“Such sweet bullshit,” she mimicked. “How soon before you’re ready to leave?”


“As soon as I get my boots on.”

“I’ll change shoes too.”

Chase shoved his wallet in his back pocket, and maybe for the first time he’d gone out with a woman, he hadn’t double-checked his condom supply.

The place was jam-packed and they scored the last table. Pretty basic menu. Several different cuts and sizes of steak. Fried chicken. Pasta. Seafood. The house specialty was the chicken-fried buffalo steak, served with mashed potatoes, gravy and a cold broccoli salad.

“It all looks good. I’m too starved to pick one thing.”

“Trust me to order for you?” Chase asked.

Ava folded her menu and set her elbows on the table. “Please.”

The waitress dropped off two glasses of peach iced tea and Chase dumped in three packets of sugar.

“This is a cool place.”

“Pretty standard for a small Midwestern town. I try to find joints like this rather than eating at another chain restaurant when I’m on the road.”

She mumbled something as her focus followed someone’s movements across the room.

“See someone you know?” he teased.

“I see someone I’d like to know,” Ava purred. “Some fine, fine specimens of cowboy in here.”

Jealousy had Chase cranking his head to check out which man had caught her eye. “Where?”

“Never mind. He’s gone.”

“Maybe you’ll get lucky and run into him next door at the bar.” Jesus. What the hell had possessed him to say that? He glanced up to see Ava looking at him skeptically. He said, “What?”

“I realize we’re just friends, Sundance, but you have no problem with me slow dancing with another guy? Right in front of you?”

Chase hoped his shrug came across nonchalant.

“What if the sexual chemistry was off the charts and I wanted to go home with him?”

The thought of some random guy touching her in all the ways Chase imagined touching her made his teeth clench and his eyeballs pulse. He ripped open two more packets of sugar and angrily dumped them in his tea, violently stirring the liquid.

“That much sugar isn’t good for you.”

“Neither is an STD you might pick up from some loser bar rat.”

“Really? Chase’n Tail McKay is going there with me?”

He glanced up. “No. Sorry. Obviously I can’t tell you what to do, besides warning not to bring some strange dude back to the hotel room.”

“I don’t want to argue with you, but I’m not gonna lie either. While this road trip is fulfilling some of my needs, it’s not fulfilling them all.”

I can fulfill your every need and then some.

When Ava leaned across the table, Chase could see so far down her shirt he swore he caught a glimpse of nipple.

“I haven’t had sex in four months, Chase. I didn’t realize how much I missed something until I haven’t had it. It’s like my brain is on a continual loop—imagining rough hands stroking my skin, craving sweet and lazy kisses, or hot and hard kisses, needing an intense body-to-body connection.”

“What exactly are you tryin’ to do to me here?” he half-growled, hating—and loving—that she’d put such graphic images in his head.

“What? We’re friends. I’m sharing my frustrations with you.” Ava blinked innocently. “Oh wow. Sorry. For a second I forgot that you are captain of the USS Abstinence… Well, anyway, your lack-of-sex situation is self-imposed, mine is not. And I don’t think I should have to suffer for your choice.”

The food arrived. Chase watched Ava devour every bite, and tried to ignore the happy little humming moans that reminded him of sex.

Hell, everything about her made him think of sex.

Ava shoved aside her empty plate. “You’re right. It’ll be fun to hang out at the bar for a little while.”

Yippee. He was such an idiot. Now he’d spend the rest of the night watching her entice the local yokels.

“Excuse me?”

They both glanced at the young woman at the end of the table. “This might sound strange, but me’n my friends we were wondering if you are…”

Chase braced himself. Here it was. He should’ve known better than to show up in public place, even a rural dive, with the radiant Ava Cooper.

“Sure, I’d be happy to take your picture,” Ava said pulling Chase from his worrisome thoughts. “Isn’t it great that her friends took her out to celebrate her birthday?” Ava prompted Chase.

Hugely relieved, he offered the birthday girl a genuine smile. “While you’re taking pics, I’ll pay the bill.” Grabbing the check, he stood and tossed a ten on the table for a tip.

Ava rose from the table. Even with the two inches his dress boots added to his height, Ava towered over him by five inches. She bent forward slightly and put her mouth by his ear. “Fess up, cowboy. You were worried one of us had been recognized.”

