He honestly had no idea how things would work out. Triangles were things of soap operas. Oddly enough, the idea that Jaz might have feelings for Seth didn’t bother him as much as he might have thought. In a twisted way, he imagined she probably did have feelings for them both. That he could deal with. The idea of Jaz not being part of his life in some way? That bothered him.
He downed the last of his beer and headed back inside. It was dark in the kitchen. Carmen had long since retired. She wasn’t exactly thrilled with him and Seth since their fight, and she hadn’t gone out of her way to be accommodating.
As he walked through the living room, he saw Jaz asleep on the couch, the television still on. He quietly walked over and took the remote from her hand. He pointed it back at the TV and turned it off.
He laid the remote down on the end table by the lamp and stood there looking down at her. She was curled into a tight ball, one fist tucked under her chin. Her long dark hair spilled over her shoulders, satiny and fine. He reached down to touch her cheek, unable to resist the temptation.
She sighed and nuzzled closer to his hand. For a moment, he thought she’d awakened, and he tensed, not prepared to explain why he was standing over her, but she snuggled deeper into the couch and resumed her even breathing.
He relaxed in relief then reached for the afghan folded at the end of the couch. He pulled the blanket over her and gently arranged it so she was covered. Then he walked away.
* * *
It rained all morning and well into the afternoon. Jasmine stayed away from areas where she was likely to run into Seth and Zane. It wasn’t that she dreaded the confrontation. But the next time she got close to either of them, it certainly wasn’t going to be because she wanted a long, drawn-out conversation.
She had no idea what to say to either of them yet anyway. Her feelings were complex. There was no simple way to articulate them. She was having a difficult enough time sorting through them herself without having to explain them to someone else.
Her preference was to show them her love. Make them see it, feel it. She’d never taken sex lightly, not since that night in Houston when she’d been forced to barter her body. In her mind, she was giving them a gift she’d never shared with anyone else. Her soul.
She locked herself in the study and piddled on the computer for most of the afternoon. Her latest project was creating a website for Sweetwater Ranch. Once finished, complete with all the guided hunt information and pricing, she was going to talk to Seth and Zane about launching it and advertising on a few online sites.
A knock sounded at the door, and Jasmine looked up from her computer to see Carmen bustle through with a tray in hand.
“I trust this lunacy will come to an end soon?” Carmen said in exasperation. “It’s ridiculous the three of you avoiding each other like this. It’s no way for a family to behave.”
“You’re right, mamacita. It’s not,” Jasmine quietly agreed. “But I have to warn you it might get worse before it gets better. If it ever does.”
Carmen set the tray down on Jasmine’s desk with a thump. “You sound as though you’ve already given up, niña. What happened to your ‘take on the world’ attitude? Besides, if you ask me, it can’t get much worse than it is now.”
It could, but Jasmine didn’t like to dwell on that possibility. Seth could always ask her to leave, or worse, he could remain so indifferent, so sealed off from her, that she would choose to leave. This time for good.
Carmen sighed. “Eat, niña. You don’t need to miss any meals. You never would eat when you were upset.”
“Thank you,” Jasmine said with a small smile.
Carmen walked out, and Jasmine picked at her food with little enthusiasm. Butterflies danced in her stomach which made putting anything on top of them impossible.
Tonight was the night. Seth and Zane had been forced inside all day by the rain, and she knew they’d both go to bed early. She opened the desk drawer and pulled out the pair of handcuffs J.T. had given her. Next she picked up the thin piece of satin ribbon she’d secured the key to. She let it dangle from her fingertips and swing like a pendulum.
She turned to look out the window as she heard the rain resume. Water sluiced down the glass panes in rivulets, and in the distance, thunder rumbled.
She glanced back at the time on the computer. An hour. She’d wait an hour before venturing out. Then she’d head up to Seth’s bedroom where she planned to take matters into her own hands.
Seth had never really considered himself a coward before now, but after days of avoiding the inevitable confrontation with Jasmine, he knew he was a first-class pansy.
