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Holt Tyler switched off the engine of his aging pickup at the busy truck stop and uncoiled his long, lean length from the cab with a relieved sigh. He pulled a clean cotton shirt over the broad expanse of chest and slid a worn Stetson over his thick head of hair. Then he slammed the truck door and turned to the attached horse trailer to check on Buck, his faithful steed.
Buck was getting restless. They'd left New York the previous night and traveled a long fifteen hours in the August heat with few breaks. Only half their trip was completed. Hitting the outskirts of Chicago at the evening rush hour had convinced him that he needed to stop for the night and get a fresh start in the morning. After a few soothing words to his horse, he headed for the restaurant.
He and Buck had been traveling the rodeo circuit for the past few years, and the long hours on the road weren't new to them, but this trip was different. He was leaving the rodeo circuit for good and going home. His father's death a month ago had left him with a ranch to run and a heavy load of responsibilities Holt had always taken his responsibilities seriously.
After spending several weeks dealing with sympathetic mourners, a distraught mother, and mounds of paperwork, he'd finally found the time to fly to New York and collect Buck from some friends who'd boarded him. Holt had hoped the time away from the ranch would give him a chance to come to terms with the abrupt changes in his life. Ironically his distance from home had merely made him anxious to return. He'd worried constantly about having left in the first place. Now he wanted to be back at the ranch as soon as possible,but he was too weary to continue the long drive. He didn't want to take any foolish chances by pushing himself.
Some good food, a shower, and a few hours sleep were his primary concerns as he strode through the thinning crowd of the restaurant. He slid his powerful frame into a corner booth with a clear view of the parking lot where he'd left his truck. Removing his hat, he turned to scrutinize the young blond waitress who brought him a copy of the menu. A tiny flare of interest leapt to his eyes as the blonde waited patiently for his order and then turned away without so much as a suggestion of interest in him.
Being on the road so much, he'd eaten at a multitude of diners like this and been served by a wide variety of waitresses. Their attitudes had remained basically the same. He'd never failed to elicit feminine interest, or at least pique their curiosity. He'd grown accustomed to the flirtatious banter. He viewed his present waitress with a critical eye as she moved gracefully among the clutter of tables.
Her name tag read Raquel, and when she delivered his meal without so much as a word or glance into his eyes, Holt was further intrigued. Now he watched with growing interest as the shapely blonde moved with poetic motion, delivering orders and bending over tables to clear away dirty dishes. Her skintight jeans lacked a designer label, but the well-rounded hips and long legs didn't need embellishment of any kind. She looked good to him. Much better than the majority of the women he'd encountered lately. His eyes traveled over the fullness of her bust line to the tiny waist and back again to the full hips, which rounded off an almost perfect figure.
He felt a stirring of his senses, which had been noticeably absent of late. Despite the worn clothes and the heavy makeup, the waitress had an air about her that seemed out of place for a rowdy truck stop. Still, she seemed to be managing the difficult job with a quiet dignity that surprised Holt. He found himself wishing that he had the freedom to pursue his interest.
For most of his adult years he'd believed that variety was the spice of life, and the parade of women he'd known had been a challenge for his masculinity. But he'd been growing increasingly dissatisfied with meaningless affairs. There hadn't been anyone special in his life for quite a while, and he'd found himself yearning for a mate in more than the physical sense. He'd even been thinking in terms of marriage until his Dad's sudden death. Now the idea of finding the right woman and pursuing a normal relationship was out of the question.
Washing down the last bite of his sandwich with the last swallow of his coffee, he beckoned the blonde for a refill, openly studying her gorgeous body as she swayed between tables to reach his booth. As she leaned over to refill his cup Holt was further enchanted by the sweetness of her scent, the proximity of her warm, sexy body, and the soft, cultured tone of her voice.
"Would you care for anything else?" came her polite query.
Provocative gray eyes traveled slowly from the fullness of her breasts, along the curve of her neck to the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. Holt knew he was being uncharacteristically rude, but he didn't dim the suggestive gleam in his eyes.
