“Funny. The doors are locked. I don’t have to warn you not to go outside, do I?”

She shook her head.

“See you in a couple hours.” He snagged a Coke and retreated to his office, locking the door behind him. While he waited for his computer to load, he unlocked the filing cabinet and took out his notebooks. He flipped through the loose papers until he found the assignment he’d finished after the last online class. Thank God he was only nine credits short of finishing his bachelor of science degree in agricultural business. Abe knew such stealth was ridiculous. But he’d been doing it for so long it’d become second nature. It was a miracle he’d kept his academic pursuits hidden from Celia, as well as Hank and Lainie while they’d lived here with him.

Abe had known at an early age his main responsibility would always be to the ranch, but he’d intended to go to college part time. Following his parents’ unexpected deaths, dreams of higher education became just that. He and Hank were left to raise Celia. To earn cash to keep them afloat, Hank had started bullfighting. Hank’s travel demands meant better money, but it also meant more work for Abe. With the weight of his ranch responsibilities, by the time he was twenty-three, he’d felt like an old man.

His friends always teased him about being so serious, working too hard. Heeding his brother’s advice to cut loose, he’d spent the weekend in Casper visiting his buddy Max. They’d gone to a fraternity dance, scoffing at the pirate theme, opting to wear normal clothes—jeans, boots and hats. The frat boys weren’t happy the ladies were clustered around the pair of cowboys, not the surplus of pirates, and tossed them out. Literally. Abe’s face had connected with several fists before his ass had met the pavement. A scrap of a woman, dressed as a serving wench, helped him to his feet, and fussed over him like she’d been personally responsible for his airborne ejection from the party.

It’d been years since he’d been the sole focus of a woman’s tender care and concern. He liked it more than he wanted to admit—and he milked it as much as he could. It wasn’t Janie’s unadorned physical appearance that’d immediately captivated him, although she masked her petite curvy body in formless clothes and hid her beautiful smile behind long straight black hair. Her thoughtful nature had drawn him in after she’d taken him to her efficiency apartment and patched him up. Those amazingly expressive purple-hued eyes and the hungry way she kissed him, and the no-holds-barred way she wanted him were just icing on the cake.

He’d hung out with the introverted, oddly compelling woman all weekend. And every weekend after that. He and Janie were inseparable, as inseparable as a couple could be, with him living in Muddy Gap and her living in Casper. The more he got to know her, the more he adored her. He wanted to spend his life taking care of her. He was so happy he’d found a woman who understood his ties to the ranch and his family. A woman who wanted the same things he did.

Or so he thought.

He proposed to her within two weeks of that first meeting. But Janie held him off for four months before agreeing to become his wife. She moved to the ranch, but continued to drive to the college campus to work on her degree. The first year they were happy. But as months went on, so did Abe’s frustration with Janie’s disillusionment about the life she’d signed on for with him. Why wasn’t being married to him and living the same type of life his parents had enough for her?

Eventually, the no-win argument culminated in her leaving him.

In the aftermath, Abe wondered if he’d mistaken her shyness for malleability. There was little resemblance in the Janie of old, to the new Janie. Now she was sophisticated, with her chic short haircut and trendy wardrobe. She exuded confidence in all social situations, using her charm and deeply dimpled smile to enchant both men and women.

Still, Janie’s departure from his life had prompted his enrollment in college. He’d never felt smart enough for her. But after his first year of classes, earning a degree became something Abe wanted to do for himself, if for no other reason than to prove he could.

He had the chance to confess about his secret academic life when Hank busted Celia for keeping her barrel-racing career a secret. But he hadn’t come clean. It’d become a point of pride that if he failed, no one would know but him.

Abe logged into his student account, mentally preparing himself for a two-hour lecture on the “Analysis of Sustainable Agriculture in the Global Marketplace.” He plugged in his headphones, grabbed a pencil and settled down to work. Thoughts of seducing his ex-wife were lost in ag projections and corporate farming practices.

Abe was not acting at all like the Abe that Janie remembered.

He wasn’t hovering and fussing over her.

He definitely wasn’t coddling and soothing her.

He’d cooked comfort food for her.

Then he’d left her to her own devices. For three hours.

Last night when he’d emerged from his office, he’d double-checked the locks, sweetly kissed her on the forehead and retired to his room.

Janie expected things to be different tonight. She’d spent all day by herself while he was doing mysterious, never-ending ranch stuff. So after he returned from finishing chores, she intended to complain about her aches and pains, expecting he’d offer to rub her neck. Or massage her back. Or put his face between her thighs and use that wickedly talented mouth to make her come.

But he’d not done any of that. He’d cooked, cleaned up, and vanished into his office again. Which indicated the man had no plans to seduce her tonight.


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