Face buried between the curtains, her sister, Rachel, beckoned Tess with several quick waves of her hand. "Oh my God. You have to see this." The fair-haired beauty snorted. "I think it's our next-door neighbor. Judging by the way he's swaying while dancing on our retainer wall, I'd say he's drunk as a skunk."
Tess had heard the naughty rumors about that cowboy. The stories told were deliciously sinful. But of course, she wouldn't dare get involved with a rogue who was known for dabbling in a little bondage and even more wicked adventures like threesomes. Their brother, Levi, had warned them all about the man who occupied the ranch next to them.
Still, curiosity had its claws in her. Tess quickened her steps until she eased behind Rose, the youngest of the identical twins by two minutes and the most forward and daring out of the two girls.
Grinning from ear to ear, her blue eyes laughing, Rose stared up at Tess. "Isn't he handsome?"
Tess gazed through the black curtain of night hampered only by truck lights that almost blinded her. She could barely make out the shadowy shape that teetered on the three-foot stucco fence.
Her sister's words drew Tess up short. "How do you know he's handsome?" How indeed?
Both girls' tittering stopped abruptly.
Tess shook her head. "Tell me you haven't been nosing around his property?"
Their meddling would be the death of her. At fifteen they were spreading their wings and soaking up as much independence as they could. Add an almost nineteen-year-old brother and--
The burden of her guardianship swept over Tess. Her chest tightened. Levi would be going off to college in less than a year. That is if she could keep him away from the girls. The last thing she needed to deal with was an unexpected marriage proposal or, God forbid, a pregnancy.
And Rose and Rachel--
"Well..." Rachel began, pushing aside her waist-length blonde hair that matched both Rose's and Tess's, while her twin finished her sentence, "it was a small peek. The girls at school say he is the most sought out cowboy in all of San Antonio, maybe even all of Texas. Who knows, maybe the world."
How was that for exaggeration?
"You two shouldn't be listening to idle gossip," Tess chastised.
The trouble was she had heard the same rumors. Not only was the man said to be tall, dark and handsome, but rich. Which was evident by his holdings, an impressive Spanish manor that sat on two thousand acres of prime land. His sullied reputation would only make him that much more attractive to some.
Certainly not her.
Tess had her family and career to think about. A randy cowboy was not in her plans. Tears came from out of nowhere to dampen her eyes. She quickly blinked them away before her sisters could see her sorrow. In all honesty, a year ago Tess wouldn't have thought twice about taking on a man like Wiseman, but not now, not since her parents' death. Her siblings relied on her. She had to set the standards so that they grew up in the environment their parents had set for them.
Tess eased back so the cowboy was no longer in her sights. "Get away from there. Maybe he'll just go home."
"Or pass out." Rachel chuckled, before parting the curtains once more and staring into the darkness. Rose joined her as Tess stepped away.
Tess exhaled slowly, glancing around the large room, taking in its comfortable leather couch, love seat, and two matching chairs positioned before a large, stone fireplace. Angus Cattle Ranch, the Gilmore's new home, sat on seven hundred acres. While not as grandiose as Wiseman's, the two-story log cabin was spacious and homey. The scent of mesquite burning in the grate lent truth to its warmth.
She released a sigh of longing.
If only their parents hadn't died in a car accident a year ago. At twenty-three, she had never thought her life would take such a drastic turn. She wasn't equipped to raise her sisters and brother. But then, when did anything make sense?
The change of scenery had been her suggestion. The move to San Antonio had been her brother's idea.
Levi had always dreamed of owning his own ranch and there was plenty of room for Rachel and Rosie to kick up their heels. But when he left for college, because no matter how he fought, he was getting a degree, the care of the ranch would fall upon her shoulders.
God. She should have thought this through better.
"Oh no!" Rose reared back, eyes wide with concern. "He fell."
All three of them rushed to the front door, but it was Tess who got there first. Back against the cool wood, she spread her arms out wide to bar the way. "No you don't. I'll take care of this." Her demand was met with a choir of disapprovals.
"Please, Tess, can't we come with you?" Rachel asked.
"Absolutely not. It's late. You both should be in bed. You have school tomorrow."
"Puleeezzze..." Rose whined, while Rachel echoed her.
"No. Now upstairs with you both." Tess waited a heartbeat before she pivoted, turned the porch light on and opened the door to step outside.
Dressed in old flannel pajamas and no robe, she crossed her arms beneath her full chest and hurried toward where she had last seen the man waltzing along the retainer wall. The wet grass beneath her bare feet chilled her. She should have returned for slippers, but concern kept her on track. His singing had stopped and that couldn't be a good sign.
I hope the idiot didn't hurt himself. Then again, it would serve him right. What was he doing here anyway?
Tess peeked over the wall. "Mr. Wiseman?"
Lying prone, he didn't move.
