Authors: Brenda Jackson
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
The house was quiet since Reese had gone to bed. Although she had enjoyed going out to the movies with him earlier that
night, she hadn’t been able to concentrate, since she’d spent most of the time thinking about him. His closeness had an unsettling effect, and she became more convinced that the plan she’d shared with Syneda was the right one. If Reese and Alyson were together, then she wouldn’t be so focused on every move he made. Now that she would be living in Houston, the only way she could continue to look at him as her friend and not the most handsome man she knew was to become involved with someone, and to make sure he became involved with someone, too.
There was no doubt in her mind that Alyson would invite plenty of eligible guys to the party, since the sole purpose was to help her meet people. Indeed, Alyson’s definition of
was for Kenna to meet other guys so that she wouldn’t be around Reese so much.
o how are things going with you and your house guest?”
Reese switched his mobile phone from one ear to the other as he opened the door to get into his truck. He couldn’t help but shake his head. His cousin Blade was convinced that there was more to his relationship with Kenna than just friendship.
“Before I answer your question, how about answering mine? What the hell did you do to the women in this town? I can’t believe how bold they are. Some can’t seem to take no for an answer,” Reese said, recalling the woman who had shown up at the worksite that morning. She was the same woman he’d seen in the elevator yesterday. She was becoming a nuisance, and he’d come straight out and told her so. But his frankness hadn’t seemed to deter her, and he had the feeling he hadn’t seen the last of her. He had gotten hit on by women before, but never in such numbers.
“Probably because I never said no to them,” Blade replied
easily. “They understood me and I understood them. Usually all they wanted was a good time.”
Reese frowned. “Then they need to look elsewhere, because I’m not interested.”
“I don’t see why not. You’re not seriously involved with anyone, unless you’re thinking of hooking up with Alyson again.”
Reese shifted in his seat. Kenna had mentioned that same subject a couple of times. And from the way it sounded, she didn’t have a problem with it. She was evidently willing to overlook the fact that the reason he’d split with Alyson in the first place was because of her negativity toward Kenna.
“And if I am?” he decided to ask.
“Then you need to make certain she’s no longer jealous of Kenna. Don’t forget I was there that day when she dropped by your place and I overheard her accusations.”
Reese snorted. Blade hadn’t exactly overheard anything. He had been deliberately eavesdropping and they both knew it. “I can handle Alyson.”
“I hope you can. A woman with a jealous streak can cause more harm than good. Now answer
question. How is Kenna?”
“Kenna is fine.”
A few moments later, after disconnecting his call with Blade, Reese sat quietly without moving in the SUV. If anyone knew how women behaved, it would be Blade. He’d certainly had his share of them. At times his cousin’s condo had seemed to have a revolving door.
His thoughts then shifted to Kenna. She had been asleep when he’d left that morning, but he knew that she’d stayed up late watching a movie. He hadn’t been able to sleep and had heard her tiptoe to her room around four in the morning.
He had lain in bed, pissed at himself because he still hadn’t come up with a reason why he was suddenly beginning to see
Kenna in a different way. Hopefully, yesterday was a fluke and things would be back to normal today. The last thing he needed was for Kenna to pick up on anything and have a reason to feel uncomfortable around him.
He nearly jumped when someone tapped on his window. He rolled down the window when he saw it was Dex. “You okay?” Dex asked him.
Reese nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. Why do you ask?”
“Because you’re just sitting there, staring into space. Aren’t you going to go grab lunch?” Dex said.
“In a minute. I just finished talking to Blade.”
“Oh, what’s he up to? Did he say how he’s adjusting to married life with a baby on the way?” Dex asked, leaning against Reese’s truck.
Reese couldn’t help but smile. He figured Blade was adjusting to marriage like Blade’s twin brother, Slade, and his own brother Luke had. It seemed they all enjoyed being married, and according to Luke, he couldn’t imagine his life without Mac. “He’s adjusting just fine. I just wish all his used-to-be's hadn’t turned their sights on me.”
Dex chuckled. “Hey, I heard about that. Unfortunately, you’ll probably be
until you get married.”
