Nick Chance was pissed. There was no logical reason to fence this rocky section of the Last Chance Ranch. It would make a lousy pasture and was too far from the barn to work as a corral.
But big brother Jack had decreed that it should be fenced “just in case” they’d need it someday. There went Nick’s day off. Jack had discovered that Nick had no vet duties today, either at home or at any of the other ranches in the valley, so he’d handed Nick a posthole digger.
Nick had been tempted to suggest where Jack might shove his posthole digger, but going off on Jack wouldn’t solve anything. The guy was harder on himself than he was on anyone else. The rollover that had killed their dad last fall wasn’t Jack’s fault, but nobody could tell him different.
So Nicholas Chance, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, was driving one of the battered ranch trucks instead of his primo medical rig, and he was digging postholes that didn’t need digging. What the hell. He’d work on his tan. Climbing out of the truck, he took off his shirt and tossed it into the cab. Then he grabbed his worn leather gloves from the dashboard.
Before he lowered the tailgate and got serious about the project, he parked his butt on the fender and took a moment to appreciate the view of the Tetons. A raven gave him a flyby and what Nick interpreted as a caw of approval.
He couldn’t stay mad in country like this. His gaze roamed over the soft gray-green of sage livened up with spring flowers, including two of his mom’s favorites–pink wild geraniums and sunflowers. Rain had fallen the night before, swelling the creek that he could hear gurgling, although it was hidden by evergreens.
He caught a whiff of loamy earth and wet pine needles. The June sun was warm, but not warm enough to melt the snow still clinging to the jagged peaks. Nick never tired of looking at them.
A favorite memory surfaced, as it often did when he gazed at the mountains. Jack, leaning against the corral, had informed ten-year-old Nick and nine-year-old Gabe that the mountains were named by a French guy and Tetons was the French word for tits. Nick and Gabe had fallen over laughing, but Jack, a worldly fourteen, had predicted that someday they’d find the subject of tits fascinating instead of screamingly funny.
Nick smiled. As usual, Jack had been right, although Nick considered himself more of a leg man than a breast man. Gabe, on the other hand, liked his women generously endowed. Jack generally did, too, although since last fall he seemed to have lost all interest in anything frivolous, which apparently included dating.
Nick had plenty of interest in dating and didn’t consider it the least bit frivolous. But he had no current girlfriend, and Jack’s slave driver mentality didn’t leave much time for developing a new relationship.
Nick sighed and levered himself away from the truck. Jack’s mom had taken off when Jack was a toddler, so losing their dad had hit him extra hard. Nick and Gabe still had their mom. So did Jack, but despite all the love Sarah Chance had given him, he’d never forgotten he was her stepson.
The guy had issues, and Nick understood that, but things would have to change soon or Nick would be forced to take him on, even if Jack was officially in charge according to the terms of their dad’s will. Jack might be top banana, but Nick, Gabe and their mother, Sarah, each owned a fourth interest in the ranch, which meant they had some leverage.
At least they’d all agreed not to sell the place despite the outrageous price the ranch would bring. With very little private land left near the Jackson region, the Last Chance was worth a fortune. But it was not for sale.
That had to be some comfort to the hands, who loved living and working on a privately owned spread. These days the Last Chance raised horses instead of cattle, but it was still a working ranch and that was a triumph in today’s economy. Making ends meet could sometimes be a challenge.
Jack seemed to take that challenge a little too seriously, though. His idea of a workday had expanded until everyone was putting in twelve to fifteen hours. The hands were ready to mutiny and their foreman had dropped broad hints about quitting.
Gabe was the lucky one, Nick mused as he let down the tailgate and grabbed the posthole digger. Gabe’s cutting-horse events gave him an excuse to leave for most of the summer. He was the best competitor of all of them, and by riding in those events he promoted the Last Chance horses and theoretically brought in buyers. He also didn’t have to put up with Jack.
Pulling one of Jack’s surveyor’s stakes out of the ground, Nick tossed it in the back of the truck and jammed the posthole digger into the dirt.
