Read Gone Country Online

Authors: Lorelei James

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Adult, #Western

Gone Country (2 page)

BOOK: Gone Country
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“You still wearing your large-and-in-charge big-girl panties, Miz Bank Prez?”

“At least until I get home and Bennett makes me strip them off.” She grinned cheekily. “And here’s the mushy, gushy stuff that makes you squirm…unless you’ve been knocking back tequila shooters. You’ve become one of my best friends since I moved in with Ben. You’re a wonderful person, funny, sweet, thoughtful and you work harder than anyone I know. You’re beautiful inside and out. I see it. Rory sees it. It’s a pity you don’t. We thought maybe if we helped you change your outer appearance, then you’d see it as well as feel it.”

Rielle remained quiet and traced the sugared rim of her martini glass. Upbeat Ainsley didn’t pull any punches—and to think that was why she hadn’t initially liked the woman. They’d started out on the wrong foot when Ainsley had been sneaking around with Ben McKay. But after Ainsley stood up for Ben and bitch-slapped her for the shitty way she’d treated him, Rielle realized she’d wronged them both.

It’d taken a couple months for Rielle to swallow her pride and apologize. Luckily Ben and Ainsley were ready to let bygones be bygones. Now she and Ainsley were tight—much tighter than Rielle had ever been with Ben.

“Mom? Are you crying?” Rory asked with an edge of fear.

“No.” She raised her head. “Just feeling idiotic for opening my mouth. It sucks dealing with this stupid female pride and age thing.”

“But see, you don’t have to deal with it alone.” Ainsley snagged a section of Rielle’s baby-fine long blond hair. “Rory. How long has your mom worn her hair this way?”

“As long as I can remember.”

“That’s because it’s an easy style,” Rielle protested.

“No, it’s a
dated
style,” Ainsley corrected.

“Well, forgive me but I don’t have time to fuss with a fancy hairdo when I spend my days digging in the dirt or sweating in the kitchen.”

“Which is exactly why you need a smart cut. Not every style is high-maintenance.” Ainsley held onto Rielle’s chin, turning her face to the left and right. “You have amazing bone structure. You hide it instead of highlight it. We need to fix that.”

“And how would
we
do that?”

Rory grinned. “By placing yourself in Nikki’s hands tonight.”

“Nikki?” Rielle knew her eyes grew comically wide. “Isn’t that your friend who sported a purple and lime green Mohawk in tenth grade?”

“She’s toned down the shock factor. We’ve already discussed this and she’s come up with a cool cut for you. She swears this style is easy to manage and it’ll take ten years off your face.”

“But I don’t think your face is the issue. It’s all this hippie hair.” Ainsley knocked back her drink. “So let’s whisk you off to the beauty shop and transform you from a hippie-chick into a hip-chick.”

“I don’t know if this is such a good idea…”

“Here’s where I’m playing hardball.” Rory loomed over her. “You’ve always told me change is inevitable. Have you been putting expectations on me that you aren’t willing to apply to yourself?”

“No! I have been making changes in my life.” Most were forced, not that she’d admit that.

“Then it shouldn’t be such an ordeal to add this change to the list.”

“But—”

“You know what?” Ainsley interrupted. “I think your mom is afraid to look hot and have men notice her. Once she’s no longer hidden behind all this scarecrow hair, she’ll hook herself a man. Just you watch.”

“Scarecrow hair?” Rielle repeated. “Really, Ainsley?”

Ainsley’s eyes didn’t contain a bit of malice, just concern. “You need to do this. For you. We’ll be right there, every snip of the way.”

Maybe the drinks bolstered her courage. Heaven knew if the decision was left up to her, she’d never do it. She slid off the barstool. “Fine. But if I end up looking like Carrot Top, there’s gonna be hell to pay.”

Ainsley draped her arm around Rielle’s shoulder. “Darlin’, the truth is, even that might be an improvement.”

Chapter Three

Late Saturday afternoon Gavin pulled into the parking area of the former Sage Creek Bed and Breakfast.

