Authors: Myla Jackson
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Western, #Erotica
Dedicated to my wonderful editors, Christa and Lisa, who made this story bloom.
“The Women’s Aid Society should make a killing off this fundraiser.” Bunny Leigh sat with her back to the bar, her gaze glued to the stage. Despite her best effort to remain detached, she couldn’t help but get caught up in the insanity going on around her at the Annual Cowboy Auction.
“No kidding.” Charli Sutton paused long enough at the bar to drop the dirty glasses and order the next round for the tables she waited. “You did a great job on the decorations.”
Bunny shrugged. “It’s the least the Sweet Temptations Flower Shop could do. Heck, Audrey offered up the Ugly Stick Saloon for the event, and giving away one free drink per customer was brilliant.”
“Yeah, the drinks will grease the wheels for bidding. Her crowning glories were recruiting the cowboys…” Charli nodded toward the exit, “…and hiring the hottest deputy in the tri-county area to keep it sane.”
Bunny glanced at Jack Monahan, the best-looking deputy on the sheriff’s force, and her cheeks heated. He’d stopped by her flower shop on a regular basis to buy flowers for his mother. What a guy. Sensitive and handsome, with his dark hair and big brown eyes rimmed with lashes a girl would give her eyeteeth for. If Bunny was interested in dating, he’d be one of the local bachelors at the top of her list. Not that he’d be interested, and Bunny wasn’t the type of girl to ask and risk rejection.
Two years since her divorce seemed too soon for Bunny to get used to the idea of dating again. Yet two years had been plenty of time for her ex to take the plunge. The bastard was getting married, already. Not that she cared about Ray anymore. Not since he’d cheated on her with the cute little dental hygienist he was now engaged to.
With a sigh, Bunny dragged her gaze from Jack and stared down at the program, running through the list of names. “Wow, she really struck gold. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a great lineup.”
“Yeah.” Charli smiled. “It’s too bad I’m engaged, or I’d bid.”
Bunny’s brows rose, a smile curling her lips. “What, you don’t think Connor would let you go out on a little ol’ date with one of them?”
“Not no, but hell no.” Charli frowned. “I may be taken, but there are a lot of single women in this room who aren’t. And I know for a fact some of them have been savin’ all year for this.”
Bunny panned the room. Women of all shapes and sizes crowded every bit of floor space in the saloon, each carrying a paddle with a number on it, ready for when the bidding started.
“Gotta get back to work. Everyone’s already gone through their first-round freebie. They’re into round two, and the fun hasn’t even started.” Charli grabbed a tray of beer mugs and hurried back out into the sea of raging estrogen.
Audrey Anderson, the owner of the Ugly Stick, leaned over the bar. “Can I get you another beer?”
Bunny stared at her mug, surprised to see it was empty. “Sure. But it’ll have to be my last. I have to drive.”
“No worries. The Gray Wolf brothers are lined up to provide free rides home to anyone who isn’t fit to drive.”
“Thanks.” Bunny smiled. “We’ll see how it goes.” She’d never had so much to drink that she couldn’t drive. She didn’t plan on it now.
Audrey filled Bunny’s mug from the tap and set it on the bar in front of her. “Where’s your number?”
Bunny snorted. “Don’t need one. I’m not bidding.”
“What?” Audrey shook her head. “You’ve been divorced for two years now. It’s about time you started dating again.”
With another sigh, Bunny lifted her mug and sipped the golden brew before responding. “After the disaster of my marriage, why would I want to jump back into a relationship? I like where I am in life. I don’t need a man to make me happy.”
“Ray Zinke was a jerk. You did the right thing by divorcing him,” Audrey said, as she wiped the bar with a clean rag. “Besides, not every man is a dirt bag like Ray. Look at Jackson. He’s one hundred percent awesome. And his brothers Luke and Mark rank right up there with him.”
Although Bunny had thought about the Gray Wolf twins and their swarthy, Native American good looks, she’d learned by experience that looks weren’t everything. And unfortunately, Libby the bartender had the corner on the twin market. “They’re taken.”