The blue eyes were instantly shuttered by long, sooty lashes, and her question was rephrased. "Would you care for anything else to eat?" she asked with a resigned patience that declared she was used to fielding such blatant advances.
"No thank you, ma'am," replied Holt in an exaggerated drawl that made the blonde's head shake in disbelief. "But I sure could use a room for the night and some fresh water for my horse."
The dark lashes flew up, and the blue eyes flashed in amazement. "You're pulling-my leg!" she admonished, leaving herself wide open to cryptic remarks about her anatomy.
Holt didn't state the obvious. No use adding his name to the undoubtedly long list of men who'd love to get their hands on those legs. He nodded toward the window and his horse trailer. "Honest Injun," he taunted, his full, sensual lips widening in a self-mocking grin at the use of such slang.
Raquel's gaze darted swiftly to the trailer and then back to him. Just for an instant, Holt saw her indifferent expression give way to unexpected interest, and it had a peculiar effect on his nervous system. Then she appeared to consider his offensive manner, and her attitude became aloof again.
"Check with Joe or Gwen about a room," she advised in a strangely resigned fashion that baffled him. She nodded toward the couple who seemed to be guarding the cash register, then she threw one last glance out the window
"You might be able to get some fresh water at the filling station," she tacked on more congenially.
Holt dropped the cowboy twang and smiled gently for her concern. "Anyone over there that I should ask for?" he wondered as he dropped a hefty tip and collected his Stetson.
"There's a teenage boy named Donnie. I'm sure he'll be able to help you," she commented quietly, stepping aside as he rose from his seat. She pocketed his tip with a slight smile and thanked him before turning abruptly away from the booth.
"Thank you," he replied, his eyes following the delightful motion of her shapely rear end as she passed through the swinging doors to the kitchen area.
Regretfully Holt forced his thoughts from the tempting blonde and paid for his meal, then rented a room for the night. Dusk was falling when he'd fed, watered, and settled Buck for the evening, and it was a relief to let himself into the tiny motel room attached to the restaurant.
He tossed his bag on the room's one small chair and then stripped to the skin while heading for the bathroom to rinse away the dirt and sweat of another hot summer day.
After a cool shower, he used one towel to blot the water from his head and wrapped another around his waist in an economy of motion. He shaved, brushed his teeth, and then made an effort to comb some of the tangles from the unruly thickness of his own blond hair. Humming softly to himself, he switched off the bathroom light and moved to the bedroom to sink gratefully on the bed. Stretching out his long, muscular frame, he allowed spiky lashes to fall over tired eyes and drifted to sleep.
A few hours later Holt was awakened by an unbelievably erotic dream about a soft, sexy female with piercing blue eyes. A too familiar ache throbbed along his hard body and denied him more sleep. He lay there remembering every detail of the dream and wondering at the strong possessiveness he felt toward the woman in his fantasy. Why should he be feeling such a strong attraction for a perfect stranger who'd barely acknowledged his existence? Something about the lovely waitress had clung to his senses and appealed to some deep, possessive core of his being.
The sound of laughter and music penetrated his awareness, urging Holt to swing his feet from the bed and head toward the room's one small window. Across the parking lot he saw the flashing neon sign that advertised the restaurant's bar/lounge. Normally he made a point of avoiding such places, but tonight he had a gut feeling she would be there. He swiftly pulled on clean clothes. He didn't have any logical explanation for his need to seek her out, but he knew he wouldn't get another minute of sleep until he'd satisfied his curiosity about her. Maybe if she was a blubbering idiot or a simpering lush, he would be able to put her out of his mind and head for home without a backward glance.
The dimly lit barroom was small, crowded, and as smoke-filled as millions of others in every corner of the world. Holt stopped just inside the door until his eyes adjusted to the darkness, then made his way to the bar and ordered a beer.
