Authors: Mari Carr & Jayne Rylon
She would have been better off asking advice from Sienna or Hope. Of course, both of them were so head over heels in love, she suspected their opinions wouldn’t have been much different than Sterling’s. Except while Sterling was telling her to go for hot sex, Hope and Sienna probably would have told her it was fate and started planning another fucking wedding.
This was insane. She was going to go to bed and when she woke up, life would be back to normal. She’d treat Liam like she always had and they would forget the past seven days. Problem solved.
Except Jade couldn’t accomplish the first part of her plan. Sleep eluded her. She listened to the quiet strum of Boone’s guitar and heard the murmur of voices for nearly an hour, though she couldn’t make out what was being said. She’d tossed and turned so much, her sleeping bag was twisted into knots beneath her.
Finally, she heard someone at the entrance to the tent. Jade sat up, ready to warn Sterling about her restlessness, when she spotted Liam climbing in.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Liam closed the zipper, then crawled into Sterling’s spot. “Your cousin shanghaied my spot about half an hour ago. She and Jameson were making out like the plane was going down.”
“Tough luck. You’re not staying in here. Take Sterling’s bag. You can sleep next to the campfire with Boone.”
“And get eaten alive by mosquitoes? No thanks. This tent is fine.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Jade. And that’s that.”
Jade tried to fix her bag, flatten it again.
He watched her struggle to smooth it out for a few quiet minutes. “I figured you’d be asleep by now.”
She blew out an annoyed breath. “It’s stifling in here.”
Liam chuckled. “No, it’s not. You sure you’re not just hot and bothered? Because I could take care of that for you.”
Jade lay down and turned her back to him. “Go away.”
“No. In fact…” Liam scooted his bag closer to hers, then wrapped his arm around her waist, tugging until he was spooning her. “I sort of like the idea of snuggling with you.”
Jade sucked in a deep breath, trying to ward off her arousal. Crap. Sterling was right. She wasn’t used to curbing her desires and right now it took every ounce of willpower she had not to roll over, straddle Liam’s hips and scratch the itch.
So instead, she put up a token resistance, trying to break his grip. “Dammit, Liam. Really?”
Her strength was no match for Liam’s and they both knew it. He trained bucking bulls, for God’s sake. His muscles had muscles.
“You finished?” he asked.
His question reminded her of the back alley at Spurs. He’d asked her the same thing just before he’d kissed her.
She stilled. “Yeah.”
“We’re just sleeping, kiddo.”
“Don’t you think it’s sort of perverted to hold me like this while calling me kiddo?”
He chuckled. “Yeah. Probably. I’m sure as Hell not going to deny there’s a woman in my arms right now.”
She was sorry she’d mentioned it. She didn’t mind the nickname. In fact, she liked it.
He tugged her even closer and Jade could feel his erection against her ass through his boxers and her lightweight pajama bottoms. She wiggled to prove she knew it was there.
He laughed. “Just lay still, close your eyes and rest awhile.”
“You’re not going to give this up, are you?”
She felt rather than saw him shake his head. “No. I don’t think I am.”
“You’re wasting your time. A relationship between the two of us would never work, not for the long-term.”
He pressed a soft kiss to her shoulder. “You’re right. It probably wouldn’t.”
She twisted in his arms, turning to face him. “Then why push this?”
“Because I can’t stop.”
She would have questioned him further, but the moon had broken free of the clouds. She and Sterling had left the top cover off the tent, both of them wanting to look at the stars. The sheer mesh sent a stream of light into their tiny space, allowing her to see his face clearly.
Liam seemed resigned to something she was only just beginning to understand. It was pointless to fight the unavoidable.
And she and Liam and sex…
It was inevitable.
Liam tightened his grip on the training rope as the new bull he’d been working with kicked violently against the constraints. He was pleased with the grit Fearless had shown during his initial sessions. This bull was shaping up to be one of his best ever. If he kicked like this during competition, Fearless had a chance at going down in the rodeo history books, much like Bodacious had over thirty years earlier.