The five-thousand-square-foot, two-story structure had large windows stretching along the main and upper floors. This time of day the sun reflected off the sections of glass in tones of amber and rosy-gold. The siding had been crafted out of rough-hewn lumber and applied vertically, horizontally, crossways, creating the impression of depth. A copper-colored tin roof covered a wide-planked porch that spanned the entire length of the front side. The porch supports were notched logs, worn into a smooth vanilla-hued patina in some places and left rough with chunks of bark in others. The concrete work at the base of the house was covered by round, grayish river rock, so the foundation appeared built from cobbled stone. The steps continued the western theme, constructed from old railroad ties, the centers shored up with marbled-looking concrete. Even the split-rail fence separating the parking lot from the porch resembled an old-fashioned hitching post. The overall impression of the place was rustic with western flair. Charming. Welcoming. Homey.

Homey. As Gavin listened to the engine cool, he had to remind himself this was his home. He’d owned it for almost two years, but he’d never cooked a meal in the kitchen. Never washed a load of clothes in the laundry room. Never flopped on the couch and watched a Cardinals football game. He’d always treated this place like a hotel.

No more.

He glanced at his daughter, gauging her reaction to their new home. “So, Sierra, what do you think?”

She peered over the top of her pink sunglasses. “It’s bigger than I thought. Rustic, but it works in this setting with the different types of trees as a backdrop. It looks more like an upscale hunting lodge than a single family dwelling.”

The kid knew the lingo after being around the real estate business her whole life.

“Holy crap. Who is that?”

“Where?”

Sierra pointed. “There. By the fence.”

Gavin saw a shapely, jean-clad ass bent over a wheelbarrow. The woman stood and turned to grab the wheelbarrow’s handles, giving him a front-and-center view of her low-cut tank top. The full swells of her cleavage bounced nicely as she started downhill. Her face was hidden beneath the bill of a brown and gold University of Wyoming ball cap.

“You don’t know her?” Sierra asked. “Is she seasonal help or something?”

“Maybe.” Where was Rielle? She always met him on the porch with her pack of dogs.

They climbed out of the Lexus. Gavin continued to stare from behind his sunglasses at the woman heading toward them, showing a lot of sun-kissed skin. When she removed her cap, revealing artfully tousled short blond hair, and smiled at him, Gavin’s jaw nearly hit the dirt. “Rielle?”

“You were expecting someone else?” She stepped closer, slipping off her glove before offering her hand. “You must be Sierra. I’m Rielle Wetzler. Your dad has talked about you nonstop.”

“Most of it bad, I’m sure.” Sierra smirked and Gavin held his breath, waiting for the snarky sixteen-year-old to emerge. “I’ll admit Dad said nothing to me about you.”

Gavin was tempted to correct his daughter, but Rielle had already engaged his sometimes-prickly child in conversation.

Sierra started sharing her favorite parts of their tourist excursions. Rather than stand and gawk at this sexier version of Rielle, he returned to his car and began unloading luggage and tried to figure out how they were going to make this situation work.

The circumstances were unconventional, but his buyout offer hadn’t exactly been normal either. After they’d hashed out an agreement, he’d asked her to stay on the premises as a caretaker, although she refused payment for the position. His property manager called her every other month to check in. Gavin and Rielle were friendly, but he didn’t know her. He hadn’t seen Rielle beyond her role as his personal chef, maid and property custodian. And because of that line—she’d essentially worked for him—he’d never noticed such a hot woman existed beneath the tie-dyed clothes and Marcia Brady hair.

You’re a superficial asshole.

Maybe, but it didn’t change the facts. Gavin hauled luggage to the porch, his depraved brain compiling a list of Rielle’s overlooked attributes. When he turned around Rielle and Sierra were staring at him. “What?”

“Dad. I said I’d help you like three times. Didn’t you hear me?”

“No, sweetheart, I didn’t. Thinking about too many things, I guess.” R-rated things about the scantily clad and surprisingly hot Rielle that he couldn’t share with his daughter. “Let’s leave this stuff here and do a quick tour.” He faced Rielle. “Is that okay?”

She shrugged. “It’s your house.”