“Maybe so, but they’re good examples that not all men are cut of the same dumbass cloth. You have to give other men a chance.”
Bunny shook her head. “No, I don’t.”
“What about companionship?”
“I can get a dog,” Bunny was quick to quip, but there was the rub. A dog might be good company, but she missed having someone to talk to at night after work. Someone to hold her and whisper sweet nothings in her ear.
Audrey frowned. “What about partnership? Someone to share your life?”
“I almost lost half my business to Ray when he left me. I’m still paying him back a little at time and probably will be paying for the next decade. No partners.”
With a soft harrumph Audrey shot back, “Okay…what about sex?”
“I own a nifty array of vibrators.” Bunny lifted her chin, daring Audrey to challenge her lie. She only had one. “I can have sex any time I want. I’m responsible for my own orgasms, thank you very much.”
Audrey frowned. “It’s not the same.”
“Audrey, I’m not looking for a man in my life right now.” Bunny might not have been looking, but Audrey was hitting too close to home. The last couple of weeks, she’d been in the dumps going home to an empty apartment every night. No one to talk to. No one to share her day with.
“Well, if you change your mind, I took the liberty of signing you up for the auction.” Audrey slapped a numbered paddle on the counter. “Think about it. It’s just a date.” She walked away, shaking her head.
Bunny sighed. Why couldn’t people believe she was happy living alone?
Because you’re not.
The thought came out of the blue and wedged in Bunny’s craw, bringing her down when she should have been enjoying the anticipation of the auction’s kickoff. She loved watching the bachelor cowboys roped into participating. The area had its fair share of handsome, single men, although they seemed to be getting younger every year.
Another sigh escaped Bunny’s lips.
“Hey, pretty lady, what’s gotcha down?” a warm, sexy voice said behind her.
She turned toward the bar and smiled at Cory McBride, her part-time flower deliveryman. “Just thinking.”
“If you’re thinking about me, I’d hope the frown would turn upside down.” He winked and smiled, his full, sensuous lips curling ever so slightly.
Enough to make Bunny want to taste them.
Holy hell! I didn’t just think that, did I?
“No, I was just trying to decide whether I would bid on a cowboy.”
“Then save your money for me.” He puffed out his chest, which was clad in a crisp white shirt that disappeared into neatly ironed blue jeans. The ridge beneath his fly stood out against the soft, dark denim. “I’m one of the cowboys being auctioned, along with a special surprise.”
Bunny’s heart flipped against her ribs and her belly tightened. She’d had a secret lust for this young man since he’d started working for her several months ago.
Her gaze slid over his broad shoulders and down to his narrow waist. Not that he was a boy. At twenty-one, he was more of a man than her ex-husband had ever been, and Cory was proud of his body, not at all shy about showing off the rippling muscles and taut abs.
And he had a lot of reasons to be proud of that glorious body.
Bunny dropped her gaze to her beer, afraid Cory would see his boss drooling if she didn’t get a grip on her unfulfilled longing. “I’ll leave the bidding to the younger girls. Can’t have Temptation calling me a cougar now, can I?” She smiled up at him and immediately regretted it.
Cory’s eyes narrowed. “What, you’re all of twenty-six?”
“Not that it’s any of your business.” She ran her finger along the rim of her mug. “I’m twenty-seven.” She held her breath, waiting for his gasp. It didn’t come.
He shook his head. “You’re not old.”
“Older than you.” She sighed. Damn she’d done a lot of that this evening. What was wrong with her? “I’ve been married and divorced, and I own my own business. I feel like Methuselah.”
“Hardly. For the record, there’s only a little more than five years difference in our ages. And although I haven’t been married and divorced, I’ve owned my own business since I was nineteen.”
Bunny frowned. “Really?”
Cory’s lips spread in a sensuous smile. “I’m a waiter and stripper here at the Ugly Stick, but I’ve been investing my money since I started working and have quite a personal portfolio. I’m financially independent. And, as you know, I just graduated with my degree in pre-med biology and I’m heading to medical school in Dallas next fall.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll be losing my deliveryman.” She sighed. Having Cory around had been fun, and the shop wouldn’t be the same without his smiling face. “That’s quite the resume. But that doesn’t erase the fact I’m five years older than you.”
