I have my hands full taking care of my little sister and covering for my uncle as ranch foreman. The last thing I need is a Texas princess like Callie Llewellyn getting up in my business and messing with my head.
All I can think of is getting up close and personal with those curves of hers. And being on the edge of discovery makes our quick-and-dirty encounters twice as hot. And that’s all they are—quick and dirty—there’s nothing deeper going on here.
There’s only one rule to keeping my job and a roof over my sister’s head: stay away from the boss’s granddaughter. But I’m not always great at following the rules.
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By Candace Havens, Heidi Shoham
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Candace Havens
All rights reserved.
One month earlier
"I can't breathe." I laughed as Bethany, my roommate, danced around our dorm room. There were clothes strewn about, so she'd fallen more than once. My stomach hurt from giggling.
"Callie, dance with me!" she screeched, and did a weird bow like she was inviting me to some eighteenth-century dance.
"Fine, but I'm the girl this time."
Bethany rolled her eyes. "If anyone is a girl here, it's me." Point made. The first day I met her, she reminded me of a Barbie doll, or Elle from those Legally Blonde movies. While the rest of us schlepped around in sweatpants and hoodies, she always appeared ready to walk the runway. She reminded me of my grandma that way. And like my grandma, she might be drop-dead gorgeous, but she was also kind. Oh, and the girl could party better than any frat boy I'd ever met.
She'd made the last two semesters a blast.
I didn't get that gene. I was no schlep, but I really had to work at looking decent.
"I'm going to miss you this summer."
"Awww. Sad face. Don't talk about it," I whined. "The real world. I'm just not ready for the real world. We have such a perfect life here. We should have gone to summer school."
"Not," Bethany said quickly. "Girl, my brain needs a break. I'm ready to sit by the pool and kill a few brain cells with muchas alchohalas."
"And you got a C in Spanish. I can't imagine why."
We both snorted.
My phone beeped and a reminder popped up.
"Holy shit! I forgot about my advisor appointment." On my way to the door, I stumbled over the pile of clothes we'd been packing.
"Halt." Bethany ordered.
"It is summer, but all you're wearing is a Timbaland T-shirt you probably owned in junior high, and a thong."
She dug through my suitcase. "Here. These jeans make your ass look like Jesus made it special. And this red Theory blouse might make Hot Craig think about you as something other than one of his students. Does awesome stuff to your boobs."
Hot Craig was my advisor. Most of the students and teachers, male and female, had a thing for him.
After dressing, I pulled her into my arms. "You are the best friend ever. I can't wait for fall so we can do this all over again."
"Me, too." She hugged me back. Then she slapped my ass. "Hurry up and go see him so we can get our summer on."
* * *
"Academic probation? But, but ..." I stuttered. "I, uh. I have As. Several As." Holy hell. This could not be happening. What would they think? Oh my God. I could not go there.
"Callie, you have three As, two Ds, and an F, and your first semester grades weren't exactly stellar." My academic advisor pushed his glasses up his nose. He was young, probably only five years older than me. And he had that cool, bookish nerd thing down.
You're thinking he looks hot. You have a fucking F, and you're sitting here checking out your advisor.
Hell, I'd never even had a B. Anything less than an A wasn't allowed in my house.
"I don't understand. How could I have worked so hard and made such a bad grade? Professor MacDonald knew I was having trouble. I told you I was having trouble. You said to stick it out. That I could do this." I pointed an accusing finger, but it didn't make me feel any better.
"This happens," Craig, the man I used to think was the coolest advisor ever, said. "I had faith in you. So did Dr. MacDonald, but you flunked the final, and with the other low test scores ... You struggled with all of your business classes."
Squeezing the arms of my chair, I did my best not to screech. Craig had set up my schedule from hell. Eight a.m. classes and nineteen hours a week for a freshman? And to be honest, I'd worked my ass off. Okay, so maybe I'd slept through a few weeks of the eight a.m., but I'd worked hard to make all of that up. With Big Mac's finance class, I'd kept telling myself that eventually I would catch on. That I could make up those early test scores, but it had never happened.
How could I have been so stupid? I was an adult. I could sit here and blame Craig all day long. But the truth was I never wanted to admit there was a possibility I might fail. I never failed. I was the one who'd wanted to take nineteen hours. I was the one who'd said those early classes were no problem.
But I'd set up that stupid schedule when I'd thought I was going to be the next Bill Gates. What I hadn't known back then was I kind of hated the business classes. Like, "bored out of my skull" hate. Finance was a living nightmare. Never in my life had I doubted I could learn anything from a book — until that stupid class. It broke me, in a way nothing else ever had. Self-doubt had become my new best friend. And I'd spent so much time on that one class that the others had suffered.
I sighed. "So what does this mean?"
Craig sat back in his chair and shoved his reading glasses on top of his head. "It means you go home and rest. It means we're going to need to make some adjustments in your schedule. And ..." He paused.