He detected tension in that answer and knew they needed to discuss specific living arrangements tonight.

“Besides, I’ll be in the garden until dark.”

“We’ll catch up with you later. Charlie and Vi invited us over for dinner.”

“The food oughta be good since Vi’s a great cook.” She grabbed three balls of dirt from the wheelbarrow and set them on the railing. “Take her some of these golden beets. They’re her favorite.”

“Sure. Thanks.”

“Plastic bags are under the sink. See you.” Rielle lifted the wheelbarrow handles and Gavin had the urge to offer his help. But by the looks of the toned muscles in her arms, shoulders, back, ass, thighs and calves, she didn’t need help. He glanced at Sierra after Rielle disappeared around the side of the house. She wore an odd look. Shit. Had she caught him checking Rielle out? “What?”

“This will be weird, having someone else live with us.”

“I know. But we’ll figure out a way to make it work.” He set his hand on her shoulder. “Let’s check out our new digs.”

“Dad. No one says
digs
. You are such a dork.”

“I didn’t think anyone said dork anymore either,” he teased.

After Sierra’s initial outburst about their sudden departure from Arizona, she’d come to a grudging acceptance that something had to change. He suspected she was secretly relieved for the chance to start fresh and she had acted enthusiastic when she’d told her mother about the move. Gavin didn’t kid himself it was genuine, but rather a way for Sierra to show her mother she’d be too busy with her new adventure to miss her, but he hoped in time she would embrace this new life in Wyoming.

“This place has a lot of personality,” Sierra commented on the great room. “Is the furniture and stuff in here ours?”

“No, it’s Rielle’s.”

“Where is our furniture?”

Hell if I know
. “Why?”

Sierra whirled around. “I hope it ended up lost or in the Dumpster.”

His gaze sharpened. “Why would you say that?”

“Because it was ugly and boring. Like you walked into a discount furniture store, saw a perfectly put together living room set, and said,
I’ll take that crap
.”

That’s exactly what he’d done. “And that’s bad…how?”

She pointed to a chair comprised of half cowhide, half distressed leather with braided piping on the front and animal hooves as the feet. “This is a seriously awesome piece. It says a lot about Rielle. She’s picked pieces that are unique, yet funky. I’ll bet she even made some of them.” Then Sierra poked him in the chest. “You could learn a lot from her.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning…we’re starting over, right? We need to shitcan that ugly furniture we’ve had forever. What bad taste demon possessed you to buy it in the first place?”

Gavin suppressed a grin. It boded well Sierra had bounced back to her annoyingly sweet and pushy self after clearing out of Arizona. “Because I spent damn near six months searching for furniture with your mother right after we got married. I hated everything she picked. So after the divorce, when I moved into the condo, I chose big, comfy pieces, without damn flowers or checks or stripes. Plus, the furniture had to be stain resistant, because you, dear daughter, have a tendency to spill ice cream, cereal and pizza.” He kissed her forehead.

Sierra twined her arms around him and sighed. “Dad. I’m not six anymore.”

“Sometimes I wish you were.”

“I know. But promise you’ll let me help when we pick out new stuff for our place, okay?”

He hugged her tightly. This was the daughter he’d missed in the last year when the teenager from hell had inhabited her body. “Okay.”

She squirmed away. “Show me the rest.”

The main floor was comprised of the enormous kitchen, the dining room and the great room. Down the hallway were a bathroom and two bedrooms, both with en-suite bathrooms. Gavin noticed Rielle had relocated to the biggest room in the far corner. He fought a pang of guilt for kicking her out of the master suite.

This is your house. Remember that.

A wide staircase opened onto the landing of the second floor. Another comfortable lounging area stretched out in front of the windows. Gavin turned down the left hallway and walked past the bedroom he intended to use as an office. He opened the door to the master suite and glanced up at the skylights spilling sunbeams across the plush carpet. The angle of the roof provided architectural interest. On the far side was a set of French doors that led to a private balcony. He poked his head into the bathroom, happy for the oversized shower, but ambivalent about the garden tub.

BOOK: Gone Country
11.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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