“Look, sweetheart, between you and me…” He leaned across the bar, his face inches from hers. Cory’s thick, golden mane flowed down around his shoulders, and blue eyes as clear as a summer day shined into hers. “I’d rather go out with you than any other woman in this place.”
Suddenly unable to breathe, Bunny closed her gaping mouth and licked her lips. The scent of his aftershave swirled around her and made her want to tip forward and plant her lips on his.
He winked. “Don’t sell yourself short, darlin’. You’ve got a lot more to offer than a twenty-one-year-old.” Cory leaned closer and kissed her startled lips, then straightened. “You are a beautiful, warm and generous woman. What’s not to love?”
Her mouth tingled from where his lips had touched, and she clenched her fingers to keep from reaching across the counter and claiming a do-over on that brief kiss.
“Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have to go get undressed for my turn on the stage.” He tapped her numbered paddle. “Think about it.”
How the hell could she think with her brain fried by one little brush of his lips?
Charli swung by, her eyes wide. “Did I see what I think I saw?”
Heat climbed up Bunny’s neck and into her cheeks. “No. No, you didn’t see anything.”
“I did! Cory kissed you, didn’t he?” Charli dropped her tray on the counter and gave her order to Libby, before turning to grab Bunny’s hands. “He never comes on to women. They always come on to him.”
“So?” Bunny pushed her hair behind her ear. “He delivers flowers for me. It was just a friendly peck, like a handshake.”
“My rosy butt it was.” Charli’s face split into a wide grin. “What did he say to go with that kiss?”
“Nothing,” Bunny lied. “It wasn’t a kiss.” She lifted her mug to her lips, hoping it would give Charli the hint that she didn’t want to discuss Cory anymore.
“You have to bid on him,” Charli insisted, hiking her tray of drinks onto her shoulder.
“I don’t have to do any such thing.”
The band struck up a tune.
Charli’s head jerked up and she set her full tray back on the counter. “Ah, that’s my cue. I’m the MC.”
Bunny sucked in a deep breath and let it out.
Whew. Saved by the music
Audrey hurried forward. “I’ll get your orders, Charli. Get on out there before the women riot.”
“Goin’.” Charli nodded toward Bunny as she passed. “Make sure she bids on Cory. He kissed her.”
Audrey’s brows rose. “Cory kissed you?”
Bunny wanted to trip Charli for her parting comment. Now she’d have to face the Audrey inquisition. She raised her hand. “Please. It was just a peck. We’re only friends.”
With a laugh, Audrey gathered the tray Libby had filled with beer mugs and glasses of wine. “Okay. I get it. Don’t push you. Still, if not Cory, consider bidding on someone else. There are plenty of handsome cowboys who will be strutting their boots and buckles across the stage.” Audrey took off, carrying the heavy tray as if it weighed nothing, her long strawberry blond hair swaying sassily.
Alone in a saloon full of women, Bunny watched as one cowboy after another stood on the stage, removed his shirt and played up the crowd. The shouts and screams grew louder as the liquor flowed and bidding became more intense.
Twice, Deputy Jack Monahan had to break up a fight between several of the women. He was starting to look a little harried since he’d had his ass pinched on more than one occasion.
Bunny found herself wishing she was close enough to pinch as well. As soon as the thought crossed her mind, she straightened. She’d drooled over two handsome men tonight. Like Audrey said, she probably needed to get out more often. Maybe it was time for her to start dating again. Hell, Ray was getting married in three days. He’d definitely moved on. Why not her?
After the first couple of men were auctioned, Jack made his way to the bar where Bunny sat.
“Can a guy get an ice cold…water?” He sighed. “Rather have a beer, but I’m afraid the ladies would take advantage of me.”
Libby chuckled, handing Jack a mug of ice water. “Audrey needs to hire ugly cops for this party. You’re too damned good looking to keep the peace.”