Extended excerpt- Rocky Mountain Romance
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Rocky Mountain Romance
Six Pack Ranch, Book 7
Second chances are the sweetest—and the hottest.
It took a spectacularly embarrassing break-up to knock Steve Moonshine Coleman off his lazy butt. In the ten months since that night, he’s changed his ways. Now that Melody’s back in town, it’s time for this sweet-talking cowboy to convince her to get back in the saddle with him.
A return to her veterinary position in Rocky Mountain House was always in the cards for Melody Langley. Getting back together with Steve? Never part of the plan. He had lots of potential but zero ambition, and there’s no way she’ll accept anything less than a man who can keep up with her, in and out of bed.
But the new-and-improved cowboy is impossible to resist, so Melody issues a challenge. Three months to prove he’s reformed. Three months of Steve orchestrating one sexual indulgence after another—wicked distractions from the old boys’ club Melody faces at work and Steve’s growing responsibilities.
He’s got one shot to prove with more than words what’s in his heart and soul.
Warning: Fifty percent less angst, twice as much filthy-talking, dirty-daring cowboy. Get ready for a whole lot of make-your-knees-weak wooing from a man intent on proving he’s got what it takes, and the woman ready to push him way past his limits.
Of all the stupid, idiotic…
Melody Langley stared at the warning light taunting her from her dashboard and cursed the reckless urge that had prompted her to take the back route into Rocky Mountain House.
Curiosity killed the cat.
It was the only reasonable explanation why she’d left the main highway, and instead of driving straight to the veterinary clinic where they were expecting her, she’d pointed her poor, abused Ford onto washboard gravel.
The good part was there should be not a lick of rust left on her undercarriage.
The bad parts? The orange warning light blazing like an evil Cyclops’ eye, plus the temperature gauge shooting higher by the minute, heading into the danger zone at a rapid pace.
“Come on, baby. Ten more minutes, and you can take a break.”
She patted the dashboard in encouragement, laughing in spite of her concern, when a wet nose poked her in the back of the arm as Lady sniffed in curiosity.
Melody moved her hand over the dog’s small head, pausing to rub behind her soft ears for a moment in reassurance. “No, this time you can’t do anything to help. You sit and be a good girl.”
The elderly Bichon settled on its haunches, nestling into the small space left open on the passenger seat.
A loud pop rang out, followed by the engine stuttering for a moment, and Melody jerked her full attention forward, both hands back on the wheel as she made her way down the narrow gravel road running parallel to familiar land. In the fields beside her, the first couple lines of cut hay lay in long, extended rows, while a slow-moving tractor dragging a disc-mower was briefly silhouetted against the distant Rocky Mountains.
Coleman land. She was some kind of a fool to have wanted a glimpse. Although—maybe it wasn’t foolishness. Maybe it was wisdom to prepare for the first time she ran into Steve.
Not like he’d broken her heart or anything, but if she was prepared, maybe she wouldn’t have quite as strong an urge to punch in his pretty face when their paths crossed.
Punch him or jump him, because as crazy as their baggage was, she still wished things had worked out differently between them.
The rattle under the hood grew louder, the temperature gauge buried in the red, and Melody debated the wisdom of pushing her truck to finish the last part of the journey.
The decision was made for her as another firecracker-like sound snapped, the wheel shaking under her hands right before the engine died altogether. Melody swore and threw open her door, stepping onto the gravel. She paused and grabbed a rag from under the driver’s seat before stomping forward to work the hood release.
Even through the fabric, the heat scalded her fingers, and she’d barely gotten the hood open before a third explosion snapped in her face. She fell to her knees, narrowly escaping a scalding burst of steam that shot overhead. Steam that turned to black and coiled upward like a cry for help.
She scrambled to vertical, circling back to the driver’s door, desperate to grab Lady in case things got dicier. A low rumble pulled her attention to the field beside her, a tractor jerking to a stop on the other side of the barbed-wire fence. There was no time to look—just an impression in her peripheral vision of a jean-clad man dropping from the cab to the field.
Her focus was on more important things as she stood in the driver’s side doorway. “Come on, Lady, come here.”
The dog had burrowed under the pile of stuff she’d crammed into the cab, and not a single spot of furry white fluff could be seen.
“Come, Lady, I got a treat for you,” Melody lied, but it was no use. That last loud noise must’ve been too much for the dog, and she would have to be dug out for her own safety.
Melody crawled onto the driver’s seat and shoved boxes aside even as she tried to sound reassuring and calm. “There’s a good doggie. Come on, sweetie, we need to get out of here. Oh—”
A loud gasp escaped as she was dragged backwards, a rock-solid arm wrapped around her waist. She flung her arms to the side and clutched at the doorframe.
Her protest lasted about two seconds before her grip slipped and she was manhandled away from her vehicle.
“Get away from the truck,” a familiar masculine voice ordered in her ear, her body held tight against what could have been a wall for how unyielding it was.
At that moment, Melody wasn’t thinking about anything but saving her dog, and instinct kicked in. She jabbed back hard with one elbow, driving it into the man’s ribs with as much force as she could muster. And while she barely got a grunt in response, the surprise was enough his grip loosened. She lifted her feet off the ground and put her full body weight on the arm around her waist, twisting away as soon as she’d gained the room. “My dog is in there,” she shouted, wriggling from his grasp then racing around the back of the truck.
An ominous sound accompanied the smoke. Considering the engine was no longer running, there was far too much noise issuing from under the raised hood of her vehicle.
“Your truck is on fire.”
Melody jerked open the passenger-seat door, heaving objects out and tossing them into the ditch behind her as she frantically searched for Lady. “Brilliant observation.”
She was ready to hit the ground to check under the seat in the hopes that was her dog’s hiding spot. Instead, she was whirled on the spot to face a familiar pair of blue-grey eyes and a determined expression. Steve Coleman caught her by the shoulders and physically pushed her away. “Move. Now.”
He was no longer looking at her. Instead, he had dropped to his knees and was peering into the vehicle, the fire extinguisher he’d been holding discarded to the ground.
“I’ll get your dog.” He glanced up, jabbing his finger toward safety. “Keep walking,” he ordered before reaching under the seat with one big hand.
So much was happening at once she didn’t know what to look at first as she shuffled away, gaze locked on the drama unfolding before her. Smoke continued to rise as she backed down the road, hands clenched at her sides in helpless annoyance.
Steve swore loudly then shot to his feet, running toward her at top speed, the growling white ball of fury that was Lady grasped in one hand. Three shotgun-like sounds rang out, and Melody didn’t protest when Steve caught her by the hand, damn near dragging her down the road.
Once they were far enough from the crackling firebomb, Steve stopped. He held the complaining dog against his chest, pinned in place with one arm, and she reached to rescue them both.
“It’s okay, Lady. It’s okay.”
She laid a hand over the shaking animal’s head and made soothing noises until the animal stopped trying to leap from Steve’s arms.
Only then did she look into his face.
He was staring, his expression midway between disbelief and amusement. She was curious what he’d say. Some smartass comment no doubt, or perhaps something laid-back and noncommittal. Typical responses she’d come to expect before she’d called things off between them the previous September.
