Gentling the Cowboy (Page 34)

Gentling the Cowboy (Texan Nights Series #1)(34)
Author: Ruth Cardello

Somewhere along the way, anger replaced fear. Indifference replaced regret. He found peace in the distance he placed between him and those around him.

Peace everywhere except in those f**king dreams.

And now with Sarah.

Nothing in his life had prepared him for the whirlwind of his little blonde intruder. Pushing her away was about as easy as trying to stop high tide with a spoon. She played by her own rules and challenged every one of his.

For the first time in years he felt something besides anger, and part of him hated her for it.

She thinks she can save me. She’s too innocent to understand that some people, like some animals, are damaged beyond redemption.

Hand in hand, they walked back to the cabin. Tony asked, “Do you need anything from inside before we leave?”

Those dark brown eyes searched his face before she nodded. He opened the door, fighting temptation and winning by the merest margin.

Sarah closed the door and pulled her shirt over her head. Her bra followed. His jaw fell open a bit as she stepped out of her shoes and the rest of her clothing. What normally would have been an act of seduction was charged with a different emotion. “I saw a deck of cards in the kitchen. I’ve never played cards naked. Have you?”

He shook his head wordlessly.

“Want to play?”

A man didn’t need to be asked that question twice. Tony stripped bare and, despite his arousal, went to retrieve the deck of cards. They sat across from each other on the rug in the living room. He shuffled the cards and asked, “What do you know?”

She smiled at him and blushed. “I don’t mind learning something new.”

He caught her double meaning, but asked a safer question. “Have you ever played poker?”

“No, but I’ve always felt that I would be good at it. Maybe I was a cardshark in a past life.”

He couldn’t help but return her smile as he dealt. “I didn’t bring much cash with me.” He fished out some dollar bills and change from his jean pocket.

“Let’s play for something more valuable than that.”

He didn’t try to guess what she wanted, because there was really no way of knowing with her. “Such as?”

She sat straighter and crisscrossed her legs, giving him an unbelievably distracting view that sent his blood pounding southward. “Time. Each one of those quarters can be an hour and those dollars could be a day. The winner gets to choose what we do with that time. You could win a few more hours of silence.” The teaser at the end was unnecessary because he’d already lost the ability to do anything but agree to whatever she suggested. When he didn’t respond, she prompted, “I have no idea how to play, though, so you will have to speak.”

She listened intently as he explained the game to her, and he was torn between throwing his cards down and taking her again and again until his fascination with her ebbed and demanding that they end the game now, before it was too late.

Don’t trust me, Sarah.

People don’t change.

I don’t want to be the one to teach you that harsh lesson, but God forgive me, I can’t stay away from you either.

She won six days and three hours from him, which was all the money he’d brought, but he conceded to himself that his attention had been divided. He expected her to gloat when she pulled the last of the winnings to her, but she didn’t. He waited for her terms, certain that they would exceed what he would honor.

She counted the days on her fingers and said, “Six days. That brings us to Tuesday.”

He hated that he had to know. Hated that he couldn’t charge forward as uninhibited as she’d been since the moment he’d met her. “Six days of what?” he demanded.

She smiled at him gently and shrugged. “Of whatever we want to do, but let’s stay here at the cabin.”

“We have to go back eventually,” he said gruffly, not wanting her to know how much he wanted those extra days alone with her.

“I know,” she said a bit sadly. “But we don’t have to go today.”

Six days and three hours.

He could give her that.

All seriousness fell away as a huge smile spread across her face and she announced, “And we stay naked!”

He raised one eyebrow at her. “Are you a nudist now?”

She shrugged those beautiful shoulders again and said, “No, but I may have been one in a past life, because I would love to play Ping-Pong like this.”

The image of the two of them attempting such a feat made him chuckle and then give in to a hearty laugh. “I don’t have anything like that here.”

“Well, who stocks your food? Maybe they could drop a few games by.”

“I can think of better ways to occupy our time,” he said suggestively.

She placed her hands on her hips, lifting those lovely br**sts up and down with the move and countered, “You’re just afraid you’ll lose again.”

He stood up, walked to the phone, and called the man who lived a mile or so away and cared for the cabin. “Carl, I need you to pick up a few things for me in town. You may have to go to Dallas to get it, but I’ll make it worth your while.” Although Carl was an older gentleman, Tony knew he had sons living with him who could help. “Leave everything in the driveway. I’m here for about a week, but I don’t want to be disturbed.”

The old man cackled loud enough that Tony held the phone away from his ear for relief. “You finally brought one of your lady friends with you, have you? I’ll tell my boys to be real discrete like. Now what do you two lovebirds need?”

On any other day, with anyone besides Sarah looking sweetly up at him, he would have told Carl what he could do with his sense of humor. Instead, Tony gritted his teeth and said, “I’d like a Ping-Pong set. You know the ones you can put on top of a table?”

Carl said, “I’m sorry. I have an old man’s hearing. Did you just say Ping-Pong?”

It didn’t help Tony’s mood that Sarah heard his question and was covering her mouth to stop from laughing.

She jumped to her feet, a movement so tantalizing that it temporarily wiped all coherent thought from Tony, and gripped his arm. “And backgammon—I love that game. Oh, and Monopoly?”

Carl lowered his voice and said, “Son, if your lady friend is that bored, you may want to meet me in the driveway for a bit of advice. Never too late to learn a few tricks.”

Tony covered his eyes with one hand and groaned. “I appreciate that, Carl, but just bring the games.”