Big Kenny nodded. “Saved me a bundle she wasn’t a horse fanatic like some of her friends when she was growing up.”
“So when Will found out about your shepherding past, including the fact you don’t hafta work because you’re loaded—”
“Loaded is stretching it,” Blake replied dryly.
“Boy, I got a pretty fair idea what Wyoming ranch land is worth. Loaded ain’t far off, is it?”
“I’ll get by.”
“Still, she got pissed off?”
“Man. That don’t make no sense.”
“Willow thought I’d played her. She tossed out this wild theory I was pretending to be down on my luck, hoping to earn her sympathy so she’d hire me. Then I could learn everything about your construction business to better compete with Gregory Construction.”
Big Kenny gave Blake a menacing look. “Is that true?”
“Far from it. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with my life on a day to day basis, let alone long term.”
Blake briefly closed his eyes. “I’ve been pretty f**ked up since my dad’s stroke.”
“Shit. That sucks.”
“Yeah. I miss working with him, but I don’t miss the work, which makes me feel guilty because ranching was his life. He wanted it to be mine. And being a rancher is all I’ve ever really known. For the first time in my life I have the money, the time and the freedom to do whatever I want and I can’t decide what to do with any of it.
“So I came here, hoping to straighten some shit out. And I met her.” Blake swallowed a shot. “Of all the gin joints in the world, she had to walk into mine.”
No surprise Big Kenny’s face held a blank stare.
“I’m crazy about her. I’ve never met anyone like her. I like that she makes me laugh almost as much as I love to hear her laughing. Sounds insane. I’ve known her a total of four days.”
“I proposed to her mama four hours after we met.”
“No shit?” Blake said, hating his words were starting to slur.
“No shit. I saw her in that hot little cheerleading outfit and I was done for. We had big plans. Move to one of the coasts. Live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. See the world. We couldn’t wait to get out of Nebraska. ’Course, my senior year in college I wrenched my knee and couldn’t go pro.”
“Pro football after college. I played linebacker for the Cornhuskers.”
That explained a lot.
“We moved back here. I didn’t want to at first but it wasn’t like either of us had any other place to go. I took over my dad’s construction company, figuring I’d stick it out a decade or so and we’d move on to bigger and better things. Then Barbie and me started havin’ kids.”
Barbie. That explained a lot about Willow’s mom too.
“We’ve been here thirty years.”
“Nah. A man can’t live in the past.”
“So you understand why I wanted to put my past behind me and live in the now?”
“I believe I do.”
“Think you can help me convince your daughter—”
Big Kenny raised his ham-sized hand, cutting him off. “Huh-uh. You’re on your own with her.”
More shots were poured and consumed.
Finally Big Kenny spoke. “Much like your dad, I thought I’d pass the business on to my son.” He scowled. “That boy…well, he never showed the interest in the construction biz that Will did. I never pushed my son to join the business or made him feel he didn’t have a choice about what to do with his life. But Will? She wanted it. I’m damn proud of her. It ain’t an easy road she’s taken. I just want her to be happy.” Big Kenny turned on his barstool.
Here it comes, Blake thought blearily.
“So the question is, do you got what it takes to make my Will happy?”
Big Kenny propped his elbow up on the bar and gave Blake a nasty smile. “Let’s arm wrestle.”
Blake muttered, “I am so fucked.”
Blake West woke up and realized covering his head with a lacy pillow did not muffle the pounding inside his skull.
He shifted slightly on the damp sheets. The pillow tumbled away. A shaft of sunlight nearly fried his retinas. He squeezed his eyelids shut and muttered, “I’m in hell.”
“A hell of your own making you stupid jerk,” an angry female said, way too close to his ear.
Wait. Willow was…here?
Wait. Where was here?
Blake jackknifed, twisting toward the voice he thought he’d never hear again, especially in bed.
Ooh big mistake. Sharp pulses lanced his brain like pointy metal spikes. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
“Serves you right. What were you thinking getting popped with my dad?”
“I’m thinking I was a lot nicer to you when you woke up with a hangover.”