He opened his mouth, but she never got a chance to find out which path he’d choose, because that’s the moment her engine decided to go up in flames.
Somewhere between the mind-boggling boring task of cutting hay and this moment stolen out of an action-adventure movie—somewhere between the two was where Steve would’ve preferred to be reunited with Melody.
As he twisted them to the ground, attempting to put his body between her and the truck while simultaneously protecting her from the road, his brain raced through a whole lot of other situations that would’ve been a lot more fun and reasonable.
Having her show up to help deliver calves. Maybe running into her in town at the café. Or what he always thought would’ve been the worst possible scenario—coming across her unexpectedly one night at Traders Pub where the last time they’d met she’d thrown the contents of a pitcher of beer smack dab in his face.
Even with the history behind them, exploding trucks seemed a little melodramatic.
Okay, it wasn’t exploding, but it was on fire and had just made enough noise to scare birds off the overhead wire. Maybe dragging her away was being too cautious, but he was trying to be heroic.
Instead, what he got was a short drop with a sudden stop. Sharp road-crush dug into his shoulder as he protected Melody from smacking the ground and still maintained a grip on the furry beast using him as a chew toy.
“Holy cow.” Melody pushed up on one arm, twisting back toward her truck. A stream of creative curses flowed from her lips, but he was far more interested in the hand pressed palm down against his chest. In the way their legs tangled together, her hips resting over his. Familiar and yet brand new—it had been far too long since she’d touched him.
Too long since those pale-blue eyes had stared into his with anything other than frustration or anger.
Melody’s blonde hair was long enough she’d pulled it up, curled into a loose bun held in place by a coloured contraption. Between the streak of dirt on one cheek and the tendrils of hair that had worked loose from her bun tumbling around her face, she looked delightfully disheveled.
He curled himself up, the animal in his grasp shaking violently as it attempted to crawl through his body and escape. “Help me with your dog,” he suggested as mildly as he could in spite of the claws raking his shoulder.
Melody scrambled off him, wrapping her hands around the trembling ball of fur. “Poor Lady. She hates loud noises.”
Steve brushed the gravel off his jeans, his attention back on the burning vehicle. “If you’ve got a good hold of her, I’ll go use the fire extinguisher.”
“My things are in the—”
“Don’t go back to the truck. Promise, or I’ll stay right here and let it burn.” She stiffened, but he didn’t give a damn. “I’ll sit on you if I have to. This is not up for discussion.”
She gave him the evil death-glare usually reserved for the more ornery beasts she’d meet while visiting the ranch. “I just meant you should hurry up.”
Fair enough. Steve set out for the truck at a jog, wondering when someone would jump from hiding and laughingly exclaim this was all a setup.
It didn’t take long for him to grab the small fire extinguisher he’d dropped in his urgent rush to get her to safety. By the time he was done using it, the billowing black smoke had faded, rolling into the sky with a final burst of strength. Metal hissed in protest as white foam covered the charred remains of her engine.
Melody joined him, cautiously moving closer. “Is it safe?”
“It’s dead. Both the fire and your truck, I’m afraid.”
She stepped beside him, sighing as she stared into the busted carcass. “Poor Myrtle. I should never have pushed her that hard.”
Steve glanced sideways to see her wrinkle her nose in that familiar way. The one that always made him wonder what crazy thing she was about to do next. Lady wiggled in her grasp, trying to get to the ground.
Melody jerked to attention, and he realized she hadn’t been staring at her truck, she’d been checking him out. He was dressed for haying, with old work boots and well-worn jeans, so there wasn’t much to impress her. Not the way he’d always hoped to impress her when they finally met again.
Her lips twisted. “My poor abused truck. She’s given up the ghost on me a few other times, but she’s always managed to pull through in the end.” She patted the sidewall fondly, careful to stay away from the overheated section and the extinguisher foam as she moved toward the driver seat. “I have a new truck on order, but I thought this one would get me here in one piece.”
Steve gave the engine one final inspection to make sure it was safe before joining her at the door. He’d been working to save the dog, but even distracted it’d been impossible to miss that the vehicle was filled to the brim with boxes and bags, furniture and more boxes in the back. “You’re traveling on the heavy side.”
He brushed against her as he avoided a pothole, and she breathed in suddenly, the sound sending a shot through him.
It was difficult to keep from blurting out everything he wanted to say. He walked toward the passenger door, glancing back to note the way her jeans clung to her hips, a plain T-shirt tucked in at the waist curving up over her amazing pair of—
Steve jumped to avoid kicking Lady, stumbling over his feet and swinging his arms to regain his balance. The dog sniffed his boots, and he stood still to allow himself to be inspected. “There’s nothing we can do to fix Myrtle right now. Can I call you a tow?” he offered.
She nodded. “Please. I can’t leave it at the side of the road.”
Steve reached for his cell phone, cueing up the local garage number as he glanced at Melody, casually checking her out without looking like he was checking her out.
She straightened the bottom of her shirt, smoothing the material over her stomach before she leaned in the open driver’s door.
Steve’s gaze dropped to her butt.
It might’ve been nearly a year since he saw her last, but they’d been together for a long time before that. There wasn’t an inch of her he hadn’t gotten up close and personal with.
It was shocking to be near her without that intimate relationship between them.
“Anywhere in particular you’re headed?”
As if he didn’t already know.
“Veterinary clinic. I’m moving into the on-site living quarters.” She faced him, a small notebook in her hand. “Tow truck can take me there, right?”
He nodded, holding up a hand as the connection went through to the Thompson and Sons garage. “Hey, Mitch? Steve Coleman. Can you come out and do a tow? Corner of Moonshine and Jackson’s, then head west about half a kilometre.”
He listened to Mitch’s response, but his attention remained on Melody. She’d moved to one side and was attaching a body harness and lead to her dog. The fluffy beast wasn’t the type of animal he’d ever thought she’d get. The realization made him uncomfortable.
Did he really know her that little after all?
He hung up, focusing on what he did know. They’d had something special once, and he hoped they could again. And the best way to at least aim in that direction was to talk to the woman. “Someone will be out within half an hour. You want to wait in the tractor with me? It’s got air-conditioning.”
She shook her head, reaching behind the driver seat for a small bowl she filled from a water bottle, waiting as the dog lapped eagerly. “I’ll take Lady for a walk.”
“I’ll go with you,” he offered. He caught a quick glimpse of her face, her expression full of questions, but she didn’t outright turn him away. They were only a few paces from the smoky heap before he spoke. “Back in town for long?”
Her shoulders stiffened, and her chin lifted. “I’m back for good. I’m full time at the vet clinic working for Mathis.”
He’d already known she was coming home. He’d heard months ago, both through the grapevine and through a little circumspect digging he’d done.
Not the time to let Melody know that, though. They had other bridges to cross first. “Well, now, that’s a surprise. I thought when you left for school last fall you said you were never coming back.”
Melody turned far enough toward him he couldn’t miss her exquisite expression. Distaste and are you kidding me? all at the same time. “I said I was leaving you. I don’t remember saying anything about Rocky.”
