Cowboy casanova, p.33
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       Cowboy Casanova, p.33
 

         Part #12 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
Page 33

 

  Welcome to Wyoming.

  He turned onto a gravel road. The steep, twisty incline had Ainsley reaching for the strap above the door. “Good idea to hang on. It’ll straighten out here in a minute. ”

  As soon as they crested the hill, trees flanked the plateau. A plateau where nothing blocked the magnificent view of Devil’s Tower.

  She leaned closer to the windshield. “Oh wow. ”

  Ben cut the engine and the lights. “I brought blankets so we can sit outside. ”

  He dropped the tailgate, covering the cold metal with an old sleeping bag. He wrapped a blanket around them, bringing her close to his body. “Warm enough?”

  “Yes. ”

  They stayed snuggled together, soaking in the brilliance of the stars, content with quiet.

  After a while, she said, “This is such a gorgeous spot. I didn’t know it was here. ”

  “It’s weird when you’re used to living among scenery like this—” he gestured to the sprawling grand vista, “—it becomes easy to take it for granted. So I come here when I need to be humbled. ”

  She threaded her fingers through his. “I’m happy you brought me to a place that matters to you. It is beyond amazing. ”

  “I’m glad you didn’t think I dragged you out here because I was too cheap to take you someplace else. ”

  Ainsley snickered. “But I need to ask… Did you bring girlfriends here when you were in high school?”

  “Nope. It’s always been my private place. Well, as private as a public place can be. ”

  “Did you ever come to any life-altering decisions while soaking in the scenery?”

  “Given that my workin’ life had been predetermined by bein’ born into a ranching family, I’ll say no. ”

  “Are you ever resentful that path was expected for you? And then Chase got to go off and do his own thing?”

  The depth of the questions surprised him. Like she’d just been waiting for the chance to ask. “There are days, but I’ll admit those days are rare. I’ll also admit I’d probably feel differently about that life if I hadn’t found my place in the club. Besides I’ve always known my station in life regarding our section of the ranch. ”

  She frowned. “I was under the impression the McKay Ranch was one entity. ”

  “It is. But it’s complicated with the additions to the original ranch land. My Uncle Carson and his sons have been buying up land for the last fifteen years. So has my Uncle Cal. ”

  “And your family hasn’t added on?”

  Not yet. “Not much. First there’s gotta be land around us for sale to buy. ”

  “Working with the ag industry will be a whole new experience for me. I’ll be taking a course after the first of the year that deals with land lease rights, mineral rights, and how it can affect the added value of the land. ”

  “We’ve owned land lease rights for over a hundred years, in some places. ”

  “So how does it work? Dividing the work and the money when there are so many family members involved?”

  “We divvy up responsibilities. Technically all the cattle belong to all of us. We divide them up according to land size. Out here it takes about thirty-five acres to sustain one cow. So those in the family who’ve bought more land run more cattle, so they make more money. ”

  “Land equals money?”

  “Yep. As far as the rest? We’ve got common ranch equipment to use. Feed is divided up between us because we work together to get the haying done. We’re all paid out of the expenses account. Gotta watch those pennies bein’s we’re only paid individually once a year after the cattle have gone to market. ”

  “I don’t know if I could handle only getting a check once a year. ”

  He shrugged. “It’s just the way it goes. So I’m glad I get some extra cash from my furniture makin’ sideline. ” Which reminded him he needed to check on what the holdup was for payment on his last completed furniture order. He’d need that money sooner rather than later.

  “Does Chase have any stake in the ranch? Seems like he’s not around to pitch in. ”

  “He opted out last year and took a cash settlement. I did talk to Chase today. He’s excited about the event Saturday. ”

  “Really? Lucky for us it fit into his schedule so last minute. ”

  “He’s done with the PBR tour for the year. ”

  “What’s it like? Having your sibling a celebrity?”

  “Chase is Chase. He’s the same way now as he was when he was a kid. ” He smiled. “A spoiled brat. But he’s a good guy. ” That’s when Ben realized Ainsley was doing it again, directing the conversation. “Here you’re asking all about my family. You must think I’m a total dick because I’ve never asked about yours. ”

  Ainsley started to swing her legs on the tailgate. “Not a lot to tell. My parents are missionaries. They’re out of the country for a couple years at a time so I don’t see them much. Everything changed between us after I escaped to college. ”

  “Whoa. Escaped?”

