Authors: Cat Johnson
Lia rode in the limo next to her father and stared out the window at the rural scenery speeding by. Meeting with the Small Farmers Coalition at Gordon Equine was far preferable to some stuffy cocktail party. Best of all, although the senator was coming, his son wasn’t. Lia would gladly walk her three-hundred-dollar shoes through horse manure any day if it meant getting away from him.
The sun was shining. She was wearing a pantsuit instead of a dress that required a torturous strapless bra and stockings. All in all, it was a good day. It would have been a better day if her mother had agreed to come with them when Lia suggested the trip to the country might do her good. Of course, she’d said she wasn’t feeling up to the drive. It had become such habit for Lia to accompany her father, she feared her mother would never take her rightful place again.
Lia mentally reviewed her schedule for the next week. There would be three of the aforementioned stuffy cocktail parties this weekend alone. The most ridiculous thing was she had to control her heartbeat each and every time she walked into one. Even after six months, she’d search the waitstaff to see if James was among them.
It was crazy. She needed help. Although perhaps he needed the help. What guy could have the amazing kind of night they had together and not call afterward? She wasn’t expecting him to ask her out on a date or anything, but come on. Not even a midnight drunken booty call? Nothing, nada, zip. For six damn months.
The bigger question was why did it bother her so much? She’d worked that one over in many a therapy session. Her therapist thought it was because he had rejected her first before she had a chance to reject him and that it particularly bothered her since he was from a lower station in life.
She knew it was more likely she was obsessed with him because, unlike all the men who fawned over her, this one hadn’t taken any of her shit. He was a real man, not a spoiled rich boy. He knew his mind and treated her like an equal, not the governor’s daughter. After the initial shock that she wasn’t always going to get her way around James had worn off, she’d really liked that about him.
Her therapist also thought she’d slept with James as a rebellion against her father and the pressure he’d been putting on her regarding the senator’s son. The psychologist may be a little bit right about that. Amelia nearly laughed out loud in the limo when she considered what her father would say if she ever brought James home.
Hello, father. I’d like you to meet my new boyfriend the waiter. I’m going to marry him and have his babies and they will likely all grow up to be waiters too.
Marry him. Sure. She hadn’t even made enough of an impression for him to call her. But boy, had he made an impression on her. He knew how to please a woman, at least this woman. Every inch of her. All night long until morning when he had to rush off to an early meeting with his boss.
Wait… Early meeting? What kind of early meetings did waiters have? That was just an excuse to get out of there and she’d been too blinded from the sex haze he’d left her in to see it then. That was a demoralizing thought. What was laughable was she had actually hesitated before inviting him to the hotel because she was worried he’d fall in love with her and become a stalker or something. Humph. He probably slept with a different woman at every party he worked. No wonder he was so well-stocked with condoms. He probably bought them by the case.
Lia shook her head at her own foolishness. Six damn months and he was still on her mind and it still killed her he hadn’t called. She definitely needed help, or maybe some sex. But the only man she’d even gone to dinner with lately was the senator’s son, at her father’s insistence. No way was she going to encourage him with anything more than just a casual dinner and a peck on the cheek or she’d find herself married. That was not going to happen. John III held zero appeal for her, as a lifemate or a bedmate.
The limo pulled down a charming magnolia-lined drive and up to a white farmhouse that, in typical southern tradition, had Tara-like columns in front. The car came to a stop and the driver opened Lia’s door. She stepped out into the sunlight, slipping her sunglasses on to shield her eyes from the glare. At least today’s event would be a distraction from her pitiful love life.
The scent of jasmine wafted to Lia’s nose. She breathed in deep, perhaps for the first time in a long time. Running in the rat race in the city wasn’t really conducive to breathing deeply. Not with the car fumes and all.
It was beautiful here and peaceful. Besides, she’d always wanted her own horse. Maybe she’d move to the country. That would really give her father heart failure. How could he play matchmaker with her so far away? It was a nice dream, but it was expected that a dutiful Southern daughter did what was best for her family. She couldn’t fight tradition, though she might have tried if things had turned out differently… Lia pushed the pointless thoughts of James out of her mind. One day a man would sweep her off her feet and she’d forget all about her night with James. Hopefully, that day would come soon.