“Married? I don’t even have a steady girlfriend, Dex.”
“Yes. But there are some people in the family who won’t give up on the notion that Kenna is your girl.”
Reese rolled his eyes. “Kenna’s my best friend.”
“So we’ve heard, for a few years now. Look, I have no reason to doubt you and I think everyone else knows she’s your best friend. But I think there’s some speculation about what might be in your future.”
“Because Kenna decided to move to Houston?”
“Yes, that did lift a few eyebrows,” Dex admitted.
“It was a good job opportunity for her.”
“Yes, but another way to look at it is the two of you have become even more inseparable.”
He looked at Dex through the window. “And the problem with that
“The two of you are going to have a hard time finding someone else who’s willing to put up with your friendship with each other. But hey, I support whatever rocks your boat. As far as I’m concerned it’s no one’s business but yours and Kenna’s.”
Reese let out a deep sigh. He agreed with Dex on that point. It was no one else’s business but his and Kenna’s.
“May I help you, ma’am?”
The words, spoken with a slight accent, made Kenna turn around. An easy smile touched her lips when she saw it was Reese's new employee. Tall, lanky and probably in his late thirties, she thought there was an intensity in the darkness of his blue eyes. “No, I’m fine. I thought I’d take Rollins out for a ride,” she said of the horse Joe had saddled for her earlier. “I’m LaKenna James, but everyone calls me Kenna,” she said, extending her hand to him.
“And I’m Clark Lovell. I just started working for Mr. Madaris a couple of days ago.” He paused a second and then asked. “Will you need an escort when you ride out?”
“An escort?” She chuckled. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m used to the ranch. I’ll be fine.”
“You come here a lot?”
“Um, enough. Reese and I are good friends.” She wondered why she’d said that, then shrugged and figured that since most of the other men were aware that the two of them were friends, she might as well set the record straight with Clark from the start about the nature of her relationship with Reese.
“That’s what I heard—that you and the boss are good friends. Well, I’ll be seeing you. Good day, Miss Kenna.”
“Good day to you, too.” She watched him walk off. Reese had
said the new hire didn’t have much to say to anyone, and that he mostly stayed to himself. Well, he’d certainly been talkative with her just now.
She used a stepstool to get in the saddle on Rollins’s back and led him out of the stables. It was a beautiful day, and she figured a horseback ride would do her good since it was something she enjoyed doing. Reese had given her her very first lesson years ago.
When she’d awakened that morning, her brain had felt sluggish from so little sleep, but once she got moving she was fine. She had slept until almost ten before going downstairs to prepare toast and coffee for breakfast. After breakfast, she went back upstairs to unpack the rest of her things. It didn’t take long, since most of her belongings had been organized and labeled.
She had taken a break from unpacking to enjoy lunch with Joe, a widower whose wife had died almost ten years ago. He’d brought her up-to-date on how his married daughters were doing and had proudly showed her recent pictures of his two grandkids.
Joe said Reese usually came home around five o’clock, so she decided to prepare dinner. She had cooked lasagna—one of Reese’s favorites. Luckily, she didn’t have to buy groceries, since all the ingredients she needed had been in the pantry.
As she rode away from the stable, she waved to the men she knew who were out tending the herd. Compared to Whispering Pines, Reese’s uncle Jake Madaris’s spread, Tall Oaks ranch and all the land it encompassed was relatively small. But as Kenna rode farther and farther away from the main house, it didn’t seem so small after all. Every so often she would look up at the trees, remembering when Reese had first brought her to his ranch and how the first thing she’d noticed was the oak trees that were so tall they seemed to touch the sky. She had mentioned it to Reese, which is why he’d named his ranch Tall Oaks.
As she rode, Rollins maintained an easy, comfortable gait,
which was probably the reason Reese had picked the horse for her. One day she would convince Reese to let her ride Blue Bay, his personal stallion.
When she’d first met the family she had been amazed that all the Madarises knew how to ride, and that a few of them, like Reese’s brother Luke, were expert horsemen. Luke had been a big rodeo star and still competed from time to time. But since he’d gotten married, he’d devoted most of his time to his rodeo school.
