“Maybe last night when I was up walking the floor with him at four a.m. I considered loading Landon up and driving to your house.”


“I can imagine.”


While she struggled—Brandt sensed she wanted to say something—just for a second, he closed his eyes and pretended this was a normal night in his life. A sweet, sexy wife to come home to. Supper on the stove. A cold beer nearby. As the phantom life teased him, he inhaled slowly. The scent of her shampoo drifted into his nose, filled his lungs. The scent was hard to place—a mix of fruit and honey. But beneath that aroma was the undeniable heady scent of Jessie. Which was better than any perfume in the world.


“Brandt.”


“Mmm?” He let his thumbs sweep across the muscles between her shoulder blades.


“You said ‘backing out of this deal’.”


“And?”


“And what am I getting out of this deal?”


That snapped him out of his fantasy lickety-split. “What do you want?”


“I don’t know yet. But I’m thinking about…some things.”


Brandt angled just a little closer. “Anything you want, Jessie, all you have to do is name it and it’s yours. Anything.” Before Brandt felt cocky or relieved, or hell, even hopeful she’d wrap herself around him and kiss him, she bolted.


“I’d better get these groceries put away, huh?”


He’d didn’t push it, not now anyway.


Landon woke up about halfway through Brandt’s first beer. The kid started out cranky, but that morphed into sweetness after Brandt dosed him with grape-flavored Tylenol. Landon dragged his blanket with him and curled into Brandt as he sat on the couch, watching the news.


Even Lexie sensed something was wrong with her tormentor. She sniffed his feet and put her head on Brandt’s lap so she could lick Landon’s hand.


Landon wasn’t interested in eating Jessie’s beef and noodle casserole. He didn’t suck down his bottle like a junkie, either. Brandt hated to watch Jessie eating alone, but he couldn’t move now that Landon had finally settled down.


After about an hour, Jessie said, “Why don’t you tuck him in bed? I don’t think he’ll wake up. He’s had a rough couple of days.”


“So have you.” Brandt grinned at her. “Want me to tuck you in bed too?”


Jessie blinked. Blushed. Then a sneaky smile stole across her face. “We’ll see.”


When Brandt returned from putting Landon down, Jessie was washing dishes. He rolled up his sleeves, snagged an embroidered dishtowel and stood beside her. Right beside her.


She gave him a strange look. “What are you doing?”


“Helpin’. Doesn’t seem fair that you cooked supper and have to wash the dirty dishes too.” He rinsed a plate and began to dry it, still feeling her eyes on him. “What?”


She smiled. “Thank you.”


“At your service.”


They chatted easily, although Brandt was surprised by how long it took to wash dishes with two people…until he realized, Jessie was dragging out their time together as much as he was.


Don’t hope, man. You’ve done this before and it nearly destroyed you.


When she began to rub the back of her arm, Brandt took a chance. “Want me to do that?”


“Nah. It’ll probably be fine by tomorrow.”


“You sure? Because after I left the doctor’s office today I stopped by Healing Touch Massage and talked to AJ. I told her you’d been carting Landon around nonstop for three days, and she gave me some specific pointers on how to loosen up those muscles.”


Jessie’s eyes went wide. “Seriously? You did that? For me?”


“Yeah. I don’t think you understand how bad I felt leavin’ you here with him, when I promised that wouldn’t happen. So I’d like to make it up to you.”


“By giving me a massage?”


Brandt held up his hands in the face of her obvious skepticism. “No biggie if you don’t want it.”


“Would my clothes be on? Or off?”


Think with your head, not your dick. Do not blow this. “I believe AJ said the part of your body bein’


massaged needed to be uncovered. So since it’d be an arm and back massage, probably I could work around a…short-sleeved T-shirt or something.”


A thoughtful look crossed her face. “How about if I wore a sports bra?”


Hell yes. And maybe some of those ass-hugging boy shorts. “Ah sure. I suppose that’d be okay.”


“Where we doing this?”


“In your bedroom,” slipped out right away. Dammit.


“Okay. Give me about five minutes?”


“Sure.” That’d allow him time to brush his teeth, shave, see if he’d brought four or five condoms…


No. He had to be a perfect gentleman. Just a massage. Nothing else.


That sucked.


He drank the rest of his beer in the kitchen. At the five minute and thirteen second mark, he knocked on her bedroom door. “Jess? You ready?”


