Authors: Arthur Mitchell
He's right. This is strange.
Pa's will wasn't exactly the most specific, but he would've mentioned this and left me the key if there
were anything worth getting into here.
The wood groaned loudly before surrendering to an earsplitting pop. The door hung limply, several inches off its hinges. Ethan grabbed the edge and looked at me as he tugged it open.
My jaw nearly hit the floor when I held the flashlight up to it. Ethan's entire body tensed, and I swear I saw him tremble once before he regained his stoic control.
Inside, the cabinet was divided into three wide shelves. The light hit a wall on each space, stopping at bags stuffed with the most money I'd ever seen in my life.
Hundreds, fifties, twenties were stacked high, the ghostly portraits of long dead Presidents staring into our intrusive light. It was like they wanted to be freed from their paper, or at least the plastic sheaves around the big wads of cash.
I couldn't tell who reached into the cabinet first. Ethan and I poked our arms in at the same time, hauling out two heaping bags stuffed so tight with money that I was surprised the plastic hadn't ruptured.
“Jesus! What's all this doing up here?” Eyes wide, he looked at me accusingly, as if I should know all the answers.
Actually, directing his curiosity to me, the new owner of Nichols ranch, was perfectly logical. But the only thing that came out of my mouth was a faint, slightly hoarse answer.
“I...I don't know.”
Dumbfounded, I watched as he walked a bag of money onto the small circle of supplies. He took his pocket knife, sliced open the covering, and began to pile it up into neat columns, counting the whole time.
“Twenty five...plus a few thousand more,” he said, shaking his head and letting out a shrill whistle.
“Christ, Cat. And this is only
bag. How many more are back there on the shelves? Another twenty?
I sat on one of the small, heavy boxes, too sick to move. Without any warning, I'd become the sole inheritor to at least half a million dollars in cash, and every damned dollar a mystery.
Pa didn't have these kinds of savings. He was lucky to have a cushion in the ranch's business accounts at any one time. And his own savings plus investments were mediocre, barely enough for me to pick up a new car after everything was cashed in.
“Are you okay?” He looked up. “You're very pale. Maybe we should get you something to eat.”
I held out my hand when he approached. He took it and started to stroke the back lightly. For once, his powerful touch couldn't jump start my senses, even though it helped a little.
“This doesn't make sense,” I finally said. “Pa was a careful man. Real careful. He diligently handed off his records to the accountant every quarter and met payroll every week. And no part of running this ranch is a cash business!”
“Calm down. Just breathe.” Ethan squeezed my hand again, pumping my fingers rhythmically to match his heartbeat.
My mind had blasted into space, racing a hundred miles an hour. I clenched my jaw so tight it hurt.
I watched the last empty spaces in his eyes fill with concern as my face went whiter. I think he saw the moment when a terrible thought occurred to me.
It took another full minute before I could speak. The handsome rancher pulled me to my feet, cradling my limp body in his strong embrace.
I breathed in his spicy scent, eager and hopeful it would act like a magic potion. Anything to restore the shattered calm inside of me.
“Ethan, I think this is what got him killed. I don't know how, but I knew there was more to all this than the cops said. This is it – it has to be!” Sobs that couldn't be delayed a second longer burst out onto his shoulder.
I buried my face in his shirt, wishing it were his bare flesh. If there were anything that could've restored my sanity right then, it would've been getting as close to him as possible, skin-to-skin, until I melted into his titan-like essence.
Then he had to ask the question that sent me over the edge.
“I don't know about that, but it's not just the past that matters.” He paused, waiting until I met his eyes. “What matters now, little Cat, is what are you gonna do with all this?”
III: Fire to Make Her Whole
I swallowed hard, staring at the handsome man before me, looking through him. I saw past him to my father's legacy, a beautiful diamond that had suddenly become tarnished.
Oh, Pa. What the hell did you get into?
“We have to get rid of it,” I said, reaching for the neat pile of cash. I grabbed great fistfuls, shoving them into my pockets.
I was almost off the ladder when I heard his heavy footsteps thudding quickly behind me. I swung around the side of the barn, pressed my back to the wall, and pulled out a small lighter attached to my key chain.
