anville, Texas, was a blip on the highway southwest of the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex. Small, picturesque, slow-paced. That’s why Julia Woods decided it would be the perfect place to settle.
It hadn’t been easy for her to decide to leave the home she’d always known in Northern California. She’d lived her entire life among the Sierra Nevada mountains. But the last incident left her no choice. The pain had been too severe to ever experience again. She needed a fresh start someplace far away from horrible memories.
Now, she sat in a booth at Burger King in Lanville, ready to begin the next chapter of her life.
Munching on a French fry, Julia studied the directions Dolly Mabery had e-mailed on how to get to her place. Dolly and Julia’s mother, Cathy, had gone to college together and remained friends for the past thirty-plus years. Dolly had offered Julia a job at her bar to help her until she decided exactly what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
While thankful to Dolly for her generous offer, Julia had waitressed in her early college days at a diner that hadn’t exactly been at the top of the food critics’ must-go-to list, and hadn’t liked it. The tips could be very generous, yet Julia had quickly grown tired of men’s groping hands and sexist remarks about her big breasts. She’d heard them called every slang term ever created to describe that part of the female anatomy, from balloons to cantaloupes to tatas.
Some men could be such jerks.
Besides, she didn’t think she could stand on her feet for long periods of time now, not with her bum knee, so she had turned down Dolly’s offer.
Masculine laughter at the main doors had Julia raising her head to see who entered the fast-food place. Four men sauntered in, all of them wearing jeans and dark blue T-shirts with a gold-and-red logo over their left pectorals. Two had dark hair, two blond, and all four possessed amazing good looks. The blonds had to be brothers, possibly twins since they favored so much, and appeared to be in their mid-twenties. Cute, but nothing to make her heart beat faster. One of the brunettes looked to be in his early forties. Very good looking, but again he did nothing for her.
The other brunette . . .
She guessed him to be twenty-six or twenty-seven. He stood at least six feet tall with wide shoulders and a muscled body. Olive skin gave him the appearance of a year-round tan. A couple of days’ worth of stubble covered his lower face. His thick mane of dark brown hair fell over his forehead, ears, and nape in waves that would wrap around a woman’s fingers. Julia could easily imagine her fingers in his hair while his full, shapely lips moved over hers in a ravenous kiss.
Mmm, nice thought.
But one she knew wouldn’t come true. She had no intention of dating for a long, long time, much less getting involved with anyone.
That didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy the scenery.
The man she had momentarily drooled over let the other three step up to the counter before him. He turned his back to her as he studied the menu, giving her an excellent view of the way his jeans molded to his ass. Such a nice ass, with just the right amount of fullness so a woman could grip it while he slid his cock into her pussy.
The bite of French fry stuck in her throat. Julia picked up her cup of iced tea to wash it down, but she’d already drunk all of it. She could get a refill, except the beverage dispensers sat right by the counter where the four men stood. She’d be within a few feet of them if she refilled her cup.
So? You’re a big girl. You can ignore them.
The decision made, Julia rose from the booth and headed for the dispensers. She refilled her cup with tea, chose another lemon slice, and dropped it into her beverage. Taking a sip, she turned to go back to her booth.
And looked directly into a pair of eyes the color of aged cognac.
She froze in place. Her throat closed, which kept her from choking on her tea. She watched the hunky brunette’s gaze dip down her body to her hips before making the return journey to her face. A slow smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
“Stephen, you’re up,” the older man said.
“ ’K.” He winked at her, then stepped to the counter.
The temperature in the room shot up at least twenty degrees. Julia stopped herself before she fanned her face. She had no idea how a simple wink could drive up her blood pressure.
She turned and made her way back to her booth. It didn’t surprise her to feel that pull, that awareness, toward the handsome man. She’d left Cole’s bed a month before she made the decision to leave California. After a very healthy sex life, weeks of abstinence had her thinking of cool sheets and hot skin.
