Hot Blooded is in the can!
The draft is done. I’ll give it one more read-through before I ship, but if you’d like to see what I’ve been up to, here’s where we first see the hero and heroine together. Now, back to Texas Men.
Sunlight broke through the clouds by mid-afternoon. Although the rain had stopped an hour before, chaos still reigned in the park. All the low water crossings were impassible. Climbers and hikers all along the trails had been stranded. When the Canyon Volunteer Fire Department called the ranch, Adam Youngblood bit back a curse.
The last place he wanted to be today was anywhere near the park and one particular little park ranger. But he headed straight for the headquarters building near the entrance of the park where the rangers had organized search parties to rescue stranded campers and hikers.
Mavis Benson who manned the information desk sidled close to him with a clipboard in her hands. “Adam,” she said hesitantly.
“What do you need, Mavis?”
“We have a situation.”
He glanced at the organized chaos around him and nodded his head. “We certainly do.”
She pulled at his shirtsleeve and tilted her clipboard toward him. “Cass–Fortress Cliff–0800,” was scribbled in purple ink. “She hasn’t checked back in.”
Adam didn’t want to care. In fact, he hated the way his belly knotted at that piece of news. “Have you sent anyone to check it out?”
“They’re still assigning teams to sections of the park. Thought you might like to take this one yourself,” she whispered, her eyebrows rising.
Adam grimaced, tempted to tell her flat out she had the wrong man for the job. She didn’t know his interest in Cass McIntyre had been obliterated the night before.
However, he didn’t want to tarnish the trust and respect shining in Mavis’s eyes whenever he entered the building. Mavis was a lifelong resident of the nearby town of Canyon and attended the same church his mother had.
Adam blew out a deep breath and nodded. “I’ll take a look around the cliff.”
She beamed and handed him the note. “If she’s not in any trouble, she’s not gonna be happy I sent anyone out to check on her.”
“Woman’s too independent for her own good,” he muttered, settling his cowboy hat on his head.
“It’s what happens when a woman fends too long for herself,” she said with a firm nod. And she should know. The elderly spinster had lived alone for as long as he he’d known her, which was all his life.
Forty-five minutes later after getting his wheels bogged down in mud twice, he made it to the summit and drove slowly along the rim of the bluff. Just as he’d decided he’d have to park and continue the search on foot, a scrap of white gleaming against the dark green branches of a juniper tree caught his eye.
The closer he drew, the item took shape–two distinctive shapes.
Adam almost smiled at the thought of Cass resorting to flashing her underwear, but that lasted only a moment when he realized things must be truly grim if she’d signaled for help.
He picked up his radio from the seat beside him and called in his location, then stepped out of the vehicle and made his way to the edge of the cliff to peer over the side.
His heart skipped a beat when he saw a blonde head, hair pulled into a tight, high ponytail. Cass sat on a narrow outcropping of rock with her back against the wall and her slim legs dangling in the air.
He took a deep breath to calm his heart, then satisfied she wasn’t in any imminent danger, he scanned the eroded ledge, the last twenty or so feet of rock to the cliff’s edge, and the thick trunk of the tree clinging to that edge.
His boot crunched in grit as he leaned farther over the rim, sending a spray of gravel downward. “Watch out,” he called.
Her face turned upward, and then she glanced away, her lips pressing into a straight line. “Damn. Didn’t think my bad luck could get any worse.”
“Yeah, well I’m all you’ve got. Sit tight until I get back.”
“Like I’m going anywhere?”
Adam shook his head. The woman didn’t possess a lick o’ sense bitching with her rescuer. Hell, she had no business climbing on her own in the first place–or hopping into his brother’s arms.
He squelched that last thought. No use getting riled up again when he had work to do. If she fell, everyone would think he’d dropped her on purpose.
He backed his vehicle up to a spot directly above her position and grabbed a rope, tied it around his trailer hitch, and then fed the coil through his hand, grasping the prusik knot as he approached the edge again.
Bracing his feet against an exposed root of the juniper tree, he wound the rope around the trunk then lowered the end toward her.
Cass reached up for the end dangling above her. “Give me some more.”
Adam gave her another few inches, but as she raised her hand to grab it, he pulled it up just out of reach.
Her head tilted until her green gaze met his.
Adam felt a fierce satisfaction that he had her undivided attention.
Her slender brows drew together in a frown. Her lips pouted. “This is not the time to play games with me, Adam. Get me off this goddamn ledge.”
“I’d think a woman in your position would be grateful for a little help, not cussin’ at it.”