By his tenth hole he’d dug up enough rocks to last him the rest of his life, and stacked them in a pile about three feet tall, his personal monument to stupidity. He was sweaty and bored. Like all the Chance men, he was perfectly capable of manual labor. But he’d spent years in school to become a large animal vet partly because he preferred a mental challenge to a physical one.
Planting the posthole digger in the ground, he took off his gloves and tucked them in his back pocket. Then he pulled a blue bandanna out of the other pocket, removed his straw cowboy hat and mopped his face. After replacing the bandanna and settling the sweat-stained hat on his head, he started counting the remaining surveyor’s stakes to see how many holes he had left before he could be released from bondage.
That’s when he saw her. She stood facing him, about twenty yards away on the dirt road he’d come in on. She slowly lowered her big-ass camera complete with telephoto lens, but he suspected she’d already taken at least one shot of him, if not more. He decided if she had the balls to take a picture of a perfect stranger without asking, he could give her the once-over without feeling like a male chauvinist pig.
She was on the tall side, at least five-eight. She’d dressed in fancy brown boots, a long tan skirt and a pale yellow, sleeveless blouse. Both the blouse and the skirt buttoned up the front. Apparently he was more sexually deprived than he’d realized because his first thought was easy access.
Technically her short, curly hair was brown, but that didn’t really describe it. In the sun it seemed to be made up of a dozen shades ranging from milk chocolate to bronze. She was too far away for him to see the color of her eyes, but close enough for him to tell she was pretty, with high cheekbones, an aristocratic nose and full lips. Large gold hoops dangled from her earlobes.
She’d slung a brown leather backpack over one shoulder, and he expected her to put the camera and telephoto in it now that she’d been caught photographing the locals as if they were some form of exotic wildlife. But she surprised him. Curving her lips, she raised the camera again.
He couldn’t resist. With a grin, he tightened his abs and flexed his biceps.
All her life Dominique Jeffries had been criticized for being too impulsive. But after a two-year stint as Herman’s girlfriend, she’d learned to rein herself in. Now that she was no longer Herman’s girlfriend, having been traded in for his boss’s daughter, she wondered if she’d forgotten how to be impulsive.
At least she’d come this far. After being humiliated by her ex, she’d desperately needed to get away. She’d chosen the place she’d dreamed about all her life–the Wild West.
And yes, she’d considered the fact that she might find a wild cowboy here, too, someone who would soothe her damaged ego. Her trip to Wyoming was a test to see if the old Dominique was still in there, and whether she dared let her out to play.
This authentic cowboy would be a perfect way to discover if she still had what it took to be spontaneous. But not too spontaneous. She wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize the portrait photography business she’d built in Indianapolis. Much as she hated to admit it, Herman had helped her become financially stable for the first time in her life, and having money in the bank felt good.
But she had another sort of good feeling in mind today, one that came from flirting with a hunky guy. Her newfound cowboy was already making her laugh with his muscle flexing routine. “Nice pose,” she called out. “Care to show me the flip side?”
He turned, displaying buns to die for and back muscles like she hadn’t seen in…well, in two years. Herman wasn’t much for working out. She took a couple of shots, but she was here for more than the photography. A camera functioned as an excellent icebreaker.
Talk about overkill. Her shirtless cowboy was taking care of melting any ice that might be in the vicinity.
When she looked at him, she was surprised there was still snow on the mountains.
She couldn’t believe she’d happened upon such a great specimen of rugged Western male on her first day. This guy was the anti-Herman. And that was really what she’d come here to find. After being a good girl for two years, which had gotten her…well…dumped, she longed to be a little bit wicked.
“Got what you needed?” he asked over his shoulder.
Not quite, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. “Sure. Thanks.”
He turned around. “I should be thanking you. You gave me a break from digging postholes.”
“Glad to be of service.” She unscrewed her lens from the camera and stowed everything carefully in her backpack before walking forward. “I’m here on vacation.”
She laughed. “I know. Hard to believe. I’m sure I look very Jackson Hole to you.”
“Depends.” His gaze lingered as he surveyed her outfit. “We get Hollywood types up here.”
