If you missed episode 8 click HERE
Early the next morning Tomilola stood next to the table where she’d set Demola’s roses, her nose buried in the burgundy blooms. They smelled so good. Bold, sweet…heady.
Much like the man who’d sent them.
Smiling ruefilly, she took another deep whiff and straightened, trying not to let her mind wander, once again, back to the thoughts that had kept her awake most of the nights. Thoughts of Demola Adenuga.
But it was impossible.
She couldn’t get the man out of her head. Couldn’t get the heat of him standing behind her, his hard body brushing hers, out of her mind. He’d almost kissed her last night. And she’d almost let him.
She needed a clear head for the decision ahead of her – whether she was going to make the Big W her home. And she needed that decision to be unbiased and well-grounded. She couldn’t let herself decide to stay on the ranch just because Demola made her heart pound and her palms sweat. Even if he did seem to have a depth to him, a tenderness she’d never seen in a man before.
If she was going to stay on the Big W, make it her home, it had to be because it was right for her. With the issues about her father cleared up, it certainly had potential. But if she decided to stay, it had to be be because of the estate – not the man.
Of course, if she decided the Big W was the place for her in a totally unbiased and well-grounded manner, Demola would be fair game. Right?
Lord, she was hopeless. She walked over to the big window behind the table and stared out at the open vista behind the house. The day was just starting, the pink rays of dawn glinting off the h ills. God, it was beautiful here. The thought of staying, making it her home, planting those roses pulled sweetly at her. The thought of finally, finally, having a real home was an intoxicating elixir. One she;d have to be careful of.
Because the reality was she didn’t know anything about this estate, except she liked the scenery and her father had once owned it. She’d have to know a lot more than that before she made any real decision about staying.
And as long as you’re standing around twindling your thumbs, girl, you’re not going to know anything. Get outta here and go see what this place has to offer. She pivoted away from the window and headed for the kitchen. After the sleepless night she’d had, she was in dire need of a little caffeine.
Five minutes later, full mug in hand, she headed onto the porch. The early morning air sent goose bumps dancing over her skin. Pulling the door shut behind her, she took a sip of coffee and peered out over the estate. It had been quieter the last few days at the corrals here by the house.
Across the way, the door to Demola’s house opened and he strode out.
“Hey, Dem.” Without the usual hustle and bustle, she barely had to raise her voice for the words to carry across the road.
He swung his gaze to the big house, spotting her immediately. He froze midstride, the corners of his mouth tipping down and his brows scrunching together.
She wondered if he was thinking of yesterday’s almost-kiss, too. Wondered if he regretted the interruption or was glad for it.
But before she could discern any real idea of his thoughts from his expression, he smoothed his face into an inscrutable mask. “You’re up early.”
“Actually, I never went to sleep.” So he was going to pretend the almost-kiss hadn’t happened.
Okay with her. While she didn’t understand why he was as reserved about the attraction growing between them as she was, his reservation certainly made life easier. The man was hard enough to resist as it was. If he was actually trying to pursue her…she’d be sunk. So she’d let him get away with pretending nothing had happened yesterday. For now, anyway.
He strode across the dirt road and joined her on her father’s porch. “Another sleepless night?”
She held up her mug. “Thank God for caffeine.”
He chuckled, raising his hands. “Amen to that.”
She tried desperately not to notice the spicy scent of his aftershave, the sensuous line of his lips. “Where are you heading?”
“Sight seeing. Do you mind?”
As the car moved over the dirt roads that seemed to wind throughout the estate, she sipped at her coffee and stole an occasional glance at Demola. She couldn’t stop staring at those lips. Couldn’t stop wondering what they would have felt like on hers if only the delivery boy hadn’t shown up. Couldn’t stop wondering about the man himself.
She forced herself to turn her head and look out the side window. She was not going to think about that kiss. She was not going to wonder if Demola had been born around here, if he had a family nearby, or a girlfriend. Those things were none of her business.
Except. . .
He was the executor of this estate. If she stayed, shouldn’t she know something about the men who worked for her?
Of course she should.
In fact, it was her responsibility to know the men. She turned back to Demola. “So, tell me about yourself, Demola. Tell me about your family, your mom and dad. Do they live nearby?”
He stilled, tension filling his frame.
Odd. He was so dedicated to her father she would have thought he’d be close to his own family. But if the current silence meant anything, such wasn’t the case.
Finally, he said, “They live a couple towns over from here.” There was a tightness in his voice that clearly indicated there wasn’t anything casual about the subject for him.
