Unaccountably, though, the familiar 20-mile drive from Cedar Ridge to the Silver Jack Ranch seemed to take forever. It didn’t help that Jared was sitting rigid, wedged against the door trying to keep some distance from the woman next to him. As they bumped along the rural road stretching between the Northfork Highway and the ranch, that was proving next to impossible. Potholes peppered the graying blacktop, and Jessica’s body pressed against him each time he swerved to avoid one. But driving over them wasn’t any better. The bone-jarring jolt as a truck wheel dipped in and out of an uneven break in the pavement inevitably tossed her against him, too.
Jessica didn’t seem to notice his discomfort, having warmed to his mother right away. It shouldn’t have surprised him; Faith had a way of drawing people out. Even so, his jaw tightened in tandem with his grip on the wheel as the two women leaned close together, getting along like old friends.
He scowled. The three of them wouldn’t have crossed paths if Boone hadn’t been too busy to deliver the feed order. With the feed supply low, waiting even a day wasn’t an option. So Jared and Faith had gone to get it. But what should have been an easy, uncomplicated trip was ending with more complications than he could have imagined.
It was bad enough they were bringing home a house guest who would stay God only knew how long, but this one was something else. He didn’t have time or the patience for a city girl underfoot, especially one so distracting. A petite blonde, she wasn’t his usual type. Her spun-gold hair fell just below her shoulders, and she had soft curves in interesting places. He usually went for athletic brunettes who were taller, ones whose height almost matched his. Plus, decked out in her designer jeans, silk t-shirt, and too-new jacket, Jessica certainly didn’t dress the part of a woman he’d keep company with. So why did she provoke such a reaction in him?
He blinked hard, rubbed at the back of his neck. Every move she made brushed against him, shooting electricity through his body, starting at the point of contact and spreading like wildfire across his skin. And her voice—smooth as cream. Even her laugh affected him. It warmed his core and made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up in pleasant anticipation of how another laugh could be coaxed from her.
After an eternity, the lodgepole pine head gate marking the entrance to the ranch appeared. Jared exhaled and allowed himself to relax a bit.
“Here we are. Home sweet home,” Faith announced as the truck bumped over the cattle guard across the threshold to the property. Jared tensed up again when the jostling pitched Jessica firmly against him.
She gasped, but it wasn’t a reaction to him. “Oh, Faith! It’s all so … stunning!” she exclaimed as they drove through a lush valley where a few cows idly grazed behind fences on either side of the rutted lane.
At last, they passed a large pond lined with cattails and rolled into the dusty ranch yard. Jared pulled the truck to a stop and released a relieved sigh. From the corner of his eye, he watched Faith hop out of the cab. Jessica slid out behind her. He stifled a laugh when their two Australian shepherds bounded out of the fenced yard, completely catching Jessica off guard. Faith clucked and shooed them, pushing one dog down off Jessica, then the other but, predictably, they each popped up again in turn.
“You two—behave!” Faith scolded, clapping her hands at them. That did the trick. Both dogs took a few backward steps, ears pricked, still trembling and regarding Jessica with excited curiosity.
“This is Dobby, and this is Daisy,” Faith said, introducing them. “They help out with the herd from time to time and guard the place. They’re a hell of a security system, and happy to work for room, board, and regular cuddling.”
Jared gave a derisive snort when Jessica patted them awkwardly and muttered an apprehensive greeting. The woman acted like she’d never seen a dog before. Dobby and Daisy didn’t seem to mind. They wagged their tails, accepting her clumsy show of affection before trotting over to see Jared.
“C’mon, darlin’.” Faith hooked her arm through Jessica’s. “Let’s get you settled. Jared, bring Jessica’s cases in, will you?”
Jared huffed out an irritated breath, though he doubted either woman heard him. He watched Faith lead Jessica across the dusty yard, through the gate in the jackleg fence, and up to the house beyond without a backward glance. His eyes still on the two of them, Jared bent to give the dogs the greeting they expected, then leaned back, drooping against the truck. Daisy sat in devoted obedience at his feet, and Dobby got busy evaluating the scent Jessica left behind. A corner of Jared’s mouth crooked down. “Yeah. It gets to you, doesn’t it?” he murmured to the dog. His eyes wandered to the luggage secured snugly between the heavy feed sacks and the rear of the truck’s cab. What had his mother gotten them into?
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish