Read Heart So Sweet: Book 3 in the Great Plains Romance Series Online

Authors: Corrissa James

Tags: #Contemporary Western Romance

Heart So Sweet: Book 3 in the Great Plains Romance Series (3 page)

BOOK: Heart So Sweet: Book 3 in the Great Plains Romance Series
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It didn’t take long for Tate to find Annie’s horse. Dalton James offered to board the horse until Annie could return for it, but Tate unexpectedly offered to ride it over to her place that afternoon. As he rode the chestnut horse through the fields, he berated himself for what he was doing. His offer hadn’t been unexpected at all. An hour ago he’d sworn to protect her, but since then he’d been looking for any excuse to see her again without being too obvious.

“Oh, and riding her horse back to her place isn’t too obvious at all, is it?”

The horse whinnied, which cause Tate to groan.

“Even the horse is laughing at me.”

As they moved closer to the Clark farmstead, Tate had to restrain himself from spurring the horse into a full gallop. He was anxious to see Annie again, but he naturally didn’t want to appear too anxious. Especially if her brothers were around. The last thing he wanted was to give her brothers ammunition to use against him. Gone were the days when he could wallop them into submission if they mouthed off at him. And as sheriff, he had a professional image to maintain.

Walking the horse down the lane, he now wished he could slow down even more. In his eagerness to see Annie, he’d overlooked the fact that he’d probably have to see Lucas as well, and he doubted that such an encounter would go over well with any of the Clark clan, especially Lucas. Tate was not worried about the other brothers, but Lucas was a different story. He respected Lucas deeply, even if the two hadn’t spoken in a decade. His father had told him about Lucas’s misfortunes, telling his son that, as Lucas’s friend, he should reach out to the man. But Tate knew that Lucas would never accept him back in his life, not after Mary Ellen.

So what the hell was he doing now, riding up to Lucas’s home with thoughts of bedding his baby sister?

He remembered the way Annie had pressed her body to his during their kiss, clinging to him as she returned his demanding kiss with just as much passion. He spurred the horse into a light trot. If it meant taking a beating from Lucas, it was better to get it over with.

At the front door to the farmhouse, he fidgeted, waiting for someone to answer his knocks. He kept his back to the small yellow bungalow to the west of the farmhouse while he said a silent prayer that Lucas wasn’t home, that one of the other brothers would answer the door. The door opened, and Tate turned to see Lucas looking back at him. Tate frowned. He seemed to have fallen out of favor with his spiritual protector.

The years had not been kind to Lucas, but Tate had expected him to look much worse. The military had bulked him up quite a bit, but his face was unshaven and his straggly hair fell to his chin. Rather than the vibrant, reddish auburn hair of his younger sister, his hair now looked dirty brown. Still, for a second, Tate’s heart lightened when he saw recognition flash through Lucas’s eyes and a smile tease at his lips. Then, just a quickly, a mask of pure hatred fell into place, and Tate couldn’t hide the disappointment from his voice.

“Lucas.” He nodded in greeting, but Lucas just stared back at him, the anger burning in his eyes. Tate cleared his throat. “I’m here to–”

Lucas tried to close the door, but Tate was prepared for it and stuck his foot between the door and the frame.

“I’m here on official business, Lucas. As the sheriff.” It wasn’t a card he wanted to play, but Lucas left him no choice.

As Lucas pulled the door open, Tate pointed to the metal star on his chest. Lucas rolled his eyes but didn’t close the door. He turned and walked back into the house. Tate understood that this was the only invitation to come inside that he would get. He walked to the kitchen, the sounds of voices echoing inside. Even if they’d been silent, he would’ve known exactly where to go. In his youth, he’d spent more time at the Clarks’ place than his own home. Seeing the house now, knowing that both parents were now gone, he couldn’t stop the feeling of nostalgia. So much had changed in just a few short years. This home had always been a place of genuine happiness and love. Now it felt like an empty shell.

He rounded the corner and saw Jonathan and Daniel, the two younger Clark brothers, sitting at the kitchen table. Both smiled at him as they called out his name. Lucas grabbed a can of soda, then left the room.

