Then it clicked. Littlefield. “Fields is your restaurant?”


“I always knew a smart guy lurked beneath that handsome face of yours,” she teased.

Ben felt his cheeks warm beneath Michelle’s admiring gaze and Ainsley’s curious one. “Ah, Michelle, this is Ainsley Hamilton. She’s the bank president at National West. Ainsley, Michelle Littlefield.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Michelle.”

“Same here. Sorry if I interrupted a business lunch. I wanted to say hello and mention I’d love to catch up with you sometime, Ben.”

Luckily Michelle left before Ben had to formulate another lie about how much he’d enjoy that.

Ainsley raised an eyebrow.


“Not your fault. But I’m beginning to understand why you prefer spending your free time at the club in Gillette.”

“And why’s that?”

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“Because you can whip the women who annoy you.”

He chuckled.

“Back to the loan issues. I’m not trying to discourage you. But you need to be aware loans are very hard to come by in this economy. Even for people like you, who I’m assuming has established good credit. Taking on additional financial burden without a guarantee you’ll have increased income? I want you to consider very carefully about applying at your regular bank first.”

“I have. And I can’t.”

She studied him. “I’d have to delve into your financials, Ben, and I don’t know how comfortable I am with that.”

“It’s nothin’ I wouldn’t tell you if you just asked me.”

“You’re that open about your finances with everyone?”

“No. But we’re more than just casual acquaintances, Ainsley, way more.”

She turned her gaze away from his.

“Look at me.”

That command grabbed her attention but she glared at him. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Go beastly Dom on me.”

He held up his hands in surrender. “Sorry.”

“At least you didn’t say, sorry, habit.”

Ben smiled. “So touchin’ you right now is out, too? Because I missed it last night.”

Ainsley stared at him, her eyes conflicted, but also resolute. “Touching me at any time is out.”


“You do understand this—” she gestured to the empty space between them, “—ends if I take your loan application.”

“What? Why?”

“I can’t compromise my position at the bank. Any hint of professional impropriety will have long-term repercussions on my career. So while I’m willing to help you secure a loan, once the paperwork is underway, we will only have a business relationship. Period.”

Christ. He hadn’t considered it’d come down to that. He hadn’t considered how much her casual dismissal of him would sting. “It has to be that black and white?”

“Yes.” The firm set to her jaw meant this was nonnegotiable. “Even if we were in a normal dating situation, I’d end it the instant business entered the equation. You have the choice to keep our original agreement intact.”

“By askin’ Settler’s First to lend me the money.”

She nodded.

He stretched across the table, and reached for her hand, hoping charm would have some effect on her. “I need the loan. I want you. I want you like fuckin’ crazy. I can’t have it both ways. For a man used to havin’ his way in all things? This absolutely sucks balls. Why can’t we—”

“Sneak around more than we already are?” she supplied coolly. “We both knew this would end. You’re just choosing to end it sooner.”

And with that comment, she’d put the ball squarely in his court. Ainsley could chalk up their time together as an experiment. She wouldn’t have to consider going into a long term Dom/sub relationship with him. Goddammit, this wasn’t fair. The first time he’d found a woman who could—


Fuck. Not again. He looked up and casually eased back, hiding his annoyance at how quickly Ainsley jerked her hand away from his. “Rielle. What are you doin’ here?”

“Dropping off the last of my okra and spaghetti squash in the kitchen.”

“Rielle, have you met Ainsley Hamilton? We were just wrapping up a few things from Chase’s event.” Why did he have to qualify that?

“Rielle Wetzler. Ben’s neighbor. A pleasure to meet you. We did briefly cross paths at the new bank a couple weeks back.”

“Yes. I remember. Nice to meet you too. So do you run a farmer’s market?”

“A small one. This time of year I’m about tapped out. I’m down to root vegetables, apples and some herbs.”

Ainsley sighed. “I’ve been wanting to make some fall soups and the A&P doesn’t have a huge selection of vegetables.”

“What are you looking for?”

“Turnips. Parsnips. Leeks. Do you have beets?”

“Actually, I do. Three different varieties.”

“Please, please, please sell me some. I’m desperate to make a batch of borscht.”