Damn, he’d pushed too hard. Steve held up his hands and backed off. “Hey, I have no beef with that. Fact is, I agree with everything you told me the last time we talked.”
Her look of distrust tightened as her gaze narrowed. “The last time we talked I called you a lazy son of a bitch, along with other things.”
Steve laughed. “You have a very good vocabulary, Melody. Along with other things encompassed quite a lot.”
“And you agree with all of it?” She had her hands on her hips, the leash tangled in her fist while on the other end, her dog tugged in vain to reach the ditch where wonderful smells must have been taunting it.
He’d never get another chance to confess this straight out. “I don’t know if this is the time or the place to talk about it, but yeah, I agree. I was a son of a bitch, and I’m sorry.”
If he’d turned pink and sprouted wings, she couldn’t have looked more astonished. Melody blinked a couple of times before shaking herself and shifting uneasily on her feet. “I don’t know what to say.”
Steve hurried to reassure her. “I don’t expect anything right now. But I wanted to say it, and since you refused to answer my emails this is my first chance. With you back in town, we’ll probably see each other around.”
The shock of having her stumble into his day unannounced faded rapidly as the hopes he’d shoved aside over the past year galloped to the forefront. He was a lot smarter now than he’d been, so he knew better than to reveal his intentions too soon.
But there was nothing wrong with planting a few seeds, or at least that’s what his father always told him. He had been too stupid before to understand.
Melody glanced back at the tractor stopped in the middle of the field. “You don’t have to wait. I’ll be fine.”
Steve shook his head, pointing down the highway. “Let’s walk the dog. I’m not leaving you stranded.”
She turned reluctantly, moving closer to the road edge, much to Lady’s delight. The dog shivered with excitement before plunging headfirst into the tall grass at the side of the road.
“Did I hear you right? The Thompson family still runs the garage?” Melody asked.
“Some things never change.” She slowed her stroll to almost nothing to let the dog sniff.
And some people only change when they have to. Steve didn’t say that part out loud, though. He held it in as myriad images and memories flooded through him. They walked in silence for a few minutes, Steve scrambling to come up with the next thing he needed to say to pave the way.
For two years they’d been together, him and Melody. Years he’d pissed away being that thoughtless son of a bitch she’d called him. By the time he’d woken up and grown up enough to know that she was something special, she was gone.
It wasn’t a busted-down truck at the side of the road he’d seen today, it was a second chance, and damn if he’d let it slip through his fingers.
“How’s your family?” she asked.
“Good. Mom and Dad are well, Trevor’s a pain in the ass, and Lee is twice as bad.” He grinned. “And Anna—you won’t believe who she’s seeing these days.”
They talked about not much for a while. Small-town gossip. Ordinary conversation. It was exactly what they needed, and yet nothing at all what he wanted.
The tow truck approached from the distance, dust rising behind the solid metal frame.
“Thanks for staying with me,” she said, offering him a hesitant smile.
He waited until the truck had pulled into place and Mitch joined them. Steve made sure she felt comfortable, but he shouldn’t have worried. She was coming home as well—and whether she admitted it or not, Rocky was home.
The entire time Mitch worked to hook up Melody’s truck, Steve helped, ignoring the questioning glances from the other man. He should have gotten back to his chores, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave.
When he tugged open the passenger door for Melody, she finally realized he’d stuck around. “Thanks, Steve. I’ll see you later.”
He offered her a wave, and then stood until the tow truck rattled off down the gravel road, disappearing behind a veil of dust as they headed into town.
Melody was back.
Steve didn’t have to think too hard about what he was going to do next. He’d screwed up a year ago. Scratch that, he’d screwed up long before she’d officially called them off. Now he could make things right, and Melody would find out exactly how important she was.
He hoped she’d enjoyed her time away, because this time, he wasn’t letting her go.
Melody gazed around the familiar lab space, happily inhaling the pungent scent of antiseptic and cleanser. The tow truck had stopped by the small residence she’d be moving into, and Mitch Thompson had helped unload her gear before dragging the smoldering mess of her truck away.
She reeked of smoke, and everything she owned needed a washing, but considering how much worse it could have been, she wouldn’t complain.
“It’s good to be back,” she said with a sigh as she settled into a chair, smiling across the room at her mentor.
“You do know how to make an entrance.” Mathis Wisniewski grinned, easing his back muscles with a slow stretch. His dark hair had more lines of silver than before she’d left, age catching up with him in visible ways. His smile was still as broad, though, the lines by his eyes formed from frequent grins as well as years of work in the outdoors in all kinds of weather.
She wondered if down the road she’d have that as well—enough wear and tear to transform the baby-faced features she’d been cursed with.
In the meantime, she counted herself fortunate to get to work with the man. “You’re lucky you were out on a call when I got here,” she teased. “I could have used your help wrangling boxes.”
“That’s why I made sure I was wrangling chickens.” He winked. “It’s good to have you back. Did you have fun during your year away?”
“Fun?” Melody wrinkled her nose, thinking back to the hours she’d put in updating the large-animal license of her veterinary training. “Is that what we call it? Slogging through fields full of cattle shit and narrowly escaping being crushed against the sides of stalls by our patients?”
“Hell, yeah,” the older man said, the twinkle in his eyes growing brighter the longer she spoke. “You know there’s nothing else like it.”
Her expression probably mirrored his, both of them fools for thriving on the utter joy they found in the midst of backbreaking labour. “You’re right. Although I do wish the animals would try not to get sick in the middle of the night every damn time.”
Mathis plopped onto the edge of his desk and settled in to catch her up on everything he’d changed over the past year.
The clinic was as up-to-date and modern as any that she’d worked during her practicum. She still couldn’t believe her good fortune in having been taken on by Mathis. He’d built the practice from nothing, slowly gaining a solid reputation with the local ranchers so that he and Rocky Mountain Animal Care were the first place many turned for help.
Two other full-time employees and a handful of part-time rounded out the clinic staff. Tom Van Horne, a single man in his late thirties, had started on with the clinic a few years before Melody. Callie Hager worked the front desk and dispensed medication, and as a whole, they and the part-timers got along fine. Like a well-oiled machine, their different degrees of training allowed them to care for small-town pets and the bigger rural needs.
Melody enjoyed the challenge of both sides, although before she’d gone away, she and Mathis had been working together to handle most of the larger ranching jobs.
She listened intently as he caught her up on some of the major changes in local ranchers’ situations. Who’d retired, who’d expanded their operations. It was fascinating to have him share information without glancing once at any kind of notes.
Mathis knew these people, and he cared for them like they were a part of his soul.
He rose and led her through the office into the small-animal area to show off the new equipment he’d purchased, and a sense of deep satisfaction struck.
This was why she’d come back. The familiar setting was the closest thing to a home she’d ever had. Memories from the years before she’d taken off for training rushed in, triggered by the meeting with Steve Coleman.
Out of all the people to run into on her first day back—although, if she was honest, she’d kind of been asking for it. Driving past Coleman land like she was looking for trouble. She shook her head for a moment as if to knock the cobwebs loose.
Mathis caught her, frowning as he paused in the middle of boasting about the great deal he’d gotten on a sterilizer. “Did you want to finish this tomorrow?”
