Today I’m featuring my cowboy series from Ellora’s Cave. These are three red-hot quickies–Spitfire, Rekindled and Inflamed. I sure do LOVE cowboys!
Here’s the first chapter from the first book, Spitfire.
“You promised, Jeb.”
“Aw Liv, you can’t hold me to that. I was drunk and—”
“Get the hell out, you asshole, and don’t come back! I’m tired of your fucking games.”
Rem grimaced as he stood on the front porch of his ranch house, the sounds of yelling coming through the screen door.
He saw Liv and Jeb going at it like gangbusters in the foyer. No doubt they’d failed to hear his truck pull up thanks to the battle they were waging. He stepped to the side so they couldn’t see him, trying to figure out what the hell they were arguing about.
“Goddammit, Liv,” Jeb shouted. “Can’t you at least hear me out?”
“Hear you out?” Liv moved forward and shoved her older brother. Rem fought back a grin as he caught sight of his little spitfire. She was a foot shorter than he and Jeb and as she moved, he was momentarily struck dumb by the sight of her firm, full breasts in the too-tight blouse she was wearing.
Christ, was she wearing a bra? How the woman could make blue jeans and simple shirts sexy as hell, he’d never know.
Jeb threw his arms up to defend himself as Rem watched silently. Her slight frame didn’t stop her from putting up one hell of a fight when they pissed her off. She may be small, but she was fierce. “Why the hell should I listen to you, Mr. Shit for Brains, when you never listen to me?”
Scowling at her coarse language, Rem reached for the door only to have it swing open roughly, nearly hitting him in the process.
“Fuck,” Liv said, jumping back. She clearly hadn’t seen him standing there and he’d startled her.
“We’re gonna have to have a long talk about this filthy language of yours, spitfire,” Rem said. “Don’t recall you having such a gutter mouth when my dad was around. Hope you don’t think I won’t hold you to the same expectations as my old man.”
Her tanned face—red with anger—darkened even further at his threat, and he was overwhelmed with the desire to see that same lovely flush covering other parts of her body. He shifted slightly to adjust his jeans, hiding the hard-on she’d produced just by looking at him with those beautiful doe eyes.
Then those same eyes narrowed and Rem shook his head. Damn girl had never practiced one ounce of self-preservation, and as she’d matured into a woman, it seemed that fact hadn’t changed.
“You home to stay?” she asked angrily.
He nodded solemnly and crossed his arms over his chest, waiting for her anger to turn on him. She wouldn’t be wrong to want to throw a bit of that fury his way. He’d stayed away too damn long and he wasn’t sure this homecoming would be well received.
“Hey, Rem,” Jeb said from behind the safety of the screen door. “We weren’t expecting you. You really coming back for good?”
Rem muttered a soft “yes” in response but his eyes never drifted from Liv’s face. He’d worried about her reaction to his return for weeks.
“’Bout time,” was all she said as she turned back to her brother. “I meant what I said, Jeb. You run off to that rodeo again and you can just stay away. I won’t spend one more minute of my life worryin’ about you. I’m done with that.”
“Dammit, Liv. Don’t leave it like that,” Jeb said, stepping out onto the porch.
Liv held up her hand to ward off the rest of his words before turning and walking away. She climbed into her pickup truck and pealed the tires as she drove off. Rem fought back the ingrained instinct that told him to go after her. She shouldn’t be driving when she was so angry but he knew chasing her down would only make her angrier.
“You’re going back to the circuit?” Rem asked as he turned to face the man who’d been more like a brother than a best friend for most of his life.
Jeb shrugged wearily.
“How the hell did you expect her to react, Jeb?” he asked. “She worries about you. Bull riders don’t exactly have long life expectancies.”
Jeb walked over to one of the rocking chairs and Rem moved to stand before him, leaning against the railing. “I knew she’d be pissed but dammit, Rem, I can’t give the rodeo up.”
Rem nodded. His friend had been bitten by the rodeo bug at eighteen and Rem knew no force on earth, short of death, would stop him from riding the circuit. Rem had taken off with Jeb after their high school graduation to try his hand at the rodeo as well, but three years of dust, bruises and battered pride had been more than enough for him. He’d quit, returning home for one brief summer before enlisting with the Marines.
