September, Rocky Mountain House
If any place was the epitome of a laid-back, good ol’ boys, redneck tavern, Traders Pub fit the bill. Country music blared over the speakers encouraging those out for the start of the weekend to kick up their heels and let loose.
Familiar sights, all too familiar sounds.
Even more familiar was the ache in Gage Jenick’s gut as Katy Thompson shimmied past, her trim body clad in nothing fancier than a pair of jeans and a western shirt, but he was still damn near drooling.
He deliberately turned his chair away and picked up his beer, the Alberta equivalent of an ostrich burying its head in the sand.
If he didn’t look, she wasn’t really there.
Wasn’t really there, in spite of the sweet apple-blossom scent clinging to her skin that wafted over, like it did during the day while they worked together at her family’s garage. How many times in the past six months had he been in the middle of welding repairs or lugging tires from one rack to another, and found his mouth watering? His head turning involuntarily as she sashayed across the wide concrete space with a question regarding billing or a parts order for one of her brothers working the floor.
He hadn’t always had a hard-on for his best friend’s little sis. For years she’d been Katybug—the tagalong annoyance he’d tolerated for Clay’s sake, and later for the sake of the baking they’d snitch from the kitchen she’d taken possession of when her mom had passed away.
It was like a switch flipped. One day she was this invisible creature, and the next?
He could still vividly picture it—months earlier when he’d stopped work for the day. He’d rounded a corner at the garage in time to see a hose burst on her.
Water sprayed everywhere as she’d struggled to catch the flailing end.
“What the hell?” Gage rushed toward Katy who stood laughing, the broken hose writhing as if it were alive. It only took a minute for him to shut off the water at the source, but that was long enough to end with them both drenched to the skin.
“Sorry, Gage.” Katy hiccupped, she was laughing so hard. “Oh, Lord that was fun. Good thing it’s a warm day, right?”
He turned to deliver some timely big-brother-like, smart-ass comment, and got slammed with an eye-opening lightning bolt.
Her shirt was plastered to her, revealing more than any trip to the lake or swimming hole ever had, and to his utter shock, Katybug had hips and breasts.
Nipples he could clearly see pressed to the front of her soaking wet T-shirt because she didn’t appear to be wearing a bra.
“I told Clay that hose needed replacing,” she complained. “But, no. He insisted it could last one more summer. Ha.”
She leaned over and dragged her hair into a bunch, squeezing out the extra moisture. God help him. His gaze dropped to her ass, the rounded curves beckoning him forward to grab hold and take a long, thorough, exploratory detour over this brand-new Katy.
His wet clothes weren’t cold enough to deter his dick from waking up. And the rest of him as well.
He hadn’t been looking for romance—he’d long ago sworn off connecting with anyone full-time in a forever kind of way. The last thing he needed was someone like Katy in his life.
He had to stay in control. Had promised himself to never hold too tight to anything, or anyone. Yet in that moment he wanted little Katy Thompson with something near to obsession, and that truth rocked him to his core.
She finally clued in that he hadn’t said a word. She straightened, and, oh my God, those breasts— “You okay, Gage?”
No, but that wasn’t an acceptable answer. He dragged his gaze from her off-limits body and mumbled something.
His brain had been mumbling ever since.
Somehow he’d kept his growing hunger hidden from her, and her brothers, which was a miracle. And his best friend?
Gage glanced across the table at Clay Thompson. At his best friend’s hands that would curl into fists the size of hams at the thought of anyone hurting his baby sister. They might go back a long ways, but Gage knew the truth.
When it came to Katy, none of the Thompson boys would hesitate for a second to knock the head off anyone who so much as breathed wrong in her direction. Then they would calmly bury the remains in their backyard. Not even he would get a reprieve.
Good thing he planned on never hurting her.
Enough time had passed that he’d come to admit he’d like to get involved with Katy. The idea still scared him to death, but maybe with the constant threat of Clay and the rest of the hulking crew keeping him in check, he could avoid becoming what he feared. If the opportunity presented itself.
You’re not your past…
Laughter from the dance floor roused him, and he blinked in surprise. In spite of his good intentions, he was staring at her, soaking in every second he could of her spark of sweet, dark happiness. She was dancing with a group of her girlfriends, the four of them ignoring the guys hovering nearby in the hopes of a dance, or a grope, or maybe something more.
At least she wasn’t with him. The shithead boyfriend, Simon.
A hard nudge into his shoulder made his entire body shake, and he braced his beer to keep it from spilling.
Clay grinned. “You’re daydreaming. So eager to get out of town you can’t stay awake at your own going-away party?”
Gage laughed. “Is that what this is? I thought this was a typical Friday night at Traders.”
“Didn’t you get the announcement?” Clay lifted the pitcher of beer in the air and offered to refill Gage’s mug. “I’d get you drunk, but you probably wouldn’t appreciate the long drive ahead of you with a hangover.”