She hurried to reassure him. “Sorry. Just a little distracted. I look forward to getting into the swing of things as soon as possible.”
“I’ll be glad to have you. The people I had in on relief were necessary, but they weren’t you.”
Her cheeks flushed at his compliment. “Go on with you, you silver-tongued devil.”
Mathis laid a hand over his chest as if in shock. “Me? Oh, hell no.” He shook a big beefy finger at her. “Don’t you go running your skills down. You’re one of the best. And if you aren’t the best, I don’t want to know about it.”
Melody laughed. “I’m the best, that’s right. Because I was trained by the best.” She bumped him with her shoulder as she made her way to the sink to wash her hands. “You know I never would’ve gotten as far as I have without you. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”
The older man shrugged. “Don’t have any family to get involved in the trade, so I figure you’re the next best thing. Someone who is just as close, but better because you choose to care.”
He cleared his throat gruffly then switched the conversation. Melody hid her amusement at his deflecting from such an emotional topic.
She and Mathis turned toward the door, Melody eased forward to offer a hand to Tom. “Hey. I hoped I’d run into you, but I thought you were done for the day.”
“Just dropping off equipment.” The dark-haired man hesitated, rotating his hand to show fingers covered with dirt. “I need to wash up before I go.”
“Messy comes with the territory.” She offered him a smile instead, pulling her hand back.
Mathis eyed his watch. “You have troubles out there today?” he asked. “I thought you’d have been done over an hour ago.”
Tom shook his head. “Spent an hour doing a couple of extra jobs for Sean Dalton. He’s been harping about how long he’s had to wait lately, so I figured I’d drop by before he complained this time.”
“Sean is always complaining about something,” Mathis pointed out. “But good for you. Have to keep them happy, I suppose. Just make sure you charge him for your time.”
He offered Melody a wink as he spoke, and she smiled. Mathis cared for the locals, but he didn’t let them run ram-shod over him, either.
Meeting over, she breathed deeply of the warm June air as she wandered across the yard to her new home in the residence behind the veterinary clinic. Unpacking boxes gave her plenty of time to mull over their conversation.
The real reason she was back in Rocky was perfectly clear. Not just to work at the clinic, but because Mathis was family to her. She’d come to Rocky Mountain House and spent two years under his tutelage, taking what she learned in school and putting it into practice in a real, live, shit-on-your-boots ranching community. She’d loved every minute of it.
Of the work, that is.
So many memories. She laid another box on the kitchen table and opened it, emptying the contents as she puzzled over where to stash stuff in what amounted to a one-bedroom cabin. Having someone on site meant it was easier to keep track of emergency cases, or animals being observed overnight.
She smiled wryly. It also meant everyone knew where to track down the vet for those God-awful three-a.m. emergency moments, and yet even those heart-pounding moments she couldn’t begrudge.
She pulled out another coffee mug and placed it on the shelf next to the ones she’d unpacked. Her fingers smoothed over the brilliant colours on her favourite ceramic mug as she thought back to the county fair where she’d found it, which of course triggered more memories of Steve.
She would have to deal with him at some point, but his out-of-the-blue appearance today, and his confession that she’d been right, was unexpected.
It changed some things—but not all. She’d learned that lesson. Steve Coleman was off her list for good.
“Hey, this is a private residence. What’re you doing in here?” someone demanded loudly.
Melody’s head shot up as she glanced toward the open door to discover another familiar face beaming back.
“Allison,” Melody shouted. “Oh my God, it’s been forever.”
Her friend opened the door the rest of the way and rushed forward to offer a hug, squeezing Melody tight for a moment before she stepped back, her dark grey eyes examining Melody from top to bottom. “I can’t believe you’re home.”
“I was going to call you as soon as I got settled. I’m done school, and yes, I’m home for good.”
Allison cheered before brushing a strand of long dark hair behind her ear as she plopped herself down at the kitchen table, looking expectantly at Melody. “Spill. I know we talked a few times, but you really are terrible at keeping in contact. I want to know everything you did while you were gone.”
“Everything?” Melody shook her head. “I don’t know what you think was happening out in Saskatoon, but trust me, girlfriend, it’s not some wild metropolis. I have no stories to burn your ears. You’ve probably had more excitement around here over the past year.”
A rude noise escaped her friend as Allison picked up a magazine from the table and thumbed through it nonchalantly. “Rocky? Nothing exciting happens around here.” She glanced at Melody, her eyes shining. “Well, maybe that’s not true. We have some excitement, but it’s also just… You know, Rocky. We don’t want anything too out of the usual to happen.”
That was the way Melody wanted it as well. She examined her friend closer, though, suspicions rising as Allison took care to keep her expression innocent.
“What are you not telling me?” Melody demanded.
The glow on Allison’s face only got brighter. “I do have a bit of news. I was saving it to tell you in person—”
Melody waited, although she already had made a guess from the way Allison could barely keep still.
“I’m pregnant,” her friend announced with a burst of delight.
A suitably excited noise escaped Melody’s lips as she leaned forward to envelop Allison in another bear hug. “That is exciting. I’m so glad to hear it.”
Allison sat back in her chair, beaming brightly. “I’m four months along. I didn’t want to tell anyone earlier because I had a miscarriage back in the winter, so it’s scary and exciting at the same time.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine this time,” Melody assured her.
“I hope so.” She pulled an awful face. “If the old wife’s tale about morning sickness is anything to go by, this kid is going to be extremely healthy.”
“You’ve got it bad?”
Allison groaned. “Forget morning sickness, mine lasts most of the day, and by supper time when it finally goes away, I’m so hungry I eat nonstop between five and bed. I need to stop that soon or I’ll end up with heartburn and no sleep.”
“I’m sorry you’re not feeling well, but I’ve heard every pregnancy is different.”
“Exactly. Nothing’s wrong, I’m just one of the lucky ones who gets sick for longer than usual.” She flicked up two thumbs. “Go me.”
Melody smiled as she leaned her elbows on the table and changed the topic. “Things are good with you and Gabe?”
Her friend didn’t say a word. The sheer joy on her face was more than enough answer.
Melody waited for a flash of jealousy to strike. Across from her was a close friend who had so many things society said a woman had to have to be fulfilled—a partner, a family on the way. Melody didn’t have those things and yet…
Nothing. No envy. Just pure happiness for her friend, and the realization only made things sweeter. Melody laid a hand on top of Allison’s and squeezed. “I’m glad everything is working out well for you.”
“It’s better than I’d ever dreamed possible. I thought taking off and getting my training was exciting, and I enjoyed my time living in Red Deer, but this?” Allison paused. “It’s like I’ve found my way home.”
“That’s right. You moved away for a while.”
Allison’s expression softened as she stared into space. “I had left for good, I thought. Came back for my mom, and ended up setting down roots. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Melody wondered if she’d ever come to the same conclusion. “I can live anywhere, you know. There’s no family holding me back.”
“Friends are family,” Allison insisted. “And heaven knows I’ve got enough extended family. You’re welcome to borrow some of them if you get the urge.”
The comment brought Steve back to mind all over again.