Hooking a heel of his boot around the rung of a bar stool, he leaned against the bar and turned to survey the odd assortment of people. His gaze scoured the small dance floor, the tiny stage full of country-western musicians, and then the surrounding tables. His gaze settled on the blonde in a secluded booth, apparently alone. She was drinking from a wineglass with an open bottle in the middle of the table. He had to wince at the quality of any wine that could be bought in a place like this. As he watched, she lifted the glass to her lips, and he felt an unexpected jolt of excitement. In a T-shirt and jeans, she'd been appealing, but tonight she was wearing a summer top that left her shoulders bare and hugged her breasts adoringly.
Holt's pleasant study of his fantasy woman was rudely interrupted by a drunken stare from the man on the next stool. "Forget it, cowboy," came the unrequested advice.
He turned his attention to the inebriated man at his left and lifted a brow questioningly.
"You can forget makin' any time with that one."
Holt's grip on the beer mug tightened. "Married?" He managed to keep his tone civil, but his gut clenched at the thought. "Jealous boyfriend?"
The drunk shook his head negatively.
"Doesn't she like men?" he asked.
"I wouldn't know," muttered the other man, still shaking his head. "But I do know she's too damned particular to spend any time with us regular guys."
"The lady has discriminating tastes?"
The drunk mumbled something Holt couldn't hear. He blocked out the slurred ramblings of the stranger to concentrate on another stranger, an exceptionally lovely and appealing one. The thought that she might be "too particular" intrigued rather than discouraged him. He was feeling very "particular" himself, and it pleased him to think his mystery lady was a bit reserved.
His expression was determined as he finished off the last-of his beer and headed toward her booth. If she had a serious reason for keeping men at arm's length, then he would back off, but he wasn't going to be content until he'd found out.
When he reached her table, Raquel lifted wide eyes that were slightly hazy from wine, but no less penetrating in their reaction to his presence. "Drinking alone?" he asked quietly.
For a long moment the sapphire eyes intently studied every feature of his face. Plenty of women had found him attractive, but they usually focused on all his physical attributes. Few had ever concentrated so much attention on his facial features, as if searching for character rather than just good looks.
The touch of her gaze on his skin held the warmth of sunshine. Then she delighted him with a low, husky voice that invited rather than repelled.
"Would you like to dance?" he asked, studying her just as intently.
Raquel's eyes widened ever-so-slightly in surprise. After just a brief hesitation, she lowered her glass to the table and gracefully rose to her feet. Without another word, she slipped to his side and let him guide her to the small dance floor.
Her hands slid over Holt's chest and settled lightly on his shoulders in a gentle caress. Their gazes locked in a tangle of cloudy blue and over-heated gray-green. His arms tightened around her waist as her unwavering scrutiny tapped something deep and primitive within him.
The floor was small and crowded. Holt tightened his grip on Raquel, drawing her closer to his hormone-charged body. She made no protest as he hugged her tightly. The easy way she followed his lead proved that she was far from a novice on the dance floor. Tension radiated from her until he slowly began to caress her spine. Then she began to relax and lowered her lashes as though in acceptance of his closeness and touch. Her hands slid around his neck and she laid her head on his shoulder, her shapely body curving into his with an ease that pleased and aroused. He was also delighted by the warmth and softness of the lovely woman in his arms. She followed his rhythmic swaying as though they'd been made to move together. When he burrowed his face into the curve of her shoulder, she shivered slightly; a delicate tremor that Holt felt to the soles of his feet.
Surely no woman who felt this delicious in his arms could offer a threat to his well-being, he thought fiercely. She was softness, her skin silken smooth, and she felt perfect in his arms.
She smelled tantalizingly sweet, and her body clung to his in perfect harmony. He knew he had to have some time alone with her, but he also knew he was rushing things and that it was probably foolhardy to play with fire.
"Some guy at the bar said you're not interested in the men around here, but I want you to be very interested in me tonight," he whispered near her ear. He didn't have time for games, so he didn't disguise the fact that he wanted much more than a dance.