Shaking off the thought of sex—or lack of sex—Julia concentrated on what she needed to do. A job came before anything else. Dolly had warned her that finding a job in Lanville wouldn’t be easy. The small-town businesses tended to keep their employees for years instead of having a quick turnover. At least Julia didn’t have to search for a place to live right away, since Dolly had offered her guest room for as long as Julia needed it.
An online search had garnered some ideas of places to apply for work. The Inn on Crystal Creek occupied the spot at the top of her list. Although she hadn’t found an ad listing open positions, Julia hoped there would be something available in housekeeping. It would be physical work with a lot of standing, yet she enjoyed cleaning and might be able to take more rest breaks than if she waitressed.
Gathering her personal items and the tray with her lunch trash, Julia rose and headed for the exit. She had to pass the table where the four men sat. They all gave her a quick glance and she returned their attention with a small smile. She emptied her tray in the trash and turned toward the door. Before she pushed it open, she glanced over her shoulder at the table of men. The sexy brunette stared at her with interest in his eyes.
Julia held his gaze a few seconds longer before she managed to look away from him and leave.
“Damn,” Kory said, “did you see the centerfold tits on that blonde?”
Stephen McGettis most certainly had. He’d noticed everything about the beautiful woman—the short, blond hair that curled over her head, her heart-shaped face, her huge blue eyes. Her full breasts, rounded hips, and perfect ass almost cried out for a man’s hands to caress and fondle.
He looked across the table at the Wilcox twins. Kory always said exactly what popped into his head, which sometimes got him in a lot of trouble. Kirk had more control, more finesse. He wouldn’t describe the beautiful breasts on a woman as tits. Neither would Stephen. He believed a woman’s body should be worshipped, treasured.
He wouldn’t mind spending about three days worshipping that woman’s body.
“You should watch your mouth,” Luis Galendez said, pointing a finger at the younger man.
“What did I do?” Kory asked, confusion obvious in his voice.
“You need to be more respectful of women.”
Kory spread his arms wide. “Hey, I
“They don’t love you back, bro,” Kirk said. “Maybe they would if you grew up.”
“What is this, pick on Kory day?” he asked with a frown. “And you’re the same age I am.”
“I’m just sayin’ there’s a reason why the women around here turn you down when you ask them out.”
Kory’s lips thinned and a red flush colored his face as he glared at his brother. “You aren’t exactly burning up the sheets,
“I burn ’em more often than
Stephen bit back a grin. He looked at Luis seated to his right. The older man’s eyes gleamed with laughter. The twins could be very entertaining. “Okay, I think we can all safely say none of us have been successful in the sex department lately.”
“Speak for yourself,” Luis said with a grin.
Stephen chuckled. “Okay, I’ll rephrase my statement. None of us
have been successful in the sex department lately.”
“Not without lack of trying,” Kory mumbled.
“Yeah,” Kirk added. “Celibacy sucks.”
The call of his order number kept Stephen from responding, although he agreed with the Wilcoxes. It had been at least two months since he’d experienced the feel of a woman’s soft body next to his, the slide of his hard dick into her wet pussy. Yeah, almost two months to the day since he’d fucked one of the gals in his skydiving class. The sensation of flying through the air had only been eclipsed by the incredible sex after the jump. Sex after an adrenaline rush always seemed hotter, more intense.
He wondered if the blonde who had recently left had ever parachuted from a plane.
Picking up the tray holding his Whopper and fries, Stephen made his way back to the table. He had to forget all about the beautiful woman who had stolen his breath when he looked into her blue eyes. More than likely, she’d stopped long enough to eat on her way through Lanville and had already left the city limits. He’d never see her again.
Julia looked around the welcoming sitting area at The Inn on Crystal Creek. Cushy chairs arranged by the rock fireplace made the room appear cozy and homey. The room’s furnishings combined a touch of yesterday with a bit of the present. If the rest of the bed-and-breakfast gave her the same comfortable feeling, it would be a pleasure to work here.
she got the job.
