Tonight had been a bust. I didn’t f**k drunken innocents who I couldn’t walk away from the next morning. As good as Becca Lynn had felt all nice and wet, I hadn’t been able to go through with it. Her vomiting had helped make this decision much easier because at one point I’d been real close to forgetting how annoying it could be to have a pesky female who wouldn’t go away.
I stepped out of my jeans and pulled back the covers so I could crawl in my bed. The sheets weren’t bad. I had expected cheap sheets since this was a barn but they were nice. Soft. I closed my eyes and let myself imagine Eva putting the sheets on the bed for me. Her hands would be soft or maybe she’d have calluses. She did all the housework and she cooked. Wait. I hadn’t seen a mom yet. Eva had been the only woman I’d seen in that house. Had her mom died? Or just skipped out on her? Her dad loved her. That was obvious.
My phone rang and I reached for it. Low’s number once again lit up the screen.
“Hey, my favorite girl,” I said by way of a greeting.
“Hey, how are things?” Low replied. I could hear the smile in her voice.
“Hot and the cows are scarier than I imagined but my tiny bed has some really nice sheets.”
“What about the girl?”
Leave it to Low not to beat around the bush. “I’m pretty sure she hates me now more than she did when she first met me.”
“Why? What have you done to her?”
“I haven’t done a damn thing to her. I did threaten her fiancé and rough him up a bit. Nothing serious. But the douche was talking about another girl’s tits in front of Eva. It was disrespectful.”
Low was silent a minute. I knew she was processing this and trying to figure out how to fix my problem.
“So, she’s engaged?” was her response.
“Yeah, she is and the guy isn’t a good match for her. I like him but they just don’t fit, you know?”
“Hmmm… I guess. But they’re engaged, Cage. That makes her off limits. “
I could hear the concern in her voice. “I wasn’t going to go there anyway, Low. She’s off limits for many reasons. For starters, her dad would fire me on the spot and I’d lose my scholarship.”
“Okay. Well, I miss you. I’m going to be there bright and early Sunday morning to get you. Marcus is going to give us time alone for the first part of the day. Then I’ll drop you at your apartment and let you catch up with everyone. Marcus will have to drive you back that evening though because we’re keeping Larissa this weekend and I’ll have been away from her most of that day. Besides, as much as Marcus loves Larissa, he’ll need a break from her.”
“Thanks, Low. I look forward to seeing you. Only four more days to go before my reprieve from hell.”
She laughed and we said our goodbyes.
Two days later. No sign of Becca Lynn and very few glimpses of Eva. The heat was getting worse and Jeremy wasn’t around to help anymore. He was back at his farm working and I was left to figure the rest out on my own.
A cold thermos of water magically stayed full and an icy cold towel appeared a couple times a day. They always showed up on the tailgate of the farm truck I used during the day. My back was always turned or I’d gone off to piss. Was she watching me from inside? How did she know when my back was turned? Damned if the idea of her watching me from inside didn’t make me smile.
I pulled my sweat-soaked shirt over my head and threw it in the back of the truck. Squirting some of the cold water over my chest and down my back, I tried to keep the smirk off my face. If she was watching I was giving her a helluva show. I grabbed the ice towel and headed for the shade. I had to go fix the fence in a few places that Wilson had pointed out but I needed to cool down a bit first.
Leaning against the tree, I took another swig of water and wrapped the ice towel around my neck. The breeze was nicer when the scorching sun wasn’t bearing down on you.
“What did you do to Becca Lynn?”
Snapping my head up from its resting place against the tree, I took in the first real sight of Eva I’d had since the night at the lake. Her long brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She was wearing a short white cotton sundress and a pair of flip-flops. She was also trying really hard to look stern. She wasn’t upset with me. She was just being nosy. I liked that.
“Good morning to you too Eva,” I replied, unable to keep from smiling.
She tilted her head to one side and continued to force that frown. I’d seen the real thing. This was not the real “angry Eva” face. “Becca Lynn hasn’t come around in two days. That isn’t normal. Especially since she was so hot after you. So, what did you do to her?”
“I believe it’s what I didn’t do to her.” I took a slow swig of my water but I didn’t take my eyes off her as she let my words sink in.
Shifting her feet she put her hands on her hips. “What does that mean?”
