A much better description than Colt’s accusation of him being a cold bastard.


“You’ll wake me up?”


“Early in the morning so you can sneak in bed before anyone knows you were out all night.” Selfish of him, but he didn’t want her to leave.


“Good plan. Which means that’s another virginity you can claim.”


“What’s that?”


“I’ve never slept in the same bed with a man. Ever. Not for an hour, especially not all night. I’m glad it’s with you.”


“Me too.”


Chapter Eighteen


AJ woke with a start. Where was she? And why was she…naked? A snore behind her made her jump. She turned slightly and saw Cord sprawled face down on the mattress beside her. Just as naked as she.


She was in Cord’s bed? Her gaze flew to the clock. Five a.m.


Damn. She’d been out all night.


So? You’re an adult. You’re entitled to cut loose once in awhile.


True. But neither her mom nor sister needed the extra worry in their lives.


AJ slid off the bed and kept an eagle eye on her lover as she dressed. Part of her wanted to wake him; part of her wanted to sneak out and deal with him later. She withheld a snort. How very Bridget Jones. She never thought this situation would happen to her. She and Cord hadn’t had sex—well, technically not penetration sex, but oral sex counted as real sex, right?


Stop with the dissection and move your behind.


She retrieved her purse from the kitchen counter and checked her cell phone as she tiptoed out the front door. No missed calls, no new voice mail messages.


Whew. Dodged a bullet this time.


She climbed into her Jeep. The sun was a salmon-colored speck, lightening the sky to a myriad of pinks and orange. When she hit the gravel road running in front of Cord’s place, she stopped.


Even after twenty-two years, the magnificence of this land flat out stunned her. This early in the morning the hills were still hidden in darkness, but the promise of dawn burned across the fields and valleys in a splash of pastel colors. The only part AJ had loved about getting up at the crack of nothing to do chores was the sense of accomplishment that she’d managed to help them hold on to the ranch—the place she’d called home—for another day.


Home. She’d never bought into that old saying, “home is where the heart is”, mostly because it’d never applied to her.


It wouldn’t be easy for her mother to move. Florence Foster had spent more years living on the ranch than her daughter. And AJ felt childish wishing for childish things—


for things not to change.


Oddly enough, she accepted things wouldn’t change with Cord. His serious nature and need for control never scared her, mostly because she’d experienced the same weight of responsibilities that still hung on his shoulders. He’d always been curtly polite with her, never teasing her mercilessly like Keely’s other brothers, so discovering Cord’s sense of humor was an unexpected bonus.


Wouldn’t do her any good to dwell on all the things she liked about him because that could eat up her entire day.


Since she was already up, she fed Lucy and the other horses and cleaned stalls.


Three hours later Jenn and the kids waved as they left for the day. She and Jenn had debated on keeping the kids at the ranch with Aunt Amy Jo instead of sending them to the summer day camp. But Jenn wanted one normal thing in her children’s lives in light of the divorce and their impending move.


AJ dragged into the house. She started a pot of coffee and ran upstairs to shower. As she dressed, she looked longingly at her pristinely made bed, but there’d be no rest for the wicked today.


Three cups of coffee lifted the mental cobwebs and she heard her mother stirring in the front room. “Ma? You ready for breakfast?”


“Just coffee this morning, sweetheart.”


AJ set the cup on the tray and perched on the chair by the bed. “A couple of things I need to know before I get started. All the farm equipment is property included in the deed? We don’t have to worry about holding an auction or cleaning out the machine shed?”


“No. Carson said they’ll deal with it.”


“Everything in the attic is boxed. Where should I start next? The cellar?”


Florence shook her head. “Jenn tossed most of that old junk when the propane guy came.”


“When was that?”


“Couple months back when I was having problems with the heater again.”


“Has the temperature been better in this room? I know you said it was too cold.”


“It fluctuates, as usual. The heating problems are one thing I won’t miss about this old house.” She sighed. “You should start by throwing away a bunch of stuff like the magazines in the middle room upstairs. Your daddy loved ’em but there’s no point in keeping ’em.”


