I never thought I’d see her again. The one I couldn’t have, the one I’d never forget. When I met her I had nothing, a lowly ranch hand working on her daddy’s land. She was the golden girl up on the hill, sexy as hell but beyond my reach. Now, like all my fantasies realized, she’s come to me for help.
I’m a bastard, ruthless in pursuit of my goals. My cold, hard drive has made me what I am today, amassing wealth and power. A good guy would help her, then send her on her way with a handshake and a smile. I’m not a good guy. I’m going to make a bargain and hold her to it.
One week. I’ll bail her out, pay off all her debts, but only after she gives herself to me completely. Seven days and seven nights of no-holds-barred submission to my dominance. I’m a demanding man with dark, relentless appetites. She’s unleashed the beast in me and I won’t stop until I possess all of her.
Six years ago he broke my heart. Now, with nowhere else to turn, I’ve put myself at his mercy. He’s the ultimate alpha male, commanding and controlling, and I’ve agreed to let him use me as his plaything for a week. I’m terrified of how he’ll take me, what he’ll make me do to serve all of his needs.
I’ve got to keep this week all business. It needs to stay a transaction, pure and simple, no emotions in play. I’m scared as hell about the power he wields over me.
Because I have a dirty secret. I’ve never gotten over him. I’ll fight hard to keep up all my defenses even as he melts them down. But the truth is that the thought of serving him has me panting, wet and practically begging for everything he has planned.
NOTE: Unleashed is a four-volume story launching the Beg for It series about the hot, alpha males in Declan's family and the battles they wage with the strong, sexy women who make them finally meet their match.
Click to Buy the Unleashed Series on Amazon:
About the Author:
Callie Harper writes contemporary romances so hot they may melt your ebook. You’ve been warned.
She is powered by coffee, wickedly sexy bad boys, and all things funny, intentional or otherwise. She is the author of OFF LIMITS to be released 12/14 and the BEG FOR IT series which will start being released in January 2016. She lives in the gorgeous Bay Area with her family.
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Six Years Back
That night it rained. It had been so hot and so dry for so long I’d almost forgotten that it could. We’d all been waiting, watching, hoping for a while now. You didn’t live off the land in Montana without realizing you were at the mercy of Mother Nature.
I felt at the mercy of a lot of things lately. Waiting, watching, hoping. Not just for the rain. For Declan Hunt.
My father hired him to work on our ranch over the busy spring and summer. The first time I saw him, I swear it was like the earth stopped spinning on its axis. Strong jaw, broad shoulders, and a big old belt buckle on those slim hips. He’d looked at me with dark, smoldering eyes, his cowboy hat tipped down low, and I’d just about forgotten to breathe.
He barely noticed me, though. I was just a high school kid, the daughter of the boss man. But I hoped I could do something about that. I was 18 and had just graduated. Not a kid anymore.
But so far he’d hardly looked my way, even when I strutted around in short shorts and tank tops. Hell, I’d even washed my truck in front of him, deliberately lathering things up nice and slow, sloshing myself good with soapy water in my Daisy Dukes and bikini top. Nothing. I’d been trapped in a long, hot, dry spell.
But that night it rained. It caught me by surprise. Seven o’clock, Daddy and I had finished supper and I’d boxed up some leftovers for old Bill. He’d been working on our ranch as long as I could remember. A cranky, old bachelor, he never asked for a single thing, but he sure appreciated my homemade roasted chicken when I gave it to him.
I didn’t make it down to his cabin, didn’t even make it to the big old barn before the deluge began. Like mischievous cherubs had been waiting up in the clouds, giggling and shushing each other until they all-at-once upturned their filled buckets on the unsuspecting people below. Soaked in a heart-stopping instant, I started running, my flip-flops slipping and squashing in the mud.
I ducked into the barn, shocked, drenched, exhilarated, and stood there in the dark watching out the window. All hell breaking loose on us, just when we’d least expected.
I didn’t realize he was there, too, standing in the shadows. Until he took a step forward into the dim light filtering through the window. I started at his presence, gasping and bringing my hand up to my chest.
“Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?” His deep, rumbling tones, the sexy hush of his voice, I knew what took my breath away and it wasn’t outside, violent though that might be. Nothing raged stronger than the storm brewing inside me for Declan.
