A song started up on the jukebox, too loud to continue the conversation. Charli gestured to indicate she needed a beer. From the corner of her eye, she saw a cowboy enter the saloon, a saddle balanced on his shoulder. His dark hair was a little long, his hat dusty. But beneath the brim, his jaw was strong, square, his mouth full and sensual.
A bottle tapped the counter in front of her, and she glanced back at Jake, who arched a brow. He was Drew's friend and didn't approve of her scoping out a stranger. Charli grinned and shrugged. What was the harm in admiring a handsome man? It wasn't like she and Drew were married. Drew was her foreman, and they'd hooked up only once. They'd never made any promises. Too bad everyone else branded them a couple.
Since they were already seen as an item by the rest of the town, she wondered why Drew had never pushed for something more. He'd been her husband's best friend. Maybe he felt guilty that he'd crawled into Daniel's bed.
Again, the stranger drew her attention. He strode closer, then halted in front of the corkboard. His gaze swept the business cards and pictures of lost pets. His hand reached for the ad she'd posted, flicked the tear-off numbers, but dropped.
She let go of the breath she'd been holding. Was she relieved when he moved along, taking a seat farther down the bar, or disappointed? She didn't need that kind of trouble. She had enough worries on her plate--like how much the hay she'd ordered trucked in from Arkansas would cut into her profits.
The song ended, and another, this one slower, started up. She took a sip of her beer, then pressed the bottle to the side of her neck, enjoying the cool against her sweaty skin. The temperature had climbed to over a hundred for the thirty-second day in a row. The unending heat sapped her energy, made her yearn for rain. A gully-washer. She didn't care if it rose to the roof so long as the heat wave broke.
"Care to dance?"
Her foot slipped off the barstool rung, and she jerked forward, her gaze flying to the handsome cowboy who'd somehow managed to slip in unnoticed beside her.
"I don't dance," she croaked, then cleared her throat. A blush crept up across her cheeks at the way his green eyes narrowed as they swept her face.
She knew what he saw. A thin woman, a little older than he was. Sun and hard luck had carved a line or two into the brackets beside her mouth and the corners of her eyes. She hadn't moisturized in ages, hadn't worn makeup in even longer. What was the point? Her husband was dead, and she had a ranch to run.
"All you have to do is hold on. I'll move you around the floor," he said, his voice soft and seductive. A dimple dug a crease into one cheek as he smiled. It perfectly matched the notch in his chin.
Her tongue tickled as she thought about pushing the tip into that groove. She straightened on her seat. "If I said I wasn't interested, would you move along to someone else?"
He shook his head, then tilted up the brim of his hat. "Name's Lone, but you can call me Lonny."
Charli's mouth twitched, but she couldn't hide the glimmer of a smile his persistence evoked. "You ever have a woman say no?"
His sage eyes lit with humor. "Not once. You wouldn't wanna mess up my perfect record, now would ya? It's just a dance."
She sighed and ignored Jake's scowl. When Lonny extended his hand, she placed hers inside his and hoped he didn't mind a callus or two.
His fingers closed tighter, and he tugged her off the stool. Standing beside him, she felt her heart flutter because he was tall and broader across the chest than she'd noticed. She liked feeling dwarfed by a man. Her day was definitely looking up.
Lonny led her between the round tables to the parquet dance floor, then turned and pulled her into his embrace, his arms encircling her body.
She cocked her head and drew back, lifting a hand to indicate she expected something a little less invasive.
He didn't argue. Instead, he flashed an easy grin and lifted his hand, waiting until she slid her palm across his. He placed his other hand lightly on her hip and shuffled her backward on the dance floor.
They made several turns before he leaned toward her. "You lied. You do too dance."
Charli chuckled. "Not in a long time, cowboy."
"Swear I wouldn't have minded if you'd stepped on my toes. Would've given me an excuse to pull you closer. We could have swayed together."
"You know any speed other than fast?"
A pang of regret tightened her chest. Something of what she felt must have registered on her face, because he pulled her closer, not relenting until she laid her head against his shoulder. Now they did sway slowly together. And it was nice.
His cheek rubbed her hair. "This is nice. Didn't I tell you?"
She snorted, surprised his words so closely matched her own thoughts. "You're awfully pushy."
"Can't resist a pretty girl."
"You're not gettin' into my pants with flattery."
"Then what'll it take?"
She should have been insulted, but her body softened the shock, melting ever so slightly closer to the hard-bodied cowboy. "I'm not easy."
"Sounds like a challenge to me," he murmured beside her ear. "You married?"
"No." Not anymore. And she'd stopped wearing Daniel's ring a year ago.
"Then there's nothing in the way."
She leaned away to glance up into his face. "What if I have a boyfriend?"
"Sweetheart, if you had a man in your life, one you wanted in your bed, you wouldn't be here with me right now."
Her gaze slid away. She ought to be feeling guilty. The glances she was getting from Jake were sternly disapproving.
But while it was true Drew was a part of her life, she'd never felt a spark of fire this hot. Hadn't since she was a teenager and Daniel pulled her clothing from her body for the first time.
"See there?" he murmured. "You're thinking about it now. What it would be like to lie down with me."
"I'm not like that."
He nodded, his grin widening. "I know. Makes it all the sweeter."