Jessica shoved the gear shift of her ten-year-old pick-up into 'park' and sat staring at the bright red door of Trey Hardwick's sprawling Texas ranch house. Though her young brother-in-law had arrived home on leave from the Army two weeks ago, she hadn't come over to visit. Couldn't. Even though Trey had asked her to come to dinner last Friday, she had refused, not risking the chance she'd reveal to him how foolishly she craved his kiss-me-quick six-foot-six wall of masculinity in her bed. Inside her body.
Stop it, Jess. Your appetite for him is a widow's hunger. Born in minutes of shared laughter with him over the decades. Born in moments when you thought he understood you better than Clint ever did. Killed by common sense, your age difference--and your decision to never seek another man to love.
She inhaled, summoning the courage she'd corralled back home this morning. This appeal would have been easier if she could have approached the ranch foreman hired by Trey and his dad years ago to run the place. But it wasn't friendly Frank Harmon she had to face this morning. Damn it.
She flicked off the ignition and threw her keys on the dash. She hadn't been to the Rocking H in nearly a year. Not since her father-in-law, Taylor Hardwick's, wake. Still, she marvelled that the rambling Hardwick homestead looked as fresh as it had when she'd first seen it as a teenager. Then she'd been young, so very young, and so much more naive about how life would treat her. How she'd treat life. She'd had hope then. In love with the high school quarterback, she'd been honoured and amazed that Clint Hardwick loved her back. That the second son of the legendary Hardwick dynasty wanted her as his bride. Claimed her for himself before any other boy could. And Jess had welcomed Clint's proposal. Needed him. Wanted him.
She snorted. And look how well that turned out.
She reached across the seat for her summer straw Stetson and jammed it on over her pony tail. But vanity and pride had her straining up to check out her face in the rear-view mirror. What she saw made her frown and question her simple approach. No make-up, no cleavage showing for the hunky specimen most females in town would drop their panties for. Is this the way to win Trey over? Or a sure way to fail?
She squinted at her reflection. The lines around her eyes came from years of sun-drying her skin as she rustled cattle on the range. Her lips, still full and pink, didn't widen in laughter often. True, her cheeks were high and elegant, but her green eyes showed the weary strength of running her ranch alone since Clint's death three years ago. She'd come far since then, freed from worry when she no longer had to worry each day about Clint's preference for bourbon over her.
Forget that! She snapped away from her image. Ask for Trey's help now--or never! On a small cry, she thrust open the cab door, slid down out of the truck and slammed the door.
Palms running down her denim-clad thighs, she strode up the circular drive towards Trey's house. And what she needed.
What she had to have to survive.
And Trey, Clint's younger brother, had to give it to her. Didn't he?
She knocked. Folded her arms. Tapped her toe. Dug the heel of her boot into the floorboard.