All except Cab Johnson. He was watching her.
Rose frowned. Did the sheriff know what he’d done to her when he picked out that ring and Rob slid it on her finger? Immediately, a rush of emotion had overcome her: joy, excitement, a sense of rightness she’d never felt before. She’d always had hunches when she sold couples their engagement rings, but nothing like this—never anything half so strong. If it was any other man and woman she’d feel sure their marriage was bound to succeed.
But it wasn’t any other couple; it was her and Cab. They weren’t even engaged. They’d never gone on a date.
What on earth had possessed Rob to drag Cab in there, make him pick a ring and shove it on her finger? She was friends with Rob, sort of. He teased her mercilessly and she did her best to tease him back. How could he have guessed that lately when she saw Cab she felt… interested?
She crushed that thought with an iron hand. First she needed to extricate herself from her current situation, and then she needed to find a backbone before she considered dating again. She’d let her parents run her life until she was eighteen, and then even though she’d thought she was showing her independence by getting engaged to Jason, it hadn’t worked out that way. Instead, she felt as if she’d gone from two parents to four. Her mother, father, Emory and Jason all told her what to do. She hadn’t stood a chance at ordering her own life.
This time it was going to be different. This time she wouldn’t answer to anyone. Just as soon as she broke up with Jason she’d be free as a bird, and no one, not even the hottest, most eligible sheriff was going to hold her back.
Rose sipped her beer, fighting against the breathless feeling Cab’s proximity always conjured in her. What was it about the man that tugged at her in such a primal way? He liked to hang back and let his friends hog the limelight, but to Rose he stood out like a beacon. He was muscular, self-assured, intelligent, and damn him, she wanted to know what he was like between the sheets.
She glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed the direction of Cab’s gaze—or guessed the direction her thoughts had taken. Jamie sunk a ball and Claire cheered, her glossy black bob swinging with her enthusiasm.
“Hey—what happened to family loyalty?” Ethan said to her.
“Husbands take preference over brothers,” Claire said. She was glowing tonight, Rose thought with more than a bit of jealousy. She and Jamie couldn’t be more in love. That was hard to stomach when Rose’s own relationship was disintegrating and she was fighting inappropriate feelings for Cab. Still avoiding the sheriff’s gaze, she considered another couple who’d joined them tonight; Bella and Evan Mortimer.
Rose still couldn’t believe that sweet Bella Chatham, the local pet veterinarian who couldn’t say no to any stray animal, had gone on a national reality television show, beat a billionaire to win the five million dollar prize, then married the guy. With his short, dark hair and athletic build, Evan was as hot as any of the local cowboys, Rose had to admit. While she didn’t begrudge Bella her fantastic luck, she also couldn’t help feeling jealous. Again. Evan and Bella were camping out in Bella’s airstream trailer behind her clinic and shelter until they decided where to build their new house.
Everyone in this room was coupled up and on their way to living their dreams. Even Hannah Ashton, Bella’s receptionist, had a boyfriend, although he wasn’t here tonight. She and the sheriff were the only ones without partners.
She risked a glance over at him, but quickly looked away when she met his gaze. He was still watching her. Not in an overtly sexual way and not in a weird stalker-ish way. Just watching her. As if he was considering something.
Considering her reaction to his ring, maybe.
She glanced down to her left hand where it rested in her lap. The thin silver band Jason Thayer had slipped on her ring finger six years ago still glinted there. After six years of being someone’s fiancée, she needed at least six years of being on her own before she considered marriage again. By that time Cab would be long gone.
Jamie sunk another ball and Claire cheered again, startling Rose out of her reverie.
“You won’t be cheering when you go up against Jamie,” Ethan said to her. “If you beat Rose, you play him afterward.”
“He’ll go easy on me,” Claire said confidently.
“Oh, yeah?” Jamie straightened up from the table.
“You will unless you want to sleep on the couch tonight,” she said.
Jamie chuckled. “I tell you what. When it’s our turn we’ll get rid of the peanut gallery and make it a game of strip pool.”
“Strip pool?” Rob said from where he perched on one of the stools. “That’s genius.” He gave his wife’s hand a tug and waggled his eyebrows at her. Morgan rolled her eyes.
Strip pool? Rose glanced involuntarily at Cab and met his gaze again. An image sprang into her mind. The two of them alone in the room. Cue sticks in hand.
She’d seen him without his shirt before when the whole gang went swimming in Chance Creek. Cab was a big guy—really big.
And not an ounce of fat on him. Powerful shoulders, massive thighs, muscles to die for…
The sudden intensity in his gaze told her he was thinking about the same possibility she was. Her breath hitched and heat swept through her. What would it be like to unbutton her shirt, peel off her bra and let Cab take a look? Would he touch her…?
She wrenched her gaze away, the heat in her face telling her she had flushed to the roots of her hair. Quickly she swallowed the rest of her beer and slipped off her stool to make her way to the kitchen. She took her time fetching a second bottle from the refrigerator. Heck, if she could get away with it she’d climb right in the thing to cool herself off.
She couldn’t feel this way—not about Cab. Not now. It would be lunacy to break off one long-term relationship and jump straight into a new one. She needed space and time to figure out who she was. She needed to figure out what she was going to do next. She needed a home. And a job. There was way too much on her plate to allow her the luxury of dating.
But when she returned to the living room her gaze sought out Cab like a moth drawn to a flame.
And he was looking back at her.
A tremor of desire rippled through her and Rose realized she’d waited far too long to break up with Jason. Not because she should be with Cab, but because she shouldn’t feel like this for anyone. Not when she was about to embark on an important new chapter in her life—one in which she’d hopefully discover exactly who she was. She’d allowed herself to get so lonely and unhappy that she longed to throw herself at the next man who crossed her path. That meant it was doubly important she create a new life for herself—a life that didn’t require her to have a man in order to feel complete. She couldn’t keep putting her dreams on hold. Time to put her plans into action.