Gentling the Cowboy(7)

By: Ruth Cardello


He nodded, not trusting himself to answer. The way she continued to look him over . . . slowly . . . from head to foot had him fumbling for sanity. He pointed to the land phone on the small table in the corner of the room and wordlessly watched her walk to it.

Damn.

“There’s still no answer.” She waved the handset helplessly in the direction of her distant friends. “I guess I should just head over there and wait till they get home.”

“Are you sure you can find the place?” he asked without missing a beat, surprising himself.

Replacing the receiver, Sarah’s eyes narrowed at him even as her dimples revealed her good humor at his teasing. “A cowboy and a comedian?”

Tony shrugged. “Can’t say I’ve ever been accused of being funny before.” He’d never had much to laugh about and didn’t see any merit in acting the clown, since the world was full of those who took to idiocy naturally.

Her expression softened. “Well, you should try it more often. It suits you.”

The compliment jolted him like a brush with electric fencing. Tony retreated a step and almost fell when the back of his boot met her suitcase.

She advanced and reached to steady him but he stepped back again, evading her touch.

The sound of the front door opening had never been so welcome. Women make men stupid. Plain and simple. Wasn’t that what his father had always said? He didn’t need more proof than practically falling on his ass because a woman half his size had complimented him.

The shuffle of boots across the wooden floor announced someone’s intention of joining them. Melanie. Her presence wasn’t a surprise. As his housekeeper, she used his kitchen on a daily basis to prepare meals for him. Normally, however, she was better at minding her own business.

Yep, she was fixing to break the one rule he’d laid down the day he’d hired her and, for a reason he wasn’t comfortable exploring, he wasn’t prepared to correct her in front of Sarah.

She came to a stop at the doorway. “You have company? Do you need anything?” She looked over as she spoke and for a moment the two women simply stared at each other.

A man would have been hard-pressed to say if these two women could get along. Life hadn’t been kind to Melanie, and she’d spent almost as much time hiding on his secluded ranch as he had. Although she was likely only a few years older than Sarah, they couldn’t have been more different. If the two were cats, Sarah would be the fluffy white pampered city type that would likely run at the first sign of a rodent. Melanie was a brown bad-tempered barn cat: useful to have, but better kept outside.

Not that she ever showed her temper around him; no one did and stayed.

He was still debating how to get both out of his house when Sarah stepped forward with the huge, welcoming smile he’d seen on her face when she’d thought he was her friend’s brother.

She took Melanie’s hand in hers and shook energetically. “Hi, my name’s Sarah.”

Melanie pulled her hand free. Did he imagine the hiss? Careful, Sarah. Feral cats aren’t real good when cornered. He figured he could intervene before things got ugly, but most creatures got along better if you let them sort it out for themselves.

Sarah’s smile didn’t dim as she waited for the other woman to speak.

“Melanie,” his dark-haired housekeeper said curtly.

In the high-speed way she spoke, Sarah said, “I can only imagine what you must be thinking, but this is much more ridiculous and innocent than it looks.” She took her phone out of her back pocket and waved it between them. “I mean, who knew it wouldn’t work out here, right?” She looked over her shoulder at Tony and said, “Your husband was just letting me use your phone.” Then she flushed a delightful shade of pink. “Okay, your shower, too, but he didn’t let me use that. I mean, I did use it, but that was before I knew you would both be here. Which, you should be, because it’s your house. So why wouldn’t you be here? I’m the one who shouldn’t be here. And I’m actually just leaving.”

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