He had no idea what to say to her, and he knew that whenever they did finally come face-to-face, their relationship would undergo a radical transformation. And probably not for the better.
Part of him longed for the simpler days when she was much younger and very off-limits. It had been a beautiful thing to behold to watch her shed the frightened, insecure mantle and blossom into a confident, beautiful young woman. But with that awareness, that growth, came the knowledge they could never go back to the innocent relationship they’d shared.
He sighed as he sank down onto his bed. He was damned tired, and he hadn’t even done anything today beyond watch it rain. His family was in tatters. Zane was pissed and brooding. Jasmine was avoiding them both. Carmen was walking around in a perpetual huff, and the only food she’d dished up was what could be warmed in a microwave.
It was time for him to stop putting off the inevitable. He needed to face Jasmine. Apologize for being an ass but make it clear he’d stepped over the line and it wouldn’t be happening again. Then he needed to make things right with Zane.
If Zane and Jasmine… He swallowed and shook his head. He hadn’t even been able to complete the thought. If his brother had feelings for Jasmine, and if she returned them, then did he have any right to step between them? Especially if he had no intention of ever acting on his own attraction?
He rubbed his hands over his face in irritation. What a goddamn drama. Why couldn’t things just go back to the way they were?
He yanked the covers back and then stood to undress. He was tired, moody and quite frankly, he couldn’t wait for another day to begin. Maybe then he could get rid of the angst knotting his damn belly.
She stood beside the bed, watching him sleep. For several long moments, she didn’t move. She barely breathed. She merely watched the smooth rise and fall of Seth’s chest. The sheets were in a bunch at his waist, and she could just see the waistband of his boxers resting below his navel. One arm rested across his taut belly while the other lay on the pillow next to his head.
It was all Jasmine could do not to reach out and touch him. To trace the lines of his body, curving around the firm muscles and ridges. She wanted to bathe the room in light so she could see better, but that would have to wait.
Carefully, she lifted the handcuffs and moved closer to the bed. No sound betrayed her as she leaned over to secure one cuff around one of the slats of the headboard. She held her breath as she snapped it in place, relieved that there was barely a discernable click.
Her heart began racing as she inched toward his wrist. She would have to be fast. No stealth about this part. Reach and snap before he could react. Then back the hell away and get the lights. She was just grateful he didn’t sleep with his gun close by. All she needed was to be mistaken for an intruder.
She took a deep breath, held it, grabbed his wrist with one hand and snapped the handcuff around it with the other. He jerked in surprise and she stumbled backward, her hand seeking the light switch.
“What the fuck?” Seth exploded just as her hand collided with the wall. She swiped and hit the light switch.
He threw his free arm over his eyes and tried to sit up, but his manacled wrist made it awkward. He threw his arm down and locked onto Jasmine with his furious gaze.
He glanced at his cuffed wrist. Then back at Jasmine. She stood, knees shaking with a combination of adrenaline and fear.
“Jasmine, what the f**k kind of stunt are you pulling?” he demanded. “Get me the hell out of these handcuffs. Now.”
She stiffened her spine, put her chin up and stepped forward, her gaze never wavering from his. She didn’t respond. The time for words wasn’t now. He was probably too pissed to listen anyway.
She let her fingers flutter down to the snap of her jeans. She fumbled for a second before releasing the fly. The sound of her zipper easing downward made him frown even harder.
“Jasmine, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull, but don’t…goddamn it, Jasmine, put your pants back on.”
She smiled and stepped out of the confining denim. She’d worn lacy panties, barely a scrap. But they were feminine and sexy. Slowly and with great care, she slid her hands up her h*ps until her fingers brushed the bottom of her shirt.
She curled her hands underneath the hem and began tugging upward. Seth swore again. “Jasmine, stop it. You don’t want to do this.”
