Authors: Lynda Chance
Zach pulled away from the ranch house and as he barreled down the dirt road leaving a trail of dust behind him, he fisted his hands on the steering wheel and tried to breathe evenly. What the fuck was it about that girl that made him act the way he did? Even now, months after the accident that had claimed his faithless wife, and agonizingly, his child, he didn't,
feel sane around Katie Turner. Jesus Christ, she was only a girl. He desperately needed to get a hold of his runaway emotions.
for God's sake. What the hell was wrong with him? He didn't
emotions. Was he a total pussy, or what? Why couldn't he feel
around the girl? He managed to forget about her when he was in Dallas, for the most part, but every time he came back to the ranch, there she was, in front of his goddamned face, and the bulge in his pants seemed to throb even harder for her.
And now she'd graduated from high school. She was still just a kid, but she was getting temptingly close to an age where he could seduce her if he felt the need. And fuck,
he felt the need
. He admitted to himself that the passing months had lessened his anger. Now what he felt for her was turning into pure sexual need. A wanting on his part that he didn't think would go away until he'd had her. No, he'd fantasized about it too often in the past when revenge had been his motive. He wouldn't be denied forever; she was in his blood now.
But there was still that look of fear in her eyes, and there probably always would be after the way he'd treated her. She was scared of him, and of what he wanted from her. She would probably always remember the animosity between their families. It suddenly occurred to him that he'd never get her in his bed in any normal, usual way, not now, not after everything that had happened. Katie would never stand still long enough for him to speak to her, let alone talk her into his bed
The past would always stand between them, and she'd never give him the time of day. She certainly wouldn't just fall panting into his bed the way she did in his dreams.
He fisted his hands around the steering wheel. He'd screwed up when he'd taken his anger out on her. Screwed up bad.
So now he was fucked. And he didn't think he could accept total defeat because someday, maybe not soon, but someday, he had to have her.
He would have her
Katie left for college at the end of August and she had to admit, it was going better than anticipated; she'd made some friends and joined an intramural soccer team as well as a technology club. Several young men had asked her out, but she still couldn't bring herself to go on a date. It had only been a year. Surely it was enough that she was attempting to be social at all?
She put dating from her agenda for now and promised herself that she would try and get her nerve up again next semester. Josh had suggested more than a few times that she go to counseling, but she didn't want to, she didn't think she needed it. She truly wished she could tell her mother what had happened, but she had made a vow to herself that she wasn't going to make her parents suffer as well. It was bad enough already; she saw no need to worry her mom and dad. The worst thing, in her opinion, was the nightmares, but they were getting further and further apart, and she hoped that before much longer, they'd go away completely. So for now, she'd continue to live her life from day to day, and if she changed her mind, she could get some counseling later.
Before she knew it, Thanksgiving break arrived and she went home to Redwood Falls. For now, she just wanted to have some down time before finals, but her conscience wouldn't let her. Her mother had started painting the inside of the house but hadn't been able to finish, so Katie had volunteered to help her get through the project. She had learned more than she cared to know about stippling and taping and floating cracks in the walls. But at the end of the long holiday week, as she looked around the house now, she knew that all the trouble they'd gone through to do a good job had been worth it. The inside of the old house had a
feel to it.
All they had left was the smaller of the two bathrooms to finish. But they were out of blue painter's tape and Katie knew the job would be easier if she went to town to get more.
She was just leaving the hardware store when she looked up and saw Zachary McIntyre across the street, coming out of the bank. Her nerves clenched in a combination of raw panic and awareness; she didn't want him to see her.
But it was too late.
As her footsteps stalled in recognition, his gaze zeroed in on her and he immediately crossed the street and was in front of her within seconds.
Her heartbeat increased and began to beat in triple time as she stood on the sidewalk and waited for him to speak.
Zach found himself in front of Katie Turner on the Main Street of Redwood Falls and couldn't remember crossing the street or where he was supposed to be going. His mind was a blank but he realized that the elusive quality that Katie held still resonated as strongly as ever. It engulfed him in a heated rush as he looked down into her sparkling eyes.
He hadn't seen her in months, not since she'd left for college. She was as gorgeous as she'd always been, but he was surprised to see small, fine lines of tension around her mouth. She seemed even more delicate than usual, and she looked as if she'd lost a few pounds, when she hadn't had any to spare. His brows drew down in lines of concern and he was suddenly, sharply aware that his feelings for her had shifted once again. It was said that time heals all things, and he supposed that it did. He still wanted her as much as he always had, and in fact still believed that she'd belong to him some day in the future. But in that moment, he admitted to himself that much of his anger toward the Turners was gone now, muted by the passage of time.
As Zach took in her fragile beauty and wary eyes, he was almost ashamed of the way he'd reacted to her in the past. He told himself that emotions were only that, emotions, and he couldn't help the way he felt about Katie. But he never should have been so rough on her.
And though most of his anger was gone, there still remained a crazy-assed kernel of possession beating through his blood that said that Katie was his and always would be. He couldn't explain it . . . he didn't even try.
Standing across from one another, studying each other but not speaking yet, Zach immediately noticed the male attention she received just by being alive, breathing, standing on the sidewalk. It wasn't anything she did; there was nothing overt in the way she reacted to the men.