Jimmy stood in the shade of the barn, chewing on a piece of hay and watching the limos and trucks pull up. What a joke. As if a politician who arrived in a chauffeur-driven limousine could really understand the views of a farmer who drove himself in a pickup truck hauling a horse trailer. Yeah, good luck to Jared with this little powwow.
Jack stood next to him, acting like he was incognito with his straw cowboy hat pulled low on his forehead. He needn’t have worried. So far the press only had eyes, or rather camera lenses, for the politicians. To them, Jimmy and Jack were just two farmhands loafing around when they should probably be busy mucking stalls instead.
Of course, a few of the farmers they’d grown up knowing had come over to welcome them home. But everyone went rushing back to the meeting tables set up under the big trees by the house when the politicians arrived.
“Mama’s been baking for two days straight. I tried to cut into one of her pies and got my butt smacked with a wooden spoon over it. I had memories of being ten again, when I cut into the pie before Christmas dinner the year Grandma and Grandpa Gordon were coming.” Jack shook his head slowly as he reminisced.
Jimmy laughed. “You think you would have learned not to touch Mama’s pies after that time. If I remember correctly, you couldn’t sit for two days that Christmas.”
Jack rubbed his butt with the memory. “I learned. I just thought that when I turned thirty Mama couldn’t smack me anymore.”
“Well then, boy, you still have a lot left to learn. Mama can smack you no matter how old you are.”
Jack rolled his eyes beneath the brim of his cowboy hat. “I never thought I’d say this, but going back to the commander will be an improvement over living with Mama for two weeks.”
Jimmy snorted. “How do you think I feel? I’ve been here a hell of a lot longer than you. When I first got out of the hospital, she wouldn’t even let me go to the toilet. She tried to make me use a bedpan. She was going to help me do it too. How would you like to be thirty-four and have your mama helping you take a piss or a dump?”
“All right, you win with the worst ‘living with Mama’ story. It will be good to get back to the base for both of us.”
“Amen.” Jimmy agreed wholeheartedly on that one.
“Ooo, eee. Look at the hot number getting out of that limo. I never had me a redhead.”
Jimmy looked at his brother in shock. “You’ve got yourself a pretty hot brunette. What the hell, Jack?”
Jack frowned. “Oh, don’t get your panties in a bunch. I’m only looking. Nicki’s the only girl I want. I’m just saying, I wonder if they’re, you know, red all over.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
A horrible and wonderful image flashed through Jimmy’s mind of a Brazilian bikini wax punctuated by a triangle of red curls that he’d never see again. “They are.”
Jack opened his eyes wide. “Whoa. Tell me everything.”
“No.” Then he turned away to make sure Jack knew he wasn’t going to kiss and tell.
That’s when Jimmy saw her and nearly choked on the piece of straw he’d been chewing on. Next to the limo stood the woman his brother, Jack, had been ogling. His redhead. Lia. His throat felt so dry he didn’t think he’d ever be able to swallow again. His pulse pounded so loudly he wouldn’t be surprised if Jack heard it.
Even though Jimmy’s world had suddenly stopped dead at the sight of Lia, the rest of the universe kept on going. At that point, everyone who was expected must have arrived, because Jared walked up to the podium and began speaking into the microphone he’d borrowed from the Rotary Club. Jimmy had no idea what his brother was saying. He only had eyes for Lia, who was escorted by the same VIP she’d been with at the party. Was she his press secretary or something? The thought that Lia could have been dating some older-than-dirt politician at the same time she’d had amazing sex with him made Jimmy ill.
Jared announced the names of a whole bunch of people Jimmy had no interest in. Finally, Jared got to the old guy and Lia and introduced them as Governor Carrington and—holy shit—his lovely daughter, Amelia.
“Hey, doesn’t the hot redhead look kinda familiar? Where have I seen her before?” Jack was staring at the podium too. When Jimmy didn’t answer, he turned to him. “Jimmy. Hey, you all right?”
Not trusting his voice, Jimmy nodded as his brother continued to frown at him until recognition set in and Jack’s eyes bulged out of his head. “The redhead at that party. The night you went AWOL to get laid at the Hilton. Holy crap, Jimmy. You had sex with the governor’s daughter?”