“Cat, wait!” His big hands wrapped around my shaking wrists like warm shackles. “What the hell's gotten into you? Are you nuts?”
The flame went out and he knocked the small pink lighter to the ground just in the nick of time. The fire had almost touched the corner of a wad of twenties, and I hadn't even cared about the money bursting into flames and roasting my hand along with it.
“I can't keep this! It's what got him killed! I just know it.” I sobbed, tightening momentarily and then going limp.
In my weakened state, Ethan pulled me into his chest, deeper than before. He rocked me softly against his washboard slab for more than a minute, quietting the turmoil inside me.
When I looked up, his eyes were wide and open, as if they were trying to siphon away the dark energies that had temporarily possessed my body.
“Don't destroy it, Cat. Right or wrong, your father was protecting it for a reason. Do you really think he'd be happy if he died and you never got a dime of it?”
I shook my head. “I don't know. Maybe I can turn it in...there's got to be some kind of program, or –“
“Not a good idea. For all you know, the DEA could shut this whole place down for an investigation.
You'd be ruined by the time they got through. God knows what kinds of other secrets are hiding around here.”
His words sent a shiver up my spine. Despite the warm summer night, I felt an unmistakable chill, a coldness pressing me deeper into his universe calming grip.
He moved with me as I shuffled my feet. The rancher leaned against the wall without letting me go, and I felt the side of my shoe kick the lighter further away from us.
Those flames...I really needed them. I need something.
Anything to stop this glacial creep inside me, freezing my veins from the inside out.
“Look up there,” he whispered, slowly pivoting me around so I could face the sky.
The clouds that were rolling in earlier that day had cleared. We were bathed in the awesome vastness and winking stars of a country night, watching unfathomable galaxies above us stretched out like speckled carpets.
“It's beautiful,” I said.
“It's more than that, little Cat. Your Pa is up there somewhere, watching all this. Let him guide you.
Do what he would've wanted with that cash.”
I whipped my head, letting my soft hair brush the sides of his hand. My eyes curled along with my lips, giving him a sour look. But gradually, the bitterness waned.
He's not imposing. And I can't say that anything he's said is wrong. Pa was hiding that bundle up
there for a reason – maybe a very good one.
Reason may have calmed my anger, but it did nothing for the cold, numb haze circulating through me. We locked eyes for several seconds longer.
Instantly, I wanted to open myself all the way to him, anything to capture the vital flicker restlessly dancing in his pupils. If I could catch his spark, maybe I wouldn't be so timid anymore.
We were both surprised when I snapped up, standing on my tiptoes. I bounced on the fire inside me, spinning toward him.
My lips landed on his.
I smiled through my shock, feeling his warm, inviting lips go from pliable to firm.
We kissed without breaking away for several minutes. His arms tightened around my waist, slowly working their way lower, until they rested just above the hams of my ass.
I expected him to finish the teasing finger march below my belt, but he jerked me around instead. I was the one planted tight to the wall now, locked to the old wood by his hands while his face glided lower.
He kissed me, harder and hungrier than before.
We broke lips and I squealed, regaining my senses.
My back pressed harder into the barn's wooden exterior. Ethan stared at me, more like a tiger than a human peer, giving me a glimpse of the animal desire I'd summoned from his depths.
“Are you sure you know what you're doing, Cat? If you want this – and I do too – I want it to be real.
We can't let ourselves do anything we'd regret, whipped up by wild emotions.”
I quirked one eyebrow. “You think I haven't thought long and hard about this, even before we found Pa's secret stash up there? No, I don't think there'll be any mistakes with you, baby.”
Ethan silenced me with another all consuming kiss. This time, his tongue lashed against my lips, quick and hot as lightning, shocking me until they parted just for him.
He pressed in, searching for my tongue to dominate. Muscles tensed along my neck, and then much lower. Deep tissues restlessly clenched inside me.
My hot breath oozed into his mouth as I let the wet kiss wash over me. I fed him on pure heat, emptying the warm jet stream in my lungs into him as our tongues twined, thrashing like serpents.
