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Beautiful distraction, p.14
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.14

           J. C. Reed
 

  In spite of all the people staring, he closes the distance between us. His hard body is pressed into me, his hand at the small of my back, holding me glued in place. I throw my head back to look all the way up, and instantly regret it. His lips lower over mine, hovering less than an inch away. I can feel his breath on me. I can feel the heat of his body. I can feel something hard against my belly.

  He’s hard for me.

  His tongue flicks over his lower lip. Before I realize what’s happening, his mouth crashes down on mine, wild and hungry.

  I’m so taken aback by his taste, I can’t move. I stand rooted to the spot, caught up in him. The band’s break is over and the music resumes.

  Kellan’s lips part from mine.

  Slowly, he begins to move, his hard grip forcing me to shift with him, like we’re dancing. The music in the background shifts to a country ballad, as though to suit our movements.

  I lean into Kellan, not because I want to. I have to.

  It’s what this hard body demands of me.

  Even though we look like we’re dancing, I know that’s not what he’s doing.

  He wants me to feel his erection. He wants to know how I’ll react to him wanting me.

  Damn.

  I should be pushing him away. Laugh it all off because it’s something guys like him do. Push their boundaries. Check whether they can score.

  And yet, all I do is let him take the lead.

  Surrender control.

  His breath mingles with mine. It’s labored. Scorching. It’s on my skin. Inside my head.

  I want him.

  All of him.

  Now.

  I feel someone’s presence behind me and turn sharply.

  It’s Mandy, and she’s smirking at me.

  “Gee, get a room. Or use the restroom. Or whatever. I don’t care.” Her voice penetrates the layer of lust rendering my brain useless.

  My palms spreading across his chest, I push Kellan back. His hands leave my body without protest.

  “We were just dancing,” I mutter to her.

  “Of course you were.” Mandy blinks her eyelashes at me. “And I was talking to the president of China. Look, he’s sitting at the bar over there.”

  Stupidly, I follow her line of vision to the old man nursing a half-empty glass of what looks like scotch, his hooded eyes buried in his drink, his expression vacant.

  She was being sarcastic, obviously. The fact that I didn’t catch on immediately is a sign that Kellan’s touch just caused my IQ to drop at least ten points.

  “We were just dancing,” I repeat stupidly. Then I mutter, “Need to use the restroom,” and dash off before anyone can question my sanity…or morality.

  Inside the bathroom, I stare at the reflection in the mirror, ignoring the redhead coating her glossy lips in another layer of sparkly pink. She eyes me curiously but doesn’t say a word as I keep staring at my rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes.

  Holy shit!

  I almost made out with Kellan out there, in front of everyone.

  I can’t believe I just let him touch me like that. I let him kiss me in public.

  Who is this person? Because I sure as hell don’t recognize myself.

  I’m not an exhibitionist. I don’t even kiss in public so as not to offend anyone who might feel offended by a public display of affection.

  Only, that wasn’t exactly affection.

  It was raw want.

  And I enjoyed it way too much.

  “Gum?” the redhead asks and pushes a packet of something fruity toward me.

  I shake my head and toss a hesitant smile her way. “No, thanks.”

  “I’m Trish,” she says in the same slow drawl like Kellan’s.

  “Ava.”

  “New in town?” Her perfect eyebrows rise in question, and her fingers lift to brush a strand of glossy hair out of her face.

  “Just passing through.”

  “You staying with Kellan?” His name coming out of her mouth is like whiplash against my skin.

  Her brows shoot up again, which I sense is an expression she does often when she wants an answer. But there’s something in her gaze. Like it’s more than just curiosity.

  It’s surprise.

  The door opens, and a bunch of giggling girls I’m not sure are even old enough to drink enter.

  “Excuse me,” I say and head for a stall, barricading myself inside before Trish can continue her conversation. I’m not usually rude, but I’ve had enough of Kellan for one evening.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  I wait until I think the restroom’s cleared before leaving the sanctuary that’s my stall and returning to the bar area.