Daniel shook his head at Tate. “He ain’t real sociable no more. Not since Afghanistan.”

Tate nodded in understanding. Lucas hadn’t been sociable with him for longer than that.

The back door was thrown open, and the three men in the kitchen turned to see Andrew standing in the doorway, a bottle of beer in his hand. He held up the beer and grinned, then chugged it until it was empty. He then held up a finger, waiting a few seconds before letting out a loud burp. The boys laughed. Tate smiled tightly.

Andrew stepped into the kitchen. “Well, well, Tate Trudell. And did you hear boys? Old Tate here is the sheriff now.”

Andrew kept the grin plastered on his faced, but Tate noted the coldness in his eyes. Of all four brothers, Andrew was the most dangerous one, although he usually hid it well. So how would he deal with an authority figure who knew all his secrets?

Tate had an unsettling feeling that he was going to find out, one way or another.

 

Chapter Five

 

It was nearing dinner time when a sweaty and tired Susannah cut through the fields to her family’s farmstead. She had never been so happy to see the two-story farmhouse her grandparents had built or the little yellow bungalow next door that Lucas and his new bride had built more than a decade ago. Lucas had never actually lived there. He’d gone off to war in Afghanistan before it was done, and when he returned after his wife died in childbirth, he couldn’t bear to go inside it. His daughter Jenny, though, refused to move out of it, claiming it was her only connection to her mother. So Susannah and Jenny lived in the bungalow together while all the boys stayed in the farmhouse. After their parents had passed—first mom due to cancer, then dad due to heartbreak from living without his wife—Susannah and her brothers continued life on the farm as usual. Theirs was not a typical farm family arrangement, but it worked for them.

She walked up the lane and went right by the farmhouse to the bungalow. She wanted a shower to wash the afternoon away before she faced her brothers. She could hear them shouting in the farmhouse, no doubt sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for her to make dinner for them. Did they even realize she’d been gone all day? Probably not. And they likely wouldn’t care, unless dinner was too late. She and Lucas were the only ones who could cook, and Susannah was the first to admit that Lucas’s culinary skills far outshone her own, but letting him work with razor sharp knives and scalding oil required constant supervision since he’d come home, which meant it was just easier for everyone if Susannah did all the cooking.

She snorted as she mounted the steps to the bungalow. “Easier for everyone but me.”

Another round of shouting erupted from the farmhouse, and Susannah paused to look back. Her brothers were unusually rowdy tonight. She hoped they weren’t being too crude, especially if Jenny was around. Her brothers all adored their niece, but they tended to forget that she was only nine years old. She was the only one Lucas spoke to anymore, so she often served as his interpreter.

Deciding to sit and enjoy the early evening breezes, Susannah sat on the bungalow steps and considered Lucas for a moment. She adored her oldest brother, and she wasn’t the only one. He was a gentle soul who was always looking out for everyone else. He deserved all the happiness in the world, not the hand that had been dealt to him. The war and his wife’s death changed him, and he hadn’t spoken to anyone since returning home for the funeral. No one except Jenny, and half the time Susannah thought they communicated without any words at all.

He was such a different man now than before he left. Gregarious and good-natured, he’d been quite popular in school. Girls had chased him, and boys wanted to be invited into his circle of friends. Lucas welcomed everybody, but he had only one real friend: Tate Trudell. The two had been inseparable for as long as Susannah could remember. She frowned. Inseparable until the terrorist attacks in New York, when suddenly they had disagreed so vehemently on how to deal with the threat of terrorism that Lucas had told Tate he was no longer welcome at their house. Susannah had been furious. She’d just hit puberty and was finally growing curves in all the right places. She knew she’d finally be able to attract the eye of her brother’s best friend. Instead, Tate had just disappeared. Not long after, Lucas joined the Army.

“Hi, Aunt Suz. Bye, Aunt Suz.”

Susannah looked up, startled by the gangly legs running past her down the stairs.

“Hey, Jenny, wait a minute.”

Jenny swung around with a deep sigh and an overly dramatic eye-rolling. Susannah hid her laugh.

