Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Date Published: May 2017
Since he had a few hours to kill before he had to meet with his divorce lawyer at the ranch, Zane decided to stop by and check on Jess and see how his back was healing. But when he drove past the diner and saw the front door propped open, he altered his plans and pulled next to the curb.
He walked in to find Carly standing on a stepladder peering into the vent close to the ceiling. Instead of wearing her usual cut-off shorts and t-shirt, she wore a dress. It wasn’t close to being as short as her shorts, but it wasn’t her legs that caught his attention as much as her bare back and shoulders. Since she didn’t spend a lot of time outside, she wasn’t as tanned as most women in Bliss. Her skin was pale as a peach and looked as soft as one. Suddenly, he felt extremely hot. Of course, the temperature inside the diner could’ve explained that.
It was scorching.
“Doesn’t the air conditioning work?” he asked.
She whirled around so quickly that the ladder teetered. He had her in his arms before it could finish its first wobble. As usual, she didn’t look happy about being saved. But she didn’t look mad either. Just resigned.
“Do you always have to be the hero?” she asked.
“Do you always need to be saved?”
Her arms looped around his neck. “I don’t need to be saved. You just jump in before I have a chance to save myself.”
“Are you telling me you can save yourself? Even from spiders?”
“Okay, maybe not from spiders.” She shivered, bringing his attention to the brush of her bare back against his forearm. She was as soft as a peach. A tempting peach just waiting to be tasted. At the thought, his arms tightened. Their gazes caught and held. It took a strong will to set her on her feet and look away.
“So what’s wrong with the air conditioning?”
“I don’t know. I’m supposed to meet Emery here. We’re having tea with Ms. Marble this afternoon. And when I got here, the place was like an oven. I have a call into my landlord, but he’s ignoring me.”
Zane pulled his phone out of his pocket, and sure enough, there was a missed call from her. “Sorry, I turned the ringer off when I met with the vet this morning and forgot to turn it back on.”
She instantly looked concerned. “Is Stud Muffin okay?”
“Muffin. And he’s fine.”
She visibly relaxed. “I’ll stop calling him Stud Muffin if you stop calling me Carly Sue.”
He thought for only a second. “No can do, Carly Sue. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to fix the air conditioning so my tenant doesn’t turn me in for running a sweat shop.”
“You can actually fix things? I thought you just ordered other people to do that.”
He didn’t reply as he grabbed the ladder and headed toward the back door.
“Hey, I was using that!” she called after him.
“Accident-prone people are not allowed on ladders. Especially on my watch.” He heard her mutter “control freak” before he walked out.
Once he was up on the sweltering hot roof, he realized how little he knew about refrigerated air conditioner units. But Carly’s comment stung his ego just enough that he refused to call for help. It took a trip to the hardware store, about five gallons of sweat, and every stitch of patience he had to get the job done. But when he and Carly stood beneath the blast of cold air, he was more than a little proud.
“So you can fix things.” Carly held up a hand and high fived him. “Good job, Mr. Landlord. While you were up there did you notice if the roof needs repair? I would hate to have a leak ruin all the work that’s not getting done.”
Zane had forgotten to call the contractors and get them back to work. He was going to do it. Soon.
“That will have to wait for another day. I need to stop by and see Jess before I head to the ranch.”
Since he couldn’t stop by Jess’s looking like a sweat-soaked rat, he walked to the sink and turned on the faucet. Once he’d stripped off his shirt, he dunked his head under. When he came up for air, Carly was there holding out a kitchen towel. He dried his hair over the sink, then straightened and turned.
“Man, it’s hot out—” He cut off mid-sentence.
She stood only inches away, her gaze sweeping over his body like it was a road map and she a stranded traveler. As soon as she raised those hot, passion-filled eyes, something broke loose in Zane. Something wild and all-consuming. Before his logical brain could kick in, he pulled her into his arms.
He wasn’t gentle. But neither was she. Their mouths met in a tangle of wet heat and aggressive tongues. Her fingers scraped through his hair, her nails scratching his scalp, as his hands slipped beneath the skirt of her dress and grasped her bare butt cheeks. He lifted her completely off the floor and stepped forward, pinning her between the counter and the hard bulge beneath his fly. She wrapped her legs around his waist, her hips riding him with mind-blowing undulations.
He gripped her ass and thrust back as he sucked in her bottom lip and bit down. She groaned and grabbed handfuls of his hair, tugging to angle his head so she could deepen the kiss. With their lips still locked, he set her on the counter and reached for the button of his fly.
But before he could get it open, Emery came in the back door.
“Sorry I’m late, but I stopped to talk with Cole—”
Zane released Carly, but couldn’t turn unless he wanted his cousin-in-law to get an eyeful of just how close he’d been to having sex with her friend. Not that Emery couldn’t figure that out. Carly sat on the counter looking like she’d been thoroughly kissed. Her hair was wildly mussed and her lips swollen. And it took everything Zane had not to pull her into his arms and kiss her all over again.
“Oh,” Emery said. “I didn’t realize you had company. Umm . . . I’ll just wait outside.”
Once the door closed, Zane grabbed his shirt and pulled it on. It took a second to find his voice. “Look, Carly, I’m sorry. I don’t know—”
She held up a hand. “There’s only one thing I want from you, Zane Arrington. And it’s not an apology.” When he looked confused, she sent him a saucy smile. “Admit it. You kissed me.”
He couldn’t deny it.
He’d kissed her.
And he wanted to kiss her again.