Dedicated to my favorite avid reader, Rachel.
HER HEART STOPPED FOR a second. It began pounding in her chest as the pickup pulled into the yard, kicking up a cloud of dust. She watched the most beautiful man in the world swoop into her boring day. Light brown hair, black eyes the color of coal, and sun-kissed skin from working the Brady Ranch. No doubt about it, Corey Brady stood out in a crowd. He thrust the pickup door open with a slow smile that enveloped his entire face. His long-legged stride filled with purpose as he closed the gap between them. She swallowed hard, wishing they didn’t have such a vast difference in age between them. Seven years felt like a lifetime. Megan Evans knew one thing at the age of twelve; she loved this cowboy.
“Hey, Meggie. Where’s Dex?” he asked.
She smiled, her heart filling with joy because he spoke to her. “He took off with my dad. They had to run to the store.” She slid across the top step of the wooden porch providing him enough room to join her, and looked up into his face. “Have a seat. They should be back soon.”
Corey took the brown Stetson from his head and set it down between them as he sat. The spicy scent of aftershave filled her nose as she drew in a deep breath. His eyes were so dark, so black that sometimes she had to look away from the intensity she found there.
“How are things at the ranch?” she asked. Just listening to the sound of his deep voice filled her with excitement. This encounter definitely would be going into her diary.
He leaned his damp head back, resting it on the peeling white railing. “Not bad. My dad keeps me busy. Jack is boarding five horses with us until he can get a new stable built.” He hung his head and shook it for a second, staring at his booted feet. “Damn shame someone would burn it to the ground.”
Megan stared at his hand that rested on his knee, the calluses catching her eye. She reached out and took one big hand in hers, her finger lightly tracing the hard skin.
“What are you doing?” Corey asked.
She blushed, but couldn’t stop touching him, running her finger over his warm hand. Since he didn’t pull away, courage swelled within and Megan looked him dead in the eyes boldly.
“I love you, Corey.” She leaned over and rested a soft kiss on his cheek.
A deep laugh shattered her heart and she stared at the ground as he yanked his hand from hers and stood. The heat of those black eyes bored into her. He leaned down, just an inch from her face, his warm breath washing over her. Slowly Megan brought her eyes up to his, ready for the letdown of a lifetime.
“You’re too young to know what love is, little girl.” He snatched his hat, turned and walked to his truck.
“One day,” she whispered, “you’ll be mine.”
Ten Years Later
THE ANNUAL FOUNDER’S DAY celebration bored Megan to tears. Off with his drinking buddies, her father ignored her as he usually did. She couldn’t stand to watch the spectacle he made of himself and walked away from the crowd. The noise of the people and screaming children gave her a splitting headache. She headed over to the big oak tree seeking shelter from the August heat, and a place to hide. Sitting, she rested her back up against the tree trunk and took a deep breath.
Children ran all over the park, not a care in the world. An insouciant and less complex life Megan missed. If she’d known just how complicated her life would turn out, she would have moved to Florida to live with her brother Dex and his family. Someone needed to be here, though, to take care of her dad.
“Looking for me?” She heard a masculine voice ask, as he appeared beside her.
Megan nearly jumped out of her skin at the familiar sound of her dream man speaking to her. He had a habit of taunting her with the knowledge of her feelings. Where did he come from? Why did I confess my love for him so many years ago? Megan hated the implication that she’d been desperate to see him and squared her shoulders, slamming a wall around her aching heart.
Corey chuckled and then crouched down. “Not enjoying the festivities?”
Megan shrugged. She didn’t want to argue with him, which they managed to do every time their paths crossed it seemed. Her eyes focused on his mouth, wishing he would kiss her, wishing he’d pull her into his strong arms and return all the feelings she held for him. Megan’s heart hammered at the alluring thought. She was twenty now, the age difference shouldn’t matter anymore. Corey’s dark eyes flashed with fire, and the intensity of those eyes puzzled her.
“That’s interesting,” he said, as if he could read her mind.
She sucked in a deep breath. He looked at her with a strange new concentration. In an instant, his lips pressed to hers. Megan sighed into his warm mouth.
His big hand held her face close, his thumb rubbing across her cheek. Slowly she relaxed and kissed him back, eager to show him that she’d grown up. Corey eased her down onto the thick grass, never breaking the sweet kiss.
His tongue slid across her bottom lip, coaxing her until her mouth opened. When his tongue slid into her mouth, she gasped, but he didn’t pull away. If anything, Corey became more demanding. The sweet kiss had become something else. His hard, persistent mouth searched her depths. The calm, warm feelings bubbling in her stomach turned to panic. Trapped under his heavy weight as he pinned her to the ground, Megan moved her hands to his chest and pushed him away with all her might.
Corey dragged his mouth from hers and stared at her in disbelief. Megan fought for air, her lungs burning with every deep
intake of breath. Those black eyes turned cold and unforgiving.
“Still a little girl,” he muttered. He pushed himself up off the ground and reached a hand down to her.
Megan took his offering and got to her feet. Her legs were like Jell-O, barely able to support her after that encounter and she leaned into the tree for support. He couldn’t know how affected she’d been by that kiss, how he still had such power to take her breath away.
Without another word, Corey Brady turned and walked away, leaving Megan standing alone in shock.