“It means exactly what it sounds like. I didn’t do her. I’m guessing that’s the problem.”
Eva’s fake scowl disappeared and she was frowning. “But I saw you both nak*d at the…” she trailed off and her eyes grew wider. Two pink splotches covered her cheeks. Eva Brooks had come back to the lake the other night. She’d seen me nak*d. Yeah, I was going to have to spend a lot of f**king time in the shower now. The image of her sneaking around to see me nak*d was just hot.
“Did Eva Brooks come back to the lake and get an eyeful?” I teased.
I was sure she’d spin around and run off but she didn’t.
“I didn’t mean to see anything. I was coming back to talk to you about… I was just…” she couldn’t say it. I needed her to finish that thought. She was coming to talk to me? Why?
“I was pretty sure you were ready to run me over with your truck that night.
Why would you have come back to talk to me?”
Eva twisted her hands nervously. I’d never seen her act nervous before. “It’s about Jeremy and me,” she began. I waited hoping she was going to shed some light on their screwed-up relationship.
A movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. Grabbing Eva’s shoulders, I shoved her behind me and faced down the big ass cows standing a few feet away from us. They were out of the fence. How the f**k had they got out of the fence?
“What are you doing?” Eva squealed slapping at my back as I pinned her against the tree with my body. I wasn’t much of a barrier between her and the cows but at the moment this was the best idea I had.
“Stop hitting me!” I demanded. “And tell me how the hell I get these big ass motherfuckers back in the gate.”
Eva stopped slapping me only to shove me hard. “Oh for crying out-loud, Cage. They aren’t going to charge us.” She pushed her way out from behind me and shot me an amused smirk. “They aren’t bulls.”
Who the f**k cared if they were bulls are not? They were freaking huge.
Eva walked toward them without an ounce of fear and began hollering at them to go on. She stomped her feet causing them to back up and then they slowly began to move toward the fence that had been left open. She glanced back at me over her shoulder and rolled her eyes, “They’re ferocious beasts aren’t they?”
I was torn between feeling like an idiot and laughing at how damn cute she looked herding cattle.
Once she had the last one back in the fence she closed it and put the lock in place. “Might help if you lock them up next time,” she chirped in a playful tone.
“You’re enjoying this just a little too much,” I replied.
She shrugged her shoulders and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I gotta admit your gallantry at attempting to save me from the big bad mean cows was noble in a moronic sort of way.”
“Moronic, huh?” I liked seeing her playful and amused. So far, all I’d seen was the uptight version of Eva Brooks.
“You can’t be a very good cowhand if you’re scared of the cows.”
I let out a sigh, “Well, damn there went my future plans.”
What looked like the tugging’s of a smile played on her lips but vanished just as quickly. The playful glint in her eyes disappeared as well. What had I done to put her back in a bad mood? I liked the Eva I’d just gotten a glimpse of, not this sad snarky one that had reappeared.
“We’re not engaged. Jeremy and I are friends. Very good friends.”
Confused, I dropped my eyes to the ring on her left hand just to make sure I hadn’t imagined seeing it. The diamond was still there professing to the world that she was an engaged woman. Who the hell was she engaged to? The only guy I’d seen her with was Jeremy.
“You wear that ring for fun?” I asked jokingly in hopes of getting the fun Eva back but instead her face fell.
“No. I don’t wear it for fun. I’m not engaged to Jeremy. I’m engaged to his brother.”
I’m engaged to his brother? Why had I said it like I was still engaged to Josh? He was going to find out the truth. I’d darted away so fast that he couldn’t ask me any more questions but he would ask someone. Not that I thought he was really curious about me but because he was confused. I didn’t want him curious about Josh. I didn’t want him to know about everything that had happened.
I wanted him to still look at me with that appreciative sexy gleam in his eyes. The gleam I would continue to ignore. I liked having someone look at me with something other than sympathy. Once he knew, those sexy smirks and stripteases he did outside for my benefit would all end. He’d feel bad for poor Eva.
Until he’d shown up, I hadn’t realized that everyone looked at me differently. They were careful with me. Cage didn’t look at me like I was breakable. Ten months ago, I hadn’t been ready for someone to look at me differently. I’d wanted them to remember Josh when they saw me. Now I needed someone, anyone, to just see me. Not the tragedy. Just me.
