Authors: Becky McGraw
Just the fact that he’d decided she deserved what she got from the men on the rodeo circuit because of how she dressed told her what kind of man he was. The same thing her mother had said when she worked up the courage to tell her that her stepfather had been making moves on her. Both of them could go to hell, and her mother could give him directions, because she lived there with the devil.
Heather wore the only clothes she could afford, clothes she’d gotten as hand-me-downs from her mother, girls under that bridge, or at thrift stores. At school, regardless that it was the wrong kind, the clothes got her the attention she wasn’t getting at home. Under the bridge, dressing the way she did got her extra food from men who were usually too drunk to ask for something in return. At the rodeo, it got her free dinners too. Those dinners did not come with a side of sex for dessert like some of the cowboys thought it would, so that’s why they trashed talked her on the circuit. It was called survival, and Heather was well-endowed in that skill set. She used what the Good Lord gave her to stay alive.
Zack’s fist slammed against the door, rattling it and Heather’s teeth too. “Open the damned door, so I can talk to you!” he demanded.
Pushing off the door, she walked to the closet and opened it. The pounding continued as she found the skimpiest outfit she owned, one she hadn’t worn in a long time because it was too tight to move in when she danced. Jerking it off the hanger, she threw it on the dresser while she shucked her cutoff sweat shorts, and t-shirt. She’d show Zack Taylor exactly what his opinion of her meant to her. Nothing. Less than nothing.
The short, black lace push-up camisole barely covered her nipples, and would probably slip when she bent over during her routine, but she didn’t care. She pulled it over her head and tucked herself in as best she could, then opened her lingerie drawer to pull out a pair of lacy underwear. At the last minute, she grabbed a pair of fishnet thigh-highs that would help hide her bruise. She picked up the faded denim shorts from the dresser, shimmied into them and they barely fit over her expanded hips. It really had been three years since she’d worn them. Once she started eating regularly her hips had filled out and they were too tight. But Heather was determined as she hopped to the bed and laid down to lift her hips and zip them. She won the battle, but had a hard time breathing, so she laid there few seconds, until she got used to the fit.
When she sat up, Heather thought she heard the zipper groan, but stood and walked over to grab the tube of makeup. After spreading it on the bruise and blending it in, she pulled on the thigh highs and slipped into her black-fringed boots. She quickly did her makeup, putting it on thickly, added her false eyelashes and slathered on some red lipstick.
Standing back from the mirror, she grinned as she turned to see that the shorts were really as short as she remembered. That should do it, she thought, tucking her hair behind her ears to add earrings before she grabbed her black hat and slapped it down on her head.
Venus was in the building.
Leon named her that because he said she was like a Venus Flytrap, and she would snap up a man like that plant would a fly and chew him up if he got too close. Leon was right. Zack Taylor better stand down, because hurt or not, he would be getting the toe of her boot in his obviously overgrown man parts before she left for work if he gave her more crap. Leaning into the mirror, Heather swiped the edge of her lower lip then started toward the door, forgetting to go easy on her knee and paid for it, as pain sliced through the joint, sizzled up her thigh and settled in her hip taking her breath.
It had only been six hours, but her pain pill must be nearly worn off, she thought as she bent over to breathe through it. Zack said he was only taking his pills sporadically, so maybe she could get one of his to help her tonight. Opening her door, she saw his blonde head over the back of the sofa as he flipped through channels on the television. She left her door open to sneak down the hall to the spare bedroom and found his bottle on the nightstand.
Like he said, it was still nearly full, so she uncapped it and took two pills out, before recapping the bottle. Shoving them into the pocket of her shorts, she walked into the living room. He was now bent over his dinner plate, shoveling food into his mouth with his left hand. His right arm was back in the sling the doctor told him to wear when he was out of bed.
“I’m leaving,” she announced, grabbing her duffle bag, which she’d picked up from the arena, along with Zack’s cell phone on the way back to the apartment from the hospital. The rest of his stuff, his trailer, they’d have to figure out how to get later. “If your fever gets worse, call the Crazy Cowgirl and tell Leon to get me.”
“I’ll be fine,” he said without looking up.
Seeing his flushed cheeks, worry filled her, and that pissed her off. “I probably won’t be home until three in the morning. That’s a long time, so call me if you need me,” she said one more time, as she grabbed the chain and shoved it free of the clasp.
“You’ll probably be the one needing me at three in the morning in that getup. Unless you start your next shift then,” he mumbled gruffly, as he picked up his iced tea glass to empty it.
Although she knew the best thing she could do was walk out the door, Heather let go of the doorknob to turn back and ask, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you look like a fucking prostitute. You could easily work the corner after you finish dancing. How much do you charge? I’ll gladly get in line,” he replied, his eyes scraping down her body to her toes, then coming back up to her breasts.