“Damn. That’s one fine bull.”
Liam looked over his shoulder as Daniel strolled over. Liam had been so intent on the training, he hadn’t heard Daniel pull up in his pickup.
“Yeah. I was just thinking if he keeps it up, this bull could kick some pretty serious cowboy ass.”
Daniel chuckled. “I sure as hell wouldn’t want to ride him.”
Liam released the strap on the bull and leaned against the fence.
“What are you doing over here? Isn’t it a bit early for happy hour?” Daniel had moved to Compass Pass nearly three years earlier to work with Sienna’s father, Seth, breeding prime horseflesh. Since then, he and Liam had become friends. They were about the same age, both cowboys with a love of sleek horses, a bottle of Jack, and a good game of pool. And they were both currently trying to figure out how to deal with one of the infamous Compass girls, not that Daniel knew of that last, more recent common bond.
Of course in all fairness, Daniel had an easier task with his Compton lady. Sienna was reliable, down-to-earth and practical. Daniel didn’t have to worry about her getting into barroom brawls, challenging some roughneck to a drag race or hopping onto the back of a wild stallion. Liam had witnessed Jade do all three of those things. More than once. Which was why he should be trying to get his cock under control instead of considering the leap from
to something more.
“I’m not here to drink, though God knows I sure as hell could use one. There are too many women over on Compass Ranch with only one thing on their minds these days—me, gettin’ hitched in style. I keep trying to convince Sienna to run off to Vegas, but she’s not budging.”
Though Daniel complained, his face betrayed him. He was head over heels in love with Sienna and there wasn’t a damn thing he wouldn’t give the woman. While Daniel bitched and moaned about the wedding plans, Liam wasn’t fooled. He suspected Daniel was looking forward to the big day as much as the bride.
“You picked a tough family to marry into. They’re great people—one on one—but damn, when you put them all together, it’s like a tidal wave crashing on your head.”
Daniel laughed. “You got that right. Between the
issuing orders, all of us men are jumping around like barefoot bums on hot asphalt. We’re painting shutters, planting flowers, fixing fences, tidying up the yard, hiding all the ranch equipment they think is
, which is a pain in the ass considering we need to use the tools to do our jobs. Spent nearly half an hour this morning looking for these so I could return them.”
Daniel handed Liam several straps he’d borrowed the previous week. “Thought I’d better get them back to you before they went missing for good.”
Liam took them and tossed them near the door of the stable. “Thanks.”
“Heard through the grapevine that Jade nearly took Rhonda Barker’s head off at Spurs a couple weeks ago. Surprised you didn’t say anything on the camping trip. Sounds like it was quite a show.”
Liam shrugged. “Wasn’t much of a story to tell. They just exchanged a few words.”
“Rumor has it you pulled her out of the bar before fists flew.”
Daniel had been insinuating that Liam had feelings for Jade for nearly a year, despite the fact Liam constantly denied it. Ever since Daniel had decided to get married to his pretty girlfriend, he’d been determined Liam should take the same plunge. And for some insane reason, he had fixated on Jade as the top choice for Liam’s future bride.
Now that he thought about it, it was probably Daniel’s fault he’d responded to Jade’s kiss in the first place. His friend had planted the seed so many times…it was starting to take root.
“I broke up the fight. That’s all. You would have done the same thing, so don’t go reading anything into it.” Liam wasn’t ready to confess that his feelings had changed to Daniel. Mainly because he still wasn’t completely sure what he was going to do. He had some ideas of what he wanted to do, but he needed a more solid strategy than the single thing that was floating through his head right now.
Have sex with Jade.
Jade wasn’t some weekend hookup. While this sudden physical attraction was strong, Liam knew there was a hell of a lot more to it than just that. He cared about Jade, always had. There was no way the two of them could embark on a sexual affair without emotions and history coming in to play. He just had to decide if he was willing to take the next step because God knew it was a big one and there would be no turning back—at least not for him.
