This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Dirty Proof Copyright © 2015 Dawn Brower
Cover art by Dawn Brower
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
Dirty Proof (Novak Springs)
Cowgirl Fever 1
Cowgirl Fever 2
Unbridled Pursuit 2
Sensual Games 1
Sensual Games 2
In Cowgirl Fever Tori is attracted to Wes, and doesn’t understand why he hates her instantly. She tries to charm him in a way only she can. It backfires on her and she finds herself covered in manure. This is the scene in her point of view. It is short and not so sweet, but it gives you insight into the beginning of their relationship and what led them to the path they took in their own book, Unbridled Pursuit.
I wrote this for the people that asked to see what actually happened that day between Vitoria Miene and Wes Novak. I hope it lives up to your expectations. Enjoy and keep in mind this doesn’t end with a happy ever after or even a happy for now. It is one scene in the grand design of the relationship between these two characters that start out loving to hate each other.
Make sure to keep reading for a sample of each of the Novak Springs books.
At noon the sun was at its highest and hottest on the ranch. It was one of the first things Vitoria Miene—Tori to her friends—realized once she’d joined her best friend Ginnifer on the ranch for their annual vacation. The heat never bothered her, but then again, they’d never taken a vacation on a ranch before. She preferred sandy beaches with turquoise waves crashing on the shore. Ginnifer wanted a change, and there wasn’t much Tori wouldn’t do for her friend.
Now Ginnifer was mad at her. Their vacation wasn’t as fun as it usually was. In fact, it was the worst one she’d ever been on. She had only told one teeny-tiny white lie. She’d never thought for a second Ginny would have held it against her. Now they had interlopers sharing their cabin, making it inherently more difficult to make it up to her. She’d left the cabin hoping to find her…but her friend appeared to have found a hidey-hole somewhere on the ranch.
Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of the sexy rancher she’d met when she arrived with Colt. Wes Novak had shoulder length golden blond hair and rippled muscles she wanted to spread her hands all over. There was only one problem…he also hated her as soon as he’d laid eyes on her. She had no idea why. Maybe she should find out. It would give her some entertainment while Ginnifer avoided her. Maybe she could charm him into liking her.
She smiled to herself. It was the best idea she’d had since she arrived at the ranch. She wouldn’t think about the bad ones. They weren’t worth mentioning.
Wes had rope slung over his shoulder in a circle. He lifted his hat and ran his hands through his sweat soaked hair. Tori licked her lips in anticipation. If she played her cards right that sexy man could be all hers. She rubbed her hands together with excitement. Time to amplify the Tori sex appeal several notches and rope in the cowboy… She followed him out to a pasture and watched him with one of the horses. It was a beautiful silver and white stallion.
She sashayed toward him and stopped a few feet away.
“What are you doing with him?”
Wes turned and scowled at her. “Don’t you have something better to do than bother me?”
Tori frowned. He hadn’t warmed up to her yet. But she hadn’t turned up the charm yet either. She hadn’t met a man who she couldn’t get. Wes would be no different.
“I thought we could get to know each other better.” She strolled over to him swinging her hips seductively. Tori stopped in front of him and reached up and glided her fingers across his stomach, pausing just above his belt buckle. “We started out all wrong and I’d like to rectify that if you’ll let me.”
He glared at her through hooded eyes. “I’m not interested in anything you have to offer. Go back to your cabin or better yet find another man to bother. I have a lot of work to do and you’re wasting my time.”
She batted her eyelashes at him. He was a prickly one, but she’d dealt with worse. It would only take a little bit more than she anticipated to melt the ice cube around his indifference. “I bet I could change your mind.” She wound her arms around his neck and rubbed her breasts against his chest.
He stared down at her. Desire filled his eyes. She wanted to shout in triumph. Finally a reaction she was used to seeing from a man. Wes pulled her tight against him and crashed his lips into her. He bit her lip causing her to gasp. Their tongues lashed together in a mesh of heat and need. Tori pushed his hat off and ran her fingers though his glorious hair. She’d always loved a man with a little length to his hair and he was blond too. A bonus in her eyes. He was damn near the perfect man for her.
The kiss pushed her to the limits. It didn’t satisfy her craving at all. It made her want him more. She wrapped her arms around him and dug her fingernails into his back. A tingle of excitement trailed through her body and pooled at her center. She wanted to feel him deep inside her.
Wes stopped and shoved her away. He stalked away from her cursing with each step he took. What had gone wrong? It had been clear to her that he’d wanted her as much as she desired him. Why was he not as happy as she was?
“You didn’t have to stop.”
He spun around and flashed her an angry glare. “You would like that wouldn’t you,” he spat out.
Well—yes, she would. Why did he make it sound like it was a bad thing? They had sparks galore between them. If Tori got her way they’d explore it as much as possible while she was stuck in Washington. Hell with the mess Colt had gotten himself in she’d be in Seattle a lot. They could visit each other often while she traveled to deal with her client’s issues. It seemed like a win-win situation to her.
“I don’t want you, Ms. Miene.” He snorted. “I’m not interested in easy women and from where I’m standing you’re as cheap as they come.”
Vitoria’s mouth flew open in shock. She’d never been so insulted in her entire life. What an asshole. Perhaps it was time to reevaluate her assessment of his worthiness. She tilted her head and let her eyes roam from top to bottom, feigning disinterest she didn’t feel. Damn it, he was by far the sexiest man she’d ever met. She barely stopped herself from licking her lips and fanning herself again. She was supposed to not like him anymore. Down girl.
She shrugged. “Your loss.”
She turned to walk away when something twirled around her pulling her back. She tripped over her own feet and fell into a pile of manure. The rope Wes had been carrying was wound around her waist. He yanked it backward pulling her toward him. She rolled trying to get herself loose and smeared the horse crap all over herself.
He is going to pay—and pay heavily for doing this to me!
She stood up and pulled the rope over her head and stormed forward. Anger shot out of her as she stalked over to his side.
“Why are you such a dick?” Tori yanked his t-shirt ripping it down the middle. “Perhaps you would like to smell as heavenly as you’ve just christened me.”
She rubbed her body all over his—the only pleasure she received was his shocked silence.
“Princess, I enjoy nothing about you.” Distain rippled through his voice as he spoke down to her. “You’re everything I don’t want in a woman. I thought maybe you’d enjoy rolling around in something that is easily your equivalent.”
She punched him in the stomach. “You did not just equate me to a pile of shit.” She kicked him in the shin causing him to fall to the ground. “I am not something you wipe off of the bottom of your shoe.”
“I think the proof is in the shit smeared all over your perfect body,” he sneered.
“I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.” Tori frowned. He made less sense the more he talked.
“I believe the evidence speaks for itself.” He sat up and leaned back on his arms. His gaze traveled up and down her body. “For once everyone can see all the dirty proof they need to get a clear picture of who you really are. The shit tells the story of Vitoria Miene in intricate detail—evil, untrustworthy, and filthy from the inside and out.”
Tori turned around and stomped in the opposite direction. Tears burned at the corner of her eyes. She’d never been so humiliated in her life. At least she learned an important lesson. Wes Novak was and never would be a man worth having in her life. He might be incredibly gorgeous, but he was a beast. She wouldn’t lower herself to trying to charm him ever again.
They understood each other.
He hated her and now her emotions equaled his. It was for the best.
Maybe if she kept telling herself that she’d believe it.
The tears she attempted to hold back fell in earnest. Why couldn’t she be attracted to a man that respected her? This was always one of her failings, and also why she remained perpetually single. There was a reason Ginnifer was her only friend. It was time to make peace with her best friend.
She could thank Wes for that at least. He put her back on track and showed her what was truly important. He could hate her for no reason for the rest of his miserable life. Once she left Novak Springs she’d never look back and not give him a second thought.
He just wasn’t worth it.
Tori wiped the tears from her eyes and headed in the direction of the cabin she shared with Ginnifer. Maybe she would get lucky and find her already there, at the very least she could take a shower.
Maybe if she scrubbed hard enough she could wipe away Wes’s touch and the feel of his lips on hers…
***If you enjoyed this scene from Cowgirl Fever: Novak Springs book 1 (Dallas and Ginnifer’s book) between Wes and Tori, check out their story Unbridled Pursuit: Novak Springs book 2 *** Keep reading for a sample of Cowgirl Fever, Unbridled Pursuit, and Sensual Games.
The hot summer sun was beating down on the windowpane and making the room hotter than it should be with the central air blowing out on full blast. It was mid-July, and Dallas was looking over his sister Emma’s business plan for Cowgirl Yoga. It was an addition to the already operational horse ranch they lived on. It was equally owned by Dallas, Wesley, and Emma, but Dallas had final say in everything that affected the ranch’s bottom line. The three siblings had inherited Novak Springs when their parents passed away several years ago.
“I’m just not buying it as a viable option, Emma,” Dallas explained to his sister.
“Of course it is. We are not making any money in the fall months, and it’s a great idea, admit it,” Emma said, her heart-shaped lips lifting into an impish smile.
“Cowgirl Yoga?” He raised his eyebrows at her in disbelief, one of his blue eyes widening with the gesture. “A bunch of frilly, wanna-be cowgirls coming here for what? Exercise? It’ll be one hell of an expensive venture when you throw in the cost of food, accommodations, and advertising. The turnaround just isn’t worth it. I have serious doubts we can make a profit off of this. I’m sorry, it just isn’t going to work.”
Dallas could see a small tear form in the corner of Emma’s blue eyes. She clenched her fists and shook her head at him in defiance. Her cinnamon ponytail smacked her neck as it bounced sideways. He wanted to give her idea a chance, but he didn’t like to take unnecessary risks. Maybe he could consider a trial run. He didn’t want to commit to more than that. Her business model was sound and did hold some promise of working. He knew she had switched her plans and created some new goals. Her original plans hadn’t been anywhere near working at the family ranch. Making a decision to try a different tack, he sat back in his chair and smiled. Dallas was capable of being reasonable, at times. When it suited his purposes, anyway.
“How about we agree to disagree on whether or not Cowgirl Yoga has a chance of working and look at this from a different angle?” she said with a gamine smile.
