He climbed back into the saddle and turned Monty around. “He’s in the south pasture. Take the truck – keys are in the ignition – and follow that track.” He pointed. “Head out a couple of miles. You can’t miss it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Food and sex!” Rob hollered back at her as he urged Monty into a gallop. “You’ll figure it out!”
* * * * *
Ethan was gathering his tools up when he heard the sound of a truck’s engine. A familiar engine. What the hell? That was his Ford F-250 inching its way along the track toward him. A sudden lurch of fear had his heart beating double-time. Was something wrong with Autumn? Was she hurt?
Did she want to leave?
He forced himself to wait while the truck slowed to a halt and the engine died. Jamie had returned to the barn to care for the horses, Cab needed to get to work and he assumed Rob had gone to work with his father and brothers on his own spread, though he hadn’t said anything specific. The door opened and one long, bare leg appeared, then another. Autumn slid to the ground and smoothed her form-fitting flowered cotton sundress down. “I brought a picnic,” she called, and hauled a basket down from the truck heavy enough to nearly unbalance her. She held it with two hands and made her way over to him.
He couldn’t take his eyes off the button between her breasts or the expanse of skin above it. Was she wearing anything under that dress? It didn’t look like it.
“Where should we eat?” She planted her feet in front of him and leaned back to counterbalance the weight of the basket, looking at him expectantly.
“Uh…” Damn it, man, pull yourself together. He pointed to an pine tree that offered some shade from the heat of the midday sun. “How about over there?” He had the presence of mind to take the basket from her – hell, what was in there – bricks? – and led the way. She caught up with him after a couple of steps and slid her hand into his.
That one small gesture nearly undid him. He found his own fingers tightening around hers and a smile creeping across his face that he quickly squashed. They were supposed to be slowing things down – getting to know each other like normal people.
Normal people held hands, didn’t they?
Sure, but his reaction to her touch was anything but innocent.
When they reached the tree, Autumn took the basket back, set it down and opened the lid. Ethan felt like he’d entered a dream as she spread out a blanket and pulled out dish after dish. She set two places with a couple of chipped china plates, and cloth napkins she’d found who knew where. She’d brought fried chicken, sandwiches, pickles, chips, hard boiled eggs, potato salad, even a homemade peach cobbler. She poured a glass of lemonade and handed it to him.
“I thought you might be starving out here.”
“Thanks.” Was that his voice? He was starving, all right, but it wasn’t food he needed.
He sat down just the same and ate his fill, noticing she was watching him from under her lashes. She seemed nervous, plying him with food every time there was room on his plate, refilling his glass before he could empty it. She barely ate or drank a thing.
“What’s wrong?” he asked finally. She was making him nervous, too. What if this was some kind of last supper – a little treat before she dumped him and asked for cab fare back to the airport?
“Nothing, I just…Ethan, are you happy I’m here?”
He placed a chicken leg back on the plate. “Yes. Why?”
“It’s just…I don’t know. I came all the way here, and we had a good time last night, and then you just left…I didn’t know if you’d gotten sick of me already.”
“Sick of you?” He shook his head. “No. Of course not. This is a ranch, honey – the work here doesn’t take a holiday.” He wished it would. Lord knew, he could spend all day exploring Autumn’s body, making sweet love to her until…
She hesitated, her fingers in her lap worrying each other until he wanted to reach across and take both of them in his. “You’re sure you’re not sick of me?”
“No. Definitely not.”
She took a breath, looked up at him and said, “Prove it.”
Ethan’s eyebrows shot for his hairline. “Prove it?” Damn, stop repeating what she says, you sound like an ass! “How?”
He held his breath. Here’s where her true motivations would show themselves. Maybe she was like his mother, all wrapped up in material possessions. Watch, she’d ask him to buy her that ring he’d promised her and when he took her to town she’d pick the biggest rock in the place.
“Make love to me.”
At first he didn’t understand her words. He’d been so prepared for disappointment he was already forming the phrases to let her know he couldn’t be bribed with peach cobbler to buy her with jewelry, and Autumn’s simple plea didn’t even register. She said it again.
“Ethan, please make love to me.”
With a growl of pure, primordial desire, he swept away the dishes, swooped her into his arms and laid her down on the blanket. He had to stop for a moment and take in the vision of this beautiful woman flushed with wanting him, waiting for his kiss, his touch. She’d cooked all morning and come out here to find him with the sole objective of seducing him, he realized. He felt like the cares of the world had been lifted off of his shoulders. She wasn’t anything like Lacey, or his mother. She wasn’t hiding anything, she didn’t have any ulterior motives. She wanted him for him and she wouldn’t make him seek or beg or wait for her love. She would give it to him freely – more than he’d ever hoped for.
“Autumn.” It was all he could say. Then he was kissing her, the fire between them scorching his lips. He felt her arms slide around his shoulders and her breasts pressing against his chest and his ardor heightened, until he had to get closer.
She must have felt the same, because she slid a palm up his chest and broke their kiss. “Wait.” She gently pushed him back, then slowly, ever so slowly, began to undo the buttons of her dress.
As he’d suspected, she wore nothing beneath it. She spread the panels of fabric, exposing the beauty of her body to him, and he couldn’t help but worship it. First with his hands, running them up and down, from her breasts, to her hips, to the warmth between her legs, then with his mouth, tracing passages up and down her curves and dips, landing finally where it could do the most good.