Authors: Cheyenne McCray
Lingerie and Lariats
Copyright © 2012 Lingerie and Lariats by Cheyenne McCray
All rights reserved. No part of this e-Book may be reproduced in whole or in part, scanned, photocopied, recorded, distributed in any printed or electronic form, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or hereafter invented, without express written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
E-book conversion by Bella Media Management.
Published by Pink Zebra Publishing
To Melissa B. This one’s for you.
Renee Winfield climbed out of the passenger side of the truck onto Bar C land, and took a deep breath as she looked at the sprawling ranch house that had been in the Cameron family for generations. It had been a long time since she’d been here, but the place had hardly changed.
The stately old sycamore trees seemed taller than she remembered and the riot of color in the flowerbeds that Aunt Grace had tended appeared even brighter than they had in Renee’s memories. She’d forgotten the tinkling sound of the small waterfall into the pond on the left side of the house and the creak of the old weathered windmill in the back.
Dust swirled on the ground and her sundress fluttered around her knees as an afternoon breeze kicked up. Her long chestnut hair rose above her shoulders. The rooster weathervane perched on top of a corner of the rooftop squeaked as it moved with the light wind.
Memories flittered in her mind as if the wind was pushing them through. Running out the front door before bolting around the house. Laughing as one of the Cameron brothers chased her as they all played tag beneath the sycamores. Serving tea to her dolls on the enclosed porch as Aunt Grace brought out trays of little sandwiches and milk. Riding horses beneath the Arizona summer sun.
Good memories. Happy memories.
“What are you waiting for?” Jerry’s voice took her out of her trance and brought her attention to him. He stepped in front of her, blocking her view of the house. “We drove a long way for you to stand here and stare.”
She forced a smile. “I was remembering what this place was like when I was a kid. It’s been a long time.”
“Can I help you?” A man’s deep voice came from behind her and she turned to face a man with Cameron blue eyes and dark hair. He was broad-shouldered, his western work shirt and jeans hugging his tall frame. He was at least six-three and had a lean and muscular cowboy’s build.
She blinked as she studied his features and a feeling of familiarity came over her. She hesitated then said, “Zane?”
“That’s right.” He pushed up the brim of his hat with one finger. “I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.”
“Renee.” She smiled as she looked at him. “Renee Winfield.”
Surprise came over his features. “Little Reenie?”
She nodded. “It’s been a while.”
He took her by the hand and then pulled her into a hug before stepping back. “Damn but it’s been a long time.”
“Almost thirty years.” She felt a little giddy at seeing her old friend. “Thought it was time to come back and see you all again.”
“Long overdue, sweetheart.” Zane released her hand then held it out to shake Jerry’s. “I’m Zane Cameron,” he said.
“I’m Jerry Nelson.” He gave a friendly smile but Renee thought she saw a hint of jealousy in his eyes. “Renee’s boyfriend.”
“A pleasure.” Zane released Jerry’s hand and turned to Renee. “Everyone is going to be happy to see you. Aunt Grace will be thrilled to have another one of her little chickens come home.”
“How is she?” Renee brushed down her dress with her palms as the wind tried to raise it. “I’ve really missed her.”
“She’s doing fine.” Zane gestured to the house and included Jerry with his gaze as he said, “Come on in. I’d like you to meet my wife and kids and do a little catching up.”
Renee glanced at Jerry before looking at Zane and smiling. “We’d like that.”
Jerry gave an amiable nod in agreement.
They headed toward the house and Jerry put his arm around Renee’s shoulders as they walked, his grip possessive.
“What took you so long to come back?” Zane asked as he grasped the handle of the screen door to the enclosed porch and held the door open.
“Life.” Renee met Zane’s gaze as they waited for him to open the door to his home. “Before I knew it, almost thirty years had passed. I’ve thought of the Cameron bunch a lot over the years and I always knew I’d see you all again.” She glanced up at Jerry. “When Jerry said he had some business in this part of the state, I asked to tag along.”
As they walked through the door and into the cool recesses of the Cameron family home, Renee felt like she’d stepped back in time. Some things had changed, but the overall feel of the place was the same.
A pretty redhead stepped through the doorway that Renee knew led into the kitchen. Zane gave the woman a quick kiss before turning to Renee and Jerry.