They fell back into a comfortable silence for a couple minutes. Clay passed the pitcher to the other Thompson boys and their friends who’d joined them.
Gage took the opportunity to examine the room. So many people he’d spent time with over the past years. He was going to miss them while he did his stint in the north working in the oilfields, but the money was too good to turn down.
And the chance to be away from temptation. Because, damn if he hadn’t automatically searched her out yet again.
Clay spoke, dragging Gage’s attention off the dance floor and back to safer topics. “What time are you leaving tomorrow?” he asked.
“Around ten. I don’t start until Monday, so I figured I’ll drive Saturday and get set up Sunday.” Gage chuckled at the expression on his friend’s face. “Stop looking as if I’m running away to join the circus. I’ll be back in six months.”
His friend grumbled. “I know, but we’ll miss you around the garage. Good slave labour is hard to find. Heck, I’d even hired someone to replace you, and not even a month later Cassidy’s gone and quit. I hate working harder.”
“Can’t blame the man. He’s got a sweet deal with his new family.” Gage took in the Coleman family gathered in another corner of the pub, some of the members partnered up, some not. The man in question, Cassidy, was slow dancing with Ashley, one of his lovers. Cassidy’s other partner, Travis, looked on from the side as he chatted with his brothers.
The trio’s relationship wasn’t typical, but it had happened, and in a way, Gage was a little jealous. Cassidy had gotten what he’d wanted and then some. In the meantime, Gage wasn’t willing to rock the boat to grasp the one woman he’d been lusting after.
Running away to the north was safer for so many reasons.
Katy lifted her hands in the air, swaying from side to side to the slow music. Her best friend Janey spun her, and wholesome, happy laughter rang, something Gage loved to hear.
Although he wished he’d been the one putting that kind of smile on her face. Bringing that shine to her dark brown eyes.
One thing was missing…one good subtraction to the evening. “Where’s Simon?”
An enormous grin twisted Clay’s lips. “Katy dumped him.”
Gage’s jaw hit the table.
“I know, I’m so fucking glad.” Clay spoke as softly as he could and still be heard over the loud dance music. “You have no idea how hard it was not to tell him to get the hell away from her, but she gave me such grief the last time I scared off a boyfriend…”
Gage nodded. “I remember. It wasn’t pretty. In fact,” he taunted, “you were damn scared, for someone who outweighs her by a good hundred pounds. I thought she was going to kick your ass into the next county.”
“It’s not the size of the package, it’s the pressure. She might be a tiny thing, and she’s so quiet most of the time, but when that girl loses it? Me and the boys wear a cup when she’s pissed.”
“So…you mentioned Simon,” Gage prompted. Because that was the most important bit of information here. When he’d finally woken up and figured out Katy was far more than a little-sister figure, she’d already been seeing that dickwad Simon, and if the woman had been pissed about her brothers micromanaging her life, she certainly wasn’t going to be any happier to have a friend of the family butting in. “They’ve been an item for the past six months.”
“She broke up with him last Saturday after the community picnic.” Clay gave him a look. “You know, the day you punched in his face?”
Gage shoved down his rising excitement at the fact Katy was once again a free agent. Instead he focused on the joys of small-town living, where everyone knew everything about everyone, which in this case explained a lot, including covering his tracks.
He’d had a good reason to punch Simon, but he’d also enjoyed the hell out of it for his own personal reasons, i.e., the ass was getting to fool around with his Katy. “The jerk was being a homophobic asshole.”
Clay shrugged. “I’m not saying you were wrong. Katy saw the light that day as well and told him to—in her own words—crawl into a hole and rot.” Clay nodded in obvious agreement with the sentiment. “I’m glad she came to her senses.”
Gage’s excitement shot sky-high. This was his chance. Katy was free? Other than the bad news of him leaving the next damn day… “Clay, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”
His friend pulled out his phone and stared at the message on the screen. “That’s your ‘I need a favour’ voice.”
Busted. “Not so much a favour as…well, I was wondering about Katy, and—”
“Damn,” Clay cut in. “Yeah, can you take care of her?”
Gage jolted back. “What?”
“I just got a call for the tow truck, and I’ve got to take it.” Clay rose to his feet then leaned over to make sure no one overheard. “Look, Katy put her car in the garage for me to do a service checkup. I didn’t get a chance to look at it yet so I offered to drive tonight and be her DD. Now I have to bail, so could you give her a ride home?”
It was like being handed the keys to paradise and told not to unlock the gate. Gage nodded. “I’ll get her home safe.”
He might go to hell along the way, but it would be worth it.
Gage was watching her.
Katy allowed the hope inside to rise. Every time she’d checked, his gaze had been pinned on her body. Her hips, her chest—and it wasn’t creepy as if he were some kind of stalker. And it wasn’t whacko or possessive like her now-ex-boyfriend Simon had been for the last month or so.