She must’ve made a face because her friend frowned. “Or…not. If you want, I can chase them away and we’ll pretend they don’t exist.”
“As if I could pretend the Coleman clan doesn’t exist,” Melody said, laughing. “Probably half of our business comes from looking after their stock.”
“True, but isn’t it good to know you don’t have to put up with anything you don’t want to?”
“Oh, I don’t intend on putting up with anything, period.”
Allison leaned forward, elbows on the table as she lifted her grey eyes to meet Melody’s. “I like that about you,” she confessed.
“My no-bullshit attitude?”
She was given a decisive nod followed by a warm grin. “I’m glad you’re back, whatever that looks like. I missed you while you were gone.”
The sentiment warmed Melody’s heart. “Awww, I missed you too. And don’t worry about that certain someone who pissed me off so badly before I left. I’m over Steve Coleman. In fact, he gave me a hand this afternoon when I ran into him.”
Allison’s expression changed to concern. “Which hospital did you send him to, or should I assume ‘ran into him’ wasn’t meant literally?”
“He’s fine,” Melody assured her. “Just another Coleman living in Rocky Mountain House as far as I’m concerned.”
“Good. That means I can invite you to the Coleman Canada Day picnic, and you’ll come?”
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Melody deliberately smiled. “Of course. I’d love to join you.”
She was surprised her nose didn’t grow three inches.
Steve pushed through his front door with his shoulder and came face to face with his brother.
“I hope that’s supper.” Trevor reached for the plastic bags hanging from Steve’s hands.
“It is, but it’s my supper,” Steve growled, reluctantly letting go and following his brother into the kitchen area. “Why the hell are you here? Go home. You have your own place.”
“My fridge is just as empty as yours was when I checked a few minutes ago.” Trevor flashed a grin. “I swear I’ll restock for both of us at Costco when I hit Red Deer this coming weekend. Invite me to stay for supper…” he begged.
Steve reached for the package of sausages after tossing an oversized cast-iron pan on the stovetop. “I thought Jesse was going to restock for everyone the last time he did the drive.”
Trevor made a face, hauling eggs from the container in the fridge. “He forgot.”
“Screw him,” Steve grumbled.
The unmarried cousins were slowly dwindling, which meant there’d been changes in living arrangements across the board. The three youngest—all from different local Coleman clans—now occupied the rental that he, Trevor and friends used to live in.
The family who owned the house had moved into town years ago, and there was plenty of space for four or more, but Steve had had enough of the bullshit. He was over thirty, and sharing a place with twenty-year-olds with nothing on their mind but a good time had gotten old. Trevor agreed, and the two of them had moved out. Steve had built a bungalow. Trevor had hauled a trailer onto Moonshine land.
Still seemed as if Trevor ended up over at his place a hell of a lot.
He grabbed a couple of plates, putting them within easy reach to load when he finished cooking the eggs. “You notice there’re a lot of things Jesse forgets?”
Trevor made a noise. “He has selective memory. I’ll agree with you on that.”
Steve didn’t know that it had reached the point of making a big deal of it. Even though he wasn’t living in the place anymore, their youngest brother, Lee, had moved into the rental, and Steve kept on eye on the kid. Or at least he had over the past nine months.
Another part of the growing up and being more responsible business.
Nope, Jesse was family, and so far he’d paid his portion of the rent on a regular basis without being too big of a pain in the ass. “Fine. If Lee complains, we’ll intervene.”
“Otherwise, let them learn, right?” Trevor looked far too pleased with the idea of the school of hard knocks whacking some sense into the younger crowd, and there were times Steve agreed. Then he’d think back to how stupid he’d been only a short while ago, and have to reconsider.
Maybe if someone had given him a smack on the head he wouldn’t have screwed up with Melody along the way.
Once their plates were loaded with sausage, potatoes and eggs, they made their way to the table, talking easily about the day’s activities. The entire time, though, Steve was distracted by the large change in his agenda.
Trevor took advantage of a break in conversation to face him. “You may as well tell me what’s wrong. You know I’ll get it out of you before long.”
“Ass… Nothing’s wrong.” Steve finished the last bites of his meal as he gathered his thoughts. “You ever made a huge mistake you wish you could take back?”
“Oh, man. This is going to be one of those discussions?” Trevor pushed his empty plate away then leaned his elbows on the table as he stared across at Steve. “People make stupid mistakes all the time. It’s impossible to go back and fix them.”
Truth. “So since you can’t fix them, you have to look forward.” Which was what Steve had been planning.
“Right. And try not to get caught doing the same stupid thing more than once.” Trevor frowned. “Now you have me curious. You screw up on the job today?”
“No, nothing like that,” Steve was quick to deny. “This is more like a huge mistake I made a million years ago. And I know I can’t fix it, because too much time has passed.”
He just had no idea how to go about getting what he very much wanted.
Trevor waited. “You have to give me a few more clues, because I’m lost.”
“Melody’s back in town.”
Understanding dawned in his brother’s dark brown eyes as he sat frozen in his chair, shock flooding his expression. Of course that was his instant response, and three seconds later, shock was replaced by amusement. “Oh, you are in for one hell of a time.”
Steve ignored the jibe. “I’m going to get her back, Trevor.”
“Masochist.” Trevor was grinning now. “This is the woman who broke up with you by dousing you in beer. Then when you tried to talk to her outside the bar, she just about ran you over.”
“That part was an accident.”
“Whatever you say, bro.”
A growl of frustration escaped. “You don’t have to look like you’re having so much fun. I’m serious about this. She’s important to me.”
Trevor shrugged, tilting his chair back to snatch up a new box of cookies from the counter behind him. He grabbed a handful, shaking his head as he passed the box to Steve. “Doesn’t matter what you’re serious about, does it? She was very serious about you being the last guy on earth she ever wanted to be with. I still don’t know how you managed to get Melody that pissed at you.”
And Steve had worked hard to keep the details of that stupid incident a secret. He’d never explained to anyone, and it seemed Melody had kept her mouth shut as well. “I was an idiot, okay? That’s all you need to know. “
“For such an easygoing woman to dump you on your ass like that in public? You’re more than an idiot. You’re an idiot of epic proportions.”
“Agreed,” Steve said. “But that’s in the past, and now that she’s back, I’m going to change things.”
Trevor carried their empty plates to the counter, stacking them to one side. “That’s bold of you. I don’t know who you knocked out, but somewhere out there is an optimist who wants his half of the glass back.”
“Only someone who thinks unicorns fart rainbows could imagine it’s going to be a piece of cake getting back into her good graces. I don’t know if you have a chance.” Trevor folded his arms over his chest and looked thoughtful. “But maybe…?”
His brother paced a few steps away before turning with a grin. “Maybe I should give a certain veterinarian a call. See how she enjoyed her time away.”
Steve shot to his feet so fast his chair tipped over. “You keep the hell away from her.”
Trevor waggled his brows as he beat a hasty retreat. “Lady’s prerogative. If she’s interested…”
He escaped from the room, laughing his fool head off.
Steve refused to chase after him like they were a pair of twelve-year-olds brawling around the house. It didn’t matter anyway. There was only one Coleman Melody Langley was going to pay attention to, and that was him.