She ignored him and pulled the shirt over her head, leaving her in just her bra and underwear. She reached into the vee of her bra and pulled the key to the handcuffs free. She let it fall to her skin where it dangled from the satin ribbon she wore around her neck.
One step. Then another. Her knees bumped the edge of the bed, and she met Seth’s heated gaze once more. She fingered the key, pulling it away from her chest so he could clearly see it.
“This is the key to the handcuffs,” she said softly. “You get it when you get close enough to touch it. If you still want out by then.”
She let the taunt land with just the right amount of challenge. His eyes narrowed, but they never left her body.
“Let me out,” he gritted through his teeth. “If this is your attempt at manipulation—”
She reached behind her to tug at the hook on her bra. “Manipulation?” She shrugged. “I suppose, if that’s the way you want to view it. I prefer to think of it as taking the initiative.”
The bra straps slid from her shoulders, and she momentarily held the cups in place before finally allowing them to fall from her body.
He looked as though he was prepared to launch into another demand, so she inserted her fingers under the filmy band of her panties and began to slide her underwear down her legs.
She heard his intake of breath at the same moment he looked away. His jaw was set, so firmly clenched she could see the strain in his face.
“Seth.” He didn’t turn toward her. “Look at me,” she said.
With seeming reluctance, he turned his head to face her once more.
“See me,” she whispered.
His eyes tracked her movement as she knelt on the bed. She leaned toward him, her hair falling over her shoulders. She reached for the sheet, tugging until it came away from his body.
The bed shook as he yanked at his wrist. “Goddamn it, Jasmine, this has gone far enough.” His voice was furious and laced with an edgy, needy, coarseness that excited her.
“What will you do, Seth?” she asked mildly. “Call for help? Do you think Zane will come to your rescue? Or maybe Carmen?”
She dropped the sheet and crawled closer to his hips, careful to stay just out of arm’s reach. His erection was straining against his boxers, and if he shifted so much as a centimeter, his c**k would slide right through the slit in the front.
A little nudge ought to do it.
She pulled at the cotton material and watched in fascination as his c**k broke free of constraint and jutted upward. He grabbed at his shorts with his free hand, trying to arrange them back.
She stopped him with her hand. It was chancy, getting close enough that he could grab her. But she knew he wouldn’t hurt her. He might secretly devise a scheme to kill her, but it would remain fantasy. Just like hers was to lick every single inch of his skin.
When she wrapped her fingers around his hard cock, he groaned. In fascination, she worked her hand up and down, enjoying the silken smoothness of his skin. So soft. Incongruous with the thread of steel she could feel just beneath that satiny layer.
His hand fell away, hitting the bed at his side. She inched closer, inserting her knee between his thighs. At first he tensed as though he’d lock her out, but as she became more insistent, he relaxed.
Soon she crawled between his legs, and she chanced a look up at him. He watched her through half-lidded eyes. His gaze still burned with anger, but it also simmered with lust. Need.
“Do you know what I’m going to do?” she whispered. She continued working up and down in a slow motion, her fist gripping his c**k in a tight sheath. “I’m going to make you so crazy, you’ll beg me for mercy.”
“Never,” he gritted out.
She smiled then. The smile of a woman confident in her power of seduction. He’d thrown down the gauntlet and they both knew it.
Her hand fell away from his cock, and she dug her fingers into the waistband of his shorts. She pulled, but he wasn’t cooperating. She couldn’t budge his big body.
She sat back and smirked. “Surely you don’t think something as insignificant as that will deter me?”
He looked suspiciously at her as she got up from the bed. She walked na**d to the door and opened it. She glanced back at him, nearly laughing at his look of astonishment. “Oh, I’ll be back,” she said.
“Damn it, Jasmine, you can’t go parading around butt-ass na**d.”
She arched a brow. “Who’s going to see me?” She turned and left him swearing from the bed.
She darted down to her room to get the pair of scissors she should have thought to bring in the first place. When she returned a moment later, Seth was hard at work trying to break the headboard.