Authors: Liz Talley
Tags: #Home On The Ranch
Okay, obviously she was hot. But his fascination with her wasn’t because she looked drop-dead gorgeous in some black halter top thing and tight jeans. It was something altogether different, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Maybe she simply reminded him of the girls he’d known back home. Wholesome, pure, with an audacious side begging to get out. Still, it didn’t explain why she sat next to him, her face conflicted, her hair brushing the tops of her delectable shoulders.
His mind drifted to her lips pressed against his. She’d tasted like heaven—minty mojito and honey. Just brushing his tongue over her lower lip had ignited something more than a flame of passion.
And that shook him. He hadn’t felt this way since…well, it had been a long time.
And he hadn’t taken her up on her halfhearted proposition to go back to his place?
That decision was not like him.
But her suggestion
been halfhearted. Elle didn’t seem like the kind of girl who went home with random guys. He’d bet her temporary tattoo on that.
The gearstick vibrated in his hand as he shifted gears. Her gaze skittered to his. And then darted quickly away.
Jack couldn’t stop the twitch of his lips. “We’re almost there, Elle.”
He chuckled at the squeak in her voice. “Look, I’m not a psycho. I’m not taking you to some hidden lair to torture you till you scream. Okay?”
Elle bit her lip and stared out at the dry cleaners and nail salons they were zipping past. “I know. Sorry I’m acting so weird.” She fell silent for a moment. “But I wanted to be…” Her words fell off and she bit her bottom lip again. Her cheeks pinked and shadows crossed her eyes.
Something told him not to push it. And he always trusted his gut instinct.
“You like pancakes?”
Elle made a funny face. “Pancakes?”
“Yeah, I’m in the mood for pancakes.”
A wrinkle furrowed her smooth forehead. “This is seriously getting weird.”
Nellie giggled. She couldn’t help it. She sat in a fire-red sports car at 2:12 a.m. with one of the hottest guys in Nevada…and instead of having no-strings-attached sex, they were about to eat pancakes. It was absurd.
Of course the only thing nuttier was if she’d actually gone to Jack’s house, stripped off her clothes, jumped into the center of his bed and screamed, “Take me now, you big strong stud!”
Maybe eating pancakes wasn’t crazy. Maybe she was. Because she knew if she’d pressed it, she could be having indulgent sex with the man sitting next to her. What kind of woman passed up an opportunity with a man like Jack?
But she already knew the answer. One who knew how to knit, how to grow the biggest tomatoes in Howard County, and how to make a toddler stop crying over the wrong sucker flavor during story time.
He turned to her and smiled, reinforcing the thought she was the nutso. His smile was warm butter. She felt it to her toes. “The parking lot isn’t full for nothing. Be prepared to eat the best pancakes in the whole U.S. of A.”
Nellie opened the door before Jack could get around and do it for her. “Okay, I’m prepared, but I’m not dressed to eat too much. I’d need my stretchy pants for that.”
His eyes swept over her, stoking the embers that still burned within her. “Don’t remind me how great you look in those tight-assed jeans.”
Nellie wagged her finger. “You wanted a change of scenery.”
“I like the scenery fine. Now hurry up and get inside before I change my mind and introduce you to those sheets.”
Nellie scurried around to meet him. He latched his hand on to hers and suddenly, for the first time that night, she felt she was on a date. Her ardor cooled; her heart squeezed. Bad sign.
When they entered the small restaurant, smells assaulted them—bacon sizzling, coffee brewed and warm vanilla pancakes waiting on the warmer. Her stomach growled and she realized the few chips she’d munched on before she’d downed the martinis had long since vanished.
A straw-haired waitress waved them toward an empty booth near the back of the place. Other couples huddled over laminate tables, a few college kids cracked jokes and a businessman in a suit tapped at a laptop.
“Diverse,” she commented as she slid onto the cushioned bench. The waitress wiped the table, slapped a couple of menus down and winked at Jack before sauntering away.
“Yeah, I love this place. Big Earl runs it. He ran a café in one of the casinos, but the economy forced him to close. His brother-in-law owns this gas station and they dreamed this up. It’s doing well.”
Nellie looked around. “I can see that. I like the nostalgia.”
Framed records from long-ago artists dotted the walls along with neon signs declaring, Eat at Joe’s or Dine-in Here. It reminded her of the local diner in her hometown where she sometimes sipped old-fashioned malts and savored grilled patty melts.
“Me, too,” he said and picked up the menu. “So what do you want? The waffles are good, the biscuits and gravy are good, but personally I’d recommend the pancakes.”
“I’ll have what you’re having,” she said, not even bothering with the menu. She wasn’t picky and felt she could eat a moose.
He lifted his eyebrows. “Is this a pancake challenge?”
Nellie nodded. “Bring it on.”
“Stop talking dirty,” he said. His blue eyes radiated mischief. Her heart pinged again. And that was even more troublesome than her libido. But, really, it had to be because she hadn’t been on a date in forever. Who fell in love at a gas station diner over pancakes with a guy she’d just picked up at a club?
Okay. Plenty of people. But she wasn’t going to think about it.
“Bring. It. On.” She flashed her own naughty smile as she repeated herself.
“You are a bad girl, Elle.” Jack waved the waitress over and she jotted down the colossal order. Nellie gulped. She admitted to being hungry, but who could eat four pancakes with sausage? “Still want to take me on?”