Rem rubbed his eyes and tried to ward off the headache growing. “You were gonna leave her alone to run the ranch?” he asked, annoyed at the thought of Jeb leaving Liv on her own.
“Who the hell do you think’s been runnin’ it these last few months since Joe passed? I can’t stay here, Rem. I’ve been living like a zombie. Liv tells me what to do and I do it. I’m not a rancher.”
Rem had believed the same thing when he’d taken off to join the Marines. He thought he’d needed excitement and adventure to give his life meaning, a purpose. He’d thought a career in the military would make his father proud.
So much for that theory.
His old man was gone and their decade-long estrangement would remain an eternal one. He pushed back the regret and guilt that snuck in and attacked his insides when he least expected it. He’d come home to find peace of mind and a quiet life.
Oh Christ, who was he fooling? He’d come home for Liv.
He’d joined the rodeo at eighteen, only to come home at twenty-one to discover the girl next door had grown up. At seventeen, Liv was wild and reckless and so beautiful she made his gut ache. His father had seen the sparks flying between his son and his foster daughter and told him to get the hell out. He’d gotten out and limited his returns to only short visits for nearly a decade.
“I gotta go,” Jeb said quietly.
“So go,” Rem said. “You don’t need my permission.”
Jeb closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the chair. “I didn’t mean to upset her, Rem. You and Liv are the only family I’ve got.”
Jeb and Liv’s parents had owned the ranch next to the Bradley spread. When Mr. and Mrs. Carter were killed in a car accident, leaving their two children orphaned, Rem’s dad had stepped up and taken them in, raising them as his own. Jeb had been seventeen at the time, Liv only thirteen.
“Liv has a temper like a spark in a powder keg. You know that. Once she’s had some time to calm down, she’ll come around.” Even as he spoke the words, Rem wondered at the veracity of them. He’d never seen Liv so angry, so desolate.
Rem’s father, Joe, had died of a massive heart attack six months earlier. He’d come home briefly for the funeral before promptly returning to his unit. His father’s death had cut deeply and left him with a mountain of regret but he was home now, ready to take up the reins of his inheritance and to claim the girl he’d left behind.
“You really quit the Marines? For good?” Jeb asked.
“So now you wanna be a rancher?” his friend asked with disbelief. It wasn’t so long ago they’d both turned tail and run away from this place as fast and as far as their legs would carry them.
“Now I want to be a man my father could be proud of,” he said softly.
“Shit, you already were,” Jeb replied.
Rem shrugged and changed the subject. “When are you leaving?”
Jeb grinned guiltily. “Right now. I was hoping to sneak out while Liv was working in the barn. She caught me.”
Rem shook his head, grinning. “Christ. No wonder she was pissed.”
“I left her a note,” Jeb said defensively before laughing. “That woman is mean as a rattler when riled. No way in hell I was gonna volunteer for her abuse. I figured I had a fifty-fifty chance of making a clean getaway.”
“Yeah, well, I hope you have better luck on the circuit.”
“Amen, brother,” Jeb said, rising. “Guess I’ll shove off. Don’t wanna take a chance on her coming back before I leave. I don’t think I’m up for round two. You’ll look after her, won’t you, Rem?”
Rem knew his friend wouldn’t ask for such a favor if he knew the impure thoughts he’d been having with regards to Liv. He’d managed to fight back his attraction to her for years, keeping his distance from her during his short visits home, but seeing her at his father’s funeral had uncovered and kick-started a bunch of latent feelings he hadn’t realized were still there.
“I’ll take care of her,” he said quietly, praying he would be able to follow through on that promise. He had quite a bit of making up to do in regards to Liv Carter and, if her response to his return was any indication, she didn’t intend to make things easy on him.
* * * * *
“Where the hell is she?” Rem muttered to himself as he glanced out at the ever-darkening night. After Liv ran out of the house, he’d said goodbye to Jeb then moved back into his old room. He’d had lunch and dinner and was officially ready to crawl out of his skin with worry.
