Four Years Ago
God, he wanted to kiss her.
Jasper Simmons thrust his hand out at Sarah Tennison and prayed like hell it wasn’t sweating. He’d wiped it at least three times while walking up the path to her porch. “Um, so, thanks for dinner--I mean, for lettin’ me take you to dinner. I liked it. Um, the food was good, and so were you.” Heat flamed Jasper’s entire body, and he was sure the porch light they stood under put a spotlight on his red face. “Shit. I meant you’re nice, and I liked havin’ dinner with you and Ren and Cade.”
“It’s okay. I know what you meant.” Sarah shook Jasper’s outstretched hand and smiled. She immediately darted her gaze to her front door, though, and Jasper’s heart plummeted right into his cowboy boots.
Sarah looked back at him, and his heart skipped a beat at her pretty brown eyes and sweet smile. “I should probably go inside,” she said. “Ren and Cade are waiting for you.” They both turned their heads in the direction of the truck parked on the street, noting the two men--the other half of their double date--talking inside the vehicle. “They’re pretending not to look at us, but it would probably be hard for anyone not to eavesdrop, you know?”
“Right. Sure. Sorry.” God, Jas, you’re blowing it. Stop talking before this girl laughs in your face and never wants to speak to you again, let alone have dinner with you.
Sarah turned her key in the lock and opened her door. “Thank you for dinner.” A gust of wind rushed through the night air, blowing strands of mahogany hair across her cheek. She tucked them behind her ear, and Jasper noticed that her fingers trembled. “You were right,” she added. “It was nice.”
Jasper fought an internal battle to overcome his crushing nervousness and shyness, something that constantly lived inside him. Hope that this girl might like him pushed through and tried to get free. “Ma-maybe I can call you sometime?” He realized he tapped his cowboy hat in a furious beat against his thigh and forced his hand behind his back to make it stop. “Would that be okay?”
“Sure. You can reach me at the station.” Sarah worked as the receptionist/dispatcher at the Quinten Sheriff’s Department. “Maybe we can go see a movie.”
Jasper smiled, unable to keep the stupid grin off his face. “Okay. All right. I’ll do that.” He shoved his black Stetson on his head and loped down the porch steps, thanking God he didn’t trip over his own legs. “Night.” He made a beeline for Ren’s truck before he could do something idiotic and ruin any chance of becoming friends with Sarah.
Or, if he could eventually build up his courage and get over being tongue-tied, maybe something more.
Sarah bit the inside of her cheek, trying like hell not to bounce up and down like a little girl as she watched Jasper walk away. Oh Lord, though, he is so sweet and cute.
As soon as Sarah had that thought, she chastised herself for using such teenage language. She was twenty years old. Jasper was too, and they both held down full-time jobs and supported themselves.
Time to grow up.
Sarah looked at Jasper again as he climbed into the backseat of the double-cab truck, admiring the way his jeans hugged his long legs and ass. Not his butt or tush, but his ass
. The man had a nice ass
. He had a handsome face too: sun-kissed skin from working outdoors as a cowboy for Hawkins Ranch, kissable lips, nice cheekbones, and kind hazel eyes that leaned toward amber and green. He had overlong blond hair that almost dusted his shoulders, making Sarah think he needed someone in his life to nudge him to get a haircut every once in a while. Not that it looked bad the way he wore it right now. She liked the way he pushed his hands through the blond thickness, cleared it off his face, and shoved it behind his ears before he put his hat on.
As the truck pulled away, Sarah waved at the three men inside, keeping her gaze on Jasper until they turned the corner and she could see him no more.
Yeah, Sarah wouldn’t mind going out with Jasper again. Heck, they might even untie their tongues and speak more than ten words to each other over their next meal. She’d have to thank Cade and Ren for agreeing to the double date their mutual friend Risa had set up. Sarah had been too nervous to know what to say--which normally wasn’t like her at all--and all through dinner, she couldn’t tell if Jasper was shy or completely uninterested. With the way he had stumbled over his good night, Sarah settled on Jasper being as nervous as she was. She found that hard to believe in a young man as good-looking as Jasper.
Appearances are deceiving sometimes.
Sarah chuckled as she let herself inside and shut the door. That sure as hell was right. Lord knew she had a she-devil of a temptress living inside her just dying to find a way out into the open. If only she had a bit more going for her than a nice personality and a halfway decent pair of legs.
“Have a good time?” Her warden, her onetime crush, her roommate, Jace Maxwell’s voice cut across the darkened living room. She looked his way, finding his pale, mossy gaze in the flashes of light from the TV screen.