Rielle laughed. “I’ll sell you anything you want. Come by anytime. I run the Sage Creek Bed and Breakfast out on Bridger Gap Road. I’m usually there or in the gardens.”

“You’d better swing by tonight after work, Ainsley. In case there’s a run on beets tomorrow,” Ben suggested dryly.

Rielle whapped his arm. “Such a smart aleck. I’ll leave you to enjoy your lunch. Nice to meet you, Ainsley.”

“You too, Rielle.”

The waitress dropped off the food and several minutes passed before either spoke.

“You are coming to my place tonight after you stop at Rielle’s.” Not a question.

Ainsley pointed at him with her fork. “You’ve got a short attention span, cowboy. No slap and tickle between us any more.”

“You said this would end after I’ve filled out the loan paperwork and you’ve submitted it. Even if I get everything filled out today, the soonest you can get started on it is tomorrow. Which means I’ll expect you at my place tonight as soon as you get off work.”


“Bennett,” he corrected. “This is not up for discussion. The parameters of our agreement change tomorrow.”

“Yes, Sir,” she snapped off.

“That smartass response just earned you an extra ten.”

“An extra ten what?”

“Ask me again and I’ll add ten more.”

A mulish look flattened her lips.

After he paid, they walked back to the bank. He intended to come in for the paperwork, but Ainsley tried to hold him off. “It’d be easier if I bring it tonight.”

“We won’t be spending our last time together filling out a loan application,” he half-growled.

She murmured, “That thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.”

Chapter Twenty-Two

The main structure of the Sage Creek Bed and Breakfast was crafted of rough-hewn lumber and stone. The steps were constructed from railroad ties, set at jaunty angles and filled with marbled concrete, which led to a large front porch. An eclectic mix of furniture created intimate conversation areas. Pots of flowers abounded—surprising, given the late time of year. The sun’s last golden rays reflected in large windows stretched to the rafters on both the first and second story. The rustic nature brought to mind old hotels from the Wild West days.

That made Ainsley think of the Rawhide Club, which made her think of Ben. And were her eyes playing tricks on her, or was that Ben’s truck parked in front of the barn? She climbed out of her car, following the sounds of laughter to the back of the building.

She called out, “Hello?”

Rielle looked up and smiled. “Ainsley. I was hoping you’d come by. I dug up a bunch of root vegetables.” Her gloved hands pawed through the wheelbarrow of dirt. “So far I’ve found beets, turnips, parsnips, a few carrots, late potatoes and some pink Peruvian sweet potatoes that are too big for the chef at Fields to use.”

“I did not expect all this, Rielle, thanks. Will these keep awhile in a dark cabinet?”

“Everything but the carrots. I also snipped some dill, chervil, chives and the last of the lemon basil.”

“Sold. I’ll take all of it.”

“Great! I’ll just knock the worst of the dirt off and get them bagged.”

“Lemme help ya,” Ben said, digging his hands into the wheelbarrow.

Ainsley wished she’d changed clothes so she wasn’t standing there useless in her business suit. It seemed strange Ben would be here. “Do you help Rielle with her harvest a lot, Ben?”

“Not usually. I stopped by for something else and—”

“I roped him into helping me. Poor man. Ben is always getting stuck doing things around here. No wonder he doesn’t come around as much as he used to.”

Ainsley fought the odd spike of jealousy. “It’s good to have neighbors you can count on. I lived in a condo in Denver for almost five years and I had only a passing acquaintance with anyone in our neighborhood.”

“The McKays and Wetzlers have been tied together for thirty years. We know all of each other’s family secrets.” Rielle winked and went back to digging.

“You didn’t know about Gavin,” Ben pointed out.

“True. But I always wondered why your mom went out of her way to check on me when Rory was a baby.”

That surprised Ben enough he stopped digging. “Really? Vi did that? Without preaching about the high price of sin?”

“Jerk.” Rielle whipped a clump of dirt at him. “Vi never was like that toward me. Or Rory. And you don’t give your mom enough credit, Ben. She might’ve made some mistakes in her life, but she’s owned up to them. She’s changed a lot.”

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