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Authors: Debra Kayn

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BOOK: Chantilly’s Cowboy
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Chapter Seven

Chantilly stood on the bale of hay and smoothed the hair off Jack’s forehead. “I’ve been thinking…”

“Mm.” He cupped her breasts through her blouse.

She plopped his cowboy hat back down on his head and jumped down. “How ’bout we go into town and have dinner at Valenciennes’ tonight…and afterward, I stay with you in the cabin?”

“I don’t—”

She placed her finger against his lips. A wave of desire washed over her at the way his lips suctioned around her finger. “Don’t worry ’bout my daddy. I live at home and I respect his rules, but he can’t stop me from having a relationship with you out from under his roof.” She shivered, stepped back and planted her hands on her hips. “Besides, he wouldn’t even notice.”

“Chantilly Lace, have you lost your flipping mind?” Margot McDougal stepped out of the end stall with a black bag clutched in her hand. “Of course Daddy will notice. Don’t get me wrong—you are free to do your own thing, but you know what happens when you sneak around. It’s better to be up front. I think he’s got that wrote on a plaque somewhere in the house if I remember right.”

Chantilly snorted. “You haven’t lived under his roof for at least ten years. What’s more, Daddy has been acting strange lately. I think him hiring Jack has given him a reason to skip away from the ranch.” She brushed the hay off her jeans. “You know what I think? Daddy’s got himself a woman.”

“Shut up!” Margot’s mouth fell open. “What would give you that idea? He’s never forgotten Mom. Not one day.”

Chantilly swallowed. She should have known Margot would react badly over her assumption. Out of all the girls, Margot had the most memories of Shannon McDougal, being that she was twelve when their mother passed away.

“Well, somethin’s up. Every time I go looking for him, he’s gone off somewhere. He keeps himself shut in his office all the other time. I don’t know the last time he saddled Blue up and took him out on the range.” Chantilly waved her hand in the air. “Never mind.” She pointed at the stall. “How’s Curly’s teeth?”

“You were right. He needs the back molars floated. Tell Daddy I’ll come out early Sunday before dinner and do it.” Margot stared at Jack. “How old are you?”

“Margot Lace!” Chantilly glared.

Jack pushed his hat back on his head. “I’m thirty-five.”

“Do you have any clue how old my sister is?” Margot narrowed her eyes.

“Oh sweet pile of manure, Margot.” Chantilly picked up the bucket of horse feed and threw a handful at her oldest sister. “There’s an age difference, big whoop. It only matters that we’re compatible.” She grinned and wiggled her brows. “Maybe you’d like to hear how we discovered—”

“Fine!” Margot stepped closer to Jack and turned her back on Chantilly. “You harm my baby sister and I won’t have any problem making sure you never mess with the McDougals again. You understand me?”

Jack nodded, fighting back a grin. “Loud and clear. I’ve already received the same lecture from Val, and I imagine the rest of your sisters are planning the same attack.”

“Damn straight. We take care of our own.” Margot’s gaze traveled the length of him and a grin grew across her face. “Chantilly?” She hummed in what seemed like female appreciation. “I expect a phone call filling me in on what’s been happening with you lately.”

Chantilly laughed. “Always the nosy one, aren’t you?”

Margot turned and strode out of the barn.

“Are all your sisters headstrong and opinionated?” Jack removed his hat and wiped his forehead off on his sleeve before plunking it back down on his head.

“Oh yeah. Believe it or not, I’m known as the easygoing sister.” She gave him a huge smile. “Wait until you meet Florentine.”

“What does she do?” He stepped over to the pile of feed sacks waiting to be put away.

“She rides the rodeo circuit with the guys.” Chantilly gazed at the way his sweaty shirt molded to his back as he hefted the sack onto his shoulder. “Florentine wants to be the first woman allowed to go pro riding the bulls.”

“No kiddin’?” He dropped the feed inside and closed the lid. “She can kick ass and take names, huh?”

“Damn right. She’s also my twin.”

Jack stumbled to a stop. “There are two of you?”

She laughed. “Don’t get your jollies all excited. We’re not into sharing men or wanting to live out your fantasy.”

He lifted the corner of his mouth. “Nah, I wasn’t thinking that, darlin’.”

“Liar.” She shook her head, grinned and gave him a kiss. “I’m gonna take Rickrack out to the creek and let him cool off. If you find a moment to break away, you know where to find me. I’m getting mighty hot too, and a quick splash sounds really good.”

 

She sauntered off with her ass swishing, making the temperature unbearable in the overheated barn. Jack wiped his arm across his forehead and set off to put away the rest of the feed that’d been delivered earlier, and the gear he’d used. Chantilly was a dangerous obstruction to his day.