The duffle bag strap slid off of her shoulder and it dropped the floor, as she stalked over to stand in front of Zack Taylor at the sofa. Her hand arced and landed on his cheek before she could stop it. His blonde curls danced as his head rocked on his shoulders, then his eyes met hers again. “The truth hurts doesn’t it, sweet thing?”
Dragging in angry breaths, Heather felt her eyes fill and fought the tears for all she was worth, but knew she’d lost the battle when one hot tear scalded her cheek. Through her teeth she told him, “You’re not my goddamn daddy.”
And thank God for that
A smile curved his mouth, and she fought the urge to slap him again. “If I
your daddy, I’d spank your ass and tell you to go wash that damned goop off of your face,” he said with a laugh that Heather felt slither through her body.
Pointing a finger in his face, she growled, “Call your sister and tell her to come get you. I want you out of here before I get home.”
She spun toward the door, but his words stopped her. “I’ll pay you what you make there to be my nurse. Stay here with me.” When she didn’t turn back around, he added, “I have a high fever and might need you.” He was playing her, because he knew she was worried.
“You can roast in hell for all I care,” Heather grated, taking another step toward the door.
“But you care about Twyla. If something happens to me while you’re out, she’ll be heartbroken and pissed. The fact that I’m here at all
your fault.” Now the guilt card. This man was really a piece of work.
It irritated the hell out of her that he knew exactly which buttons to push to make her even think about it. Her throbbing knee, worry about his sorry ass, and the fact that she let herself care about Twyla Taylor enough to worry about her brother boiled her blood, but also made Heather spin around to face him.
Heather took one step, but stopped again to hiss when pain sliced up her leg. To dance tonight, she’d have to take both of the pills in her pocket and a shot or two. If she called off, Leon would fire her. If she went in tonight, he’d fire her anyway. Leon wouldn’t miss the fact that she was high, and with her luck she’d fall face first into the crowd and she’d be stripped by the piranhas who lined that bar before she hit the ground. She was done at the Crazy Cowgirl, and needed to just accept that.
Zack must’ve realized she was thinking about staying, because he added, “This is your opportunity to earn a living without taking your clothes off. It’s going to take months for me to get back to a hundred percent. That will give you time to find something else. You could use me for a reference to get another job doing something else.”
His suggestion would solve her immediate problem, but would create so many more. When he was better, she wouldn’t have a job again, and it would be hard to find one as well-paying as her job at the Cowgirl. But right now, she didn’t have much choice. Heather would just have to cross that bridge when she got there.
“I won’t take your abuse,” she said turning back toward him again. “You’ll treat me with respect, stop with the bullshit comments, or your sister can take care of you.” Heather took a step closer and put her hand on her hip. If she was going to put up with this judgmental bastard, she was going to make it worth her while. “And if you want me, you’ll pay me twice what I make a week at the Cowgirl. That’s about fifteen hundred dollars.” She leaned toward him. “Are you sure you can afford me, big boy?”
His eyes locked onto her breasts and lingered there a second before skating back up to her eyes. “It’ll be worth every penny.”
The next morning, while Zack took a shower to get ready for his first therapy appointment, Heather decided it would be a good time to strip his bed and put on clean sheets. Since she hadn’t worked last night, she’d cleaned the kitchen and had been up since dawn cleaning the rest of the apartment. It was finally spotless again, except for his room, which she saved for last because it was the worst, and he’d been in there.
When she lived with her, his sister Twyla called her a neat freak, but Heather wore that badge proudly. She couldn’t stand filth, and refused to live in it again. With a stack of clean linen in her arms, she headed for his room, but stopped in the hallway when she heard singing coming from the bathroom. The tenor was soothing, on-pitch and surprisingly good. Heather couldn’t make out what he was singing, so she leaned her ear against the door to listen.
Cowboys and Angels
, one of her favorite songs.
It was a man’s song, so she’d never sung it, but she loved it. That grumpy, arrogant Zack Taylor was not only in her bathroom, he was singing, was a bit surreal. Because she couldn’t help herself, Heather continued to listen, closed her eyes and let the words seep into her pores.
Clattering, a loud curse and a grunt had her dropping the sheets to fling open the door. The steam parted for her to see Zack Taylor leaned over the sink on one arm, with blood streaking down the side of his throat. Her next realization was he was completely nude, and he looked damned good, too good, with the tight muscles of his abdomen undulating as he breathed in the thick steam.
Dragging her eyes up to the cut on the side of his chin, she asked, “What’s wrong?”
“When’s the last time you changed that damned razor in the drawer?” he asked angrily.
razor?!?” Heather screeched, grabbing the pink disposable from the sink to move around him and throw it in the trash. It was dull, she used it daily, and wanted to get as much mileage as she could to save money. It was
razor though, and he should not have used it without permission. The fact he was using the razor without cream probably explained why he was bleeding. Dumbass man.