Her heart stuttered. Oh God. Was he breathing? Her pulse took flight as she quickly crawled over the abrasive stone wall. Kneeling so that her heels touched her butt, she placed her fingertips to his neck just beneath an obstinate jawbone and felt for life.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Okay. So he wasn't dead, but he might as well be. The man appeared to be out cold. He smelled of whiskey, spicy cologne and a heady mixture of masculinity that she didn't want to affect her, but it did. Her pulse picked up a beat of temptation. She willed herself to look at him as an inconvenience, but the lock of dark hair that swept across one eye called to be brushed back. Before she knew it she reached out and her fingertips skimmed his forehead.
"What on God's green earth am I going to do with you?"
The only good thing about this situation, the cowboy's inebriated state, granted Tess the opportunity to really look at the man who had provoked so many rumors. Moonlight and headlights bathed his face in shadows, giving him a mysterious and sexy mien. In didn't help that the truck radio switched over to a dreamy love song. A steel guitar whined softly in the background.
Clancy Wiseman really was tall, dark and definitely handsome.
Long, black eyelashes lay like crescents atop his cheeks. A five o'clock shadow was rough beneath her gentle caress as she stroked her palm over his bristly cheek. He didn't wear a jacket, only a damp T-shirt that stretched over a broad chest and a firm muscled abdomen, and an impressive set of bulging biceps. Those enticing veins that ran up a healthy man's forearms had always turned her on, and then there were his hands. Large. Strong.
Tess shuddered, wondering what they would feel like against her skin. She inhaled the scent of him again, before she slowly continued her perusal.
Tight blue jeans didn't hide the fact the man had what was needed to keep a woman satisfied. She swallowed hard. It had been one difficult year of celibacy. Maybe that's why she wasn't surprised by the image that suddenly filled her head.
Her. Him. Wrapped in a hot embrace. His firm body pressed against hers and his cock spreading her wide, filling her inch by delicious inch. She trembled, closing her eyes and reveling in the stolen moment of arousal. That familiar tingle in each nipple felt so good as it radiated throughout, making her breasts grow heavy before it moved lower.
"Oomph..." Air rushed out of Tess's lungs as she was suddenly grabbed and jerked forward. With a thud and a little squeal of bewilderment, she landed spread-eagled atop the cowboy, nose to nose.
Half-shuttered, dark eyes stared up at her.
"Are you an angel?"
His rich, deep voice slid across her like a sensual touch, sending a shiver up her spine, a fact that irritated the crap out of her. Tess didn't need any more complications in her life, and this man screamed of complications.
"No!" Pushing and shoving followed her sharp reply.
Any attempts to break his hold were fruitless. The man was strong. She wasn't a lightweight. At five-nine, she could hold her own. Well, usually.
His nose nudged hers. "Did you fall from Heaven?" Lips a breath away from hers tempted her, but she wasn't a fool. Before she could laugh at his audacity and put him in his place, he continued, "Will you be my angel tonight? Take me home? Make love to me?" His breathy request made her eyelids rise swiftly.
Just the thought of being with this man caused her composure to waver and she couldn't allow that to happen. This was a new town, new beginnings, and for her family she needed to keep her reputation stellar. She'd left her wild life behind. Her family needed her. Just being in this cowboy's presence could ruin her.
Tess wiggled, but the movement only lodged his impressive bulge, the one she had shamelessly admired only moments ago, firmly against the pulse between her thighs.
Everything inside her went haywire. Her breathing became short, shallow intakes. Her nipples drew taut, while something low in her belly tightened uncomfortably. Chills raced across her flesh. Sadly, the prickling had nothing to do with the weather.
Frustration left her lungs in a rush of air. "Mr. Wiseman, release me."
"But then I might miss the opportunity of a lifetime." His mouth brushed hers.
"This is ridiculous--" Before she could finish her sentence, he silenced her with a kiss.
Where Tess expected a wet, slobbery attempt to seduce from a drunken cowboy, she got just the opposite. The way he moved his warm lips tentatively over hers was meant to tempt and conquer. But she had to give herself credit. She clenched her jaws and struggled again for release. He nipped her bottom lip and she gasped. His tongue swept inside, sliding against hers. He hesitated a moment, and damned if her errant tongue didn't seek his. When she entered his mouth to taste him she was lost.
Fight gone. Vanished.
It had been way too long since Tess had found comfort in a man's arms. Thought about her needs instead of those of her family.
The soft whimper she heard was her own. He sipped from her lips as if he savored a fine wine, before flicking his tongue against hers and then smoothing it over every inch of her mouth. The bitterness of whiskey blended with the thrill of a man who knew how to kiss.
Tess should put an end to this madness, but the cowboy beneath her stole her resistance. Besides, what would he remember in the morning? His memory would be sketchy at best. Still it seemed wrong to take advantage of him.
