Too Hot To Trot (#3, Cowboy Way) (6 page)

She was going to make damned sure she never got close enough to Zack Taylor for him to try that again.  He would just have to learn to shave with his left hand or grow a beard.  Maybe if he grew a beard to hide that handsome face of his, she would be better able to keep her distance, because she hated beards.  A fine tremor shook her body as Heather gathered the pieces of her shattered senses to stagger back. 

With a disgusted breath, she shoved the razor under the water to rinse it, as her heart beat out of control in her ears.  “Don’t do that again, or I’ll load you in my truck and take your ass to Twyla.  I won’t wait for her to come get you.  I told you this isn’t about us becoming friends.”  She tapped the razor on the sink harder than necessary. “That goes for anything else too—keep your hands to yourself, Zack Taylor.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.  But Zack sat there staring at her stiff back wondering why the hell he’d kissed her in the first place. 

In truth, he’d been just as shocked as she was at the overwhelming urge he could not stop himself from indulging.  But in his defense, having the potent mixture of her warm curves right there in his face for fifteen minutes, scented by that cotton candy bath gel, her hair swishing under his nose smelling like strawberries, any man would have lost control.  Zack was just a man, and Heather Morrison was one of the sexiest women he’d ever met.  There, he admitted it, but that didn’t mean he was having sex with her. 

He was absolutely never going to have sex with this woman, even if she wanted to.  Which was unlikely, because she hadn’t even welcomed a friendly kiss, which was meant more as a thank you than anything else.  He had pushed it on her, and his mother had raised him better.  Zack owed her an apology—another one.  “I’m sorry for being forward,” he mumbled, and she didn’t reply.  She just bent over to pick up a towel he’d left on the floor giving him an amazing view of the bottom of her round ass. 

Zack bit back a groan, and dragged his eyes to the shower to count the tile squares, until his damned dick decided to cooperate with his brain.  He reminded himself Heather Morrison wasn’t his kind of woman.  That a woman like her did not fit into that plan he’d decided on when he turned thirty.  She was too much like the rodeo groupies he’d managed to avoid for the last two years or so.  Wild women who were looking for a good time, not a good man. 

His plan was just temporarily derailed with the injury, but as soon as he healed, Zack would get back on track to reach his goal to ride for a couple more seasons, retire on top and settle with a nice woman who would be a good wife to him and mother to his children.  That woman bore no resemblance to Heather Morrison.

But she was helping him right now, and he owed her something for that. 

His gift to her before he left would be helping her get her life on track too.  Zack would help her find a different kind of job, make sure she could take care of herself without taking off her clothes in the future.  This woman was so much better than that, but she evidently didn’t realize it.  As cocky as Heather seemed, her bravado must be a front.  She must not have one ounce of self-confidence if she thought all she had to offer to the world was that beautiful backside of hers.  Yes, it was spectacular, but not nearly as amazing as her voice.  And even though she tried to hide it behind a hard shell, Heather was a caring person with a heart. 

“Sit back and let me wrap your arm,” she said gruffly, waking him up. 

Zack leaned back while she rubbed anti-bacterial ointment on the ragged looking five-inch wound on his upper arm.  She was extra careful when she slathered it over the fine-black catgut stitches that closed the wound.  “Doesn’t look infected, so that’s good,” she commented as she placed the end of the roll of gauze near his elbow, before winding it around and around his arm.  She taped off the gauze, and picked up the ace bandage.  “I can’t believe the doctor wants you to start therapy so soon.”

“You evidently did too good a job of convincing him I’m a tough bullrider who could take it.  I wouldn’t have wanted to mess with you that night either,” he replied with a laugh, and her eyes flew to his.

“He was being an insensitive, condescending jerkwad.”  Those cat-green eyes spit fire at him as she stepped back to put her hands on her hips, looking fierce. 
Goddamn, she was cute

“And you don’t like those do you?” Zack asked, biting back another laugh, knowing that she lumped him into that category too most of the time.  And she was right.

“Damned straight, I don’t.  I wasn’t about to let him sit there and tell you your career was done when I know it’s not.  He’s not—”

“God—yeah, I remember what you said.”  Zac’s smile finally broke, as did a chuckle he couldn’t stop.  “Thanks for setting him straight, sweet thing.”  His eyes locked on her full lower lip, and right at that moment, he could have kissed her again. 

