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Authors: Victoria Vane

Slow Hand (6 page)

BOOK: Slow Hand
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“You won't need to worry about any of that,” Wade reassured her.

“How would you know?” she asked.

“Because I looked into a few things earlier today. There's no harm in telling you that his affairs are in pretty good order
and
he left a will. I had Iris check with Evans on the off chance there might be one.”

“Why would he have made a will?”

“It's smart to plan for the unexpected.”

“Spoken like a true lawyer,” she replied dryly. They stood beside the truck, she spun to face him. “If you knew all this, why didn't you tell me before?”

“I didn't know. He filed the will six years ago when he first established Montana residency—before I was in practice here. I didn't mention it earlier today because I wanted to wait until we had your ID straightened out, but I figure there's no harm in setting your mind at ease. You need to understand that I can't disclose anything more to you at this juncture. You can rest assured, however, that there's no debt burden for you to carry.”

“Well, I guess that's a relief anyway. So what now?” she asked.

“I was going to take you back to the ranch, but I think maybe a change of plans is in order. Can I buy you a drink? You look like you could use one.”

“You just might be right about that too,” she replied with a shaky laugh.

“C'mon. I know just the place. The Pioneer's the best watering hole in the entire Ruby Valley.”

* * *

The bar reminded Nikki of an old-time Western saloon, with its cedar shingles and siding, and the old-fashioned wooden placard outside. It felt even more like one when she followed Wade inside. The paneled walls were dark, with numerous mounted antelope, elk, and bison heads as well as an array of faded black-and-white framed photos from the turn of the century. The backbar was crafted of deeply stained, hand-carved oak with a huge counter-length diamond dust mirror.

Wade tipped his hat to the barkeep, and then to several waitresses who seemed to light up in response to him. She guessed he must have that effect on lots of women. He was certainly no stranger to the place, but then again, this area was his stomping ground. He propelled her to a corner table, pulling out her chair before taking his own.

“Come now,” she chided. “The gunfighter seat?”

“Force of habit.” He chuckled.

He'd no sooner doffed his hat before a brown-eyed bottle redhead appeared wearing a low-cut top that displayed attributes that would put the Hooters girls in the shade.

“Hey, Wade.” She flashed him a huge smile. “Been a long time.”

“Janice? I'll be damned. I didn't know you were back in town.”

Her smile flickered for just a moment. “I never thought I'd set foot back here either, but I had nowhere else to go with my kid and all.”

“I was sorry to hear about all that…” Wade shook his head. “What a gruesome way to go.”

“It was.” She shrugged. “But he knew as well as anyone that it was bound to happen sooner or later. With the bulls it's never a question of
if
you're gonna get hurt—it's just when and how bad. Least he didn't suffer much, being that he never gained consciousness.”

“I'm glad Dirk gave up rodeo, though the way it turned out for him, maybe joining the Marines wasn't the best choice either,” Wade said.

Her expression grew troubled. “I haven't seen him around. How's he doing?”

Wade shrugged. “As well as can be expected, I guess, but he hardly leaves the ranch. You know about his injuries, don't you?”

“Yeah, I heard.”

“He's changed a lot from what he was before.”

Her brow wrinkled. “I'd expect as much.” She bit her lip, then asked, “He seein' anyone?”

“Dirk?” Wade shook his head. “Not to my knowledge.”

“Think he'd mind if I dropped by?”

Nikki had watched the exchange with a mild feeling of resentment until she realized it was Dirk and not Wade that Janice was actually interested in. Did she and Dirk have a history? She eyed the other woman with renewed curiosity.

“Don't know,” Wade replied. “But I think he could use some old friends—as long as you aren't put off by his surly, badass behavior.”

Janice grinned. “You're kiddin', right? I ain't thin-skinned. Could never afford to be. You don't know what it's like to be a woman working the chutes with all those bulls and rough riders. For the record, I can give every bit as good as I get.” She paused. “Maybe I will call on Dirk one day.”

