in the same way.”


“I wouldn’t mind. I told you that.”


Cord reached for her. He didn’t speak. He just traced the back of his hand over the soft skin on her face. “You’re so pretty. God, you’re so pretty.”


She blushed, making her even prettier, in his opinion. “You want me to finish the massage?”


“On one condition.”


“Which is?”


“You have to take off your shirt.”


AJ frowned. “Why?”


“You always make me take mine off. Turnabout is fair play. Might be crass, but I wanna see your tits bouncin’ while you’re rubbin’ me down. I thought about that a lot as you were workin’ on my back. A whole lot. What those beautiful perky breasts looked like swayin’ free. If the tips were hard.”


“You’re joking.”


“Nope. In case you haven’t noticed I have a thing for them beauties.” In case you haven’t noticed I have a thing for you too, baby doll.

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