“I can come up with an inventive way for you to pay me back.”
“I’ll bet.” Keely swigged and let the bottle dangle by the outside of the tub. “How was the rest of your meeting?”
“Long and boring. Pointless. Did I mention long and boring?”
“How was your shopping excursion with Gina?”
“Expensive. Lord. Why do I have so many nephews and nieces? I limited myself to spending ten bucks on each kid and I still walked out two hundred dollars poorer.”
“You love them and you’re not really complaining.”
Keely smiled. “How true.”
“Would you rather I face you or sit behind you?”
That question made her eyes fly open. Oh wow. Jack was totally, gloriously, buck-assed nekkid.
Totally, gloriously, buck-assed nekkid and fully aroused. And holding two beers. He really was the perfect man. She scooted forward, splashing water everywhere. “You can sit behind me.”
“Somehow I thought you might say that.”
Jack handed Keely the beer. When he stretched out in the tub, she was enveloped in his substantial presence—all muscles and heat and hot, hard man.
Definitely not getting over him any time soon.
She situated herself between his thighs. Her spine pressed into his chest. Her head seemed to fit in the curve of his neck perfectly.
He’d dimmed the overhead lights and the lamps from the bedroom offered a golden illumination. Had Jack meant the setting to drip of romance? Probably not.
Jack’s free hand gently stroked her arm as it rested on the edge of the tub.
He sipped. She sipped. The water had cooled. She lifted her foot and cranked the hot water tap with her toes. After it’d warmed, she slumped back against him.
“What talented toes you have, Miz McKay.”
“Only trick I can do with them, unfortunately.”
“Pity. I was hoping you could juggle.”
“Sadly, I never learned to juggle. How about you?”
“I used to juggle. Haven’t tried it in years.”
“I imagine it’s a lot like riding a bicycle.”
“Would you try to juggle for me?”
“Would it turn you on?”
“Most likely. Everything you do turns me on, Jack.” Dammit. Why had she said that?
“Then absolutely I’ll juggle for you.” Jack kissed the slope of her shoulder and her skin broke out in goose flesh. “Have I mentioned how much I love this section of your skin?”
He repeatedly dragged openmouthed kisses over the bared flesh. Prickles of goose bumps followed in the wake of his marauding mouth. “You’re so responsive to me,” he murmured.
“Jack. God. Stop.”
“For now. I really was liking bein’ nekkid with you in the tub, relaxing, drinking our very tasty, very expensive beer.”
“Mmm. Me too.” Jack flicked his tongue up the cord in her neck. “But once the beer is gone, you’re mine.”
Dammit, Keely. Don’t go there.
For a long while they didn’t speak, just continued floating together in relaxation.
“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Jack said softly.
“I’m thinking about you.”
“What about me?”
“That there’s a lot I don’t know about you.”
“Ask me anything.” He pressed a kiss by her temple. “My life is an open book for you.”
Keely bit back the obvious How do you feel about me? question and blurted, “Have you traveled to Europe since your career is all about studying architectural details?”
He skimmed his fingers across the surface of the water. “No, I haven’t. Never really wanted to, to be real honest.”
“I travel a lot as it is. So for me, the perfect vacation wouldn’t involve any travel. No sightseeing.
None of that typical tourist stuff.”
“You’d prefer one of those ‘stay-cations’ people on the coasts talk about?”
“Spending a week in my condo would never be considered a vacation,” he said dryly.
“Your bed is comfy.”
“I’d be all over a stay-cation if you were in my bed for a solid week, cowgirl.”
Keely nipped her teeth into his jaw. “Smartass. I’m serious. So…since we’re pretending to be engaged, where would you take me on our pretend honeymoon?”
“A private island. Where the sun is hot, the sand is soft, the water is warm and clothing is optional.
There’s no one around but us. Two solid weeks of alone time, doing whatever struck our fancy.”
“I’d be well versed in getting sand out of my ba-jingo.”
“Ba-jingo?” Jack murmured in her ear. “I knew you watched TV. Eliot on Scrubs is the only one I’ve ever heard use the word ba-jingo.”
She smiled. “Busted. After AJ married Cord, I spent hours wallowing in reruns on TBS and figuring out what to do with my life.”
