He shook his head and swiped his hat off the ground before striding back to his horse. Hayes led them into the barn and secured each horse in their own stall.
“Hopefully the rain will pass soon.” He didn’t even look at her as he closed the stall doors. “The bigger storm wasn’t forecast until much later. You can wait here or go onto the porch.”
A rumble of thunder had her wondering just how quickly this would pass.
Hayes jerked his gaze toward the opening of the stable at the storm’s approach. She hadn’t taken him for someone who was afraid of storms. Pop-ups weren’t uncommon in Stone River, but since it was supposed to rain all weekend, she wondered if the storm had already begun. They might just have to ride back in the rain.
“We can go back,” she told him. “I mean, it’s not like I’m going to get any wetter. Or I can ride back alone. I know the way.”
Hayes turned to focus on her now, and man did those dark eyes focus. He raked his gaze over her like he was one leap away from pouncing. Alexa’s skin heated just the same as if he’d touched her with his hands.
Mercy sakes, she’d known the man maybe an hour. Clearly, she needed to get out more if the first good-looking rancher made her want to sit up and beg.
“When you go back, you won’t be going alone,” he told her. “We’ll wait. It’s a downpour and a long ride back.”
The showers beat down on the old metal roof and there was something calming, refreshing about being out here without a care in the—
“Oh no.” Alexa cringed. “My cell phone.”
She patted the pocket where she’d stored it, but her pants were wet. She only hoped her cell had survived. She couldn’t be cut off from contact with her son. This was her first trip away. She needed to cling to texts and video chats.
“Texts to your boyfriend can wait.”
Alexa squared her shoulders and swiped her damp hair away from her face. “That wasn’t subtle, if you were asking if I was single.”
“I wasn’t asking.”
Yet that gaze never wavered from hers and those heavy lids said otherwise. Hayes might not want to be attracted to her, but he was and he was none too happy about it.
“Sure you were,” she countered. “You keep looking at my mouth and wondering what it would be like to kiss me, so don’t pretend you didn’t want to know if I’m taken.”
There went the old Alexa again. Scott had always told her she was bold. She’d always said what was on her mind, because…why play games? But since his death, she’d been quieter, more reserved.
Apparently the moody cowboy brought out the best in her.
“You’re an attractive woman,” he replied. It shocked her that he was just as blunt. “I’m a guy. But don’t worry, sweetheart. Your lips are safe from mine.”
Cocky cabron. Like she’d asked for a kiss?
Alexa spun away and jogged through the rain to the safety of the back porch. The old swing swayed in the wind as another rumble of thunder rolled through. She crossed the porch and took a seat. Pulling her hair over her shoulder, she squeezed out the excess water.
Glancing back to the barn, Alexa saw Hayes standing in the opening, hands on his hips, black hair plastered to his head from the rain. He stared across the yard at her as if trying to decipher his next move.
Well, he could think all he wanted, but she was staying right here until it was time to roll out…or whatever lingo ranchers used. Wagons ho?
As if she didn’t have a care in the world, Alexa used the toe of her boot to push off the concrete. Even though she was completely soaked through, she sat on Hayes’s porch swaying back and forth as if this were a sunny summer day and she was sipping a cold glass of Southern sweet tea. As if this were her own home… If she really stretched her imagination, she could picture Mason toddling around in the grass, splashing in the puddles.
Wait. She needn’t get swept away in her own dreams. Fantasizing about a sexy cowboy was one thing, but imagining herself here with her son was flat-out dangerous.
Just because she’d been saving for a home of her own with a yard for Mason didn’t mean she should picture him here. This was Elliott property. This was Hayes’s property. To be here with Mason would mean an emotional investment she wasn’t ready to make.
Hayes started across the yard, favoring his left side, walking as casually as you please, as if he weren’t getting pelted by rain. Oh, that control he managed to cling to was so maddening, even more so because she didn’t seem to have any of her own at the moment.
The entire time he closed the distance between them, he had those dark eyes fixed on her.
Alexa swallowed and attempted to give herself a mental pep talk on not getting tangled up with this frustrating, captivating cowboy. But the closer he got, the more her nerves danced around in her belly.
She had a feeling her interesting day had just gotten started.
Being drenched did absolutely nothing to get his mind back on track. Granted, his life in general hadn’t been in the right place since he’d signed up for the Army at eighteen.