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Jason was ready to drive down to the lower level outside the terminal where the taxis and other car services were located before he spotted the lone woman at the curbside sitting on a piece of her abundant luggage in the summer's heat.
He instantly knew it was Evelyn Vega. Despite the sleek simplicity of her outfit--a flowing cream peasant skirt and a prairie sun yellow, silk tank-top--the woman had that big-city look to her, the duds, expensive-looking, undoubtedly designer and totally unsuited to the Colorado heat and ranch life.
She had on a pair of big dark sunglasses of course, but wasn't wearing a hat to protect her head from the hot Colorado sun. She probably didn't have on any sunscreen either and except for a pair of pricey stylish pecan cowboy boots, she didn't look prepared, one iota, for life out on a ranch, especially not Freeborn.
No hat and a silk top. Now what kind of dadgum sense did that make?
At least she had on the boots, Jason thought. Though their fanciness made him reckon they had only been a concession to her trip west since they looked like a brand new purchase, as if they hadn't seen a minute of city asphalt much more the red dirt and mud that she would encounter at almost any cattle ranch in Colorado.
Jason sighed and shook his head as he put his pick-up in park and got out. He took off his hat as he approached. "Miss Vega?"
She took off her glasses, stared up at him and raised an imperial eyebrow.
Jason noticed, except for a light touch of glossy bronze lipstick, she had on barely any make-up.
For some reason, this surprised him. It surprised him also that his cock instantly reacted to her slick but uncomplicatedlooks, twitching in his jeans at her flawless olive skin, the light veneer of moisture giving her complexion an ethereal sheen that made him want to lick her like a mango ice cream cone.
Jason caught himself following a single drop of moisture as it made a path from her neck down to her luscious cleavage, and had to consciously stop his mouth from watering.
His cock throbbed behind the zipper of his jeans as if he hadn't let it out off a leash in centuries. Sadly, this was almost close to the truth, nearly eight months since he had been with Jennifer Brighthart, a twenty-five-year-old (much younger than he liked tangling with), New York bound waitress from town with dreams of hitting it big in modeling and acting.
Okay, maybe eight months wasn't exactly centuries, but it was getting dang near close for him. He hadn't realized how close until this very moment surrounded by Miss Vega's raw feminine appeal and heat.
"And you would be?"
He started, shook his head to clear it of all the horny-dog thoughts going through it, and quickly stuck out his right hand. "Jason Makepeace, ma'am. I'm the cow boss at Freeborn."
"Cow boss," she repeated as if trying it on for size and put a perfectly French-manicured hand in his. "Is that anything like a cowboy?"
She had a strong grip. He liked that. "It's a highfalutin name for foreman, or a cowboy in charge of cattle operations. I mostly run the buckaroo crew."
"Ahhh." She nodded. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Makepeace."
"You can call me Jason, ma'am. Almost no one calls me Mr. Makepeace."
"And you can call me Evelyn. Almost no one calls me ... ma'am."
Jason put his hat back on, stopped himself from grinning at the difficulty she had getting that last word out of her mouth. "No disrespect ma--I mean Evelyn. It's just an address of respect around these parts, like Mr. and Miss around your parts."
She said the word as if it was an alien concept and made Jason wonder if common courtesy and respect were unknown qualities to someone from the big bad city. He'd heard horror stories about cold and rude New Yorkers, sure. Granted he didn't travel much outside of the Midwest and Southwest but he was almost certain Evelyn Vega pulled his leg.
She stood from her bag. "Shall we go?"
"Ready when you are." Jason hungrily watched her, the skirt flowing down around her legs to reach the top of her boots in sinuous waves. She turned to lift one of the bags, an expensive leather designer tote and then smoothly draped a matching handbag across her chest.
Jason inhaled, her scent wafting out to him as she passed, a combination of some spicy sandalwood cologne laced with a touch of vanilla musk and a lot of female.
He reacted as if he had been gut-punched, hissing as his cock hardened and grew to painful proportions in response to the mix of the aroma and Miss Vega's proximity.
