Authors: J. J. Ranger
But his plans for Shannon would have to be put on hold for a few hours longer. “Tell him I'll be there in five."
The dinner triangle rang promptly at five. Shannon had yet to see her cousin, though she imagined Bridgette was wandering around somewhere. Had her other cousin, Sara, arrived at the ranch?
As Shannon opened the heavy wooden door of her assigned cabin, Bridgette's high-pitched laughter reached her ears. Shannon stepped outside and headed toward the sound.
The scent of burning wood wafting from the picnic area tickled her senses. Bridgette had demanded the staff have a fire burning every night, and she was probably policing the activity to make sure everything was perfect. Shannon wasn't sure what could go wrong—light wood, put marshmallow on stick, toast and eat. How hard could that be? Still, her cousin was known for being a bit of a control freak. She hoped Adam knew what he was getting into.
"Shay!” Bridgette cried, running from the fire pit and launching herself into Shannon's arms.
She laughed and returned the hug. “Well, hi to you, too."
Bridgette stepped back and gave her the once over. “You are way too skinny. You're a stylist. You shouldn't have to keep up with the same non-eating habits of all those models you hang around."
Shannon looked down at her thin frame. She
lost a good amount of weight in the last three months, what with the stress of work and Gran's illness. With good home cooking and fresh Texas air, she was certain her body would return to a healthy weight in no time. She missed her boobs.
Bridgette eyed her critically, that assessing gaze travelling from the top of her head to her flip-flop clad feet. “Dear cousin, for being a top notch stylist, you can't dress yourself worth a crap. Maybe you and Sara should put your heads together to discuss wardrobe. I saw the moving van drop off her stuff at Gran's yesterday."
Shannon rolled her eyes. “I'm on a dude ranch. There is no way I'm traipsing around in stilettos and diamonds. I'm finally home, Bridge, and I'm going to start dressing the part of country girl."
"Since when do country girls wear flip flops? Shouldn't you be in boots?” Bridgette circled her. “I will say, skinny or not, your ass looks fantastic in worn, faded denim."
"I would have to agree,” rolled a sexy Texas drawl behind her. Dustin cocked his cowboy hat and folded muscled arms over his button-down shirt. His gaze raked over her breasts. “Wouldn't mind seeing more."
Shannon's cheeks flamed, and she covered her chest with her arms. “You have no say in what I do or do not show off.” She glared at his cocky expression. “What do you want?"
He gave a mock bow. “Dinner's ready for whenever the princesses would like to join us."
Stomping down the urge to kick him, she lifted her chin. “Fine."
What was up with his flirty attitude? And why did she automatically start acting like a bratty kid when he was around? She'd left him without a backward glance, broke his heart, and here he was, acting like it'd never happened?
Or maybe he really hadn't been as affected as she'd thought all these years. Was it possible she'd been projecting her own feelings onto him? Seeing him again, all grown up and sexier than she could have imagined made her realize how much she'd missed him and how much she still loved him.
Dammit! This was one more complication she just didn't need.
Dustin winked again, turned, and strolled off, whistling.
Bridgette hooked her arm around Shannon's. “Come on, cousin. Let's go get some food."
They followed Dustin into the dining hall. The room was separated from the check-in area by large wooden pillars. A dozen tables—some long, some oval—were scattered around the room. The food was set up buffet style, and a line of women waited their turn.
All through dinner, she couldn't keep her attention off Dustin. It didn't matter where he was in the room, or what he was doing, her whole being tuned in to him. Even the most innocent look from his green, cat-like eyes wreaked havoc on her hormones.
And then there were the touches—a slight bump of the hip when he moved behind the buffet, the brush of his fingers on her arm while he served her dinner. Desire bubbled in her body from the heated influx of sex vibes humming from him. Needing to get her emotions under control, she strolled to the dessert table. Chocolate. That sugary delight always seemed to do the trick when female wants and needs started to intrude. She picked up a brownie. The treat was still warm. She broke off a piece and popped it in her mouth.
"Mmm, brownies,” Dustin murmured behind her, standing just close enough so his heat radiated from his chest down her spine. He leaned around her to grab a brownie. “There are so many other uses for chocolate frosting,” he whispered, his hot, moist breath breezing past her ear and jawbone.