“This is my wife, Jessie.” He smiled down at Jessie. “And this is an old friend, Renee Winfield and her boyfriend, Jerry Nelson. Renee lived with us for a few years when we were kids. She’s like a little sister.”
“Great to meet you both.” Jessie gave a brilliant smile. “How about a glass of iced tea?”
Renee glanced up at Jerry. He didn’t like it when she made decisions for the both of them without consulting him. He gave a nod and she looked back at Jessie. “We’d love that.”
They seated themselves around the oak table in the spacious kitchen as Jessie served sun tea over ice in tall glasses. She set a plate of lemons on the table along with a lidded sugar jar and long spoons for anyone who liked their tea on the sweet side.
“Are the kids up?” Zane asked his wife.
Jessie shook her head. “Just put them down for a nap not ten minutes ago.”
He turned to Renee. “Chelsea is our three-year-old daughter and Timothy is our three-month-old son.”
“Wow.” Renee pushed her long hair away from her face. “Zane, a daddy. I’ve always thought of you as a wild boy of eight who used to chase me around the house when we were young.”
He laughed. “I’ve done a little growing up since then.”
“I’ll say.” Renee looked at Jessie then Jerry. “Zane and his brothers were terrors back then.”
“You never met our younger sister, Danica.” Zane leaned back in his chair. “She was born not long before our parents were killed.”
“I cried for days when I heard that,” Renee said quietly. “I wanted to come back for the funeral but my stepfather wouldn’t let me.”
“You’ll like Danica.” Zane picked up his tea glass. “She’s up north now with her husband.”
“He’s a professional bull rider,” Jessie said. “He plans to leave the circuit in the near future to settle down and then they’ll start a family.”
“How long will you be in this area?” Zane asked.
“We rented a room at a bed and breakfast in Patagonia.” Renee glanced up at Jerry before her gaze returned to Zane. “We’re planning on staying three or four days.”
Jessie smiled. “That’s great.”
“What are the rest of the guys up to?” Renee looked from Jessie to Zane who was taking a drink of his iced tea.
“We can plan a barbeque and get the family together and you can see for yourself.” Zane set down his glass. “They’ll be glad to see you. How does day after tomorrow sound?”
“I’d love that,” she said, but felt Jerry stiffen beside her.
Renee managed to keep a smile on her face when she wanted to frown. What was wrong with Jerry? He’d always been the jealous type, but it seemed like he really didn’t want her to spend time with the people who had been like family to her when she was young. He’d already said they could stay a few days during his business trip.
Despite the fact that she felt the familiar edge to him, Jerry joined in on the conversation and came across as friendly and supportive, a real nice guy.
A knock sounded at the front door and Zane pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “I’ll see who’s here,” he said before striding out of the kitchen, his boots thumping on the tile floor.
A few moments later, Zane re-entered the kitchen with a large man who wore a western shirt over a T-shirt and Wrangler jeans. He was a good-looking man in a hard, sexy way, with a couple of days’ worth of stubble and an intense look to his eyes. Something about him caused a stirring sensation in Renee’s belly. He looked familiar but she couldn’t place him.
“This is Sheriff Dan Cooper.” Zane introduced them. “You know my wife and you might remember Renee Winfield. This is her boyfriend, Jerry Nelson.”
The moment Zane said “sheriff” Jerry tensed beside her. But she barely noticed as her jaw dropped as she got to her feet. “Danny Cooper?”
A grin curved the corner of his mouth. “Little Reenie.”
Renee went to him and he hugged her. His masculine scent surrounded her and as she drew away she looked into his eyes that were a beautiful shade of sea green. She grasped his biceps, which were rock hard beneath her palms, and her belly flip-flopped as he gave his sexy grin.
The fact that other people were in the room, including her boyfriend, sent heat through her body as she realized their embrace had lasted a little too long. She hurried to step back and put a little distance between them.
“It’s so good to see you.” She glanced to the badge on his belt before meeting his gaze again. “Sheriff Cooper.”
“You can call me Dan.” He shook his head as he braced one hand on the back of an empty chair. “Our Reenie is all grown up.”
More heat flushed through her but she smiled. “Look at you. I can see they grow ’em big around here.”