Steve crawled his way out from under the mass of preteen boys who had dragged him into an impromptu wrestling match, laughing as he disengaged the most enthusiastic combatant from his leg. “Enough. Don’t you have someone else to torment?”
The shining white cast on Robbie’s right arm wasn’t slowing him down one bit. Seemed the kid was following in the tradition of ranch families everywhere. It was a rite of summer Steve remembered well—amongst the Coleman clan there had always been someone in a cast before school had been out more than a week.
“They told us to pick on you,” Robbie admitted with childish honesty. “You and Uncle Trevor.”
Steve glanced toward the main gathering at the Coleman Canada Day picnic, and laughed to see that one of the other boys was attempting to drag Trevor toward them. “Who is they?”
“Uncle Joel and my dad.”
Figures. A quick glimpse to the side revealed cousin Daniel from the Six Pack clan standing beside his wife, Beth, keeping an eye on his sons even as Robbie leapt and tackled Steve.
Steve let the boy take him to the ground again, laughing as he turned the wrestling into a tickling match, and suddenly the bodies crawling on top of him weren’t just preteen boys, but a couple of petite girls with blonde pigtails.
There weren’t that many kids in the clan yet, although from the looks of things, there would be a lot more added over the next couple of years. But whether it was kids or people joining the family through more grown-up ways, the Coleman party grew larger all the time.
He’d just scooped up Blake and Jaxi’s two oldest girls, one in either arm, and was ready to change the game when a bell rang.
“I need the kids over here,” Steve’s mom called from beside the house. “Not you,” she scolded Jesse as he slipped into the lineup next to Robbie who had raced up at a full-out sprint.
“I’m young at heart,” Jesse protested.
“He is,” Robbie agreed, linking his fingers through Jesse’s. “He’s like me.”
Kate laughed. “What do you say, Jesse? You want to help us with the scavenger hunt? I was going to get Steve to volunteer, but if you want, you can stay.”
Robbie leaned in and whispered loudly enough they all heard him. “You want to stay. There’s always candy.”
Jesse laid a hand over his heart. “For candy? Of course I want to help.”
The family around them were still chuckling as Steve passed over the girls in his arms, the small group of kids heading to where Steve’s mom had tables set up with supplies, including what was definitely a stash of candy.
“You timed passing off the rugrats well,” Trevor teased.
Steve faced his brother, stealing the longneck out of his hands. “Never underestimate the power of preplanning.” He took a drink before glancing over his shoulder to take in the crowd. “Nice to see Jesse show up at a family event.”
Trevor nodded. “It looks as if we’ve got just about everyone. Thank goodness the Moonshine clan only has to host the picnic every four years.”
“At this rate, four years from now there’ll be a dozen more kids,” Steve pointed out.
His brother shuddered. “As long as they’re not mine, that’s all I can say.”
“Yeah, right. I bet you right now you end up with kids before I do.”
Trevor stole his beer back. “You didn’t see me in the bottom of that pile, did you? No, I was playing it safe and staying away from the kid cooties.”
“Ass.” His brother winked. “Come on, Blake and Gabe said we could get some cards in before dinner. It’s not poker, but it’ll be fun.”
“You go ahead. I’ve got a couple of things to do.”
They marched in different directions, Steve drifting through small groups of conversation. Nodding politely at his aunts and uncles, and wondering at the sheer volume of noise the group generated.
When he’d arrived at the picnic, he’d left his truck back by the barns and walked to the house. He wasn’t the only one—half a dozen trucks were parked in a row facing the nearby alfalfa field. With four families in the area, a gathering of the entire clan meant a whole lot of bodies.
Boxing Day and Canada Day were reserved for the family free-for-alls. They’d eat, take turns entertaining the kids, take turns entertaining each other with stories that had been told a million times before, and would be told a million times again.
He didn’t mind any of it, but for a moment he wanted space. He slipped away to the closest barn, heading for the ladder to the hayloft.
A sense of mischief struck, as if he were ten years old, hiding out when there was work to do. Or more often than not, he would’ve been the one to simply not notice it was time to do the next thing.
This was different, he reassured himself. He wasn’t a distracted child at play, or a youth trying to get out of work. He was a grown-ass man who wanted a moment to relax before returning to enjoy the gathering.
A couple of moves adjusted the bales in one corner into a comfortable nest. Another quick grab nabbed him the blanket from near the ladder—the one they kept around for just such occasions.
He laid out the fabric to create a comfortable platform and crawled on top, rolling to his back to stare into the rafters as the peaceful sounds of a beautiful summer day drifted around him. At this distance, the voices in the background produced a constant hum, the occasional burst of bright childish laughter punctuating the air with joy.
Eyes closed, breathing slowing, he relaxed and let his mind wander.
It was a little annoying that images of the last time he’d been in the barn with Melody were the first to intrude. Hell, he had memories of her nearly everywhere on the ranch.
Now he had to find a way to make new ones. That was what he needed to put his energy toward.
A low creak sounded, and he rolled cautiously to one side, listening for clues of who’d invaded his territory. He wondered if the kids had escaped supervision, planning to make their own fun in the hayloft.
Instead of a laughing horde, though, a single set of footfalls crossed the floor below him, followed by a curious thump from the far corner of the loft. Steve lifted his head far enough to spot a calico cat mincing its way over the top of the bales. She stalked forward, a limp mouse hanging from her mouth.
The ladder creaked. Smooth, rhythmic—someone climbing. A pair of hands appeared followed by a lush mane of blonde hair as Melody turned her face toward him. Her pale-blue eyes shifted from side to side as she blinked hard and adjusted to the low light streaming in the small open window.
He waited until she was away from the ladder before saying something for fear of shocking her into falling. “In the far corner.”
Melody jerked, a small gasp escaping before she focused on him. “Steve?”
“I didn’t mean to surprise you,” he apologized. “I didn’t want you to think you were alone then get frightened when you spotted me.”
She approached slowly, eyeing his nest in the bales. One brow rose, and he was sure she was making a judgment call about him hiding from all the work and people. Not that he could blame her—
“Taking a break,” he offered. “The party will go on for a while.”
To his surprise, instead of offering a critical comment, she moved closer, sitting beside him and letting out a long, slow sigh. “Me too. Allison invited me. This may sound stupid, but it’s a little overwhelming out there. I swear there are more Colemans than I remember.”
So he wasn’t the only one who’d noticed. Steve chuckled, curling into a sitting position and draping his hands over his knees. “I think we borrowed a few extras. There really aren’t that many of us.”
She smiled before looking him in the eye. “Thanks again for your help the other day.”
“Did Myrtle make it?”
She offered a slow, sad shake of her head. “She’s gone.”
“That’s too bad. I’m sorry to hear of your loss.”
His joke dragged a reluctant laugh from her lips. “As much as I’ll miss her, I do have a new truck on order. It’s supposed to be here by the end of the week.”
“If you need to borrow a vehicle until then, let me know.”
Melody stopped. Tilted her neck to one side and examined him closely. “That’s generous of you.”
Steve shrugged. “I figure you need a way to get around.”
“I do, but Mathis gave me the vet truck to use.”