  Kellan and Mandy are sitting at a table, engaged in small talk with a guy who’s obviously very much interested in what Mandy has to say.

  As soon as Mandy sees me, she waves at me. “She’s back.” She turns to the guy next to her. “This is Ava. Ava, this is Josh.” Mandy leans into me and yells in my ear a little louder than is necessary, “He’s a friend of Kellan’s.”

  Of course he is. He even looks the part: all tall and muscular, with blue eyes the color of mountain rivers and sandy hair that, coupled with his tanned skin, gives him the same bad boy appearance Kellan has about him.

  I can see they’re related somehow before Josh speaks up to set things straight. “We’re cousins, actually. Our dads were brothers.”

  Ah.

  I nod and shoot him a hesitant smile, deliberately ignoring Kellan’s heated stare. His fingers brush my leg beneath the table and I pull away, crossing my legs to make it harder for him to reach them.

  The guy says, like we already know each other, “Let’s get the lady a drink.”

  Mandy laughs, and like on cue, a woman in her early forties, wearing an infectious smile and the lowest cut top I’ve ever seen, approaches our table with a tray full of shots and slices of lime.

  We don’t do shots...ever. And for a very good reason. Last time we did, bad things happened.

  Someone wants to get us drunk, or why else would you ply a woman with tequila? And I have a pretty good idea who’s behind this grand plan.

  I peer at Mandy, who just shrugs her shoulders at me and takes a glass.

  “No, thank you.” I shake my head at the waitress and steal a glance at Kellan, who’s downright staring at me.

  “Wine? Beer?” the other guy asks. He’s basically giving us options, so the shots weren’t his doing.

  “You need to loosen up a bit,” Kellan says. “Live a little.”

  “Are you calling me uptight?” I laugh. “Oh, wait. You did already.”

  Given that I have so little self-control over myself even when sober, I shouldn’t be drinking more than I’ve already had, but the peer pressure is too much. Besides, this is a bar. No one’s having soda, unless it’s to accompany the scotch.

  “Can we have another round, please?” Mandy says to the waitress. I watch her snake her way through the crowded space.

  The music in the background’s getting louder.

  “So you both grew up here,” Mandy says, her voice way too chirpy, her tone way too flirty.

  She’s found her very own Kellan, and now she’s ready to charm her way into his bed. Or he into hers. Judging from his hungry eyes and the way his gaze seems to keep brushing her cleavage, it won’t take long before his hands will be all over her.

  Just like Kellan’s were on me a few seconds ago.

  Classy.

  I turn away, angry with myself for not leaving at once, as the conversation continues without me.

  “We grew up together. Always got ourselves into trouble over this and that,” Josh says to Mandy. “It was usually his fault though. The guy always knew how to attract it.”

  “Like you were a saint,” Kellan says.

  “The way I remember it, I actually was…until you came along.” Josh’s tone is light, jokey. “You compromised me. You compromised all of us.”

  Kellan laughs, the sound sen
ding jolts of pleasure through me. His voice is so deep and raw, so sexy, I can’t help but steal another glance at him. As though he can feel it, his sinning eyes turn to me, and our gazes meet. My heart jumps into my throat, and a soft tingle erupts between my legs.

  “I’m two years older,” Josh goes on to explain to Mandy. “I remember a time when my days didn’t consist of Mom or Aunt Becky yelling at me because of something Kellan did. From the moment he was born, I swear the guy didn’t understand the meaning of no. And because I was the oldest, I was always to blame.”

  “No one forced you to trudge along.” Kellan shrugs, his tone still light-hearted. But there’s affection in his eyes.

  He cares about his family, I realize. He probably cares about them more than he wants to let on.

  “Dude, you stole your dad’s rifle to track down a cougar by candlelight in the middle of the night.”

  “He attacked two foals,” Kellan says. “It was my job to protect the horses.”

  “If I wasn’t there with you, you could have burned down the barn with all the horses in it.”

  “Oh, my God.” Mandy giggles. “How old were you?”

  “He was ten,” Josh says.

