Authors: J. J. Ranger
The Wild Rose Press
Copyright ©2011 by J.J. Ranger
First published in 2011
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT (C) 2011 by J.J. Ranger
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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First Scarlet Rose Edition, September 2011
Shannon Piermont slowed the SUV to a crawl on FM 1077, trepidation filling her heart. Officially she hadn't been back in fourteen years—at least not to see anyone other than Gran. It felt like another life. In that old life, the world had been much simpler, Gran was alive and Dustin...
Just a quarter mile to go and she would be on his ranch, walking to the office to check in for her cousin's bachelorette weekend.
"I'm here for Bridgette,” she said out loud, as though hearing the words would erase the niggling doubt that she was really there for Dustin.
And maybe to convince him to forgive her.
She passed the driveway to Gran's property on her left, but Shannon couldn't bring herself to look in that direction. Too many memories, too many ghosts and regrets. Carolyn—she refused to think of the woman as “mother"—kept bugging her about selling Gran's ranch, threatening to take her to court if she didn't give in.
She bit back a sigh. No, she wasn't going there. She had enough to worry about with seeing Dustin again.
She made the next right onto the gravel road, the entry blocked by a massive beige cobblestone-and-wrought-iron gate.
was scripted in iron across the rounded top of the gate. The
in Dumen dangled.
Shannon chuckled. Apparently her generation wasn't the only one who snuck out at night to loosen the screws so that the sign to read “Dume.” And she'd bet she wasn't the only one to call it the “Do Me” ranch. She and Dustin had unscrewed the bolts on the sign almost every weekend, much to his father's annoyance.
She punched the code into the key box and waited for the gate to swing open, then drove the SUV along the winding gravel drive.
A small herd of longhorns—probably no more than a dozen—grazed in the pasture to her left, the Double D brand on their flanks. A half mile in, she turned into the parking lot at the bottom of the small hill. A slight breeze rustled the leaves of the giant shade trees. Cutting off the engine, she grabbed her bag and stepped out into the humidity.
The place hadn't changed one bit. She closed her eyes and could almost smell fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, made by the loving hand of Mrs. Dumen.
Even after all this time, the ranch felt just as much her home as Gran's place.
The sidewalk to the two-story stone lodge was on an incline and by the time she reached the front porch, her calves burned—just a small reminder she'd lapsed on her workouts since coming back from Paris. The temperature inside the building felt cool against her heated skin. The interior was homey. Large wood beams framed the room and supported the roof and added to the rustic feel. It smelled of leather and sunshine. A few people milled around the room.
Offering them a smile, she crossed to the office and poked her head in the door. A thin blonde of twenty-ish, with baby blue eyes, looked up from her computer and leaned forward, pushing her exposed cleavage almost to her chin.
"Can I help you?” she asked with a lilting southern drawl.
"Checking in.” Shannon fished her wallet from her purse and handed over her driver's license and credit card.
"Of course, Miss Piermont. You will be in the Bronc Bustin’ cabin. I am supposed to tell you Bridgette will be in the Twisted Knot with Jessica."
Bridgette, the bride and reason for this weekend get together, was her older cousin and was marrying her college sweetheart, Adam. Jessica was probably Adam's friend, who Bridge had gushed about a few weeks back. Shannon bit back a sigh of relief. As much as she loved her cousin, and as nice as Jessica probably was, after a hellacious fashion month in Paris, missing Gran's funeral and a first-time homecoming, the last thing she really wanted was to share space with a gaggle of giggling women.
"Shay?” said a deep voice behind her.
She looked over and broke into a grin. “Dillon. Holy hell, you grew up good!” She raked her gaze over his tall, lean frame. Short dark hair gave him a mature look. Piercing blue eyes twinkled. “You're smiling. Should we be worried?"
Dillon laughed. “Why would you be worried?"
"Come on,” she teased, tapping his flat stomach with the backs of her fingers. “You can't fool me. I know you're the crusty, serious brother.” Dillon had always been the serious one, Dane the flirtatious, Deacon the sexy one, and Dustin...Dustin was a good mix of all. At least, in her opinion.
He rolled his eyes. “Gee, thanks. Nice to see you home, kid.” He chucked her on the chin and brushed past her into the office. “Ashley, have you seen Dustin?"
The blonde handed Shannon the cabin key. “Not since this morning. But then he said something about going to the house."
Dillon looked over at her. “Shay, why don't you go to the main house and round up Dustin for us? I know he will be thrilled to see you."
Shannon gaped over her shoulder at him. “Me?” Did he not realize how she'd left things with Dustin?
"We'll take your bags to the cabin,” Dillon assured her. “A bunch of cars just pulled up and we're about to get swamped. I could really use his help."
She heaved a sigh. “Fine.” She'd never been able to turn down a Dumen brother yet...unless one counted the breakup with Dustin fourteen years ago.
Going to have to see him sooner or later. Might as well be sooner.
