“You’ve given me six months to think about it, and I have an answer for you.”
Chrissie’s head twitched to the side as she finished loading the Browning shotgun. She’d been dreaming about that voice nearly every night for months, and it seemed that it was invading her days now. Probably a sign that she’d finally lost her mind. She lifted the gun, lined up her shot, cocked the hammer, and fired. She was so used to the sound in her ear and the kickback of the butt into her shoulder that it didn’t faze her anymore.
“Nice touch with the wedding dress. New style for this year?”
Chrissie’s gaze darted toward the oak tree. “Well, the day after I saw you, I went to the bridal store, but they wouldn’t take it back, and I didn’t want it anymore. Plus, shooting your brother woulda been against the law. So, I did the next best thing I could think of,” she explained. Which was to hang the dress, rig the hanger with rope, anchor it to the tree, and blow so many holes in the gown, she’d had to go get another box of shells within thirty minutes.
What was left resembled some of her grandmother’s lace doilies.
“Chrissie? Will you look at me? Please?”
Definitely not a good idea. “Nope.” She fired another shot. Even though she didn’t hunt anymore and hadn’t for years, she loved shooting. It was a power she could control. Her mother thought it was a terrible hobby for a girl, but her father had ignored her protests and lavished guns, ammunition, and bows and arrows on his only child.
Chrissie liked the focus it took to hit a target. She liked the definitive sound of cocking a hammer and the pressure applied to pulling a trigger. And whereas shooting had been recreational for her in the past, it had helped her get over Russ. If she imagined Russ when she fired at a tin can or a picture tacked to a hay bale… If she shot her wedding dress all to hell between Christmas and New Year’s, well… At least she was over him and rightly so.
That she could crochet an afghan too? That was just something to do when it was too dark and too late to be making a bunch of noise playing with firearms.
“I don’t want to.” I might jump you and rip your clothes off if I do.
“Fair enough. I can talk to your back. My answer is yes, by the way.”
Something in his tone, the way it softened, lingered on the word “back,” sent shivers down her spine, shivers she chose to ignore.
“I was in Atlanta on business,” he continued, “and thought I’d fly down to Savannah to see how you were doing and give you the answer in person.”
“As you can see, I’m doing fine, and I don’t have the slightest clue what you’re talking about.”
Colt chuckled. The sound carried, even on the heavy summer afternoon air. “So the gun you brought out on the porch when I was here last time wasn’t just for show, huh?”
“I didn’t know you could shoot.”
“Russ said you had some unusual hobbies, but he never elaborated.”
Was he attempting small talk? “Guess he didn’t think it was important.” She tried lining up another shot, but it wasn’t working. Her brain was done concentrating on the gun and the target and kept trying to tell her to turn around and look at the man on her property.
After a few more minutes, she gave up and lowered the gun. With a sigh, she faced him and was immediately grateful for the fence at her back or she’d have stumbled.
Good God, he looked yummy. His hair was a little longer, curling along his collar, and his brilliant blue eyes, the ones that looked at her in her dreams with barely restrained lust, were shielded from her now by a pair of aviator sunglasses. That was probably a good thing. She didn’t want to see those eyes full of mild, friendly concern. That would totally ruin the fantasy life she had with him in the deep, dark recesses of her subconscious, sleepy-time brain.
“Getting there.” He said it with a smile and… Dear heavens. Chrissie almost lost her ability to think. She’d had the same issue when he’d come to see her that morning six months earlier, only now she was feeling unsteady, wobbly even. Holding a loaded gun in that state wasn’t good. She needed to unload the damn thing before she hurt one or both of them.
She lowered her gaze and unhinged the barrel. The remaining bullets popped free of the chamber, and she removed them. “You didn’t have to come down here, you know. You could have called or something.”
“Wouldn’t have felt right. Face-to-face is more personal.”
Personal wasn’t necessarily a good thing under the current circumstances. He was concerned for her, and she was trying to figure out how to strip him out of his nice clothes and have her way with him, ease the tension that had been building up inside her since the first night he’d popped into her dreams. No, personal was likely a bad idea. She was already caught off guard with him showing up.
She still wanted to jump his bones.
She’d been perfectly happy dreaming about him, having an affair in her head with him, getting her jollies in a make-believe bed with him, but in person? Oh, that just made her want him with a desire she wasn’t sure she could keep a lid on. He was potent in that Southern gentleman way with a come-hither Texas smile that beckoned her.
He needed to go back home. Only, he was closer now. She could see the toes of his boots from the corner of her eye. She picked up the bullets and, with shaky hands, stuffed them back into the box. On even shakier legs, she stood and walked a few feet to lay the gun in its case.
“What are you really doing here, Colt?” If she sounded a little antagonistic, well, so be it. Defense mechanisms and all that.