She turned to Jerry. “Dan saved me from a runaway horse when I was nine. I’d been riding along a fence line in the north pasture when a rattlesnake spooked my horse. I was barely able to hang on long enough for Dan to grab me and help me onto his own horse.” She glanced at Dan, thoughts of the terror of that moment moving through her mind. “I’ve never forgotten your saving my life like you did.”
Jerry’s smile seemed tight when she looked back at him. “That’s a brave thing for a kid to do,” he said to Dan.
Dan shrugged. “If any one of the Cameron boys had been close enough, they would have done the same.”
“Why don’t we take this to the living room?” Zane gestured in that direction. “It’ll be a little more comfortable.”
They all got to their feet and made their way to the front room and settled onto the couches and chairs. Jessie brought out a glass of iced tea for Dan.
Jerry and Renee sat on a couch and he put his arm around her shoulders as if showing that she belonged to him. He’d always been possessive, but today it made her feel even more uncomfortable than usual.
At the same time, he was engaging and fun as Renee, Zane, and Dan talked about things they’d done as kids. Zane and Dan made sure that Jerry and Jessie were included in the conversation. Renee relaxed and found herself laughing so hard at times that her belly hurt. It had been a long time since she’d enjoyed herself like she did at that moment.
The one thing that kept her slightly on edge was her reaction to Dan. Something about the sexy sheriff and his sense of humor made her feel warm inside, beyond the fact that they’d been childhood friends. Feeling like this with her boyfriend at her side was wrong, but she couldn’t help comparing the two.
And right now, Jerry was coming up short for a lot of reasons that she didn’t want to think about. She’d deal with those reasons later.
“Where have you been all of this time?” Dan asked Renee.
“Philadelphia.” She glanced out of the window. It was getting dark. “A long way from here.”
Zane gave a slow nod. “Have you been living there all this time?”
“Yes.” Renee slid her fingers through the condensation on her glass. “My stepfather, Henry, had a watch repair shop there. My mother died and then it was just me and Henry.”
“What do you do for a living?” Zane asked.
“I’m currently unemployed.” For some reason she didn’t feel like going into detail. Not today. She really didn’t want to talk about her past at all.
Zane and the other Cameron brothers knew a little about her past, how she’d ended up living with them for a couple of years before her mother pulled her act together and married a strict man. He wouldn’t have been such a bad stepfather if he’d ever shown her, even once, that he cared for her.
“How did you two meet?” Dan directed his question to Renee and Jerry.
“He’s my financial advisor.” She glanced at Jerry then looked back at Dan. “We started dating not long after we met, about five months ago.”
Jerry squeezed her shoulders with his arm. “It was love at first sight.”
A feeling of unease went through Renee. She found herself pulling slightly away from Jerry and she felt him tense. Anger simmered beneath his calm exterior and she felt it through his hold on her.
Something in Renee’s belly churned. At one time she’d thought she could fall in love with Jerry but lately she hadn’t been so sure.
“So you’re a financial advisor,” Dan said. “Do you have your own business?”
Jerry nodded. “Sure do.”
“What kind of clients do you have?” Dan asked.
With a shrug, Jerry said, “I have several different clients in a variety of trades.”
Renee had wondered about Jerry’s clientele. He was always evasive and never talked about his business with her except in the most general of terms.
Despite his claims of a successful business, his lifestyle was modest, and he never seemed to have much money. He said he invested in the stock market but she often wondered if he had been gambling the nights he stopped by her house late.
The casinos were the only places that permitted public smoking and he would smell like an ashtray when he showed up. She learned quickly though if Jerry didn’t want to give answers there would be none. His quick temper, if pressed, would quickly silence the questions.
When she finished her iced tea, Jessie offered to get her another glass. Renee got up from the couch, slipping out of Jerry’s grip.
“I can get it.” She waved at Jessie to stay down. “We drove so long and so far today that it feels good to stretch my legs.”
“I could use a little more myself.” Dan rose and followed Renee to the kitchen.
She smiled at him as she picked the jar of sun tea off of the counter and poured more into Dan’s glass and then her own. Lemon wedges were still arranged on the plate that had been moved to the counter and she squeezed one into her glass before adding a couple of teaspoons of sugar.
Thoughts of their childhood, during the short time she’d been here with the Camerons, wandered through her mind. As a kid she’d had a crush on Dan, but she didn’t think he’d noticed her in that way.