Being mistaken for a Hollywood type gave her a needed boost. Being ogled did, too. When she’d thought herself in love with Herman, she’d considered him frugal. Now she saw him as stingy, both with his money and his compliments.
This cowboy didn’t seem like the stingy type. She loved the way he talked, slowly and deliberately, which she guessed came from living in the wide-open spaces.
His eyes, she discovered on closer inspection, were green.
“I’m not from Hollywood,” she said. “I’m from… actually, never mind where I’m from. It doesn’t matter. I’m on vacation from that place. No need to mention it.”
“Where’re you staying?”
She considered that a promising question, as if he might like to know how accessible she’d be while she was in the area. “Here.”
“Ah. Overflow from the Bunk and Grub, I’ll bet.”
“That’s right. Somebody ended up staying an extra week so Pam sent me down here.”
“Happens all the time. I hope you’re not too disappointed to find yourself on a ranch instead of a cozy B and B.”
“Not at all. It’s magnificent.” And so are you. It was okay for him to ogle her, but she felt uncool ogling him. Yet she couldn’t help it. His bare chest was a sight to behold–dusted with reddish-brown hair, muscled, and gleaming with sweat.
He nudged his hat back with his thumb. “Bet they put you in Roni’s room.”
“I’m not sure. Is she a NASCAR fan? There’s lots of NASCAR stuff in there.”
“She’s a mechanic for one of the teams, only comes home for holidays.”
Dominique hoped Roni wasn’t his girlfriend. She hoped nobody was his girlfriend. “I’m glad her room is available.” Are you? She peeked at his left hand, but lack of a ring meant little these days.
“First time in Wyoming?”
“Yes. I wanted to see something different.”
“You mean like mountains and moose?” His green eyes sparkled with laughter.
“I suppose you think it’s funny that I wanted to take your picture.” She was close enough to catch his musky scent. She used to love sweaty sex. Herman had been an efficient lover, a competent lover, but he preferred air-conditioned bedrooms, so there hadn’t been much sweat involved.
“Actually, I’m flattered. It’s not often some good-looking woman points a camera at me for no good reason.”
“I had a reason.” She hadn’t meant that to sound quite so husky and seductive. She cleared her throat. “What I meant was–“
“No, no, don’t backtrack on me. I liked the implication of the first answer.”
“That you think I’m hot.”
“Maybe.” She found his swagger incredibly sexy.
His smile revealed even white teeth. “For the record, I think you’re hot, too.”
Now that was good to hear. With such white teeth, he must not chew tobacco. She’d thought about that as she’d fantasized a close encounter with a cowboy. A chaw of tobacco didn’t figure into her fantasy. Eeuuww.
He stepped toward her, the first move he’d made in her direction. “So what are we going to do about our mutual hotness?”
Her breath caught. She’d started this interchange, but he’d just taken charge and issued a challenge. He probably expected her to turn tail and run.
She hadn’t come all the way to Wyoming to run away at the first sign of adventure. She was bound and determined to rediscover her impulsive side. Her heart pounding, she stood her ground. “I’m not sure. Any suggestions?”
He hooked his thumbs in the belt loops of his jeans so that his hands framed his crotch. “I can think of a way to handle it.”
She could tell he still expected her to back down. Well, he was in for a surprise. Trying not to hyperventilate, she gazed into his green eyes. “So can I.”
He stared at her. “You’re not playing games, are you? “
“No.” She swallowed and tried to breathe normally. “Are you? “
“I was a minute ago, but…damn, lady. Are you suggesting what I think you are?”
Adrenaline poured through her system. “Look, the last month has been hell. My steady boyfriend dumped me when his boss’s daughter proposed. I scheduled this vacation to get away, to be in a completely different environment, and I…” The adrenaline began to fade, leaving her shaky. “The thing is, we don’t have cowboys in Indianapolis.”
He studied her in silence.
Her words seemed to hang between them in an embarrassing display of misplaced chutzpah. She began to squirm. “Forget I said any of that. I’ll be going now.” She turned.