“You’re all wet.” He drew closer and damn if he didn’t describe me in more ways than one. In the shadows, the lines of his cheekbones, the strong cut of his chin, the hollow of his neck all stood out like an artist’s sketch. I could smell him there in the darkness, so virile and male. I could feel his heat, too, radiating off of him, drawing me to him as I started to shiver.
“You cold?” he whispered. I bit my lip and nodded yes, accepting that as my cover story. Shaking because of the cold. Not because he was so close to me, in the dark, the way I’d wanted for months now. My overprotective father wasn’t there to find us, neither were the other ranch hands. Just us, alone, in the shadows.
He brought his large hand to my shoulder, the touch of his palm felt so electric I drew in my breath, quick, my eyes widening. He seemed to feel it too, this charge between us, his eyes fixed at the spot where he touched me, his skin against my skin, flesh against flesh. My breathing started coming faster, shallow.
With one finger, just one, he traced a line across my shoulder up over to the strap of my tank top. It was a skimpy one, the kind of thing I’d taken to wearing in the pathetic hope I’d catch his eye. But he’d never looked my way before. I’d seen him around town a few times with girls who looked like they ran a lot wilder than me. Most did, I guessed. A sheltered little daddy’s girl like me, I didn’t exactly have a wealth of experience under my belt. And I’d never felt the urge, the impulse to get it.
The feel of his finger, thick and calloused from hard work, powerful as he toyed with my strap. It felt so flimsy in his grasp, as if he could tear it right off of me.
“What are you wearing?” he asked, his voice harsh and strained. I squirmed, nervous, shy and aroused.
“A tank top,” I managed, self-conscious under his scrutiny. Why was he asking? Did he not like it? Did he think I looked dumb?
He made a sound low in his throat, almost like a growl, and in two steps he had me up against the wooden barn wall, the planks rough on the bare skin of my back. He pinned me there, one hand at my shoulder, one at my hip. His gaze fixed on my chest, wet from the rain, illuminated by the fading dusk light of the window.
“Fuck,” he swore as if angry, frustrated, furious about something. I didn’t know what was happening, what he meant. I couldn’t think. All I could do was feel, his strength, the firm, commanding grip of his hands on me, pinning me down, holding me right where he wanted me.
“Declan?” His name came out of my lips, half-question, half-plea. So close, I could see the stubble along his chin, his full, sensual mouth in the dim light. He licked his lips, as if seeing something delicious he wanted to bite right into. A shiver tingled down my spine.
“You’re soaked.” His voice sounded strangled with need as he stared at my heaving chest. I followed his gaze and saw what he was fixated on: every inch of me revealed to him, the thin cotton of my top soaked through, the light gauzy lace of my bra offering no cover. My breasts were on full display, the fabric plastered to them, outlining, highlighting, and my nipples were hard as rocks. The swollen tips pushed out urgent, erotic, begging for him.
“Why’d you come in here, Kara?” he growled, not taking his eyes off of me, holding me, pressing me there. He kept his body tight, coiled, tension lacing through him as if he were trying to hold himself back.
“I… it started raining.” I squirmed under his stare. Heat stole through me, flooding my senses, starting to build between my legs, my sex growing slick. “I needed shelter.”
“You came in here to get shelter.” He repeated my words as if finding them ironic, wickedly funny. Dipping his head lower, he dropped in close, his mouth so near to my skin. He scented me like an animal, drinking me in, filling his lungs as if he could sustain himself on that alone. The feel of his breath against my bare throat made me start to pant.
“You thought you’d found someplace safe.” His voice mesmerized me, low, and dangerous. His lips traveled the length of my throat, so close to my skin, but not touching. Then, so slowly, such a light whisper of a touch, he flicked out his tongue to taste. He pressed it against my skittering, racing pulse, licking me there. It almost felt as if he were marking me.
I gasped. His tongue felt so teasing, so irresistible. Unable to stop myself from responding, I tilted my chin back, baring my throat for him.
“Instead, you found me,” he said, gruff. In an instant, his mouth was on me, hot and full down around my breast.
“Ah!” I cried out, eyes closing, engulfed in sensation as his mouth claimed me, sucking, licking me right through my shirt, heated and wet on my shivering breast. Finding my sensitive, aching nipple he sucked, hard, bringing his teeth down lightly, right on the tip. A jolt of pleasure and pain rocketed directly to my pussy, and I gasped, clutching his shoulder.
