Authors: Dinah McLeod
Trying to be discreet, he sidled closer, pretending to look at a menu. He ducked his head and strained to hear what they were saying.
“I’ve already told you, Wade! The answer is
” Though she was doing her best to sound firm, Colton could easily detect the waver in her voice.
“That’s bullshit!” he snapped at her. “You can’t keep yankin’ my chain! One day, you’re gonna call and I’m not goin’ to pick up!”
“Look, I’m sorry, but—”
“Save it, bitch.”
That was enough to make the hair on his arms stand on end, but when he saw the creep grab her wrist, he had to jump into action.
“Hey!” he whined when Colton took him by the shoulder and yanked him back. “What the hell, man?!”
“Keep your hands off the lady,” he ordered in a voice that was sharper than a knife.
“This isn’t none of your business! This is between Scarlett and me!”
“Yeah?” he challenged, struggling to keep his voice calm. “Well, when you laid your filthy mitts on her, you added me to the conversation. Do you even
this asshole?” he demanded, whirling on a wide-eyed Scarlett.
“Oh, so you’re fucking
now, is that it?” the surly man sneered.
“Sorry, man,” he said to Colton, his voice dripping sarcasm. “I guess I shoulda looked harder since I missed your name on her.”
“I think you better leave,” he replied, barely keeping his cool. “You’re makin’ a scene.”
“Oh, you do, do you?” the one called Wade sneered. “Well, as it happens, I don’t much care
you think. But I
leaving and it has nothing to do with you. This bitch has lied to me for the
Colton stepped toward him, but Scarlett grabbed his hand and the feel of her skin pressed against his was enough to still him.
“Don’t,” she begged in a low undertone. “He’s
not worth it. Trust me. What I wouldn’t give to go back six months and tell myself that.”
“Who was that, anyway?” he asked, watching as Wade stomped through the parking lot to a beat-up, peeling Chevy.
“No one important.”
She promptly let go of his hand and when Wade pulled out of the parking lot, tires squealing, he turned to look at her. “My ex.”
“How long ago did you two split?”
“A month ago.”
“He show up here to bother you often?” Colton glanced around the small restaurant and noted several pairs of eyes sneaking a peek in their direction.
“No. Not really. I mean, he’s sent some texts and stuff, but… nothing like that.”
“Then what made today so special?” He didn’t miss the way her eyes skittered away as she began to fiddle with her order pad and pen in her apron pocket.
“That’s probably my fault.”
“I, uh, well… I needed a ride to work.”
“You actually got into a car with that psycho?” he asked in disbelief.
“My car’s in the shop!” she defended herself. “I didn’t have any other options.”
“You coulda called a cab. Hell, you could have called me. Anything but getting into a car with a man like that.”
“I could have called you,” she repeated, deadpan. “Really.”
“Sure you could have.”
“Right. I mean, it’s not like you’ve given me no indication that you want me around.”
Her words were like a punch to the gut and he couldn’t help but look away guiltily. “Look, Scarlett, the other day—”
“That’s okay. Don’t feel like you owe me any explanation. Clearly you’re not interested.”
“It’s not that—”
“What are you doing here, Colton?”
“What am I doing here?” he echoed. Funny, he was asking himself the same question right about now. “I’m hungry.”
“There are plenty of restaurants,” she replied testily. “Why don’t you find another place to have your breakfast?”
“Look, Scarlett, if I could change how things happened—”
“But you can’t.”
“I know that,” he said, his voice firm as he put his hand on her hand to stop her from fiddling with the straws in her apron. “But please believe me, if I could—”
“That’s nice,” she interrupted crisply. “Now, if you’ll excuse me—”
“I’m not goin’ anywhere until you talk to me. So if you want to get rid of me, you at least owe me five minutes.”
She opened her mouth to reply, but just then a voice bellowed out “Scarlett!” and she jumped, looking slightly panicked in the direction of the kitchen.
“Suit yourself,” she said, pulling her wrist away and stomping off toward the kitchen without tossing him a single backwards glance.