The smile on her face softened her features and lit her eyes.  Zack couldn’t help but notice how much younger, less harsh, she looked right then.  With her face free of all the heavy makeup she usually wore and that smile on her face, Zack could almost imagine her in a soft floral sundress, her long, thick hair in a ponytail…with a blond-haired baby on her hip. 

A cold chill snaked through him, and Zack swallowed down a lump of fear as he shot to his feet. 
Where the fuck had that come from

“We need to get going,” he mumbled, as he brushed past her.  “I don’t want to be late for my appointment.”  That therapy would get him back on the bull, so he could get his plan back on track and get away from this dark-haired witch who was doing strange things to his mind. 

Before he did something even more stupid than kissing her.

He was reading kindness and goodness—
innocence—
into
a woman who stripped for men for money when he wasn’t paying her.  The only reason she was taking care of him was because he was paying her.  Zack needed to remember that, and he needed to hurry up this healing process, because he knew he would eventually lose this battle with himself if he didn’t.

 

Chapter Six

 

Zack wondered how long he’d have to tolerate being an invalid—as useless as tits on a boar hog.  How long Heather would continue to treat him that way.  Yeah, he was paying her damned good money to do it, but he felt like a mooch.  Having to sit on the sofa listening to Mrs. Clean banging pots and pans around in the kitchen, scrubbing them was driving him crazy.  His one attempt to help thirty minutes ago though, running the vacuum, had resulted in him being scolded and forced back to the sofa with an ice pack on his arm. 

The walls of the small apartment were closing in on him more every day.  A man could only watch so much television before he became brain dead.  Zack was bored out of his mind.  And although he and Heather had reached a tenuous peace, it amounted to circling each other like caged cats.  He almost wanted to aggravate her just to get a rise and have something to do.  Arguing was a good brain stimulating activity, and he’d probably welcome it right now, he thought, as he flipped through channels without even paying attention to what was on.

According to the therapist, although he was making good progress, it would be weeks, months, before he was even close to back to normal.  The man said the jury was out as to whether he’d be able to ride anytime in the next millennium.  He told Zack to have patience, but that was a commodity in short supply.  It always had been. 

Zack needed a better sign that he was healing.  All he had from two weeks of grueling and painful therapy so far was the intense itching of the stitches that would be removed at the end of the week.  He grabbed the rubber ball from the coffee table and put it in his right palm and squeezed it as hard as he could, which wasn’t much.  Squeezing this ball and waiting was also driving him insane.  Lifting a one-pound dumbbell at therapy was not helping either, but that’s all the therapist had allowed him to do so far.  On his next visit, Zack was going to tell him to up the program, because he wasn’t waiting forever.  He couldn’t wait forever, or his career would be over whether he got better or not. 

Lucky and Sam had driven down to see him yesterday on their way to the first stop on the pro tour, which started next week.  Sam was on top of the world, because he ended on the top of the bullrider standings in Houston.  Hearing that made Zack physically ill, because that should have been him.  That damned buckle and the huge payout should be his, would have been if he hadn’t chose to get involved in a fight that wasn’t his.  From here on out, he was minding his own damned business, and that was riding bulls.  He was safer doing that than playing hero.

Saving her had likely cost him his career

Zack fought hard to keep from being bitter, but it was getting harder every day.  The only thing that saved him from going off the deep end was the fact he had the herd to fall back on if he didn’t get well enough, soon enough to go back to riding.  The rough stock contracts being managed by the Dixon Ranch fed at least some money back into his account every month, which he desperately needed, because paying Heather every week took out a huge chunk.

It scared the shit out of him that those contracts would be gone very soon.  At the end of the season, after the finals, he’d have to negotiate new contracts, or Zack would have no income if he wasn’t riding.  He could only hope that the bulls started performing better, racking up points in the bull standings, so the amount of the contracts for next year would increase, and that the circuit would even
want
to use his bulls again.  He could probably make that happen, if he could work with the bulls, help the Dixons like he promised.  But he couldn’t even do that with his arm.  And he had no idea if, or when, his arm would be well enough to be able to help.

