Hold Me Close - Vanessa Vale - ebook
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Rachel wants one thing in life, a family of her own. But she’s not going to get it without a man. Or can she? They may have ruined their chances in the past, but Matt and Ethan know Rachel’s the woman for them. When they discover her plans, they tell her they’ll give her exactly what she wants. The old fashioned way. Because once they get their hands on her, they’ll hold her close and never let go. Warning: Panty melting! Hold Me Close is book 4 in the wildly dirty series where two obsessed alpha cowboys give the woman of their dreams exactly what she desires. This standalone HEA is all about her - no M/M.  

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Hold Me Close

Bridgewater County - Book 4

Vanessa Vale

Copyright © 2017 by Vanessa Vale

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author's imagination and used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Cover design: Bridger Media

Cover graphic: Period Images

Contents

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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

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1

RACHEL

Even though I was born and raised in Montana, I’d never really understood the appeal of the rodeo circuit. The animals, wrangling them, tying little calves’ ankles up as fast as possible. But as I watched this cowboy riding the massive bull, the muscles of his chest rippling beneath the fabric of his shirt as his arms bulged beneath the strained material, I finally got it. He rocked back and forth, balancing and going with the jerky motions of the angry beast, arm flung up over his head.

Oh Lordy, I got it.

I gasped when the bull kicked out its hind legs, not because I was scared for the cowboy but because of the way his thighs contracted beneath those jeans to stay on its back. Jeans, I might add, that left little to the imagination. The whole thing was stupid, plain stupid. Stay on a bull for eight seconds, but somehow every one of my hot buttons was pushed watching the testosterone-fest.

“Here’s a napkin.” My sister’s voice cut into my openmouthed gawking. I turned to face Emmy, who somehow still managed to look sleek and stylish in a jean skirt and flowy top even when eight months pregnant. She held out one of the napkins she’d nabbed when she’d gone to get herself an ice cream cone.

I frowned at it. “What’s that for?”

Emmy grinned. “You’ve got a little drool there.”

My frown turned into a scowl. “I was not drooling.” I turned away and subtly swiped the corners of my mouth just in case.

“Whatever you say, sis.” I didn’t have to see her to know she was rolling her eyes in my direction. Even though she was younger, Emmy had the air of a know-it-all older sister. But then, she was the one who was happily married with a baby on the way while I was still deeply rooted in spinsterhood with no end in sight. Somehow, this seemed to give her an advantage that negated my two years’ seniority.

Emmy had a Bridgewater marriage, which meant she was the lucky bride of two doting, protective men. Like all my siblings, she had a big heart and a good head on her shoulders and I wished only the best for her. Except for now. As she licked her ice cream, looking impossibly smug, I wondered for the millionth time how my bratty little sister managed to snag not one, but two men, when I hadn’t managed to land a second date in more months than I’d cared to admit.

It was fine and all if it were just Emmy having a baby, but I was one of six. All five of my siblings were married with kids, or in Emmy’s case, with a kid on the way. Two of my brothers were in Bridgewater marriages as well, but the rest had followed in my parents’ footsteps and gone the traditional route. One man, one woman. And everyone had found their “perfect someone” or “perfect someones” early. Emmy was only twenty-four and my brother, Zach, had married at twenty-one. My parents always used to say, “When you know, you know.”

Well, I’d yet to know.

Honest to God, I didn’t care what kind of relationship I found myself in—traditional, Bridgewater, or other—I just wanted to be in one. Not that I was desperate for a man. No, I didn’t sit around the house pining for one. Besides, I didn’t just want any man, I wanted the right man…or men. I dated, but so far there hadn’t been any spark, not anyone that I’d wanted to go out with past a second date. So I’d sort of given up. Not that I’d ever been on the prowl, but I wasn’t going to bars with my girlfriends on Friday nights looking for hook-ups. Well, I’d never gone looking for a hook-up, but I’d gone looking. And it hadn’t worked.

Because of this, I wasn’t exactly boy crazy, but I definitely was baby crazy. I wasn’t old, by any means, but I’d thought that by twenty-six I’d be in the same boat as the rest of my family. If not married with kids, at least well on my way. Heck, Emmy was having a baby before me. Yeah, that hurt, not that I’d ever tell her or let it show. It was my problem, not hers. It wasn’t her fault she found two guys who loved her and wanted to make a life with her. A family.