Her head shot up, her gaze meeting his in wary confusion. Delicate brows puckered as she attempted to decipher the meaning of his comment. She shook her head slightly.
"I'm not accustomed to one-night stands," she declared huskily, though her body didn't retreat from its snug position against his.
"I didn't suggest that you were," he said, jolted by the idea that she might be a swinging single. Where had that surge of possessiveness stemmed from? "But I want to be alone with you."
His voice grew rough with huskiness. "Will you come to my room with me right now?"
His suggestion sent a quiver over the warm body in his arms. Then he was being stared at in alarm.
"Oh, no," she insisted in sudden agitation, tossing her head from side to side. "We can't be seen leaving together."
"Why?" he argued, not liking any of the reasons that flashed through his mind.
"Please," she pleaded without explanation, her eyes wide and beguiling.
She didn't seem to be rejecting him, but he didn't understand her sudden panic. His features tightened.
"You'll come to my room as long as we don't leave here together?"
Their gazes locked briefly, intently, then her lashes drifted low to block her thoughts. "I'll come," she promised breathily.
He loosened his grip on her. "I'm in room number seven."
"I know where you are she admitted.
His eyes narrowed briefly as she moved out of his arms. He followed her back to her booth, then left her with a low, rumbled command. "Don't be long."
Holt slammed the door of number seven with unnecessary force, then cursed the hot desire raging through his body. He'd always prided himself on control, but his mystery lady had him teetering on the edge. How had she gotten to him so fast and so hard?
Was he a fool to trust her? He'd been celibate for too long, but that was no excuse for succumbing to the attractions of a casual pickup; even if his every sense shouted that there was nothing casual about his need for this particular woman.
Was the strain of responsibility getting to him already? No. He answered his own question with calming confidence. He viewed his new status on the ranch as a welcomed challenge. So why this sudden shift from his normal, sensible behavior patterns? He'd become increasingly wary these past few years, and he knew the dangers of sleeping around, so why was he willing to take a chance?
Because he wanted her with a desperation that was totally foreign and totally unprecedented. He muttered grimly to himself as he stripped off his clothes and stretched his long length on the bed. Come hell or high water, he was going to get what he needed tonight and get this woman out of his system. Maybe she'd be cold, calculating or sexually boring. Then he wouldn't have to leave here with any nagging doubts.
Instinct told him that something was strange about finding so much beauty and grace being wasted at a truck stop, yet his instincts urged him to satisfy his curiosity along with the gnawing physical hunger.
Fifteen minutes later, Holt went rigid with tension when he heard a light tapping at his door. He grabbed the towel he'd discarded earlier and partially covered his nudity. Then he bade Raquel to enter.
She slipped quietly into the room and quickly latched the door behind her. Only then did she glance in the direction of his reclining form. She seemed to hesitate when she saw so much bared flesh, but her gaze swiftly flew to meet his. He returned it steadily, hoping to reassure her.
The light in the room was dim, so he motioned for her to move closer. She dropped her purse on the chair and then hesitated a little longer. Holt briefly wondered if she was playing games with him or enjoying some sort of personal fantasy, but her unwavering gaze made her appear slightly nervous.
"Don't be shy," he coaxed gruffly, his own excitement making it difficult to be patient and encouraging. "You must know that I want you, and you must want me a little or you wouldn't have come here."
She frowned slightly, watching him with what seem an inordinate amount of wariness. He motioned for her to come closer. She took a baby step forward that brought her more fully into the light.
"Why don't you get out of all those clothes?" he suggested, gesturing at his own nude form.
With agonizing slowness she kicked off her sandals, then unsnapped her jeans before pulling them from her long legs. The strip-tease had his blood pooling in his loins, and made him restless for the sight of her entire body.
She certainly knew how to tantalize the senses, he thought as excitement churned in his gut. She'd paused, exposing only the length of her smooth, shapely thighs to keep him enticed. It wasn't nearly enough. He quietly urged her to continue.
"Don't stop now."