He nodded at her and said, “Okay I’m listening, what do you have in mind?”
“Give it a trial run. Let me do it in September, and if it fails, I’ll let it go, but if it is a success, then you will let me continue to do it every fall. We can talk about expanding after a few years, provided it’s profitable.” After she got her spiel out, Emma sat quietly in her chair.
Leaning back in his own chair, Dallas started to tap the armrest as he silently stared at her. He gave no emotions away as he looked at Emma and contemplated what his next step should be. After a few moments, he said, “In your business plan you have your clients staying for two weeks. They would share the cabins on the ranch, with up to four per cabin. The price for this two-week vacation is $1,500 per week. Do you have any marketing ideas? I don’t see it anywhere in your mockup who is going to run the yoga portion of this program, either. How are you going to afford to pay someone to run that?”
“Yes, I have one idea in place already. A magazine writer is coming for the first session. She is planning an article on Cowgirl Yoga for publication in the October issue. That is, of course, for future clientele. In the long term I want to utilize all of the social media that is available. As far as the yoga—the instructor I took classes with at school agreed to do the initial phase of the program. She is going to stay on at the ranch. Her only pay is going to be free room and board while she runs the yoga sessions and helps me finish up my certification to take over for any other sessions we have.”
Dallas’s lips formed a grim line of disapproval, and a hint of anger laced through each of his words as he asked, “Are you telling me that you already have someone coming and it wasn’t even agreed that you could go ahead with this plan of yours?”
“Well, let’s be honest. I deserve a chance to prove this is going to work. So what if I went ahead and scheduled her coming? You are going to give me this chance.” Emma had a determined look on her face, and Dallas knew fighting her would prove to be futile.
Folding his arms across his chest, Dallas leaned back in his chair again and a half smile formed on his face. He knew how to deal with his baby sister. Too bad he was a sucker and usually gave in to her whims. “That’s awfully presumptuous of you.”
“But you love me anyway.” She blew a kiss at Dallas, and crossing her legs, she sat back in her chair to wait for his response.
Dallas laughed at her antics; he loved his sister, and only she had the capability of getting him to lighten up. She was the adored younger sister, and there really wasn’t much he wouldn’t do to make her happy. He needed her to be the fun-loving girl he knew her to be.
Dallas picked up the mockup of her business model and asked, “Okay what can you do with social media and this magazine writer? Are you comping her stay? How can you make a profit if you start giving things away for free right from the start?”
“Well, for starters social media is free. We can create a business page and start the hype going early on. Give them contact information and some ideas of what the ranch currently does and how it is going to benefit them to participate in this new program we’re going to run. I also plan on expanding our current web page to include links to the various social media pages and give them an idea of what Cowgirl Yoga has to offer.”
That didn’t sound too bad. The plan held a lot of appeal. Perhaps those business classes she had taken at college helped after all. Admittedly he didn’t know a whole lot about marketing, that was Wes’s area, but he didn’t believe having a magazine writer come out for free was a good way to start out. Emma hadn’t come out and said it, but usually that was how they enticed those types to attend a function. They wanted a free ride in order to give the much needed publicity.
“What about the media person, is she staying free?”
“Yes, she is. It is important to get her here so that I can get that advertising her article will give the new program. She writes for a prominent magazine and is an invaluable tool in promoting this venture. It’s a good thing that she is coming, I promise. Let me worry about the profit margin. It is up to me to make a go of this if you agree to the trial.”
Dallas sighed and looked at her with a grim face. “Okay. It’s clear you have thought this out completely. The business plan is well written. I still have doubts, but I’m willing to give it a trial run. Just remember you agreed that if you don’t turn a profit, we will not continue with the program.”
“Thank you, Dallas, you won’t regret this. I promise.” Emma let out a squeal of delight and jumped up to hug her brother.
He hoped her Cowgirl Yoga plan worked as she planned it would. At the very least he had been able to extricate a smile from her. That alone made the added expense worth it. Emma had a hard time in her last semester of school. Her heart had gotten broken by her longtime boyfriend, Colt Lewis. The football player abandoned her for someone else when he signed a contract with a professional football team. It left Emma devastated, and she came home to lick her wounds.
“Okay easy now, there is a lot to be done to get your idea up and running. Do you know what you need to do first?” Dallas smiled.
Emma nodded her head in agreement as she said, “Yes, I have so many lists of things that need to be done. Do you think Wes would help me? He’s so good at this stuff, and he can charm anyone.”
“Absolutely. He has believed in your idea from the start, so he should be willing to assist you with getting everything set.”
“Awesomeness. I am the luckiest girl in the world to have you two as brothers. I hope you know that. I appreciate everything that you do for me.” Emma’s smile grew into a huge grin.
“It’s only ’cause we have you for a sister. You’re the devilish imp that keeps things interesting.”
Emma let out a little chuckle. “All right, should I call Wes?”
“I will let him know that it’s a go, and I’ll make sure he calls you soon. He’s a customer service genius and might be able to help with your marketing ideas too.”
Wes was a great asset, and Dallas hoped she took advantage of his skills. The ranch wouldn’t have been financially successful without his key insight. He had been instrumental in branching off and marketing the ranch in a different, more lucrative venture. Perhaps he could also make Emma’s Cowgirl Yoga plan just as successful.
“I’m sure he will have a lot of helpful ideas. Have him call me when he is free to go over everything with me. In the meantime, I’m going to begin setting up the social media sites and give Ginnifer Zeiss a call. I need to confirm she’ll be able to attend for the two weeks in September.”
“You mean there’s a chance she might not be able to come for your opening weekend?” he asked.
“Well I couldn’t tell her to come when I hadn’t gotten your permission to run the program yet. I had some details to iron out first. I will call her and see if she’s still available. She seemed pretty excited about coming, though, so I don’t foresee any problems.”
Dallas gathered all of her paperwork together, placed it into a manila folder, and handed it to Emma. “All right, looks like everything is settled here. I have other matters to attend to unless you have something else you wanna talk ’bout?”
Emma grabbed the folder and stood up. “No, that’s all I needed. I’ve lots to do, so I’ll leave you alone now. Bubbye, big brother.”
Emma turned on her heel and strolled out of the office. At least the meeting had gone relatively well. He believed he had been able to give her something to look forward to. She needed something to throw all of her energy into so she could forget her useless ex-boyfriend.
Dallas continued to stare at his office door after his sister left. Did he make a mistake in letting her try this latest idea of hers? He sure hoped not, but regardless of his reservations, he was still going to let her try it. Emma had wanted to try something new for a while now. The ranch was in a good place financially, and if Emma was going to experiment, this was the best time to let her try.
He let out a sigh and ran his hands through his chestnut hair in frustration. It was hard to be the oldest sibling. Sometimes he wished he didn’t have so much responsibility. He had been the head of the family since their parents died in the car crash five years ago. Dallas barely reached the ripe old age of twenty-four when he found himself saddled with the responsibility of the family ranch, Novak Springs. The life he planned changed with the death of his parents. He barely graduated college before he had to take over Novak Springs in central Washington. The town of Dillon grieved the loss of their parents alongside of them.
He grieved far more than the loss of his parents. Dallas also lost the life he had been planning with his then fiancée, Melody. She was everything that he thought he wanted in a lifelong partner. She was beautiful, smart, and tenacious. No other female had ever come close to meaning anything to him. As soon as they met, she became an important part of his life. They had made so many plans together, but they all came tumbling down when his parents died. Melody had not wanted to come with him to run the ranch. That wasn’t in her plans. She wanted more out of life than to be holed up in a kitchen and taking care of their family. When Melody told him that she couldn’t marry him, his heart shattered into a million pieces. His parents had never gotten a chance to meet her. The plan had been to bring her home the very week they died. In the span of a short time, he lost more than any normal person could handle. Dallas was a shell of himself from that point on. The only two people that mattered to him were his brother and sister. Melody was no longer important; she couldn’t be. His heart hardened at any thought of her. It still baffled him that he could allow someone in his life who would abandon him when he needed her most. He vowed he would never give another woman that kind of control over him again.
Wesley, a year younger than he was, deferred his last year of college in order to help Dallas run Novak Springs. Emmaline was their baby sister, scarcely twenty-two years old now. They had to take over guardianship of her when their parents died in her senior year of high school. The vivacious teenager became sullen and withdrawn. Dallas was aware that she believed she was a burden to them, but it wasn’t further from the truth. She was the glue that had held them together while they struggled to make a profit from the failing ranch. Wesley’s ideas to run a dude ranch during the spring and into the late summer months had been what saved them from ruin. They not only got help doing all of their chores, but people actually paid for the privilege of learning how a real ranch worked. It was a win-win situation all around. They still had some regular ranch hands for running the day-to-day operations of the ranch. Mrs. Henly, the housemaid, came in four days a week to clean the house and occasionally cook meals. She stocked a lot of casseroles in the freezer for them so they didn’t starve. Mrs. Henly was a kind, older woman who had been hired by their parents before they passed away.
Originally Emma had been adamant she was not going to go away to college after high school graduation. So it was Wes who convinced her that she needed to go away and earn her degree. He was able to make her see she could help them with sustaining the ranch if she got the right education. She wanted to help them run the ranch. Once she was there, she blossomed and had started to flourish into that cheerful girl again. The happiness bubbled out of her whenever she visited. She began dating a football player and couldn’t have been happier with her life. Emma brought the guy home often on breaks until they broke up a couple weeks before her college graduation. Some of the happy energy left her, but it wasn’t the same as when their parents died. This was something entirely different. It was her first heartbreak, and it was in this new project of hers that she found a way to channel any restless energy. It was one of the reasons Wes had given Dallas to make sure he let her try it out. Wes was more tuned into her emotions. He could see the pain in her eyes more clearly. They were both desperate to see a smile on her face and were willing to try anything to make it happen. Dallas understood heartbreak, and he hated that his little sister was experiencing it.
