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Authors: LuAnn McLane

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BOOK: He's No Prince Charming
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When her legs became like limp spaghetti, she collapsed and wrapped her arms around him. “Trace.” This time his name came out as a long sigh, and while still reeling with tingling aftershocks, she buried her face against his neck. “That was amazing,” she managed to whisper in his ear.

“My pleasure,” Trace replied, and gently lowered her to the bed and drew her into his arms. When she sighed and snuggled into the crook of his arm, he kissed her on top of the head. It did his masculine pride good to have pleased her so well. Back in his bull riding days, sex with beautiful women had been free and easy, always there for the taking. He thought again about the buckle bunnies who had lined up after PBR events, and when that dried up after his accident, Trace was left feeling bitter and, oddly enough, used. With Dakota, though, it was different. She was with him because she wanted to be, not because of who he was or what he did for a living.

As if somehow reading his thoughts, she tenderly kissed his chest, and it hit Trace hard once again that this was more than sex. He cared about her, and she was giving him every sign that she cared about him as well. He had gone over this ground in his head so many times, but all of the reasons he shouldn’t let this happen suddenly failed to matter or even make sense. He felt another piece of his armor fall away and pulled her upward so that he could kiss her again. Trace had never been much for kissing and was more about the main event, but kissing Dakota somehow turned him inside out. He loved it. He kissed her on and on until she arched her back and he knew she was ready for him once again.

After scooting away to shuck his swim trunks, he came back and covered her body with his. She sighed and sensuously rubbed her breasts against his chest. Trace moved with her, rocking gently while kissing her with the same steady motion.

“Trace.” His name on her lips was more than he could take, and after threading his fingers with hers, he raised her hands above her head and slowly sank into her silky wet heat. “Oh,” she breathed, and wrapped her legs around him.

“God, you feel good.” His bum leg, he knew, could give out on him at any moment, but he refused to go faster, wanting to savor each stroke. She was amazingly hot and tight, and her firm, full breasts grazing his chest added to the pleasure that kept building. He went deeper, harder, but when she squeezed her hands tightly to his, his powerful release exploded in a hot rush that seemed to come from his toes.

With a sharp cry, Dakota wrapped her legs around his waist tighter and he could feel her climax with him, first a flutter, and then she clutched him tighter. He was blown away when she arched her back and milked even more from him than he thought possible. He buried himself deep and kissed her with more passion than he knew he was capable of giving. He rolled to the side, fearing he would collapse on top of her, and then held her close. He wasn’t a kisser or spooner, but damn it, he felt as if he could stay like this forever.

For a long moment, they were silent, just wildly beating hearts and deep breathing while being swept up in unexpected emotion.

Finally, Trace rose to one elbow and rested his head in his hand. He looked down at her and trailed a finger down her cheek. “What are you thinking?”

“That I was wrong. This wasn’t amazing, Trace.”

“What do you mean?” He searched her eyes for clues, and she seemed so serious that his heart lurched.

“You were.”

“Hmmm?” he asked, but he was pretty sure he knew exactly what she meant, and his heart thudded harder.

She blushed a deep rose. “I’m totally botching this. Forget it,” she pleaded, and turned her face to the side.

“Dakota,” Trace coaxed, and with a fingertip gently had her facing him. “Talk to me.”

She swallowed hard. “I already assured you what a big girl I am and all that rubbish, and now I’m blathering on like an idiot.”

“You’re not blathering and you’re not an idiot.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere. Oh, wait, too late for that.” She slapped a hand to her forehead.

Trace laughed.

“Yes!” she exclaimed with a smile.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh no, you don’t,” he said, and tipped her chin up.

“Okay.” She looked at him for a long moment. “I love making you laugh,” she confessed. “And you don’t sound so rusty anymore.”

“So you try to make me laugh?”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s not always on purpose.”

Trace laughed again and thought she was the most adorable creature he had ever met, hands down. He was falling for her—he knew it—but he could no longer stop his feelings than he could stop a runaway train. And while he knew he shouldn’t, he just had to press her further. “Dakota, what did you mean earlier?”

She inhaled a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I might not have lived in the fast lane in L.A., but I do know that sex is just . . .” She shrugged. “Sex. What just happened was amazing, but only because it was with . . .”