Raquel hesitated again, her watchful gaze flickering over his big frame. Then she slowly lifted her top over her head and placed it on the chair with her purse and jeans.
Need razored through Holt, sharp and cutting. Her underwear was basic and white, but it didn't detract from the perfection of her figure. The full breasts, small waist, and flat stomach were complemented by curvaceous hips and legs that stirred a deep well of need in him. His whole body tightened with raw, primitive desire. It had been a very long time since he'd wanted any woman as badly as he wanted this one.
Raquel stopped the strip show at this stage, reluctant to continue, so Holt sat on the edge of the bed and reached out a hand for her. His pulse rate accelerated as she moved closer.
"Come here," he invited, his excitement increasing as he grasped the satiny smoothness of her waist and drew her firmly between his thighs. He held her immobile while he reached behind her and unfastened the hooks of her bra.
His face was close enough to nuzzle the soft flesh as soon as it was released from confinement, and Raquel's sharp intake of breath matched his own reaction to the contact. The bra was tossed aside, and Holt concentrated on fondling her breasts with his whole face and mouth. His tongue darted out to tease the nipples with a rhythmic sensuality that drew a low moan of pleasure.
Her hands clutched his shoulders for support as a tremor shook her body. He got the impression that she was either surprised by her own reactions, a great actress, or a very sensuous woman who enjoyed being touched. Her reactions seemed genuine, so he took his time suckling and savoring her tender breasts, becoming wildly aroused by the slow worship of her beauty.
"You like that, don't you?" he murmured as he caressed the full mounds with their diamond-hard peaks.
"Yes." The answer was spoken on a breathless gasp.
"I like it, too," he confessed, raining provocative little kisses over her sensitive skin.
Her fingernails bit into his shoulders. Holt pulled her unresisting body onto his lap while he explored the ultrasensitive flesh at her neck and throat. Another harsh moan escaped her lips, and he lifted his face to capture the sound with his mouth. He nibbled the fullness of her lips, gently her to open her mouth. She didn't immediately comply, so he put his mouth to better use elsewhere.
This time their groan was in unison as Raquel wriggled against the cradle of his thighs. His caresses became more heated, his lips hot and hungry while his hands gently kneaded the fullness of her hips. He accepted more of her weight as his mouth drained the strength from her limbs. Then he grasped her thighs to pull them both backward on the bed.
The towel slipped from his body and Raquel inhaled sharply, but Holt was too busy ridding her of her underwear to notice the shock she experienced. Twisting slightly, he stretched his full length along the bed and sighed with pleasure as their bare bodies melted together.
All thoughts of caution were tossed aside as he gloried in the exquisite feel of the womanly body pressing against every hard inch of him. The lovely waitress didn't return his caresses, but he was becoming oblivious to her reactions. His mouth and hands roamed ravenously along her firm, shapely curves. His own senses were inflamed by the passion she ignited. His breathing grew ragged until he finally reversed their positions and ground his hips roughly against her with an urgency brought on by unrelenting need. His hands roved her body with thoroughness, and his lips seemed incapable of straying far from the delicious texture of her breasts.
Totally inflamed and fully aroused, Holt's need for satisfaction surged past urgent. Parting her thighs with his own, he swiftly completed their union and then went rigid with shock when he penetrated an unexpected barrier. Her muffled gasp of pain had him cursing.
His passion-fogged gaze flew to Raquel's in stunned disbelief. She was undeniably tense. Her eyes were giant orbs of distress. There was undeniable pallor beneath her heavy makeup. He realized with a jolt that she was shocked by his possession.
"Please!" she whispered gruffly, her eyes pleading.
"Please what?" he ground out roughly.
Her body writhed beneath him, and she threw her head from side to side in agitation.
"I don't know what!" she rasped.
"Hold still," he commanded, his breathing labored.
His fierce battle for control seemed to calm Raquel a little. She stopped squirming and held perfectly still while her gaze stayed locked with his in wary fascination.