At my other breast, he sucked, licked, his large, rough hands up to cup and massage, bringing my tip right into his mouth where he enclosed it in his heat.
“Oh! Declan!” I cried out as he teased me, licking, trailing his tongue in a circle around my nipple, not touching it, not giving me what I needed. “Declan!” I nearly screamed, until he closed his hot mouth directly over my aching bud, pulling it hard between his teeth, harder than last time. The intensity of it shocked me, how bad and good it felt all at once.
I smacked my head back against the wall, mouth open, eyes closed, my breasts in his hands, in his mouth, ready for all of it, everything, anything he wanted to give me. I’d wanted him for so long, so much, I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. He was finally touching me, here, in the dark, just us, the way I’d wanted. The way I’d fantasized about late at night, touching myself, guilty and secret in my bed, coming with his name on my lips. Now it wasn’t a fantasy, it was really happening, and it was so much better than I’d ever imagined.
But just as suddenly as he was on me, he pulled away. I lost his warmth, his power. The flames consuming me turned cold.
“Get out of here,” he barked, striding back into the shadowy depths of the barn.
“What?” I asked, breathless. He couldn’t be telling me to leave. “Declan?”
“Now!” he bellowed, leaving no room for questions, no opening for discussion. Commanding, firm. Brutal.
Tears burning my eyes, I did as I was told, the leftover roasted chicken forgotten on the floor, my feet somehow finding their way back up the hill. Crushed, I was unable to forget his heat, or the coldness in his abrupt dismissal.
But up in my room, I made up my mind. We still had a whole summer ahead of us, a summer of nights, dark and hidden and hot. Somehow I was going to find my way to him again. Now that I’d felt his passion, the way he wanted me just like I wanted him, I didn’t care what obstacles we faced. I knew we were meant to be together.
I strode down the city sidewalk in my cowboy boots, powered by a mixture of adrenaline, fear and something else I didn’t want to admit. It felt too much like excitement. Arousal. I swallowed in anticipation. I was about to see Declan, the man who’d made me pant with need. The man who’d broken my heart.
I hadn’t seen him in six years. Not since that summer when I’d thrown myself all in, wide-eyed and naive, no idea what kind of pain lay before me. Now I knew. What reason did I have now for going to see him? I should know better. You stuck your hand on a hot stovetop once, people felt sympathetic. You stuck your hand on the same damn heat a second time around and people just looked the other way. You had only yourself to blame.
Three blocks to go to his office building in Billings. I’d parked a ways away, knowing I could use a walk to stretch my legs and calm my nerves. I’d been driving for hours, four and a half to be exact. Montana was a big state and our ranch was way out in the middle of nowhere, exactly where I liked it. Here in Billings my boot heels made a sharp, clipped sound against the concrete, not like the dirt and grass of home.
I would never be here if I weren’t desperate. Bankrupt was the technical term. If I had somewhere else to turn, I’d be there. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined doing this, seeking out the man who’d fed my teenage heart into a paper shredder and throwing myself at his mercy.
But word on the street was that Declan could help. Apparently he’d made a pile of money over the past six years. He’d taken some of those big ideas he’d had back when he was nothing more than a 21-year-old ranch hand without a penny to his name, and somehow he’d made good on them.
I still hadn’t thought to turn to him for help. It hadn’t occurred to me until Dot, my boss at the diner where I worked, had suggested it.
“You should go see Declan Hunt,” she’d said out of nowhere about a month ago while punching in receipts. She still used one of those old, black calculators as big as a football.
I’d nearly dropped the plates I was carrying. Hearing Declan’s name had that effect on me.
“About the ranch,” she’d continued, like we were talking about the blue plate special. “See if he’ll help you out.” She hadn’t even looked up as she said it. Dot wasn’t big on shows of affection. Six months ago when my father died of cancer she’d told me I could drink as much coffee as I wanted on the house. That was about as touchy-feely as she got.
The next day, before I could talk myself out of it, I typed his name into the browser on my phone and everything popped up real quick and easy. Declan Hunt, CEO of Obsidian Investors, phone number a click away. I clicked. His secretary scheduled me an appointment on a Friday at eleven o’clock. To discuss a business proposal.