She briefly debated changing the subject, but he certainly hadn’t been shy about pushing her to look at unpleasant events in her past. “How close is a couple towns over? Do you get to see them much?”
A muscle in his jaw ticked. A beat of silence. Then. . . “The Big W keeps me pretty busy, not much time for visiting.”
“I see. What about brothers and sisters? Have any?”
He looked away, but not quickly enough to hide his frown. “No.”
She cocked her head, studying him. What could possibly be so upsetting about being an only child?
She was formulating just the right question when Demola pointed out the window, relief in his voice. “Here we are.”
She gave up.
She looked out the window, they were in a garden.
Tomilola turned to him, her eyes shining. “I’m going to stay, Demola. And I’m not going to sell the estate.”
Triumph surged through him. “Not a problem. We’ll work it out.”
“Yeah, we will.” She gave him an enthusiastic hug. But what started as innocent excitement quickly changed to something else.
The air around them heated.
Her eyelids dropped to half-mast. Her breathing quickened. Her smile turned seductive. “And now that I have that little detail taken care of. . . Let’s move on to other things, shall we?”
His heart tripped.
She looked up at him with those sultry eyes and ran a finger down his jaw. “Kiss me, Demola.”
Oh, God. Every nerve in his body exploded. He needed to get out of here. Before things spiraled out of control. He’d done his job. He’d convinced her to stay. Now he needed to run.
But his feet didn’t move.
Her knees bumped his. The soft plumpness of her breasts pressed against his chest. Her hand, soft and warm, cupped his face.
God help him. He wanted to kiss her. Wanted to taste the excitement shimmering through her. Wanted to pretend, if only for a moment, that he was a normal man with a mundane past and a bright future stretching before him.
But that wasn’t the case. And pretending wouldn’t be fair.
He closed his eyes and clenched his hands at his sides, resisting the urge to touch her by sheer force of will. He needed her to let go. Back off. Quit pressing her sweet little body against his. “Tomi. ..”
“Shh.” She placed her fingers over his lips. “Stop thinking about whatever lies beyond this moment, Demola. I’m not asking for a profession of love or any big commitment or your firstborn child. I’m just asking for a kiss. One. . .” She leaned closer, her breath whispering over his cheeks. “Single. . .” Her arms slid around his neck. “Kiss.” Her lips whispered over his.
His will snapped.
His lips closed over hers.
Tomilola drank him in, drawing in a long, deep breath of his spicy aftershave. Running her hands over his strong, broad shoulders. Reveling in his kiss.
Breaking her moratorium on men the second she’d made the decision to stay on the Big W was maybe rushing things a bit. But. . .
He deepened the kiss, pulling her closer, slipping his tongue past her lips to taste and explore and claim. Maybe it wasn’t. No kiss had ever felt this hot or this urgent or this damned. . .erotic. The intensity with which he kissed her was frightening.
It was as if he wanted to devour her very soul. Something that should have scared her to death. But it didn’t. Beneath his hard core of determination was a gentle, caring heart. One that brought a bottle of red label to soothe the turmoil of a difficult day. One that waited to show her a closet full of gifts until she could appreciate them. One that sent her roses as a gentle reminder of her dreams.
She wanted to know that heart better. Wanted to be closer to it. Closer to the man who owned it. She opened her mouth, letting his tongue in deeper, tasting his heart, his need. His hands moved down her back, pulling her hips to his.
Yes, Electric tingles shot through her. He was so big and so strong and so damned hard. . .everywhere. With a soft groan, she pressed closer, reveling in the feel of him, reveling in the knowledge that he wanted her as much as she wanted him. An answering groan vibrated from his lips, and the next thing she knew she was backed up against the rough wooden planks of the stall, one of his hands plowing through her hair, the other lifting her leg alongside his hips, opening her to him.
Oh, yeah. She rocked her hips forward, hot need slicing through her. She’d been attracted to him from the moment she’d first seen him. Had wondered more than once what it would be like between them. But she’d never imagined anything like this.
This was explosive. Like throwing gasoline on a fire. She cursed the material separating them. She wanted to feel those supple muscles beneath her fingers. Wanted to feel his skin against hers. Wanted to feel him, long and hard, inside her.
She slid her hands up his torso, loving every inch as she made her way to his collarbone. There, she grabbed hold of both sides of his shirt and pulled. The pearl-buttoned snaps gave way with one soft pop after the other.
His lips jerked away from hers. His whole body tensed. “Oh, God. What am I doing?”