Sarah sighed, closing her eyes as she leaned against the front door. Of course Jace would be close by; he always was. She might stand a chance at breaking out of her “good friend Sarah” rut if she didn’t have a chaperone living with her and working as a deputy down at the station, keeping track of her every move.
Thanks for that, Hunter.
She held a conversation with her older brother in her head, something she occasionally did since his deployment to Afghanistan almost three years ago. I’m an adult now. It wouldn’t kill you to agree to call off your watchdog best friend.
“Is that sigh a sign that you plan on going to bed dreaming about your cowboy date, or a signal of relief that the date is finally over?” Jace broke the quiet a second time and once again drew her gaze.
Sarah studied Jace, as she’d done at least a million times since he moved into her home and became her surrogate brother. With dark hair as neat as Jasper’s was flyaway, this man had a hard, unforgiving face and body for someone only twenty-six years old. Sarah sometimes wondered if Jace resented Hunter’s request to look out for her, as the man didn’t laugh very much or act like most other single men his age. Then Sarah remembered Jace had always been intense and hard, even as a teenager, and she forgave herself for killing most of his social life.
Sarah stood up straight. I wonder if that’s why he constantly aborts mine.
“Well,” Jace said. “Which is it? Excited or relieved?” He sat slouched in his favorite chair with his legs stretched out, crossed at the ankle, and a beer resting on his washboard-flat stomach. Damn, Sarah knew that stomach well; she’d seen it bare at some point almost every day since the man had moved into her home.
Swallowing, she lifted her focus from his stomach and big hands to his eyes. His lids were at half-mast, but Sarah didn’t for one second think this man wasn’t at full alert. Nobody got the drop on Jace or the better of him. Nobody.
Except, occasionally, me.
“I’ll let you decide what kind of sigh it was,” Sarah finally answered. Jace’s pupils flared, and he brought his bottle of beer to his lips for a long drag. “See you in the morning, warden. Good night.”
Sarah moved down the hallway to her bedroom, and let her mind drift back to her date tonight. Jasper was sexy, sweet, and his nervousness actually put her at ease some. It was nice to know she wasn’t alone in her worry about making a good impression. Jasper surely had more experience than she did, but that wouldn’t be very hard to achieve. Sarah knew Risa wouldn’t have set them up on a date if she thought Jasper was a jerk. All Sarah had needed to do was spend a little bit of time with Jasper tonight to feel in her gut that he was a good person. If Jasper called, it would be a good step toward proving himself a man of his word too.
Jeez, she hoped Jasper would give them a shot to become friends, and maybe something more. Something stirred in her when she got near Jasper, sensations that left her tingly all over and a little breathless too. Things that made her extremely aware of her own feminine features, and that Jasper was very
The kind of reaction I can’t control in my body when I’m close to Jace too.
No. Don’t let your head go in that direction.
Jace thought of Sarah as a kid and an albatross around his neck. A responsibility to a good friend that had gone on longer than he had surely planned. An obligation he was unwilling to forfeit until Hunter returned home.
But Jasper, well, he might just see Sarah as something resembling a woman. Which biologically, if not biblically, she was. Just thinking about Jasper made her breasts feel achy.
She really hoped he called.
The cowboy can barely form a complete sentence.
Jace settled deeper into his chair, feeling a whole lot better at the end of this night than he had at the beginning. He let the breeze from the open window blow in and caress his skin, satisfied with not only Cade’s--a fellow deputy’s--description of Jasper as an awkward kid who wouldn’t bring Sarah any harm, but also with having overheard the entire conversation Sarah and Jasper had shared on the porch minutes ago.
If Jasper and his always surprising deep voice managed to call Sarah, Jace seriously doubted the young man would threaten her innocence. A half dozen dates where Jasper fumbled through dinner without saying more than a few sentences, and Sarah, who loved to talk, would soon lose interest. She might keep Jasper as an acquaintance, so as not to hurt his feelings, but nothing more. Sarah had a kind and gentle way about her; her vulnerability was one of the reasons Jace always looked out for her.
His promise to Hunter was the other.
Jace always remembered that Sarah was his best friend’s sister. He reminded himself of that truth constantly and refused to let her quick wit and beauty weaken his will. If Jace wouldn’t let himself act on his awareness of Sarah, then he damn well wouldn’t let anyone else either.
Jace smiled, took another swig of his beer, and returned his attention to the movie.
With Jasper as Sarah’s only suitor, Jace wouldn’t lose any sleep.