His throat muscles worked as he swallowed a drink of beer. “Is that when you came up with the idea for a clinic?”
“Sort of. I started traveling with the sports medicine team on the rodeo circuits. The rehabilitation aspect appealed to me, but long term, not short term. It was great practical experience. Not only did I earn college credits, it was sheer heaven putting my hands all over hot cowboys and going to the rodeo for free every night.” Jack snarled softly and she loved that he was jealous. “But I didn’t really put it all together until after Cam’s war injury.”
Jack’s wet fingers trailed up her arm. “I know Cam’s experience was hard for the whole family, but Carter indicated it was rougher on you. Is that true?”
“Yeah.” Keely swigged the last liquid from the bottle and set it aside. “Not only because I lived with him and helped him get back on his foot—ha ha—after he returned from Iraq. See, Cam and I have always had an unusual bond in that we both knew we’d never be part of the McKay ranching operation as adults.
Cam out of choice; me out of gender.”
He stilled. “Your dad cut you out of your ranch heritage because you’re a woman? Jesus, Keely, that’s archaic. And how the fuck is that fair to you?”
She curled her free hand over his, surprised by his vehemence on her behalf. “It’s not like that.”
“Then explain how it is. Because before my dad died, even when he knew I’d never take over the farm, he gave me the choice. Sounds like Carson isn’t giving you that same option.”
“I do have a stake in the McKay Ranch, smaller than my brothers’. Which it should be because I don’t help with day-to-day operations. I draw a salary from the profits, if there are any. I take the minimum amount and leave the rest of the cash for operations. Cam is the same. So is Carter, although, because Carter lives in Sundance half the time, he’s more involved.”
Jack squeezed her hand. “But where does that leave you?”
His sweet concern allowed her to be honest about the situation, maybe for the first time. “It leaves me looking for my place in the family and in the community. Buying the building was the first step to being on my own as an adult. As Keely McKay, proprietor of a medical establishment, not Keely McKay, unfocused wild child.”
“Does that moniker bother you?”
“Not anymore. It’s not who I am. I did what I did. Reap what you sow, blah blah blah. Some of it was stupid, but nothin’ worse than anything anyone else my age was doing.” She laughed. “There were bets I’d be pregnant by a cowboy and married by seventeen, divorced by nineteen, remarried to another cowboy by twenty-one. I’d squeeze out a couple more kids, end up divorced again, and about the time I turned twenty-five, I’d settle down with a local rancher my parents approved of. Of course, no one knows the ins and outs of our family line of ranch succession. Even if I do marry a rancher, he’d better have his own spread because he won’t get an inch of McKay land.”
“Not even if he’s married to a McKay?”
“Nope. All male succession, remember? So the direct descendants, my dad and uncles, had to legally change everything so the ranch stays a patriarchal line after I was born.”
“So you get nothing?” Jack demanded.
“I got everything,” she said quietly. “I got to grow up on the most beautiful place on earth surrounded by all the people I love. I still can traverse any part of McKay land any time I want. But as far as me ever getting controlling interest in the McKay Ranch? Won’t happen.” Keely shivered because the water was getting cold. “So I always wondered if the cowboys were sniffing around me because the biggest part of my feminine appeal was my connection to the McKay land.”
Jack set his beer bottle aside and curled his hand around her jaw, forcing her to look at him. “Rest assured. Your appeal is not due to your family name or some piece of Wyoming dirt.”
“Really. It’s you, cowgirl. Plain and simple. And I’m not after your land.”
“What are you after, Jack?” Please say my heart.
“This.” Jack kissed her. “And this.” A deeper kiss with a lingering caress down the center of her body.
“And especially this.” His hand floated back up to circle her breasts.
The more he kissed her the more difficult the connection was to maintain. Jack flipped her to face him, splashing water up the wall and over the rim of the tub. He straddled her across his lap and wrapped her legs around his waist. Slick skin against slick skin. Mouth on mouth. The kisses were long. Slow. Wet.
Endless. And perfect. This man knew just how to touch her. Knew how to read all sides of her.
Jack unclipped her hair and combed his fingers through the strands, letting the ends drift on the water.
“Don’t ever cut your hair. It’s beautiful.”