“Now see, there’s another obvious difference between us.”
Despite the ache behind his eyeballs, he peeled his eyes open, one squinty lid at a time. Such a sight for his poor sore eyes. Beautiful Willow. Less than two feet away. Scowling at him.
He grinned. He couldn’t help it. He’d take her scowling. He’d take her any way he could get her.
“My Gawd. Even hungover you’re leering at me.”
“Darlin’, I always leer at you.”
She snorted. “What goes around comes around I guess. Except you’re not wearing a sash, darlin’.”
Blake looked down. Yep. He was buck-ass nekkid. Then he noticed the floral sheets. And the sweet lime scent surrounding him. He realized he was in her bedroom.
Time warp. How had he gotten here? The last thing he remembered, besides the confrontation with Willow, was sitting at the bar drinking and then…
His lungs seized up. Sweet Jesus. Willow’s father had shown up mad as a nest of hornets. They’d talked. They’d yelled. They’d done a billion shots. And then he’d admitted how he felt about Big Kenny Gregory’s baby girl. Probably in graphic detail. Damn. He was lucky he wasn’t in traction. With blackened eyes. And broken teeth. He had the oddest urge to pat his groin to determine if he’d been castrated.
“Sucks, doesn’t it?”
“Having a complete mental blank about your previous night’s activities.”
Blake drawled, “Okay, Miss—”
“Don’t say it. Don’t even think it,” she warned.
“Fine, Miss-I-got-cherry-bombed-one-freakin’-time, cut to the chase. How did I end up n**ed in your bed?”
“You really don’t remember?” she said with a silken purr. “All you did? All you said?”
“No. But if you weren’t bein’ such a beautiful distraction I—”
Willow briefly placed her finger over his mouth. “Ah. Ah. Ah. Don’t go there, cowboy. That sweet talkin’ mouth of yours ain’t gonna get you outta trouble this time.”
“Did my sweet talkin’ ways convince you to kiss and make up with me last night?”
“Nope. But it was hard for me to say no after you stripped to nothing but those sexy dimples.”
“Ah, hell, Willow, I hope I didn’t—”
“Let me finish.” Willow angled over him. “I prefer the man who demands I mount up and ride him like a stallion to be sober, not babbling about liking me more than his dog, or swearing he’d keep me happy between the sheets forever, or confessing he doesn’t care that I’m a better carpenter than he is.”
Aghast, he groaned, “I said all that?”
“Yep. After my mom and dad left.”
“Your dad was here?”
“Who do you think carried you up to my bedroom?”
“Big Kenny did? I thought he hated my guts.” Blake’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I’m pretty sure he tried to kill me with Jack Daniels last night.”
“Nah. He doesn’t get drunk as a skunk with guys he hates. He just pounds the snot out of them.”
“You were both pretty far gone by the time he called my mom to come pick you both up at LeRoy’s.”
“Why both of us?”
“Evidently he thought you and I needed to talk, so he brought you here.”
“Did we talk?”
“No. Buddy, you passed out.” She locked her gaze to his. “So tell me… Did you really arm wrestle my dad?”
A fuzzy memory teased the edges of his mind. “Maybe. Probably.”
“He said you arm wrestled for…me. Like I was a prize at the fair or something.”
Her hurt tone meant he had to do some major damage control. “Aw, you are the fairest prize I could ever hope to win, Willow Gregory.”
“Sweet talker, but keep going.”
“I remember trying to explain to your father why I wanted to throttle you and kiss you. Often at the same time. I guess he understood.” Blake frowned. “After that, it’s a blur.”
“According to Dad, you beat him at arm wrestling.”
“Huh. I wish I remembered.”
“FYI, he never forgets. And he never loses.”
“He had nothin’ on me last night because I had nothin’ to lose and everything to gain by winning.” Blake caught her gaze. “I’m sorry.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“I wasn’t playing you. I’m not that kind of guy.”
She blinked at him.
“Please. Hear me out. I wasn’t trying to mislead you. I just… I’ve been damn confused ever since my dad’s stroke.”