With the exception of her cousins, no one knew Jade Compton better than Liam. And as such, he knew that lately she was a powder keg set to blow and any man fool enough to get close to her was bound to lose a few limbs in the explosion. He needed to proceed with caution. And that required some serious forethought and a game plan.
Daniel gave him a shit-eating grin. “Noticed you two sharing a tent on the camping trip.”
Liam rolled his eyes. “Only because Sterling crept off with Jameson and stole my sleeping bag.” He blew out a long breath, then asked a question he knew Daniel would think was a joke. Unfortunately, Liam needed a serious answer. “Let me ask you something. Would
take up with Jade Compton?”
Daniel crinkled his nose. “Hell no. Sienna’s baby brother, Doug, suggested I date her when I first moved to Compton Pass. Believe me, I knew right from the beginning she was too much woman for me.”
“But you think I should sign on for that? Why?”
Daniel shrugged. “I dunno. Call me crazy, but I think the two of you would be pretty good for each other.” Daniel gestured to the bull standing in the pen next to them. “Face it. You don’t seem to have a problem with wild beasts.”
Liam wasn’t sure how to respond. The words rang true. And as hard as it was for him to admit it, he was starting to think his friend was right. He and Jade fit. He’d never noticed it before, but he should have. For eight years, she’d been the one constant in his life. The problem was their relationship had evolved so slowly—from acquaintances to neighbors to best friends—he’d failed to consider there could be something more there. Somewhere over the past two weeks, one thing had become completely apparent to him. The untamed woman
appear to be his type.
Daniel took Liam’s silence as further resistance. “Fine. You’ve made it perfectly clear Jade’s not your type. I’ll stop giving you shit about it.”
Liam tipped his hat in unspoken thanks, glad to be let off the hook. He wasn’t about to tell Daniel about the kiss. Or the skinny-dip that took a rather provocative turn—thank God no one noticed that. Or the fact he’d held Jade all night in the tent, savoring the way her sweet body fit against his.
“You still coming to dinner tonight? Big wedding powwow, remember?”
Liam nodded. Daniel had asked him to stand next to him as best man. Part of him thought Daniel had issued the invitation simply so he’d have backup whenever the wedding ideas got out of hand. So far he and Daniel had managed to talk the bride and her cousins out of boogying down the aisle. Apparently, Seth and Sam had done some sort of crazy two-step as they’d approached the altar to say their I do’s and the Compass girls thought a repeat performance would be fun. Daniel had firmly put his foot down, insisting he was not about to make a fool of himself on his wedding day. Liam had supported him because he sure as hell didn’t intend to dance either.
“I’ll be there, but I’m telling you now, I don’t think there’s any way you’re going to convince those girls to let you out of writing your own vows.”
Daniel blew out a long breath. “I know. Sienna mentioned it again this morning. I’m in trouble with that one. I mean, I love Sienna, but I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to say all that mushy-gushy stuff women love in front of everybody. I’m going to come off like a babbling idiot and I’m pretty sure I’ll spend the next few years of my life taking shit from the ranch hands for sounding like such a sap.”
Liam slapped him on the back and gave him a wicked grin. “Not just the hands, Daniel.”
Liam laughed. “I have faith in you, partner. Tell you what, we’ll work on it together next weekend over a bottle of Jack. I’m sure we can figure out a way for you to say something sweet without sounding like a complete tool. What do you think?”
Daniel grinned, taking off his hat and beating the dust out of it against his jeans. It was another scorcher, the sun shining down on them mercilessly. “Sounds good. I better get back or Seth will send a posse to track me down. He gave me hell when I said I needed to return those straps to you. Said it was a lame excuse for escaping. Informed me I’d better not dawdle too long or he’d make me drive Jody and Sienna to town to pick out the design for the wedding bouquets this afternoon.” Daniel feigned a shudder. “They’ve already been to the florist twice and both times they were there over four hours. What the hell can you do in a flower shop for eight hours?”