Forcing one foot in front of the other, she trudged out of the lodge and up the path to the main residence. Pink, yellow, red and white roses bloomed around the walkway leading up to the door, and she breathed in their heady scent. Nausea swirled in her stomach.
God, why did she have to jump to obey Dillon's orders? She wasn't a kid anymore. She dreaded the initial reunion with Dustin, had hoped to put it off for as long as possible—if not completely—until this weekend was over. One drama at a time please.
Drawing in a deep breath, she raised her hand and pressed the doorbell. She waited for two minutes and then hit the button again. She leaned her forehead against the oak door and tried to calm her ever present nerves. How would Dustin react when he saw her? Did he really know she was coming? And what would he think when he found out she intended to stay for good?
"Guess nobody's home,” she mumbled.
The door swung open, and she lost her balance with a startled squeak. She reached out to grab something, anything to stop her descent, and latched on to a pair of denim-clad hips. The material slipped down and with it, she landed on her knees, face-planted against a very masculine crotch. The tip of his cock peeked from the front of his red plaid boxers. Heat flooded her belly and moisture pooled in her panties in response to his arousal. The familiar scent of leather and sandalwood tickled her nose.
Dustin. Memories of a night over a decade ago filled with sweat-lathered bodies on the bank of the creek swam before her eyes. She shivered. All it would take was the slightest turn of her head and...
"Not that I'm complaining about your enthusiasm, honey, but you're a little too far to the left,” a familiar, deep masculine voice teased.
She looked up into Dustin's amused face. That crooked grin hit her in the gut with lust so fierce she wanted to toss away caution and jump him right there. Mortified, she pushed away and leapt to her feet. Dammit, of all the impressions she could have made, falling face first into his cock was not the way she intended to go.
Heat burned in her cheeks. “Dillon needs you at the lodge.” She turned on her heel.
"Wait.” He gripped her hand. “Aren't you going to say hello or anything?"
Shannon shook her head, keeping her gaze locked on the safety of the door. “I can't talk to you with your...your
exposed. Pull up your pants, for God's sake.” Only he could make her feel like a blushing virgin.
His laughter vibrated through her breasts, and her nipples hardened against the lace of her bra. “Well, darlin', my exposed
never bothered you before. But if you insist..."
The rustling of denim against skin teased her imagination and whetted an appetite she hadn't known in a long time. She squeezed her eyes shut, blocking out the image of his cock saluting her.
"You can turn around now."
Drawing in a deep, calming breath, she did. He'd fastened the button-fly of his jeans, much to her relief. But the exposed V of his pelvis was too distracting for her peace of mind. She focused above the waistline and on his face. Hazel eyes were emphasized by small lines around the edges. A strong jaw was softened by full lips. Gone was the boy she'd fallen in love with. In his place was a man who could very well destroy her if she let him get too close.
"Hello, Dustin.” Shannon forced a smile and resisted rubbing her damp palms against her thighs. “Dillon asked me to let you know you are needed at the lodge."
His eyes smoldered, and the corner of his mouth kicked up. “So you said."
She gave a tight nod. “Right. Well.” She lifted a shoulder in an awkward gesture. “I had better get to the cabin. Have to get ready for tonight.” She swiveled toward the door. “Nice to see you, Dusty."
"Welcome home, Shay."
Welcome home, indeed.
Had coming back to this place been a mistake? She was tempted to tell Carolyn she could have Gran's farm because she wanted more than anything to escape back to New York City where she could lose herself in the hustle and bustle of the big city. And even though it might be the coward's way out, she wanted to escape the history and heartbreak of Dumen Ranch.
Dustin chuckled as Shannon ran out the door, her long brown hair swinging wildly with each step. A man could drown in those big green eyes of hers. He'd waited fourteen years for her to come home. At eighteen he'd been too young to understand why she left, why she refused to believe he could take care of her. It sucked that she'd been right. What had he known of the responsibility of being a husband at that age?
So, he'd done what any self-respecting man would do and pretended to forget about the love of his life.
Somewhere inside, he knew Shannon would come home. Even Gran had told him to give her time to find herself. Not that he knew what that meant at eighteen. Being Gran's companion kept Shannon close—mentally anyway. Now that she was home, could he convince her Texas was where she belonged? He was going to try his damndest.
This weekend, while she was captive on the ranch, courtesy of her cousin's bachelorette party, he was going to take every opportunity to get close to her, to remind her of what they once had. If it took physical seduction... His cock jumped at the idea and the memory of her soft cheek pressed against his short and curlies. Poor Shannon wouldn't stand a chance against his Texas charm.
His cell phone vibrated in his pocket. Roused from his Shannon-fog, he yanked it out. “Yeah?"
"You planning on doing any work today? Or am I supposed to pick up your slack?” Dane, his youngest brother, bitched in his ear.
"Let me guess, Dillon's ridin’ your ass again?"
Dane snorted. “Good guess. So?"
Dustin sighed. His oldest brother could be a bit of a hardass when it came to getting work done on the ranch. Though with this bachelorette shindig this weekend, he couldn't blame Dillon.