Reese had yet to mention anything about his brother Luke’s rodeo school opening, so she could only assume he was taking Alyson. And when he did get around to mentioning it to her, she would play it cool. She’d let him know that she would be meeting someone there as well—a blind date or someone. He didn’t have to know the entire truth. But in this case, her explanation would have to work.
She checked her watch. By the time she rode back to the stable, Reese would be home or arriving shortly. He had texted her earlier and said he had a surprise for her. She couldn’t wait to see what it was. He knew how much she liked surprises.
The party was in two days, and she had called Reese’s cousin Christy to see if she wanted to go shopping with her. Christy’s husband, Alex, a private investigator, traveled a lot but was available for babysitting duties, so their shopping date tomorrow was all set.
Christy was an award-winning investigative reporter who had cracked an international kidnapping ring that was smuggling runaways out of the country as part of a sex-slave trade. Christy herself had gotten captured during the investigation and Alex had rescued her. It had sounded like an adventure at the time, but now she was certain neither Christy nor Alex had thought so then.
“C’mon boy, let’s go home,” she coaxed Rollins, tightening
her hands on the reins to make him turn around and head back. “Let’s go home and see Reese.”
Talking to Joe, Reese heard Rollins before he saw Kenna, and turned to glance toward the open plain. He could make out the horse and rider in the distance. And then when the pair got closer he saw her.
Kenna was riding like the skilled equestrian he, Luke and Chancellor had taught her to be. Sitting straight in the saddle, head held high and looking forward with her hands holding the reins tight, she let the animal know who was in control. Rider and horse were moving together in almost perfect rhythm.
He could still remember that summer right after her grandmother had died. She’d had nowhere else to go, so he had invited her to come home with him and stay at his parents’ house. Having a woman in the house besides his mother had been something he, his father and brothers had to adjust to.
Luckily, Luke was on the rodeo circuit and out of town most of the time. But his younger brother Chancellor—whom everyone called Chance—had been home on leave from army ranger training, and Emerson—who’d been away at college—was also home for the summer. It had been during the couple of weeks around the Fourth of July when the Madaris family held their family reunion. Everyone was home and the place was like a madhouse. But in the end, he’d known that with all the craziness Kenna had enjoyed her visit.
He leaned against a post and stared at her. The last time she’d ridden Rollins her hair had been flying in the wind. This new short haircut would take some getting use to, but he liked it. He especially liked the way it framed her face. She was wearing jeans and a halter top, with big hoop earrings dangling from her ears. He thought she looked hot and it had nothing at all to do with the temperature. The closer she got, he began to recognize
the glint of mischief in her eyes. He almost held his breath when she brought the horse to a full stop in front of him.
“Did you intend to run me over?” he asked, smiling, gazing up at her as he helped her off her horse. Boy, did she smell good. She never put on too much perfume. It was always pleasing to his nose, never overpowering.
“Nah, I’m just glad to see you,” she said.
Why did her words send his heart pounding in his chest? And why was her smile nearly stealing his breath? And where in the hell did that heated rush that raced up his spine come from?
“I fixed dinner,” she said excitedly, and he tried not to notice how cute she looked. He swallowed. Was she even wearing a bra? He could swear he saw the outlines of her nipples pressed against her halter top.
Hell! Why was he staring at her chest? And after the mental beat-down he’d given himself today, why was he still looking at her with yearning in his eyes again? What happened to Reese, the man who was nothing more than her best friend?
He cleared his throat. “I heard you prepared dinner. I also heard you made enough to feed just about everyone within miles of here. I’m sure Tanker appreciates getting a night off. You couldn’t wait for Sunday, uh?”
She threw her head back and laughed, and the sound seemed to float in the air on this incredible wave of clouds. It was the same air he was inhaling, and it was causing a shudder to rip through his body.
“I don’t mind cooking. And besides, come Sunday I don’t know what shape I’ll be in after partying all Saturday night.”