“You,” he finished for her, and then leaned over and kissed her tenderly. He pulled her against him, spooning. “Let’s nap for a while and then go for that swim you were talking about. Sound like a plan?”

“Mmmm, yes,” she said, and pulled his arm more tightly around her as she snuggled into the pillow. “A very good plan.”

“Thought so,” he answered with a yawn, and tugged the sheet up over them.

“Trace?” Dakota asked with a yawn of her own.

“Hmm?” He kissed her bare shoulder and wondered how long he could rest before wanting to make love to her again and again.

“Playing hooky is fun.”

Trace laughed. “I totally agree.” A moment later, her breathing was soft and steady, letting him know she was fast asleep. He listened for a while, holding her close until his eyes felt too heavy to keep open, and he drifted off with her.

19
Lost and Found
“Grady, I’ve been trying to call Trace and Dakota for hours, and neither one of them answers. Did you see his boat anchored somewhere while you were out?” Sierra asked while she put away the leftovers from her pulled-pork barbecue supper.

Grady shook his head and rubbed a tired hand over his face. “No, but I was pretty busy trying to find fish. For some reason, they wanted to play hide-and-seek today. Had a couple of arrogant out-of-town bastards who weren’t too happy about the lack of action we were getting.” He grabbed a potato chip and munched on it. “Acted like it was my fault the fish weren’t bitin’.”

“I’m sorry you had a rough day.” She reached in the fridge and slid a beer his way. “Maybe this will help.”

“You’re an angel,” he told her as he twisted off the cap. After taking a long swig, he said, “Yeah, I wanted nothin’ more than to toss their asses overboard.”

Sierra laughed. “That wouldn’t have been a good idea.”

“No, trust me, it was a great idea.” He took off his ball cap and scratched his head. “Ah, then later I gotta go over to my folks’ house and help clean out the barn.”

“Tonight?” Sierra frowned when she noticed dark circles beneath his eyes. “Tell them you already put in a hard day’s work,” she said as she wiped down the island.

“Wish I could. My sister is gettin’ married Saturday in a big ole redneck barn wedding. I’ve been helpin’ out most every night. Normally, I don’t care so much, even though it’s been cuttin’ into my pool playing time, but tonight I’m beat.”

“Want me to come over and help?” Sierra found herself asking.

“Like you haven’t put in a hard day? I couldn’t ask you to do that, Sierra.”

She shrugged. “You didn’t ask. I offered.”

He reached for a handful of chips before she dumped the leftovers back into a big can. “Good point. Still . . .”

“Look, if you don’t want me to, that’s fine,” Sierra said a bit stiffly. She was beginning to feel as if she were throwing herself at him.

Grady twirled the bottle in a circle and gave her a curious look. “Now, why wouldn’t I want you there?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged, feeling a bit silly at her outburst. She needed more lessons in tact from Dakota. “I haven’t heard a thing about Miranda’s wedding, not even in town. Is this sudden?”

He took a swallow from his bottle and set it down with a thump. “Hell, no. I’m sure there’s been more planning put into this thing than Princess Diana’s,” he complained with a shake of his head. “She’s marrying this fancy-pants guy from up East. Met him at Vander bilt, where he was going to law school.”

“And he agreed to a barn wedding?”

Grady chuckled. “Yeah, that boy is whipped. It’s funny, because his mother wanted a clubhouse deal with all the trimmings. My mama wanted a lawn wedding at our farm.”

“What did Miranda and her fiancé want?”

“His name is Jason Dean McAllister the Third. Can you believe that?”

“What did he want to do?”

“A destination wedding on the beach in Mexico, or some such bullshit.”

Sierra leaned her elbows on the kitchen island. “And your mama won out?”

“You ever met my mama?” His voice rose an octave.

“Sure have, at church. She’s a little bitty thing.”

“Don’t let that soft-spoken Southern charm fool ya. She’s a steel magnolia through and through. Actually, though, the deciding factor was when Miranda got wind of Jason Dean McAllister the Third’s mother’s complaining that she did not want one of those big, fat redneck weddings for her precious son.”

Sierra wrinkled her nose. “Well.”

“That’s not exactly how Miranda put it, but yeah. Suddenly, the wedding was being held in our backyard.”

“And Jason Dean McAllister the Third didn’t protest?”

“I told you, he’s whipped.”