At 10:49 I crossed a street, now only one block away. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a window: long hair pulled back in a ponytail, t-shirt and jeans like I was still at the ranch, shit-kicking cowboy boots stomping their way along the sidewalk. I wasn’t going to dress up for him. He might have made himself a fortune, turned himself all city slick, but I hadn’t changed. Not one bit. And I’d be damned if I put on airs for him. I had my pride, even if it felt like I was swallowing it all down like a big, fat horse pill with no water, coming to him hat in hand asking for help.
Shoulders back, chin up. I could do this. I had to do this. I’d ask for a loan, one I fully intended to pay back. I’d work hard to do it, and if he had a job for me, I’d take it. I didn’t know all the details about how he’d made his fortune. Hell, I’d deliberately blocked my ears when it came to Declan. It hurt too much to hear about him. But I couldn’t completely avoid the gossip. You didn’t rise from ranch hand to real estate mogul without people talking. Apparently he now owned and operated properties all over the state, maybe all over the country. So he must need people to help, right? I knew about running a ranch. Our foreman Bill could keep things going if I had to spend some time away. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but I’d take any job he offered, do anything to save my family’s ranch.
The sun beat down fierce in the clear blue June sky. I ran my wrist up and across my forehead. It had been like that the summer we’d been together, every day soaring into the 90s and sometimes beyond. Declan would take off his shirt in the heat. I supposed some of the other ranch hands did as well, but I never really noticed. Declan was all I could see, his shoulders, broad and roped thick with the kind of real muscle you earned from hard labor. His chest, glistening with sweat, cut, defined pecs with a couple of tattoos that made me seethe with jealousy, the way they got constant access, pressing and licking their way along his skin. The way his flat abs rippled, all leading down to a tantalizing, flat V.
A car horn beeped. I guessed in this town you needed to look both ways before crossing the street. I needed to get my head in the game. Focus.
I strode up the imposing steps of what had to be the largest office building in the city. A glass revolving door swept me into a gleaming, cold entryway. A uniformed man behind a desk asked where I was headed and directed me to the bank of elevators. Obsidian Investors owned the top floor. Figured.
Breathe in, breathe out. I waited for the slowest elevator in the history of all elevators and tried to keep my knees from buckling. I wondered if the man behind the desk could hear my heart pounding.
Why hadn’t I written myself notes? Or a script, even? I could have printed it out on big sheets of paper. Then, when I met with Declan I could have held them up between us. Win/Win. I could have read straight off of them and prevented myself from having to look directly at him at the same time.
Or at least I could have brought myself a few motivational reminders. A copy of my latest bank statement: overdrawn. Or some other paperwork threatening foreclosure.
I guessed instead I could conjure up the mental image of the one person who had made me an offer on the place. Lymon Culpepper. What a name, and he had to be the creepiest guy I’d ever seen. He’d missed his calling. He really should have gone to Hollywood. He could star as the villain in any James Bond film. With a bloated, round face and shiny, beady eyes he looked exactly like a toad. Always mopping the sweat off his pale forehead with a handkerchief, always with that 250-pound goon next to him. Anyone who traveled around with a bodyguard in sleepy, rural Montana had to be up to no good.
His offer had been so low I figured I’d find more in loose change under the couch cushions. But worse than his low-ball offer was the way he looked at me, slimy, beady-eyed like a toad. I got the feeling he wasn’t just talking about buying the ranch. No, I wouldn’t sell to him, not if I could help it.
The elevator finally arrived. Inside, the only thing not fancy and polished was me. My boots had gone from defiant and proud to filthy and ancient.
When the doors parted I saw a bathroom and ducked straight into it. Breathing hard, hand to my stomach, I looked at myself in the mirror. Strands of blonde hair had escaped my ponytail and flew wispy around my flushed cheeks. My white t-shirt suddenly looked thin and flimsy. Why hadn’t I worn a power suit, black and angry with big buttons down the front? Maybe because I didn’t own anything even remotely like that.
Shit. I couldn’t believe I was about to see him again. Even worse, I was going to ask for him for money. I hadn’t seen or heard a word from him in six years. A lot could change in six years. It should change. I should have moved on, for one. At 24 you should be well and good over the man you’d loved at 18.
That was another thing, I had to stop thinking of it as love. Infatuation or obsession, that was more like it. Sure, it had felt like love back in the day, but over the years I’d tried to talk myself out of that storyline. It felt a hell of a lot easier to dismiss a summer of pure lust. Didn’t that describe most summers for most teenagers? It felt a lot easier to live with that than the idea that early on I’d met the love of my life and he’d turned his back on me. Left one day without warning, not so much as a backwards glance. He hadn’t even left a note.
