* * *
“Tahoe’s out with Dad,” Livvy says from the breakfast table when I finally go downstairs, after heading to my bedroom to shower and change.
I join her for a meal of eggs and hash browns.
“I’m surprised he brought you here, you know?” she chattily says. “We’re all surprised. Lisa died on the day of my parents’ anniversary. It made the whole thing a little bitter for him, to celebrate a day when you mourn too.”
“I didn’t know she died today,” I say, setting my fork down.
I’m suddenly not hungry anymore.
Livvy’s expression saddens, then she claps in forced cheer. “Well. My mother’s thrilled you’re here. She wants him to have good, better memories. It was so hard to watch him. So frustrating. He doesn’t like being helpless and has never allowed himself an inch of vulnerability ever since.” She eyes me somberly. “He likes you. And I mean, likes you likes you.”
She smirks, and it’s so adorable, because she smirks almost like he does.
“He looked at Lisa tenderly, as if she were something he needed to protect. He looks at you like a man does a woman he really cares about.”
I try to dismiss her words, but I’m scared because my mind actually clings to them with the kind of fervor only the truly hopeless do.
Can Tahoe’s wounds really heal for him to love someone again? Can he ever even let himself feel something for me?
I’m quietly wondering when his dad comes into the house and tells me Tahoe’s waiting outside to take me for a ride.
Excited by the prospect, I wash my plate quickly as Livvy ushers me out, then I head outside and into a huge barn. I take in the sight of half a dozen horses in the stalls, and I am especially intrigued when I spot a mechanical bull right in the center of the horse stables, amidst a set of mats surrounded by hay.
I take in the bull and the tall man swiping it clean with a blue cloth. Seeing him, there’s a frisson of warmth running through my body.
“You have a bull in your backyard?”
“’Course. Nothing like riding a pissed-off bull.” He pets the seat meaningfully while a grin flirts across his lips. He quirks his left brow. “Try it, Regina?”
“You try it,” I dare.
He laughs. “I’ve tried it a million times.”
He mounts the bull, grabs the pommel, and the bull starts thrashing. He rides it for a minute, all his muscles flexing, and then he clicks it off, dismounts, and grabs me by the waist to prop me up. “Now you.”
“Oh god.” I’m so nervous I could vomit.
“Come on.” He pats my butt and holds me by the waist, then curls my fingers on the pommel. “Just hang on for as long as you can.”
“Tahoe,” I groan. “Only you.”
“That’s right. Live a little.” He steps back with a smirk, his blue eyes dancing merrily as he turns it on. The bull begins slowly.
“Oh wow. Okay. I can do this.” I hold on with both hands and then it starts thrashing wildly and there’s no possible way that I can hang on. I fly, fall on the mat, and laugh from the exhilaration. I’m still laughing on the mat when he throws himself next to me and we both stare at the rafters.
“Quite a rush, hmm?” He traces his fingers over my throat as he looks down at me, and my laughter fades.
I’m breathing fast from the bull but I’m fully aware that my heart is pounding due to something else. Something close, and dangerous, and not mine to…well, ah, ride.
Flustered by his nearness, I push up to my hands and then to my feet and watch Tahoe quietly head over to the stables to saddle up two horses.
I watch the play of his muscles under his shirt with an ache. He’s such a physical man. A very physical man who’s never been able to love anyone he’s cared about physically.
“Get over here,” he says, oblivious to my thoughts.
“I don’t know how to even get on that.”
“I’ll help you.” He grabs me by the waist and ushers me forward, then cups my butt.
“Tahoe! Not by the butt!”
I squirm restlessly to keep him from lifting me. His magnetism is becoming more and more impossible to resist and his hands on me feel too good, too male, too his.
“There’s not a butt so luscious anywhere but here,” he teases me, and palms it then squeezes gently, and he turns me around and draws my front to the flat plane of muscles that is him.
We were laughing. But the smile fades from his face the instant our eyes lock and we both seem to register our position. My breasts heave against his chest, my butt is in his hands, and then he scents my neck a little as he buries his face inside my hair.
I tilt my head and grip a handful of his T-shirt.
It’s as if he can’t help himself. I can’t either. When he lifts his head, his eyes are lightning, thunder, and blue, blue rain. He looks at me as if I’m the most forbidden, most succulent thing he will ever take a bite of.
I look at him, slowly, cautiously, nervously tipping my head upward.
When he sees that, he slides his arm slowly around my waist to draw me tighter to him.
“Come here,” he says, his voice dark as he leans his head.
His breath is so close I can feel it on my face. His eyes look so dark, they’re almost navy blue when he gazes into mine. He cradles my cheek in his hand.
He holds my face utterly still as he leans in.
And he gets closer,
And his nose brushes lightly over mine,
And his breath blends with my breath,
And his lips whisper over mine.
All this time I’ve been staring at him, motionless. Then his eyes start to close, and his lashes are gorgeous, and he smells like pine and hay…
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