Authors: N.J. Walters
Double or Nothing
After ten years away from home, Cherry Edmonds returns to West Texas when her father is ill and dying. Now she is left to deal with the estate and pick up the pieces of her life. The past is waiting for her in the form of Wesson and Remington Smith, the two brothers she was half in love with when she was eighteen.
Wes and Remy know they’re different from most men. They are both in love with Cherry and have been since they were kids. One night of hot sex leaves all of them wanting more, but she believes their time together is just a one-night stand. It’s up to the Smith brothers to prove their love for Cherry and their commitment to the ménage, and to convince Cherry she’s definitely capable of loving two Texas cowboys.
contemporary erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave
Double or Nothing
To all those readers who love cowboys. This one is for you.
“I’m real sorry about your dad.” Chester Rogers—owner and bartender—set the bottle of beer on the scarred oak bar in front of her next to the bowl of popcorn and peanuts she was snacking on.
Chester’s Corner, the local roadhouse bar, was currently about half full. Men and women sat at small tables, drinking and laughing. Several couples danced to the music blaring out of the jukebox, their boot heels scuffing the peanut shells that littered the plank floor. Neon signs advertising Miller, Coors and Budweiser helped illuminate the room. Usually she would have enjoyed herself, watching the people and listening to the music, but after the quiet of the house over the past few days, it seemed overly loud and garish.
“Thanks.” Cherry Edmonds stared into the mirror behind the bar, not wanting to see the sympathy, or worse, pity in Chester’s face. While she appreciated his concern, she didn’t want to talk. It had been a hell of a day.
Chester sighed and moved on down the bar to serve another customer while she continued to gaze at her reflection. Her curly brown hair, the bane of her existence when she was a kid, tumbled around her shoulders. Sad brown eyes stared back at her. She was thinner than she should be, but the past few weeks had taken their toll on her.
She picked up the sweaty bottle and took a sip, enjoying the cool, yeasty flavor of the beer as it slid down her throat. She should have stayed back at the ranch. There was plenty of food, thanks to the neighbors. Around here, folks still brought covered dishes as a way to comfort the grieving family when they were dealing with a death.
She carefully set her bottle back on the bar. It was hard to believe her father was gone. He’d been such a larger-than-life figure in her childhood, a big, robust man who’d been brought low by cancer. The worst part of it was he hadn’t even told her he was sick until the last possible moment. She’d been living her life in Boston, going about her daily business. And all that time he’d been dealing with his illness on his own.
She was as much to blame for that as he was. She’d lit out of this small corner of West Texas as soon as she’d graduated high school and she hadn’t come back, not until a few weeks ago.
Cherry ignored the raucous country song playing on the jukebox and rolled the beer bottle between her hands. She should have stayed home, but the ranch house seemed so big and empty without her father there to fill it with his booming voice and bawdy humor. She’d figured coming out for a drink would help ease her loneliness. Instead, it only served to emphasize it.
Cancer had taken her father in a matter of months. By the time he’d admitted he was sick and she’d come home for the first time in a decade, he’d only had a matter of weeks left. Still, she was glad to have had them.
Jim Edmonds might not have understood her reasons for leaving home, but she’d always known she had his love and support. Her mother had died in a car accident when she was just a toddler and she really had no memories of her at all. All she knew about the woman who’d given birth to her was what her father had told her. It had always been her and her father against the world. They were a team. Or had been until she’d left home.
They’d talked often, every day in fact, even if it was only for two or three minutes. Just to hear each other’s voice. He’d come up to Boston once a year to visit her, but she hadn’t come home. It had taken his illness to bring her back and she hadn’t left the ranch until he’d passed, and that was only because she had to make funeral arrangements.
But even then her father had done his best to take care of her. Knowing he was dying, he’d made most of the preparations himself months before. The undertaker had assured her everything had already been paid for and all the details handled. The minister at their church had known exactly what her father wanted for his service. All she had to do was show up.
The sharp crack of pool balls broke above the sound of the music. Cherry turned her head slightly so she could see the back of the bar in the mirror. There were two pool tables in the back, but only one was occupied at the moment. Two tall, broad-shouldered men stood next to the table each with a cue stick in one hand and a beer in the other.
Both of them had black hair, but one wore his hair longer while the other wore his cut short. She wasn’t close enough to see them, but she knew they’d both have eyes the color of the sky on a clear summer’s day. They were both tall and lean, but had thick, roped muscles that came from hours of daily hard work. They’d both filled out since she’d last seen them ten long years ago.
Wesson and Remington Smith, the reasons she’d left home the day after graduating high school. She’d been so young at eighteen, even though she’d thought herself all grown up at the time. Cherry snorted and took another sip of beer. Yeah, she’d been so young and green it was painful to think about.
She’d also been half in love with both brothers. They’d both made no secret of the fact they’d wanted her. She’d kissed Wes the night of their senior prom. He’d asked her to the dance and she’d accepted. Remy had graduated the year before, but he’d been at the party that night, watching her and Wes from the shadows. When Wes went to get them some punch, Remy had swooped in, dragged her into a dark corner and kissed her senseless. What’s more, she’d liked it. She’d also really liked the way Wes had kissed her when he’d taken her home that night.
What kind of a woman did that make her?