“I needed to shave, and don’t have a single thing here from my trailer. What the hell else was I supposed to use?” he asked, opening one angry blue eye to glare at her, before closing it again. He huffed a breath, and a muscle ticked beside his eye. “But even if it wasn’t as dull as a rusty hoe, I wouldn’t be able to shave myself. My fucking right arm is useless.”
The tension in the tight corded muscles of his body, the frustration in his voice told her this man was not used to being unable to help himself. He would get better, be able to do things for himself again soon, but that day wasn’t today. And he was paying her to help him.
Heather lowered the lid on the toilet, and jerked a towel from the bar to shove it at him. “Put that towel around yourself. Sit down here and let me do it, before you slit your throat.”
Zack took the towel, held it in front of him as he turned toward her, but didn’t make a move to put it around himself. He just stared at her like she was a little slow. “How in the hell am I supposed to wrap this around myself with one hand? I was planning on streaking to the bedroom, so I could try to get dressed.”
“You really are helpless, aren’t you?” Heather asked with a frustrated breath, staring at the wet clumps of light fur in the center of his chest. She refused to let her eyes track downward, when he shoved the towel back at her.
Avoiding touching him, she took the towel then reached around Zack and quickly tucked the end in without looking. “Now, sit down,” she said, moving to the sink to turn on the water and hold her fingers under the stream until it turned warm.
Walking to the cabinet, she opened it and groaned at the mess he’d made in there. She rearranged the cans and jars until they were in a neat row again, then pulled out the purple can of shaving cream. Tiptoeing, she felt around on the top shelf, until she found the pack of razors and pulled it down, so she could remove a fresh one. “All I have is baby-powder-scented shaving cream, so you’ll just have to deal with it.”
“If I can deal with the cotton-candy-scented shower gel, I can deal with that, I guess. I like how it smells on you, but I’ll probably catch hell if any of the guys stop by to see me, before they leave town.”
! You used my shower gel
?” she asked turning to glare at him. “There was a bar of soap in there you could’ve used.” That shower gel was expensive, and it was her one splurge a month from Bath and Beauty World at the mall. The rest of her toiletries were generics from the dollar store. With the exception of Ryan, Heather never had men stay at her apartment, so she had no need for masculine products.
“A bar of soap is kind of hard to use one-handed,” he said, with a roll of his blue eyes.
“We’ll stop at the drugstore again on the way home from your therapy appointment to get you some manly toiletries,” she said as she shut the cabinet.
“I imagine my trailer is still at the arena. We can just stop by there on the way to the appointment to get my stuff. I need clothes anyway. I can’t wear that green scrub shirt they gave me to the appointment.” His eyes slid down her body to her breasts, which immediately responded to the heat of his gaze. He licked his lips, and the tips tingled. “I doubt you have anything I can borrow.”
“Actually, Ryan left a few shirts here, I think. I washed your jeans so you should be fine today.” Zack’s blue eyes narrowed under pinched tawny brows, as she walked back over to him. He wasn’t saying it, but it was obvious to her what he thought. That she’d slept with Ryan Easter, his best friend, and
best friend’s now husband. Zack Taylor was judging her again, and she was damned tired of it.
Heather slammed the can of shaving cream down on the corner of the sink. “Yeah, Twyla and I shared him
times, before she decided she wanted him all to herself. That cowboy has some moves that should be in a how-to manual somewhere. Maybe you should get some tips from him.” Ryan and Twyla broke her damned bed, and he’d done something on the table in her dining room with Twyla, so Heather had no doubt that was true. But he hadn’t done whatever he’d done with her. “She’s a
lucky woman.” Zack’s back stiffened, and a muscle worked at his jaw as he chewed the inside of his cheek.
Zack shot to his feet to grab her arm. “I don’t need a shave—I’ll just grow a fucking beard,” he growled, his fingers tightening. If looks could kill, Heather would be dead as a doornail right then. “And don’t worry, because I
calling my sister to come and get me. I have a few things to say to her husband.”
Heather yanked her arm away and pushed him. Zack plopped back down on the toilet to glare up at her. That he believed her lie so quickly was damned insulting. This cowboy definitely automatically thought the worst of people. Of her. She wondered if that was a result of how he was raised, in his rose-colored world with his perfect parents and uptight values. Twyla had told her stories about where and how they grew up. That world was so foreign to Heather, she just listened and didn’t contribute much, because she was embarrassed in comparison.
No wonder he was single, though. No woman, even his own sister, could compare to the shining example of womanhood set by his own mother. As long as she’d known Zack Taylor, or been around him because she didn’t really
him, Heather hadn’t seen him with many women. That could be because he judged every woman by an ideal they could never possibly meet. The perfect woman didn’t exist, and he wasn’t settling if he couldn’t find her.