"Relax and trust me," he demanded, fighting to rein the desire running rampant through his veins. His lips brushed hers, and he gently instructed her to help him. "Open your mouth," he urged, cradling her head in both hands while his tongue slid into the inviting warmth of her mouth. A shaft of purely masculine possessiveness pierced him as her tongue tentatively mated with his. He had to draw on even deeper reserves of control. The violent need to make this woman his had him confused and out of his depths emotionally. Sheer instinct motivated him to bind her more fully to him.
Sliding his hands over her shoulders and down her arms, Holt grasped her wrists and pulled them toward his hard, glistening body. "Touch me," he instructed hoarsely, gathering her closer as she began to return his caresses. Then they locked mouths for kiss after drugging kiss.
"You're so big," breathed Raquel, when he finally allowed her time to catch some air. His body was still hard and demanding as he ran his lips along her neck and shoulders with a thoroughness that was guaranteed to wreak havoc on the senses.
"And you're just perfect for me," he declared as he began a new assault on her breasts, making her gasp with surprised delight. His tongue and lips suckled and teased until her breathing became as erratic as his and her body began to writhe with a different sort of tension.
Slowly and patiently, he stroked the flames of desire until he felt her hips arching into his in a demand for satisfaction. "Please!" she begged.
It took a supreme effort to control his own raging desire, but her increasingly ardent response was ample reward. Raquel grasped his head, dragging his mouth back to hers while she returned the savage pressure of his kiss. She silently pleaded for him to ease the ache his experienced loving had created.
"You're sure you don't want me to leave you?" he insisted harshly, praying that she wouldn't test his control any further.
In response, her hands slid over his shoulders, her fingers clinging tightly. She locked their bodies more tightly with an urgent thrust of her hips. Holt moaned his approval, feeling her readiness to accept his passion. He swiftly brought her the satisfaction she craved with steady, driving thrusts.
His actions evoked a shattered cry of release from her that he eagerly swallowed. Her body quivered in an explosion of sensation that he knew would be locked in his memory for a lifetime. It was all he could do to cradle her gently while the initial waves of release subsided.
Having contained his own desire for so long, he wasn't so easily satisfied, but he allowed her a few minutes respite to regulate her breathing; Then he began to move with a stunning vigor that shocked both of them with its intensity. The resurgence of passion between them was so incredibly exciting and rose to a staggering crescendo before rocketing them both into a sated exhaustion.
Breathing laboriously, Holt rested his forearms on either side of Raquel's head and supported most of his weight while their bodies gradually recovered from the shattering intensity of their loving. He had made love to a lot of women over the last years, but never had he been so deeply affected by a physical coupling, and the knowledge was a little difficult to cope with now.
It was a while before their tortured lungs rallied from the excruciating exercise, but as soon as he'd regained his strength, he lifted his head to study eyes that were as beautifully blue as the Wyoming sky. Primitive possessiveness battled with his common sense while he wondered how he was going to casually walk away from this woman.
The face so near to his own suddenly appeared vulnerable, flushed with youthful innocence. Even though he knew there was nothing juvenile about the body still joined with his own, he seriously doubted the maturity of the woman he'd expected to be experienced.
"How old are you?" he asked in clipped tones. Raquel flinched and averted her eyes.
Holt grasped her chin and held her gaze while repeating the question. "How old?"
"Twenty-five," came the weak reply. She still didn't look at him. He figured that meant she wasn't accustomed to lying.
Pressing his body threateningly against hers, he made a third demand for an answer. "How old?"
"I'll be twenty-one in seven more days!" she snapped defiantly, trying unsuccessfully to free herself from his confining weight.
"Twenty-one!" hissed Holt. "You must have been living in a convent to still be a virgin at twenty-one."
Raquel's features took on a mutinous expression that declared how close his assumption compared with reality.
"What's your angle?" he demanded.
"What do you mean?"
"What do you want from me? What's this little evening of pleasure going to cost me?" he bit out gruffly, becoming more furious by the minute, both with her and himself.