“Good. Which leads me to my next question. We haven’t talked about what to do with the horses. I want to keep Lucy. As far as the rest? I know Macie’s dad, Cash Big Crow, is looking for stock. He’d treat them well.”


“Tell you what, you take care of that part of this ranch sale business and I’ll let you keep the money from the sale.”


That was an unexpected surprise. “You sure?”


“Positive.” She drained her coffee and AJ brought the pot over for refills. “Thanks.


Sorry to be such a pain.”


“Mama. You’re not a pain.”


“Well, I am sorry you’re doing all the packing up. I won’t be any help and Jenn has packing of her own to do.”


“That just means I get first dibs on the cool stuff for my apartment.” AJ scrutinized her mother head to toe. “What do you need me to do for you before I get to work? Are you ready for your massage?”


“Later. I’ll probably watch some TV.” She stared into her cup. “Maybe you should rest since you were out all night.”


AJ hated the guilty heat burning her cheeks. “Were you worried?”


“No. I probably wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t gotten up to use the bathroom and saw your car pulling in at a quarter after five this morning.” Florence sighed. “No lecture.


You’re an adult. Can I ask if you were with a man last night?”


She debating on lying, but she saw no reason to. “Yes, I was.”


“Do I know him?”


“Ma!”


“Just curious.” Her mom winked. “I’m gonna say be careful and let you escape before your face turns any redder, sweetheart.”


“I’ll be upstairs. If you need anything, just holler.”


She hauled a bunch of full garbage bags downstairs. By the third trip she took a breather on the porch steps. It’d be another hot one today—the thermometer read ninety at ten o’clock. She’d finished her second glass of iced tea when her cell phone rang.


Caller ID said MM.


“Macie McKay, what’s up?”


“My breakfast,” she grumbled. “Anyway, how are you?”


“Tired.”


“Know the feeling. I remember how much work it was being a caretaker and I feel for ya.”


AJ couldn’t confess the real reason for her tiredness—playing grab ass with Cord till the wee hours. Macie would blab to her husband, Carter, and then all the McKays would know about her and Cord. “So didja call me to lend your support?”


“No. I called because I’m coming to Sundance tomorrow.”


“Really? Cool. What time, how long, and all that?”


“Early, we’ll be there overnight.”


“We, meaning you and Carter?”


“No. Me, Gemma and the twins.”


AJ squealed. “Not that it’s not awesome you’re coming, Mace, but I love love love those darling babies.”


“You and everyone else. Channing hasn’t been feeling well enough to travel, so she’s dying to see Gemma and the babies again. Gemma’s a little stir crazy stuck in the house breastfeeding twins every two hours, and I have a building I need to check out.”


“A building? For what?”


“Tell you when I get there. In fact, is there any way you can get tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow night off from your caretaking duties? After the business deal, Channing wants a girls’ night with the four of us. I guess she’s kicking Colby out too.”


“Cash isn’t coming?”


“No, it’s haying season and he’ll be working until dark. It’ll drive Dad bonkers to be away from his twins for even a day, but between us, I think Gemma’s looking for a break from him too.”


AJ grinned. Cash Big Crow was all gooey-eyed and awestruck over the newest additions to his family. To hear Macie tell it, because Cash hadn’t been around at all during Macie’s early years, he was determined to do and learn everything this go around and be a very hands-on daddy.


“I’ll talk to my sister and see if I can work something out. If nothing else, maybe one of Mama’s friends would like to come over, especially since we’re moving and it might be a last chance.”


Macie was quiet. “You okay with the McKays buying the Foster ranch, AJ?”


“I don’t really have a choice but to slap on a happy face. I won’t lie; it’s gonna be hard.”


“I know, sweets. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”


Over margaritas, AJ hoped. “Where are you staying?”


“You think Channing would let Gemma stay anywhere besides with her?” Macie laughed. “I’d planned on staying there too, but Carter wants me bunking at Carolyn and Carson’s.”


“They’ll be glad to have you.”


“I’ll call from Channing’s and let you know what time I’ll swing by to get you. I’d like to see how your mom is doing before we head out.”


Might be ridiculous, but AJ was touched. Macie’s thoughtfulness and feisty sweetness were just a couple of reasons why they’d become close friends in the last year.

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