A knock on the office door pulled him away from the window as Bridget, the ranch cook, came in.
“Hey, Bridget,” he said. “Did Liv call?”
She shook her head. “No, and I have to admit I wouldn’t be worried if you weren’t here. Liv is a free spirit, always has been. When that girl gets mad, it can take her hours to blow off the steam.”
“I know I haven’t been around much, haven’t spent much time with Liv since she’s grown up,” Rem admitted. “I’m afraid in my mind she’s still somebody I need to look out for, take care of.”
Bridget chuckled. “Yeah, well. You can certainly try but I have a feeling you might suffer for it.”
Rem grinned. “Maybe things haven’t changed that much after all. Liv didn’t like being coddled as a little girl either. Always Miss Independent.”
“That she is.” Bridget’s smile faded. “I made some phone calls after supper. Like I said, your worryin’ seems to be infectious.”
“Did you find out where she is?” he asked.
“You’re not gonna like this. Promise me you won’t overreact.”
“Where is she?” he demanded.
“What?” he yelled. “Of all the dangerous, stupid—”
Bridget tried to calm him down. “Now don’t go gettin’ all riled, you know Stan will keep an eye on her.”
He grabbed his truck keys off the desk, heading for the front door.
“Don’t yell at her,” Bridget instructed as he strode across the porch.
He turned at her words. “Don’t yell at her?” he asked incredulously. “She’s gonna be lucky if I don’t take her across my knee and paddle her ass black and blue.”
Bridget shook her head as he opened the door to his truck and he clearly heard her yell, “Just so you know, that’s what I call overreacting.”
He slammed the door of the truck with so much force the whole cab shook. His blood pressure was skyrocketing at the thought of Liv hanging out in Stan’s Bar. To say the place made a Hells Angels meeting look inviting was an understatement. Stan catered to the toughest and meanest drunks the merciless heat of Texas could produce.
Clearly she’d been given free rein since his father’s passing, as it was painfully apparent neither Jeb nor Bridget had bothered to try to curb her reckless impulses. He’d have to cure her of the notion she could hang out in dangerous bars by herself. He had every intention of making sure the woman understood a little thing called common sense. His first lesson would involve convincing her that she should never set foot in Stan’s Bar alone again.
As he pulled into the crowded parking lot of the bar, he tried not to growl at the large number of Harleys parked there. The clientele at Stan’s hadn’t changed much in the decade he’d been away.
He opened the door to the bar and was immediately besieged by the thick, rancid smell of stale cigarette smoke, liquor and sweat. He took a second to allow his eyes to adjust to the hazy, dark atmosphere.
“Hey, Stan,” he said, making a beeline for the bar. Stan looked over at Rem with a grimace that he suspected was supposed to pass for a smile.
“’Bout time you got your fucking ass over here. She’s in the back,” Stan said, never removing the cigarette that dangled from the side of his lips.
“The back,” Rem said with disgust.
“I told her to stay up here where I could keep an eye on her, but somebody lit a fire inside her that I’m not about to touch.”
Rem fought back a grin at the idea of Stan actually being afraid of Liv. “Jeb went back to the rodeo.”
“Aw hell. Well, that explains it. You mind gettin’ her the fuck outta here? She’s back there with some rough customers, playing pool. Don’t know whether to be worried about her or them, but either way I don’t want my place gettin’ wrecked.”
Rem nodded, hoping he could drag Liv out peacefully but suspecting Stan had a right to be worried.
As he approached the back room, he was treated to a bird’s-eye view of Liv’s ass in tight denim jeans as she bent over the pool table to line up a shot. He had to fight back his growing arousal at the sight. Shit, the woman sure did know how to fill out a pair of Levi’s.
One tough-looking customer in leather stood beside her and groped her ass. Rem took a step forward, ready to break the man’s hand, but before he could react, Liv’s hand shot around and grabbed the man’s wrist.
“Butch, you have one second to take your hand off my ass before I shove this pool cue up yours,” she threatened darkly.
Rem was surprised when the man laughed uneasily and stepped away. Liv bent down again to make her shot, sinking the eight ball in exactly the hole she’d claimed.