What was that about? He hadn't reacted so strongly to a woman in a long time. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he'd had such a carnal response except ... Heck, he had barely been in his twenties, nothing but a dumb pup back then, hormones running haywire and vulnerable to the attentions of almost anything on two legs and female.
Evelyn headed for the front passenger door of his truck and paused. "Are you coming?"
Jason looked at her and at the stack of bags she'd left behind--two of those large wheelie bag do-dads that were all the rage among the sophisticated set, and a matching backpack.
He gathered the bags, grunting at the unexpected weight as he hefted them into the backseat of his pick-up. "Dead body in any of these?"
"No. Just essentials."
More like half her fancy New York City wardrobe. "You're only staying a week right?"
"No, two. Why?"
"Just curious. Most people stay one." Jason sauntered around the front of the truck to get in the driver's seat and caught her looking around in awe as if she couldn't believe the pristine condition of the cab. He stopped himself from smiling at her reaction and asked, "You were expecting some smoke-filled honky-tonk?"
"Actually, I was looking for your gun rack."
"I don't know what you've been told, but that's a myth. All us hillbillies and rednecks ain't card-carrying members of the NRA."
"It wasn't meant as an insult."
"Contrary to all the westerns you might have seen, being a cowboy is a lot of hard honest work that doesn't involve shoot 'em up, bang-bang poker games in the town saloon."
"Oooo-kay, you made your point."
Jason closed the door and started the engine, glanced at her as he pulled from the curbside and headed for the highway, the full brunt of her allure hitting him within the confines of the air conditioned cab despite his being five different kinds of irritated with her presumption.
He secured his seat belt, trying to get a handle on his responses and change the subject before he said something more ungentlemanly. "Wait long?" he asked.
"A little while." She turned her head to glance at him. "So, was there a problem back at the ranch? You don't seem like you're used to playing chauffeur to the guests."
"Actually, I'm not. Monty asked me to do her a favor. She usually shuttles ranch guests from the airport personally, likes to give the individual touch when she can. That, or her husband Seth will make the trip, but he wasn't available, either."
"Lucky you to get the duty today, huh?"
"Yep, lucky me." Jason shrugged, thought it really wasn't so bad, not with the view of her profile he got to enjoy from the driver's seat. "So what brings you out to a dude ranch?"
"My nieces spent the summer here last year and loved it. Got it into their heads that I'd love it too and convinced their mom to buy a two-week package as a birthday gift for their auntie. So here I am, enjoying my present."
"They must love you a lot," he said and watched a smile light up her entire face. The contrast to her previous stern expression was breathtaking.
"Yes, they do. And I love them all right back. I just wasn't expecting anything so--"
"I was going to say extravagant."
"It must have been a surprise. You don't seem like the dude ranch type."
She turned to glare at him. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Whoa-whoa there, little lady. I was just making an observation. When I first rolled up, you didn't look too happy to be here."
She sighed and grumbled, "It's not exactly the Caribbean."
"Reckon not." Jason watched as she pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her bag.
She extracted one from the pack before he could say anything and was about to light it before motioning to him with a, "You don't mind do you?"
"Actually, I do."
She arched that brow again, this time as if she dared the peasant to dictate to his queen. "I'm sorry?"
He understood Montana's the-customer-is-always-right, anything-to-please-the-guest mentality, but he had to draw the line where his lungs were concerned and refused to back off of this stance. He'd come this far without succumbing to the big "C" and didn't intend to succumb in the near future. "I'd prefer it if you didn't light up in here."
"Well, excuse me."
She sat back in her seat with a huff, her full lips stuck out in a sexy pout that he tried not to notice and that took ten years off her already smooth, unlined face.
Jason suddenly wondered how many miles were on her, noticed the very fine lines around her eyes, 'character lines' Mrs. Harper used to call them, didn't think she was much older than him, maybe thirty-four, thirty-five tops.