“I told you.”
“Right. To say yes about something and check on me. I’m a little confused, though. What’s the yes for, and what did I give you six months to think about?”
Yeah, unloading the gun had been the smart thing to do. “What are you talking about?”
“You said maybe you shoulda married me instead. I figured I needed to take some time to think it over, and you needed some time to heal after Russ.”
He said it so casually she thought he was joking, just trying to make her laugh. “I didn’t say that.” But almost immediately heat flooded her entire body from the inside out. “Oh, God. I did, didn’t I?” She was light-headed now, feeling very faint, and “mortified” didn’t even come close to covering the rest of it. Couldn’t the ground open up and swallow her whole? “Well crap.”
“You did,” he answered quite matter-of-factly and with a slight, yet satisfied smile. He reached for her, and she couldn’t do anything but try and hold herself steady. Her feet wouldn’t move, not even when her brain was screaming at them to do so. His smooth businessman’s fingers tilted her chin as his other hand lowered his glasses. “And yes, you should have.”
She could see the truth in his crystal clear blue eyes. He meant it, and that made her want to run even more. Where to, she had no idea, but she needed to get away to think about how best to get out of this little mess.
“I can see you’re a bit shocked and need time to process my answer. Perfectly understandable. Let’s see, how about a week? Is that enough time? Two weeks to get your pretty head wrapped around it? I was thinking a wedding at the end of the summer would be nice. Maybe even early fall.”
“Colt, I…” Shocked was putting it mildly. His smile was everything a woman could and often did get lost in. Straight pearly whites, full, sensual lips, and when he spoke, that Texas twang shot need right through her. But dear Lord, the man was suggesting they get married! That was a far cry from having hot monkey sex against a few trees, down in the grass, in every room of her house, which was what she’d been thinking about.
His presence was potent, and she’d never experienced anything like it. He was so calm and casual on the outside, but he obviously possessed a wicked sense of humor if he thought she’d been serious about marrying him.
“I got your package in the mail as well and decided to take that as a good sign,” he was saying.
Chrissie forced herself to refocus on him. Marriage. What the hell did she feel about it? On one hand, it was completely ridiculous. On the other though, the man was delicious and gorgeous and she could definitely see herself getting lost in those eyes.
What was she thinking? What had he said? “Package? What…?” Her confusion lasted for barely a second. “You mean the ring?”
“Yes. Thank you. Russ’s mother was thrilled to have it back in her possession.”
“I’m sure. I had no intention of keeping it. I just couldn’t bring myself to send it back to Russ.” It was the first time in one hundred eighty-two days since the last time she’d said his name, not that she was counting, and she found that she felt… “Nothing.”
“I’m sorry? Nothing?”
Chrissie thought she’d feel something. Pain. Bitterness. Regret. Something. Anything. But there was nothing at all. She couldn’t help the smile that crossed her lips.
She’d spent so much time healing. When she was awake, that is. Asleep was a different story. Colt somehow healed her in her dreams. Damn, the man was fine. And he was standing in front of her, flesh and blood. Yummy.
“What’s that smile for?”
“I’m over him,” she said. “I’m over him,” she repeated, louder this time, with a wider smile and a lightness she hadn’t felt in months.
Colt laughed. “Are you just now realizing that?”
“For certain? Yes.” She wanted to bounce and jump and run and dance around. “I am just now realizing it. It feels really good.” The weeks of simply going through daily life, one foot in front of the other, crying when she needed to, seeing her parents when she was desperate for a hug, hanging with friends when she needed a beer, had healed her tarnished pride and wounded heart.
And her pride had been the biggest thing. It was something she hadn’t wanted to admit to herself or to anyone else for a long time, but it was no less true. She saw the pitying looks when she went back home, and so she learned to stay away. Then there was her mother, who, bless her heart, kept telling Chrissie of all the eligible men who’d inquired after her.
Mostly though, she’d just wanted to be left alone. “Lonely” hadn’t entered into her equation. Less sexed than she’d have liked, definitely, but she wasn’t lonely. She liked her own company.
She’d even started to convince herself that she’d be fine alone for a good long time, that if she could just find someone to ease the sexual urges, she’d be good to live alone. Maybe for always. She could take care of herself, do things her mother shuddered over, like fixing a leak under the sink or cleaning a dryer vent.
A naked Colt, even if only in her head, hadn’t hurt either. On some level it was probably wrong to have erotic thoughts about her ex-fiancé’s brother, but she hadn’t while she was engaged and wouldn’t feel bad about it now that she wasn’t. The man was sexy and hotter than the day was long.
But in the flesh, within touching distance, she wasn’t so sure about that “alone” thing. Just his presence made her think of sharing and home and warmth and together and rolling naked in the sheets for days on end.