“Or maybe he loves your sister so much that he wants to please her.”

“Well, that’s another way of puttin’ it.”

“This isn’t really going to be a redneck wedding, is it?”

Grady groaned. “Hell, no. When it’s all said and done this could be on the cover of
Southern Living
magazine. My backyard—perfect for corn hole, horseshoes, and volleyball—is now home to a damned gazebo, a fancy-ass fishpond and a brick-paved patio. All in place of my poured-concrete basketball court.”

“Are you serious? That must have cost a fortune.”

Grady shrugged. “It cost some, but you know how it goes out here in the country.”

“The barter system.”

“Exactly. A favor for a favor. The actual wedding, though, has been hush-hush. My mother didn’t want half the town crashing the thing, and the invitations pretty much said so.”

Sierra pushed up from the island. “Guess my invitation got lost in the mail.”

“I want you to come to the wedding with me.”

Sierra felt her cheeks grow warm. “I was joking, Grady, not fishing for an invite.”

“Well, I’m inviting you, and I’m not joking.”

“You do not want the likes of me mixing with your blue-blooded in-laws.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Grady . . .”

“Dammit, Sierra, just say yes!”

“Well, since you put it so nicely,” she joked, but her heart was beating fast.

“Good, I’ll take that as a yes.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he interrupted with, “You all done here?”

“Yeah.”

“Then come on.”

“What?”

“You did offer to come over and help, right?”

“Yeah, when I thought it was a big-ass redneck affair. I can’t do any froufrou kind of stuff.”

“You can help me in the barn. Believe me, you want to stay as far away from my mother and sister as possible. I’ll have a cooler of cold beer and music blasting. You don’t really even have to do a thing. Just keep me company.”

“But—”

“I’m gonna go round up Gil. I’ll meet you out front in my truck in five or ten minutes,” he said, and hurried out the back door.

For a moment, Sierra just stood there. “Now, how in the hell did that just happen?” she mumbled, but her train of thought was interrupted when her cell phone rang. When Dakota’s name appeared on the small screen, she pounced on it and flipped it open. “Where the hell are you?”

“With Trace. We fell asleep and just woke up a few minutes ago. I saw your missed calls. All ten of them.”

“Well, excuse me for carin’.”

“I’m just teasing.”

“Yeah, everybody wants to mess with me today.”

“Who put a burr up your butt?”

Sierra drew in a long breath. “Too long of a story to tell now. I’ve got to meet Grady in a minute.”

“Ooooh!”

“Shut up! I’m not the one out for a day
long
lunch. I was worried.”

“Sierra, Trace knows this lake like the back of his hand.”

“Yeah, but you were with him, and I seem to recall that unforeseen disasters tend to follow you around.”

“I’d argue, but it would be pointless, and, well, I suppose somewhat true,” Dakota confessed with a laugh. “But anyway, we’re fine.”

“Well, thanks for telling me! I was about to come out lookin’ and slap you silly when I found your sorry ass. Listen, I have to go. Call me later. I have news.”

“You can’t leave me hanging!” Dakota pleaded.

“Catch ya later,” she said, and flipped her phone shut while Dakota was sputtering another protest. She had to smile, though, thinking that some shenani gans must have gone on for them to be out so long. She locked the back door and hurried down the sidewalk leading around to the front of the building. When she spotted Grady’s truck, a shiver of excitement slid down her spine. As she approached the passenger’s side, Gil barked a greeting.

“Get in the back seat, Gil,” Grady ordered as he leaned over to open the door for Sierra. Gil obeyed, but poked his head through the seats and rested his paws on the center console.

“Don’t you dare lick me, you mangy dog. You smell.”

“Don’t blame Gil. It might be me.”

“Could be,” Sierra agreed, and made a show of sniffing the air. He smelled like coconut sunscreen and looked damned sexy in his board shorts and orange tank that molded to his chest. When Sierra leaned her elbow on the console, Gil snuck in a lick. “Ew!”

“Gil!” Grady snapped. “No. Down!”

Gil whined and laid his head down on the console, looking guilty and forlorn at the reprimand. He did the pathetic doggy thing where one eyebrow goes up and then the other, as if he didn’t really understand what he did that was so wrong. Feeling bad that she got him in trouble, Sierra said, “It’s okay, Gil. I know I smell good enough to eat.”