“God, Cat,” he growled, pulling away reluctantly. “I'm not going to be able to stop myself when you kiss me like that.”
“I'm not asking you to. Go ahead, Ethan. Let's do this.”
Glaring with wanton need, he planted one palm in the small of my back and tipped me into his open arms. As we entered the barn, I understood there wasn't any turning away.
And I was dead sure we were going in the right direction, straight into ecstasy's sticky red lips.
He carried me over the threshold, heading for a clean, open stable. We both knew that the house was much too far to satisfy demands that wouldn't wait.
On the way in, I grabbed the fistful of cash in my pocket and threw the rolled up stacks onto the stairs leading up to the loft. I'd deal with that later.
Right now, I had more immediate needs to tend to – any distractions were unwelcome ones. I wanted to service every part of him, rolling my tongue into the muscular fissures I'd felt while pressed so close to him.
“Back in the corner,” I urged. “It was serviced this morning and it's full of hay.”
Smiling, he unlatched the door and slammed it behind him. I crashed onto the big pile of hay in the corner, stopping only to reach for the nearby blanket just brought in from the house.
This stable belonged to a horse named Babycakes, a gorgeous brown mare who loved to brush against soft fabrics. I rolled it out beneath me, spreading my legs when I'd finished.
Ethan didn't need much coaxing. He launched himself forward.
He reached me and stopped, kicking his powerful legs behind him, planting the bulge beneath his jeans right into my burning center.
After a minute more of deep, wet kisses, I couldn't keep myself from grinding into him. Even through the fabric, I could tell he had a massive horn, erect and pulsing with a drumbeat eagerness for my flesh.
His hips were rocking when I reached toward his belt. Sensing my fingers, he leaned back and began to undo them, shoving his jeans to his knees.
My breath hitched as I sat up – just in time to see his swollen erection appear from the opening in his dark blue boxers. I grasped it between circular fingers, rolling my hands all the way to his swollen base, hissing with pleasant surprise when he leaked a pearly drop of hot pre-come onto my fingers.
“I want you so fucking bad. Let me show you how...”
He didn't fight me. Ethan leaned patiently, giving me the access I needed to wrap my lips around his perfect length.
His earthy, masculine taste rolled across my tongue, igniting something deep and primal inside me. I wanted to take his seed inside me, one way or another.
It had been a long time since I'd performed orally on a man. I slid my tongue up and down along his granite inches, taking him as deep as I could, sucking more pre-come straight down my throat.
The low rumble in his throat told me that I hadn't lost all my talents during my disinterested celibacy late in college.
If anything, holding back for so long made me move with a natural fury. I spiked my soft tongue up around his magnificent crown.
I savored him deep and long. Sometimes, I gave the base of his cock a small jerk with my fingers, rubbing against his concealed balls and admiring the way they hardened into stone.
“Enough,” he said at last, grasping the ends of my hair and pulling it gently. “I'd love to spit fire between your lips, but not yet. I want to get a good look at that beautiful body you've been hiding from me for all these years, little Cat. Same body I jerked off to on late nights as a horny teen after seeing you across the fields. Same one that stayed in my fantasies as a grown man.”
I moaned softly at his confession. His words tickled me like fire.
I went slack in the hay, spreading out my arms and legs as wide as they would go, not caring if he tore my clothes to shreds like a savage beast.
Goosebumps pricked my skin as his hands slipped beneath my shirt, covering my shoulders. His fingers pressed deep into my flesh, massaging me, but also catching the thin fabric of my shirt.
With one side in each hand, he began to yank it away. I raised my arms, and they were still up when I was down to my bra.
He moved fast, sneaking around me quickly and working my bra straps loose.
Ethan stared at me as his fingers locked onto the clasp near the center of my back. Transfixed by the fire in his eyes, I didn't even notice the pop as it came undone, exposing my bare breasts to him for the first time.
He surrounded me like a wolf hovering over its prey. His hands cupped each small peak and squeezed, rolling both nipples between his fingers as I squirmed, awash in my pleasure.