Check out this exclusive excerpt from RITA-award nominee Tory Cates! In her latest Western romance, we meet Kristin Jonsson, a woman who was ready for a new life. A single life. Without men. All Kristin wanted to do was work on her photography, because pictures don’t disappoint the way people do. But when she meets Grayson Lowry, a guy more afraid of commitment than Kristin, will she change her mind? Is she strong enough to resist temptation? Does she even want to anymore?
Read on to find out!
“I think I could stay here, just like this, forever,” she murmured, surprised at how comfortable she felt with her new employer. Gray, while he certainly commanded respect, was not a person Kristin could cast in the role of the stereotypical boss. She suspected that the effort other people extracted from their staff through threats and constant surveillance, Gray could elicit effortlessly simply by the loyalty he inspired.
Gray, his arms crossed over his knees, gazed out toward the far horizon. “That’s Wheeler Peak out there,” he said, pointing to New Mexico’s highest mountain. “The Indians believe that…”
But Kristin never learned what the Indians believe about Wheeler Peak for, when Gray turned toward her, he ceased speaking. The noonday sun streamed over Kristin, bringing the gold in her hair and eyes to life. It danced over her full lips and lightly freckled nose. It warmed and soothed the long limbs Gray had seen carry her so far and with such lithe grace.
“Your hair and eyes,” he mumbled, as if he’d just noticed she had them. “The color is so…” Gray hesitated, seeming to consciously discard all the familiar adjectives like pretty and striking, which Kristin had heard applied to her coloration. Finally, he settled on a markedly uneffusive description. “Unusual,” he finished. He reached out a strong, tanned hand and touched the very tail end of her braid, lying on the ground beside him.
“An unusual copper color,” he said. His voice sounded dry and raspy.
Her scalp tingled from the light tug of Gray toying with her hair. The tingling stopped abruptly, and Gray clenched his hands together, looking off once more into the distance. The sudden gesture confirmed an intuitive awareness that now formed in Kristin’s conscious mind: He wants to touch me, she thought. She remembered how she had reacted in exactly that way to the sight of Gray’s sculptured torso and realized that she might be evoking the same response in him. It gave her a sense of oddly precarious power. Odd because she wanted to know the feel of him beneath her fingers as much as he seemed to want to know her, and precarious because, in the final analysis, she knew that the power on Diablo Peak would always be his.
Kristin felt enclosed within the translucent shell of a fragile moment. She almost dared not breathe for fear of shattering it. Yet she was equally afraid of losing it, allowing it to slip away, never to be reclaimed. Impulse had always been the driving force behind her work and had guided her toward the best decisions of her life. She submitted to it now. Sitting up, she reached out a tentative hand and, with a touch so light as to be nearly imperceptible, laid it upon his upper arm.
Gray jerked around to face her with an almost accusatory expression that melted away at the sight of Kristin’s quizzical look. “What is it, Gray?” she asked. The question precipitated the response Kristin had wanted more than she knew. As Gray slowly rolled toward her, giving her ample opportunity to change her mind and pull her hand away, Kristin felt as though she were on the brink of triggering an avalanche, of deliberately skiing over the top of a slab of snow she knew was about ready to give way. Still she did not take her hand away.
Instead, she slid it up the muscled bounty of his arms and shoulders and down the columns of his back. The sheer size of him was a revelation to Kristin, who had always somehow ended up with men her own size or only slightly larger. Such an abundance of maleness seemed a rampant luxury. The muscles quivered beneath Kristin’s touch, as if coming fully awake after a long slumber. With a barely controlled slowness, he leaned toward her.
“This is insane,” Gray groaned at the instant in which they both abandoned themselves to the mutual lunacy. Kristin felt herself being pressed back against the heat of the mountain and then sandwiched between it and the warmth pouring from Gray’s chest. Her lids drooped; she was drugged by the intoxicating odors assailing her. The mingling of the fragrance of the wild flowers and Gray’s own male smell was heady.
He grappled briefly with the zipper at the neck of her turtleneck, opened it, then feasted hungrily on the creamy skin he had exposed. The delicious rasp of his beard against her neck sent tendrils of electric sensation spiraling out from that sensitive spot. Gray looked down at her, his eyes dark, searching, asking yet one more time if she wouldn’t stop him. Kristin trailed her hands up his spine to the tautness at the base of his neck, threaded her fingers through his sun-streaked hair, and, with a slight, gentle pressure, brought his head down. The avalanche had begun to fall.