Wes was the charming and charismatic one and could talk anyone into anything. He was the golden boy in more ways than one, inheriting buttery-blond hair and hazel eyes from their mother. It was his skills at talking to people that got the dude ranch going and the money flowing. Even with his happy-go-lucky attitude, it was obvious he held himself back from the world. He put up walls and only allowed people to see a small part of who he was. Appearances could be deceiving, something Dallas knew too well. He didn’t push Wes into telling him what his demons were. If Wes wanted him to know, he’d tell him when he was ready. They were a close family, but even tight-knit families had secrets from each other.
Dallas did the paperwork and accounting; he kept the business side of things running so they could continue to run the ranch. He had a degree in business administration, and he utilized every shred of knowledge he learned to keep the ranch in the black. He was often envious of his younger brother’s apparent easy charm and natural charisma. Dallas looked over at his cell phone and geared himself for the conversation with his brother. He had tried to tell him to give Emma’s idea a chance, but Dallas didn’t think it was a sound business venture. After talking to Emma and seeing everything Wes had pointed out, it was clear to him there was only one choice he could make. It should have been clear long before seeing her that it didn’t matter how sound it was, they at least needed to let her try. Wes saw it before he did, and he needed to eat crow, let him know he was right.
Dallas picked up the phone and pressed his brother’s name in his contact list. The call was answered immediately as he heard a hello on the other end. He took a deep breath before saying, “I gave her the okay to do it. She’s expecting your call to help her set it up. I’m trusting you to guide her in every step.”
“What made you change your mind?” Wes asked.
“The look on her face, she was so eager to prove herself. I still have doubts it’ll be successful, but you’re right—she needs to try.”
A shout of laughter came through the connection. “Haven’t you learned by now I’m always right?”
“No, because you rarely are. Your ego is too big for the state of Washington. You should branch off east a bit and let the residents of Idaho and Montana enjoy the experience of all that is Wes Novak.”
Wes chuckled at his brother’s response. “You’re just jealous that everyone loves me.”
“Not at all,” Dallas said smoothly, “I’m just more selective than you are.”
“Of course you are. More like you can’t find a woman to put up with your crap.”
“Not likely. I’m not looking for a woman to put up with a darn thing.” Dallas visibly shuddered at the idea of allowing another woman the opportunity to shatter him again. No, he would never make that mistake again.
“You can’t let what one woman did to you rule the rest of your life,” Wes said. “Someday you’ll find a woman that adores you, hell, they may even like you too.”
“So generous of you. As I said, I don’t want or need one.”
“Famous last words. I can’t wait for the right woman to come along and knock you for a loop,” Wes snickered.
Even though Wes couldn’t see it, Dallas rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”
“She’s out there and she is going to turn you inside out. I’m gonna make sure I’ve got front row seats for the show.”
Yeah, he already met a woman that turned him inside out. No thanks, he would pass on a repeat experience. “Now I know you’re delusional. I’m not letting a woman run my life. Ever.”
All he could hear was laughing and decided the conversation was over. Dallas ended the call; Wes knew what he needed to do, anyway.
Ginnifer sat at her desk going through her workload for the week. She had a lot to get accomplished and not enough time in the day. Her schedule didn’t allow her a lot of free time. That didn’t bother her too much because she didn’t have anyone to go home to. So work gave her something to focus on. The only person around to give her any kind of companionship was her best friend, Vitoria. If not for Tori, she probably wouldn’t leave the office or home that much. Vitoria made sure she got out and even took an occasional vacation. That didn’t include her working vacations. She took at least four of those a year to review places for the magazine she worked at. It had been Tori’s idea to schedule a yearly vacation for just the two of them. Usually someplace warm with sandy beaches.
Ginnifer looked down startled when her phone began to ring. Usually her personal line didn’t ring. She had an assistant to answer phones. It must be someone important for them to have her direct line. Well only one way to find out.
She picked up her phone and answered it. “Ginnifer Zeiss, how can I help you?”
“Hi this is Emmaline Novak; I spoke to you a few weeks ago about our Cowgirl Yoga program. I wanted to confirm you would still be able to attend the first two weeks in September.”
“Hmm, let me check my calendar, the first two weeks of September you said? I do remember talking to you about attending. I thought we hadn’t nailed down a specific time.”
“That’s correct. I was just getting things scheduled, and I realized we hadn’t touched base again. I hope you’re still willing to come out and review our program.”
Ginnifer checked her calendar and looked over her schedule. Darn it, that’s the two weeks of her annual vacation with Vitoria. They had planned on going to the Virgin Islands for this trip. She hadn’t ever been there and she loved beaches. Not nearly as much as Vitoria, but it held a lot of appeal. Not as much appeal as spending a couple weeks on a ranch with cowboys. Something about a man in a cowboy hat always made her sit up and take notice. She had hoped to find a sexy cowboy to ogle at her heart’s content when she visited the ranch. Perhaps there could be a way to still make it work. Vitoria could be persuaded with the right incentive. She needed to let Emma know that it might not work, though.
“Well I have those two weeks scheduled for a vacation, but I’m supposed to be going away with my best friend. We do it every year. I was afraid they would clash when you mentioned September. Is there any way I can come another time?” Ginnifer explained.
“Oh that’s too bad. I was so hoping you would be able to come then. I don’t know when I can squeeze you in again,” Emma said with a small sigh. “There’s absolutely no way you can come during those two weeks?”
Ginnifer tapped her desk with her fingers as she contemplated what she should do. She really did want to go to the ranch. She had always been slightly fascinated by cowboys and ranches. Perhaps she should just lay it all on the table for her to consider. Ultimately she would prefer to still have her vacation time with Vitoria. She might be able to persuade her to go. Tori knew how much she loved to look at cowboys. Of course she would point out she could do more than stare at them. Tori liked to touch and didn’t see why Ginnifer didn’t jump at the chance herself.
“I was really looking forward to visiting your ranch. It’d be awful to miss out on the opportunity. Are you completely booked? Maybe I can talk Tori into coming along for it. She isn’t the roughing it type, but I’m sure she would at least enjoy the yoga and all of the other activities you’ve planned.”
“Well I could put her in a cabin with you. I was going to put you in your own accommodations anyway instead of making you share as the program dictates. If she is willing to come, I could give her a discounted rate. Of course your stay is completely comped like we discussed, but I can’t afford to let your friend stay for free. I hope you understand.”
“I’ll run everything by her and get back to you by the end of the day tomorrow. She can be hard to pin down because she’s out of the office a lot, but I’ll leave a message, and she’ll get back to me. I should know something for sure when I call you back.”
“Excellent. I’ll look forward to hearing from you then.”
Ginnifer said good-bye and hit End on her phone. She set the phone down on her desk and picked up her to-do list. No need worrying about something she couldn’t change, there was plenty of stuff she needed to finish. She would discuss all of the possibilities with Vitoria later today. In the meantime she had some deadlines to meet before she could call it a day at the office. Ginnifer picked up her coffee and took a big drink. She could feel the warmth slide down her throat and settle in her stomach. Coffee was her favorite drink. Nothing compared to its lovely energy, and she couldn’t get through a day without it.
“Excuse me, Ms. Zeiss, you have a phone call.”
“Thanks, Alison,” Ginnifer said. “What is it regarding?”
“It’s Mr. Tolliver from that beach resort on the Hawaiian islands you visited three months ago.”
Ginnifer reached over and picked up the phone.
“Hello, Mr. Tolliver. How can I help you?”
“I wanted to call and thank you for the lovely review you gave us in your article. I just got done reading it. I’m glad you were able to enjoy your stay.”
“Hawaii was lovely. Thank you for inviting me out. I don’t usually get to visit beach resorts unless it’s on my own dime.”
“It must get to be expensive traveling all over the place to just write articles.”
“It can be. I try to visit places that don’t have a vested interest in my visit. It makes my articles more valid. I’m always honest, though. If there is some area that can be improved, I don’t hold back, as you could tell from my article.”
“Yes. We are taking all of your suggestions to heart. We want to give all of our guests a stay worth remembering.”
“I’m glad I could help. Overall it was one of the best places I’ve ever stayed. You did a good job of meeting my needs and making me want to come again. I hope to visit again sometime in the future,” she said.
“We look forward to seeing you again. Have a wonderful day,” Mr. Tolliver said.
“You too. Good-bye, Mr. Tolliver. It was lovely hearing from you.”
Ginnifer hung up her phone and considered her options while braiding a lock of her wavy butterscotch-blonde hair out of habit. Her mind had wandered to the issue with the Cowgirl Yoga program. She really needed to talk to Tori and make a decision. Did the story mean as much to her as her relationship with her best friend? Ginnifer knew it really was more than that, though. She always wanted to visit a ranch, and this was a prime opportunity to get to scratch the experience off of her bucket list. She had to consider all angles and figure out how to make it work.
Tori was looking forward to sunny beaches and sexy men. What mattered most to her were the sexy men, especially if they were long-haired blonds. The question was how to spin it so she wanted to go on this vacation more than lounge on a beach and ogle the hot guys that could stroll by. Ginnifer just wanted to get away, and if she could get her vacation free, even better. Add some possible cowboys to boot? Mmmm nothing sexier than that. Hell did it really matter? She’d approach Tori with the idea, but when push came to shove, she knew she was going to that ranch in September. It would be more fun if she could bring her best friend along for the ride, though. So she hoped Tori wouldn’t put up too much resistance to the idea.
As if she knew that Ginnifer had been thinking about her, Tori breezed into her office like one of New York’s fashion models, her high heels clicking on the tile floor. Her long caramel-blonde hair pulled up in a messy bun with strands spilling over her face, blue eyes sparkling with mischief, she threw her purse on Ginnifer’s desk and sat in one of the chairs nearest to her. Tori scooted the chair up closer to the desk and brought her elbows up to the desk, folding her hands under her chin.
“You will not believe the day I have had,” she proclaimed.
Ginnifer smiled at Tori before saying, “I’m sure I won’t. Your days are inherently more interesting than mine, but do tell. I’m all ears.” Ginnifer leaned her chair back in a more relaxed position, awaiting Tori to tell her the latest tidbit in the entertainment world. The stories she weaved were always interesting and full of the juiciest gossip.