The women Heather
seen him with were buttoned-up field mice, or prissy beauty queens who visited with his parents when the tour stopped in Houston. Probably women picked out by them as suitable for him, or hometown girls who thought they had a shot with him. Never had she seen one of those women visit Zack’s trailer, but he had spent nights away from the arena, which probably meant he had sex with them or with someone. In six years, he had to have had sex, he was a man after all.
Zack tried to get up again, but Heather pushed him back and left her hand on his shoulder as she leaned in. “Stop being a judgmental bastard, Zack Taylor. I didn’t
your friend, because I have more
than that when it was obvious that my
was head-over-heels in love with the man. He stayed over here a few times with
, they actually broke my damned bed and trashed my apartment.
is how his damned shirts got here.” Disgust filled her as she pushed against his chest to stand back.
His eyes fell to his lap, and he huffed a breath. “I’m sorry,” his voice sounded oddly relieved. But Heather had enough of his stupid comments. It was time she set him straight, or
would be the one calling his sister to come and get him.
Heather tipped up his chin, so his eyes met hers. “Your sorries are getting thin, cowboy,” she said, gripping his chin. “Think before you assume anything about me again, or you may not be a
in my life, or my apartment, for much longer.” No matter that he was the only income she had now, Heather was not putting up with it a minute longer. She’d warned him about disrespecting her.
“I’m sorry, but—” he repeated, swallowing hard when she narrowed her eyes and lifted a brow as he tried to qualify his apology. “I’m
Studying his eyes, she saw they backed up his words, so she released his chin to grab the shaving cream. “I’m going to shave you now, so don’t think about getting mouthy again.” She filled her palm with the cream, smoothed it over his stubbly cheek, across his chin and twisted her wrist to coat the other side of his face. His eyes flew to hers when she reached between them to wipe her hand on the towel covering his thigh. “Don’t worry,” she said with a laugh, swiping the back of her hand across the towel. “I’m not cutting your nuts off, cowboy—
She pulled her hand back, but her wrist brushed the impressive bulge between his thighs. Zack sucked in a sharp breath through his teeth, his nostrils flared and Heather’s eyes flew to his. His pupils were so dilated they almost covered the blue irises. Between the bulge, the intense look on his face, the flared nostrils and his quick breathing, it was more than obvious Zack was getting turned on by her shaving him. Her hand shook as she reached for the pink razor on the ledge. Ignoring the weakness in her legs, she leaned over him.
To distract herself from the electricity buzzing between them, she tried to start a casual conversation. “I need to redo the bandage on your arm when I done here.” Damn, her voice was as shaky as her insides. She needed to get a grip on herself, or she would nick him.
The scent of her cotton candy shower gel heated by his smooth, tanned skin wafted up to her. As she made one smooth track along his square jaw, she fought the overwhelming urge to lick the water droplets she saw pooled in the well of his collarbone. Instead, her hand shook as she took another irregular swipe with the blade to his chin. She raised up to rinse the blade under the sink, and the silence got as thick as the steamy air in the bathroom. Being this close to Zack Taylor, performing this intimate task made her nervous. And almost as turned on as he was.
That could mean trouble if she didn’t do something to lessen the tension, so she started talking, as she put her hand to his cool, damp neck to steady herself. “It’s good your fever is gone,” she said, as she leaned back in to take another swipe. Zack’s heartbeat pounded under her palm and she could swear she heard him groan. Heather refused to meet his eyes, but felt his gaze burn her forehead as she made another row in the shaving cream down his cheek to his chin. When she dipped the razor into the cleft at his chin, his muscles tensed and he stopped breathing. “I’m not going to cut you,” she said, taking a backhanded swipe up the other side of his chin.
"The mood you’re in, I’m not taking any chances,” Zack said with a sexy laugh that vibrated against her palm, then sizzled up her arm to settle in her chest and tickle her insides.
“The next time you’re rude to me, that could very well happen, whether I’m shaving you or not,” she threatened, trying to get a grip on herself as she brought the razor back to his cheek for a final swipe on the right side.
His quick, heated breaths fanned her throat while she carefully shaved the left side of his face. After her final pass, Heather made the mistake of letting her eyes tick upward to meet his. Zack’s gaze fell to her lips to scorch them, and Heather licked them. He brought his left hand up to cup her cheek, and her breath hitched. Zack’s heated eyes glided up to hers again and time stood still when he pulled her face toward his. When his firm lips met hers, every muscle in her body melted under the intensity of the heat he transferred through his mouth to hers. He made one slick, delicious pass over her lips, then nipped her lower lip.
His fresh breath brushed her wet lips and filled her mouth as he said, “Thank you for shaving me, angel. I really am sorry for being a prick to you. I’ll try and do better, I promise.” He tried to pull her in for another kiss to seal his promise, but the spell was broken and Heather fought panic as she pulled away.