I’d had it all planned out. College, grad school, then start a family. Sure, I was young, but I wanted a big brood and that meant starting early. But somehow, at some point, my life plan had gotten derailed. I stifled a sigh as I turned to watch the hottie cowboy pick up his hat from the dirt ring, lift it and wave it in air. The crowd cheered and clapped as he walked out through the open rail. Even the back of him looked damn good in the chaps and snug jeans. They were well worn and molded his butt just right.

Dammit. Emmy nudged me with her hip, caught me ogling again. “You should go back there. Introduce yourself.”

I looked at her as if she had suggested I climb on the back of the bull and go for a ride. “Introduce myself? To the bull rider? I couldn’t do that.”

Emmy glanced at me. We looked similar with our light brown hair and hazel eyes but she was several inches shorter. “Why not?”

I shrugged. Because I couldn’t. I wasn’t like Emmy. She had no problem going up to strange men and flirting—well, she hadn’t before she’d fallen for Rick and Kevin two years ago. They were alpha males through and through and they were the only men she flirted with now. The bowling ball beneath her shirt proved that.

But that wasn’t me. I’d never been great at flirting and super attractive men tended to make me nervous. No, I always turned into a stuttering idiot. The reason behind my single status wasn’t such a mystery after all.

“You’re intimidated, aren’t you?” Emmy continued. God, she was way too amused by my discomfort. Some things never changed.

“By that guy?” I pointed in the direction he’d gone. “Absolutely. You saw him. He’s…insanely hot. Of course, I’m intimidated.”

I didn’t bother denying it. We both knew I was the reserved one in our family. That was the way I put it. Emmy and my other sisters just called me a prude. What they didn’t know—what I’d never told them—was that my wariness around hot men, well, practically all men, wasn’t just because they intimidated me. It went deeper than that. I knew that if they got close, they’d want to get close. I’d had exactly one attempt at sex and it had been awful. Scary.

Back in college, there’d been a guy. A good guy…or so I’d thought. On our third date, he’d assumed we’d be doing more than just kissing. He’d assumed wrong. I hadn’t been ready to take it to the next level, but he wouldn’t listen. His hands had been everywhere despite my protests and my feeble attempts to push him off me. He’d been too strong, too determined.

I shivered under the June sun. Thank god, my roommate had come in when she had or who knows how far it would have gone. As it was, he’d groped and fondled but never managed to get my pants off. Still, the experience had left me with a bad taste in my mouth whenever dates started to get too close. I froze up. Panicked. My stomach still turned when I thought of how the jerk’s hands had felt on my skin and no matter how attracted I was to a guy, that was all I could think of whenever a man leaned in for a kiss.

Needless to say, intimacy was not exactly my strong suit.

I didn’t say any of that to Emmy, however. It wouldn’t have made a difference. Her mouth was set in a stubborn line.

“Go on, say hello,” she said. Her eyes were filled with a familiar mischievousness. The kind of look she used to give right before I walked into whatever booby-trap she’d laid for me in our shared bedroom.

“Why?” My eyes narrowed with suspicion. She wouldn’t just push me to flirt with any old guy. “Do you know him or something?”

“Or something.” She nodded, barely able to contain her laughter. “You will, too. He’s your new boss.”

I blinked at her uncomprehendingly for a moment, but then her words clicked and my brain registered their meaning.

“My boss?” That perfect specimen of man was my new boss? Emmy had been working as the office manager for a local guest ranch, Hawk’s Landing, since she graduated college. She’d be leaving in a matter of weeks to have the baby and didn’t plan to return to work. Since I’d just moved home after finishing up my master’s degree in Denver, Emmy had talked her employers into giving me the job sight unseen.

It was a good job in my field and I’d been grateful for the opportunity. But now…I stared after the large, manly man who’d walked off toward the stables and I tried to still the butterflies in my belly. Well, now I was nervous for so many reasons.

I couldn’t work for a man like that. How was I supposed to interact with a hottie cowboy and still maintain any sort of professionalism? I’d be a stammering, bumbling fool around him.

