As we walked toward the path that would lead us west, I saw Ty and Brock heading our way. I groaned, especially when I saw the shit-eating grins on both their faces.
“Where are you two off to this morning?” Brock asked, his eyes bouncing between Timberlynn and myself.
“Tanner invited me on a ride.”
“Did he?” Brock asked as he looked directly at me and smirked.
“I did,” I said, keeping my voice neutral. “It seems your son was attempting to put the moves on Timberlynn last night, so I came to her rescue.”
That caused Brock to look slightly surprised. “Define ‘put the moves on her.’”
Timberlynn chuckled. “He said he was tossing his hat into the ring along with Dirk and Tanner. Calling dibs on me.”
“What?” Ty and Brock said at the same time.
This time it was my turn to laugh. “I guess he overheard me and Dirk discussing Timberlynn at the wedding.”
Timberlynn turned and faced me. “You called dibs on me, Tanner. How is that…discussing me?”
I simply shrugged and gave her a wink. Some expression moved over her face, but it was gone before I could read it.
Ty and Brock looked speechless as they stood there and stared at us.
Finally, Brock cleared his throat. “I see. My son thought he would jump in on this.”
“Stella and I both explained to him how…wrong…that was.” She tossed a look of displeasure my way as she stressed the word wrong.
Brock seemed relieved. “That boy is going to give me ulcers.”
“If he hasn’t already,” Ty said with a slap against Brock’s back. “This should make for an interesting Christmas, though.”
“Why’s that?” Timberlynn asked as she slipped her foot into the stirrup and lifted herself easily over Rosie.
If I had any doubts about her riding skills, she had long since put them to rest. I walked over to adjust the stirrups for her. The smell of her soap or perfume, whatever the neck it was on her, floated in the air, and I had to fight the urge to take in a deep breath. It was subtle, but damn did it make my insides warm. I’d never be able to smell coconut again without thinking of this woman.
“Dirk informed me last night that his folks are out of town for the holidays. It appears he’ll be spending Christmas with us,” Brock said. I could hear the humor in his voice and didn’t dare look at him. Dirk was not only Brock’s best friend, but a bull rider and current PBR World Champion.
I groaned internally so Timberlynn couldn’t hear my displeasure with that bit of news. Dirk had stepped aside at the wedding, saying Timberlynn was too young for him, but a part of me knew the moment he got to know her, the more he’d try to get into her pants. It was Dirk, after all. If you looked up manwhore in the dictionary, Dirk Littlewood’s picture would be there.
“And this will make for an interesting Christmas because?” Timberlynn asked as both of my brothers turned their attention on me. I adjusted the second stirrup and shot them the finger from down below so Timberlynn couldn’t see it.
“Three guys, all working for your attention,” Brock stated, his gaze focused on me as I walked around to my horse. “This is going to be like one of those bachelorette reality shows or something.”
Timberlynn watched me as I pulled myself up on Pogo. “Is that what this is, Tanner?” she asked, with a playful tone to her voice.
My God, she was certainly direct. Instead of answering her, I looked at Ty and Brock. “We won’t be gone long. I was going to take Timberlynn up the west trail a bit, then head on back. I’ve got my phone on me if you need anything.”
Brock nodded. Ty stood behind Timberlynn and made a money sign with his fingers, clearly implying that he was winning the bet with Brock.
“You two have fun!” Ty called out as I nudged Pogo into a walk.
Rosie and Timberlynn walked up next to us, and Timberlynn called back over her shoulder, “Oh, we will, don’t worry!”
With a groan, I added, “Christ, don’t egg them on.”
She giggled and looked at me. “Isn’t that what brothers are supposed to do? Pick on each other?”
“Yeah, I suppose so. But those two have had years to perfect their craft.”
I could feel her eyes on me, and I turned to look at her. She grinned, and I swore I instantly went hard. “You don’t like to be teased, Tanner?”
“I don’t mind it. I just don’t want them making you feel uncomfortable or make you think I’m…”
“Working to get my attention?” she cut in.
“I’ll be upfront and honest with you on that. I am most definitely working to get your attention, Ms. Holden.”
She smiled sweetly as she looked ahead on the trail. “What exactly are you hoping will happen between us, Tanner?”
“What will happen? Let’s see. I was hoping we could make it up to this small overlook, so you could get a look at some of the ranch. Give you a chance to see a bit more of the Montana countryside, especially since I now know we have to compete with Park City.”
Her eyes danced with excitement, and I instantly felt a connection spark between us. I liked it. A lot.
“Then, I thought maybe we would swing by this old cabin that my grandfather used to use as a hunter’s cabin.”
“A cabin? Really?”
I heard the hesitation in her voice. Or maybe it was a bit of anger. “Yep. Figured we could have a quick…”
She cut me off once again. “Tanner—”
I didn’t let her finish this time. “A quick breakfast and then head on back, so I can help my father with a fence that needs mending.”
When she didn’t say anything, I turned to look at her. Both of our horses walked side by side, making it easy for us to talk to one another. “Breakfast?” she asked. Her eyes narrowed as if she didn’t believe me.
“Yeah. What did you think I was going to say?” I knew exactly what she thought, but I wanted to see if she’d say it out loud.
Her mouth opened and closed a few times before she looked back onto the trail in front of us. “Nothing. Um, breakfast sounds good, especially since I didn’t have any this morning.” Then she glanced back to me and searched all around the saddle. “Where is this breakfast?”
“Don’t you worry that pretty little head of yours, I’ve got it all taken care of.”
She tried to hide the grin, but the corners of her mouth lifted slightly, her eyes lighting up. “Is that right?”
“Yes, ma’am. People don’t know this about me, but I’m a bit of a…”
I laughed. “Hell no. I’ve never been accused of that before, and don’t you go startin’ rumors with nonsense like that. I have a reputation to uphold.”
She lifted a hand in defense. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“I was going to say a bit of a food lover. I knew I’d be starving and wouldn’t be able to eat until well after lunch, so I planned on having one of the ranch hands bring us something to eat.”
She shook her head. “I guess I called that one all wrong.”
“Yes, you did. A romantic, pffttt. Good thing my brothers weren’t around to hear that.”
From the corner of my eye I saw her watching me. “Good thing,” she said softly as she urged Rosie into a trot.
To say that Tanner Shaw was not what I expected would be the understatement of the year. The few rumors I heard about him could still be true. A guy this good-looking surely bounced in and out of beds like he bounced from rodeo to rodeo. Yet, there was something about him that made me want to know more. And that worried me. I would not allow myself to ever get hurt by a man again. Never. And Tanner Shaw scared me. Not in a physical way, but more emotionally. With the way I already felt about him, the dreams, the moments I caught myself daydreaming about him, I couldn’t allow myself to be hurt again.
I stole a quick glance at Tanner.
He sat up straight and confident on his horse. The way his strong, muscular legs fit against the horse made my stomach flip. I let my gaze move up and sighed inwardly. Something about this man in that cowboy hat made my insides melt.
He was funny. Kind. A gentleman to the core. And he genuinely showed interest in everything I said. He asked questions about me, but not too many. He was even respectful when it appeared I didn’t want to elaborate on something.