* * *
Scarlett could still feel where he’d touched her. It was as though he’d burned her, but it was anything but painful. It tingled, it ached, but not from pain. From desire to have his hand there again. At the thought of it, every other part of her body awakened and throbbed in jealousy of not having been touched first.
She had to admit, it was cute. He’d sat down at the bar and hadn’t moved once in the last two hours. He wasn’t even in her section, but once Lucinda realized that he was waiting for Scarlett—and that he wasn’t going to order anything but ice water—Scarlett had been given the job of looking after him. She had to admit she’d served worse customers.
She was still mad at him. There was no doubt about that. He’d made her feel unwanted and that had stung. But everyone made mistakes… right? She wanted so badly to believe that he cared about her—
cared about her, like he said, but how was that even possible? They hardly knew each other.
And yet… yet, something inside her definitely came alive whenever he was near. That had to mean something.
That, and the fact that he was clearly a man of his word. If she hadn’t believed him before—and the spanking he’d given her had definitely made her a believer—the fact that nothing she’d done or said had been enough to convince him to leave would have been enough. She’d tried ignoring him, had tried being rude, but he’d been cheerfully patient no matter what she did.
“Aren’t you going home?” she asked, trying to maintain a surly tone as she approached him.
“I don’t know. Are you?”
Scarlett sighed loudly and glared at him. “I don’t know what you think you’re going to prove by getting on my nerves.”
“Well, since I’m not avoiding you then hopefully it’ll prove that I am interested.”
She couldn’t really argue that one, could she? “I have a break.”
“Are you inviting me?”
“Since I can’t seem to do anything to shake you, I guess you might as well come.”
Colton hooted loudly and jumped off the barstool. “Lead the way.”
Scarlett made a show of rolling her eyes but turned away before he could see her smile. He certainly was fun to be around—no one could deny that.
“Is that all you’re eating?” Colton asked after they’d walked out of the restaurant, eyeing the bag of peanuts she pulled from her purse.
“Yep,” she replied, giving him a look that dared him to comment on it.
Wisely, he chose to change the subject. “Listen, Scarlett, I know that I hurt you the other day—”
“You didn’t hurt me,” she lied. “I just wish I hadn’t wasted my time.”
“I can understand that. And mostly, I just want to apologize. It was wrong of me to ask you to leave. I didn’t do it because I don’t want to be around you, I can promise you that.”
Scarlett popped a peanut in her mouth and chewed determinedly, trying to pretend that she didn’t care what he was saying.
“I messed up, and all I want is a chance to explain.” When she still didn’t reply, he plunged ahead. “The thing is, well… you’re just so beautiful… and you’re… I don’t know. So precious.”
“I’m not five,” she informed him, but some of the earlier heat had left her voice.
“I know that. You’re definitely not, and that’s part of the problem,” he grinned ruefully.
“What problem is that?”
“I know that I haven’t known you long, Scarlett, but I’d like to get to know you. The truth is, I’d like that more than anything.”
“Then what’s the problem?” she asked, hating him for robbing her of her anger. She could feel herself warming toward him more with every second. Perhaps it was due in part to the fact that she didn’t think she could turn her feelings off for him if she tried.
“The problem is that that doesn’t happen to me. Not ever. And I know that sounds stupid, but… I don’t know. I guess it kind of scared me.”
“Scared?” she laughed. “You?”
“I know, I know. But I promise you, it’s true. Please, just give me another chance.”
Scarlett looked at him for a long moment without answering. She hoped she looked indifferent, but the truth was her heart was turning over in her chest and her heart was racing triple-time. Did she dare to believe him? Was it possible that he actually had feelings for her? For
It didn’t seem possible in this universe, and yet, he had sought her out. He’d stayed for over two hours with nothing to do but endure her snide remarks or the cold shoulder and then watch her walk away. Now, he was pouring his heart out to her. The way his eyes pleaded with her told her that he had to be sincere.
Still, it was hard not to jump up and down pinching herself. It was hard not to say,
are you sure you’ve got the right girl?
“Well, as it happens,” she tossed her hair over her shoulder saucily, “I am suddenly in the market for a taxi driver.”