“Uh-huh.”


Brandt stepped over the threshold and the first thing he noticed was her butt. She hadn’t worn sweats, but ass-hugging workout shorts.


Do not do a celebratory fist pump, man. Act casual.


His gaze leisurely followed the curve of her back, the very sexy, very feminine curve of her back, stopping when his eyes reached the wide band of her black sports bra. It criss-crossed between her shoulder blades and the straps separated and disappeared down her front.


He’d forgotten what all that creamy, mouthwatering flesh looked like in the flesh.


Jessie looked at him strangely. “What’s wrong?”


“I just realized I forgot to ask AJ one thing. Where am I supposed to sit when I’m givin’ you a massage?”


“Good point. How about if we both sit on the bed. You can sit behind me.”


“I guess that’ll work.”


She sat in the middle and crossed her legs.


Okay. Brandt had to keep his groin from touching her backside because then she’d know he had a hard-on, which had popped up the instant it’d gotten wind he’d be putting his hands all over her.


“Brandt?”


“Hang on.” He scooted behind her, trying to spread his legs out, but damn, he wasn’t very flexible.


Maybe he could reach her from here. When he brushed his fingers across the slope of her shoulder, she jumped.


“You sure you wanna do this?” Killed him to say it, but he did anyway.


“Yes. It’s just…I’ve never had a massage before and it’s awkward to sit like this when I can’t see you.


It just startled me.” She stopped babbling and sighed. “The truth is, no man’s hands have touched me in a really long time, and I think I forgot how to act when it’s anyone’s hands but my own on my body.”


“This is supposed to be relaxing you, not makin’ you nervous.”


“I know. Let’s try again.”


Thank God. “Close your eyes.” This time when Brandt put his hands on her, she didn’t flinch. Her skin was so warm. So soft. So pale, compared to his rough knuckles and sun-soaked flesh. When he dug his thumb into the base of her neck, she moaned.


“Did that hurt?”


“No. It feels good. Really good. Keep going.”


He thoroughly massaged up and down both sides of her neck. Then he moved to arc of her shoulders, concentrating on the section between her shoulder blades. After that he branched out to her arms, earning another series of soft grunts and groans.


No matter how hard he tried, Brandt couldn’t help but wonder if Jessie would make the same throaty sounds if he used his thumb on the sweet spot between her thighs.


“God, Brandt. If this whole ranching gig doesn’t work out for you, I’m thinking you could give massages for a living.”


“I’ll take that as a compliment, although I wouldn’t enjoy givin’ someone like Bart Clarkson a rubdown.” Brandt shivered, imagining the crotchety old timer’s wrinkled skin and flabby ass. “And I’d hate to be accused of bein’ sexist, because I’d only wanna put my hands on ladies. Young ladies. Definitely would scar me for life to see some of the senior citizen set spread out on a massage table.”


“But having a hot, young, studly cowboy rubbing them down?”


Jessie had just called him hot and studly.


“You’d make a ton of money, and I bet your tips would be outta this world.”


“Now you’ve gone too far.” Brandt smoothed his hands down her sides, somehow just knowing how ticklish she was.


She screamed, “Brandt!” and tried to squirm away from him.


He held fast, keeping hold of her ribs as she rolled, taking him with her. She wiggled to the other side of the bed, and Brandt released her, letting her think she’d won.


Wrong.


Once she let down her guard, he pounced, she shrieked again, and he pressed her back into the mattress, squeezing her thighs together with his knees as he pinned her arms over her head. He leaned forward. “I oughta tickle you until you cry for mercy for puttin’ thoughts of nekkid octogenarians in my head right before I go to bed.”


“Hey, some octogenarians are sexy.”


“Name one.”


“Raquel Welch?”


“She ain’t eighty. Besides, even if she is, she’s the exception, not the rule.”


Simultaneously they realized the intimacy of their position. Brandt stretched out over her, holding her down…and why wasn’t Jessie trying to get away?


They stared at each other, but neither made a move to get closer or to break apart.


Brandt let go of her arms. “I suppose any relaxation you had is gone.”


“My muscles are still singing your praises. Thank you. It was an awesome massage.”


He thought she’d leap up and throw him out of her room, but Jessie studied him. “What?”


“I suppose you’d like me to return the favor?”

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