Grady gave her a low chuckle. “Now, just how do you seriously expect me not to comment on that?”

Sierra felt her face heat up. “Do and I’ll kick your ass. I meant that I smell like the barbecue I slow cooked all day. Will ya get your mind outta the gutter?”

“Now, just what fun would that be?” Grady glanced her way and had to smile when he witnessed her pink cheeks. “You do smell good enough to eat, because your barbecue was excellent. Do you ever think you’re wasting your talents by working at the marina?”

Sierra hesitated but then answered, “Sometimes. But the pay’s not bad, and Trace pretty much lets me be my own boss. It’s crossed my mind, though. I think I’d like to do take-out meals for families. You know, not a sit-down restaurant per se, but home-cooked meals for workin’ families, like the big chains do but with more comfort-food dinners, just like they would cook at home if anyone really did that anymore.”

“That’s a great idea,” he said, and looked over at her with respect in his eyes. “You’ve been researching this?”

She toyed with the hem of her T-shirt. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. How about you, Grady?”

“Trace is well aware that I’ve been saving my tournament winnings toward that little bait shop that’s been for sale forever just on the outskirts of town. I’d still be the resident fishing guide, but he’d have to get someone else to do the maintenance work that I do,” Grady explained as he headed down the road.

“How close are you to your goal?”

“Mmm, I’m gettin’ there. Someday I’ll make them an offer they can’t refuse.” He frowned over at Sierra when a sudden thought crossed his mind.

“What?”

As if feeling something was up, Gil lifted his head, and both he and Sierra looked at Grady with anticipation. “The bait shop has a full-service kitchen. They used to serve take-out lunches—you know, soups and sandwiches—but with a little updating it could be used for the kind of business you just explained.”

“Really?”

“If you want to go over and take a look at it sometime, let me know. I head over there at least once a month and dream. Come to think of it, a drive-through window wouldn’t be out of the question,” he added with the arch of one eyebrow. “Think you might be interested?”

“Oh, Grady, I’m just pipe-dreamin’. My daddy found out it’s too hard to compete with the chains.”

“But what you’re proposing could work. Especially if you added delivery service. Dinner at your doorstep . . .” He pursed his lips and thought about it for a moment, and then nodded. “I like the idea, Sierra.” He looked over at her when he stopped at a red light. “It could really fly.”

“It would be helpful to people with special diets. I would have vegetarian, no-sugar, no-wheat, low-calorie. High-protein. Stuff that the chains have but in limited variety. I would even do favorite family recipes.” She shrugged. “I don’t know. It would be a risk.”

“But maybe worth taking,” he said, warming even more to the idea. He nodded again. “This is exciting,” he said, and reached over and patted her leg. “Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked when Sierra swallowed hard and swiped at her face.

“Nothin’.” She shook her head hard, but Grady would have none of it and pulled the truck over to the side of the road and killed the engine.

“Grady, just what are you doin’?” She was trying to sound badass, but her voice shook.

“I’m not startin’ her back up until you tell me what’s botherin’ you. Did I say somethin’ to hurt your feelings? I can be such a dumb ass.”

Sierra sniffed loudly and shook her head again. “No. Can we just go?”

“Not a chance.”

“Okay.” Sierra inhaled a deep breath that lifted her shoulders, and then let it out slowly. “No one,” she began, and swallowed hard, “has ever taken me seriously. When I proposed trying this at Daddy’s diner, everyone, especially my brothers, scoffed at me.”

“All the more reason to give it a try.”

“Yeah,” she said with a ghost of a grin, and turned to look out the window. “I’ve always been sort of invisible. Or even worse, in the way.”

Grady thought about how she had been treated as one of the guys at the marina and felt a stab of guilt. He reached over and tilted her chin back around to face him.

“When you became so interested, talked to me like I mattered and had a brain in my head—well, it sort of choked me up.” Her eyes swam with unshed tears. “Oh, damn it all to hell and back,” she said when a fat tear finally escaped. “Why am I tellin’ you this?”

“Maybe because you can tell I care.” Grady reached over and brushed the teardrop away with the pad of his thumb.

“I oughta kick your ass for makin’ me cry, Grady Green,” she said, but it came out soft and sexy.

BOOK: He's No Prince Charming
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