  “I spent my childhood in third world countries. All I ever wanted was a normal life. Living in the suburbs, going to school with kids my age, hanging out at the mall with friends, having sleepovers talking about boys, clothes and other girls. Even when we were in the States I didn’t have that. ”

  “Why not?”

  “My dad requested assignments in rural areas, so we lived on various Indian reservations. I was the outsider white girl everywhere, even in my own country. ”

  “That must’ve been rough. ”

  “I’d had visions of reinventing myself when I started college, but I played it safe. I didn’t want to become a clichéd wild child, rebelling against my father being a minister. ”

  Ben’s thumb traced circles on her palm. “Is that why you’re goin’ wild now?”

  “I’m not wild. I’m exploring whether I have a wild side, remember? I’m not sure this Dom/sub thing is more than an experiment. I think I’m too old to be learning new tricks. ”

  Had she brought up her doubts because of last night? Or was it a warning that no matter how much he opened up to her, there wasn’t a chance this could last longer than the thirty days? Ben asked, “How old are you?”

  “Teetering on the edge of thirty-eight. Why?”

  “This ain’t me sucking up, but I thought you were younger than me. ”

  “How old are you?”

  “Thirty-two. ”

  Ainsley groaned. “Great. Now I am a cliché. Not a wild child daughter of a preacher man, but a cougar. ”

  “Age don’t matter. I’d still be the boss of you even if we were the same age. ”

  “I remember saying that to my older brother. You’re not the boss of me. ” She shot him a sideways glance. “That totally takes on a different meaning now. ”

  He laughed. He seemed to laugh a lot with her.

  The first edge of the moon peeped up over the top of Devil’s Tower. “Look. ”

  “It’s breathtaking. Now I understand the phrase moon glow. ”

  “Just wait. In another hour you’ll barely see the stars because the sky will be lit up. ”

  Once again silence fell between them, allowing Ben to study her covertly. He was captivated by the play of moonbeams highlighting her face. “God, you’re beautiful. ”

  Ainsley looked at him and then away.

  “Did I say something wrong?”

  “Not at all. It’s just…disconcerting. You’ve given me more compliments in a week than…I deserve. ”

  “That wasn’t what you were gonna say. ” He tugged her closer by the collar on her coat and got right in her face. “Tell me. ”

  “There’s Bennett. I wondered if he’d make an appearance. ”

  “He gets pissy when you rip on yourself. So tell me. ”

  Her exhalations puffed against his lips. “You see me in a different way than I see myself. You can make me fe
el sexy and pretty. ”

  “You are sexy and pretty. ” He pressed smooches to her lips.

  “And when you give me such awesome compliments? They’re sincere. Not toss off comments because you want to get laid. ” She rubbed her mouth over his. “You know I’m a sure thing. So I appreciate them even more. ”

  “The only sure thing about you, angel, is you keep me on my toes. I don’t take for granted that you’re a sure thing because you can stop this at any time. And after last night…I was really afraid you would. ”

  “Ben. ” Ainsley placed a kiss on his chin. “I can’t promise you that this won’t end, but I want to see it through until the end date we agreed on. Okay?”

  That was more than he’d hoped for, but not nearly enough, and it’d have to do for now. He said, “Okay. ”

  Chapter Seventeen

  Ainsley had expected a decent turnout for the community event National West and Settler’s First had co-sponsored for Chase McKay and his foundation. But she hadn’t expected standing room only. She’d had to restock her bank information brochures and giveaway items within the first fifteen minutes. The fishbowl overflowed into a cardboard box with entries for the five hundred dollar drawing.

  Forty-five minutes remained until the golden boy himself, Chase McKay, made an appearance.

  She’d seen Ben, not that he’d sought her out. He couldn’t—being surrounded by a bevy of beauties limited his movement. Really, it was ridiculous. He was good looking. And he did have that sexy dimpled chin. And those expressive blue eyes. And a great body. And that deep, commanding voice. Those women were enticed by the pretty packaging. But those women didn’t know him, the real him, not like she did.

  Jealous much?

  Truthfully, she hadn’t expected to see him, with his brother being the guest of honor. Several tables had been reserved for the McKay family near the stage. Kids of varying ages, with the same black hair and blue eyes as Ben, pawed through the freebie bin until they all came up with matching whistles.
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