“Shhh.” Jimmy hissed and glanced around to see if any of the farmhands were near enough to hear them. “And how the hell do you know about where I was that night? Goddamn gossiping Matt.”
“Don’t blame Matt. He’s usually a vault when it comes to this kind of stuff. But I know the combination to the vault. Bourbon.” Jack was smiling now. “So
how you know redheads are red all over.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Did you know whose daughter she was when you were ah, you know?”
“No.” Jimmy ran his hands over his face. This was a mess. Of all the many, many times he imagined seeing Lia again, it was never like this.
Jack snorted. “Like knowing would have stopped you. Who are you kidding? Look at her. She could have been the devil’s own daughter and you still would have done it.”
Jimmy certainly wasn’t kidding himself about it. Jack was right. He wouldn’t have cared who she was at that point. In fact, it probably would have made it even more exciting since he had no love of the current administration. The question was what the hell was he going to do now? Hiding came to mind. So did grabbing her behind the big-ass limo parked by the house and kissing the hell out of her.
He’d have to make up his mind between the two somehow and soon, because it appeared as if Jared was about to give the entire group a tour of the barns, and walking next to his brother was none other than Amelia Monroe-Carrington herself.
Lia walked toward one of the horse barns for the grand tour alongside Jared Gordon, heir apparent of Gordon Equine. He was handsome, polite and he lived and breathed horses. She could tell that about him already. Although, after a few long boring dinners with the senator’s son where he talked of nothing but his political aspirations, horses would be a nice change of topic.
She glanced sideways at the young Mr. Gordon. Too bad when she pictured getting hot and sweaty with a man, it was always James who came to mind. Hmm. Come to think of it, this guy reminded her a bit of James. Same warm brown hair with golden highlights. Same hazel eyes swirled with flecks of gold and green. Same drawl in his speech. But the one big dissimilarity, the deal-breaker, was the fact that when she looked at Jared, her heart didn’t pump until she felt dizzy. Not like it did when she’d seen James standing in the hallway in front of the elevator that led to the presidential suite that night so many months ago. She sighed at the memory.
How pitiful was she? In fact, it was all she could do to prevent herself from searching through her old cell-phone bills online to try to find James’s phone number so she could call him. Did they even list incoming numbers on there? Maybe she should check.
Amelia Monroe-Carrington, calling a man. This must be what happened when a woman turned thirty. What was that statistic? Something like a woman was more likely to get hit by a truck than married after the age of thirty? Humph. She could get married tomorrow if she wanted to, but thinking about who the candidate was, she’d rather get hit by a truck.
Jared was now explaining something about his philosophies regarding natural breeding versus artificial insemination, all of which were going right over her head. Lia smiled and nodded politely, a skill she’d perfected young. She was doing a good job of pretending she knew what he was talking about until she glanced up and spotted a man who literally knocked her right off her designer pumps.
Just as she was about to take a header in the dirt, James treated her to the crooked smile she remembered so well from that night and caught her by both arms. “Careful there, darlin’.”
“You all right?” Jared was right next to her in an instant. She managed to nod a response to his question as she began to tremble simply from being in James’s presence again. Lia stared up at him for what seemed like an eternity as Jared continued. “Miss Carrington. This is my oldest brother, Jimmy, and my second oldest brother, Jack.”
Jared made the introductions that delivered the second shock of the day. James was a Gordon as in Gordon Equine? She finally managed to break her gaze from
face to discover the man next to him, the one under the big cowboy hat, was actually the cleavage-gazing bartender from the party where she’d met James…uh…Jimmy.
She looked back to Jimmy. Gathering her composure, she straightened her spine and extended her hand. “A pleasure to meet you.” Her voice may have been cordial, but she sincerely hoped her narrowed eyes said what she was really thinking. That being, what the hell were two successful horse breeders doing playing at being waitstaff miles away and why hadn’t James…or rather Jimmy, called her?
“We’re going to take a tour of the breeding barns. You two want to tag along?” Jared invited his brothers, not knowing what their mere presence was doing to her. Torn between wanting to never let him out of her sight again and wanting to be as far away from him as she could get, Lia waited.
“It would be my pleasure.” Jimmy smiled, which seemed to be the default expression for him, his gaze never leaving her face. He extended his bent arm to her. “Miss Amelia?”