Hot. Moist. Decadent
. Images of Dustin drizzled in chocolate, her tongue tracing the path of the sweet, sticky substance, teased her brain. She nearly came. She wanted him, despite the war raging in her head, despite the stress of settling Gran's estate.
She looked into his eyes, popped a bite of chocolate into her mouth and slowly chewed. Her tongue snaked out to catch a crumb from her lower lip, and she moaned, savoring the dessert. She imagined sucking the brownie from his cock, smearing the frosting on her breasts and letting him lick it off...
"Mmm, you are absolutely right. I'll have to ask the cook if I can borrow some of that frosting for tonight.”
Stew on that, Dustin Dumen.
She brushed past him and walked out of the lodge with as much calm as her racing heart could muster.
"Where are you going?” Bridgette called, catching up to her on the sidewalk.
Shannon shrugged. She didn't want to talk about her reawakened feelings for Dustin. “I'm tired, I need a nap."
"A nap?” Her cousin's nose wrinkled up in a confused scowl. “It's too late for a nap."
She fought back an impatient sigh. “You and the rest of the girls go out shopping and do what you planned to do for a few hours. It's been a long day, and I'm wiped out.” Not to mention she still had to deal with her mother at some point. Carolyn had left three messages on her cell phone. Gran would have been disappointed if Shannon didn't return the calls and face her demons head on.
Bridgette gripped Shannon's hand. “Honey, you know I'm here if you need to talk, right?"
Shannon laughed. “Oh, for pity sake, I'm tired, not suicidal. Get out of here."
They hugged and Bridgette turned on her heel and rejoined her friends in the main lodge. Shannon trudged up the sidewalk to her cabin. Once inside, she flopped on the bed and called her mother.
"Shannon, it's about time you called. We need to deal with this estate stuff."
"Hello to you, too, Mother. Why, yes, I did make it back safely from Paris.” She rolled her eyes. Carolyn Piermont had always had a one-track mind—and it was permanently stuck on money.
"Don't be a bitch, Shannon. I simply want to get everything settled so we can get on with our lives."
Shannon's mind automatically translated her mother's statement.
I want to grab my inheritance and sell my portion of the farm so I can get even more money
"As you've stated time and time again.” Her spine stiffened and her skin crawled with anger. “I take it you've seen the attorney about the will?"
Carolyn heaved a sigh. “That old crony refused to tell me anything until you were back in town. Now that you are, we'll go see him first thing in the morning."
Typical.The woman never bothered to worry about anyone else's plans or thoughts. The world was supposed to revolve around Carolyn. God, she missed Gran. “Fine. The sooner the better."
Shannon ended the call, her heart heavy. Not once had Carolyn asked about her life in New York or if she was happy. After all these years, she thought she'd be over Carolyn's lack of maternal instincts. But she wasn't and the woman's curt treatment still rankled.
A yawn overtook her, and she dropped her phone to the bed. There was over an hour before the bonfire, and if she had any hope of staying awake for any part of it, she needed a nap.
Swaying meadows and dancing butterflies gave way to cicadas buzzing under the hot Texas sun. Shannon sat on a checkered blanket by a babbling creek. A shadow blocked the sun, and Dustin stood there, a mouth-watering grin on his full lips. “I hope you don't mind me dropping in on you. I thought we could get caught up without an audience."
Shannon nodded dumbly and patted the blanket beside her in silent invitation. A quick peek revealed no one else lurking about. She studied him. Tight denim clung to his long legs, and instead of his typical wrangler shirt, he wore a snug navy T-shirt. Her mouth watered and her pussy clenched. God, he was fucking sexy.
He sank to the ground and trailed a finger down her cheek bone, bending so his mouth hovered above hers. Her body quivered with delight. “It's really good to see you, Shay."
He produced a basket from behind his back. It contained a bottle of wine, glasses, and a platter of assorted cheese and fruit. He set the basket on the blanket and uncorked the bottle. After filling a glass, he handed her the white wine along with a small plate of food. “I noticed you didn't eat much at dinner and thought you could use a snack."
