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Channing froze. Hadn’t she and Colby talked about loneliness earlier?

“About that same time, this older rancher—he was all of forty-one—would come in and sit in my section. He came in every single day, sometimes twice a day, for four months. A real gentleman cowboy. He was quiet. Polite. A great listener. Generous. Sweet.” She closed her eyes.

“Lord, he was so damn sweet. Totally the opposite of any man I’d ever known.”

“You fell for him?”

“Not at first. I wanted me a flashy guy. I started hanging out at rodeos. Figuring a big buckle meant a big man. Hearing promises that turned out to be lies. Then one night, while I was whooping it up, not having nearly as much fun as I thought I should’ve been, I saw that quiet rancher from the diner. On his horse. Getting ready to compete in the bulldogging event.

“It kinda threw me for a loop because I never expected him to be the type of guy who’d take dangerous risks. He always seemed…solid.

Boring. So I left my friends and snuck closer to the chutes so I could watch him compete.

“He burst out of that gate, all strength and poise and agility. Not showing an ounce of fear as he launched himself off his horse and at that steer. Flipping three hundred pounds of animal into submission in the dirt like it was nothin’. Then he calmly stood up and checked his time.

For some reason he spun my direction and saw me hanging on the railing, my jaw practically dragging on the ground from shock.

“He brushed the dirt from his jeans as he moseyed toward me. The whole time he kept coming at me, taking those slowly measured steps; his eyes never left my face. It was like I was the only one in the arena.

Like I was the only one in the world. And then I knew.”

“That you loved him?”

She smiled again, but it was wistful, slightly sad. “That came later, but not much later. No. I knew then that quiet power and understated grace were the true measure of a good man, not the size of his belt buckle or his intentions.”

“What happened?”

“He stopped in front of me. He reached out and tucked a piece of hair behind my ear. Then he ran his rough fingers down the line of my jaw. It was the first time he’d ever touched me. So softly, yet, so…confidently.

Like he knew just what I needed. He said, ‘Gemma Mae, don’t you think it’s time you quit foolin’ yourself and come on home with me where you belong?’”

Tears pricked Channing’s eyes and she swallowed hard.

“I went home with him that night and never looked back.”

“Omigod. I think I’m gonna cry. That is the most beautiful, romantic story I’ve ever heard.”

“Yeah, it is. Come to think of it, you’re the first person I’ve ever told that to.”

“Now I’m really gonna start bawling.”

“Well, you can understand why I’ve been a little reluctant to bring another man into my life and into my bed.” She grinned saucily.

“Especially when gentleman Steve Jansen had moves between the sheets, in the barn, on the kitchen table and anywhere else the mood struck him that’d probably give your Colby a run for his money for inventiveness.

The last thing Steve ever was, in or out of bed, was boring. God, he was good. With one look he could heat me up like fire and melt me like butter.”

“I’m sorry that’s he’s gone, Gemma.”

“Me too. Not only do I miss Steve every goddamn day, I miss that daily physical connection. I miss sex. But when you’ve had twenty-five years of bust-the-bed-frame-scream-out-loud-raw-and-sweet-and-raunchy sex, I’m afraid anything else would be a let down. But what I wouldn’t give for a second chance to have it again.”

Channing wasn’t the least bit embarrassed by Gemma’s brutal honesty. The answering silence between them wasn’t clumsy, just thoughtful.

The grass crunched behind them and Gemma craned her neck.

Cash Big Crow stepped around the heap of beer cans and leaned his shoulder into the side of the horse trailer. “Evenin’, ladies.”

“Cash, were you using your Indian stealth again to sneak up on us and listen to our private conversation?” Gemma demanded.

“Gemma!” Channing said, appalled.

Cash didn’t smile. In fact, he had the oddest expression on his face.

He didn’t look at Channing either, but at Gemma, even as he addressed his comments to Channing. “Don’t mind Gem. She knows I wouldn’t show her my secret Indian tricks unless she asked me nice. Real nice.”

“Keep dreaming,” Gemma said.

He chuckled. “I will. Channing, I tracked you down to tell you Colby is lookin’ for you. You want me to walk you back?”

“No, that’s fine. I can find my way.” She stood and stretched. “Thanks for the beer and the girl talk, Gemma.”

“Anytime. See you bright and early, right?”

“Right. I’ll be here with bells on.”

“Have a good night. Ride ‘em hard, girl.”

Channing snickered and gave Gemma a high-five.