Lia swallowed and placed her hand in the crook of his warm, muscular arm. She only nodded. At the moment, she wasn’t sure her voice would function.
The group moved on and Jimmy made a show of following, but it wasn’t long before she found herself pulled off into a deserted part of the barn.
Alone together, he grabbed her face with both hands and kissed her. To her horror, she responded by kissing him back until she was breathless. She enjoyed it until the relief over seeing him again was replaced with the anger and hurt she’d been harboring for six months.
She pulled away and swatted at his arm with her hand. “You stop that. I’m mad at you. Why didn’t you call me? You bastard.”
Oh, well, so much for acting cool and aloof.
A fly probably would have bothered him more than her smacking had. All he did was capture both of her hands easily in his and kiss them, one by one.
Smirking, he tilted his head to one side. “Ah, darlin’, I wanted to. Believe me. I hate to say it, but we both know what that night together was. You’re the governor’s daughter. If I had called, you probably would have changed your phone number and gotten a restraining order.”
Lia disengaged herself from his grasp and folded her arms. “That’s not true.” If it were, he’d never have been able to inflict six months of torture on her. “You don’t know me at all.”
Jimmy stepped in closer and pinned her between him and a wall of stacked hay bales. He leaned down, put his hands lightly on her waist and kissed his way lightly down her neck.
“Sure I know you. I know the cute little way you snore when you fall asleep after making love. I know you have a tiny tattoo of a heart on your right ass cheek, and now that I’m aware of who you are, I’m pretty sure Daddy knows nothing about.” His voice dipped lower and if possible, got even sexier. “I know exactly how to touch you to make you come.”
Her insides rebelled against her and twisted with need, with want, for him. “Okay. Enough. I get it.”
He smiled wickedly. “You’re right, darlin’. Less talking, more kissing.”
With that, he dropped his head low and she let him kiss her again.
Who was she kidding? She loved him kissing her. There was no letting about it. It wasn’t as if she was an unwilling participant. Running her hands up under his shirt, she remembered exactly how good it felt to touch him. She couldn’t stop the sound of pleasure that escaped her.
This kiss had affected him too. He groaned and pressed closer against her. She felt the bulge in his jeans and the need inside her grew.
“Oh, darlin’. You have no idea how good you feel.”
As charming as this country setting was, she wished they were back at the Hilton on that big bed. She braced her hands against his chest, hoping to hold back both her desire and the advance of his head toward hers. “We can’t do this here.”
“Not true at all.
in this very hay room is where I lost my virginity, darlin’,” Jimmy’s casually delivered revelation left Lia insanely jealous of whoever that lucky girl was, even though she was probably fat and married with a minivan full of snot-nosed kids by now.
The sound of voices got louder as the group began moving back toward their hiding place. Jimmy dropped one last kiss on her lips and released her. “You better get back.”
She nodded but wasn’t convinced her legs would work to get her back to where she was supposed to be.
Luckily, he wasn’t ready to release her yet anyway. His hand curled around the back of her neck. “When can I see you again?”
Unable to believe what she was about to say, Lia couldn’t stop her laugh. “Call me.”
He treated her to a dimple-filled grin. “Don’t worry, darlin’. This time I will.”
Leaving him and his oh-so-tempting, hard-all-over body by the bales of hay, Lia moved to the doorway and waited, then slipped in behind the rear of the group unnoticed. Unnoticed that is, by everyone except for the other mysterious Gordon brother, Jack, who winked at her with the same crooked smile Jimmy wore so often.
Ignoring Jack, she tried not to appear too self-conscious as she ran a finger around the edge of her probably smeared lipstick. Lipstick she could fix, but there was nothing she could do about the blush that crept into her cheeks or the Gordon man who’d crept into her heart.
The phone in her purse vibrated. She hung back behind the other visitors and flipped it open. “Hello?”
“Hey, darlin’. See, I’m calling.”
She laughed, feeling like a teenager again. He’d kept her phone number all this time. Somehow, that made up for the fact he hadn’t called before. “Yes, so I see. Thank you. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Count on it.”
Jimmy ended the call on his cell phone just as he saw Jack saunter into the room.