“Like I said, just let me know.”
Silence stretched awkwardly for a moment, and Steve scrambled to find the next thing to say.
He was rescued by a kitten, of all things.
“Oh, look.” Melody held a hand toward him before pressing a finger over her lips.
Lips that Steve desperately wanted to kiss, but instead of following through on the primitive craving, he followed her pointed gesture toward the opposite corner, where a teeny furry body teetered on the edge of the hay bale.
“He’s okay,” Steve whispered.
“I saw the mama cat climbing up—it looked like she had a mouse with her. They must be nearly old enough to teach how to hunt.”
Steve swung his feet to the floor, standing slowly and motioning toward the opposite corner. “Come on. Let’s take a closer look.”
She didn’t hesitate, slipping beside him as they inched their way across the slab-board flooring. Steve reached the other side and got on top of the bales, crawling on his hands and knees with Melody at his side.
Talk about flashing back to his childhood—
But it was more than that. As they moved in what was now-companionable silence, Steve thought back to the days before Melody had broken up with him. There’d always been something not quite right in their relationship. Sure, he’d been pretty relaxed about things, and that was a large part of the problem. He simply hadn’t noticed until all hell had broken loose.
But after some retrospect, even in their good moments, something had been missing.
He paused a short distance away from their target, resting on his heels and slowing his breathing to utter silence.
Melody slipped a hand around his arm and pulled gently to bring him closer. “Over here. You can see the nest she made,” she whispered.
Damn if she didn’t lean forward on a bale to peer into a spot that was impossible for him to see unless he moved right against her.
To hell with it. Steve reached over her body, pressing a hand to the hay bales on either side of her shoulders as he joined in admiring the litter of kittens curled around each other.
Two of them were awake, batting paws before falling over on wobbly legs. They rolled over their siblings who slept soundly in spite of being used as landing pads.
The mama cat reappeared with the most adventurous kitten held by the scruff as she returned it the nest. Typical barn cat, she ignored Steve and Melody as unimportant as she settled in to wash the face of her nearest baby.
But as fascinating as the kittens were, Steve was far more aware he wasn’t just next to Melody, he was damn near covering her. His chest pressed to her back, her hip bumping his groin as she adjusted position.
He fought the devil of temptation and won part of the battle. He stayed in place, teasing himself with a taste of what he really longed for.
Between one breath and the next, she realized how intimately positioned they were. Her body stiffened, her breathing grew shallower.
Steve shifted away as if trying to find a better angle to look at the cats. “I think that’s the third batch for this mama. She’s got it down pat,” he whispered.
Only Melody wasn’t checking the kittens anymore. She’d turned and sat, legs coiled beside her like a fancy mermaid statue, her weight resting on one hand as she stared at him.
Her expression was a whole lot different than what he’d seen a few days ago on the roadside, and a small burst of hope ignited.
He changed the topic before the urge to do something inappropriate struck. “You want to go find some food? I’ll protect you from the masses if you protect me,” he joked.
Melody got up on her knees. “Yeah, I suppose we should join the group. Allison will be wondering where I am.”
They made their way back over the bales, prickly hay poking through the knees of his jeans and digging into his palms. He stepped onto the boards and reached back to help her. She caught his fingers with hers, willingly accepting the gentle tug he used to help her find her feet.
But then she didn’t let go.
Steve glanced at their joined hands before lifting his gaze to meet hers. “Melody?”
She tilted her head to the side. “I’m…curious about something.”
Then damn if she didn’t free his fingers and instead plant both palms against the front of his shirt.
Lord, the temptation to wrap himself around her was strong. “Curious about what?”
“Kiss me.” Her words were halfway between a command and a dare.
His jaw hung open for a hell of a lot longer than could be considered proper. “Excuse me?”
She lifted a brow, her expression growing sultry. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how to kiss?”
He didn’t know the answer to that one. Well, he didn’t know the right answer to that one. “Are you asking how many women I’ve kissed since you and I—?”
She pressed up on her toes, far enough to bring their mouths into contact, and suddenly it didn’t matter what she was asking other than he was getting to do what he’d wanted to do since he’d seen her on the road days ago.
It was a soft caress at first, the faintest hint of mint on her lips growing as the kiss deepened. Maybe this wasn’t part of the deal, but he couldn’t resist. Steve curled his hands around her face so he could tilt her upward and taste her more fully. Careful to hold himself in check when what he really wanted was to take a deep, possessive approach that would make it clear that she’d asked for this kiss—but he was more than ready to take.
Cool down, animal.
Under his hands she moved her lips willingly against his. They’d had a lot of practice in the past, and not just at kissing. His body responded, eager to return to everything else they used to be good at, as well.
He shifted his hips to ease the pressure on his cock, focusing on her mouth and the exquisite sensation of her tongue slipping against his.
She leaned into him, body warm and soft against his growing hardness. A satisfied sound escaped her, sending a chill up his spine. Still he kept in control, paying attention to her clues so when she pulled back, he let her go even though retreat was the last thing he wanted.
There was a sparkle in her eyes and amusement in her expression. “Thanks.”
And damn if she didn’t turn and head for the ladder.
You’re welcome? Any time? His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth as he struggled to find the words to say in response.
What the fuck just happened?
She disappeared before he’d come to any firm conclusions. But that was okay, because in a way, their short interlude was too damn amusing to get bent out of shape over.
It did answer one vital question, though. She was attracted to him—he was sure of it now. He was going to use that information to his benefit. And hers, because this was about both of them getting what they needed.
One step at a time.
It didn’t matter where she turned, there seemed to be something going on that involved laughter.
A lazy, post-dinner mood struck, and relaxing in lawn chairs in the sun while watching good-looking guys—Melody had no problem with her current agenda.
“Your eyes are the size of plates,” her best friend teased. “Trust me, there isn’t that much interesting to stare at out there.”
“Speak for yourself.” The pretty blonde who’d settled beside Melody said with a low hum of approval. Ashley bumped their shoulders, pointing toward where the guys had set up a horseshoe pit. “Why is it not the middle of summer and blazing hot? All we need is for them to strip off their shirts and we’d have the best view in town.”
Melody wasn’t about to argue. “Ice cream, watermelon, and muscular men tossing iron objects. The only thing that would make today better would be chocolate.”
Out of nowhere, a chocolate bar appeared in her lap. She blinked in surprise as more laughter surrounded her. She glanced up to see Allison wink.
“Hidden stash in my purse,” she confessed. “I’m trying to give it up, but it’s about the only thing that doesn’t make me nauseous, even in the morning.”
Ashley stole the chocolate bar and unwrapped it, helpfully breaking it into three equal portions and distributing it among them. “Everything in moderation. Not as if you couldn’t use the calories.”
“I don’t want to spend the next five months making a baby and the next five years getting back in shape,” Allison complained.
“Don’t worry too much,” Melody said. “With how much running around you do in the restaurant, as well as everything you’re helping with at the ranch, you’ll be okay.”
“Agreed.” Ashley stared at her piece of chocolate for a moment before smiling. “It’s like the best aerobic exercise in the world, living on the ranch.” She popped the chunk in her mouth and hummed happily as she chewed.
