His eyes were so serious, and that air of vulnerability surrounded him. “It needs a little work, Kyle. Okay, a lot of work. But the space has quirky charm. On the outside it looks like the standard boring ranch house, but inside, there are a few qualities that make it unique. This is your home now. You need to put your personal stamp on it.” Celia whispered, “Besides, admit it. You’ve always secretly wanted two pink bathrooms.”
Kyle growled and pulled on her braid to tilt her head back. “Such a smart mouth.”
“Like that’s a surprise to you.”
“No, but this might be to you.” Kyle crushed his mouth to hers, sweeping his tongue across the seam of her lips, diving in for a hot, wet kiss.
Her head protested for about a nanosecond and then she clung to him, mouth, hands, body, as he took the kiss deeper with every breath. With every stroke of his agile tongue.
The kiss might’ve gone on for hours, days even, if not for the loud knocking that wasn’t from her knees.
“Hello? Is anyone here?” echoed from the living room.
They froze and broke apart. But Kyle never looked away from her. He uttered a thickly whispered, “This heat between us ain’t going away,” before releasing her.
Holy crap. Celia’s entire body was on fire. From one kiss. She held her hands to her face as Kyle disappeared around the corner. She closed her eyes and found her composure before she followed him.
Kyle was shaking hands with a big guy, probably around thirty-five, who had the mannerisms and carriage she automatically associated with ranchers.
“Come meet our new neighbor, Josh Jones. He lives in the place we passed down the road. Josh, this is my wife, Celia.”
She shot Kyle a reprimanding look when he introduced her as his wife. Had she somehow known that her agreement to the moniker wife would last longer than a single day?
Josh took her hand. “Nice to meetcha, Celia.”
They exchanged banal observations on the weather.
Finally Josh said, “I gotta admit, I’m a little confused on your relationship to Marshall.”
“Marshall Townsend was my father, a fact I just found out on Sunday.”
Josh looked stunned. “You’re kidding me.”
“No, sir.” Kyle gave him a brief explanation. “So it’s been a whirlwind couple of days for us. None of this has really sunk in. We were trying to get our yearly circuit schedules set, and now it looks like we’ll be doin’ something else entirely. Or at least I will.”
“Circuit schedules?” Josh asked.
“I’m a bull rider on the CRA circuit and Celia is a barrel racer.”
“No kiddin’? That’s gotta be an interesting life. I’m assuming you both have ranching experience?”
“I have some, helping out my ranching friends whenever needed. But Celia here, she’s the real deal. She helped run her family ranch from the time she was eleven up until four years ago when she started barrel racing professionally.”
That sounded a lot like pride in Kyle’s voice, which shocked the hell out of her.
“Yeah? Whereabouts was that?” Josh asked.
“Muddy Gap. My brothers are Abe and Hank Lawson.”
“I’ve dealt with Abe over the years. How long have you two been married?”
Kyle smirked at her. “What day is it? Tuesday? We’ve been married since Saturday night.”
Another stunned look from Josh. “You weren’t just a-woofin’ about it bein’ a whirlwind couple of days. Hell, the ink ain’t even dry on that marriage license.”
“We were in Vegas. Decided to get hitched. Poor Celia thought she was marryin’ a bull rider and finds herself stuck with a newbie rancher husband instead. I wouldn’t blame her if she runs for the hills.”
So, Kyle was giving her an out. And a way for him to save face when she did bail. She had the perverse need to poke him back. “You might have to kick me out. I’m made of tougher stuff than that, darlin’.”
He gave her an arch look. “Guess we’ll see, won’t we?”
“I did have a valid reason for showing up here besides to satisfy my curiosity. You do plan on taking Marshall’s cattle off my hands? Soon? I’ve been dealing with them since before Thanksgiving, when Marshall went into the hospital. I was happy to do it, because this is the easy time in the cattle business. But I don’t have the manpower to deal with his calving and mine. Especially since my wife is eight months pregnant with our first kid and I can’t count on her help right now either.”
Kyle seemed at a loss, so Celia jumped in. “Congrats on the impending bundle of joy. It’s gonna wear on you, though, especially this time of year.”
Josh grinned. “That’s the problem with them late-spring storms. End up with a blizzard baby. Anyway, I know you guys are pretty much flying blind here, and I’ll help you as much as I can now that I know you’re sticking around. I thought we could get the cattle sorted first thing tomorrow morning and go from there.”
“Are Marshall’s horses decent with cattle? Or are they used for something else?”
“Two of ’em are pretty good cow horses.”
“I’d prefer to use my own, but mine are boarded at my buddy’s place and I don’t have so much as a saddle with me. You got tack for us? Or can you direct us to where Marshall kept his?” Celia asked.
“You can use my wife’s tack since she isn’t riding and I can rustle up something for you, Kyle, if you need it.”