Her hot breath sent a tingle straight to his dick. Resisting temptation of turning his head and pressing a kiss at the base of her neck, he sidestepped her. “See ya over there.”

Chase secured a high-topped table in the middle of the room with both the bar and the dance floor in view. One thing he’d noticed over the years; patrons in small town bars were a diverse mix of people. Old-timers mingled with the younger set. No one was trying to act hip, cool or aloof. Or wear trendy clothes, although single ladies had done themselves up in tight clothes and rhinestones for a night on the town.

He purposely sought out places like this, as a reminder real cowboy country existed. Where small town values, hard work and integrity were as prized as a college degree. Where boots, jeans and hats were worn for both everyday and formal attire. Where no one looked at you funny for ordering cheap beer because most folks were on a budget. Where your neighbor would make sure you got home safely if you imbibed a little too much.

Would Ava see that? Understand it? Find it quaint? Or rural?

Ava slid next to him with a husky, “Hi.”

“Hey. What would you like to drink?”

“I don’t know. I’ll wander up to the bar and see what they’ve got.”

He lifted a brow. “You sure you’re goin’ to the bar to look for a…drink?”

“Yes. But it wouldn’t hurt to check out my other options.”

“Ain’t a lot of options. It’s a slow night.”

“So you’ve been screening me for me?” she asked doubtfully.

“A guy checking out other guys in a joint like this will get your ass thrown outta here faster than you can say ‘Brokeback’, trust me.”

Ava laughed.

He loved to hear her laugh. So sweetly melodic and yet completely unaffected.

The cocktail waitress stopped and Ava conferred with her in low tones before she ordered.

“What’d you decide on?”

A secretive smile bloomed and then she focused her attention elsewhere. “See that guy in the red plaid shirt? To your left? What do you think of him?”

“Him? Seriously? He’s too old for you.” Chase let his gaze wander, acting like he was playing along with the find-Ava-a-fuck-buddy game, when in all likelihood, he’d fuck up any man who laid a hand on her. “What about the dude in the bright blue shirt?”

“Eww. He’s got a ZZ Top beard. And I think there’s food in it.”

“You don’t like beards?”

“Only on Abraham Lincoln, Van Gogh and the aforementioned little ’ol band from Texas.”

“You coulda told me you hate the goatee I’m growin’,” he said a little shortly.

She reached over and tenderly stroked the bristly hair. “I didn’t say that. I like it. Your lips are perfectly framed and look so kissable. I wondered if it’d be soft or scratchy.”

Chase didn’t move. Hell, he didn’t breathe as her fingers repeatedly smoothed over his face, his whole face, not just the part with excess hair.

“I can’t believe how much it’s filled in. God. How many times a day do you have to shave?”

“When I’m on tour? Usually twice. Can’t stand how razor stubble feels on my face.”

“I’d like to feel your razor stubble on my face,” she murmured.

Maybe she hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

Or maybe she had.

The cocktail waitress floated a napkin on the table and placed a lowball glass in the center. “Took the bartender a minute to figure out how to make this.” She grinned. “Don’t get a lot of requests for that drink in here.”

When Ava opened her purse to pay, Chase put his hand over hers. He pulled money from his front shirt pocket and dropped it on the tray.

Ava didn’t speak until the waitress left. “I can buy my own drinks, Chase.”

“I know you can. You can also open your own door and pay for your supper, but that ain’t happening tonight, so deal with it.”

Surprisingly, she didn’t argue. She took a healthy sip of her drink and said, “Wow. That’s good.”

“What is it?”

“Tie me to the bed and fuck me.”

Chase choked on his beer. Choked hard enough Ava had to pat him on the back. “What the hell did you just ask me to do to you?”

“I didn’t ask you to do anything to me, because I knew you’d say no. The name of my drink is called Tie me to the bed and fuck me.”

His eyes narrowed. “Bullshit.”

She held up her hand in Scout’s honor pose. “It was the drink du jour at my friend Bella’s bachelorette party. And if you don’t believe me, ask the waitress.”

Right. Ava just wanted to hear him say that drink name out loud. In a honky-tonk bar. Not a chance.

They watched the dancers for three songs. Ava leaned closer. “See that older couple with matching blue shirts?” He nodded. “How long you think they’ve been together?”