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“Like I had a miraculous recovery. My ribs don’t hurt at all.” She danced a little jig. “See?”

Sweet wife, your ribs weren’t the only things hurtin’ yesterday.

Over the years he’d seen her false bravado. He’d seen her injured. Seen her sad. Seen her mad as hell. Seen her devastated. But until yesterday he’d not seen her rocked by all those emotions at one time. He never wanted to see it again. He wanted to hurt anyone who ever put that broken look on her face.

The intensity of that feeling scared him.

“As soon as we’re done with chores today, we have to go to town. There’s no fresh food at all.”

Kyle poured himself a cup of coffee and refilled hers. “Fresh food. What kinds of fresh food? Because I ain’t crazy about vegetables. Never taken a liking to fruit, neither.”

Celia removed flaky golden biscuits from the oven and slid them onto a plate. “Then we need to discuss what groceries to buy. Living on junk food and fast food isn’t an option now.” She sat across from him. “Can you cook?”

“Yep.” He smirked. “Frozen food, canned food, microwave meals. That’s where it appears that I take after my father.”

“I can cook some stuff. Since we’ll be eating three meals a day together I want to be on the same page about expectations of cooking duties.”

“I’m thinkin’ your other wifely duties will include sex at least twice a day. Three times on Sunday,” he said in a silken growl.

She dropped her fork. “Kyle Gilchrist. I’m serious.”

“Me too. I’m hoping you’re on the pill so we don’t have to use condoms. My annual AFR physical came back clean last month. I haven’t been with a woman for nine months.”

“You were celibate for nine months?” she said with surprise.

He shrugged. “A quick f**k before I hit the road after a performance stopped doin’ it for me.”

“Did you arrive at that decision before or after you nailed my friend Lindsay?”

Kyle had wondered when that would come up. “Don’t you think you’ve made me pay enough for that mistake? It’s been over a year.”

“Fourteen and a half months,” she said, then hastily added, “or thereabouts. I really don’t recall.”

“I’ll refresh your memory, kitten. Right after it happened you called me a man-whore in a whole tent full of contestants. Which, contrary to your other accusation, did not boost my cred with the other man-whores infesting the world of rodeo.”

She focused on slathering jam on a biscuit.

“Then you attacked me again a few days later, calling me names in front of a couple of sponsors. Not cool.”

“Know what else wasn’t cool? Listening to Lindsay brag about how awesome you were in bed. In detail. I got a f**king play-by-play of every lick, every thrust, every orgasmic scream.”

“So that’s why you screamed that I was a mother-fucking son of a bitch ass-wipe f**kwad?”

Celia’s cool eyes met his. “I don’t remember saying that.”

“I do. And I also remember tracking down your drunken ass a few hours later, when you almost racked me, punched me in the stomach, and sank your teeth into my ass.”

“You were carrying me upside down like a side of beef! I chomped on your ass because it was the only part of you I could reach to do any damage.”

Kyle had been livid, forced to deal with a drunk and morose Celia at Abe’s insistence. She’d passed out in his hotel room. But not before she’d stunned him with a slurred “Why Lindsay?”

And he’d known immediately she’d meant, Why not me?

“How did we even get on this subject?” she grumbled. “We were supposed to be talking about groceries.”

“I think you wanted to know whether you were supposed to put condoms on the store list,” he said slyly. “So do we?”

Celia rolled her eyes. “No. I’m on the pill. Eat up, greenhorn. It’s almost light and the day’s a-wastin’.”

Sometimes the more times you did something the easier it became. But on day two of chores, Kyle figured that wouldn’t be the case with ranching. Ever.

They didn’t get back inside until just after noon. Celia unwound a purple rhinestone scarf and ditched her coveralls, coat, and work gloves. She flopped on the couch, trying to catch her breath after helping him haul wood. He perched on the edge of the recliner.

After only a minute, Celia’s nose wrinkled. “This thing reeks. We need to get it out of here.” She pointed at the chair. “That too.”

“So we won’t have any furniture in our living room?”

“Better none than this shit.” She smiled at him prettily. “Besides, we’re goin’ to a furniture store to get a new bed. While we’re there, we might as well buy furniture we both like and we can actually use.”

“Sneaky, wife.”

“Don’t pretend you haven’t been imagining a big-screen TV along that wall.”

“Guilty.”

She walked the length of the room. “This dirty carpet has to go too.”

“A new bed, new bedding, a new couch, a new chair, a new TV, new carpet…anything else?”

“A coat of paint. Some bright curtains. And a funky coffee table.”

His first thought was he couldn’t afford to buy all the household stuff that’d make her happy. Which was followed closely by his second thought: Yes, with help from Marshall’s bank account he had the means for Celia to transform this place from a dump into their home. His third thought was that if he let her buy everything her heart desired maybe that would encourage her to stay longer than six months.

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