“I’m glad to hear you feel that way.”
Feel what way? Shit, the sun must be getting to her. She didn’t she say she wanted to be naked with him out loud, did she? No. Over Russ? It took her a moment to remember what they were talking about. With Colt in front of her, Russ was really the last thing she wanted dominating the conversation. “I’m glad to feel it. To say it. It—”
“Maybe you’d like to have dinner with me to celebrate.”
Just like that, her smile fell and her eyes grew wide. “Huh?”
“Oh, that was elegant,” he teased. “I’ll chalk that effort up to my having surprised you.” He touched her again, rubbing his thumb over her bottom lip. “How about a real answer now? Yes or no?”
“I, uh…” She was doing her very best to keep from tasting him with the tip of her tongue. Her lips were dry, and she felt the need to lick them, but she wouldn’t. Him right there, touching her, was doing more to her insides than her dreams of him had, and she wanted to crawl all over him. “I have to work tonight.”
Colt removed his sunglasses and pierced her with a stare that had her looking away quickly. Those eyes… Then she met his gaze again because she couldn’t stop herself. He was beautiful to look at, dark where she was light, big and bold where she was a muddle of putty in the palm of his hand.
“Truth or…?” His eyes narrowed, and his lips thinned slightly. He dropped his hand away, but not before the tips of his fingers caressed her cheek and jawline, making her skin tingle where he’d touched, and ghost sensations lingered as if he were still physically doing so.
If she spent any significant time with him, he was going to be hell on her self-control. “Truth.”
“Work.” She hesitated. “I think,” she rushed to add when he opened his mouth to speak again. It was an automatic response because as much as she wanted to say yes, she wasn’t sure she wanted to tempt fate. Dreaming about Colt was one thing; going out on a date with him was something else entirely. She wouldn’t be able to promise either of them that she’d keep her hands to herself.
“Breakfast? Lunch? Late-night snack?”
Chrissie laughed in spite of herself and the strange situation she currently found herself in. “What are you up to?”
He shrugged, a casual lift of his shoulders, and shook his head. “I’m not sure exactly. I’m not used to this type of reaction. Seems I’m trying to ask you out for a meal, and you are trying to come up with reasons not to accept.”
“Work isn’t an empty excuse.” Even though Chrissie knew she was using it as one. Something about their ease with one another struck her as odd and sent a little warning flag up inside her head. They were little more than strangers, no matter their near related-by-marriage connection, but she was comfortable around him, with him. She might not be comfortable with her reaction to him, thinking it was perhaps unseemly, though at the same time, maybe it wasn’t. And maybe she was thinking too hard. “Girls in the big city aren’t this difficult?”
“Not in my general experience. Usually all it takes is a nice suit and a flashy car to tempt most of them. But you country girls? You make a man, rich or poor, work hard for it.”
“Makes the end result worth it, though.” Chrissie slung the comment as easily as she slung the rifle case over her shoulder by the strap and headed across the backyard up to the house. “Besides, I’m not impressed by flashy or by money, or worried about impressing anyone.”
“That’s right,” he said as he fell into step beside her. “You come from old family money.”
Chrissie laughed. “Old family money. Yes, that’s me. My mother wished I’d been able to use my old family money connections and marry into other old money connections or even into new money.”
“Russ was definitely new money. I’m somewhere in between.”
“But we’re not getting married.” She would so marry him, though. If for no other reason than the man was hot. Of course, she knew there had to be something more rational than that, but if she had to pick a reason in that moment, his hotness would be it.
No, she told herself, but the thought wiggled itself into her mind and started to make itself at home. She had to disabuse her wayward gray matter of the notion of him wanting to marry her and quickly…
Still… No, dammit.
“Not yet, no. I can’t even get a date with you. I’m sure I need at least one, though it would be nothing more than a formality at this point. I’ve already said yes.”
He found humor in the situation—and Chrissie wanted to find the same humor—but she couldn’t seem to do it. All she kept thinking about was how much fun she suspected he’d be, both in bed and out. She didn’t feel like she had to hide anything about herself and she couldn’t help but wonder why.
“Right. Would you like to come inside?” Where the hell was her mental and vocal filter? She normally had one. She could bite her tongue and keep herself out of trouble. Him standing in front of her, behind her, beside her seemed to be the catalyst because she couldn’t keep her mouth shut and she couldn’t take the offer back now. It would be rude.
She picked up a jar full of water and tea bags from the bottom step of her porch. “Fresh sun tea,” she said with a smile and a completely unauthorized flirty waggle of her eyebrows.
“As a matter of fact, I would. I haven’t had sun tea in years.”
Crap. She shoved the jar at him. “Good. You can bring this in with you.”