He tried not to enjoy the sight of her olive-toned face blushing and almost decided to give in before she leaned close.
God, that scent she wore went a heck of a long way to camouflage the redolence of her smoking habit and was about to drive him wild.
Jason hadn't been this turned on in a long while, his cock pressing against the front of his jeans with a vengeance and as if it had a bone to pick with him for keeping it under lock and key for so long.
Down little doggie, down!
"Just a couple of puffs. I'll open the window and--"
"Let in all that hot muggy air and defeat the purpose of the AC."
"Anyone ever tell you you're an evil tyrant?"
Jason smirked. "Not lately, no. Most folks 'round these parts think I'm a real pussy cat."
"I doubt that," she muttered.
He swallowed hard as he watched her fold her arms over those full rounded breasts he imagined his hands cupping. He could already feel her hard nipples against his thumbs, his lips wrapped around the pink (or would they be brown?) nubs, tongue rasping against her aureole...
Jason shifted in his seat and said, "I hate to break it to you, but the ranch is mostly a smoke-free zone."
"You're exaggerating, of course."
He was, but he wouldn't tell her that. Of course there were designated cottages and areas outside where guests could indulge, but after the stable fire a few years back, the habit was frowned on. Not to mention, Montana had cut back considerably on what she would allow on her premises and smoking was one of her major cutbacks.
The guests were all forewarned in the brochure ahead of time about the restrictions as well as the amenities and most were agreeable. They came to Freeborn to enjoy the fresh country vibe and get away from the pollution and congestion of the city.
Miss Vega, however, probably hadn't read any brochure and looked ready to get out of his truck and suck on the exhaust pipe just to get her fix of poison.
The weird thing was, until she pulled out the cigarettes, he wouldn't have taken her for a smoker, and he was usually pretty good about spotting one.
To say the least, she had an attractive smile, teeth straight and white, and didn't have the telltale yellow stains, nor did her fingers from what he could see. Maybe she was one of them-there social smokers.
After several minutes of quiet, he asked, "How was your flight?"
"Smoke-free, if you must know."
He almost laughed at her peeved tone until he realized it meant their ride back to Freeborn would be twice as long as his ride had been coming to the airport.
Aw heck, he had known no good could come of him picking up Miss Persnickety instead of Montana doing it, had almost said no despite his employer and friend's request.
Usually he was so much more diplomatic too, but there was just something about the New Yorker that made him want to goad her, made him want to say no just to see her reaction. This and he refused to jeopardize the health of his lungs for her vice.
"May I?" she asked, already reaching for the dashboard where the dials for his CD player were, and jumping when Shania's voice resounded through the cab in her lively rendition of Man! I Feel Like A Woman!
Jason watched her fiddle with the dials, evidently trying to find something more suited to her urban sensibilities before she finally turned to him and threw up her hands.
"You wouldn't happen to have any real music in this truck, would you?"
He scowled. "I take it country music ain't to your liking?"
"Whoops, didn't mean to insult you."
"Again," he muttered, reaching for the CD player and lowering the volume. He glanced at her out the corner of his eye and knew very well that she had intended to insult him. "Sorry, don't have any Snoop Doggy Dog or Fifty Cents."
"Do I look like I listen to Snoop Dog or Fifty Cents?"
Jason turned to glance at her, held her angry gaze for several seconds. "Don't rightly know what you listen to, ma'am. I just thought all New Yorkers listened to rap music."
"No, they don't. Just like all hillbillies and rednecks don't have guns. So I guess we're even then, huh?"
"I didn't know this was a can-you-top-this-stereotype contest."
"Yeah, right. Jason. Look, we got off on the wrong foot. Let's just agree to disagree and call a truce now before this goes too far."
"Sounds like a plan," he agreed despite the lack of apology anywhere in her address. As for going too far ... heck they had done that the minute he'd introduced himself to the little firebrand.
"Now, can you please pull over?"
He lifted his eyebrows. "Mind if I ask why?"
"Can you just do it, please?"