The best thing he could do to cover himself in case he wasn’t able to ride again was to call his daddy and tell him not to sell the ranch.  In all likelihood, Zack was going to have to buy it from him.  He’d held off committing to do that, because in two years he knew he’d have enough money to get his own spread, one already fenced and laid out for rough stock, a bigger one where he could start a breeding program where the real money was.  There was no way he could afford a place like that now, even if he got his inheritance portion of the family ranch sale.  And since his daddy retired early, he didn’t have the luxury of time to find a setup like that if he could afford one.  It was time for decisions, or he’d lose both options.  If he sold the herd now, before they were proven, seasoned in the points, he’d take a bloodbath of epic proportions.

The family ranch would be fine to hold his present herd, and the sweet deal his daddy offered, owner-financing of Twyla’s portion of the ranch, was too good to pass up not knowing what his future held.  He’d just have to cut corners, put up fencing as he had money to do it, because he knew the outbuildings needed some pretty substantial repairs first.  The last time he visited, he realized his daddy had deferred a few needed repairs, because he’d sold off his own cattle and horses pending his retirement.  He’d just leave the herd  with the Dixons until he could get the ranch passably right for the cattle.  Maybe work on the repairs and fence himself between breaks, if he did get back to riding. 

Because dammit, he wasn’t giving up on going back to riding yet. 

Zack squeezed the ball in his right fist, and his bicep muscle flexed painfully.  He would call his daddy, but not today.  Right now, he was going to have himself a beer and try to take a chill pill.  Have a little patience like the therapist suggested.  He relaxed his fist and the ball fell to bounce off the toe of his boot and roll under the table.  Zack removed the ice pack from his arm and sat it on the table, then stood.

“I thought I told you to stay on that sofa,” Heather growled, turning toward him, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.  “Since you’re up though, make yourself useful.”  She shoved a strand of dark hair from her flushed face with the back of her wrist.  “Get the pack of steaks out of the freezer.”  Turning back toward the counter, her whole body shook as she wiped the counter with the green and orange striped rag.  This woman was a cleaning machine.  He’d never seen a woman so worried about cleanliness.  Not even his mother, whom he thought was the queen of clean.

“You spent money you don’t have on steaks?” he asked incredulously, as he walked to the refrigerator and opened the freezer door.  Next week, he’d add some money to her check for groceries.  He hadn’t even thought about that, or the money she must be spending on gas in that gas guzzler truck to take him to therapy three times a week.

“I did some reading online at the library and iron will help your bones heal faster.  Steaks are full of iron.  I bought liver too.  I also bought an extra gallon of milk for the calcium and some vitamins you need to start taking.”

“My bones aren’t broken,” Zack said, as he flipped through the frozen packs until he found the steaks.  Thick ribeyes that cost her nearly twenty dollars.  And that wasn’t the only pack in there.  He’d seen at least three more.  She shouldn’t be spending that kind of money.  “Ground meat, meatloaf, hell—red beans and rice will be just fine,” he said shutting the freezer door.  “You’re a good cook, so whatever you fix will be fine.”

Surprisingly, a pretty blush stained her face, as she turned back to look at him. “You think I’m a good cook?” she asked, the corner of her full mouth ticking upward.

“As good as my sister, for sure,” Zack replied, moving aside as she pushed him to open a lower cabinet in the small kitchen.

“That’s not saying much…”  Heather dropped to her knees to stick her head inside the cabinet.  Pots rattled until she came back out with a cast iron griddle in her hand.  She looked up at him and her smile reached her eyes this time.  “Twyla has her talents, but she is about the worst cook I’ve ever seen.”  Leaving the heavy griddle on the floor, she scrambled to her feet then hefted it up onto the stove.

“She has being hardheaded down to an art,” Zack said with a snigger, as she turned on the burner.  It felt good to hold a normal conversation with her without the threat of an argument, so he relaxed a little.

Heather glanced at him, and raised a brow.  “I’d say her older brother was a good teacher there,” she replied, as she turned to shove the pack of steaks inside the microwave and set it to defrost.  When she turned back around, Zack hadn’t realized how close he was to her. 

The tips of her breasts practically brushed his chest when she breathed.  His eyes fell to meet hers and electricity zapped him right in the middle of his chest to travel down to his dick. 

What was it about this woman that made him want her so badly? 

That was something else Zack finally admitted to himself, after he became aware that she visited his room at night to check on him, leaving behind that cotton candy scent to torture him all night.  He wanted her, more than he’d ever wanted a woman in his life.  Zack had even resorted to sniffing that damned bottle of bath gel in the bathroom like crack to fuel his fantasies of burying his cock inside her delicious body. 

