Authors: Lorelei James
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Adult, #Western
Rielle Wetzler was a dichotomy.
On one hand, given the serious financial bind she’d wound up in a few years back, Gavin assumed she had no head for business and flitted through life like a paisley butterfly.
But hearing her talk about her businesses showed him not only was she on top of her game, she wasn’t a pushover. In fact, she’d thought through the repercussions of this living situation on a much deeper level than he had.
He hadn’t lost track of their conversation until he’d put his hands on her. Then like the village idiot, all he could do was stare into her pale green eyes and imagine taking a big bite of her full bottom lip.
And it didn’t help matters when Gavin realized her pretty blush and bright eyes meant that she felt the surprising zing of attraction too.
He grabbed the bottle of Crown XR from his room and returned to the kitchen. He doubted Rielle drank whiskey on the rocks or even neat. He stirred Coca-Cola into her glass, topped his off with water and headed to the porch.
Rielle had moved to the glider.
He’d barely sat down beside her before she launched into questions. “What prompted the sudden move to Crook County, Wyoming?”
“How much do you know from the McKays?”
“Nothing beyond Sierra had some issues and you pulled up stakes, hoping to straighten her out.”
Gavin gave her the rundown of Sierra’s troubles. “Did you ever deal with anything like that with Rory?”
She shook her head. “It strikes me as odd that the kids who have the most are usually the ones with sticky fingers. Rory kept a low profile throughout school and stayed out of trouble. It was hard enough for her being the granddaughter of hippies who were rumored to grow pot and live in a commune.”
Rielle had mentioned those things before, as had the McKays. “Any truth to the rumors?”
“About the commune? Yeah.” She turned sideways and set her feet on the seat, near his thigh. “My folks let anyone down on their luck crash here. One time, I counted thirty people living in that run-down shack they called a house. Used to be a thick grove of scrub cedar trees blocking the shack from the road, thank God.” She took a drink—almost angrily. “It was cathartic to watch West Construction level that damn building with a bulldozer.”
“I’ll bet. Does this house sit where that one did?”
“Close. Rory and I lived there with my parents until she turned three. I’d busted my ass making a cabin at the back of the property inhabitable, so we’d both be somewhat free of their influence. I let Rory have it after I built the B&B. She still stays there when she comes home. She’s an adult and she deserves her own space.”
Gavin knew she’d only touched on her struggle to raise a kid on her own, when she was just a kid herself. “How’d you support yourself as a young mother?”
“When Rory started school I worked cleaning motel rooms so I was done by the time school let out. We’d always grown our own food, so I just continued doing what I was taught. But I seemed to have extra so that same year I started selling the leftover produce to locals. The business grew so by the sixth year I didn’t have to work at the motel. During that time I’d gone from cleaning rooms to running the front desk to working in the sales and catering office. And I realized the perfect job for me would be running my own B&B.”
“And you made that a reality.”
“Yes, I did. The one smart thing my parents did was buy this land. They paid cash for it thirty-odd years ago and no one ever questioned how or where they’d gotten the money, so neither did I.” Her bare feet had inched over until her toes rested on the outside of his thigh. She nudged him. “Hey, how’d did I end up a topic of conversation? We’re supposed to be talking about this screwed-up living arrangement.”
Gavin curled his fingers around her ankle to stop her from kicking him. Or maybe to keep her from leaping up as she was prone to do. Or most likely, he just wanted an excuse to touch her. “We’re getting to know each other, which I believe is standard procedure before a man and woman move in together.”
“Gee, Gavin, you’re making it sound so romantic,” she said.
That brought up another point. “So we get all these living together specifics ironed out between us. Will it bother you if people in the community think we really are living together as a romantic couple?”
“I could give two shits what people think. I’ve dealt with labels my whole life living in Sundance and I’m still here, still doing my own thing. So maybe you oughta worry what people will think about you, the rich-tycoon-cum-secret-McKay-lovechild and your impressionable teenaged daughter, being shacked up with someone like me.”
Gavin laughed. Rielle was really trying to rile him and it wasn’t working—well, not in the way she’d intended. This sexy opinionated woman riled him up in ways he’d forgotten he could be riled. “Like you, I could give a shit what folks say about me.”
“Really? And what about Sierra? Do you care what kids at school might say to her?”
“Sierra might’ve made some bad judgment calls recently, but she has a lot of me in her and she calls it like she sees it.”
She toasted him. “I wish Rory had been more like that at Sierra’s age. Heck, I wish
been more like that.”
“You ready to hammer out specifics on divvying up shared living spaces?” he asked her.
“Hit me with your best idea, tycoon.”
Tycoon. Sassy little thing. “Here’s what I think will work. Since your bedroom is on the main floor, the great room is your space. We’ll stay out of it unless you’ve granted us permission.”
Rielle said, “That sounds fair.”
“The upper living space is ours. We’ll use the existing furniture until we buy new.”
“The movers stashed your pieces in the basement.”
“According to Sierra, that stuff can go to a good home or to Goodwill. We’ve decided to get new furnishings that fit with the house.”
“We’ll have to share the kitchen in the morning. As far as food, we’ll label everything in the fridge and freezer. Assign us cupboards to store canned and dry goods. That’ll keep our food separate. Same goes for clearing out a spot for our small appliances and dishes—”
“Unless you hate the dishes I bought for the B&B, you’re welcome to use them, since I have place settings for twenty. Same for the silverware, cups and glasses.”
“I don’t much care about dishes and stuff, so that’ll work.”
