EXCERPT 1 (PG)
Crap. He could think of nothing else but closing that distance and kissing this woman, even though she was the last person on earth he should be kissing. “Hannah.”
“Yeah?” She latched onto her lower lip with her teeth.
He tracked the movement with his eyes. “I can’t do this.”
He swallowed but his throat still felt dry. “Kiss you.”
“But you’re not kissing me.” Her voice was barely a whisper.
“No, but I want to.”
Her eyes narrowed. “And I want you to.”
“Christ.” Sanity lost, he crashed his mouth against hers.
She responded with an enthusiasm to match his own, reaching up and grabbing the back of his head with both hands. She slid her tongue between his lips and he groaned. After being with girls who were too young to know what the hell they wanted, it felt good being with a woman who not only knew, but was ready to take what she needed from him.
Hannah sat facing him in the seat with one knee bent. When Cooper reached out, he connected with the bare skin of her leg.
Her skirt and the position made it too damn easy for him. He slid his hand up the inside of her thigh. She dragged in a ragged breath through her nose. That only encouraged him to go where he knew he shouldn’t, all the way to the crotch of her underwear. She responded by leaning in and kissing him harder, tangling her tongue with his.
He rubbed a thumb over her through the soft cotton and a visible shudder ran through her. Christ almighty, she was sensitive. He repeated the action, and Hannah rewarded him with a tiny sound so raw and full of need it sent a shiver down his spine.
What he could do with some time, a little more space and her naked. Or hell, even if he just slid that finger beneath those underwear and into her. What would she do when he spread her wide and worked her in earnest?
His mind boggled at the thought—before the image of Skeeter’s goofy grin careened into his brain.
Cooper remembered how excited the kid had been when he’d agreed to take him on for lessons. How Skeeter had run to tell his mother, smiling from ear to ear. How concerned she’d looked when she’d no doubt began to calculate the many costs of having a son who wanted to learn to be a bull rider.
What kind of a man was he, taking advantage of a woman like Hannah?
The girl he’d picked up at the bar was inside, and he was just yards away with his hand up the dress of the mother of one of his students. He was one sick motherfucker. The accuracy of that particular term in this situation would have made him laugh, if he hadn’t been so disgusted with himself.
Cooper pulled his hand away and broke the kiss. “Hannah, I can’t do this.”
“I know. I’m not the kind of woman you’re used to. I’m not all doe-eyed and just out of school. I don’t own pretty clothes. I’m just plain and old and tired.” Pulling away, she dropped her arms from around his neck and let out a breath. “It’s okay. I understand. You’re not interested.”
“You shut the hell up.” He grabbed her face in his hands to force her to look at him. “You’re not any of that. You’re amazing. Any man would respect and admire you. Any woman should want to be like you.” Cooper dropped his hold on her. “And that’s why you need to steer as far away from me as you can. You deserve a man far better than me, Hannah. You and Skeeter both.”
“What do you mean?” A crease marred her brow as she shook her head. “Cooper, you’re the best man I know.”
“No, I’m not.” He let out a snort. How could she be so grounded in some respects and so naïve in others?
“You are. You took on teaching my son for free when you knew I couldn’t afford to pay you.”
He waved her gratitude away. “So what? That’s nothing but some time I would have wasted doing something else otherwise.”
“It’s not nothing. It’s absolutely everything to Skeeter.”
Cooper was in no position to be everything to anyone. Not to the kid or to her. “Let me tell you about me. I’m drunk most days. I spend far too much money. I don’t give a shit about anybody but myself and I’ll fuck any woman who’ll spread her legs for me.”
He’d been deliberately harsh. He had to be, because she was looking at him with hero worship he didn’t deserve and wasn’t sure he could resist.
Hannah shook her head. “Even if that’s all true, I don’t care about any of it.”
He let out a laugh. “You should care.”
“Maybe I’m tired of doing what I should.” Her tone told him he could have her right here, right now, if he wanted. This woman had been so trodden upon by life, and probably by Skeeter’s father too. Cooper could unzip his jeans, shove those plain cotton drawers of hers to one side and plunge his cock into her, no questions asked.