“Well you remember that new client of mine? The sexy football player, just signed a two-year multimillion dollar deal with the Seattle Seahawks? Well it appears he needs a little hand holding. I am going to have to fly out to Washington and deal with some issues he created in the tabloids.” She rolled her eyes. “Apparently he’s gonna be a proud poppa in oh about eight months give or take a few weeks, except he swears he has never laid a hand on the baby mama.”
“What are the chances he’s telling the truth?” Ginnifer asked.
“With this one I’d say the odds are in his favor. The bastard doesn’t know how to flirt and totally ignored my suggestions for a little side fun. I swear he acts like a monk. This woman’s getting a little money hungry and is trying to saddle him with her bill.”
Ginnifer sat up and looked at Tori with shock on her face as she asked, “You actually hit on him?”
“Don’t look at me like that, have you seen him? All rock-hard muscle and a face that would put a Greek god to shame. I just wanted to run my hands through that unruly mahogany mane of his.” Tori shivered as she sighed. “You know I have a weakness for long hair, but no, it didn’t happen. Thankfully he doesn’t bend easily. Trust me, I gave it my all, and most men can’t resist all things Vitoria Miene.”
Ginnifer rolled her eyes at her best friend. “You did this knowing you were going to work with him? Isn’t it taboo to hit on your potential clients?” Tori was gorgeous, and she’s right, most men fawned all over her. She’s very choosy who she picks as a lover, though. It could be a little disconcerting to go out with her at times. Sometimes Ginnifer thought she should bring a stick or cane along to beat them off of her best friend, but she knew how much Tori enjoyed the attention. Having them close in on you was a little suffocating, and she had no idea how Tori managed them all.
“Well I actually tried before we signed a contract. You should know I don’t like to mix business with pleasure, besides he wasn’t biting.” After a long drawn out breath and sigh, Tori said, “I didn’t honestly think he’d take me up on the offer. It was a test to see how far he was willing to go.”
Tori continued to make herself comfortable in Ginnifer’s office, pushing the chair back into its original position and leaning against its comfortable cushions. She took one of her crimson stilettos off and began to rub the bottom of her left foot. It wasn’t easy walking around in four-inch heels all day, but Tori had a height issue. She was barely two inches above five feet. She made up the difference by wearing very high heels on a daily basis. She often told Ginnifer how lucky she was to be at least five feet five. Tori would love to be taller so that it would be easier to access the tall men she adored so much.
Ginnifer nodded her head at Tori in understanding and asked, “So when do you leave?”
Tori reached down and replaced one shoe and took off the other one to give each foot equal attention as she said, “Well that’s partly why I came by here. Not that I don’t love you, but this isn’t entirely a social call.”
Ginnifer groaned and she was almost afraid to ask, “What do you need?”
“Well could you do a nice little interview with him? Publish it in next month’s edition? He needs to give his side of the story, and I know you’ll give him a fair interview.”
The reason Tori and Ginnifer had met was because of their career choices. Tori was a successful publicist. Ginnifer worked for a prominent magazine and also did some freelance work if the magazine didn’t want to pick up one of the articles she wrote. She made a decent living writing and traveling when the story made it necessary. They met at a media conference and hit it off immediately. Because of their mutual interests and similar tastes, they had been best friends since that fateful encounter. A little tit for tat was commonplace for them, and if it was possible to help each other out, they didn’t think twice about it. That didn’t mean they didn’t make each other work for the favors they bestowed. Nothing should ever come easy, even between best friends.
Which gave Ginnifer a brilliant idea on how to get Tori to agree to change their vacation from a tropical island getaway to a ranch. “Well I’ll consider it on one condition.”
Tori looked at her with skepticism in her eyes. “That was almost too easy. Am I going to like this?”
With a shrug, Ginnifer said, “That depends. How do you feel about changing our yearly vacation plans? Instead of sunny beaches, we’re going to a ranch for horse riding and yoga.”
Tori raised her eyes at her with shock and disdain radiating from them. “You’re joking, right? That doesn’t sound very relaxing to me. That sounds like some sort of torture, not a vacation.”
Ginnifer frowned before saying, “I forgot I agreed to do a story on the ranch. I need to go out there the first two weeks of September.”
“I don’t think this is actually a fair trade. If we change our plans, you’ll owe me.”
Ginnifer shook her head as she said, “No, it’s either you go with me or I go alone. I made a promise, and it’s one I plan on keeping. This could be a good thing. Please say you’ll go, and I’ll definitely make your football player look better than a Greek god.”
“I don’t think that’s even possible.” Her voice was tinged with disbelief. “What could be better than a god?”
A knowing smile formed on Ginnifer’s face. “A sexy cowboy.”
With that, Tori grinned at Ginnifer as if it just occurred to her there would be men on a ranch and the things she was capable of doing with them. Tori loved to flirt; it was by far her favorite hobby. “That’s a good point, don’t know if they’re better, though. I’ll just have to play with a few to find out.”
“So are you gonna go?”
“Yeah count me in. I’ll cancel our other vacation plans. Where’s this ranch, anyway?” Tori asked as she grabbed her purse and started to rifle through it. She located her phone, opened her calendar, and updated the vacation plans to show a ranch in September. “I need to input it in my calendar.”
“Washington state, not too far from Seattle. I’ve seen some pictures on their website. It’s breathtaking. I can’t wait to see it in person.”
Tori rolled her eyes. “Only you’d be excited to see a ranch.”
“You know how I feel about cowboys.” Ginnifer shrugged. “Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a long-haired blond cowboy.”
“Unlikely. Don’t they like their hair more manageable? As in too short for my tastes?” Tori winked at her. “You don’t mind that as long as they’re wearing a hat and some cowboy boots, but would you know what to do with one if you found him?”
Ginnifer laughed so hard tears started to come out of her green eyes. Trust Tori to get right to the heart of the matter. With her, the point was always how do I get this one to fall in love with me the fastest.
“Oh I hope I’d know what to do with the right one,” she told her best friend.
“Well no worries. I’ll be there to help you out if you need to sexify yourself.” Tori wiggled her eyebrows suggestively at Ginnifer.
“Thanks, Tori. You truly are the bestest.”
“Don’t I know it. Washington state? Maybe I can mix with a little business and pleasure on this trip too. I am sure Colt Lewis, quarterback extraordinaire, will continue to need my help after training camp and preseason are over with. I believe the first game is at home the beginning of September too, I’ll have to double check the schedule. He has to be a little shell-shocked at all of this. His first NFL season, and he gets a scandal at the top of it. This is going to be an eventful summer.”
Reaching for her desk calendar, Ginnifer asked, “When do you want to set the interview up?”
“Let me get back to you on that. I’ll need to clarify his schedule with him. I’ll call you sometime tomorrow so we can compare schedules. It’ll be easier to find something that works when I know more. And with that, I’m off.”
Tori blew a kiss at Ginnifer as she walked out of her office in much the same fashion as she entered it, with flair only she could pull off. Her purse was swinging on her shoulder and both stilettos once again on her feet, clicking as she sashayed down the hall.
Well at least that was settled. Tori and she were definitely visiting a ranch for some yoga. The only thing left to do was to make a phone call to Emmaline Novak and tell her to expect both of them in September. Maybe they would be lucky and each find a sexy cowboy on the ranch. It had been a long time since she had met a man she wanted to spend time with, let alone get naked with. She was on one hell of a dry spell lately. Maybe a vacation at a ranch was something she needed to get back in the saddle again, so to speak.
Unbridled Pursuit 1
Vitoria’s eyelids were narrowed into tiny slits, still heavy from sleep. The sun’s bright rays bounced in a diagonal through the room and landed across Vitoria’s face in sync with the shrill of her alarm clock. The screeching noise reverberated against the bedroom walls and recoiled throughout her eardrums. The light blinded her sleep-filled eyes. Reaching out her hand, she batted her alarm clock with more force than necessary to end the constant stream of annoyingness.
Mornings and she did not get along very well.
They were her least favorite part of the day, but time waited for no one. It kept beating steadily on whether she was ready for it or not. Sadly, Tori was almost never equipped to take on the infernal clock constantly counting down the seconds of her life. She had so many things to do in a single day it was next to impossible to accomplish it all.
Today she had a plane to catch, a flight scheduled to take her to the west coast—to be more specific, Seattle, Washington. The state her best friend now called home. The past three months without her chipped away at Tori’s thick shell.
Loneliness invaded her world in a way it hadn’t in many years. Not since the days before she met Ginnifer Zeiss, or as she was often called, Ginny. Prior to meeting her best friend, she only existed and went through the motions of her day-to-day life. She gave the impression of happiness, but in reality, she was just an empty shell. Without someone to shake up her world, she feared she would sink into oblivion.
She missed the ability to drop in on her at a moment’s notice. Tori and Ginnifer didn’t go a day without talking. The difference now was it almost always involved a telephone, whereas before she stopped by for an impromptu lunch or a nightly glass of wine. Ginny had to go and fall in love and ruin it all.
Her dearest friend was getting married. The wedding was several weeks away. Now Tori had to fly out to Seattle to help with some of the planning and of course check in with her growing clientele.
Her work was never done.
Vitoria owned and operated a public relations firm. She also handled some legal work for her clients. She had passed the bar in several states. It gave her the opportunity to negotiate contracts when they were up for renewal. Her business wasn’t merely a public relations firm. It had been designed to meet any and all necessities that might arise. The sheer level of energy she required to get through her day took its toll. She wanted a change, and she missed her best friend terribly.
The distance between them was more difficult for her than anything else in her life. Tori needed to be near Ginnifer. So much so, she seriously considered a more permanent solution to her situation. While in Washington for this trip, she planned on scouting the area for a place to set up business. Thanks to her growing client base on the west coast, the transition should go smoothly. It made sense to move when the majority of her clients were on a different side of the country. The boon was her best friend lived there too. In her mind it was a win-win situation. So why did she have such a hard time making a decision?
Tori rolled out of bed and stumbled into her bathroom. She flicked on the light and rubbed her face. The lack of sleep played a toll on her normally gorgeous exterior. Her caramel-blonde hair could be compared to dried straw and her blue eyes were dull.
The constant back and forth had to stop. It didn’t matter if everything was completely settled. When she arrived in Washington she required a change. So she made the decision to start arrangements for her move immediately.
