“Do you mind?” she said finally.
He leaned back against the doorjamb. “Not at all. Go ahead.”
“I’m not getting dressed while you stand there!”
She was blushing again, and it looked even better on her this time than it had the night before. He allowed himself a long look. What a body. Long legs, shapely hips dipping in to a small waist and then the swell of her breasts. He definitely approved.
“Why not? You’re my fiancée, right?”
He knew he was being a cad. After all, he was about to break the news about the joke. So why was he pushing her like this? Almost daring her to say it wasn’t true. But he was the one who was lying – she was here because she wanted to marry him. Wasn’t she?
Suddenly Ethan wanted to know that for sure. Was she really here because one look at his video hooked her for life? Her actions seemed to back up that theory. She’d been willing to sleep with him a scant few hours after she’d arrived, but then again he’d been pretty willing, too, and he had no intention of marrying her.
He waited. After a long moment, she nodded. “Right.”
“So get dressed. I want to see what I’m getting out of the bargain.”
Her color deepened, but she took a deep breath, raised her chin, dropped her arm and spun in a circle. “This is what you’re getting. Satisfied?”
There was an edge to her voice, so he shifted tactics. “I like what I see,” he said. He pushed off the door frame and crossed the room. “But I’m not satisfied by a long shot.” He bent down and captured her mouth with his, pulling her closer until those breasts that drove him wild pressed up against his bare chest. At first she resisted him. She slid her hands up between them and tried to push him away, but when he let his hand fall to the curve of her bottom and gave a gentle squeeze, she groaned and wrapped her arms around his neck.
As he maneuvered them toward the bed, Ethan remembered his resolve. Damn it, he was supposed to be sending her home, not seducing her a second time. “I…” he started, not sure at all what he was going to say. “I…need to get to work. It’s late.”
“What?” She was flushed and tousled and so beautiful he wanted to pitch her onto the bed and make love to her until neither of them could think straight.
“It’s late. This is a ranch,” he stammered. “I can’t stay here – I’ve got to go…”
“Oh,” she said, then seemed to comprehend. “Oh, right! The ranch. Sorry, I…I got distracted.”
He laughed, “Honey, we both did.” Honey? Did he just call her honey? Get a grip, Ethan – she’s leaving on the first flight!
But even as he thought it, he knew it wasn’t true. She wasn’t going anywhere until he got to know her better. It was wrong to lie to her and let her believe he would go through with this…marriage…but there was nothing wrong with getting to know a pretty girl and seeing if they had what it took to get serious about each other. He’d suggest they back things off for the time being. Take it real slow. He’d say that while the marriage notion might have brought them together it was only fair to both of them that they think of this month as a series of dates. He’d suggest they move into separate bedrooms so she didn’t feel pressured. They’d build a relationship one step at a time like normal people did. Then, if things went well, they might decide to take it to the next step. Either party could cancel at any time.
After all, he wanted to find a partner. He wanted a woman who wanted what he did; to build a successful life on the ranch that included a thriving business and a thriving family, as well. According to Rob, she wanted a country life, a strong man and lots of children. They had more in common than he did with most of the women he grew up with in Chance Creek.
He kissed her again, pulling away reluctantly. “Go on, get dressed. I’ll show you around the house and grounds and then head out.”
* * * * *
Autumn pulled on jeans, a t-shirt, and socks and swept her hair up into a sensible pony-tail. She found her tooth brush and mouthwash, and felt much better after another trip to the washroom. When she made her way to the kitchen, Ethan presented her with a plate filled with toast, sausage and fried eggs. A glance at the table told her he’d made himself an identical breakfast. Too bad she was half his weight and still suffering from that hangover. She wasn’t sure she could keep down a bite, let alone clean this plate.
“I swear this is the last time,” he said, gesturing to the meal. “My mom hated men in her kitchen – I bet you do, too. There should be enough food kicking around in the fridge and cabinets for a day or so. You just make me a list and I’ll pick up any supplies you need when I go into town tomorrow. Your domain, I swear. I won’t intrude.”
“Uh…thanks.” Since when did women mind men making breakfast for them? She loved puttering in the kitchen, but had no problem sharing the job with someone else. What kind of person was his mother – a total control freak? She glanced out the back screen door and relaxed. Probably the work he did out there consumed all his time and then some. And it sounded like he’d leave her to it and not micro-manage the way she handled the chore. She appreciated that. She’d dated a chef once – Erik Whittleton – and the one time she made herself toast in his kitchen he’d nearly blown a fuse. That had ended things between them. She loved to cook, and if Ethan wanted her to take over the kitchen while she was here, she’d be more than happy to oblige.
Ethan took a bite of sausage and followed it with a scoop of egg. “I’ll be gone most of the day. I’ll cut out early, though, and try to be back around five o’clock and we can have dinner together. How’s that sound?”
Five o’clock? What was it – about half past six in the morning right now? “What do I do all day?”
“Well, you can cook me dinner,” he said, grinning. “Anything with meat. Otherwise, look around the place and get settled. Relax.”
She bit her lip. “You said in your video you’re looking for a woman to help you run the ranch. Sitting around all day doesn’t sound that useful.” Plus it wouldn’t get her any photographs of handsome cowboys roping cattle – or whatever it is one did on a ranch in Montana.
“Hmm.” Ethan considered this. “I need to cover a lot of ground today – Jamie and I are checking the fence on the south pasture, so it’s not a great time for you to tag along. If you’re ready to help out you can always work on the kitchen garden, though. It’s in pretty sad shape. Mom used to feed us out of it most of the time. I don’t know what you can salvage this year, but anything you can do would be great. I promise I’ll take you out with me on a day’s work soon, though – let you get an idea of what we do here.”