Double whoa. The woman was absolutely stunning. Her face was sharp angles—

razor blade cheekbones, a square jawline. Her features were softened by pouty lips the envy of Angelina Jolie.

The woman didn’t smile. “Can I get you to move please? That door opens out, which is the first thing I’m going to change.”

AJ’s ears perked up and she shuffled aside. “Change?”

“My sister and I are opening up a shop here once we can get the changes approved from the landlord.”

“Landlord? Doesn’t Dewey own this building?”

“It’d be easier if he did. He sold it last year. Any changes have to get approval from this mysterious owner.” The woman’s vivid blue gaze narrowed. “Why?”

“Because Dewey neglected to tell my friend that. She’s talking to him about taking over his restaurant.”

Blue eyes finally smiled. “Dewey is a miscreant. Let’s crash their meeting and see how old Dewey reacts.”

AJ led the way. Dewey blinked rapidly when he saw the woman behind her.

“Now, Dewey, please tell me you aren’t misleading this lady? She does know you don’t actually own this building anymore?”


Macie said, “Dewey, Velma is gonna be majorly pissed if that’s true. And you know what she’s like when she gets a burr under her saddle.”

“B-b-but it’s not what you think. The owner gave me full authority to turn over the restaurant to you, Mrs. McKay. You still have to submit your remodeling plans, but he already gave the go-ahead to proceed, if you’re interested.”

“Who the hell owns this building?”

“I’d say that I can’t say, but the truth is I doan know. All our communication is done through email. I send my rent checks to a P.O. Box in Denver.” Dewey swallowed nervously. “Never talked to a live person, it’s some sort of architectural firm specializin’ in historic Western preservation.”

The blue-eyed woman demanded, “I still haven’t received approval on my proposed changes and I signed the goddamn lease a month ago.”

“Maybe because you’re puttin’ in a tattoo parlor, Ms. Ellison? Not the same as upgradin’ a restaurant.”

AJ whirled around. “A tattoo parlor? In Sundance? That is so cool!”

“Yeah,” Macie chimed in, “I’d like to hear what you’ve planned for the space, since it appears we’ll be neighbors.” Macie thrust out her hand. “Macie McKay. This is AJ


“India Ellison. Come on over and take a walk on the wild side.” India winked. “I’m prepared to be the new resident bad girl who leads this sleepy Wyoming town into the temptations of body art.”

Macie filled India in her tentative plans for the restaurant while AJ explored the space, which’d been a hair salon in a former life. A couple other eclectic businesses had tried to make a go of it, but none succeeded.

“Only half is for tattoos and piercing. We’ll use the front half as a salesroom for the products my sister manufactures.”

“What’s she make?”

“Natural skin and hair care products made in Weston County. Ever heard of Sky Blue?”

“I have,” AJ said. “But you can’t find it here. You have to drive to DeWitt’s Pharmacy in Moorcroft to get it.”

“Which is why Sky wants to expand to Sundance. We both fell in love with this building, plus the third floor spans the entire length. I’m waiting for approval on changes to make it an apartment for when I move here permanently.”

“Where do you live now?”

“Denver.” India sighed. “So, help me out, guys. I’m looking for a reputable construction company to do all the remodel work if I ever get approval. You’re local.

You won’t bullshit me.”

Macie said, “West Construction. My husband’s cousins Remy and Chet own it. Not to be biased, but they do outstanding work. We’d planned on using them for the diner remodel and ah…a house remodel.”

AJ ignored the house remodel portion of the comment and added, “They built a couple of beautiful homes for the McKays. I’m not related to them, so I can honestly say they’re the best around.”

“Cool. Do you have their number?”

While Macie and India chatted, AJ wandered over to another door. “Hey, India, mind if I look in here?”

“Go ahead.”

“Will this be part of India’s Ink and Sky Blue?”

“No. That’s a connecting hallway to the other store and the access to the upstairs.”

AJ brushed aside cobwebs and stopped in front of another door. She pushed it open and ventured inside. Dusty, dirty and the windows were covered with soapy grime that filtered out most light. The space was identical in size to India’s place, a long narrow single room with high ceilings, accented with crown molding at the top and parquet floor beneath her feet. With a little elbow grease and a couple of well-placed walls, this would make a perfect massage studio. And it was close to home.