It would be very tempting to do exactly that. But for once in his life, he was going to do the right thing. Unlike the girl inside, who he had no intention of ever running across again, Hannah was someone he’d have to see. Soon too. The next time this sweet, hardworking, caring woman brought her son around.
Cooper knew exactly where his soul would be going when the time came to put him in the ground, and it wasn’t where this woman would end up when her time came. He wouldn’t be the one to tarnish her goodness.
“Go home, Hannah. It’s late.” He opened the door, grabbed the bag with the beer inside from the floorboard and climbed out of the car. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Wait. Should I still bring Skeeter over to work next week…or not?”
Her question, as well as the hesitation he heard in it, stopped Cooper dead in his tracks. When he turned back, he saw the uncertainty in her expression. All it did was make him angry. At her for not being stronger and threatening to kick his ass if he did back out of their deal over something like this. At himself for acting like a horny prick with his hand up her skirt in the front seat of her car.
“Of course, you bring him. Dammit, Hannah, don’t you see? Skeeter’s what’s keeping me from burying myself in you so deep neither one of us would come up for air for hours. Yes, I’ll still work with him, I’ll teach him, but you need a good man to be a father to him and a husband to you. That man sure as fuck ain’t me.” Cooper remembered the other thing that had yanked him away from Hannah’s tempting lips. “Now, ’scuse me. I need to get back inside because there’s a girl I barely know waiting on me to fuck her. And I’m gonna, then say goodbye and hope I never see her again. That’s the kind of guy I am, Hannah. You need to remember that.”
She pursed her lips and shook her head. “No. That’s the kind you think you are, but you’re not. Not really.”
Cooper let out a breath. “Woman, you need to believe a man when he tells you the truth.”
“When you do, I will.”
Now, she decided to grow a backbone.
EXCERPT 2 (PG)
There was a weird dynamic between him and her. There had been since that night he’d screwed up and let himself kiss her.
On the surface, the common ground between them was Skeeter. Cooper had willingly put himself in that position by offering to be his teacher, which had also turned into him being the sole male influence in the kid’s life. That was fine. He could handle that. He was a mentor to the younger riders on the tour too.
It was this other thing—the attraction simmering between him and Hannah just below the surface—that he hadn’t signed up for. That was something he couldn’t give in to.
He turned toward the house, climbed the stairs but didn’t go inside. Instead, he leaned against the rail of the porch and watched the glow of the taillights as her car pulled to the end of the driveway. Even as the late summer sun set and the darkness began to creep in and overtake the daylight, he could see Skeeter. The kid leaned out the passenger window and waved, shouting, “See you this weekend.”
Cooper lifted one arm and nodded.
Glen walked up and leaned next to him. “She likes you.”
“Who?” He had a feeling he knew the answer to that question already. Glen knew him too damn well for his liking.
“Yeah, so? Everyone likes me. I’m a likeable guy.”
“Yeah, yeah. You know what I mean.” Now that the car was out of view, Glen turned. Pinning Cooper with a stare, he leaned his ass on the rail and crossed his arms. “So why don’t you ask her out?”
“Because that piece of tail comes with a kid I have to teach every week.”
Glen frowned. “You’re a dick. I didn’t say screw her for a night and then never talk to her again, the way you usually do with the women you fuck. I said ask her out. Like on a date. You do remember what a date is, don’t you? You eat. You talk. You get to know each other. You actually remember each other’s names…”
Cooper lifted one brow. “Sounds like a lot of work for a little pussy.”
The sound Glen let out, accompanied by his scowl, told Cooper exactly how he felt about that statement.
“I’m going inside for a beer.” As Glen stomped across the porch and into the house, Cooper noticed his partner hadn’t offered to get him one.
Fine. He’d get his own damn beer. It would be easier than bowing to the pressure of Glen’s matchmaking.
Truth be told, Cooper wouldn’t mind going through all of that dating bullshit Glen had talked about with Hannah, but that wasn’t meant to be. Cooper wasn’t in the market for a wife or a son. Hannah and Skeeter deserved a man who was.