Jealousy bleeding through his veins, Zach narrowed his eyes as a man leaving the hardware store stared at her, while yet another man going into the store did a double take when he saw her. He felt a pinch of something black and ugly when the second man's eyes slid back to Katie and stayed on her until he'd walked past her and couldn't watch her anymore without turning around and gawking.
As obvious as both men had been in their attentions, Zach didn't think Katie had even noticed. Her face had paled when he'd come to stand in front of her, but now the color came flooding back into her cheekbones even though she stood her ground, waiting for what, he didn't know. He watched her so closely he could see the moment she stiffened her shoulders and lifted her chin.
"Don't worry, I'm not on my way to see your sister. You can take that nasty look off your face."
Zach didn't like the antagonism between them, but he couldn't see any way around it, at least, not altogether. He knew at once that she thought his
look was aimed toward her, when in fact, it was due to the hot rush of jealousy in his gut when the other men had looked at her. He tried for a neutral response, tried to make the first move to put her at ease around him. "I'm not worried. I think I'm old enough and strong enough to control one pesky little girl such as yourself." His words were meant to be teasing, humorous . . . and a personal reminder that she was still too damn young for him. That he still had to wait.
His effort was apparently wasted; she threw daggers in his direction but kept her mouth shut for a moment. But the silence didn't last long. "What do you want, Zach?"
What did he want?
He couldn't even remember making the decision to cross the street to stand in front of her. All he knew was that he was standing within touching distance with a throbbing groin and a need to reach out and touch her that kept fucking with his brain every time he saw her.
As he tried to figure out how the hell to answer that question without giving too much away, her gaze shifted and left his as she looked at something or someone behind him. As her eyes focused on whatever she was seeing, she paled and recoiled. Zach was almost blown away when she subtly shifted her body toward his. Almost imperceptibly, she edged toward him as if for protection as she continued to look past him. Without conscious thought, he reached out and gently took her elbow as if to steady her, or to offer her his support.
He was totally floored when she took his offering and moved her body well into his personal space. With one hand holding her elbow, he very carefully reached around her and wrapped his other arm behind her back. She allowed the overture and leaned into him, letting him absorb her weight. Lust, a deep primitive hunger, hit him hard, his senses deluged with her softness and her sweet smell. The fact that she'd accepted the overture and was willingly in his arms was adding a new dimension to his need. He quickly realized that this was the way that he wanted her;
he wanted her
He wanted her to want to be in his embrace.
He admitted to himself, he'd always wanted her that way.
But even with the heady feel of her so close, he was quickly calculating why she'd chosen to take refuge in his arms. After all, she still saw him as an adversary, and for her to have picked him as the safer bet meant that she for damn sure must be upset about something. Her eyes continued to dart between him and whatever or whoever was lurking behind him.
Caught off guard by the eroticism of having her in his embrace, Zach was only subliminally aware that giving her his protection was inducing pleasure in his bloodstream. He didn't want her to feel fear or to actually
protection, but being the man protecting her was an intoxicating experience.
With the scent of her body going directly to his head, he glanced behind him but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. A Federal Express truck came to a halt a few doors down. Two women who he vaguely recognized were coming from the beauty salon. Frank Whitaker's boy hoisted himself into a muddy farm truck and drove off. Nothing out of the ordinary and yet something had put unease in her eyes.
The thought left his mind as her silky skin slid under his fingers. But she was already pulling away, already acting as if he were the enemy again. And he guessed that to her, he still was.
Still, he didn't care for that moment of panic he'd seen. She was usually too confident, too determined to have behaved the way she had. It was an anomaly that he didn't understand and one he didn't care for. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine," her voice had lost some of its strength and she had moved away enough to put that slight space between them again.
"You sure?" he questioned again, not entirely believing her.
He felt it the moment her complete attention returned to him and with it, her truculence.
"I'm fine. What do you want?"
"Nothing. Just being neighborly."
Katie puffed out an unbelieving snort of laughter. "Right. Since when?"
Zach lifted a finger to run it down the side of her face but she reared back from him. "We're not enemies, Katie."
She lifted one finely arched eyebrow in disbelief. "Aren't we?"
"We don't have to be."
"Really?" she asked, mistrust and sarcasm in her tone.
"We shouldn't be enemies; I'm Hannah's brother."
"Yep, I can't argue with that."
Zach didn't want to continue in this vein. He could see she had put up a protective shield between them that he wouldn't be able to break through any time soon, so he changed the subject. "You need a ride back home?"
She studied him for a moment and he could see a slight hint of surprise on her face. "No, I've got the truck."
He ran his eyes over her once more, the delicate curves of her body a temptation he needed to get away from before he did something incredibly stupid. "See 'ya round then."
He turned and walked away, leaving her on the sidewalk staring after him.
Katie headed back to school and the next few weeks slipped quietly by. She focused on her grade point average, studying more than she'd ever done in her life. She breathed a sigh of relief when she finished her last final and headed home to Redwood Falls for the long winter break.
She spent an hour or so catching up with her mom and had just started settling into her bedroom when there was a rap on her door. She looked up as Josh stuck his head inside. "Hey."
She smiled back, pleased to see him. "Hey." She'd missed him a lot since she'd left for school.
"Getting settled?" He asked her now.