As she watched, Wes threw back his head and laughed at something one of the bystanders said. Remy ignored them, focused intently on the table and made his next shot. When one of the balls sank into the corner pocket, Remy straightened, satisfaction etched on his face. Remy took another shot but missed this time. Wes chuckled and nudged his brother out of his way so he could take his turn.
It almost hurt her to look at them both. So different, yet so vibrant and alive when she felt dead inside. She pulled her gaze from the mirror and fixed it on the pitted wood in front of her until she felt more in control of herself.
Cherry swallowed hard and pushed her beer away. It was time to go home. She had enough memories tormenting her without dredging up more.
“I’m so sorry about your father, Cherry.”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The rumbling voice awakened a yearning inside her, one she didn’t want to name. While she’d been lost in the past, the past had sneaked up on her. Cherry swiveled on the barstool and faced Remy Smith for the first time in ten years.
“Hey, Remy.” She should have known Wes would be right behind him. Those two might be a year apart in age, but they were best friends, closer than most brothers and as thick as thieves. Once, a long time ago, she’d been friends with them both. Good friends. The three of them had grown up together, getting into trouble and having adventures. “Wes.”
“Cherry.” Wes tipped his white Stetson, his expression filled with concern.
She couldn’t take this, not now, maybe not ever. “If you gentlemen will excuse me, I need to be getting home.” She slid off the stool and took a step away from them.
Up close, she could see they were even more attractive than they’d been all those years ago. Damn, they’d aged well. It really wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t their bellies be hanging over their belt buckles or at least one of them have a receding hairline or something?
Remy had a two-inch scar on his left cheek and a bump on the bridge of his nose. Instead of detracting from his features, it made him look even more ruggedly handsome. And Wes with his shorter hair, strong jaw and quick smile was a good-looking devil.
No, she had to get away from them, and fast.
Remy’s hand shot out and landed on the bar beside her, his long arm blocking her path to the door and freedom. She stared up at him and raised one eyebrow in question.
“We need to talk.” His deep voice sent a shiver racing down her spine. Her nipples tingled and then tightened. This was bad. Very bad.
“The ranch. You. Us.” His voice grew lower, more intimate with each word he spoke. Beside him, Wes stood, legs parted, hands on his hips, watching her like some gunslinger from the Old West waiting for a showdown.
She squared her shoulders. She could do this. She could handle them. “There is no us and why do you want to talk about the ranch?”
Remy took a step closer, swallowing up all the space and the air around her. Cherry felt the heat radiating from his large, muscular body. The seams of his white cotton shirt strained at the shoulders and the color made his skin appear even darker. Both men were tanned from hours spent working in the hot Texas sun.
“Are you staying home this time or leaving again?” Remy’s blunt question brought all her problems back in an instant. She had so many decisions to make, so many details to take care of.
“That’s none of your business.” She put her hands on his broad chest and pushed. Big mistake. Huge. He didn’t budge an inch and the heat and strength of his chest were more than apparent. Her palms tingled and the sensation shifted lower, much lower. “Back off, Remy.”
He tensed beneath her hands but finally moved away. She felt his reluctance in every step. She glanced down, not wanting to look at his face. Instead, she got a great view of his long, strong legs and the way he filled out a pair of jeans to perfection. A thick leather belt brought her attention to his lean waist.
Cherry swallowed and glanced at Wes. That was no better. He was dressed almost identically to his brother in jeans, boots and a leather belt. His cotton shirt was a dark chocolate brown instead of white. Almost all the men here were dressed in a similar fashion. All were strong, hard-working men blowing off some steam and enjoying a beer after a long day’s work, but none of them affected her like the Smith brothers did.
“I have to go.” She had to get out of here before she did something stupid, like throw herself into Remy’s arms. Or maybe Wes’. She might have been gone for more than a decade, but one thing that hadn’t changed was her attraction to the two men standing in front of her.
Cherry kept her back to the bar as she slowly moved away from them. They both watched her like hawks tracking a mouse. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling. She turned her back and hurried to the door, shoving it open. She didn’t have to look back to know they were watching her. She could feel their gazes practically burning through her clothing.
The night air was warm, but still cooler compared to the scorcher it had been today. It had been that way for a week now. The funeral yesterday had been stifling and wearing black had been oppressive in more ways than one. The dark, heavy clothing had weighed her down physically even as the somber proceedings had almost crushed her spirit.
The gravel crunched beneath her feet and the music and noise from the bar grew dim as she crossed the parking lot. She tugged open the door to the truck—no need to lock it around here—and climbed in. The engine stuttered a couple of times before finally starting. She’d have to get that looked at.
As soon as she had the thought, she froze. She wasn’t staying any longer than she had to. She had a life back in Boston, one she’d built with a lot of hard work, sweat and tears.
Why then, did she feel more at home here, more at peace than she had at any time in the past ten years?
Remy stared at the door, willing Cherry to come back. It had been ten long years since he’d seen her.
“She looks good.”
His brother was the master of understatement. Cherry had been pretty as a teenager, but as a woman she was a complete knockout. She had a confidence now that she’d lacked back then and it was arousing as hell. Her face was thin, but that only emphasized her cheekbones and full lips, kissable lips. And her hair. He loved her curly hair, the way it tumbled over her shoulders. He wanted to grip fistfuls of the wild stuff as he held her down and fucked her.