Best friend or not, Cooper wasn’t going to get into talking with Glen about Hannah and all his feelings about her and the situation. Best to let sleeping dogs lie. He’d fucked up once by kissing her, but he wouldn’t do that again. Even if seeing her just now had caused a bone-deep awareness of his attraction to her—both mentally and physically.
That he genuinely liked her as a person he could handle—but not at the same time as this balls-deep ache that wanting her caused. That he’d have to deal with on his own.
On top of this thing with Hannah, a restlessness was starting to creep up on him. It happened whenever he wasn’t out on the road riding the circuit. This break between the bigger competitions was only a few weeks long, but it felt like an eternity. The itch to get out and do something—or someone—was hitting Cooper especially hard after seeing Hannah.
He pushed through the front door. “Wanna go out for a beer instead?” Cooper needed to hit up a bar, grab a girl and get busy. Then he’d feel better.
EXCERPT 3 (PG)
It was a cruel trick in life that youth was wasted on the young. When she had the body, she hadn’t had the will. Now she had the will, but it was firmer than the rest of her.
Hannah hiked her boobs higher beneath the T-shirt, hoping Cooper still thought she had something about her worth his interest. He’d gotten older as well. Sadly, the steadily revolving fresh crop of buckle bunnies never aged.
But he was retired now. No longer on the circuit and surrounded by adoring female fans. He didn’t go to the arena anymore. Word was the man didn’t go much of anywhere lately, except maybe to town a few times a month to stock up on supplies.
That was one point in Hannah’s favor—accessibility. He no longer went to the competitions where the girls were, but she could go to him at his house.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, she flipped down the visor and glanced into the mirror there. She eyed herself critically, from the laugh lines in the corners of her blue eyes, to the fact her light-brown hair didn’t seem to shine quite as brightly as it used to.
One good thing from working two or more jobs for the past fourteen years or so since her bastard ex-husband, Steven, had left her and Skeeter was that there hadn’t been much opportunity to abuse her skin sunbathing. That kept any major wrinkles or age spots caused by sun damage away. Thank God for small favors.
She ran a finger beneath the lower lashes of each eye, wiping away any makeup that might have strayed. She checked her lips and wondered if she should apply more lipstick.
Annoyed at herself for primping for what could amount to an embarrassing mistake on her part, she slapped the visor back up. Procrastinating wouldn’t help her nerves. Neither would more lipstick. Best to just go and face whatever kind of welcome Cooper greeted her with upon her unannounced visit.
The drive didn’t take as long as she would have liked it to, and all too soon she was pulling onto Cooper’s road. When she saw the beginnings of the fence of his ranch she saw what her son had alluded to the other night when he’d come home upset after dropping in for a visit with Cooper.
Skeeter had been concerned for his old teacher, and now she could see why. Cooper had really let the place go. A few posts were broken and the fencing was completely missing in one spot. Not that it mattered since it was obvious he had no stock left on the land. The acreage was overgrown with weeds that looked to be waist high, and there wasn’t an animal in sight.
It was quite a change from the last time she’d been there. That had to have been about five years ago. She’d driven Skeeter to that last lesson before he’d gotten his driver’s license at sixteen. Her son always had been a hard worker. He’d saved up his money from his odd jobs and bought himself a rusty old pickup truck. He’d gotten his license the day the law said he was old enough to qualify, and that was it. No more shuttling him around for her.
Truth be told, Hannah had been disappointed when Skeeter started driving. It meant no more opportunities to run into Cooper. To see him smile and tip his hat when he greeted her, even if that was all the attention she got from him aside from that one embarrassing night.
Maybe it had been for the best that she’d stopped having to see him every time she dropped Skeeter off and then picked him up again. After she’d felt the heat of his kiss that one time, having him treat her like a polite stranger was heart wrenching. Even if he’d given her the excuse that it was better for her to steer clear of him, it hadn’t done her ego any good. No single mom nearing thirty wanted to have an attractive man walk out on her when she’d all but thrown herself at him.
None of it mattered anyway. The lessons with Cooper had stopped shortly after Skeeter had started driving anyway. Cooper had quit teaching, saying he didn’t have the time anymore, and Skeeter was juggling school, part-time jobs and riding in every competition he could get to.