Once he hung the bridle and ropes on the peg inside the tack room, he led Chuck outside and left him at the fence. He peered off into the distance knowing damn well he’d not catch sight of Chantilly, but looking all the same.

She rode her horse wild and free whenever she wasn’t chasing cows. He never tired of seeing her in her element. She painted a pretty picture against the beautiful lands of Montana.

Even now he could visualize the way her hair blew in the wind and she leaned forward on her mount with a smile on her lips. Grinning, he turned back and, gathering a handful of Chuck’s mane, he swung up into the saddle. The hell with chores. They could wait.
You better be wet and naked playing in the water, darlin’, ’cause I’m taking a break.

He clicked his tongue to urge Chuck into a trot. Tapping the heels of his boots against the horse’s sides, Jack set his mount off into a canter.

Rickrack stood on the edge of the creek with water up to his hocks. Chantilly was nowhere in sight. Not waiting for Chuck to come to a complete stop, Jack slid to the ground.

Chantilly stepped out from behind her horse and smiled. Her jeans were rolled up above her knees and she had the ends of her blouse knotted underneath her breasts. Her hair hung loose and carefree over her shoulders. Inhaling to slow his heartbeat, he tried to gain control over the need to lay her in the grass and make sweet love to her for the rest of the afternoon. He strolled to the edge of the bank and drank in her beauty.

“You came.” She bent down, scooped her hands in the creek and dribbled the refreshing cool water over her arms.

Jack chuckled. “You knew I would.”

She grinned and splashed water at him. “I was hoping. It’s too hot to work.”

“Yeah.” He sat down in the long grass.

She raised her brows. “Aren’t you gonna come in? The water feels wonderful.”

He shook his head. “In a bit.”

Droplets of water ran down her smooth skin. He rubbed his lips together. A terrible thirst hit him. What would she do if he laid her down and licked the moisture dripping down her leg…and that hard, flat stomach?

He closed his eyes and let his head fall back on his shoulders. Lusting over Chantilly only made the outside heat more severe. He was burning up.

A shadow fell across his face and he lowered his chin, opened his eyes and found Chantilly standing over him with her hands cupped in front of her.

“You look so uncomfortable.” She lifted one of her legs and straddled his lower body. Lowering herself, she sat on his thighs facing him. “Take your hat off. I have something that will cool you off.”

He set his hat beside him and leaned back on his arms to keep from doing what he really wanted at this moment—to touch every part of her body. He smiled. She was so intent on not dropping any of the water pooled in her hold that she stuck her tongue out of the corner of her mouth.

All the blood rushed out of his head and centered in his jeans. He groaned.

Chantilly raised her arms above his head. Her breasts strained against the flimsy material of her blouse, cupping the plump, firm shape like a glove. “Here you go…get ready.” She dribbled the water on his head.

Jack swiftly inhaled. Chills ran down his arms. The sudden coldness did nothing to stamp out how much he wanted her right now, this second.

She laughed and pushed his chest until he lay flat on the ground. “You don’t think I asked you out here to sit and watch me play in the water, didja?” She kissed his forehead, his eyelid, his cheek and hovered over his mouth. “Let’s see how hot we can get…”

 

Stuart turned away from the scene beside the creek and urged his horse toward home. He smiled as he set off in a nice smooth gait.
It’s ’bout time, Chantilly Lace. You had me worried there for a while. Now to put everything into action for the other four girls.

Glancing up at the sun, he sighed. If he didn’t hurry, he’d be late for his doctor’s appointment. The doctor already knew his fate, so Stuart saw no reason to run even more tests.

Damn, I hate this.

Chapter Eight

The half moon overhead lit up the area enough Chantilly didn’t need a flashlight to find her way to the foreman’s cabin. Every inch of the property was branded in her head from years of running wild over the land, and she could find her way half drunk and blindfolded without any problems. Hurrying across the lawn, she glanced up at the one lit up window and hoped Jack had waited up for her.

Jumping up on the porch, she almost ran into Jack’s legs sprawled across the path to the front door. She squealed. Her hand fluttered to cover her chest. “You scared me half to death.”

He chuckled and drew back his legs. “I thought you had seen me.”

“Not with the overhang blocking the moonlight.” She stepped over, sat down on his lap and curled against his body. “Mm…you’re nice and warm. It always fascinates me how in the summertime we can boil when the suns out, but once night falls, the temperature drops so fast it gives me the chills. Must be Mother Nature’s way of saying she’s sorry for making us suffer during the day, huh?”