“I don’t have time, Aunt Suz.” Jenny Clark had the same coloring and build as her father and aunt, which they got from their mother: earthy red hair that preferred curls, emerald green eyes, a smattering of freckles, and a tallness that belied her age. She was only in fifth grade but already stood taller than most eighth graders. “Going to grandma and grandpa’s for the week.”

Susannah was proud of her brother for making sure that Jenny spent time with her maternal grandparents, even if it meant making a six-hour round-trip drive every week. “Okay, I won’t keep you. Just let the boys know it’s sandwich night.”

Sandwich night was their code for dinner on their own. They didn’t actually eat sandwiches because that would involve making food and Andrew, Daniel, and Jonathan simply wouldn’t do that. Instead they’d probably head into town to get a pizza or some other takeout, unless they could find one of the locals to take pity on them. Andrew was a master at getting people to feed him. Susannah knew if he ever used his skills for anything more than food, he’d be downright dangerous. Their daddy always said he could talk a hide off a cow if he wanted to.

“No problem.” Jenny whipped around to continue racing off to the house. “Oh, by the way, they brought your horse back.”

Susannah stood up and glanced at the stables. “My horse? Wait, who did?”

But Jenny was already skipping up the farmhouse steps.

Susannah shrugged before heading into the bungalow. She was giving herself a pass from her brothers tonight, who were too engrossed in their own arguments to come nag her about changing her mind. She wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Once inside, she peeled the sweaty shirt from her back and stripped off her jeans, letting the clothes drop. She’d clean up later. For now, she just wanted to wash away this entire day.

As she lathered up with soap, she couldn’t stop her thoughts from returning to Tate. Clearly he had been back in the area for some time. He’d been elected sheriff after all, although she couldn’t remember seeing his name on any ballots. Surely she would have remembered that. But truth be told, she didn’t always get around to voting. There always seemed to be some new fire to put out, whether it was lost cattle or repairs to fencing or cleaning up her brothers’ messes. She scrubbed the shampoo into her hair, working it into a furious lather. Once again she’d wasted the whole day cleaning up after her brothers, and she had no doubts that the mess still needed some work. She still needed to do those stupid reports for Tate.

Susannah forced herself to take several calming breaths as she let the water wash away the shampoo. She tried to clear her mind and just relax, but one nagging memory kept forcing its way back in: Tate’s kiss. She couldn’t stop herself from recalling how it had been gentle at first, almost playful, as if teasing her for overreacting when she’d finally gotten out of the backseat. But it had become so intense so quickly that even now Susannah felt her knees wobble when she thought about it. She turned off the water, stepped out of the shower, and dried off with a thick cotton towel. She tried to think about anything other than how his kiss made her feel so alive for the first time ever, made her willing to bare herself to him, give him her innermost secrets. But it was as if her body was betraying her, as the only thing she could think of was Tate and how it would feel to have him kiss her again—and this time, not only on her lips.

She huffed in frustration and grabbed her robe from the back of the bathroom door. She tied it loosely before storming out of the bathroom. Tate didn’t want her. He’d let a silly teasing kiss go too far. He had dismissed it as unprofessional and pushed her away from him, unable to bear even being close to her. She’d never know what it would feel like to have him trail kisses down her neck. “Stop it!”

“Stop what?”

Susannah pulled up short. Tate Trudell stood in her living room, next to the wall of photos she’d created for Jenny.

“What are you doing here?”

He smiled, glancing around the living room, studying the furniture, the hardwood floors, the dust bunnies.

Looking anywhere but at her.

Her anger was rising and she couldn’t stop it. Then again, why should she?

“I asked you a question,” she snapped.

Tate’s head whipped around, his blue eyes staring at her, almost through her. Susannah gasped as her knees buckled, and she leaned against the back of the chair, hoping he hadn’t noticed. When she glanced back at him, she knew he had. She could see the amusement in his eyes once again.

She cleared her throat. “Sheriff Trudell–”

“I brought your horse back, Miss Clark.” He moved a step closer to her, crossing his arms. “I think maybe it’s time you explain to me what you were doing at the Jameses’ ranch this afternoon.”

BOOK: Heart So Sweet: Book 3 in the Great Plains Romance Series
2.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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