“He’s not a professional bull rider?” The way he’d pivoted and rocked his hips on that bull made me wonder what he’d be like using them for riding something else, like me. Was the sun getting hotter?

“Nope. He does it just for fun.”

Fun. Taunting every conscious female, more likely.

Emmy’s voice was laced with laughter. “If you think he’s gorgeous, wait until you meet his business partner.”

I turned to see if she was serious. She was. Oh shit. “There are two of them?” My mind reeled. Two hot men would be my new employers. Oh, Lord help me.

She nodded and wrapped an arm around me as she steered me in the direction of the stables. “Go on,” she urged. “You need to meet the owners eventually. You might as well introduce yourself to Matt now. Get it over with.”

I looked over with apprehension. “Why, is he a jerk or something?”

Her head dropped back as she let out a loud laugh like I’d just said something hilarious. “A jerk? Nah. Matt is sweet as can be. I just meant it’d be better for you to meet him now, somewhere casual, before he becomes your boss.”

“I don’t know,” I hedged, dragging my feet as she attempted to lead me.

She came to a stop and I nearly toppled over. Dropping her arm from my waist, she placed her fists on her hips as she turned to face me with her know-it-all look that I hated. Mainly, because when she wore it, she was typically right. Like now. “Rachel Andrews, if you don’t conquer your nerves about meeting this man you’re going to be useless as his office manager.”

I pressed my lips together, wishing she wasn’t right. I needed to do this. I had to rip off the Band-Aid and get over my nerves. Nerves which were completely unfounded. She’d worked for Matt for years and I hadn’t once heard of him being an asshole. No doubt her husbands would pound him into the ground if he so much as hurt Emmy’s feelings, let alone something worse.

Fearless, that was me. Fine, I’d go meet my gorgeous, jaw-dropping boss.

I gave her a short nod before I could change my mind and headed toward the stables. Right, I could do this. I took a deep breath.

I can do this, I can do this. I chanted that line over and over until I entered the crowded stable, the powerful smell of hay and horses tickled my nose. There were a number of dusty, sweaty cowboys but just as many scantily-clad buckle bunnies who swarmed around like gnats.

Just like any other sport where there were powerful, attractive men, there were the women who were looking to bed them. I was way overdressed in comparison. I had on boots and jeans and a pale pink snap shirt. I wasn’t frumpy, by any means, but I didn’t let it all hang out at a dusty rodeo. Not like these women. Most wore camisoles or slinky tees and short shorts. One buxom blonde to my right was very clearly wearing no bra. It wasn’t cold at all, but it was below freezing out if her pointy nipples were anything to go by.

I looked away, glanced around the milling people, trying to find my new boss. Since it was the county fair, there were more events going on than just the rodeo. I didn’t see Matt, only met the curious gazes of other cowboys and the women who clung to them.

I tugged at the edge of my shirt and tucked my chin as I headed further into the breach. I felt ridiculously out of place. I wasn’t the only woman with a buttoned-down shirt, but I was the only one who wasn’t wearing it opened halfway down my chest to show off a lacy bra. I definitely did not belong, but I’d come this far. There was no way I could turn back now. Emmy would never let me live it down. I was just meeting my new boss. That was it. He wasn’t a smokin’ hot cowboy. He was my boss.

Boss. Boss. Boss.

2

RACHEL

Finally, I caught sight of him. Matt, I corrected myself. He had a name and it was Matt. Or Mr. Something-or-other, and it wasn’t Mr. Hottie.

He was talking to one of the other riders and though there were buckle bunnies hovering nearby, he didn’t seem to notice them. I forced myself to take a step in his direction, and then another. One more step and he caught sight of me. Oh, holy jeez. His eyes were a steel gray and they landed on me with the intensity and accuracy of a missile guidance system. For a second, I couldn’t breathe and my feet faltered.

Boss. Boss. Boss.

My whole body seemed to go haywire as those eyes assessed me. Without looking away, he said something to the rider and the other man walked off.

The path was clear. He stood waiting for me to finish crossing the short distance between us. His dark hair had a crease from wearing a cowboy hat and his skin was bronzed from being in the sun. He didn’t ride a desk; owning Hawk’s Landing took him into the outdoors every day. His features were almost perfect. Almost. The slight ridge in his nose and the severity of his jaw added just enough imperfection to make him real. Touchable.