He kissed the top of her head and tucked her against his chest. “I think I could stay out here all night after working through the heat all day.”

She giggled. “You call what we did down at the creek workin’?” Tilting her head back, she gazed up into his face. “I didn’t see you arguing and telling me to stop. In fact, I quite remember a little whooping and hollering.”

“I’m not stupid.” He squeezed his arms around her. “Besides, it could be freezing outside and you’d still make my blood run warm, darlin’.”

“Mm…that gives me all sorts of wicked ideas for the winter when the snow is hip high and the wind chills you to the bone.” She kissed the underside of his jaw. “That is if you’re planning on sticking around.”

“I’ll be here as long as your dad needs me.”

She pulled her head back. “That’s a funny thing to say.”

“Well, darlin’, he hired me to run the ranch. It’s up to your daddy if I continue in his employment.” He scooted her off his lap and stood up. “Let’s go inside. I wanna show you something.”

Chantilly held his hand and followed him into the house. He led her to the old worn-out couch she used to sleep on when her sisters convinced Daddy to let them camp out in the foreman’s cabin in their teen years. She sat down.

Jack left the room, and she used the alone time to check out Jack’s small living space. A couple of saddles were propped up on the arms of the chair in the corner and a duffel bag sat beside the empty bookcase. She wrinkled her nose. Those were the only signs that he even inhabited the foreman’s cabin. He must miss having the comfort of his things back at his real home.

Rubbing the skin at the base of her neck, she crossed her legs. She wanted to ignore the fact that this setup was temporary. Jack had another life, a home, a family.

Oh, Daddy…what are you doin’? Why didja hire this man, and how long will he be here?

She swallowed. The irony wasn’t lost on her. A couple weeks ago, she wanted him gone at all cost. Now that she’d fallen—
dear Lord. I’ve fallen in love with Jack Grady.
Her jaw dropped, closed and fell open again. She shut her mouth and scoffed under her breath.
Have I really?

The
thunk, thunk, thunk
of Jack’s boot heels hitting the hardwood floor grew louder and he stepped back into the room. “I wanted to show you this.” He held out a small book. “It’s pictures I took around my place…and a few of Craig growing up.”

Laying the album on her lap, she dropped her chin to her chest, letting her hair cover her face. She blinked to dispel the moisture gathering in her vision.
Am I being silly to wish we have something serious building between us? Or am I just a convenient way to pass the time until he moves on to another job…or goes back home?

She focused on the first picture. A ranch house with Jack’s truck parked outside the garage and an Australian cattle dog sitting on the porch knocked the breath out of her. “Y-you’ve got a dog?”

He sat on the arm of the couch, hovering over her to see the pictures, and chuckled. “Yeah, that’s Chaser. The neighbors on the other side of my place took him in while I’m here. They have him running cattle with their dogs. I imagine he thinks he’s in heaven getting to work every day.”

She flipped the page. A picture of a young man sitting at a dining room table with a silly grin on his face drew her attention. She gasped, held the book closer to study and then glanced up at Jack.

“That’s Craig on his sixteenth birthday.” Jack’s finger skimmed the plastic on the page.

“He looks so much like you. That’s amazing.” She turned to the next page and laughed. “Oh my God.” She tapped the picture. “Is that you?”

“Yeah, Craig bet me that he could stack all the hay we’d baled in the barn by himself in only one day.” He laughed. “I told him if he could do it in four hours, I’d let him shave my head.”

“You lost.” She reached up and brushed his hair off his face.

“Yeah.” He grinned. “I walked around feeling like a six-year-old boy for the rest of the summer until my hair grew out. I never saw Craig move as fast as he did bucking hay that day.”

“Is that why you got in the habit of never removing your hat?” She patted his thigh.

He shook his head. “Nah, I just like my hat.”

“I do too, cowboy.” Chantilly studied the rest of the album in silence. Each picture of Craig and the home life Jack created for his nephew showed how much he enjoyed raising Craig. The memories he’d saved proved she was right. Jack was a stand-up man who loved deeply and took his responsibilities seriously.

She shut the album, placed her hand on the cover, leaned back on the couch and sighed. “Thank you for sharing that with me. I can imagine all the fun you’ve had raising Craig and the love you have for him. You’ve got a wonderful ranch, Jack. You should be really proud of what you’ve accomplished.”

“I know so much ’bout your family, your life…” He shrugged. “I wanted you to see who I am.” He rubbed his thighs. “I didn’t have the greatest family life growing up, but I’m trying to give Craig everything I think a kid should have.”