Yet here she was, five years after she’d last pulled into this drive, and ten years after that kiss, driving right up to his doorstep. Unannounced, uninvited and most likely unwelcome. She was apparently a glutton for punishment, because she was really going to do this.
Hannah put the car in park and cut the engine, but she couldn’t bring herself to get out quite yet. Instead, she sat and stared at the house. It almost looked abandoned. One front step was broken. A piece was missing from the peeling porch railing. Was cash so tight for Cooper he couldn’t maintain the property? She’d replayed every word of their conversation from that night she’d found him walking on the highway and driven him home. Back then, he’d told her that he spent too much money. Obviously more than was wise, considering the condition of his place.
A good woman in his life might have prevented this from happening. Kept him on the straight and narrow. Made him not want to drink so heavily or spend so much. Then again, Hannah hadn’t even been able to hold on to her own husband, so what the hell did she know about keeping a man at all? Never mind keeping him in line.
But she did know about good hard work and—after years of living hand to mouth—how to stretch a dollar so far you could see through it. She’d help Cooper get out from whatever hole he was in…if he let her. Time to see if he would.
Drawing in a breath to steel her nerves, she got out of the car. She stood tall and marched her pedicured feet right to his front door. Yeah, she’d painted her toenails and put on her prettiest sandals to come visit Cooper, as if he or any man would notice or care about her toes. She’d obviously lost her mind.
It was too late now. If he was inside, he would have already heard her car. He might have already looked out and seen her there. Leaving now would look even more foolish than her having come in the first place.
Besides that, her decision had been made. Once Hannah set her mind to something, she didn’t let it go easily. Too bad she hadn’t done this ten years ago when she’d been younger and physically better equipped for the job of seducing a man—and before Cooper had fallen so low.
God, how she hoped it wasn’t as bad as it seemed, because things looked bad. As if he didn’t have the money or the will to keep up the place. He could have hurt himself and couldn’t tend the stock and that’s why he’d sold the animals. That scenario was slightly less horrible than him being destitute. Maybe—hell, she didn’t know what was happening here, but it was time to find out. She raised her fist to the front door and knocked, a little too hard and for much too long.
Peeling paint drifted to the floor in front of her as she pounded loud enough to raise the dead, or at least a sleeping drunk, if that was the case. Skeeter had mentioned Cooper had seemed like he’d been drinking when he’d seen him.
Hannah didn’t want any question as to whether he could hear her knocking or not. If he was in there and not dead or deaf, he’d hear her pounding. If he didn’t answer, it would be because he didn’t want to see her.
But no, it wouldn’t be just her he was trying to avoid. From the looks of things, he didn’t want to see anyone. She hadn’t missed the no-trespassing sign nailed to the post at the end of the driveway. That was one big clue about his feelings toward uninvited visitors. As she knocked again, she realized she’d ignored that sign. More than that, she was knowingly outright disobeying it.
“A’ight. Hold your horses! Jesus H, what the hell—” The front door swung wide and she stared into the face from her past. Cooper’s eyes widened as recognition hit.
Hannah’s heart pounded so hard it seemed to vibrate her whole body, but she managed to get out two words. “Hi, Cooper.”
He glanced past her to the parked car, as if looking to see if she was alone. “Skeeter’s not here, if that’s who you’re after.”
She could see him withdraw into himself, almost as if he’d erected a protective barrier between them. He avoided direct eye contact, his focus darting around. He looked anywhere but at her as he ran a hand over his messy head of hair.
Cooper might be embarrassed to have her see him and his place in this condition, but that was too bad. If he still had enough pride to be ashamed, he wasn’t past saving, and she wasn’t about to give up easily trying to do just that.
Hannah stepped forward. “I’m well aware Skeeter’s not here. I know exactly where my son is. I’m here to see you.”
The shock on Cooper’s face as he stumbled backward to avoid being barreled over by Hannah would have been comical if this situation wasn’t so dire. He sputtered a second before he finally got out, “What are you doing?”
“I’m coming inside.”