Cash cocked his head and looked from Channing to Gemma. “I’m afraid to ask what that meant.”

“You should be.” Gemma sailed to her feet. “Then again, it’s more of a

‘hands on’ thing anyway.”

“Yeah? Well, luckily I ain’t got nowhere to be right now. You could demonstrate by puttin’ your hands on me all you want.”

Gemma laughed, a trifle nervously.

Cash took another step closer and frowned. He lifted his hand and rubbed his fingertips across Gemma’s forehead. Gently. Three times.

“What are you doing?”

“You got a smudge of dirt right there, and a piece of grass stuck in your hair. You been rollin’ around in the hay?”

“There’ve been no rolls in the hay for me for a long time,” Gemma retorted.

“That’s a damn cryin’ shame,” Cash said softly.

The air thickened. Channing held her breath, feeling like an interloper.

“Ah. Well, good night, Cash.”

“’Night, Gem. Sweet dreams, sweetheart.”

Cash turned to Channing. “Come on, I’ll walk you over anyway.”

After they’d reached the horse trailer, Channing said, “You know, Cash, you really should take a more direct approach with Gemma. The Indian stealth stuff isn’t working. She doesn’t have a clue that you’re so crazy about her.”

Before his face could turn any redder, Channing blew him a kiss and closed the door in his face.

Chapter Fifteen

The lights were off inside. Neither Trevor nor Edgard were stretched out on the floor. Where were they? She peered at the sleeping area.

Chances were slim Colby was asleep if he’d sent Cash looking for her.


“’Bout damn time you came back. Where’ve you been?”

“Talking to Gemma. Why? Did you miss me?”

Pause. “What do you think?”

“I think if you’re gonna be a jerk to me I’ll turn around and leave and go back to drinking beer with Gemma.”

“Sorry. I’m just bored. A bit lonesome. And yeah, I missed you, okay?”

She smiled in the darkness. “Okay. You need anything before I come up there? Ice for your hand?”

“Nah. I’m fine.”

Channing climbed up and flicked on the wall lamp at the head of the bed.

Immediately, his left bicep covered his face. “Ow. My eyes. Shut that damn thing off.”

“Poor baby.” Click. Back into shadows. “How do you feel?”

“Honestly? My hand hurts. My ribs are tender. And I’m so goddamned horny I’ve been layin’ here, thinkin’ about whackin’ off for some quick relief. Except my right hand is all bandaged up and I ain’t so good at goin’ lefty.”

She laughed and leaned over to nuzzle his neck. “How about if I offer you some relief? I ain’t so good at going lefty either. Maybe it’d be better for both of us if I used my mouth.”

“Uh. Yeah. Your mouth. Uh. Yeah. That’d be good.”

Colby? Tongue-tied? She didn’t know whether to be touched or nervous. “Since it’s dark in here and I don’t want to hurt you, guide me to where you want me.” She placed her fingers on his lips, tracing the warm fullness.

He kissed them, briefly sucked her index and middle finger into his mouth, then he wrapped his hand around hers and shifted the covers back to set her palm on his erect penis. At some point he’d taken off his boxers so she just felt him. Long. Thick. Hard. Hot. Ready.

Channing scooted down Colby’s body, avoiding bumping his upper torso. She’d rather take a shortcut and trail soft healing kisses and touches over his bruised ribs. But she knew he’d rather have a trail of hot, hungry kisses down his cock. A couple of quick hard strokes and she brought him into her wet mouth.

Colby groaned and arched, trying to shove his dick in deeper. Which lasted about a second because he winced in pain and dropped back to the mattress, letting his cock slip free from between her lips.

Channing knew Mr. Take Charge preferred to grab her hair and direct her mouth to where he wanted it. But since Colby was banged up, he didn’t get to be in charge. His immobility would give her a chance to decide on the level of participation she’d allow him. For once, this was all her show.

Heh heh. This was going to be so fun.

“Channing, darlin’, I can’t move much, so you’re gonna hafta—”

“Do whatever I want. My, my. Isn’t this a turn of the tables?” She flicked the stiff tip of her tongue back and forth over the magic spot under the cockhead. Then she retreated to blow a stream of cool breath on the moist area.

He hissed.

She played with him. Sucking him deep into the slippery recess of her mouth until her lips brushed the base of his cock. She built a seductive, calculating rhythm with firm strokes of her hand and teasing tugs of her wet mouth that almost sent him soaring over that dark edge.