Colton smiled briefly but then his grin faded as his eyes clouded over. “That guy… Wade… is he always prone to violence like that?”
Scarlett thought, wishing that she could kick herself. She’d much rather he go back to talking about her. “Um, not always.”
“So he’s done things like that in the past?”
She didn’t like how stern his voice was becoming. “Sort of, I guess.”
“Either he has or he hasn’t, Scarlett, and your posture is telling me which is true. So now to my next question: if you know that he’s like that, why would you put yourself in danger by riding in a
“I told you,” she muttered, shaking more peanuts into her hand. She wasn’t really hungry, but she was trying to give herself something to do. The salt flaked off into her sweaty palm and she prayed that he would let it drop. “I needed a ride.”
“Oh, so your health and well-being are less important than a waitressing shift?”
Her head snapped up and she glared at him. “Hey! I
this job! Not all of us can make thousands of dollars in a single afternoon, you know!”
“Well, I doubt you’ll be makin’ money much longer if you keep hangin’ around that character! He’s bad news, Scarlett. I can feel it.”
She rolled her eyes and huffed loudly, throwing the peanuts back into her purse and not even caring that they’d be rolling around inside her bag. “Yeah? And how do you know that?”
“I don’t know. I just do.”
“Yeah, well, no offense, but I just don’t see how that’s any of your business.” She wasn’t even really sure why she was fighting him—she knew he was right. But it wasn’t really about Wade. She couldn’t help it; even though he’d apologized, she was still more than a little mad and a whole lot hurt.
Colton put his hand on her shoulder and stepped closer. Before she could move or protest—not that she was sure that she would have done either—he bent his head and put his lips on hers. For a solid minute the world stopped dead on its axis. Scarlett couldn’t think of anything but the feel of his mouth hot on hers. She closed her eyes and let every other thought—her insecurities and fears—go for one beautiful moment and let his tongue explore her mouth. His hand brushed her arm, sending tingles shivering along her spine.
God, he tasted good, and smelled even better. He was as good at kissing as he was at riding bulls—maybe even better. His kiss was sweet, yet possessive. Firm, yet gentle. She wanted nothing more than to melt into him and never, ever go back to being plain old Scarlett Lawton again. She felt like so much more when she was with him.
Which was stupid, because he clearly wasn’t interested. How could he be? He was so gorgeous and smart and funny and she was just… her. Yes, sure, it was hard to feel like that when he was kissing her, but it stayed in the back of her mind nonetheless.
When he pulled away, making her lips ache from the loss of him, he was giving her a stern, no-nonsense look that made her insides turn to jelly. “I shouldn’t have done that. It’s not generally my policy to reward bad little girls.”
“Is that what I am?” she asked breathlessly, forgetting momentarily that she was at work, the last place she should be getting kissed like that.
“You tell me. From where I’m standin’, it sure looks like it. Do you argue with every guy who tries to take care of you?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “No one but you has ever tried.” Was it her imagination, or did she see him wince?
“Well… I’d like to try again. If you’ll let me.”
She blinked in surprise. With those words, it almost seemed as though he transformed before her eyes from a confident, take-charge man to one who was nervous and unsure of himself. The flutters in her stomach intensified until she felt like she might burst. The truth was, she
him to. She wanted to tell him that so badly, but something was holding her back. Not something—the fear of being rejected again and feeling like she was a worthless thing nobody wanted.
That soft plea was nearly her undoing. She’d never seen a man look so vulnerable before, much less a strong cowboy, and it made her want to put her trust in him. But could she do it a second time? “I… I don’t know, Colton.”
“I know you’re scared, but you don’t have to be scared o’ me.”
She wasn’t sure
him, but more of what just a look, a single word did to her. “I… I should probably be getting back.” She glanced nervously at the restaurant.
“Okay. When does your shift end?”
“In a couple of hours. Wait, you’re not going to stalk me again, are you?”
He grinned at her and it about melted her into a puddle at his feet. “No, I think you need a little space right now. So, I tell you what: I’m gonna go for a drive and I’ll be back in two hours. Why don’t you think about what you want, and either way, no matter what your answer is, I’ll give you a ride home. No strings attached.”