I’d sworn off men afterward. Around town, guys knew better than to try anything with the ice princess. And when truckers passing through stopped at our diner, I had no trouble saying no. It was easy to stay the virgin up in the tower when you honestly weren’t motivated to climb down. No one interested me like Declan, even though Declan hadn’t been interested in me.
I didn’t know what I feared more, him refusing help or offering it. If he didn’t help me, I’d have to go to the toad man and I couldn’t imagine doing that. But if he did help me, what would he ask for in return?
He’d be back in my life. And he might drive a hard bargain. He’d shown me he could be ruthless.
But now wasn’t the time for thinking about that. Now was the time for me to bring it, tough, driven, all business. This was an investment opportunity for him. I’d pay him back with interest. I needed nerves of steel. I couldn’t let him get to me, even though he was the one man who’d gotten to me like no other.
Through giant glass doors, I entered Declan’s gleaming, high-ceilinged office space. A woman sat behind a huge desk, a picture window behind her overlooking the city of Billings. Spotless and sparse, not a thing was out of place. I guessed it was his waiting room, like a doctor’s or dentist’s, only Declan’s had no old magazines, dog-eared issues of Good Housekeeping with the best recipes torn out or American Cattlemen with all the latest farming and ranching news. Two leather armchairs and a coffee table sat beneath a large polished gold plaque embossed with “Obsidian Investors.” It might as well read: “This Place Makes a Shit-ton of Money.”
The tables sure had turned. Back in the day, I’d been the spoiled, sheltered girl living up in the big house on the hill. He’d worked for my daddy, without a dime to his name. But now Declan held all the cards. He had the upper hand. And I was walking right into his den, the lamb leading itself to slaughter.
As I approached, the woman behind the desk gave me the ‘one minute’ sign with her index finger. On the phone, I realized. She had her hair pulled back into a severe bun and wore a crisp, white button-down shirt. All business. I should take notes, somehow channel her cool demeanor.
“May I help you?” she asked once she was free. She maintained her cool composure, neither rude nor dismissive, yet at the same time I could tell I looked nothing like Declan’s typical business meeting.
“I’m here to, um… I’m 11 o’clock?” Off to a great start.
She murmured something into her headpiece. I stood there trying not to think about the fact that just a door and a wall separated me from Declan Hunt. My knees shook. I felt like one of those small, vulnerable animals whose only defense is to puff up and try to look big. A tiny bird could fluff up its feathers and play pretend, but it wasn’t fooling anyone.
She put down the phone and gestured to one of the leather armchairs. “Just a moment. Wait right here.”
In his office, surrounded by his wealth and power, I felt so vulnerable. I was at the mercy of this man whose memory still woke me up at night. This many years later I still had nights when I’d open my eyes with a moan on my lips, panting, yearning, sheets twisted around me, on the brink of an orgasm from a dream about him.
I sat down and waited. Even though everything in me told me I should run.
Kara Brooks. I stood, tense, looking out the window of my office. On the sidewalk below people passed each other by like ants. She might be one of them. Had she driven in this morning from the ranch? Was she still hauling around in that broken-down pickup truck? Bessie, she’d called it. So sentimental about an old heap of junk.
Kara never met something broke that she didn’t want to fix. Including me. I’d washed up on the shore of their ranch when I was 21, a long list of foster homes plus some time at a youth correctional facility as my references. But just about any man who’d grown up in Montana knew his way around a ranch, and I was no exception. I’d heard from some guy who knew a guy that Harlan’s ranch needed seasonal help. The rest, as they say, was history.
Why the hell was Kara coming to see me? Why now? I could have found out, picked up the phone and saved her the trouble of driving up all the way to Billings to talk to me. I could have checked in on her, asked how she was like an old friend. But I wasn’t an old friend, now was I? I was a bastard who liked the idea of her driving all those miles to come see me, up in my office, on my turf, on my terms.
It had always been the other way around, back in the day on her family’s ranch, working for her daddy. He’d made it clear right from the start, I was good enough to work his land and tend his cattle, but not good enough for his daughter. She’d been the princess up in the house on the hill, the golden girl I could never have. Out of reach, always tantalizing, but never mine.