“Well, well, well. You might want to wipe that lipstick off before you go have pie with the governor, big brother.”
Jimmy scowled and wiped at his mouth. A man couldn’t even find any privacy in the hay room anymore. But come to think of it, Jack had walked in on some pretty sticky situations a few times in their teen years too. At least Jimmy was alone for this unwelcome interruption. He thought about how he hadn’t been alone just a minute ago and smiled. It seemed the doc had been right. His dick wasn’t broken after all. It just needed the right motivation. Lia sure filled that bill. He resisted the urge to adjust himself in his jeans until he was alone.
Jack shook his head. “You got it bad.”
Jimmy didn’t answer, but instead wiped one last time at his mouth to make sure there was no more lipstick.
“Let’s go get some pie, little brother.” He couldn’t wait to be near Lia again, even if they had to pretend in front of the others that they hadn’t spent one hell of a night six months ago getting to know one another in the carnal manner.
“Uh huh. Pie. Is that what you’re calling it nowadays?”
That smart-ass remark earned Jack a punch in the arm as Jimmy tried to wipe the I-just-made-out-with-your-daughter-in-the-barn smile off his face before he had to sit down with the governor.
The press had taken all their shots and left so Jimmy didn’t worry when he, Jack and Jared, being the three Gordon men, were seated at the same table as Governor Carrington, Lia and, as much as he dreaded it, Senator Dickson. He’d been referred to on base not so affectionately as Dickhead ever since he tried to shut them down in the name of budget cuts. Asshole.
Jimmy tried to keep his mind on Lia and stay in his happy place so he wouldn’t beat the senator to a pulp when the dick brought up the subject of the state budget over pie.
“I have to stick to my assertion that if we could cut money from the defense budget, this administration would have the funds to support small farmers like yourselves,” Dickhead spouted.
Jimmy felt his face getting hot. He glanced over to find Jack clenching a fork in his fist so tightly his knuckles were getting white.
“I have to disagree with you, Senator.” The comment from Lia had Jimmy’s ears perking up as he turned in his chair to hear what she had to say. She laid down her fork and continued. “Unfortunately, I don’t think the sympathies of the general voting public and certainly not of the large corporations or lobbyists lie with America’s small farmers. Given that, the Senate will never allocate funds for them no matter how much is cut from the defense budget. You know as well as I, it doesn’t work that way. You can’t shuffle money from one budget line directly to that of another.”
Her speech had Jimmy’s heart swelling with pride. Actually, after seeing her put the senator in his place, other parts of him were starting to swell too. He always had found intelligence in a woman really hot.
The senator blanched at Lia’s remarks, but being a scumbag politician he managed to pull himself together quickly. He pasted a phony smile on his lying face. “What a charming naiveté you display, my dear. I’m sure once you and my son are married, you’ll become more familiar with the complex inner workings of politics. Though I hope you’ll be too busy giving me grandchildren instead.”
Jimmy was barely aware of Jack choking on his iced tea next to him. He was too busy trying to not lose his own pie all over the table after what the senator had just said. He looked at Lia, vainly hoping for her to deny what Dickhead had said. How could she have kissed him like that in the hay room and then told him to call her if she was engaged to the senator’s son?
Her face turned bright red as she glanced quickly at him then back to her future father-in-law.
Jimmy’s brain nearly exploded at that thought.
“Senator, I must remind you—” Lia began, but was cut off by her father the governor.
“Amelia, dear. We’re not here to discuss the defense budget. Mr. Gordon, perhaps we should begin the agenda for our discussions so these very busy farmers can get back to their business.”
Enough of this crap. This farmer was leaving now. Jimmy stood. “I’ll let y’all get to your meeting. Governor. Senator.” He nodded and strode as fast as he could away from the woman he apparently was never destined to have in his life.
He heard footsteps and suddenly Jack was beside him, grabbing his arm as he strode toward the kitchen door of the house. “Jimmy.”
Jimmy shook off his brother’s hand. “Stay away from me, Jack.”
Jack was smart enough to back off, but Jimmy’s torture was not over yet. He’d barely gotten upstairs to his room when his cell phone rang. He looked at the display and recognized Lia’s number. She must have gotten his off her list of incoming calls. He dropped the phone on the bed, unanswered.