Thunder clapped from the southern rim of the canyon drawing both their gazes.
“We don’t have time for this,” Cass called out. “Send down that rope.”
She was right, but something twisted inside Adam. Seeing her so vulnerable sent an edgy thrill through his body. “Say you’re sorry, first.”
Her head tilted again. This time confusion and maybe a hint of regret darkened her gaze. “For what? Getting stuck here? Am I inconveniencing you?”
She faced the canyon again, and her shoulders slumped. “You didn’t want to hear any excuses last night. Why should I think you want to hear an apology from me now?”
“Maybe I’m just curious to see if you know how.”
The wind whipped up, tearing at the brim of his hat. They really didn’t have time for this.
“I’m sorry,” she called out, her tone defiant. “Did you hear me?”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t feeling it.”
“Look, get me off this rock. Then take your pound of flesh.”
“Any way I want it?”
There was a long pause, and she peered up again, her scowl screwing up her features. “Any way you want it,” she gritted out.
Adam felt a grim smile stretch his lips. Too bad he didn’t have any intention of acting on her promise. Taking out his anger on her body would make for a sweet revenge.
He dropped the coiled rope, letting the end dangle in front of her, then fed her more as she tugged it down to attach to her harness. “You’re going to have to climb, but I’ll take up the slack.”
He backed away from the cliff’s edge and grasped the rope in front of the tree. Then he pulled until he felt tension on the line, taking up the slack as Cass made her way slowly up the side, not letting up until she hauled herself over the edge and collapsed face first in the mud.
Adam dropped the rope and strode over to her, leaning down to hold out his hand. Her head raised, mud on her chin and one cheek, her gaze going to his face then dropping to his hand.
She wiped her own against her shorts, and then slid her fingers along his palm, accepting his tug as he hauled her to her feet.
They stood chest-to-chest, and then she wobbled. Adam clutched her waist and drew her closer, widening his stance so he could feel her taut belly press against his groin.
His cock stirred, something he couldn’t hide when there wasn’t an inch of space between them.
Just as she couldn’t hide the twin points stabbing at his chest.
Her head bowed, but slowly her hands glided up his arms to clutch his shoulders. “This going to be your pound?” she asked, her voice softly muffled.
“I’m still thinking on what I want in trade,” he said, forcing his to remain even, his tone cold.
She lifted her head, her chin tilting upward in defiance. “What if I don’t like what you come up with? I agreed to your bargain under duress. It doesn’t count.”
Adam narrowed his gaze. “We’re a long way from civilization. Not too smart, saying things like that to me when I’m still mad as hell.”
Her lips twisted into a snarl. “What’s the matter? Didn’t like my apology?”
“It was only a start. Next time, I want you to mean it.”
She snorted. “This is ridiculous. I’m through being sorry. Through trying to talk to you like you’re a reasonable man. I’ve been sitting on that ledge for a fucking hour. I’m dirty, hungry and getting grumpier by the minute. I don’t want to do this now.”
“I don’t want to do this–ever,” he growled, pushing her away.
Her eyes closed, a momentary flash of pain tightening her lips.
Good. He’d scored a hit. She damn well deserved it.
“Get in the truck. I’ll take you home.”
The drive to her place was made in silence thick with tension. He kept his gaze glued to the road before him; she sat with her shoulders angled away to stare out the passenger window.
When he pulled into her drive, she unhooked her seatbelt, and then hesitated.
Adam braced himself, gripping the steering wheel hard.
“It could have been you, you know,” she whispered fiercely, “but we’ve been going in circles for a month now and you never even came close to asking me out. I’m not a nun, Adam.”
“You made your choice.”
“It was just a goddamn kiss.”
“And that makes it all right? Get out, Cass.”
She opened her mouth again, but he turned to aim an angry glare her way.
Her eyes blinked once, and she clamped her lips closed. The door slammed opened with an angry jerk that rattled the cab. Shoulders straight, she stomped all the way to her front door.
Adam put the truck into reverse, gunned the engine, spinning the tires in a short, sharp squeal, and then peeled out.
Did she really expect him to forget he’d seen her make out with his brother? That they could just pick up where they left off? He told himself he was glad, even relieved, he’d never made love to her. Their constant sparring had been fueled by his annoyance and her stubborn, prickly pride–never by lust. His brother was welcome to her.
Still, he couldn’t quite push aside the feeling that had gripped him when he’d peered over the edge of the steep cliff and found her sitting there, waiting for rescue—vulnerable and alone.
Deep, twisted satisfaction had flared hot inside him.
He’d liked having her at his mercy.