But he also wanted to know her better.  There were things that just didn’t add up about her.  The more little glimpses he got into what made this woman tick, the more confused he became.  How could a woman so soft and feminine, beautiful, on the outside be so granite hard on the inside?  Zack thought about it at night, because he had nothing better to do while he lay awake rock hard.  What he decided was that something in her past had caused Heather to be the way she was.  Comfortable with women like his sister, but damned wary around men.  From the vibes she put out, the way she acted, he was sure she wasn’t a lesbian, so that wasn’t the issue.  Despite the way she dressed, what she did for a living, Heather Morrison was uncomfortable around men.  The tenseness in her shoulders right now as he stared at her, invaded her personal space, verified that conclusion.

When his buddies visited, she’d been nice, but she didn’t engage them or flirt, even though they did plenty of it.  She was nice but kept her distance.  Zack had been watching Lucky and Sam watch her, and until that moment, he hadn’t realized it wasn’t just him she was wary of—it was all men.  It just didn’t make sense to him.  The curiosity was probably what was pushing him to think about her so much.  If he had the answer, maybe he’d be able to stop thinking about her.  But he knew she wasn’t going to tell him voluntarily.  He’d never met a more close-mouthed woman in his life, one that held her cards to her past closer to her chest.  Even though it would likely take him down a path he’d sworn not to go, he knew the only way he’d get that answer was to push the envelope with her until she broke down and told him.

Zack’s hand drifted to her cheek, and he stroked it with his thumb.  “Why dancing?” he asked softly, not saying stripping because he knew that would insult her.  Everything he said to her insulted her it seemed.  He wanted answers, not another argument.

“Why bull riding?” she countered, lifting her chin a notch.

“Because it’s exciting, fun.  I’m good at it, and I make damned good money doing it,” he replied without thinking about it.

“You answered your own question—that’s exactly why I dance,” she said smartly, then turned when the microwave beeped.  Her ass settled on his fly, and biting back a groan, he stepped back. 

“Why not singing?  You have a lot of talent, as much as I’ve heard on the radio,” he offered.  If he could just convince her to pursue that instead of stripping, his job would be done here.  Zack watched her as she sat the meat on the counter to violently rip the plastic open, but she didn’t reply, which frustrated him. 

Finally, she glanced over her shoulder at him and smiled, but she still didn’t answer his question. “Speaking of which, I heard you singing in the shower.  If the bull riding and ranching thing doesn’t work out for you, you might try that too.”

Zack stopped breathing, shocked to the toes of his boots, and he laughed.  “Only if the crowd is paying me to stop butchering their favorite song.  I can’t sing worth shit.”

She shrugged as she laid one thick steak onto the griddle and it sizzled. “Sounded pretty damned good to me.  And that
was
my favorite song.”  She added the second steak, then twisted the knob to increase the heat.

“Cowboys and Angels?” he asked, surprised again.  That had to be the song she meant, because it was the only one he knew all the words to.

“Yep—I love that song.”

“You don’t seem like the type,” Zack replied. 

Heather slowly turned to face him again, and she wasn’t smiling anymore.  “What type is that, cowboy?” she asked, her words like velvet coated steel.

Zack ran his hand over his face, and realized he needed to shave again.  He wasn’t about to ask her to do that right now, not with that look in her eyes.  “For love songs,” he replied, running his hand over his face again.  “I guess I should say sorry again, maybe make it a standing order since all I seem to do is insult you, huh?”

“Just get the damned butter out of the refrigerator,” she grated, with anger bristling around her like a force field as she turned to tiptoe and open the upper cabinet beside the stove.

It looked like their temporary truce was done.  Zack sighed, grabbed the door handle with his right hand and without thinking jerked it hard.  Red hot pain sliced up his arm to his shoulder, and he moaned, bent over to cradle it.  Heather was at his side in a flash, putting her arm around his shoulder to guide him toward the sofa. 

“Dumbass,” she muttered, as she pushed him down, grabbed the ice pack from the table, plopped it on his arm, and took his left hand to place it on top to hold it in place.  Standing up, she put her hands on her hips to glare at him.  “Now stay on this damned couch this time,” she growled pointing a finger at him.  “You are way more trouble than you’re worth sometimes, a lot more than you pay me for sure.  I swear if you keep this up for the next six weeks, you’re going to give double-time.”

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