Resolution made, she picked up her cell and scrolled through the contact list. After several rings someone answered with a muffled hello.
“Alison, good you’re up.”
“Damn it Tori, do you have any idea what time it is?” she asked.
“Of course I do. I figured you would already be awake and ready to start your day.”
“If I had known how evil you were, I wouldn’t have taken a job with you after Ginnifer moved to Washington.”
“Well, you came highly recommended, or I wouldn’t have hired you at all. You should be thankful I gave you a job.”
Vitoria stared at her fingernails. The nail polish had started to chip at the top and one of her nails had a ragged edge where it broke the day before. When she got to Seattle, at some point she would get a manicure.
“What do you need? I’d like to get some more sleep today. You do realize it’s a Sunday, right? I don’t work on the weekend,” Alison mumbled.
“Well you do now. I have a job for you to start working on immediately.”
Tori could hear the groans coming through the speaker of her phone. She probably should feel guilty, but she didn’t really. Perhaps she did a little—she didn’t like getting woken up and ordered around. It just plain sucked. But Alison knew what her job would entail when she agreed to work with her. An early morning wakeup call shouldn’t come as a surprise. Vitoria explained the possibility to her, and she knew a last minute assignment could pop up at any moment.
“I repeat, what do you need?” A growl came through loud and clear. Nope, Alison was far from happy. Tori didn’t consider that her problem. She paid well and expected results.
“I’m going to move to Seattle. I want you to contact some movers. I want my entire apartment and office packed up in preparation for the move. I don’t plan on coming back once I fly out there later this afternoon.”
Tori rattled off her list. “I also would like you to contact every person on my east coast client list and inform them of my move. If they want to consider moving to a more locally-based agent, I’ll allow them break their contract for a nominal fee, but please explain to them I am not coming back to New York unless it’s an emergency. From now on they will have to meet with me in Seattle.”
“What? So I’m going to be out of another job?” Alison asked.
“Only if you don’t want to move to Seattle with me. I’ll pay your moving expenses if you want to transfer out there. If not, I will give you a letter of recommendation.”
Alison really was a good assistant. Plus Vitoria had already broken her in. All of her expectations were fully ingrained in her. She really didn’t want to train someone new. Paying her to move out to Washington was a sound business decision. If Tori was lucky, and she didn’t rely on luck very often, Alison would grab at the opportunity to relocate.
“I will have to think about it and let you know. Where’s everything going to be sent to?” Alison asked.
“I’m not exactly sure. I’ll call you in a few days with the information. It’s going to take at least a week to pack both places up anyway. Just make the other arrangements first.”
“All right. I will call and see who is available. It’s kind of last minute, and there might not be too many openings.”
“Just do the best you can. I have faith in your ability to make this happen. It’s a good thing I’m not a coffee nut like Ginny. Everything else you do stupendously. That was her only complaint as to your skills.”
“If you can keep a secret, I’ll tell you why I failed miserably at that.”
“Let me guess. You did it on purpose.”
“How’d you guess?” Alison asked.
“It’s what I’d do. No one wants to be that person. The one who fetches coffee repeatedly. If you show your ineptness for it, they’ll quit asking.”
“Exactly,” Alison agreed.
“Anyway I have a few things I need to do before my flight. I’ll be in touch with the rest of the details. I have an extra set of keys to my apartment in my office safe. You have the combination, so just retrieve them when you need to let the movers into my apartment. I’ll talk to you later.”
Tori ended the call and got ready for her trip. She had packed the night before, but in light of her change of plans, she packed an extra bag with a few essential items. The additional cost of the baggage would be worth it to take everything she needed. With care, she folded more clothes and placed them in the large suitcase. Ginnifer often made fun of her over-packing, but she believed in being prepared for any scenario.
The one thing Vitoria hated more than anything was being blindsided.
In a lot of ways, she was a control freak. She hated giving anyone any kind of power over her. Her parents were tyrants and meticulously planned every part of her childhood. Their need to have successful, ambitious children led to her estrangement from her sister, Vivian. She hadn’t seen Viv in over two years. The last time they saw each other the conversation had been stilted and heavy with tension.
The encounter happened purely by chance. They were almost like two ships passing in the night.
Her sister was walking into a lawyer’s firm Vitoria had been leaving. At first seeing her sibling directly in front of her startled her. They normally kept a large distance between them. Vivian could be very coldblooded and distant. She developed her attitude as a coping mechanism. At times Tori wondered if she was actually sociopathic because of some of the things she did to get ahead in their parents’ eyes. Nothing stood in her way, not even her own sister.
A high-pitched noise filled the room, and she looked over at her phone. She had tossed it on her bed as she began to pack. Vitoria reached for her cell and smiled when Ginnifer’s name flashed across the screen.
“Hey, Ginny. You do know what time it is, right? I mean you are like three hours behind me, so is the sun even up there?”
“As a matter of fact, no, it isn’t. Dallas starts chores quite early.”
“And he wakes you up first? That brute! I will have a chat with him when I get there. Sleep is a sacred thing, and he shouldn’t deprive you of yours.”
Tori stopped and tapped her chin as a thought entered her mind. “Although I have to admit that is kind of brave of him. I’m aware of how perilous it is to wake you up before the sun comes up.”
Ginnifer’s laughter floated through the phone. “Oh trust me. I don’t mind. Everyone should experience our version of peril at least once in their lifetime.”
“Have you been watching Monty Python?”
“Of course not. It was horrid enough the one time you made me watch it.”
She could imagine Ginny’s shudder as she said the words. She did every time Tori mentioned the one movie she actively despised. Of all the films Tori made her sit through, [_Monty Python and the Holy Grail _]left Ginnifer quivering with displeasure. It didn’t take long for it to become her least favorite movie. Of course using favorite in any context was overstating it. Ginny hated that particular movie.
“It just reminded me of the scene when Sir Galahad was in that castle full of women. Sir Lancelot said he was in peril.”
“Oh, I think I do remember that. Seems like it had to do with his duty to experience such peril or a lot of peril. I don’t remember exactly.”
“Yes!” Tori shouted with excitement. “He said and I’m paraphrasing it here—it is my duty as a knight to sample as much peril as I can. You came pretty close to it with your comment about Dallas.”
“Tori dear, you watch too many movies. You need to get a life.”
“Hmmph, I have a great life, thank you very much. So back to you. Why are you calling me?”
“Oh, I wanted to double check to see what time your flight arrives today.” Ginnifer asked.
“Why? I’m not going to be coming out to Novak Springs until next week. I have a few things to take care of in Seattle first.”
“I thought I’d arrange to meet you, and while we are there, we can get the fitting done on your bridesmaid dress. I also want you to see the dress I picked out and get your opinion.”
“You finally found a dress?” Tori squealed. “I can’t wait to see it.”
“I figured you might.”
“Hmm, my flight actually gets in kind of late. It might be best for you to come out tomorrow or the next day. I’m not so sure anything will be open when I get there.”
What Tori didn’t tell her was she had other plans once she arrived in Seattle. She needed to find an apartment and some office space. What she hoped was to be able to give her the good news about the move when she saw her. No way could she do that if she didn’t have any time to scout out the area first. Her first stop, after she checked into her hotel, was with the real estate agent she set up an appointment with. She needed at least a half day to make some headway on her idea.
“Oh. Okay. I will plan on driving out tomorrow morning. Dallas wakes me up pretty early, so I should be able to get there by nine. We can shop and have lunch. Does that work for you?”
“Of course. I can’t wait to see you. I’m excited.”
“Good. I’m gonna hang up. Maybe I’ll get some more sleep.”
Tori could hear Ginnifer yawn. Dallas might have been very good at a morning wake-up, but that didn’t change her best friend’s sleeping habits. She would probably call it a power nap.
“All right. Bub-bye Ginny.”
Tori hung up the phone and finished packing. The cab was scheduled to arrive in an hour, and she needed to get done before they arrived. After everything was packed, she zipped her suitcase and rolled it next to the other two in her living room. She only had twenty minutes to wait until her ride came to pick her up. With everything arranged and planned, Tori sat on a chair in her living room to relax. No reason to expend any unnecessary energy. She had a long day ahead of her.
The plane landed at Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport on time. The problem didn’t start until five minutes after Tori entered the airport terminal from the plane. The outside windows portrayed a torrential downpour of rain and hail the size of ping-pong balls. It pounded against the glass panes with a force leading her to believe they’d break at any moment.
This, of course, left her without much desire to actually leave the airport.
If it appeared this bad from the inside looking out, it had to be ten times worse to actually be underneath the wicked spray. Tori pulled her phone out of her purse and clicked the side button to check the time. The phone had already adjusted itself to the time difference between New York and Seattle. Her appointment with the realtor was in an hour. She needed to go check into her hotel and soon if she hoped to make the appointment on time.
With a sigh of resignation, Tori grabbed her carryon bag and trekked through the terminal to baggage claim. She pulled her two suitcases off the conveyer and stacked her carryon bag on top of the smaller one. As she turned to go toward the rental car area, she walked right into a hard male chest.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you…” She gazed up into a pair of hazel eyes filled with hatred.
“No need to explain. I’m well-aware how self-absorbed you are.”
The beginning of a sigh built up deep inside of Tori’s chest. She squashed it before it could expel itself from her body. Wesley Novak, the bane of her existence. She wanted to avoid him on this trip. Apparently the fates had a different idea altogether. At any other moment in time, with any other male, she’d have enjoyed the encounter.
Especially a male as gorgeous as Wes.
His long hair was a beautiful, golden shade of blond, his eyes alternated between green and brown, and he had a rock-hard chest she was desperate to run her hands all over. Unfortunately for her, for reasons she didn’t quite understand, the man loathed her.
“What are you doing here Wes?”
“I’m here to offer you a ride.”
Well, wasn’t that just peachy? By the expression on his face, he didn’t want to extend the offer any more than she wanted to accept it. His eyebrows were so scrunched together, they threatened to form a uni-brow. Every time he glanced at her, his eyes shot daggers, ready to kill her on sight. She had to wonder whose bright idea it was to have him pick her up from the airport. Hell, who even knew she’d arrived to be picked up? She thought she had stalled Ginny earlier on the phone.