“Forgive me, Nikki,” Wade said. “This is Janice—”

“An old friend,” Janice supplied smoothly and extended her hand. “I grew up here and just recently moved back.”

“Nikki Powell from Atlanta.” Nikki briefly shook Janice's hand.

“Welcome to Montana. First time?” Janice asked.

“Yes, and likely my last. Wade's helping me with some personal business. My father passed away here.”

“Oh,” Janice replied, looking uncertain. “My condolences.”

“We just came from the mortuary,” Wade explained. “I thought she could use a drink.”

Janice smiled. “Then you came to the right place. Whatcha gonna have?”

“The usual for me. The bartender knows.” Wade looked to Nikki. “Sorry, I don't know your poison.”

“I'll take a shot of Patrón.”

“Salt and lime?” Janice asked.

“Of course,” Nikki said.

“What?” she answered Wade's querying look. “You thought I'd order some girlie umbrella drink?”

“Yeah, it was pretty much what I expected, more than straight tequila.”

“This seemed like a tequila occasion,” Nikki replied.

“You are full of surprises.” Wade chuckled as Janice hustled away to fill their order.

Their drinks appeared within minutes—a foaming beer in a frosted mug, and a shot glass sporting a paper umbrella that Janice set it in front of Nikki with a wink for Wade.

“I suppose this is a joke?” Nikki said.

Wade laughed, a low, warm rumble that ceased the second she licked the back of her hand to apply the salt. Meeting his gaze, she slowly licked off the salt. He locked on her mouth, his pupils flaring big and black. She took the shot, downing the tequila in a single choking swallow, then bit into the lime with a grimace.

“That bad?” he asked.

“The salt is supposed to reduce the burn, but I don't think it works.”

“Would you like something else?” Wade asked.

“No, I don't think it's a good idea to mix liquors. I'll stay with my friend Patrón.”

He nodded at her empty glass. “You want another?”

You
know
better
, she told herself, staring at his dangerously tempting dimpled chin.
He's made no secret about what he's after. The last thing you need is to let your guard down.
Ignoring the voice of reason, she smiled back at him. “Sure. Why not?”

Two shots later, Nikki felt a sweet lethargy, the kind induced only by drink or sex. Since they were still in the bar, she had a pretty good idea it was the drink. She ordered a third and took her sweet time licking off the salt. She rarely drank tequila and had ordered it purely to tease him. From his expression, it was working.

“I think we need some music,” she said.

“Why? You wanna dance?”

“Maybe,” she answered coyly.

“Too bad there's no band tonight. The one that usually plays here packs the house.”

“Are they good?” she asked.

“If you like a mix of blues and rock in your country. Ten Foot Tall and Eighty Proof. They play all around the area. If you stick around long enough, I'll bring you back to hear them.”

“Do you dance, Wade?”

“Not really, but if
you
feel like dancing”—he patted his lap—“knock yourself out.”

“Keep dreamin'.” Nikki rolled her eyes with a snort. She then idly flipped through the playlist attached to the old-timey jukebox on the tabletop. “Got any quarters on you?”

“Why? You got a favorite song?”

She flashed him a dazzling smile. “I got
your
song, Wade.”


My
song?
Really? What is it?”

“You'll see.” With a throaty chuckle, Nikki dropped the coins he gave her into the machine, and then made her selection. The sultry tones of Carrie Underwood filled the air. “See?” She laughed. “I've totally got your number, Wade.”

“‘Cowboy Casanova'?” He speared her with those amazingly clear and sexy light blue eyes. “Is that what you think I am?”

“Yeah, I do. A big-time sexy cowboy player, but I don't do players and for damned sure not sexy chin-dimpled cowboys.”

“Sexy?” His brow kicked up. “You think so? Then, I'm confounded to understand this aversion of yours.”

“It's been acquired by experience,” she replied, carefully enunciating her words with lips that felt warm and a bit numb. “Every damn time I've fallen for one it's bitten me in the ass.”