“Good. When it comes to my baking pans, mixers, knives, pots and pans…those will be off limits. Since there are two dishwashers, we’ll each have one.” She leaned forward. “Our policy should be clean as you go because there’s nothing I hate worse than coming into a kitchen piled with dirty dishes.”
“I’ll pass that along to my little mess maker,” he murmured. “Which goes to say we’re responsible for cleaning our respective areas in the rest of the house too?”
“Yep. The kitchen appliances are typical, no huge explanation is needed on how to run them—even for a teenager and a longtime bachelor.”
“The washer and dryer are in the basement utility room and I don’t have a specific wash day, so I’ll work around your schedule since there are two of you and one of me.” She paused. “Sierra does her own laundry?”
“I eat supper very early or very late so I’ll be gone by the time you’re ready to fix the evening meal.” He must’ve frowned because she said, “What?”
“I don’t know. We’ll be in the same area around the same time. I just wondered if you’d be interested in sharing a meal with us sometimes.”
Her lips curled up in a sneaky smile. “I’ll have to check my schedule and get back to you.”
Gavin was so charmed by this woman. Part prickly, part funny—totally sexy. “You do that.” Her toes spread out like a cat’s claws and she made a soft purr when his fingers brushed her instep. “How’s tomorrow night look?”
“Like leftovers.” She propped her chin on her knee. “What’s on your menu?”
“Pasta. I say that with vagueness until we’ve checked out what the local grocery store carries.”
“I love any type of pasta. I’ll contribute a salad and bread.”
“See how easy that was? This living together stuff will be a breeze for us.”
Rielle laughed. “You say that now. How about if we revisit this conversation in a week and see what’s changed?”
“Does that mean you’re putting cocktails on the terrace with me on your schedule for next Saturday night?” he asked lightly.
“Sure. It’s not like I’ll have a date or anything.”
“I find it hard to believe that men aren’t lined up to take you out.” His gaze roved over her face. “Especially if they saw you like this.”
“Like what?” she asked softly.
“With the firelight from the lamp glowing on your face.”
“How often do those smooth words slide off your tongue?”
“Never.” He blinked. What the hell was going on with him?
“Oh. Well, thanks then.” She pushed upright and scrambled back.
Gavin drained his whiskey and followed her into the kitchen. “I’m glad we got this somewhat resolved, Rielle. But the booze and the drive have made me a little…”
Loopy? Foolish? Melancholy? Hopeful?
“Has made you what, Gavin?”
“Ramble more than usual.” He smiled at her. “Good night.”
Sierra could not believe her dad was making her ride the bus home from school.
The school bus.
Who gets stuck riding the bus? Especially in high school?
Great way to start her school year.
Hoisting her backpack higher, she walked to the semi-circle where the buses were belching diesel. She started with the last one, searching for number one eleven. Some kid hung out the window of one thirteen and yelled out, “I love you, Sierra!”
She ignored the jerk, who was no doubt being sarcastic since she was the new girl, and kept her head down.
At least she hadn’t been a total pariah, but being fresh meat in the small high school had made her a novelty. She’d met so many people she couldn’t keep them all straight. But she knew the novelty would wear off, probably within a week.
A shadow fell in step with her and she glanced over at the freckled redheaded cowgirl.
Marin Godfrey had taken it upon herself to befriend Sierra first thing in homeroom yesterday. They had two classes together and lunch, so Sierra hadn’t had to sit by herself.
“Hey, Arizona. You took off fast after the last bell rang.”
“I didn’t want to miss my bus since I didn’t ride it yesterday.”
“Your bus is always in the middle. I’m jealous. All the good people ride on your bus. That’s the one everyone wants to be on.”
Sierra wondered what
Marin smiled. “You’ll see. Perverts ride on my bus. Always trying to cop a feel. And the grade school boys are the worst.”
“So the school secretary wasn’t bullshitting my dad? Everyone in high school really rides the bus home every day?”
“Not everyone, not every day. Like the jocks have practice after school. But everyone else? Pretty much.”
Bizarre. Didn’t any of these people have cars? In Arizona everyone she knew had a car and no one rode the bus. She didn’t think her school district even
buses. “What if there’s a drama club meeting or something?”
“If there’s an activity or a club meeting, it’s held after supper, not after school, if it can be helped.”
“The school is big on parental involvement and that means scheduling stuff when adults are done with work. Most the kids who ride the bus have chores to do after school anyway.”
Chores. Such a foreign concept to her. After school let out in Arizona, she’d flopped on her bed and napped or watched TV until her dad got home from work.
“That’s why there’s no morning bus service,” Marin continued. “Gotta get them early chores done. So what’re you doing when you get home?”
“I’m sure my dad will grill me on how my second day of school went. If I made new friends. What I had for lunch. If I have homework.”
“That’s better than cleaning the chicken coop.” Marin pointed to the open door. “This one is yours. You’ve got my number. Call me later if you want.” She raced off.
Sierra reached the top step on the bus and the driver stopped her. “You’re Sierra?”
“How did you know?”
The older lady laughed. “Darlin’, I know every kid on this bus and have for years, most their parents too. So it’s nice to see a new face.”
“Oh. Which stop am I supposed to get off at?”
“Third to last stop.” Then the driver’s eyes were on the mirror, watching someone behind her. “Jimmy Dale, don’t you be messing with Liesl on the ride home, you hear me? Or I’ll make you sit up front.”
“Yes, Mrs. Craftsman.”
Sierra walked down the aisle. Little kids sat up front. A guy wearing a gray hoodie had claimed the last seat on the right. His athletic shoes hung off the end of the seat and he radiated a “back off” vibe. She chose a spot four seats up on the left.