"What?" I leaned forward. There was something else. His eyes said it all. "Just tell me."
"You need to decide if finance really is your thing. I spoke with your creative writing professor. He believes you have talent, and he doesn't say that about everyone. I believe" — he flipped through a notebook on his desk — "yes, I wrote it down. Professor Klein said, 'She's the most talented writer I've had in my class in more than twenty years.'"
Professor Klein, the man who'd marked so much wrong on my stories that I'd considered buying stock in red ink, had called me talented?
What the fuck?
"He's promised to write you a letter of recommendation."
A pain shot through my right eyeball as if a dart had been thrown at it. "A letter of recommendation for what?"
Craig's eyebrow shot up. "The creative writing program here is one of the best in the country, Callie. Students wait years to get in."
"No." The word came out as a cough. "I can't be a writer. Are you kidding me?" I coughed again. "I — that's not a real job. I just have to work harder. You were right. Maybe we should tweak the schedule. I can make up the finance class in summer school, and maybe some of the others. And we should knock me down to sixteen hours. That might be more manageable."
"I'd like you to at least think about the writing program."
Dude. Not going to happen. My grandparents would flip into an early grave. No. I was being groomed to take over the family business. I couldn't even imagine the disappointment they would feel if they found out I was on academic probation.
Fuck. It would kill them.
It would kill me to have to tell them. They expected so much and had done everything they could for me. This was on me. I had to fix it.
"Thanks. I have to go. Have a happy ... um, summer and all that." I waved as I stumbled out of the office.
I'd just stepped out into the cool Massachusetts wind when arms wrapped around me. "It's the fucking summer. Lose the sad face." Bethany squeezed me tight.
She jumped up and down, forcing me to do the same.
"I take it you passed your political science final?"
"Yes." She giggled, only loosening her arms a little. "So what did Hot Craig say? Why the look? You have that same expression you had when slimy Ronny touched your ass at the Lambda Chi party yesterday."
That guy had been the bane of my existence the last few months. Always leering. Ugh. I got along with most everyone, and I'd always been nice to him — until he'd tried to feel me up. The heel of my shoe had found his instep, and he'd limped away calling me nasty names.
Bethany frowned. I couldn't tell her I'd failed finance. I'd been talking smack to her all semester about how if I survived Big Mac, she had no excuses in any of her classes.
But I hadn't survived. I'd failed miserably. I know, first-world problems and all, but success was paramount when it came to my family. We did not fail.
"Callie?" Bethany tugged my hair. She wore a bright pink jacket over a vintage T-shirt, a tiny skirt, and six-inch heels. Right out of the fashion magazines, this one.
"Oh. Uh. He just wanted to discuss my schedule for next semester." The bell on the clock tower chimed. "What time is it?"
"That's why I was coming to get you. It's almost five. We're supposed to be at the hangar in about a half hour. I packed your bags for you. They're in the car. And the moving guys came just as I was leaving. They gave me the keys to the storage place. So we're all set."
Lovely, OCD Bethany. My adoring roommate was as OCD as they came. I wasn't surprised she'd already packed my stuff in the thirty minutes I'd been gone. I hadn't known what to think of her that first day when she'd offered to reorganize my closet, desk, and everything else on my side of the room. There were moments when I wanted to punch her face, but most of the time, I was just grateful she put up with my crap.
"Wait. You packed my bag?"
She rolled her eyes. "Don't worry. I threw in some jeans, your favorite shorty shorts, and even a couple of hoodies for when the air conditioning is too cold in your grandma's house. I thought of everything. Besides, you know there will be a new wardrobe for you when you get there. Every time you go home, she's got a closet full of clothes waiting."
Grandma Helen did love buying clothes.
Linking her arm in mine, she half dragged me down the sidewalk. "Come on."
I followed her, glancing around at the campus as she pulled me toward the town car that would take us to the hangar where one of my grandfather's private jets was waiting. The flight plan included dropping her in Ashville, North Carolina, where her parents lived.
Then it was on to Texas. I had to get my shit together. If I didn't make the grades next semester, I'd be out of here for good.
Shame fell over me like a wet blanket.
I'd have to lie to my grandparents. Tell them everything would be wonderful. Pretend like I loved every moment of the business classes my grandpa was so excited to hear about. I blew out a breath. I could do it. For two months, I would lie and retake the classes. Then I'd come back to campus and fix my mistakes.
I'd be the best fucking business student ever.
* * *
Jerking awake when the jet landed, I yawned. After three all-nighters in a row, I'd slept during most of the five-hour flight. The plane stopped, and one of the pilots came out of the cockpit. "Miss Llewellyn, we're here," he said as he shoved the hatch door open. "Is there anything you need?"
I shook my head. "No, thanks. That was fast."
He grinned. "I think you fell asleep before we took off in Ashville. College is hard work."