“I don’t need a ride. I’m gonna walk on over there to get a rental car. I’m not about to rely on you for anything. I might end up in a body bag somewhere marked as a Jane Doe.”
“You would be familiar with body bags seeing what you are responsible for.”
What? That was a new one. She had nothing to do with body bags or dead bodies for that matter. Clearly Wes decided to take a trip off the deep end into loco town.
“I’m not even going to touch that one. Just leave me be, Wes. I can take care of myself,” Tori snidely remarked.
“I know. It’s what you’re good at. But I’m here anyway. Don’t worry, it’s not for you. I’m here ’cause Ginnifer worries about you. Only God knows why.”
“Well you can go on back to the ranch and tell her you saw me and I’m fine. I’m going to check into my hotel. I have an appointment. I don’t have all day to stand here and argue with you.”
“Well then quit bitching, and just do as you’re told for once.” Wes continued to glare at her in disapproval. If he kept it up, he was going to get some serious forehead wrinkles and some unflattering ones around the edges of his mouth.
He wrenched her largest bag from her hand and stomped out of the airport. His attitude suggested he expected her to follow in his footsteps. Vitoria stared down at her four-inch, fire-engine-red stilettos. She had no chance of catching up to him with them on. So she didn’t even try. One thing was perfectly clear though—he just took off with the bag housing most of her essential items in it.
She had two choices; either follow him, albeit a little slower, or just let him keep the bag and get the rental car she intended.
After weighing both options with care, she decided on the rental car. Worst-case scenario, he would take her bag back to the ranch. It wasn’t lost, just misplaced for a little while. If she was being honest with herself, she’d rather lose it than deal with Mr. Grumpy the rest of the day.
Body bag? Really? A new low for him. She sashayed over to the rental car counter pulling other two bags.
“Can I help you, miss?” A guy with white hair and dark-rimmed glasses stared back at her.
Tori saw a nametag displaying the name Pete in bold black letters on his blue button-up shirt. “Yes—Pete.” She flashed him her most alluring smile and ran her fingers down his arm. “I’d like the most luxurious car you have available.”
Tori was in the mood to be splashy and extravagant. Why not? She had the money to burn and it filled her with happiness. The trust fund her parents’ set up left her quite wealthy. She hadn’t seen them in years. After she left her parent’s home and went away to college she saw no reason to visit—it really was best for her mental stability. Her parents just didn’t give off any warm and fuzzy feelings. The money though she utilized at every opportunity. It was hard earned living with two emotionless people who claimed to care about her. With the added profits from her business, Tori never needed to stress about money. She hoped they had a sports car, rare yes, but desired after dealing with Wes.
“I’m sorry, but we only have one vehicle left.”
“I guess I’ll just be glad you have something at all. What kind is it?”
“It’s a standard SUV, a Ford Edge,” he explained.
“I’ll take it.”
Admittedly it was not a vehicle she preferred, but beggars couldn’t be choosers when they wanted out of the airport as fast as possible. She didn’t know if Wes planned on coming back and attempting to strong-arm her into going with him.
She located the yellow Ford Edge and clicked the remote on the keychain to unlock it. Luggage deposited in the rear hatch, she hastened to the driver’s side. The little disagreement with Wes put her behind schedule, and the awful downpour of rain still battered the streets.
So instead of going to her hotel, she put the realtor’s address into the GPS. Several minutes later she parked her vehicle and took a minute to relax while she plotted her next move. She needed to get inside without drenching herself from head to toe. If only she’d planned for the possibility of rain. Who went to Seattle and didn’t bring anything to prevent the rain from soaking them to the skin?
Clearly her sleep-deprived mind didn’t function well since she’d forgotten such an important accessory as an umbrella.
She gathered everything she needed and prepared to run as fast as possible in four-inch stilettos. She damn near skipped toward the office door just as it opened to allow her inside.
“Quite the storm we are getting today.” A cultured voice filled her ears, and she looked up to see a male with black curly hair and chocolate-brown eyes smile down at her. Dimples formed at the corners of his mouth, giving him a charming exterior. She found him incredibly sexy and a nice change after Wes’s rude attitude.
“Yeah, it sure is. Not something I was expecting either.”
“I can tell with your lack of umbrella.” His dimples popped back out as he smiled.
“Thanks for getting the door for me.” Lame response, but she lacked anything else to say. His male beauty stunned her into stupidity.
“It’s always my pleasure to help a beautiful woman. I’m Miguel Santiago.”
“Vitoria Miene.” She held her hand out to shake his. Instead he pulled it up to his lips and kissed it. A small shiver traveled down her spine at the gesture.
“What are you doing in Seattle, Mrs. Miene?”
“It’s just Miss. I’m not married. I’m hoping to relocate here from New York. Are you a real-estate agent, Mr. Santiago?”
“No, not at all. I do have several holdings, but I am a developer, not an agent. I’m just leaving a meeting with my agent, Miss Dearborn.”
“Funny you should mention her name. I am actually supposed to meet with her in fifteen minutes to look over some possible office space. It’s been nice meeting you, Mr. Santiago, but I’m afraid I must run.”
“What?” Tori stopped in her tracks, baffled.
“Please call me Miguel. I hate being so formal with such a lovely woman as yourself. Perhaps I can talk you into having dinner with me this evening?”
Smoothness, this man oozed it out and recycled it for future use.
“Oh, I don’t know. I have quite a bit to do. I’ll have to take a rain check.” She waved her hands outside. “No pun intended.”
Miguel chuckled. “I will hold you to it.”
“I’m sure you will.” Tori flashed him her most gamine smile.
“Until we meet again.” Miguel nodded at her and exited the building with an open umbrella raised to the sky.
The things she learned and the people she met when she least expected it. He certainly dripped charm and charisma. Maybe she should have taken him up on his offer of dinner. She could use a good meal with a handsome man. Sadly, she had way too much to do before she could enjoy such things. Like finding a new office and a place to live. Those took precedence over drool-worthy and lickable men. Tori watched him stroll down the sidewalk until his black suit was no longer visible from the office window. She turned her attention back to the task at hand and went to check in with the receptionist.
“I’m here to meet with Miss Dearborn. I’m Vitoria Miene.”
“I’ll let her know you are here.” The perky redhead got up and bounced over to Miss Dearborn’s office. After delivering her news, she sat back down and typed at her computer, not glancing up once, even when Miss Dearborn finally exited her office to retrieve Tori for their meeting.
“Miss Miene?” she asked.
“Yes. That’s me.”
“If you follow me to my office, we can get started.”
Vitoria got up and trailed after her. She entered a plush office with a color scheme of beige and cream. Vitoria sat down in a chair located near her desk and relaxed back into its cushiony comfort.
“I have a list of places that would be acceptable for what you require. Here is a mock-up of each office space and where they are located. It includes rental fees and what is expected in the lease.”
Tori took the files and browsed through the materials. When she made the appointment, she detailed exactly what she would need in an office space and apartment to help expedite the process.
“What about apartments?”
“I have a separate folder for those, but I thought the office space was a more immediate need.”
“Both are now equally important. I’ve had a change of plans. I’ll look over the office file first though.”
Tori went over each rental unit carefully and picked the one most suited for her needs. She just needed a basic space for her office and her assistant. Only one fit her exact requirements.
“I want to sign a lease on this one today if possible after I view it in person. When will you be able to show it to me? If it fits my needs, after I sign the contract I will leave the deposit and first month’s rent with you.”
“We can go look at it right now if you have time.” Tori nodded. Miss Dearborn continued, “I’ll have Tabitha print out the contract for us to take with us. Look over the apartments, and I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
As Miss Dearborn left the office, Tori perused through the pictures of the apartments. She wasn’t particular, but she wanted it to be comfortable. Maybe she shouldn’t rush into a living space. A visit to each one was required before making a decision. There were at least two she desired a personal look at before she made a decision.
“Did you see anything you like?”
“Yes these two apartments might work. I’d like to arrange a viewing of each one.”
“Certainly, that can be arranged. I’ll call them and set up an appointment. Is there any specific time that works for you?”
“No, just call me when it is all arranged.” Vitoria shook her head. “Wait, I can’t look at them tomorrow. I have other plans, but any other day will work. “
“If you’re ready to view the property we can head over now. Would you like me to drive?”
Vitoria nodded. “Yes that works for me.”
Miss Dearborn led them to her vehicle. Tori stepped into the passenger side and sat down. The location of the space for lease wasn’t far from the real estate office. Fifteen minutes later they were already inside looking over the floor plan.
“As you can see it meets all of your requirements.”
The office space was located on the fifth floor of the building. She scanned the front area—the room was filled with natural light and a view of the Seattle skyline.
The walls were painted soft beige accented by chocolate-brown carpet. The windows were ceiling to floor with long sweeping venetian blinds the same color as the carpet.
Some new seating with a mix of the already existing colors in the room would look chic. The desk Alison already used would fit in nicely within the room. It had three rooms that could be used as separate offices and one large room that would make a nice conference room.
The largest space utilized for office space would be hers. It was a corner room with the same window design as the front entrance. All she needed was a small table for her personal office. A table along with some chairs and then she could set up her meeting with her client, Colt. She would order one from a furniture store to be delivered. This office space would work well with all of her plans and ideas.
“Yes it does. Do you have the contract?”
“Yes. Here it is.”
Vitoria looked it over and made sure it all appeared to be in order. She didn’t go to law school to get taken in by a real estate lease. Everything looked good so she signed it and wrote a check out for the rental fee and deposit.
“Do you have the keys or do I need to come back and pick them up?”
“I can give them to you when we return to the office.”
They left the building and went back to the real estate office. Tori was relieved to have at least one thing settled. It would be a lot better once she knew where she was going to live. In the meantime she could just live out of a hotel room.
Emmaline Novak took a deep breath and entered the kitchen of her family home. Her older brother, Dallas, and his wife, Ginnifer, were already seated at the table. Both had cups in their hands, but her sister-in-law was giving hers a dirty look. No doubt because it was decaffeinated, and she hadn’t acclimated to it well. Ginnifer loved her coffee, and having to downgrade it—her words—happened to be pure torture.
