When coming between three brothers, it’s best to just let go.
Angelina Flores lived a perfect ranch-kid childhood, complete with three princes on horseback who treated their housekeeper’s daughter like a princess. At age eighteen, the fairytale came crashing down when she realized she had to choose between Brand, Nate and Eli McAffee.
And when she did choose one — she lost all three.
She’s older now. Wiser, thanks to her college education and a few years’ distance. A distance she’d planned to maintain…until her mother begs her to fill in at the ranch while she takes care of a sick relative.
The minute her boots hit the front porch, the memories come flooding back, right along with the hunger. It’s tough to put the past behind her when temptation is so close. Especially since the brothers seem bound and determined to woo her. Separately. Together. Whatever it takes to keep her right where she belongs — in their arms.
NOTE: This story was previously released.
Read an Excerpt
For Angelina Flores, stepping across the threshold of the MacAfee ranch house was a moment filled with both nostalgia and pain. The dull thud her boots made on the natural, planed-oak flooring was a familiar sound—and not one she’d heard anywhere else. The faint smells of beeswax and Pine-Sol mixed with the scent of the freshly cut roses in the Mexican crockery atop the rugged fireplace mantel. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine herself at ten years old, running with her muddy boots through the family room to tell her mother about her day, about the animals and the cowboys—her new friends who’d let her ride behind them on their tall horses.
Her childhood had felt enchanted. And she’d had three handsome princes fawning over her, showering her with pretty clothes and dolls. Even then, she’d dreamed of growing up and having a fairytale wedding, and when they’d teased her and asked her which one she’d choose for her husband, she’d asked why she couldn’t choose them all.
How prophetic that now seemed. As, when she’d approached graduation from high school, two of the McAfee men had suddenly let her know of their individual interest.
Oh, she’d been flattered. And thrilled. Until the moment she’d realized she really would have to choose. Then she’d been filled with dread, because she didn’t want to hurt any of them, and she didn’t know how she could favor one over the other, especially when she was also interested in the third.
Angelina shook her head to rid herself of the painful memories and entered with trepidation, wondering what her welcome would be like once the brothers returned home. The last time she’d been here, in this room, she’d been led through it by a hard hand clamped around her upper arm. She’d been escorted crying and half-dressed back to her room off the kitchen, and then her door closed in her face.
The next morning, she’d been taken by the same hard-faced man through the back door to his Expedition parked beside the porch. The chill in the morning air not nearly as cold as his final goodbye at the Dallas airport.
She’d been eighteen, and the only place she’d ever called home had been her home no more.
Angelina took a deep breath and stepped deeper into the room. She set her suitcase on the floor beside her and tilted her head to listen for any sounds of movement in the house. Her mother had said the MacAfee boys were at an auction in San Angelo, and that she’d have the place to herself for the weekend, to acclimate and to shore up her nerves.
“Mama, you know why I can’t be there,” she’d said in the early morning hours, holding back her hair and squinting at the digital alarm beside her bed.
“I have no one else I can trust, mija. It’s been years. Things have changed. You have changed. No one will say a word about the past. Have I ever asked anything of you, Angel?”
Angelina’s shoulders had slumped. “I don’t know if I can go there,” she’d whispered.
“I know it will be hard, Angel. I know. But you must take my place and look after the boys while I am away. Do this for me, please?”
She’d taken a deep breath and gripped her cell phone harder. “How long? How long must I stay?”
“Your Aunt Cecilia is having a hysterectomy. I might be weeks.”
Angelina shook her head. Her stomach twisted in a knot and sudden nausea made her skin clammy. “I’ll have to call my boss—damn, he’ll probably let me go. I just started there.”
“Gracias, mija. You will see. You worry for nothing. The past is the past.”
But the past wasn’t so distant that she didn’t feel the same longing as she gazed around the room for dreams she’d shattered when she’d followed her heart to make the biggest mistake of her life. And she would never forget the shame.
Picking up her bag, she trudged toward the kitchen and beyond it, to the small bedroom that had been her own when she was a child and the world had seemed such a bright place, full of romantic possibilities.
But princes didn’t exist, at least not in her realm. And she wasn’t a starry-eyed chatterbox anymore, eager to sit on certain cowboys’ knees. She was a college graduate. Had her own job—maybe. Her own place. She’d made a life for herself. The fact she still felt pangs of loneliness late at night when she went to bed alone was something she’d eventually outgrow. Someday. And somewhere far from the MacAfee ranch.
* * * * *
Brandon MacAfee stiffened as he eyed the small Prius parked in the driveway beside the house, but he didn’t stop. He had a trailer to drop. His stomach tightened, knowing his brothers would be first inside the house, eager to seek her out. Knowing how she likely felt about him, he’d give his two younger siblings a chance to smooth any ruffled feathers before he greeted her.
The last time he’d seen her, she’d been standing in the customs line at the airport. The moment was etched in his brain. He’d never felt so unsure of a decision in his life. Her face had been pale, her eyes huge, and there’d been a glimmer of tears that she’d fought as she glanced back once, looking panicked when she realized he was no longer beside her.
His heart had squeezed, but he’d let her go, knowing it was for the best. For everyone, but especially for her.
He tried hard not to think about the scene that had preceded her quick exit from the ranch. Shock had held him riveted for seconds too long as he’d followed the unlikely sounds coming from an empty upstairs guest room.
