Tess Pherson took over her daddy's Tennessee ranch 5 years ago.When she's nearly attacked in a bar, self-proclaimed bachelor and lone cowboy Colton Derricks steps in to save the day in more ways than one. But can he save her - and her growing secret - from whoever's out to hurt them before it's too late?
“Of all the gin joints in the world, she had to walk into mine”. The tinny voice of Humphrey Bogart spoke ironically from the gritty black and white set on top of the bar.
Colton Derricks eyed the innocently curvy blonde as she bit her lip as if doubting her course of action before firmly sticking a help wanted advertisement on the corkboard at the end of the bar where most of the local goings on were recorded.
He watched her as she stared at it for a moment before turning to wend her way back through the maze of tables, passing his barstool so that he had to tear his whiskey blurred eyes from her sweet tight behind.
Damn but she was beautiful. He knew the name Tess Pherson from talk around town. Despite her all-American good looks and honey voice, she had both her hands in working her hardest at keeping her father’s ranch going since he died 5 years ago – and he knew from experience that it took one hell of a lot of guts to live a ranching life, especially when time and money were never on your side.
Over the top of his glass he watched as a greasy mustachioed patron reached out a groping hand that was coming dangerously close to that sweet tight little behind. A warning noise came out the back of his throat as he watched the sleazy ranch-hand rise clumsily out of his chair and block her way.
Despite the fact that he knew he was more than a couple drinks into his evening he downed the last shot and pushed back the barstool, which fell to the dusty naked wood floor with a metallic scrape.
“Jose”, he kept his voice low – but all the same the atmosphere in the smoky bar tensed and quieted in the eerie manner that only precedes a storm. “I suggest you let Miss Pherson pass so that she can get on with her evening”.
“Well Hey we’re just getting’ acquainted, ain’t we darlin’” he slurred wrapping an arm around her slim shoulders so that his fingertips grazed the top of her breasts. Tess struggled harder against the sloppy drunk, trying not to gag at the smell of stale body odor and booze that wafted sickeningly from his clothes. “Hell no, now get lost”.
The man’s swarthy features twisted into a sneer as he turned back his blurry gaze to the topmost buttons of Tess’s blouse. Tess tried to walk towards the door again but Jose kept his hand on her shoulder and tightened his grip.
As soon as Colton saw a flicker of pain and fear flash in her eyes he grabbed the man’s arm and wrenched it backwards pinning it to the bar where it was pinned in an unnatural position. Squinty eyes smarted with tears of pain and forgone pride and the man stumbled towards the door. “Go ahead cowboy; I wouldn’t screw a frigid bitch like that anyway”.
Colton took another step towards the man, one thing he couldn’t stand was someone who couldn’t own up to the things they’d done – and the man trying to pin his own embarrassing actions on a woman was enough to bring his blood to a boil. But the doors of the bar slammed shut as he left and the volume levels resumed their previous loud raucousness.
Tess batted at her eyes brusquely, she didn’t really care about the drunk’s comments about her, but they were so close to what her last lover had said when he left that she couldn’t help but feel a pang of hurt as he spoke them.
Thoroughly embarassed and pathetically grateful for this stranger’s help, Tess turned to thank the man but when she looked up into his face a warmth swooped through her body, settling restlessly in her core.
She could have sworn she saw a flare of that same heat flash in her rescuer’s eyes before they returned to cool grey depths. “Th-thank you” she stuttered out, inwardly cringing at how breathlessly girlish her voice had sounded. “Although I’m sure I had the situation under control”.
He looked amused “just the thank you would have sufficed miss”.
“Pherson” she added, “Tess Pherson”. He took her hand and smiled politely, hoping to hell the cruel pressure behind his jeans zipper didn’t get any worse to draw her attention to it. “Sufficed?” she continued “Well I’m impressed cowboy”.
Grey eyes flashed with anger before she had a moment to regret her words, “sorry to disappoint ma’am”. She looked up at him again and saw the momentary anger had gone and in its place was an infuriatingly self-assured smirk.
“I suppose I deserved that ma’am comment” she admitted ruefully as she turned towards her car. But he turned and caught her arm lightly, a million miles away in difference between the way she’d been manhandled in the bar. “I’ve taken up enough of your time Mr. Derricks”. She shot him a polite smile and made to open the door of her truck but a large broad chest got in her way as he leaned it closed again.
“It’s Colt, Tess, and if you’re so grateful for what I’ve done tonight you won’t mind tellin’ me why you’re fixin’ to get in even more trouble by putting up that fool sign in the bar. “I need a man” she started out before blushing and rubbing a hand across her forehead tiredly “What I meant is that I need a man for around the ranch. There’s been some odd things happening at my place and much as my pride hates to admit it I don’t think I’m all that threatening. Although I can take care of myself” she added at the last moment.
Smoky eyes started at her worn leather boots and traveled up firm calves to deliciously curvy thighs that dipped into a small waist and what he knew to be a sweet little derriere. His eyes lingered a moment more on her breasts, the topmost curve of which had been revealed during the scuffle in the bar.
Finally, as the rest of her body felt like it was going to go up in flames from his burningly slow perusal he met her eyes again. “Mmhmm” he murmured “I’m sure you’re a woman who knows exactly what she wants”.
He tipped his Stetson and held open the driver’s side door for her, standing in the now near empty parking lot until her beat up red Chevrolet turned out of sight in its churning wake of dust – damn if that woman didn’t get under his skin.