Chantilly nodded and stared down at the cold hard facts, the other side of Jack that she didn’t know until tonight. She held his dreams and loves on her lap, and eventually they would draw him back to where he belonged and take him away from her. She chewed on the inside of her lip. She belonged on the ranch. That was all she ever wanted. Both of them had completely different goals.

“Chantilly?” Jack ran the back of his hand down her arm.

“What?” She turned and gazed up at him.

“I lost you there for a moment.” He removed the album and sat it over on the end table. “What were you thinking ’bout, darlin’?”

She reached for his hand and pulled him down beside her on the couch. “I guess things are moving kinda fast between us…I feel a little lost. I don’t know…” Chantilly pursed her lips.
Do I tell him that I’m falling for him or do I step back so I don’t get hurt?

“Go on, darlin’.” He pulled her closer and tucked her against his side. “You can tell me what’s going on in that beautiful head of yours.”

“You have a wonderful home, Jack. I don’t think I was expecting to see how concrete your life is somewhere else. I see you as the foreman. The Jack Grady who lives in the foreman’s cabin.” She held up her hand when Jack opened his mouth. “The love you have for Craig is obvious in the way you talk ’bout him, and shown in the pictures. If ever I needed someone to give me solid proof of what type of man you are, that did it. I admire you for what you’ve done and the relationship you have with your nephew.”

He nodded. “But…?”

“You have no plans to stick around. This job for my daddy is temporary for you. I can see that now…even the way you stay in this house without making it more than a relaxed motel room. You’ve set up a home somewhere else, and you’ll go back to it the moment Craig graduates from law school.” She lifted her chin and refused to glance away. “I’ll be honest. You have the power to hurt me, and it scares me.”

“I would never—”

She shook her head. “Not intentionally. The thing is, Jack…you are an easy man to fall in love with.”

His shoulders rose and fell. He never broke her gaze, but seemed at a loss for words. She never meant for this to come out tonight or to make him uncomfortable. Learning she had fallen in love with him took her by surprise too, and in her experience, it took time to build relationships. Compared to Jack, all her other boyfriends were merely crushes. A fleeting moment of attraction between friends.

Jack stood up without saying a word and left the room. She stared down at the empty hall where he’d disappeared.
Dammit. Why did I hafta open my big mouth? Nothing like chasing off the man by speaking ’bout love.

He reappeared carrying what she recognized as the bedspread off the queen-size bed. “Come on, darlin’.”

Chantilly stood up and followed him outside. Not wanting to mess up tonight, she kept her mouth shut. If he was happy to spend time with her, somehow she’d protect her heart from breaking when he left.

“Where are we goin’?” She slipped her hand in his.

He led her toward the door. “I got something special planned.”

“You do, huh?” She found herself smiling. The fear of losing him receded. Just being around him gave her confidence that this was exactly where she should be.

Jack strolled out to the middle of the front lawn, spread the blanket out on the grass and sat down, stretching his legs out. Chantilly sat down beside him and he pulled her over and laid her head on his lap. Lying on her back, she stared up at his face. His eyes were hidden under the brim of his hat. She sighed.
Why can’t this last forever?

He pulled the edge of the blanket over her bare legs. “If you keep your eyes on the sky, you might see an airplane land.”

“Really?” She grinned. “You mean it’ll land over at the nonexistent airport over there?” She pointed. “I know, maybe it’ll land beside the submarine races at the river too.”

“Yep, that’s the one.” He smoothed the hair off her forehead and chuckled as one of her curls wrapped around his pinky. “Damn, I love your hair, darlin’. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of running my hands through the long strands.” He inhaled deeply. “Even when you’re working beside me, I can smell the apple scent from your shampoo floating in the air.”

Chantilly rubbed his forearm enjoying the way the sprinkling of hair tickled her fingertips. “Kiss me, Jack.”

He removed his hat and sat it upside down on the blanket. “I wanna brand you in my head exactly like you are…spread out on my lap, gazing up at me like I can make airplanes show up in the sky.” His thumb traced her lower lip. “Your mouth willing and wanting…”

The tip of her tongue skimmed the pad of his thumb. Her breath hitched in her chest and her eyelids fluttered. “Jack…”

His finger slid down to her chin and followed the sensitive curve of her neck. He drew a lazy circle at the base of her throat. She swallowed. Her body squirmed as if a low electrical current pulsed through her veins, waking her up.

“You’ve got nothing to worry ’bout, Chantilly.” He lifted her into his arms. “I’m right here. Let’s conquer today before you go worrying ’bout tomorrow…” His lips brushed her mouth. “Or next week.”

BOOK: Chantilly’s Cowboy
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