Keeping his footsteps light in the darkened hallway, he’d approached the door, twisted the handle and opened it a few inches. There, bathed in a pool of golden light from a bedside lamp, he’d found his brother Nate, lying nude, his hands clutching the hips of an equally naked Angelina. She’d sat astride him, her firm breasts bouncing as she rose and lowered her body, riding his cock.
His brother had murmured soft encouragement, his voice tightening until the moment he gave a muffled shout. She hadn’t been nearly ready, one frantic hand clutched a breast, tweaking a tip, the other rubbed her clit as she continued to bounce, the sounds she made both lush and thinning as, at last, she’d orgasmed.
He must have made a noise, because her head had swung toward the door. “No!” she’d cried out, slid off Nate and dove for the covers. His brother had sat on the edge of the bed and glared, unconcerned his cock was still erect and wet. “It’s polite to knock,” he’d said and then given a little smirk.
That eat-shit smile and the fact he hadn’t bothered using a condom had sent blood rushing to Brand’s head. Fury had pounded at his temples, and he’d stepped deeper into the room.
Angelina had dived from the mattress, swept up her clothing and managed to get on her panties and a tee before he’d gripped her arm and marched her out.
He’d never manhandled a woman before. The fact he’d done it to Angelina ate at him to this day. How many times had he wished he’d handled it differently? Been less menacing. Maybe even done more than simply shoving her into her room and closing the door.
But he hadn’t been in control, feared what else he might do. Nate knew damn well what walking into that bedroom had done to him. Knew only too fucking well that Brand had wanted her too. It wasn’t the fact that Nate had beat him into her bed, but rather that he’d betrayed both him and Eli while satisfying his lust.
Even before that night, the tension inside the MacAfee house had been thick for months as the men had circled each other like dogs fighting over a tasty bone. Sweet Angelina, who’d been a favorite fixture among everyone who’d worked and lived on the ranch, had grown up before their eyes. And no one had been immune to her appeal.
Blessed with curves that set a man’s teeth on edge and the face of a Madonna, they’d all lusted after. But they’d agreed she should have a choice, but that the choice should come after she’d seen a little more of the world—away from the ranch. Brand had already paid her tuition at the University of Texas. Already arranged an apartment close to the campus.
And then Nate had done that. It had taken years to rebuild the trust broken that night. And only then had they finally talked about Angelina and what needed to happen to make things right among them all.
When her mother, Amelia, had announced at breakfast that she had to return to Brownsville to care for her sister, they’d refused her resignation as their housekeeper.
“But I may be away for months.”
“Amelia, you’re family,” Eli said, giving her an easy smile. “We’ll manage.”
Brand had looked down at his hands, which had curled into fists atop the table. His chest had tightened and he’d cleared his throat, drawing all their attention. “Amelia, it’s time Angelina came home.”
Her gaze had swept to him, noted his tension, noted the way his brothers had all stiffened as well. Her smile was a little sad, but she nodded. “You’re right. It’s time. But you won’t have a happy outcome if you circle her like hungry dogs. You must give her space. Let her feel welcomed, and then, perhaps you will stand a chance.”
“Don’t you care how this ends?” Eli had asked, giving her a smile.
She stepped forward and patted his cheek. “I know you all love her. And there hasn’t been a woman any of you wished to bring home. Let things happen naturally. If she still feels the same, well…” She shrugged. “Let’s just see. I won’t lie and tell you I don’t want my baby here always. But I want her happy, as I want each of you to be happy. And times are changing in our little corner of Texas.”
Brand had drawn a quick breath, knowing exactly what she was saying. All around Two Mule, family units were expanding to encompass more than the traditional husband and wife. Men, sometimes brothers, took a single wife.
The MacAfee brothers had shared a charged glance. Her broad hint hadn’t been needed. They’d already discussed the possibility, jokingly at first, after they’d seen Dani and Justin Cruz strolling hand in hand down the sidewalk in town, with Rowe Ayers trailing them while pushing a baby carriage. They’d certainly appeared happy. The MacAfee brothers had agreed to be open to the possibility, and the more they’d discussed the logistics of how such a relationship would work, the more firmly the idea had taken hold.
After Amelia had given her blessing to the plan, she’d made the call while they’d all listened. The silence had been thick until she’d ended it and given them a broad smile. “Now, I just lied to my daughter. Don’t be hovering when she arrives.”
A weight had lifted off his chest the moment he’d realized Angelina had agreed to come. At last, the long wait was over.
Only now he was nervous, and he didn’t know what the hell he’d say. The last time they’d shared the same space, he’d been mute—too angry at Nate and upset with her to say the things he’d needed to say. Like her time away from the ranch wasn’t for forever, that he wanted her to come home.
After dropping the trailer behind the barn, he walked slowly toward the house. The front door opened. Nate stepped outside and immediately patted his pocket for his cigarettes.
“Thought you were quitting,” Brand said, keeping his tone even because he didn’t want to start an argument, not now.
“I thought I’d be ready,” Nate muttered with a look that said he was talking about more than just the cigarette he was busy lighting up.
Brand climbed the steps and paused beside him. “How does she seem?”
“Chipper. Damn happy.”
“And that’s a problem?”
Nate grimaced. “She called me Mr. MacAfee.”