“So you think one bad apple—”

“One?” She laughed outright. “I've tried a whole crate full of apples, Wade. All bad. Worm-infested and rotten to the core, every last one of 'em.” She struggled a bit with the
l
but thought she managed to keep the slur out of her reply. Even her toes felt warm and tingly now.

“Sounds like a real challenge to overcome such a fierce dislike of
apples
.”

“Yeah. No more apples for me.
Ever
.”

“Ever?” He cocked a brow. “Maybe you just need to try a hybrid variety.”

“A hybrid? You mean like a Honeycrisp?”

“Not quite the analogy I was aiming for. Maybe we need to progress from fruit to the animal kingdom.”

“Whadya mean?”

“I told you my brother Dirk has been crossing Japanese bulls with Angus cows to create a superior breed. I like to think I'm kinda like that.”

“Like a
bull
?” Her gaze dropped to his groin. “That's quite a boast.”

He grinned back at her. “Not
exactly
what I meant, but I'll go with it. Then again, maybe I'll let you be the judge.”

She frowned. “Not likely, cowboy. You see, you've already got a third strike against you.”

“Three now, eh?”

“Oh yeah. 'Cause I don't like lawyers either. Never have. So three strikes means you're out.”

“Only in baseball, darlin'. But we're mixing far too many metaphors now. I think we need to go back to your classification system. It's flawed.”

“Whadya mean?”

“You ignore the fact that sometimes crossing two different breeds can result in the best combination of both.”

“Or the worst,” she interjected.

“I argue the proof's in the puddin', darlin'. I think that's what you need, Nikki, a man who's the best of both—one who knows how to
act
domesticated and when to be wild.”


Act
domesticated?”

“Well, yeah. With men it's only an act anyway. We aren't meant to be domesticated. But a woman wants one who knows how to fake it, how to be tender and sensitive when she needs it.”

“Is that so?” She placed her hand on his arm and leaned in real close. “And how well do
you
fake it, Wade?”

“You really want to know?”

“I do. I really, really do,” she insisted.

Damn.
Why had she gone for the tequila? She should have settled for a beer. Maybe it was a subconscious sabotage. If he got her drunk, she could hardly blame herself in the morning for tumbling headlong into his bed. The more she drank, the less complicated the issue seemed. She deserved some fun for a change—and why not a bit of Wild West Wade?

He leaned in closer still, murmuring hot and low in her ear. “How? By giving her slow and easy, when what I really want is hard and fast.”

She ran a finger leisurely around the rim of the glass, and then stuck it in her mouth, slowly sucking off the salt residue. She released it with a pop, then leisurely licked the remaining salt from her lips. His Adam's apple visibly bobbed as he tracked every flick and dart of her tongue. He shifted in his seat. Torturing him like this tickled the hell out of her.

She met his gaze with a mischievous smile. “What makes you think every woman wants slow and easy?”

* * *

Holy
shit.
She'd given him a hard-on with a simple question. It wasn't the wording as much as the
way
she'd posed it—with a challenge. Her body language said
gimme
what
you
got, cowboy,
loud and clear. He suspected the tequila had a lot to do with it, but the hungry look in her eyes made him want to give her hard, fast, and furious right there on the table.

It was definitely time to go.

“Are you ready, Nicole?” he asked, already grabbing his hat.

“What's your hurry, cowboy?” She gave him a sloppy grin that pricked his conscience.

He hadn't set out to get her drunk. That was her doing, but he certainly hadn't discouraged it either. He'd enjoyed the hell out of watching her inhibitions vaporize and wondered how many, or better yet, how few, still lingered. He wondered if she'd be passive or bold in bed. He was mighty eager to find out.

“C'mon.” He took her by the arm and gently coaxed her from her seat. “You've had enough for one night. I'm taking you home.”

“Home?” She cocked her head at him. “Home where? If you think you're gonna sweet-talk my panties off, you got another think coming, Wade. I already told you how I feel and you haven't changed my mind. No indeed-y. I got your number.”

“Do you now?” He threw some money on the table and guided her to the door.

BOOK: Slow Hand
6.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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