Melody copied her, letting the rich morsel melt on her tongue. Dark chocolate slipped down her throat like heavenly pleasure, and she sighed, licking every last bit off her fingers.
“Don’t look now, but I think you’re being watched,” Allison shared, tilting her head toward where the guys were playing.
Melody leaned back in her chair, looping her arm around the back of Ashley’s as she examined the horseshoe pit.
Her friend was right. Something was going on. Something that involved an awful lot of ribbing in Steve’s direction and loud bursts of masculine laughter.
On her right, Ashley leaned in closer. “Okay, tell me the scoop. I’ve only heard bits and pieces of the story. I know the first year I went out with Travis, you were seeing Steve on a casual basis. But then last year after we came back to town, there was this…”
“Incident?” If Ashley had to ask, then Steve hadn’t told stories while she’d been gone. Not that she’d expected him to, one way or the other, but it was kind of good to know he hadn’t tried to blame her for anything.
Ashley twisted in her chair, lips curled into a brilliant smile. “Incident. I like that. Remind me to tell you sometime about the incident Travis, Cassidy and I had the day I came home from volunteering at the school to discover they were waiting for me to cook dinner.”
The woman was so upfront about all three of them being involved. Melody wasn’t about to pass judgment, especially since the trio seemed to be working hard to keep their relationship solid. No one else in the Coleman clan was vocal in disapproval either, which Melody liked.
Ashley had more energy than Melody did, though. One guy at a time was enough for her. Actually, one guy had been too much at one point, considering how much work Steve had been.
She could answer part of the question, though. “Yes. We had a bit of a misunderstanding. Also, I was going away for a year to complete upgrades on my training, and I decided a long-distance relationship wouldn’t work very well.”
To their right, Allison laughed softly. “You have a way with words.”
“Still, someone is very interested in you, no matter what broke you up last fall.” Ashley gestured toward the guys before turning her attention back on Melody. She laid a hand on her knee and squeezed. “People change. I know I did, and so did Travis. We weren’t right for each other back when you first met me. But the next time, it was like we’d grown up enough to be able to fit. Cassidy just made it better.”
Allison added her agreement. “Gabe and I as well. I mean, we’d always gotten along, and I never dumped a pitcher of beer on his head, so it’s not quite the same thing—”
“I will never live that down, will I?” Melody asked.
“It’s in the annals of clan history. Steve will have it etched on his tombstone. Doused in lager, all men should be so lucky.” Ashley ducked back and laughed as Melody made a feint at her.
They visited for a little longer, but it was growing late, and Melody was ready to return to the quiet of her small home. She said goodbye to the girls, promised Allison she’d stop by soon, and headed toward her borrowed truck.
“Wait up. I want to talk to you.” Steve turned from the guys to jog forward, waving her down.
Melody wondered what was going on as the rest of the bunch all grinned after him, masculine laughter and jousting continuing.
She slowed her step to allow him to catch up, then turned and marched at a brisk pace to where she’d parked at the end of the drive. “If the Colemans decided to leave Rocky in a rush, you’d decrease the population by fifty percent, unbalance the countryside, and tip us all into the Red Deer River.”
“Good thing we’re not planning on going anywhere then.” He kept up with ease, those long legs of his eating up the distance in far fewer strides than she had to take. That detail wasn’t something she was going to cry over—the man was bigger than her, stronger than her, but that didn’t mean she didn’t fit in just fine.
“I had a good time today,” she said. “I’m glad Allison invited me.”
“You’re always welcome.”
They were closing in on the truck she’d borrowed from Mathis, and she didn’t want to leave whatever was on his mind ignored. “Something you wanted to talk about?”
“Not quite sure how to say it.”
“That’s nothing new,” she muttered.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She shrugged. “Steve, you always knew when to crack a joke, but didn’t tend to say much of anything any other time. Do you need to schedule me for a vet appointment, or—”
“I want to see you again,” he blurted out.
Maybe if she’d never imagined hearing those words this would’ve been more awkward, but she’d had enough time to think it over. She’d prepared for every possibility when she’d decided to return to Rocky Mountain House, even this one.
Prepared, and planned to enjoy it.
She kept walking. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t think we had an actual relationship, not one that I’m interested in rekindling.”
“I get that. I told you I was a fool, but I’ve changed. I want a chance to prove it.”
“Prove it?” A burst of laughter escaped before she could stop it. “Steve, when we were dating, half the time you didn’t know what day it was. And I don’t even know that I want to call it dating. More like conveniently seeing each other when it worked out. That part wasn’t just your fault. I’ll take some of the blame, because I was damn busy with my job.”
“We were both busy, but that doesn’t give me an excuse for being a shit. It also doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m talking about right now.”
Melody jerked to a halt so she could toss him her most disdainful expression. “What happened between us a year ago, and more? How does that have nothing to do with the fact you want to see me again? You’re not making any sense.”
His lips twitched upward as his gaze drifted over her, his attraction apparent. “Let’s start with a clean slate. Hi, you must be the new vet in town. I’m Steve Coleman, and you’re going to be seeing a lot of me.”
Unbelievable. And yet…interesting. The old Steve would have joked around, but never with that intense focus as if he was prepared to actually do something if she argued with him. “Well, it appears you’ve grown some balls since the last time we met, but I don’t know that it’s enough.”
“Trust me, I’ve got the balls, for many things.”
She shook her head, clicking her tongue as if in disbelief. “If that was some sly reference toward your sexual prowess? There’s another place you’re mistaken. I’ll give you points for knowing where to find a woman’s clit, and I had more than a few orgasms with you—thanks for them, by the way.”
His grin broadened, and she was almost reluctant to deliver the killing blow.
“But, Steve? I’m afraid you’re just too vanilla for me.”
Melody spun on her heel and marched away, her own grin breaking free as he stood frozen on the spot behind her, sputtering in response. She kept walking, catching hold of her door and quickly crawling into the borrowed beast.
She got the door shut before he caught up with her, but there was no way she could ignore him. Steve stood inches from her closed door, his expression folded into a frown until she relented and rolled down her window.
He started in right away before she could speak, his utter shock apparent. “Too vanilla for you?”
Melody answered briskly. “I found out a few things about myself while I was away at school this year. So, I’m glad we’re going to be friends, and I look forward to working with the Colemans now that I’m back, but that’s pretty much all us time is going to be. Have a nice day.”
She put the truck in drive and left him standing in the dirt, containing her laughter until she was on the main highway and headed for home.
This was where the Steve she’d known would saunter back to the party and forget about her. Oh, maybe he’d give a few moments’ thought to challenging her comments, but then something would distract him, and the next time they met? It would be as if this conversation had never happened. He’d ask her out again, she’d turn him down.
Eventually he’d get bored and move on. It was sad, but inevitable.
Except…the flash of fire she’d seen in his eyes in her rearview mirror as she drove away wasn’t familiar. Something fluttered in her belly, and she wondered if maybe she’d poked a little too hard.
Get ready for the rest of the story. It’ll be here October 21st
Print orders will be ready in the next week as well.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN ROMANCE
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Rocky Mountain Heat
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