I could just imagine the way his lips tasted...
My fingers danced downward like heatseeking missiles. I groaned and tightened my thigh muscles, trying to stem the flood that was rising down there. Pleasure bordered on pain...
"Cut it out!" I yelled into the darkened room.
With a furious moan, I dragged my ass out of bed and forced myself to sit on the toilet. Peeing relieved some of the ache and a splash of cold water on my face got rid of the flush of heat that threatened to burn me up inside. I regarded my panting, wild-eyed face in the mirror with a scowl.
I splashed my face again and start ticking off the reasons why I needed to stay away. "One, he's a cocky asshole, two he's quite impressed with himself, three you'd just be another notch in his belt, four he's a touring musician on the road constantly. You do not want to sleep with him," I told my reflection emphatically. "He's a good-ole boy country singer who doesn't like to hear the word 'no.' He's completely wrong for you, and what's worse, he's a subject. Get your pictures, get your shit together and get the hell out of Heath County and back to your job and your life."
Feeling reasonably composed, I sat back down on the bed and rifled through my equipment bag. Gil would be wanting the shots from today, and if I could get the wheezing hotel wifi to work, I could send them right now and go to sleep with a clean conscience.
But as I flicked through the shots from today, I inhaled sharply. The small hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I scrolled through them, faster now, my breath coming in short, measured gasps.
Tanner was fucking electric on camera.
And in each photo, he was staring me down through the lens with naked, open desire.
I slept so badly I might as well not have bothered. Waking up to the bright sunshine sent a stabbing pain right in between my eyeballs. Great, a hangover. And I didn't even have a fun evening to regret.
I blamed Miss Thang, of course. She had me so hot and bothered after leaving that I was up into the wee hours in a frenzy of needed repairs. I got the blown-down shutter replaced by lantern light and used the big, fat, full moon to guide my way to the old well that needed to be covered.
By the time I did fall into bed, a half drunk bottle of bourbon on the nightstand, I was too exhausted and too drunk to rub one out. My dreams were full of frustrated horniness. That wasn't helping my headache.
Then I heard a car's wheels crunching down my drive and sank even further into the pissed off depths. I looked out my kitchen window and grimaced.
Monique's storm cloud of a face matched my mood as she slammed the car door shut, trounced up to the driver's side window and rapped smartly with her knuckles. I couldn't hear what she was saying. But her stabbing fingers made me feel sorry for the guy behind the wheel. I hoped he had the good sense to do exactly what she said.
I was surprised to feel myself grinning. I wiped my breakfast plate dry and put it back in the cupboard, then turned queasily back to watch her drag her heavy equipment bag up the walk. She walked straight and tall, her chin lifted in defiance already. Miss Thang was apparently one of those people who woke up ready to take on the world.
Frankly, that turned me on.
So did that white blouse she had tucked into jeans that cupped and lifted her round ass. She took my advice and wore boots, and although it was clear they hadn't ever seen a speck of mud or dirt or cowpie, she wore them well. Very well. Too well, in fact. They zipped up her thighs, clinging like they were painted on. From here they looked the same shade of shiny ebony black as her skin and I had a quick flash of them being the only things she wore as she stood before me, naked...
Oh dammit all to hell.
I willed my head to keep on throbbing. Keep my mind off the other throbbing going on as she strode to my front door. The big car’s tires squealed as the driver pulled an impressive K-turn to peel the hell out of there. I didn't blame him a bit. Monique looked ready to eat the world for lunch.
"Mr. Brock!" She stood on my wide front porch, bellowing like a farm hand rather than knocking. It had the weird effect of making me, the one who was actually inside the house, feel like the intruder. I was impressed as well as irritated.
"Miss Williams, I didn't hear you arrive," I said drolly, opening the door and leaning against the frame. "You were as quiet as a church mouse."
Her eyes rolled so hard I wondered if they would fall out. "Are you ready to start?" She eyed my undershirt and pajama pants combo with an expression I couldn't quite read.
"Just waitin' for orders, ma'am," I told her smartly, touching my brow.
She huffed and blew past me into the front hallway where she stopped short and dropped her bags to the floor.
"Holy shit, Tanner, this place is...." She trailed off as she looked around, mouth agape.
I looked around smiling at the place I called home. "Been in the family for three generations," I told her proudly. "This main portion here was built by my father's grandfather," I counted on my fingers, "so wait, that's four generations, right?"
She cocked an eyebrow at me like she couldn't figure out if I was joking or not. I actually wasn't, that part always tripped me up. My great-granddaddy built the main house, but died after getting thrown from his horse before it was completely finished. This was when my granddad was a teenager, so technically he was the first Brock to call this place home.
But that kind of stuff doesn't impress people who visit Brock ranch. They don't know how many stories have seeped into the rough hewn logs that soar above us like the buttresses of the cathedrals of Europe. All they see is the size, the rough-hewn glamor, the tasteful furnishings my mother had to order from catalogs, the additions, each a slightly different architectural style, built to keep the expanding clan of Brocks together and safe against the world.
It was a huge, grand house, and it was too big for just me. I was alone here and no matter how hard I worked, I could never recapture the happiness that once too root under this roof. My father had a family - a wife and children to make this place a home - but I was just one man.
"Are you okay?"
I snapped back to Monique, who was now staring at me instead of the wood-beamed hallway.
"Yeah I'm fine," I shrugged. "Why?"
She tilted her head to the side. "You sighed," she said, her voice softer somehow. "And then your eyes got all sad."
I turned and strode into the kitchen and opened the fridge, feeling uneasy. "I was just thinkin' that I forgot my manners. Can I offer you something to drink, Miss Williams?"
"Sparkling water?" she called from the hallway.
I turned, ready to mock her, but she caught my eye and winked, those lips of hers twisting up into a sarcastic grin. Hot damn, did this firecracker actually have a sense of humor?
Suddenly I was grinning like an idiot and all the traces of my headache were gone. "Water round here comes from a well, Miss Williams," I teased, rising to her bait. "If it starts sparkling, I need to call the gas company and tell them there's a leak in the pipeline."
She cocked her head to the side and raised her eyebrows, then nodded slightly. She was conceding that I won that round and it made me as giddy as a Little Leaguer winning his first trophy. Then she walked over to the wide doorway and leaned against it, her long body more enticing in work clothes than that fancy-pants outfit she showed up in yesterday. I liked this version of Monique Williams a lot better.
I was ready to say so when she clapped her hands together like a schoolteacher. "Well, shall we get started?" She pointed, stabbing the air. "Why don't we get some shots here in the kitchen? Women'll love that... 'Tanner Brock at Home.' Can you face the window there?"
The sudden switch to all-business gave me whiplash. "I'm still in my PJs, Miss Williams," I pointed out, "Or hadn't you noticed?"
"Oh, I noticed," she said archly, kneeling down and fitting a lens on her gigantic camera. "Were you hoping I would?"
Just like that, she took my trophy
away. I clearly lost that round. "Wasn't hopin' anything," I grumbled. "Someone just showed up on my vacation askin' me to work at an unreasonable hour."
"Call yourself a rancher?" she snapped, taking a few test shots and checking her light. "You should be up and milking cows before the sun's even up."
"Brock Ranch isn't a dairy farm," I reminded her. "We raise cattle."
"I don't see any cattle," she said dismissively.
I could feel my irritation starting to rise. This woman was better than coffee at raising my blood pressure. "No ma'am, that's good looking out," I snapped sarcastically.
She darted a look up from her camera. "Did I touch a nerve, cowboy?"