His breathing accelerated and Kristin could feel the thunder of his heartbeat resonating in her chest to match the racing beat of her own pulse. His lips took possession of hers with an astonishing swiftness, pressing urgent demands against their fullness. Gray had stopped asking permission. He parted her lips, his tongue hungrily exploring the recesses beyond. Kristin’s hands on his cheeks felt the delicious thrusts. In one panther-quick movement, Gray reversed their positions, rolling onto his back and pulling Kristin over on top of him. For that brief moment in which she was toppled about as easily as if she had been caught in an avalanche.
Kristin was frightened by the ferocity of the power she had unleashed. Then his hands began to artfully knead her back, neutralizing even the threat of tension. The sun and his skillful massage made Kristin feel as if she were melting, that soon she would be little more than a runny puddle on Grayson Lowrey’s chest. As soon as she was reduced to a gelatinous mass, however, the hands began to reenergize her. They descended down her back, over the springy muscles of her buttocks, and onto the backs of her thighs to tantalize the nerve-rich flesh there. His abdominal muscles hardened beneath her as he lifted up his head, reaching to seek out Kristin’s mouth again. He pulled her tighter against the swelling evidence of his desire. Her own arousal was equally obvious in her quickened breath. Gray raked a hand upward, lingering over the dip of her waist, the arch of her rib cage, the thrust of her breasts.
Kristin gasped at the rush of pleasure that flooded her. Even through the thin cotton of the turtleneck, the feel of Gray’s hand on her breast, of his thumb teasing her nipple, caused an aching spasm to throb in her very core. He pinned her chin in both his hands and kissed her with a desperate urgency that left her fighting for air. She opened her eyes to gaze at the man who had excited her with a force she had never experienced before.
Feeling her scrutiny, Gray opened his eyes. He had the dazed appearance of a man fighting his way out of a coma. Thinking that the sun was in his eyes, Kristin moved to his side so that he could sit up. But even then there was a narrowing in Gray’s eyes that chilled Kristin as he returned her gaze. His nostrils were flared like those of a renegade horse struggling at the end of a captor’s lasso. His breathing was irregular. Kristin knew that she, too, exhibited similar symptoms and was betraying the extent of her arousal.
As the moment lengthened and he made no move to encircle her once more within the enflaming bonds of his arms, Kristin began to wonder what was stopping him. He couldn’t be unaware of her need for him. As a brisk wind swept down from the top of Diablo Peak, Kristin yearned for the warmth they had shared. It was clear, however, that the warmth was rapidly dissipating beneath Grayson Lowrey’s cold scrutiny of her.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice even huskier than it normally was.
“Sorry, for what?” Kristin demanded.
“I took advantage of my position.”
“Gray, you must be joking. There were no advantages taken here. I wanted you to touch me, to kiss me.” Kristin shivered as humiliation cooled the fires that had raged within her.
He eyed her as if rechecking his decision. Kristin couldn’t guess what he had seen in her face, but, whatever it was, it cemented his decision. He rose to his feet.
“Take my word for it,” he said, extending a hand down from his seigniorial height to help her up, “it wouldn’t have worked.”
Kristin stiffened. The rebuff struck her directly in her already wounded ego. Never before had she dared to show such aggressiveness, to allow her need to surface so plainly; never before had she been devastated by a man’s rejection. She had to call upon her already seriously depleted reserves of dignity to rise graciously to her feet and pretend that nothing had happened, because that was obviously what Grayson Lowrey intended to do.
“Don’t be offended,” he said commandingly.
Kristin gave a derisive snort of laughter. “Perhaps you’d also like to advise me ‘not to take it personally.’”
“You have every right to be angry.” The ragged edge to his voice warned Kristin of the effort he was making to restrain himself. “I never should have let myself get carried away.”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” she agreed tartly, deliberately tempting the control he was exercising. “Not when you had no intention of, shall we say, following through.”
“Whatever conclusions you’ve come to about me, about us,” the desire-deepened voice rumbled on, “they’re wrong. You’re a very desirable woman, Kristin. I think you know that. I think you also know that I wanted very much to have you. But not . . .” He held up his hands in exasperation, either at his failure or his refusal to say more. “I can’t allow myself,” he stated with a flat finality.