Ginnifer took a sip of her coffee and grimaced. “Damn this stuff is awful.”
Dallas patted her hands, cajoling. “I know, just think of how much healthier it is for the baby.”
Ginnifer glared at him. If possible, she’d have shot ice out of her eyes and froze him in place, her stare was that glacial. “Don’t patronize me.”
Emma muffled a chuckle with her hand. Ginnifer was pregnant with their first child. She was due in a little over a month. Emma couldn’t wait to meet her new niece or nephew.
“Hello.” Emma strolled into the kitchen and grabbed a mug out of the cupboard. “How are you two doing this fine morning?” She lifted the coffee pot, filled her mug, and took a sip of the hot beverage.
“The jury’s still out on whether it is indeed fine,” Ginnifer muttered. “You’re pretty chipper this morning.”
Emma grinned. “And you’re still a grump, but I love you anyway.”
Dallas studied her and tilted his head. “No, Gin’s right. You’re in a good mood. What happened?” He paused and held up his hands. “Not that it’s a bad thing, but generally you can match Gin for most irritated on a good day.”
Emma bit her lip. This was the hard part. She needed to tell Dallas her plans changed—again. She graduated over a year ago with a degree to work as a sports physical therapist. It was her dream job. One she abandoned when Colt Lewis broke her heart. She’d been offered a job at the Seattle Seahawks before she graduated. Colt played on their team—a second-string quarterback. She couldn’t work with them knowing she’d have to see him every day she went into work. It would have killed her and broke what remained of her battered heart. So she’d come home and begged her brother to let her start the Cowgirl Yoga program. It had been so successful they’d sold out in their opening run, as well as their second season. But Emma’s heart just wasn’t in it. So she hoped she could talk Ginnifer into taking it over for the next year, and every year after that.
“I have news,” she began, pausing to stare at both of them. “I found a job.”
“A job? I thought Cowgirl Yoga was your job,” Dallas stated.
“Well, yes, that’s something I want to talk to you about. It’s—well there’s no easy way to say this. I’m bored with it. It was never something I wanted to do fulltime.”
“So what, you’re going to just abandon it now?”
“No, well, I was hoping I could talk Ginnifer into taking it over.” She turned toward her sister-in-law. “The Cowgirl Yoga program only runs for six weeks a year. You work from home for the most part with your freelance writing. This past season you did almost as much as I did to keep it running.”
“Yes, that’s true, but next year I’ll have the baby too.”
“I can come back and help out. I just don’t want to be in charge.” Emma pleaded with her eyes, hoping Ginnifer could see how much she needed to escape. “I want to work in the field I trained for. I didn’t think I’d be able to, but when Henry Ellwood called begging me to reconsider working with them, I found I couldn’t refuse. Please say you’ll do it. I’d hate to see the Cowgirl Yoga program fall into oblivion.”
Henry Ellwood was the head physician employed by the Seattle Seahawks. His expertise in sports medicine was part of the reason she chose to be a sports physical therapist. He’d been one of her instructors and guided her in her academic choices. She’d hating turning him down before. If not for him she’d never have known how much she loved working in physical therapy. At the time it seemed like a dream. One so perfect too—she’d work behind the scenes caring for the players, and Colt would be their new star player. It had all come crumbling down when her relationship fell apart.
Ginnifer tapped the side of her cup and pursed her lips. It didn’t look good, but even if she said no, Emma wasn’t going to change her mind. She wanted to work as a physical therapist, and she wasn’t going to let go of it now that she had the opportunity again.
Ginnifer got up and dumped the contents of her cup in the sink and set it on the counter. She turned to look at Emma again and sighed. “Fine, I’ll take it over.”
Emma squealed and ran over to wrap her arms around her in a tight hug. “You won’t regret it. I promise. I’m very organized and if you have any questions about anything I will be here to answer them.” She took a step back and bit her lip. “Well as much as my new job will allow anyway.”
“Yeah, about that,” Dallas interjected. “What exactly is this new job?”
“I’m going to be the new fulltime physical therapist for the Seahawks.” Emma glanced down at her coffee mug and picked it up. She took a sip and waited for Dallas to blow up. She knew he’d have a few choice words about her decision to work for the same team her ex-boyfriend played for. Maybe she’d get lucky and they’d trade him. No—it would be stupid of them to do it. They were grooming him to take over when their current number one quarterback retired or was no longer able to play.
She looked up and saw Dallas’s mouth hanging open in shock. He closed his mouth and opened it several times. His cheeks turned a brilliant shade of red, and he pursed his lips into a grim line. He got up and began to pace the kitchen. Ginnifer and Emma watched him, just waiting for him to get a hold of his emotions. Dallas tried his best to rein in his temper now that he had a family to consider.
He stopped and held his finger up in the air. “Why would you do something so foolish as to take a job at the one place guaranteed to put you in direct contact with the man who broke your heart?”
“Because Henry called and begged me to take the job.” Emma set her coffee down and crossed her arms across her chest. She stared Dallas in the eyes. “I know you are not aware of this, but he offered me the job before I graduated. I turned him down once because of Colt. I’m not going to do it again. This is what I want to do and I’m not going to let some man get in the way of me achieving my goals.”
Dallas scrubbed his hands over his face, his anger deflated. “No, I didn’t know. You wouldn’t talk about what happened. How are we to know anything when you won’t tell us?”
Her brother did have a point. She did close them out when she came home. It had hurt too much to talk about what happened. They didn’t know the full story, probably never would. Colt didn’t even know some of it. Yes, she’d been hurt, but it went deeper than that. She’d lost more than Colt when he cheated on her with Missy. She heard he wasn’t the father of Missy’s baby, but he’d still messed up by getting involved with her to begin with. If he’d been truer to their relationship, he’d never have been in a position to be the possible father of her daughter. Emma would never be able to forgive him for what he’d done to her and their future together. He’d trashed their relationship to party with his new teammates. Emma hoped it’d been worth it for him. She’d always feel the loss deep inside her soul.
“I didn’t feel like talking about it. Don’t now either.” Emma sighed. “Just don’t argue, Dallas. This is what I want.”
“Fine, I don’t have to be happy about it. When do you start working?”
“That’s the thing. Henry wants me to come right away. I already started packing. I’m leaving today.”
“What?” Ginnifer gasped. “Why so soon? Where are you going to stay?”
“I talked to Tori before I came in here. She said I could stay in her guest bedroom until I found my own place.”
Vitoria Miene was her other brother’s girlfriend. Wes stayed with her in Seattle more than he’d been at Novak Springs over the past several months. Emma kept waiting for them to announce they were getting married, but they seemed content with the way their relationship currently stood. It was good to see them both so happy when at one time they’d hated each other and argued all the time.
“Tori knew about this before I did? Well looks like I’m going to have to talk with my best friend. She’s been holding out on me.”
“Be nice, Ginny. Tori just found out an hour ago.”
“Hmmph. Fine, I won’t yell at her—much.”
Dallas shook his head and threw his hands up in the air. “I give up.”
Emma walked over and hugged him. “Don’t give up. What would I do without you?”
“Whatever the hell you want. Never stopped you before,” he grumbled. “Does Wes know about this job?”
Emma stood and turned her back to Dallas. “No, not yet. When I talked to Tori, she said he’d left to come out here. He should be showing up in an hour or so.”
Dallas laughed. “Good. I can’t wait to see how he reacts to your news. You think I reacted badly, Wes is going to go ballistic.”
“I’m sure he will, but I’ll be gone before he arrives. I just need to pack my things in the car, and I’ll be heading to Seattle. Please tell him I’ll see him tonight at Tori’s condo.”
Dallas ran his fingers through his chestnut hair, leaving the strands sticking out in a bunch of different directions. “Now you’re just being mean. Leaving me to tell Wes your dirty little secret. He’s going to be even more pissed you didn’t tell him yourself.”
“Then don’t tell him. Let me tell him tonight. Just let him think I’m going to visit him and Tori in Seattle for a while. I don’t mind letting him know I took a job as a physical trainer.” Emma shrugged her shoulder. “I just don’t have time to wait for him and tell him sooner. I told Henry I’d be at his office early for our meeting. I have some contracts to sign and stuff.”
“Call me when you get to Tori’s and are settled in.” Dallas frowned. “You know how I worry.”
“As long as you realize I’m not actually arriving at Tori’s until later on this evening. I’m driving straight to the Seahawks offices to meet with Henry.”
“Fine, call me when you get to the offices then.” Dallas paused. “And when you get to Tori’s later. I want to know how it all went and if you’re okay.”
Emma smiled. “Did anyone ever tell you that you worry too much?”
“No, but you give me good reason to.”
“I know.” Emma pursed her lips into a pout. “But you love me anyway.”
Dallas’ eyes softened as his lips tilted into a grin. “You’re an evil imp.”
Ginnifer shook her head at both of them. “God help us if this baby is a girl. I’d hate to see Dallas with a daughter.”
Emma laughed and walked over to the sink and set her cup next to Ginnifer’s. She needed to put her suitcases in the car and get on the road. “Don’t worry, Ginny. I’m sure you’ll be able to keep both of them in line.”
“God, I hope so.”
“Now you two behave. You’ll practically have the house to yourself now with Wes perpetually gone and me moving out. What will you two do with yourselves?”
“Finally have peace and quiet.” Dallas grinned.
“At least until we have the screams of an infant to deal with,” Ginnifer reminded him.
“It’ll be fun.” He leaned down and kissed her lips.
Ginnifer glared at him. “You have a strange definition of fun.”
Emma laughed and shook her head. “I’ll leave you two to discuss that. I’m sure there are some things I just shouldn’t know.”
Emma hugged them both and left the kitchen. It had gone better than she’d expected. Now she needed to start on the new path she set for herself. She frowned for a minute and remembered the bad part about her new path—Colt. No worries, she’d just deal with him when she had no choice. For now she’d just be happy to be back on track for her original goals.
The office building was located in a prime neighborhood with every view of Seattle anyone would wish to see. The Space Needle could be seen in the distance along with the stadium the Seahawks played in. Emma entered the offices and walked up to the receptionist.
