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“No, honey, Ivie’s fine. Everything is fine. I only wanted to talk if that’s okay.”

There’s a short silence, then, she replies, “Yeah, I should be able to be there Friday.”

I smile, even if no one can see me. “Sounds good, honey. I’ll see you then. And Lucy...”


“Please take care of yourself. And know I’m here, day or night anytime. I’m a phone call away.”

“Thanks, Rhett,” she says quietly. It sounds like she might be crying. I want nothing more than to run to wherever she is and fix whatever’s broken. But I can’t burst into her life that way. I have to be patient, so she’ll let me in.

“I’ll see you Friday, honey. I love you.”

“See you then.” She doesn’t say anything else. I don’t want her to think she has to express any feeling, but I want her to know I love her. I’ve always loved her. I have two beautiful daughters and I have every intention of making sure they both know how much their daddy loves them.

Afew days pass by without any word from Lucy. I drive by her house when things settle at the ranch to make sure everything appears as it should. I’m not trying to act like a stalker, but I need to know she’s okay. I’ve done this every day. Today’s Friday and I finally catch a glimpse of her walking out the front door and heading to her car. I slow down and turn in behind where she’s parked, effectively blocking her in so she’ll have to talk to me.

She quickly glances up as I cut my engine. “Hey, Tate. I’m just leaving,” she says hurriedly, not making eye contact. When I reach her, she still refuses to look up. I want to turn her face up to mine but I don’t. She doesn’t need any man making her do anything she doesn’t want to do, so I put my hands in my pocket to control the urge to touch her. The wind blows slightly, pushing her scent toward me. She smells like strawberries.

“I won’t stay long, but I wanted to check on you.” I don’t take my eyes off her, hoping she’ll give me a glimpse of those emerald eyes I’ve been dreaming of. I’ve been craving being able to lose myself in her unique shade of green for days.

“Well, as you can see, I’m fine. Nothing to worry about.” She finally turns to look at me, giving me a tight-lipped smile—practiced and rehearsed. I don’t believe her for a second, but for now, I won’t call her on it. Something’s up. I may not have known her long, but I can tell she’s lying. Now I find myself helpless to resist touching her. I rub my thumb over her bottom lip, tugging it down gently. She closes her eyes for the briefest of seconds and opens them again, revealing darker green eyes than before, swirling with desire.

Instantly, my blood is heated, and I want her…right now. I take a step closer, so close I can feel her breath on my lips. I cup her beautiful face in both hands, searching for any hint she doesn’t want me to kiss her. I still won’t make a move without her saying it’s okay. “Can I kiss you, Lucy McCree?”

Her eyes dilate slightly. “I thought you’d never ask.” It’s all I need.

I press my lips to hers, gently at first. Then I deepen the kiss by brushing my tongue along her full lips. She parts them for me, letting me in, then throws her arms around my neck. Our tongues dance and devour, exploring each other. Our bodies are flush against one another, and I know there’s no hiding how much I want her. But she isn’t deterred. She trails one hand down my chest and stomach, then further down, brushing my length with her fingers. I almost unravel, but somehow hold it together. As much as I want her in every way, I need to slow this down—for her. She’s not ready. And she may never be ready for someone like me. She makes me want to say to hell with all the things holding me back. She’s different—I know that in my heart.

Something about her has me under a spell. I’m not like this. I don’t give women a second thought. I get what I want physically, but respectably, then I’m done. The women I see know what they’re getting with me. I make it clear up front. But Lucy—she’s haunting me, in a good way. But what am I supposed to do…throw all my rules out the window and forget why I am the way I am?

I break the kiss, but I don’t release her. I can’t, even if I know I should. “You okay?” Now it’s her turn to ask. I’m hot and cold so of course she’d ask. I need to get my act together. I can’t risk hurting her.

“I’m perfect, love.”Love? What the hell am I doing?

“Where are you headed?” I ask quickly to shift her focus.

“I’m headed to Ivie’s.” She smiles tightly with an undercurrent of worry.

“Is everything okay? You look worried,” I ask while still holding her close to me and losing myself in my recently realized new favorite shade of green eyes.

“I’m going to talk to Rhett. And I’m helping Ivie get ready for tonight. Well, you know, you’re in on it aren’t you? Briella said y’all were making sure Sterling’s home alone tonight so Ivie can see him.”

“Yes, we’ve got it covered. What do you mean you’re helping her get ready?” I can’t help but ask a little puckishly and chuckle.

Lucy smiles and the same cute blush I witnessed at my house creeps up her neck and to her beautiful face. “It’s a girl thing. I guess it’s a sister thing for us. That and she’s still recovering from her injuries.” Her smile fades and her eyes fall.

“Shit, Lucy. I didn’t mean to sound like such a jerk. I was just making conversation. Of course, she’s still healing. And recovering or not, I’m sure she’d want your help to get her man after all they’ve been through—even if some of it was his fault most recently.” I put my finger under her chin and tip her face back up so I can admire her again.

“You noticed he was being a jerk, huh?” she quips, smile planted firmly back on her face.

“I think we all did. He knew it too. I think he was scared. But none of us could talk sense into him. Until you. You unleashed your magical sister powers and he snapped out of it.” I chuckle again.

“I have my moments and hidden talents.” She winks and I feel my length coming to life, again. This woman is going to be the death of me. I step back and release her. She doesn’t miss a beat, even though I can see a flicker of confusion in her eyes. She saves me from making an even bigger fool of myself. “I need to get going. I guess I’ll see you around.” She opens her car door and gets in without another glance.

I stand there slightly dazed until she starts her car. Shoving my hands back in my pockets, I silently curse myself for being weak and letting myself get wrapped up in her—in any woman—but especially her. She’s Ivie’s sister, which means she’s important to Sterling and Briella. None of them would ever forgive me for breaking her heart. And in my heart, I know that’s exactly what I would end up doing. I don’t know how to love and give my heart to someone completely.All because of her.Damn it. I crank up my truck and pull out of her drive without looking back.

“Are you sure this is okay? I mean, this dress is a little snug. I have a very small pooch where I’m beginning to show, but it’s there,” Ivie asks me while eyeing herself in the mirror. I can’t help but grin at her.I’m going to be an aunt!That’s the one thing in my life I can say, without a doubt, I’m over the moon about.

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