That night, on the blow-up mattress, I fell asleep after spending hours looking up at the stars, and my back didn’t hate me come morning.
The next day, I woke to the sound of hammering outside the shed.
I hurried outside and found Ian standing at the top of a ladder, placing planks of wood on the roof to cover up the giant hole.
“What are you doing?” I asked, confused by his fixing the rooftop and a bit dazed by the fact that he was shirtless. His body was sculpted by the gods, and seeing him shirtless made chills race throughout my body, even though I didn’t find him attractive in the least.
Nope, not at all.
So ugly, Ian Parker.
The lies we told ourselves to keep from being turned on by men we were supposed to hate.
“What does it look like? I’m fixing the roof.”
“You don’t have to do that for me.”
“Who said I’m doing it for you? I’m in charge of this ranch, and it’s my job to do tasks,” he said with sweat dripping down his chest, and oh my gosh, how was watching a man sweat an instant turn-on?
I’d been single for most of my life, minus my mundane, passion-free relationship with Garrett, and obviously I’d passed the deadline where you got turned on by extremely awkward things, like sweaty men. What was next? Was Ian going to lick an ice cream cone, and I’d moan while watching him?
Chill out, hormones. We’ll watch a Chris Hemsworth movie soon enough and get all these feelings out.
Ian kept doing things like that. Fixing up the shed. Moving things around. Leaving food and supplies outside the door. I couldn’t keep up with him helping me, and every time I called him out on it, he’d make it clear as day with his Grumpy McGrump butt that he wasn’t doing it to help me at all. Whenever I felt like saying thank you to him, he’d say something catty and rude, which would turn my thank you into a fuck you.
Being around Ian was a weird thing. I’d never met an individual who was both hot and cold, all within two minutes. He was confusing for my brain, and I felt as if I were going into overdrive trying to keep up with his mood swings.
When payday came, I knew exactly where the first part of my check was going to go.
“What is this?” Ian asked as I handed him one hundred dollars.
He grumbled and rolled his eyes. “I know it’s money, but why are you giving it to me?”
“It’s for the stuff you’ve been leaving outside of the shed for me. I don’t take handouts and wanted to pay you for it all. I’m not sure how much the blow-up mattress cost you, so if you need more, let me know.”
“I didn’t give it to you in hopes of being paid back. I figured you didn’t have enough to get yourself that stuff, seeing as how you were sleeping on that beat-up rug.”
“Well, now that I got my paycheck, I’m able to give you the money for it.”
“I don’t want your money.”
“And I didn’t want your help, but here we are.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why can’t you take people helping you?”
“Because I know that they can throw it in your face down the road.”
“Have you honestly been burned that bad?”
I swallowed hard, and my silence was his answer.
He narrowed his eyes and looked at me—and I mean really looked at me. He stared as if he was trying to uncover my secrets, and I looked at him the same way, as if I could tap into the words Ian often felt and never showcased. He might’ve been a grumpy man, but that anger came from some source, and I couldn’t help but wonder where exactly. What root of past struggles fed his grumpiness? Who or what had made him that way?
And why in the hell were women attracted to him at all?
I couldn’t ever imagine being intimate with someone as cold as Ian. There couldn’t have been any heart in their interactions—he didn’t seem the type to give too much of himself to anyone.
Then again, being intimate with him would mean he was shirtless, and that wasn’t such an awful idea to me.
“Listen, it’s supposed to downpour over the next few days. You can’t stay in that shitty shed. Even with me fixing up the roof, it’s still not sturdy. Everything you own will get ruined, and you’ll probably get real sick. Just take the room at my place. I’ll even stay somewhere else if you’re uncomfortable with me being there.”
“Why would you want me to stay with you? It’s clear you can’t stand me.”
“It’s also clear that you’ve fallen on hard times. If you need the place to crash, the door is open to you.”
“No, thank you.”
He released a weighted sigh and shook his head. “You’re so damn stubborn. It’s not safe around these parts at night, all right? Just because we live in a small town doesn’t mean there aren’t some creeps around. I’ve caught one too many wandering on the grounds in the past.”
“It’s fine. I can protect myself.”
He huffed as if he didn’t believe me. “Whatever you say, darling.”
Way to make me gag.
He started to walk away and said, “But I bet showering with the water hose outside the stables isn’t the most pleasing sensation.”