Now I could show her that I’d made good. My hunch about the money in wilderness tourism, or “Rustic Luxury” as we called it, had been dead-on. The more people got wired into their laptops, iPads and iPhones, the more they’d pay to get away from them. We made it part of our ad campaign: unplug. Of course you could still get wireless access at all of our facilities if you needed it, and they all did, but escaping it all was the grand façade. It turned out that the ultra-rich—L.A. movie moguls, New York finance guys, Palo Alto techies—they were all pretty much the same. They wanted to be pampered and surrounded with every comfort and more, while made to feel as if they were authentically roughing it. My resorts offered exactly that. And I made money hand over fist.
Now I had a chance to show her. Six years ago I’d left her ranch with a massive chip on my shoulder and a burning desire to prove myself, show what I could do. She’d been too good for me back then. Now, I’d get to see her face as she realized my success. Would she feel nervous? Intimidated? Turned on?
My cock pressed hard against the seam of my zipper. She’d always done that to me, the thought of her lush lips, the sensuous swell of her full breasts, her mile-long legs. I shifted and strode over to pour myself a glass of water.
What really pissed me off was that all it took was the mention of Kara, her name on my calendar, and that was it. For the past two weeks I’d had no interest in anyone else. That was a long dry spell for me, especially when I had a good sub. I’d enjoyed my most recent playmate, seeing her arousal heighten through submission, watching her reach the intense pleasure she could only access through my discipline. But she no longer captured my interest. The moment I thought of Kara, everything else seemed dull and boring.
I realized I was pacing the floor of my office. I’d worked out that morning for over an hour, pouring with sweat, but my fists still clenched with pent-up energy. Kara Brooks. In my office in a matter of minutes.
Back in the day, she hadn’t belonged to me. She’d been the perfect cheerleader dating the mayor’s son, the quarterback of the high school football team. You’ve seen that movie. It was playing right now all across small towns in America. Who knew, by now Kara was probably married and pregnant with her third. She might walk right into my office with two toddlers hanging off her legs. I’d probably still find her hot.
Those tank tops she used to wear, one thin strap carelessly sliding down her creamy shoulder, the top of her breast rising out of her exposed bra. Such a deadly mix of innocence and need, inexperienced but her body had wanted me to teach it. I could see it in her widened eyes when I’d catch her looking at me, her quickened breath, her taut nipples.
Around Kara, I got real good at exercising restraint. I could turn my back on the most tempting sights. I’d throw myself into physical labor so demanding I almost forgot about the skirt she had on, so short you prayed she’d drop something so you could watch her bend on over, ripe ass spread and offered up.
“Mr. Hunt? Your 11 o’clock is here.” My assistant’s voice blared from the speaker on my phone.
“In a minute.” I moved to pour myself another glass of water. Cold water. Like spritzing a mister onto an inferno.
I was Declan Fucking Hunt. I sat down behind my large, imposing desk, pulling myself together. I didn’t get all worked up. I commanded and controlled. “Send her in,” I ordered.
I didn’t know why Kara Brooks was coming back into my life, but I wasn’t going to make it easy for her. She’d never made it easy for me. No, whatever it was, I was going to make her work for it.
Kara walked through the door. I was glad I was sitting down. My cock swelled even more, rigid and thick at the sight of her.
Slightly out of breath, she entered my office, those long legs wrapped in soft, faded jeans that molded to her curves. She wore a white t-shirt, thin cotton. On anyone else it might look casual and forgettable. On Kara, she filled it out like a swimsuit model, just enough coverage to make you think hard about what was underneath. I could see the outline of her bra, a hint of lace along the edge of those generous curves. And she wore cowboy boots. Fuck if I couldn’t instantly see her in nothing but those boots, spread across my desk, my mouth buried in her pussy, making her come screaming my name.
“Declan.” She breathed it out like it was difficult for her to say it, flushed and nervous standing before me.
“Kara.” I assessed her coolly. I wasn’t giving her anything. I wanted to make her play her hand first.
She squirmed a bit, shifting her weight on those boots of hers. She bit her lip and tucked a stray strand of long, blonde hair behind her ear. I’d bite that lip of hers for her.
“Thanks for meeting with me.” Her voice sounded quiet, shy.
I nodded and said nothing. I knew I was being a cold bastard, but I loved seeing her there before me, unsure and agitated. Fuck, I loved it.