“I win,” she said to a greasy-looking guy across the table. “Pay up, Slick.”
“Double or nothing,” the man said, looking extremely angry at being beaten.
“Fuck off,” she said. “I told you I was only playing one game. Now give me my fifty bucks.” She held her hand out and Rem held his breath at her daring. These guys were no doubt hustlers who were used to reeling in their victims and then bleeding them dry. Liv was seriously messing with their routine.
“You gotta give me a chance to win my money back,” the guy insisted. “Gentlemen’s rules.”
“Last time I looked, I didn’t have a penis. You gonna give me my winnings or not?” Liv asked.
The same man who’d grabbed her ass moved closer. “If you want a second opinion on that penis, I’d be happy to take you out back and have a closer look, Liv.”
She shot the man a disgusted look. “I wouldn’t waste my time, Butch. I’m pretty sure you don’t have one either.”
Several men laughed and Rem watched Butch clench his fists angrily at her insult. Time to move in.
“There you are,” Rem said, walking up behind her and enveloping her in his arms. He tried not to spend too much time dwelling on how right she felt as he pulled her close to him. His cock came to life as her taut ass brushed against it and he gritted his teeth. This wasn’t exactly the best place to sport a hard-on.
She twisted her head, looking over her shoulder at him in surprise. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
He bent down to whisper in her ear. “Taking you home. Come with me now and nobody in this room will get hurt.”
“Slick owes me fifty bucks. I’m not leaving without it,” she said.
Slick seemed an apt name for the man as Rem wondered what grease pit the asshole had crawled out of.
“I was explaining to the little lady that it’s only polite to give a guy a chance to win his money back.”
“And I told you—” she started angrily.
“We’re leaving,” Rem said shortly. “Give her the money.”
Liv jerked lightly in his arms, clearly surprised by his demand. No doubt she’d expected him to merely drag her away.
The man began to protest again but Liv cut off his comments by slamming the pool cue on the table. “Are you trying to renege on our deal?” she shouted.
Several patrons who’d been drinking, not paying attention to the drama unfolding at the pool table, turned. Rem could see that while there might be an unspoken rule about playing a second game, there was a hard-and-fast rule about paying a debt. A couple badass customers walked to the table.
“There a problem here, little lady?” one of the men asked. Jesus, Rem thought, as he gazed at the giant. At six foot five, he wasn’t used to looking up to any man, but this guy had him by at least three inches.
“Slick owes me money. Won’t pay up,” Liv answered. Several of Slick’s friends had gathered at his back and as quickly as that, she’d thrown up the flag to indicate the beginning of the brawling phase of the night. He needed to get her out of here now.
“Let’s go,” he murmured in her ear, backing them both away from the pool table and forcing his way through the crowd gathering.
“No,” she said, attempting to break his iron-tight grip on her. “He owes me money.”
“I’ll give you the goddamn fifty dollars,” Rem growled. “Now move!”
Angry words began flying across the table and Rem wasn’t sure who threw the beer bottle but within seconds, every man in the room jumped and he was reminded of a pack of wild dogs he’d once seen attack an unprotected calf. Chaos ensued.
He was shoved roughly from behind, losing his grip on Liv, who’d been waiting for a chance at freedom. She made her way over to Butch, grabbing the man and punching his jaw with the force of a trained boxer. Rem tried not to be impressed, but she was fierce and powerful and by God, she was going to be his. He couldn’t wait to release that fiery spirit in the bedroom.
Rem knocked over three men, punching two others as he attempted to retrieve Liv before Butch could retaliate. His blood turned cold as he watched Butch reach down, grab a pool cue and swing it at Liv. She ducked the blow at the last minute, slamming forward into the man’s gut with her head. Butch fell backward, crashing into a table before hitting the floor.
“You fucking bitch,” he screamed as he attempted to get to his feet, slipping on spilled beer.