His words sounded innocent, but they were tinged with hidden meaning. Did she still want to take him on? Yeah, she did. But did that mean him? Or just the pancakes?
“I got it the second time,” he laughed, tearing the paper ring from the napkin-wrapped silverware. “And I’m glad you’re up for a challenge. I like challenges.”
She couldn’t read his eyes this time. No glint of devilment. No gentle teasing.
She studied him in the bright fluorescent light. At two-thirty in the morning, he should look tired. But he didn’t. His skin only showed faint smile lines around his brilliant blue eyes. His hair looked rumpled, and his mouth made her feel tingly just looking at it.
She searched about for something to say that was clever or profound, but she was saved by Ruby, the aptly named waitress who plopped a huge plate in front of her and smirked, “You won’t be fittin’ in those jeans if you eat all that, missy.”
Nellie tossed the sassy waitress a smile. The woman looked about seventy, but she likely wasn’t past sixty. Cigarettes, big-bellied truckers and unpaid bills hadn’t done Ruby any favors. Nellie forgave her the attitude. “Oh, don’t be so sure. I do love a challenge.”
“I like a gal with fire,” she cackled, reminding Nellie of the witches chanting around the cauldron in
Ruby gave Jack a lighthearted punch on the shoulder before heading back toward the register. “Be careful with this one, Jack.”
Nellie picked up her fork. “You know her?”
He shrugged and then focused all his attention on the buttery, syrupy stack in front of him. “I come here a lot.”
And then it was on. But not in the way she had expected when they had pulled away from Agave less than an hour ago.
It was good. It was sweet. And there were several moans of pleasure. And when it was over, both Nellie and Jack sank back, exhausted. And very, very full.
“Oh, my Lord, I think I’m gonna throw up,” Nellie groaned.
“That would be so attractive,” Jack said, patting a stomach that actually looked distended beneath his fitted shirt.
“Shut it,” Nellie said, unbuttoning her jeans.
Jack laughed. “You really don’t like to lose, do you?”
She smiled. “Figured that out, did you?”
He looked down at her plate. It looked as though it had been licked clean. She stared down at it too.
“Lady, I don’t think I’ve ever said anything like this before, but you eat like a man. I gotta say I’m impressed.”
“Well, it’s nice to know my appetite impresses.”
He grinned. “More than your appetite impresses me. I could give you a list.”
Nellie tried to stop the blush. She so wanted to be flirty, experienced, accustomed to men giving her backhand compliments. But she wasn’t. So she changed the subject. “So, you want to tell me about yourself?”
He sat up a bit. “Oh, serious now, are you?”
“I like crossword puzzles, the smell of cut grass and fuzzy kittens. Your turn.”
Nellie giggled. “I like blackberries, Hugh Grant movies, and the color of sweet gum trees in the fall.”
“Hugh Grant?” He lifted a brow.
“The accent,” she said, shrugging. Her explanation launched into a discussion of their favorite movies.
Finally, after arguing whether
Lord of the Rings
was the best trilogy, Jack buttoned his jeans. “Okay, I think I can move now.”
Nellie laughed and refastened hers too. “Honestly, I’ve never eaten like that before. And never on a date. I’m appalled at myself.”
“I’m appalled for you,” he teased, taking the check from Ruby as she sashayed by their table.
The waitress stopped midstride, backed up and cast an eye on Nellie’s plate. “You better marry this one.”
And then she was gone.
Nellie wanted to laugh off the remark, but she felt awkward. Ruby’s comment was meant to be playful, but it was a mood killer. Even Jack had little to say about that zinger.
“We’d better get going. It’s already after three, and I have to work in the morning.”
“Sure.” Nellie smiled, hoping her one date with the handsome club owner wouldn’t end on a sour note. She didn’t think that kind of goodbye would sit well with her tummy or her ego.
Out of habit, she looked around for her purse before realizing she had left it in the hotel room. She still had a twenty in her pocket. Her grandmother had raised her to let the gentleman pay on a date, but she wasn’t in Oak Stand now and she wasn’t Nellie. Elle would likely insist on paying her own way.
“Ready?” Jack asked as he peeled off several bills and tossed them on the table.
“Thanks for buying breakfast. I would have been glad to—”
Jack pressed his finger to her lips. “My treat.”
He pulled his finger away and smiled, holding out his hand to indicate she should rise and head to the swinging door. Nellie scooted from the bench and rose, her nose nearly brushing his chin.
“You’ve got syrup on your neck,” he said, eyeing an area above her collarbone.
“I do? Where?”
Jack grabbed her hand. “Leave it. I’ll take care of it in the car.”
“But I can just go to the ladies’ room and wash it off. I don’t want to get it on your car seats.” Nellie tried to turn toward the door in the back marked “Dames,” but Jack tugged her toward the entrance.
“I’ll take care of it. Trust me. I’m looking forward to it.”
Then he threw her the same wolfish look he’d given her earlier as he’d tugged her from the bar into the Vegas night. It was the same look that had curled her toes and made her heart beat faster. She liked that look.
“Ever make out in a GT-R?” he said, pulling out his keys and pressing the unlock button. The car perked up, illuminating the lonely parking spot.
Nellie giggled. “Nope.”
“Let’s give it a whirl.”