Rocky Mountain Desire

Six Pack Ranch - 2


Vivian Arend

For all those women who are brave in ways that people often can’t see on the outside—doing what’s needed for their children and themselves. Your strength amazes me.

Chapter One

Calgary, Alberta, July

She nursed her drink, waving back at her little sister who was jammed on the dance floor with a hundred other people. Beth tried not to peek at her watch again, instead checking out the myriad faces under the cowboy hats around her. She’d never seen so many boots and buckles in her life. Another round of Yahoos rose into the air from a few well-lubricated throats.

While she appreciated Darleen’s attempt at cheering her up and—how had she put it?—“pulling her back to the land of the living”, the bar scene had never been her thing.

It definitely wasn’t tonight.

One song ended, melding into another ear-shattering rendition of someone done somebody wrong, and Beth held the cool glass of her drink against her temple in the hopes it would slow the throbbing.

“There she is. Hey, Beth, look what I found on the dance floor!” Dar approached the table like a runaway train, dragging not one but two cowboys by the hand. “They’re identical twins,” she shouted with glee.

Beth raised a brow. They certainly were, from the tops of their Stetsons, past the mischievous grins and the tight faded jeans to the worn shitkickers.

“Well done. Now you need a wandering gypsy and the arctic explorer, and you’ll win the scavenger hunt.” She offered a hand to the first of the gorgeous specimens. “Beth.”

A warm hand clasped her fingers and gave a firm shake while a pair of piercing blue eyes gazed into hers. “Jesse Coleman, that’s my brother Joel. I can’t help you with an arctic explorer but I might know where there’s a gypsy or two.”

Beth laughed. “Sorry, but Darleen is a little enthusiastic at times. I’m attempting to keep her centered in reality.”

He rearranged a chair and sat in it backward, his mouth-watering smile growing warmer. She sipped her drink. He was hot and kind of cute, but too young for her. Way too young.

“You dancing tonight, Beth, or just exercising your imagination?” Jesse asked. His admiring gaze caused physical reactions she’d missed for far too long. Maybe it was time to spread her wings again. She forced herself to take a slow perusal of his body before smiling her approval. His eyes darkened with interest.

That was the kind of response she needed to see.

“Beth doesn’t dance since the accident,” Darleen piped up before she could answer for herself. “Oops. Sorry, sis. Shut mouth, throw away key.”

Beth found both the boys staring and resisted to urge to sigh in exasperation. It’s not as if she had planned on keeping it a secret.

She leaned back in her chair and hauled out her leg with its thick supporting brace. “I dance just fine, Darleen, only I take up more room than is available on the floor. You go ahead, I’ll watch.”

The other twin spoke, adjusting the chairs until there was enough space for them all. “I’m happy to sit for a while. It’s been a long day, and the dancing’s pretty much worn me out.”

Darleen rested on the arm of Joel’s chair, her body leaning toward him. Beth coughed then glanced away. Her sister was grown up and could make her own decisions, but she didn’t want to be in the know about any specific sexual escapades. From the looks Joel was bestowing on Dar, the potential for something to happen was high.

Besides, Beth had her own agenda tonight, and perhaps the young hotshot seated next to her would be a willing volunteer in her research project. She sipped her drink and checked inwardly to see if she’d had enough to alcohol yet to loosen her inhibitions.

“Why’s it called the Six Pack Ranch?” Darleen picked up a conversation they’d obviously started on the dance floor. She now sat firmly in Joel’s lap, and Beth blinked at having missed the movement that put her there. “You said the ranch has been around for generations, but six-packs are fairly new.”

Jesse laughed easily. “There are so many Colemans in the area, with all the uncles and cousins, folks decided it was easier to stick each of the clans with an additional title. Like our cousins, the Whiskey Creek Colemans—their south boundary runs parallel to the creek. Our spread is officially the SP Ranch after the first initials of the original Coleman brothers who established her, but the smartasses in town decided it stood for Six Pack a few years ago and the new handle stuck.”

Beth raised a brow. “The smartasses? Why would they do that? Usually nicknames have some basis in reality.”