"Thank you.” She accepted the offering in a daze. The gesture was thoughtful, and the whole scene was a bit surreal. How often had she fantasized about coming back to Bandera to be like this—all warm and romantic—with Dustin?
She took a sip of wine. Cool sweetness bathed her tongue. A bite of cheddar cheese followed the wine. “Mmm.” His presence intimidated her, looming, sucking up all the oxygen in the air. “So what do you want to talk about?"
He lifted a shoulder in a casual shrug. “What else? I want to talk about
that could have been if you hadn't walked out, and the
we can be now that you're back."
She barely kept her mouth from falling open. Did he really think they had another chance? The possibility threw her off guard. She
quit her job as a stylist in New York to come home and work for another house in San Antonio. She chewed absently on another piece of cheese.
She finally raised her gaze to find Dustin watching her, a smile playing on his lips. “What now?"
Hi smile grew. “You practically purr when you eat."
"I don't purr."
Hazel eyes sparkled in amusement. “You most certainly do, and it's sexy as hell."
"There's nothing wrong with enjoying food.” Shannon popped a bite of cantaloupe into her mouth for emphasis and washed the fruit down with a sip of wine. Sweet melon mixed with the slight tang of Riesling, the flavors blending and dancing across her taste buds. She couldn't help it when she moaned.
Dustin raised a perfectly arched sandy eyebrow. “That good, huh?"
Shannon nodded and treated herself to another bite and sip. Deep in fruit bliss, she chewed slowly and dropped her head back. “You've got to try it."
"Don't mind if I do,” he murmured and claimed her lips with his own.
Her eyes snapped open in surprise. She hadn't even noticed he'd slid closer. His lips were firm and warm, soft and commanding. He clasped the sides of her head and brushed a hand down her neck. Strong fingers splayed against her throat, the pad of his thumb brushing against her erratic pulse.
Her pussy throbbed with each beat of her heart. She curled her hands around the back of his head, driving him nearer. Her nipples pebbled in response to the heat of his torso pressed to hers. Strong hands grasped her hips and plucked her from the ground, depositing her on his lap. Needing to feel him against every curve, she shifted and wrapped her legs tightly around his waist. His denim-covered cock strained against her pussy, begging for skin-on-skin contact.
When he pulled back, his eyes were glazed. They were both breathing heavily.
"We shouldn't do this,” Shannon murmured as his lips whispered against the skin of her throat.
Why the hell not? This is Dustin, the man with the perfect penis. It's not like you haven't slept with him before.
But then, she didn't want to just sleep with him. Sanity reclaimed her and she leaned back.
Dustin tsked and captured her hand. “We should. Don't be afraid, Shay."
Her traitorous body ignored her brain's command to stay still, and she floated back into the circle of his embrace.
"You are so beautiful,” he breathed, the hot air tickling the tender flesh of her collarbone. “I've thought about you nonstop."
Shannon's body hummed, every nerve ending tingling with awareness. Her clit twitched against the satin of her panties, and moisture dampened the material. Hunger roared to the surface. She threaded her fingers in his hair and guided him back to her mouth, needing his heat. At that moment, it didn't matter if they only had the weekend, she wanted him. With Dustin she felt whole, felt like she was home. She needed that right now. “Don't stop,” she breathed.
Dustin lifted her from his lap and slowly lowered her to the quilt. Excitement filled her. She wanted this, wanted him. Had dreamed of it since the day she left Bandera. Oh, God, was there anyone around to see them? Who cared!
Impatient hands tugged up her shirt to reveal her barely-there lace bra. He relented his torment on her mouth and trailed kisses down her neck and collarbone. With his teeth, he tugged aside the scrap of material and her breast popped out of its confines.
Dustin swirled his warm, moist tongue over the pale pink bud. Shannon gasped and arched into his mouth, begging for more. He bit the tip gently and then traveled downward, his tongue leaving a wet trail along her torso. With deft fingers, he unfastened her jeans and pulled them over her legs and off. Her heart rate sped up in anticipation as his lips brushed her bare thighs, creating goose bumps on her skin.
"Dustin,” she sighed, trying to pull him back up to cover her body with his. She didn't want him to stop kissing her, but she wanted all of him covering all of her. They'd been apart too long.