Cage didn’t know my past. He didn’t know the pain I’d suffered. He didn’t measure every word he spoke to me and he didn’t hold back punches. He treated me like he did everyone else. With him, I felt normal again. It was about time I felt like a human again.
The screen door slammed behind me and I jumped.
“Damn Charles North thinks he can just go on up to my hunting camp whenever he damn well pleases with a bunch of banker friends of his,” Daddy grumbled as he walked into the kitchen.
Charles North was my mother’s sister’s husband. My mother had passed away when I was seven so I never really got to know her sister or her sister’s husband. All I did know was that my dad was not a fan. My Aunt Kim only ever called when she wanted something. She acted like Daddy owed her something because my momma was killed in a car accident. Daddy hadn’t been driving but that didn’t seem to make a difference to my aunt. She still blamed him.
“What happened?” I asked, reaching into the cabinet to get him a glass.
He took it from my hand and went about pouring himself some lemonade.
“Your Aunt Kim called and informed me that Charles would be going fishing up at the camp this weekend. He was bringing friends with him. No one asked me. They just took it upon themselves to make these plans. Well, I told Josiah that he could take Jeremy up to the camp this weekend and they could go fishing. I am not changing that.” Daddy shook his head and took a really long swig of the lemonade.
“You going up there?” I asked as he finished his drink and set it on the table in front of him.
“Yeah, got to. I’ll head out in the morning. Cage knows what to do out there and then he will be gone on Sunday. That’s his day off. He already told me he had a ride back to the beach for the day.”
Cage would be gone all day Sunday? I wouldn’t have to worry about him getting too hot outside so I should be relieved but I wasn’t. I didn’t want him to go. I’d be left alone out here all by myself.
“Okay,” I managed to reply.
“I’m gonna go into town and get some more barb wire for the fence. Damn bull keeps tearing up that piece of the fence down by the lake. Guess he wants out to take a swim,” Dad grumbled as he headed for the door.
I waited until I heard Daddy’s truck leave the drive before heading outside. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was doing. It was a spur of the moment decision. Cage had walked into the barn just a few minutes ago. I’d watched him from the kitchen window.
I headed to the barn.
Opening the door, I stepped inside and had to squint to see clearly. The only light streaming into the barn was from the cracks in the roof, so it was dark compared to the bright sunshine. The familiar smell of hay and wood hit me as I turned to see if Cage was still in here. I’d had my back to the window when Daddy had been in the kitchen so it was possible he’d left and I’d missed him.
“Looking for something?” Cage asked from behind me.
I turned around to face him and almost swallowed my tongue when my eyes met his nak*d chest. I’d admired it from afar but never up close. It was better up close.
“An engaged lady shouldn’t be looking at another man like she wants to take a lick.” The teasing tone in his voice told me he didn’t really mind my gawking at him at all. He was enjoying it.
“Who said I wanted to take a lick?” I replied, surprised at my own response. Was that flirting I had just done? I wasn’t sure I’d ever flirted.
Cage ran a hand through his hair and let out a short deep laugh. “Maybe we ought to change the subject.” Cage was nervous. Had my comment just made him nervous?
“You brought up the licking Cage, not me.” I waited to see how he’d react this time.
“Yeah, I guess I did,” he drawled and took a step toward me. Okay, so maybe I hadn’t made him nervous. Guys like Cage probably didn’t get nervous. “If you really want to talk about licking, I’ll happily oblige.”
Oh, my. Now, I was nervous. Cage reached out and took my left hand in his. The warmth from his callused palm made my entire body tingle. “Only problem with talking about licking with you is that it gives me ideas. I start thinking about things I shouldn’t be thinking about. Things that will only torment me ‘cause I’ll never know just how sweet you taste. I may be a lot of things Eva, might even be a few of them names you called me but I’m not gonna touch what belongs to another man.”
I opened my mouth to say something and stopped when Cage lifted my left hand to his mouth and kissed my ring finger. Then his tongue darted out and just barely skimmed the top of my hand. He grinned wickedly.
At some point, I’d stopped breathing. When my lungs started burning I took a deep breath and Cage let my hand fall back to my side. “Sorry, I had to take one small taste.” Then he winked at me and turned toward the door.
I stood silently as he walked back outside into the summer heat.