“You’re pretty fixated on reality, aren’t you, sweetheart?” Jesse leaned over and took her hand in his, stroking her fingers. If she weren’t so sure she might have taught him only a few years earlier in one of her high school math classes, her enjoyment would have been greater. Now she wondered if he was even of legal age to be in the bar. “You’re right, there’s more. Picture six boys growing up on the ranch. That started the idea. Plus, there’s this…”

He rotated smoothly to finish by her side, tugging her close. Yanking up the bottom of his shirt, he slapped her hand onto his abdomen.

Rigid muscles flexed under her palm, and she froze for a second, his hand trapping hers. Oh God, she’d never felt anything like it before. Beth involuntarily drew a finger along the well-defined ridges, engrossed by the sensation of individual muscle bundles under the skin. His soft laugh jerked her back to reality—she was fondling a stranger’s stomach in public. She snatched her hand away.

She wiggled a finger in his face. “Bad boy.”

He laughed and leaned in closer. “I think you like bad boys.”

Beth shook her head. He had no idea how much she wanted the exact opposite.

Darleen giggled as Joel nuzzled behind her ear, and Beth knew it was time to make a decision. She snuck a glance from under her lashes to spot Jesse watching the other two at the table jealously, his attention back on her younger sister, and that was all the wake-up call she needed. He might have thought she was amusing to tease, but she was way too old for him. She glanced around the dance floor, a sense of frustration rising. Weren’t there any guys over the age of twelve in the room?

“I need to powder my nose.” She grabbed her purse and hid her smile as Jesse leapt to his feet to help her. He was a polite thing, wasn’t he? If she weren’t old enough to have babysat him, it might have been perfect.

With her bulky leg brace, it took some manoeuvring to make it through the crowd to the back of the room. The pulsing beat of the music stirred something inside her, the liquor setting her blood pounding for the first time in forever. The bodies tangling together on the dance floor made her jealous. How long since she’d had someone want her that much? Hands and mouths unable to resist touching, no matter how visible they were to the people around them.

Actually, she’d never had that kind of relationship. She cursed at herself for being a fool and pushed open the door to the washroom harder than she intended, the edge slamming into the wall with a crash. The girls at the sink touching up their lipstick eyed her, and she shook her head in derision, stumbling her way to a stall.

Great, she was freaking out the party animals. The whole bar trip had been a bad idea from the start. As for her secret goal? Obviously getting hot and sweaty was not on the agenda for tonight.

She washed her hands and stared at herself in the mirror. Inside, she felt a million years old, especially after seeing Joel fawn over Dar. On the outside, the news was mixed. Her new short hairstyle suited her dark colouring, the highlights brightening her face, but the tension from the past years had drawn lines at the corners of her eyes and she clearly wasn’t twenty anymore. She’d managed to keep her weight stable, even with the bummed-up leg. Her daily runs and the physical high she used to get from them—she missed that. Those times alone had been her only moments of escape from the hell her life had become. In the six months since the accident, there had been no more of that freedom.

Although the worst part of her prison was gone. Hopefully the bastard enjoyed burning in hell like the devil he was.

She made her way back through the crowd. People brushed past, knocking into her, pressing her to and fro until it was difficult to keep her balance. She clung to the railing dividing the dance floor from the rest of the chaos. If she could just catch Dar’s eye. Asking for help stuck in her throat, but she’d prefer to beg than end up on her butt on the floor.

An additional body sat at the table in the seat she’d abandoned, and Beth prayed that with three guys vying for her attention, her sister would remember not to leave her behind.

She waved and caught one of the twin’s eyes, which one she wasn’t sure. He rose to his feet, and she sighed in relief. The idea of fighting her way across the room left her aching. Then the newcomer stood as well and pivoted, his dark eyes examining the room before focusing in her direction.

Her mouth went dry.

Oh my. If she’d thought the twins were good looking, this specimen was dazzling. He was still probably younger than her, but on him the tantalizing features of the other boys had matured, soft edges harder, more pronounced. There was no doubt he was a member of the six-pack they’d spoken about. Whatever else the family raised out on that ranch of theirs, the men were certainly impressive.