She didn’t look much different than when I’d last seen her. Curves more lush, if that were possible. Cheeks still flushed with the pink bloom of youth. She was 24 now to my 27.
“Um… how are you?” she asked.
“I’m good.” I leaned back in my big leather chair, clasping my hands together behind my head. I’d worn a suit that day, even though when I was in Montana I rarely did. Dark jeans and a collared shirt worked fine most days in these parts. The suit and tie came out with the New Yorkers. But today had felt like a day for a suit. Now I knew why.
I watched her take me in, my strong chest stretched out as I leaned back. She’d never seen me as anything but a young, dusty ranch hand. I wanted her to see how much I’d changed. I wanted her to know without a doubt that she was now dealing with a wealthy, powerful man.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Fine. It’s good to see you.” She blushed as she met my gaze, heavy on her. She licked her lips, quick and nervous with her pink tongue.
I clenched my jaw, my breath coming out a quiet hiss. “Sit down.”
Breathless, she complied. So good at taking orders.
“What brings you here, Kara?” I took control of the meeting. She didn’t seem to have the composure to do so herself.
Sitting on a smaller, less comfortable chair than my own, I could see Kara try to pull herself together. She drew her shoulders back, unconsciously offering me a more generous view of her gorgeous breasts, a slice of cleavage peeking through at the base of the modest V-neck. She lifted up her chin and began.
“We’re bankrupt.” Now she looked straight at me, meeting my steely eyes. “We’re in debt, bad. I’m going to lose the ranch. Unless…” Here she found herself unable to form the words and actually name it out loud.
So she needed my help. That was it. I should have guessed it was my money that drew her back to me.
“Why don’t you apply for a loan?” I asked, coolly.
She gave a short laugh with no humor. “I’ve applied for loans. I didn’t get any of them.” In a quick flash of frustration, she gestured to my desk. “Believe me, I’ve sat through a lot of meetings with a guy behind a desk telling me no.” She swallowed, hard.
“Where’s Harlan?” I asked, getting frustrated myself. Why was he sending his daughter out to do all the dirty work?
“He died. Cancer.” She fought it, but tears welled up in her eyes.
“Sorry to hear that.” I meant it. I might have some mixed feelings about the man, but those few words spoke a world of hurt. She nodded in response, gripping the arm of her chair.
“Six months ago. He fought it for about a year, but…” She shrugged.
I could see it now, the shadow of pain in her eyes. The tension in her jaw. I hadn’t caught it at first. “I didn’t know. How are you getting by?” No ring on her finger, no toddler on her leg, I guessed somehow she was still single.
“Bill’s been staying on, helping me run the place. Do you remember him? Our foreman?”
“I remember.” Our gazes locked. The words were simple, but the memories were not. I knew we were both recalling much more than old Bill, back in the day.
She looked away first, seeming to need the separation to re-focus. “So, Bill. He’s been helping out, but I can’t ask that of him much longer. I need money.” She looked back at me, desperation now creeping into her voice. “Declan,” she choked out. “I’m hoping you can help me. I need a loan. I’ll pay you back, I swear.”
She sat before me, plump lips parted, hands now on her knees as she leaned toward me. Needing me. The girl I’d had to watch for months on end prancing around in next-to-nothing, tantalizing, teasing, making me crazy.
And now she’d come to me asking for money.
“It’s been a while, Kara,” I observed, drily.
“Six years.” She gave a nervous laugh and looked down at the floor.
“I’m sorry to hear about Harlan. But tell me, why should I be interested in bailing out a failed ranch?” I knew I was being an asshole. A good guy would pull out the checkbook right then and there, no questions asked. But I wasn’t a good guy, now was I? I was a cold, ruthless bastard and I wanted to hear her out, see where it might lead.
Kara looked up, those clear blue eyes now flashing with anger. “My father was a good man.” She stood up, shaking, one hand still on the arm of the chair. “He cared about people. He wasn’t always the best businessman. He didn’t always make the best choices. But he did take a chance on you, Declan, back when not a lot of people would have. You were young and looking for work and he helped you out.”
“I worked hard for that man. I don’t owe you anything.”
She exhaled sharp and angry between her teeth. “Sure, fine. I don’t know what I was thinking.” She put her hand on her hip and looked down at the floor, then dropped her hand down again. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll figure something out.”