I swallowed down an excess of saliva. Where the hell had that thought come from? This man was my boss. Or he would be my boss. Either way, he was off limits. Yeah, but I was pulled to him as if by a pheromone tractor beam.

Licking my lips, I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans and forced my shoulders back. Act confident, be confident. That was what my older sister, Sheila, used to say. Here was hoping Sheila knew what the hell she was talking about.

“Well, what do we have here?” the hottie cowboy said as I drew near. Matt. His name was Matt. I needed to get my head on straight. For the millionth time, I reminded myself that while this guy might be a cowboy, and yes, he was sexy as hell…he was also my boss. Boss!

His gaze raked over every inch of me, from my well-worn leather boots to the top of my head and everywhere—yes, everywhere—in between. His jaw clenched, eyes narrowed for just a moment.

I started to smile and hold out my hand, but he cut me off before I could introduce myself. “Must be my lucky day if a sweet little thing like you is seeking me out.”

I blinked up at him in surprise, stopped in my tracks. I’d been wrong. Those eyes weren’t a steely gray. That sounded cold, clinical, when his gaze was anything but. His gaze burned. It singed my skin wherever it roamed. I felt my nipples harden.

“Uh, I’m Rachel.” My hand was still partially extended, hanging awkwardly between us until he grasped it in his.

Oh dear. Oh my. Never in my life would I have guessed that holding a man’s hand could feel so…sensual. I felt so feminine since it was huge, all but engulfing mine. Maybe I was overreacting. Okay, I was definitely overreacting. But there was no denying that his calloused, firm grip did something to me. It sent a jolt of electricity right to my clit. The heat that had scorched my skin was in my blood, heating my core, turning my insides to jelly.

And he sensed it. His lips were curled up in cynical amusement and his expression was knowing.

Oh god, he knew I was turned on. That crazy inferno of heat rushed up to my face and my cheeks caught fire. All this from just a handshake.

He chuckled softly and took a step closer to me so I could smell his heavenly, earthy scent. It was a mix of leather and grass and sweat and something I couldn’t out my finger on. Whatever it was, it seemed to be a panty melting concoction specially made to drive me wild. It was working.

I almost moaned when he leaned closer, his mouth tantalizingly near my ear. “What brings a nice girl like you to a rodeo?”

“I, um—I, uh…” I took a deep breath and tried again.

“This isn’t a place for someone like you,” he advised, checking out every inch of me.

Why wasn’t this a place for me? I was just introducing myself. A woman in a pair of very short Daisy Duke’s and cowboy boots caught my eye. Oh.

“No, it’s not that. I like watching—”

“You do, do you?” His voice was low, suggestive. My cheeks could not possibly get any hotter without bursting into flames. His tone said that he knew my every, intimate, dirty thought…and he liked it.

I cleared my throat, trying to ignore the rockets of desire that his husky, knowing voice was setting off. “I wanted to tell you—”

His hand on my waist silenced me instantly. The words I’m your new office manager remained unspoken as I froze at the unexpected contact. He was being really forward and huh, it felt good.

“What did you want to tell me?” he asked. He was a good foot taller than me but he leaned in so close we were practically eye level. His eyes were so gray, but I figured they’d probably change color depending on what he wore. “More importantly, what do you like to watch?”

Watch? I just wanted to introduce myself. My mouth was open because I’d never had a guy talk to me so blatantly before, every word coated with innuendo. My brain had stopped working. His stormy eyes held me transfixed.

“Did you like watching me ride?” His fingers squeezed gently, just enough that I could feel them through the thin cotton of my top.

“Um…” Yes! Holy hell, the answer was yes. I’d loved watching him ride. But his gruff, suggestive tone made it clear we were talking about more than just the rodeo. As if to make that point clear, he continued on. “Did you like watching me control that bull?” His hand moved up. “Is that what you want? To be tamed?”

What? No. But even as I thought it, my brain went somewhere dirty and dark. A vivid image filled my brain. This cowboy naked over me, gripping my waist and riding me hard. Taming me.