Nope, what she saw was all-out admiration, especially since she was watching his reflection in the mirror, and he had no idea she knew what he was doing.
Her best friend caught her hand and tugged her closer. “You want a drink?” Janey asked.
“Sure.” Katy took one final peek to reassure herself even as she tried to figure out the best way to make a move.
Because the crush she’d had on the man had been going on far, far too long. Since she’d been in her teens. Clay had dragged the new kid home after school years earlier, so when her hormones had woken up, he’d already been firmly underfoot. Gage was one of the never-ending kids fostered by the friendly couple down the block, but he’d been the only one to walk through the Thompson doors and never really leave.
Janey headed straight for the Thompson table—which Katy should have expected. “Hi, Len.”
Katy’s third oldest brother blinked in surprise as Janey interrupted his conversation. Not only that, she grabbed a chair and basically shoved her way between the guys, settling in like she belonged.
Katy twisted away to hide her smile. Janey wasn’t afraid of going after what she wanted, which in this case was Len.
A strong hand caught her arm and tugged her out of the path of a waitress carrying a loaded tray through the bar. “Sit down, Katy,” Gage ordered, adjusting the chair next to him. The one Clay had been occupying.
She frowned, but obeyed. “Where’s Clay?”
“Great. How am I supposed to get home?”
Gage shifted in his chair. “I’ll take you.”
Her heart skipped a beat then rolled across the floor. He sounded more pissed than thrilled at that option. “It’s okay, I’m pretty sure I can find someone else to—”
“No,” Gage snapped, his dark eyes meeting hers. The square cut of his jawline held tight. He touched her again, his fingers slowly skimming down her arm. A deliberate caress that made goose bumps rise, especially as this time his voice softened to stroke her as well. “I have no problem taking you home.”
Katy swallowed hard. Not only his fingers but his words slipped over her like an erotic touch. He wasn’t hiding his admiration anymore—what she’d seen in the mirror was right out in the open, and sweet mercy…
His lips twisted into a smile. “I hear you and Simon called it quits.”
“He’s a pig.” She spoke without thinking, but all Gage did in response was grin harder. Her mouth was dry. “I need a drink.”
They reached for the same glass, and their fingers bumped, his big hand nearly eclipsing hers as he closed his grip and teasingly helped lower the glass to the table in front of her.
“Beer? Or something else?” he asked.
Katy waited until he released her, but his touch had already started an electric tingle that raced from her fingertips all the way up her arm and a whole lot farther. It affected her breathing, that was for sure, and she couldn’t seem to take anything more than shallow gasps.
He filled her glass from a pitcher.
She lifted her glass in the hopes it would cool the heat that had enveloped her, but suddenly she wasn’t sure she could swallow. His gaze was pinned to her lips. He’d leaned in, one hand casually resting on the back of her chair as if she were in his embrace. Around them the music continued to blast, voices rose and fell. Laughter and shouting.
The room could have been empty.
The sweet liquid stole down her throat, ice cubes bumping her lips as she stared over the rim of the glass. He adjusted position and their thighs touched. She jerked the glass back to vertical before she dropped it altogether.
Heat from his leg wrapped over hers. It took everything in her to stop from squirming in her chair to ease the pressure building inside as Gage continued to look her over as if she were the feature steak on the barbeque menu.
“I’m not drunk,” she whispered.
He shifted, his leg rubbing hers, and her breath caught in her throat. “Never said you were.”
“I should be drunk,” she clarified. “Because that would explain why you’re looking at me like that.”
Gage eased off, glancing around the room. “How am I looking at you?”
“Like you want…” She picked up her glass and sniffed it to see if she’d accidentally gotten a double shot of rum in her coke. Anything that would explain what was going on. That would explain how this thing she’d dreamed about was really happening.
A hand settled on her thigh under the table, and she snapped to attention. Gage leaned in, turning his head at the last moment so his lips were directly next to her ear. “You’re not drunk. Nether am I.”
Oh, sweet Lord. She ignored him. Ignored the large palm that covered her thigh. Ignored the lust racing through her veins, and all the happy hormones that were waving pom-poms. She took another sip of her drink while he settled back in his chair, opening some distance between them.
“Katy, let’s dance.” Janey had her by the hand and pulled her to her feet, headed back to the floor before Katy could protest that she’d been having a lovely hallucination and she’d take a rain check on the dancing.
Only Gage didn’t stop watching her. Didn’t take his gaze off her, and now Katy wasn’t getting sweaty on the dance floor because she was shaking her bootie hard.
It was all about Gage Jenick and his hungry eyes.
She glanced at her watch and wondered how early she could call it a night because she could hardly wait for him to take her home.Return to Ride Baby Ride