She stood as a lovely, slim woman approached. “Julia?”
The woman smiled and offered her hand to shake. “Hi, I’m Kelcey Ewing, the manager. Thanks for waiting. Let’s go to my office where we’ll have some privacy.”
Julia followed Kelcey past the check-in counter and down a short hallway. She inhaled deeply of the scent of chocolate and vanilla wafting from the kitchen.
“Our chef is baking cookies,” Kelcey said. “I made her promise she’d bring some to us as soon as they come out of the oven.” She motioned to a chair at the side of her desk. “Please sit down.”
Julia did as suggested and set her large purse on the floor between the chair and desk. She saw her résumé and application lying on Kelcey’s desk, so she knew the manager had already read them.
“Would you like something to drink, Julia?” Kelcey asked.
“No, thanks. I’m fine.”
Picking up the paperwork from her desk, Kelcey swiveled her chair to face Julia. “You worked for the U.S. Forest Service in California?”
“Yes. I worked part-time while going to college, then went to full-time five years ago when I graduated.”
“So you lived in Northern California all your life?”
“Yes, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, east of Sacramento.”
Kelcey glanced at the résumé again before returning her gaze to Julia. “That’s the only job you’ve ever had?”
“The only major job. I waitressed for a while in college, but that didn’t last long.” Julia stopped herself before she bit her bottom lip. She’d been worried her lack of experience would be a hindrance in finding a new position.
“Why did you leave?”
Thinking about leaving the job she’d loved so much made her stomach churn, but she had to be honest with a potential employer. She decided it would be easier to give a simple explanation that another woman could understand. “Man trouble.”
“That explains a lot. I doubt if there’s a woman anywhere in the world who hasn’t had man trouble.” Kelcey tilted her head. “It must have been really bad for you to move halfway across the country.”
Without warning, a huge lump formed in Julia’s throat . . . the first sign that tears would fall soon. She blinked quickly to hold them back. She couldn’t break down in front of the manager. Kelcey would show her to the door with a polite don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you and a pat on the shoulder. “Things got . . . intense between us,” she managed to get out past the lump.
Julia thought she saw sympathy flash through Kelcey’s eyes. She didn’t want pity, she wanted a job.
“It takes a lot of courage to move away from home, and even more courage to move to a completely different state.” Kelcey laid the paperwork on her desk. “A housekeeping position doesn’t pay much. There are benefits, such as all the cookies you can eat, but not a huge salary. Surely you could find a position similar to what you did in California. Isn’t the U.S. Forest Service nationwide?”
“It is, but I . . .” Julia stopped. She didn’t know how much to tell Kelcey, or how much she
to tell Kelcey. The wound still festered deep inside. She couldn’t handle ripping it open again. “I need something different. I thought a new job should go along with my new place to live.”
“Do you already have a place to live in Lanville?”
Julia pointed to the personal references line on her résumé. “Dolly Mabery offered me her guest room until I can find a permanent place.”
“Is Dolly a friend?”
“Of my mother’s. They went to college together. I’ve never met her in person, but I’ve spoken on the phone with her dozens of times.”
A sinking feeling formed in the pit of Julia’s stomach at the realization that Kelcey probably wouldn’t hire her. Desperation gave Julia the strength to plead her case. “You can check with my former boss. She’ll tell you I’m dependable and honest and a hard worker. I’m a little anal about order and like to clean. I’ll take day shifts, night shifts, weekends . . . wherever you need me. I promise I’ll do a good job for you.”
Great. Why don’t I get on my knees, as long as I’m begging? Kelcey probably thinks I’m a whiny weakling.
Kelcey studied Julia’s face for several seconds. “Yes, I think you will.”
Julia blinked, not sure if she’d been given the job or not. “Does that mean I’m hired?”
“It means you’re hired.” Kelcey smiled. “How soon can you start?”
Eager to make a good impression, Julia said, “Today. Right now.”