No, No, No, No. She wasn’t going to let him have some attack of conscience – or whatever the heck this was – now. She grabbed his shirt and held on tight. “You’re kissing me. And I’m enjoying every second of it. Don’t you dare stop.”
He shook his head, his breathing hard and ragged. “We can’t do this. I can’t do this.”
“But you were doing it. Really well, I might add.” She didn’t even try to keep the whine from her voice. He let go of her leg, untangled her hands from his shirt and stepped back. “You’re going to make a good home for yourself here, Tomilola. A good life. But beyond my role as executor to this estate, I don’t belong in that picture.”
“What the heck do you mean, you don’t belong in the picture? For pity’s sake, if you hadn’t been around to hold me up the last few days, I would have fallen apart by now.”
“No, you wouldn’t have. You’re too strong for that. And supporting you through a tough time isn’t the same thing as taking you to bed. Which is where that kiss was heading.” He took another step back. “You need help with the estate, I’m your man. You need anything else, you need to look elsewhere.” He turned on his heel and started down the aisle.
She ran after him, grabbed his arm and pulled him back around. “Wait a minute. You can’t kiss me like that and then just walk away.”
He looked down at her, something cold and bleak and. . .immeasurably lonely filling his expression. “It’s the only thing I can do.” He pulled from her grasp and headed out of the barn, his boots ringing hollowly on the hard cement. She watched him go, her lips throbbing, her body aching, her heart squeezing. “This isn’t over, Demola.” He looked back at her as he pulled the big wooden door open and stepped into the night. “Yes, it is.” He closed the door between them. She narrowed her eyes on the long, marred planks. “Oh, no, it’s not.”
A few nights later, Demola pulled up to his house and got out of his truck. Every muscle and bone ached up his fatigue. It had been a long brutal day. Tomorrow, which would be rolling in another couple of short hours, would be another. Thank God. He needed the work. Needed the exhaustion to keep the images of Tomilola at bay.
Tomilola looking at him with heat and need in her eyes. Tomilola in his arms, stretching toward him, rocking her hips into his.
Tomilola. . .
He startled as he stepped onto his porch. Was he hearing her voice now? Great.
But when he peered into the shadows he spotted her sitting in his rocker, rocking. At least he wasn’t crazy. But he was alone with her, here in the middle of the night. And every nerve and cell in his body knew it. “What are you doing up so late?” He kept the question short and curt.
“Waiting for you.” Her voice was as warm and sultry as the night air. “You’ve been avoiding me.”
Hell, yes. And he had every intention of continuing to do so until this attraction between them died out. Considering the way that kiss had gone, a year – or ten – ought to do it. He resisted the urge to reach out and touch her. Resisted the urge to pull her into his arms and pick up where he’d cut things off the other night. “I’ve not been avoiding you, I’ve just been really busy with the accounts.”
She peered up at him through thick lashes. “Did the kiss scare you that much?”
It had scared the living daylights out of him. But having her here, obviously pursuing the matter, pursuing him, scared him more. He’d already proved he had no resistance where she was concerned. And the desire pounding him now only understood that truth.
He needed her to keep her distance, not come knocking at his door. “The kiss was a mistake. One I don’t intend to repeat. Now, is there anything concerning the estate I can help you with? If not, I’d like to get some sleep. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.”
“Oh no, you are not going to shut me out that easily. We’re going to talk about this. You’re going to explain why you walked out on me.”
He tightened his fist around his keys. If he told her, he wouldn’t have to worry about keeping any distance between them. She’d be the one keeping it. But she might well decide to keep it by firing him. And he couldn’t risk that. Not yet.
He’d convinced her to stay the other night. But he wasn’t a fool – at least not about some things. He’d obviously been out of his mind when he’d kissed her, but he was clearheaded about this. She’d decided to stay, yes, but, considering her past records with jobs, that decision would be fragile at this stage of the game. He needed to stay around long enough to solidify it. Then, if she found out who he was, what he was and sent him packing. . .
In the meantime, he needed to shut this discussion down. “I’ll take that as no, you don’t have any questions about the estate. In which case, good night.” He slipped inside before she could stop him, bolted the door shut and walked away from it.
As far away from it as he could get. Far enough, he hoped, to keep him from jerking it open and pulling her in with him.
He made his way into the kitchen. If he drank himself into oblivion, maybe he wouldn’t spend the night hot and agitated and miserable. He snatched an unopened bottle of red label from the cabinet and broke the seal.
He could hope.
To Be Continued…