I flinched a little.
Stop it. You can't do that shit here. Get it together.
"Yep. I can't believe Grandpa made you guys come get me. I could have taken a commercial flight."
"Not a problem. We dropped one of the board members off in New York, so it was just a small skip to pick you up before we headed back."
He stood by the open door, waiting for me to climb down. I hesitated. Taking a deep breath, I straightened my shoulders. Little Miss Perfect was about to give an Academy-Award-worthy performance. Lifting my chin, I gave him a quick smile as I climbed down the steps.
The wind was warm, nothing like it had been in the Northeast. I shifted my backpack on my shoulders as I took the next step, and it caught on the railing. "Shit," I said as I toppled to the right, nearly falling off the stairs.
A hand reached up, caught my thigh, and then slid up to my hip. The pack shifted again, and this time I did fall, but I didn't hit the ground.
Strong arms held me tightly to a rock-hard chest. "Umph," the chest said.
"Sorry. So, so sorry. I ... uh." I glanced up and the rest of the words caught in my throat. A pair of chocolate-brown eyes stared down at me. Even in the darkness, with just the light from the interior of the jet, the brown eyes had golden flecks and thick, dark lashes that framed them. My hands itched to explore the abs underneath his button-down shirt.
What is wrong with me?
"Are you okay? Did you twist anything?" he asked as he set me down on the tarmac. I was sad when his arms fell to his sides. They had felt so good around me.
"Embarrassed," I blurted out.
He cocked his eyebrow. The man wore jeans and boots, in that comfortable way guys who wore them all the time did. A cowboy. Damn, if I didn't have a soft spot for cowboys. Though, I'd stayed far, far away from them while growing up on the ranch. They were trouble with a capital "T." And I'd been too busy for boys. I'd always been too busy. Even in college, I usually went out in groups with only the occasional drunk make-out session.
I realized he was trying to make sense of my comment.
"Make that klutzy, embarrassed, and not-so erudite."
He jutted out his chin just a tad. "Well, not-so erudite, how about I help you with that backpack before you injure yourself or some poor hapless soul who wanders by?"
He reached out and lifted the pack off my shoulders.
"Nice. Kick a girl when she's down."
"Oh, I have no intention of kicking anyone," his voice purred over me. He waved a hand. "Your chariot awaits, Miss Llewellyn." I glanced over to see the golf cart that was used to transport people from the landing strip on my grandparents' ranch to the big house. So called because there were lots of houses on the property for the staff and ranch hands, and that it was thirty-five thousand square feet. One of the biggest houses in the county. And that was saying something in this part of Texas.
I grunted. "Please don't call me that. It's just Callie."
A tiny shiver slid along my spine as he said my name. Since when did that happen?
"Let's get you out of the heat." He gave me a lopsided grin that was oh so sexy.
Holy shit. Gut tightening, I felt my breath catch — again. What was it about this guy?
"And you are?"
"Just another ranch hand, ma'am. No one to you."
What the fuck did that mean?CHAPTER 2
Damn. She was fucking beautiful. I hadn't expected that. When she'd fallen against me, her body had been soft in all the right places. And that strawberry smell from her hair was fucking sweet, and those tits ... they were real. A lot of the women around town had fake ones. But I'd always been fond of the natural kind, no matter the size.
She sat there next to me on the golf cart as we made the long drive back to the house, and all I could think about was what it would be like to be skin to skin with her.
My uncle had told me two things when I took over as temporary ranch foreman for him. The first was not to fuck around with the boss's granddaughter. The second was if I even looked at Callie Llewellyn cross-eyed, I'd get my ass kicked. That was a joke, since he'd been in the hospital at the time and was still in recovery from his leg being crushed by a tractor. Now, if that had been my dad, the joke would have been a threat, one he would follow up on. I had the fucking scars to prove it.
I was here to do a job, to help my uncle, and take care of my sister. That meant leaving the princess alone. And that was okay, since I wasn't much for relationships or anything much more than one-night stands. I had a list of women in Amarillo I'd never call back on my phone. Someday, I'd get around to deleting them. Anything more than once and they tended to get clingy.
She might think I'm an asshole, but I answered to her grandfather, not her. Best to keep my distance. Her grandparents had been talking about her arrival for weeks, like it was the second coming of Christ.
"I can't wait for you to meet her," Mrs. Llewellyn had said. "She's a sweetheart and absolutely brilliant. Someday, she'll take over the empire. We've been grooming her since she was a babe."
I couldn't imagine being groomed for anything. My sister and I grew up hard. We lived day to day. Things were good right now, but one wrong move, and we'd be out on the streets.
No way would I jeopardize my family's future for a piece of ass, didn't matter how fucking hot it was.
Excerpted from Branded by Candace Havens, Heidi Shoham. Copyright © 2016 Candace Havens. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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