He leaned in close, whispered in my ear. I felt his breath fan the nape of my neck. “I bet that’s what you like in bed, am I right?” His free hand grasped my wrist lightly, his calloused fingers softly stroking the sensitive skin there.

I gave a sharp inhale and my eyes widened to the point that they hurt. Partly at the crudeness of his words, but partially because I suspected he knew exactly where my mind had gone and I was horrified. I was getting turned on by the dirty talk of a stranger. He was gorgeous, but he was a stranger. No, he wasn’t a stranger. He was my soon-to-be boss.

“Do you like to be tied up, darlin’?” He gave me a small smile that was filled with promise. “I bet you’re a sweet submissive.” He leaned in even closer so no one could hear us, creating the illusion that we were alone together even though there were people milling about. A voice over the loud speaker announced another rider. A muffled cheer went up. “What do you say, sweetheart? Do you want me to take you over my lap for a spanking?”

My brain conjured that image so clearly I let out a little squeak of alarm. But then alarm was followed by a rush of lust that had me wobbly on my feet. He was watching me, waiting for an answer. “No, I don’t—” I stopped myself that time. Bit my lip. What was I going to say? I don’t even like to be touched. I’m a frigid virgin, but thanks for asking.

He smirked at my silence. “Want to know what I’d do with a buckle bunny like you?”

I shook my head. I wasn’t a damn buckle bunny. I was a frigid virgin. Yet I wanted to hear his answer even though I knew by the way his eyes darkened and his voice lowered to an intimate whisper that what he’d say would be crass and dirty. But I wanted to know what he’d do to one of the willing women just waiting to pounce. What he’d do with one of them, but not me.

His gaze dropped to my breasts, which were well-concealed beneath the modest top. Could he see my nipples were hard? “First thing I’d do is unbutton that damn shirt so I could see those pretty tits of yours. Then I’d take a nipple in my mouth and suck on it until you begged me for more. I bet they’re a pretty pink.”

My gasp was soundless but his grin grew at my shocked reaction. I should have told him to stop talking. I should have walked away. I should have done anything but continue to stand there and stare at him, encouraging him with my passive silence.

But I couldn’t have moved if I’d wanted to. My legs had frozen in place as hot desire coursed through me at his dirty words. I could see it clearly. Him shoving my bra aside and those firm lips of his moving over my breasts. Working one nipple, then the other, leaving a hint of whisker burn behind.

He was watching me closely, his gaze filled with a knowing condescension that I hated, even though it turned me on. He leaned in again and I found myself holding my breath, waiting to hear what he’d say next.

“You’re wet for me, aren’t you, darlin’?” His voice was a low drawl and it made me shiver. “Do you want to know what I’d do next?”

No. Yes. Oh my god, I wanted his hand to move from my waist. I wanted him to tug me into him so my breasts pressed against his chest. Maybe then it would ease the ache. I wanted him to touch me. I needed to be touched or I’d go crazy.

“Once you were so turned on you were begging me for it, I’d take you back there behind that last stall.” He angled his head down the long center aisle. His hand tightened on my waist again and I bit my lip to hold back a moan. “I’d press you up against the wall, pull down those jeans of yours and prove I was right, that you’re dripping for me. Ready to go for a wild ride of your own on my hard cock. I promise I’ll last more than eight seconds.”

I let out a little sound that was somewhere between a whimper and a cry. Oh hell, my panties were wet. The image made me ache so badly I had to squeeze my thighs together, but that only made it worse.

“Is that what you want?” He backed away a bit and dropped his hand. The loss of that touch made me want to reach out to him but I held myself in check. The cozy, dangerous, naughty atmosphere between us had shifted into something else. There was more mockery than passion in his tone. His knowing smile held more amusement than smoldering desire. “Do you really want to be fucked against a horse stall when a bunch of dirty cowboys and their ladies could walk by?”

The sudden coldness in his voice was like a bucket of ice water in my face. I blinked furiously as my body came back from the brink and my mind struggled to catch up with what had just happened. What he’d said. I took a wobbly step back, crossed my arms over my chest.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He shook his head, looking down at me like I was a disobedient child. “Let that be a lesson to you, darlin’.” He gestured around at the cowboys and buckle bunnies. “This isn’t your scene.”