She looked at the corner of my desk, not meeting my eyes. Then she steeled her resolve and took one last shot. “Listen, I hear you invest in real estate now.” She gestured around my office, as if it demonstrated her point. “You run luxury ranches, or ranches for tourists. I don’t know everything about it, but I figure you probably need some help. I know a lot about running ranches. If you have a job for me at one of your places, I’ll do it. I’ll work to pay off my debt.”
“You want a job?”
“Yes, Declan, I want a job. I need a loan and I need some way to pay you back. Picking up more shifts at the Chat ‘n’ Chew isn’t going to cut it.”
“You want a job?”
“Yes, Declan, I want a job. I need a loan and I need some way to pay you back. Picking up more shifts at the Chat ‘n’ Chew isn’t going to cut it.”
Intriguing. Unexpected. I rested my chin on my fist and watched her fidget, animated and flushed.
“I’m organized. I’m a hard worker.” She ticked off her selling points. “I know everything that needs to be done on a ranch. And I’ve just had a crash course in bookkeeping.” She gave that dry laugh again. I wanted to hear her real laugh, the one that bubbled out of her like a spring brook.
“Or maybe you could see our place as an investment?” she continued. “Turn it into one of your destination resorts? I know my dad wasn’t too excited about that, but,” she shrugged, “I think maybe he was wrong.”
I had tried to talk to Harlan back in the day. He’d shut the idea down fast.
“Declan, I swear, if you give me a loan I’ll pay you back every penny with interest. And I’ll work hard to do it. You name the terms.”
Our eyes locked, hers heated and passionate, mine still cool and controlled. “I name the terms.” My voice came out low, commanding.
She swallowed, nervous. My gaze caressed her, down her throat, resting on her gorgeous breasts straining against that white t-shirt. I wanted to bring my hands to them, fingers teasing, lightly pinching her nipples to make her gasp. As if responding to my fantasy, her breath drew into a soft pant. Fuck if her nipples didn’t tighten, hardening for me into two pebbles stretched against the thin fabric. She’d always been so responsive, so suggestive of how nasty she might get right beneath that light surface of perfect.
Through the speaker on my phone, my assistant’s crisp, professional voice announced, “Sir, your next appointment is here.”
I’d like to hear Kara call me “sir.” She flushed. I wondered if she could read my mind.
“Two minutes,” I responded. This meeting was over. But I wasn’t done with Kara, not yet.
Leaning forward in my chair, the stealth of a panther stalking its prey, I told Kara, “I’ll consider it.” She waited for more, trapped and nervous. “Tonight, seven o’clock,” I continued. “Meet me for dinner at the restaurant in the Stanyon Hotel. Do you know it?”
She shook her head no.
“Fig and Fennel, a couple of blocks from here.” I stood up and slowly approached her. I loved her temper. I couldn’t resist stoking it, playing with it. I liked seeing a flash of anger in her eyes a hell of a lot more than the sadness I’d seen creeping around the edges. Raising an index finger to her, I issued a challenge. “You want a loan? Give me your best pitch.”
She arched an eyebrow, disbelieving and a little pissed off. “My best pitch?”
“I’m not easy to persuade,” I continued, moving closer. When you stood over six feet tall, you could use your height to your advantage, take your time and then draw yourself up to own all of the space around you.
I looked down at her. She was 5’6” and all curves. My voice low and slightly teasing, I told her, “You need to sell me. You’d better bring it.”
Now with a hot blaze of anger in her eyes, Kara glared at me with defiance. “Seven o’clock. I’ll be there.”
I towered over her, holding her gaze and I could see her breathing grow shallow. Clearly needing to create some distance, she took a step back. And another. I kept my focus on her and gave a nod of dismissal. She turned around and practically ran out of my office.
I watched her hustle away. If she had any sense at all she would keep on moving, skip dinner in favor of a long drive back to her ranch. She’d realize that she had far safer options than what I offered.
Kara Brooks. The one I’d wanted most. The one I’d never gotten to have. Not really, not the way I wanted her, for days on end, pounding and relentless as she moaned and screamed for more.
Back when I’d known her, I’d still had nothing. I’d been the kid pressing my nose up against the window of the candy shop, licking my lips and salivating over a sweet hopelessly out of reach.Kara was the candy. And now I wasn’t just being offered up a platter of treats. I was being handed the keys to the whole fucking store.