The hustlers made their way over to Liv, ready to attack, and Rem blocked a punch from one man while delivering a roundhouse kick to Slick, who’d attempted to sneak up behind him. He watched Liv dispatch the third man by smashing a beer bottle over his head. Rem moved forward, shoving Liv toward the back door as sirens broke through the air. The rioting mass of men scattered like ants at the sound of the police approaching. He managed to get Liv out of the building and around to his truck in time to watch four police cars pull into the parking lot.
She started to walk toward her own vehicle as Rem dug his keys out of his pocket.
“Not so fast, spitfire,” he said, intercepting her and lifting her up with a strong arm around her waist. “You’re riding home with me.”
“My truck’s right there,” she said.
“You’ve been drinking. I can smell it on your breath.”
“I had one beer,” she said. She kicked up a fuss but Rem was in no mood.
He pulled the passenger door open and placed her none too gently in the seat. “Goddammit, Olivia. Sit still!” His words were harsh, loud, and she stopped fighting him as he hooked her seat belt.
“You are seriously pissing me off, Rem Bradley,” she seethed.
He chuckled mirthlessly. “Oh darlin’, you can’t compete with me on pissed off right now.”
He slammed her door shut and crossed to the driver’s side. As he started the truck and pulled onto the road, he forced himself to calm down, forced himself to take several deep breaths.
“I hope to God you don’t think you can start ordering me around now that you’re home,” she said.
Rem’s vision went red with fury and he pulled the truck off the road, squealing the tires as he hit the brakes.
“Jesus Christ!” she yelled, bracing herself with both hands on the dashboard. “What are trying to do? Kill us?”
The memory of her initiating the massive fight at Stan’s drifted through his mind and his temper snapped. She’d done nothing but test his patience since she’d turned seventeen. He’d shied away from staking his claim out of respect for his father and her youth, but that time had passed. Liv Carter had just spent her last night as a free woman.
Unhooking her seat belt, he grabbed her and pulled her across the seat. He didn’t give her a chance to respond as he took her lips in a kiss that showed her exactly what she was about to become.
He forced her lips apart, moving into her mouth with his tongue, tasting and touching every part of her he could reach. Dragging his hands along her neck, he dug his fingers into her thick, silky mass of light brown hair, using his grip to hold her head in place while he feasted on her plump lips.
He wasn’t surprised by her initial astonishment. She remained motionless for several seconds before he felt her small hands pushing against his chest in a halfhearted attempt to fight him. He deepened the kiss and she responded for several glorious moments before he practically heard the wheels begin to spin in her lovely brain.
He pulled his face away from hers when she increased the pressure on his chest, trying to shove him away.
“Don’t fight me, Liv.”
“Don’t kiss me,” she whispered, her gaze averted.
He grinned, forcing her to look at him with a slight tug on her hair. “I’m gonna do a hell of lot more than just kiss you,” he warned. “You might want to go ahead and accept that fact.”
Her brown eyes narrowed but he was finished listening to her hostile words and bullshit. He reclaimed her lips and this time, she didn’t shove him away as he pushed her onto her back, moving on top of her and caging her with his body. He ground his rock-hard erection into her stomach, backing up his threat with a promise. His body wouldn’t be denied.
His fingers drifted down to her shirt, grasping her breasts through the thin material, fondling her.
“God, Rem,” she murmured. The heat of her breath on his face and the need lacing her words stirred him on as he bent down to suck her covered nipple into his mouth, drawing on the tight bud.
Her hands gripped his shoulders and he gave the other nipple the same treatment before moving up to kiss her again. He started to unbutton her shirt, ready to stake his claim and ride her like the wildest stallion on his ranch. By God, he’d already waited far too long for her.
“Stop,” she whispered, turning her face away from his kisses.
Her words and the sound of a car passing on the road gave him pause. What the fuck was he doing? His cock was threatening to split the denim of his jeans and he was ready to throw Liv’s legs over his shoulders and pound into her in the middle of town. Shit, if the brawl in the bar hadn’t broken out, he’d have thrown her over the pool table and taken her there. She heated his blood to boiling and he lost all sense of control in her presence.
“You’ve wanted this as long as I have, Liv. Don’t try to deny it.”
“Yeah, well, a lot has happened in the last ten years, cowboy. And don’t forget, it was you who left me.”