“Hi, I’m Emma Novak. I have an appointment with Henry Ellwood.”
The girl bobbed her head causing her bright blonde ponytail to swish across her shoulders. “Yes, he’s expecting you. If you go down the hall and make a left at the first junction, his office is the first one on the right-hand side.”
“Thank you.” Emma nodded and strolled away.
The hallway was decorated with past years’ teams dating back to 1976 when they joined the NFL as an expansion team. They had one of the current best records in the league, and Emma hoped to help them maintain it. The health of everyone on the team was key to helping them achieve their long-term goals. Emma stopped at the office of Dr. Henry Ellwood and knocked on the frame. The door was ajar, and she could hear voices inside.
The door opened, and a man with sandy-brown hair and eyes that switched from olive-green to light brown stood there holding the side of the door. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, I have an appointment with Dr. Ellwood.”
“I’m assuming you mean my father.” He waved his hand, gesturing for her to enter. “Come in. He’s on the phone with someone. I’m Dr. Ian Ellwood.”
Emma followed him inside the office. They stopped on the far left side, away from Dr. Ellwood so they wouldn’t disturb his phone conversation.
Emma raised her eyebrows. “Really? Are you following in his footsteps?”
“Not exactly. I’m going into cardiothoracic surgery. I’m about to start my residency at the University of Washington medical center.”
“Wow a heart doctor. I’m impressed.” She winked at him. “How good are you at fixing broken hearts?”
Emma couldn’t seem to stop herself from flirting with him. He was handsome, and she’d abstained from dating for over a year. It was time to let go of her heartbreak and give another guy a chance. Not all men were woven from the same cloth, so to speak. Just because one jerk cheated on her didn’t mean the next man would.
“Oh, absolutely,” he drawled and patted his hand over his chest. “I’m one of the best around. I guarantee I can fix any broken heart you bring my way.”
“In that case I might know someone in need of your particular brand of expertise.” Emma smiled up at him.
“Excuse me, Dr. Ellwood—”
Emma turned and saw Colt Lewis walk into the office. Damn him for interrupting. She watched him as she acted as nonchalant as possible. His long mahogany tresses were tied back, a few strands coming loose around his forehead—ice-blue eyes stared at her in shock as they scanned over her entire body. He wore some dark blue sweats riding low on his hips and a form fitting matching blue shirt, outlining every one of his muscles. Emma gulped back a lump forming in her throat. Why did he have to look so good? All she wanted to do was walk over to him and run her hands all over him, remind herself how good it could be to be held in his arms. No, she had to be strong. Colt Lewis was to be avoided, not lusted after.
“Emma? What are you doing here?”
“She’s the new head physical therapist. Get used to seeing her around here,” Henry Ellwood interjected as he placed the phone down. “What can I do for you, Colt?”
“Coach asked me to come and get you. It looks like Bryant might have overdone his workout and pulled a muscle.” Colt looked over at Emma. “Perhaps our new physical therapist can take a look.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to have Emma take a look, but let me assess him first. Emma has some paperwork to fill out right now before she can officially start working with any of the players.” Henry turned to Emma and gestured to a manila folder. “Everything you need is in here. Read it over, fill in, and sign where necessary.” Turning to his son he said, “I’m going to go look at Bryant and see what’s going on. Can you keep Emma company? I want to talk to you before you leave. There’s something I need to go over with you.”
Colt folded his arms over his chest and glared at Emma and Ian. What did he have to be irritated about? She could talk to anyone she wanted to. He lost the right to have a say over a year ago. Emma turned her back to him and walked over to the desk.
“Are you coming, Colt?” Dr. Ellwood asked.
“Yeah,” he said, anger evident in his voice. “I’m right behind you.”
Emma sat in one of the plush chairs in front of Henry’s desk and opened the folder. She began to read over the paperwork. Everything was standard, so she began to fill out the forms and signed her name where needed. She left the contract for last so she could give it a full read through before signing it.
“So, you’re going to work with a bunch of men who decided never to grow up?”
Emma laughed. “That’s one way of looking at it. I enjoy working in physical therapy. Your father offered me the job and I found I couldn’t refuse a second time.”
“Second time? Wow, now it’s my turn to be impressed.”
“People don’t often say no to my father. In fact, you’re the first person I’ve met who managed to do it at all.”
Emma tilted her head and studied him. “Why do you sound irritated?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not you. He’s trying to talk me into changing specialties. He doesn’t understand why I don’t want to work in sports. I’ve never liked football—or any athletic event for that matter. Working with them day in and day out…” Ian shuddered. “No, I just couldn’t do it.”
Emma nodded. “I get it. You can’t spend the rest of your life doing what you hate. Don’t let him browbeat you into doing something you would regret.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.”
“So what’s your story, Emma?”
“What do you mean?” She studied him, puzzled.
“That football player—”
“Yeah, it was clear you two had a history. Are you sure you want to work with him?”
How to answer him? Did she want to work with Colt? That would be a huge negative—hell no times a bazillion. The thing was, she did want to work in physical therapy. She had to make concessions somewhere and working with Colt on a regular basis was her compromise. The first chance she got she’d sit him down and explain to him how things were going to be. Colt wouldn’t be too difficult if he understood the rules. The biggest one was to leave her the hell alone.
“Colt won’t be a problem.”
“You sound so sure of that.” He frowned. “How can you know he won’t be?”
Emma sighed. “Colt has many faults, but he’s respected my space so far. I have no reason to believe he’ll do anything to make me uncomfortable. It’s been more than a year since we broke up. We’ve both moved on and are much happier apart.”
Emma looked down at the contract. The words swam in front of her. She didn’t want to revisit a painful part of her past. She silently begged the fates that Ian wouldn’t ask what happened between her and Colt. Nothing was going to get her to spill her guts. She barely held it together in his presence—her heart a constant aching wound.
“I see,” he said, quietly.
Emma’s eyes shot upward and looked into his. “What do you mean?”
“You do have a broken heart in need of repair.”
“Oh, you mean earlier—no, I was just joking.”
Was it that evident? No, she’d been careful to conceal how much hurt she still carried within her.
“Sure, if it makes you feel better to believe that.” Ian held up his hand to stop her from talking. “Don’t feel like you need to explain. I’ve been there, trust me I understand.”
Emma sat back and just stared at him. How sad, they commiserated over understanding the pain of losing someone they once loved. She wouldn’t push but couldn’t help being curious. If he wanted to tell her, she’d listen.
“I don’t feel like talking about it.”
“Neither do I.” He smiled. “I think we are destined to be good friends.”
Emma grinned back at him. “Is that so?”
“Yes, but first I need you to tell me one thing.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“What’s your last name and would you like to have dinner with me tonight?”
“That’s two questions.” Emma laughed.
“I know, but it didn’t occur to me until I wanted to ask you to join me tonight that you never told me your full name. I wouldn’t know it was Emma if the football player hadn’t interrupted us earlier.”
Going to dinner with Ian was a good idea. A brilliant, wonderful, and serendipitous opportunity to start finally getting Colt Lewis out of her heart for good—even if she and Ian were only going to be friends. She had to start somewhere.
“I’d love to have dinner with you tonight.”
“Good.” Ian paused. “I’m afraid I need to ask you one more question.”
Emma laughed. She’d not had this much fun in a long time. “I don’t know if I want to answer any more.”
Ian sighed and tapped his fingers on the desk. “I really must insist.”
Emma waved her hand, amusement filling her heart. “Okay, fine. Ask your question.”
“Do you like Italian?”
“The food or the people?”
“Both I guess—but in this case the food is more on topic.”
Emma grinned. “I love it.”
“Perfect.” Ian grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down his phone number. He handed it to her. “Store my phone number and when you get a minute text me your address. I’ll pick you up at seven.”
He got up to walk out of the office.
“You’re not going to wait to talk to your father?” she asked.
He turned to look at her and shook his head. “No, I decided it’s best if I don’t. Less likely we’ll end up arguing that way.”
Emma nodded. “Probably a good idea.”
“Until later.” He waved goodbye as he exited the office.
Emma turned her attention back to the contract in front of her. She read it through and made sure she was familiar with all of the fine details. Nothing seemed wrong with it, so she signed and dated it and placed it back on the folder. She closed it and slid it across the desk, letting it rest in front of Henry’s chair. Emma didn’t know when he’d be back, and she didn’t want to leave without talking to him. Sitting back in her chair she pulled out her cell phone. She opened her contacts and stored Ian’s number. She clicked on Message and typed out Tori’s address and hit Send.
Dinner should be fun later on—it’d also give her the opportunity to avoid Wes. After she stopped by Tori’s office to pick up the spare key, she’d get settled into the guest bedroom and start getting ready for her date. If it went well, she’d be gone before Wes could stop her from leaving. Emma didn’t look forward to a repeat of her conversation with Dallas. Hopefully she could count on Tori to keep him from getting too pissed off and attempting to order her around. If her brother got too dictatorial, she’d have to hurt him. Working with the Seahawks was her dream job—nothing and no one was going to talk her out of keeping it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dawn Brower holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Master of Arts in Education, and is currently working on a Master of Arts in Liberal Arts with concentrations in Literature, History, and Sociology. She works as a substitute teacher and enjoys the flexibility it gives her to concentrate on her other endeavors.
Growing up she was the only girl out of six children. She is a single mother of two teenage boys; there is never a dull moment in her life. Reading books is her favorite hobby. There is nothing like a nice glass of wine and a good book to relax with at the end of the day.
For more information visit her website at: www.authordawnbrower.com
A Flawed Jewel
A Crystal Angel
A Treasured Lily
A Sanguine Gem
A Hidden Ruby
A Discarded Pearl
Linked Across Time
Saved by My Blackguard
Searching for My Rogue
Novak Springs Series
In Cowgirl Fever Tori is attracted to Wes, and doesn't understand why he hates her instantly. She tries to charm him in a way only she can. It backfires on her and she finds herself covered in manure. This is the scene in her point of view. It is short and not so sweet, but it gives you insight into the beginning of their relationship and what led them to the path they took in their own book, Unbridled Pursuit. **This is SHORT don't expect a novel**