Her excitement lasted about ten seconds. She realized when she finished school she wouldn’t have a home around here. Not an insurmountable problem if Keely had planned to come back. They could rent a trailer, split the rent and the workload.

But AJ was realistic. Massages would be a hard sell in Crook County. It’d take a few months to build up a clientele and a couple years to make enough money to earn a living.

Whereas in a bigger city she’d start making money immediately. After one last regretful look, she returned to Macie and India.

“This is karma or something,” Macie said. “Did you know my middle name is Blue?

And my mother considered naming me India?”


Macie nodded. “India the Indian. My mom was slightly nuts.”

India whirled on AJ. “If you tell me you have a monarch butterfly tattooed above your butt crack, I’ll freak out.”

“Nope. Sorry. No tattoos.”

India smiled slyly. “We’ll see about changing that tattoo virgin status sometime soon.”

Macie’s grin rivaled India’s. “Losing one’s virginity is always a good thing. Nice meeting you, India. Keep in touch. If all goes according to plan, we’ll start the remodel in about four weeks.”

On the way back, AJ managed to keep Macie talking about Carter’s upcoming art show, the horses Cash expressed an interest in, and not the situation between her and Cord McKay.

“Do you mind if we stop at Carolyn and Carson’s house first before I take you home? I’m feeling a little woozy all of a sudden.”

“No problem.” It drove home the point how intertwined her life was with the McKays’ when she noticed Cord’s truck parked out front at his folks’ house.

Her stomach pitched. Be hard to act normal around him after last night.

Carolyn McKay was in her usual spot in the kitchen. She beamed at Macie. “Hey, sweetie, how’d it go?”

“Great. But I actually feel nauseous from the excitement. Do you mind if I lay down before supper?”

“No, go ahead. Can I get you anything?”

Macie shook her head and made a mad dash for the bathroom.

Carolyn’s worry lines faded when she saw AJ. “How are you?”

“Good. Any problems with the lawyer today?”

“Nope. Once the money is squared away and Florence pens her signature to the deed, you and your mother are officially squatters on McKay land.”

AJ’s face fell.

“Oh, honey. I was kidding.”

“Nice goin’, Ma,” Cord said dryly. “Got salt in your hand, wanna throw that in her eye too?”

“I need to get going.” AJ purposely avoided the word “home”. She frowned. “Shoot.

I don’t have a car.”

“I’ll take you. I’m headed that way.” Cord pecked his mother’s forehead. “Behave.

No pesterin’ Macie about you-know-what.”

“Like I have a choice. Carter made me promise.” Carolyn winked at her. “Have fun at your girls’ night. Call if you need a designated driver, but I believe you’ll be the only one drinkin’.”

She and Cord didn’t speak at all until they were in the truck and a mile down the road. “Macie told me she and Carter will be living in my old house.”

“You okay with that?”

No. “I guess. Thanks for suggesting Macie tell me.” She looked out the window. “So are the McKays officially land barons? Buying up everything in Crook and Weston County?”

Cord didn’t answer.

“Sorry. It’s just hard.”

He slowed down at the next pullout and parked. “C’mere.”

AJ buried her face against his chest. He didn’t say a word; he just held her.

After a while, he said, “I wanna be with you like this, dust devils swirlin’ around us in the late afternoon heat. Just us, sneakin’ some alone time. What do you say?”

She nodded.

Cord slipped out and climbed back in the passenger’s side, pulling her on his lap.

“Let me love you up. You look a little lost.”

I am. Oh, she’d like it if he loved her, but she accepted the only type of love Cord could offer her was physical.

He kissed her softly, sweetly, running his rough hands up her spine beneath her damp shirt. The languorous kiss seemed endless. Cord seemed equally content just to touch her. He eased away from her mouth and whispered, “Lord, I’m gettin’ addicted to your kisses, AJ. I feel plain, damn drugged when you’re kissin’ me. I feel plain, damn lost myself when you ain’t around.” Then he dove in for another thorough taste of her mouth.

When his erection twitched, she fumbled for his belt. “Pants off, cowboy.”

“Hang on.” He lowered the bench seat back. “Scoot to the middle for a sec.” He shimmied his jeans down his legs. “Now you. Take them britches completely off.”