When his hands slid beneath her shirt, stroking her back, a tremor snaked through her. Work-callused palms glided over her flesh. One hand skimmed the underside of a breast. As lightning exploded through her now heavy globes, another moan escaped.
"Tess? Do you need our help?"
Rose's concern stopped Tess cold. She yanked upright, out of the cowboy's arms, her head popping up over the wall to see both her sisters standing at the door, staring in her direction.
Damn them. No. Damn her. She was at fault here.
Tess knew better than to dally with this man. Any man. There was too much to lose. Pushing to her feet, she glanced downward. The cowboy's grin as he threaded his fingers together behind his head made her growl with frustration. She snapped her attention back to her sisters.
"No. No. I've got everything under control." The knees of her pajamas were damp. Her bare feet were starting to freeze.
Yeah. I've got everything under control. Not.
"Get up," Tess muttered beneath her breath.
"Oh baby, I am up." The slow southern draw dripped like warm honey, sweet and enticing.
No. Tess wouldn't fall into his trap. Even with that said, she couldn't help it. She glanced down at his crotch and her eyes widened.
Yup. The man was up. The bulge hard to-- No. Impossible to miss.
Wiseman reached for her and she slapped his hand away.
"Stop that." Tess turned her attention to her sisters who were slowly working their way toward them. "Stay there, girls. I said I've got this under control." But it was far from being under control. Her body ached for fulfillment and the man stroking her ankle wasn't helping. She stumbled back. "Get up--"
No, she wasn't going there. There was no telling what his response would be and she had to think about her sisters.
Wiseman made an attempt to stand, but fell back down. "Angel, I think I need your help."
Biting the inside of her cheek, Tess glared at him. What were the odds the man wasn't as drunk as he appeared? Would he remember their kiss?
"Yeah. Sure." Tess leaned down, shoving her arms beneath his armpits. "On three. One. Two. Three." With a hefty tug he rose, falling straight into her arms. When she attempted to release him, he held on tight.
Burying his nose in her hair, he inhaled. "Hey, Rose and Rachel."
Her sisters took his words as an invitation to join them. They hurried toward them.
Tess jerked back so that she stared into his eyes. "You know my sisters?" And if he recognized her sisters then he wasn't all that drunk.
"Mmmm... I'd rather get to know you better."
God. Tess hoped her sisters didn't hear that.
"Hi, Clancy," Rose cooed.
Rachel batted her eyelashes.
Her sisters were growing up way too fast.
With a grunt, Tess yanked free from his grasp. "Mr. Wiseman was just leaving." The sooner she got rid of him the better.
"Tess!" Both girls cried out at once, but it was Rose who continued. "You can't let him drive."
"No. Please." Big tears bloomed in Rachel's troubled eyes, but the fear in her voice was what chilled Tess.
It had been a drunken motorist who had killed their parents. And what made it even worse was the girls were right. Tess couldn't let the cowboy drive. It would be as irresponsible of her as it was for him driving while impaired.
Damn. What a quandary.
If she drove his truck, she had no way to get back home short of walking. The distance and the heavy clouds hanging in the sky made this choice simply out of the question. Of course, she could invite him inside until Levi got home from studying at a friend's house. But that option would leave her with the man--alone. The girls had to get to bed because they had school. Of course, so did she. It was her first day and she had to make a good impression.
No good alternative appeared to exist.
Tess chewed on the inside of her cheek again. "Mr. Wiseman, my sisters are right." You're going to regret this rang in her head. "Would you mind coming inside? Our brother should be home soon and then we can get you and your truck safely home."
His six-foot frame swayed. "Clancy." Slipping a finger beneath her chin, he dragged her gaze to meet his. Electricity sparked with his touch.
Tess had to struggle not to pull away and reveal how he affected her. "What?" Her forehead furrowed.
"Call me Clancy."
When hell freezes over.
The awkward silence that stretched between them was cut short when Rose blurted, "For heaven's sake, Tess. Just call him Clancy and let's go inside. It's cold out here." She stomped her feet, shifting side to side, as she hugged herself. Rachel stood beside her twin doing the same little shuffle.
The girls were right. Again. It was freezing.
Through clenched teeth, she managed, "Please, Clancy." Tess hated the tremble in her voice. She spun on the toes of her feet and headed for the house.
Male laughter followed her.
And then, if things couldn't get worse, they did.
Apparently Clancy stumbled forward, because he bumped into her back. As he was going down, he grabbed for her and missed. Instead he caught a handful of her pajama bottoms and they followed him down to the ground.
Dumbstruck, for a moment she just stood there. Then she slowly did a little geisha walk, pivoting to glare upon the irritating cowboy at her feet. A cool breeze swept up her bare legs, reminding her she wore no panties. She briefly closed her eyes in disbelief. Could this evening suck any more? When she pinned her sights back on the man, laughter danced in his eyes.
"Oops." A sheepish grin spread across his face.