  “Nine,” Kellan clarifies. “And in my defense, that cougar had been bothering my dad for weeks. I was just trying to help. Being a good son and all. The cougar cost us seven good horses, and that’s not counting the foals.”

  “Yeah, you were helping all right,” Josh says, laughing.

  The picture of a nine-year-old boy with dark hair and beautiful green eyes pops into my head. I can picture him so well. His hair brushing the collar of his shirt. His pants covered in mud and dust and hay. His dad’s rifle slung across his back as he tries to find the animal that’s been giving his dad trouble. His mom almost having a heart attack as she finds her little boy carrying a firearm and going for an animal that could attack him.

  In spite of myself, I smile at the picture. It makes the grown-up Kellan so much more likeable. I don’t want to like him, but somehow I can’t help the tightness spreading across my chest.

  It’s clear Kellan loves his dad. It’s also clear he likes being around horses and that he takes great care of them.

  “I’m a cowboy at heart. It runs in my blood,” he says.

  “That’s true,” Josh agrees, then leans forward. “You should see him riding a bull. If he weren’t already famous, he…fuck.” He glares at Kellan. “Dude, don’t kick my leg.”

  “I’ll do more if you don’t keep your trap shut.”

  The waitress arrives, placing a tray down. “If you gals are stupid enough to marry one of them Boyd boys, be warned. That story doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of truth about their blood. I should know, for I married one back then, when I didn’t know any better.”

  I peer up at her, past her incredibly full cleavage on display, to the twinkling eyes encircled by deep laughter lines.

  She smiles, the skin around her eyes crinkling even more as she winks at me.

  “I’m Ava. This is Mandy.” I reach out my hand.

  “Sharon.” Ignoring it, she gives my shoulder a brief squeeze, then pulls up a chair and plops down in spite of Kellan’s murderous look.

  “I know Mandy. We met this morning.”

  “I asked her for directions,” Mandy explains. “Sharon was kind enough to show me the way to the police station.”

  “Which was empty, by the way,” Sharon says, raising a bottle in the air. “That deputy of ours is never here when we need him. Cheers to that.”

  “Amen.”

  Josh snorts and raises his bottle, waiting until we all follow suit. I don’t want to drink with them, but I don’t know how to politely decline, so I obey everyone’s silent urgency. The beer burns my throat so bad, for a moment I’m rendered blind.

  “It’s tequila beer. You need to follow it up with the lemon,” Kellan whispers in my ear.

  He’s so close, his leg brushes against mine under the table. His hot breath on my earlobe is all I can think about.

  I bite into the slice of lime he holds up to my mouth and realize the sour tang kind of washes away the burning sensation. But it does nothing to get rid of the throbbing between my legs. The fact that he brushes his thumb over my lips, as though to wipe away some residue, only makes it worse.

  He’s using any bullshit excuse to touch me, but for some reason, I don’t stop him, which makes me even angrier with myself.

  “See, he’s compromising you already, and the evening hasn’t even started yet,” Josh says.

  From the corner of my eye, I notice Josh’s hand is on Mandy’s naked arm the moment he finishes the sentence.

  He’s going for it. And all she’s doing is leaning into him and laughing.

  She’s so natural at this. Watching her, I know I’m nothing like that. I want to run. I want to hide. And yet, something keeps me glued to my seat, my breathing not quite functioning every time Kellan seems to lean too close to talk to me or touch me oh so innocently.

  “It’s all in the Boyd blood,” Sharon says, throwing me a look of pity. “Compromising women is their family legacy.”

  I stare at her, then at Josh. Both used the same word.

  Compromise? As in one’s reputation?

  I’ve no idea but don’t get a chance to ask.

  “Hey, Sharon. Get your sweet ass over here or hang up the self help sign,” a guy from the bar yells to her. “Some of us are thirsty.”

  “Hold your horses, Trent. I’m coming.” She rolls her eyes at me and stands, leaning toward me until I catch a whiff of her perfume. “A word of advice, sweetheart. Don’t let this one get into your panties until he’s earned them. God knows he has enough of a collection already, and you look like a nice girl. You don’t want your heart broken if you can’t break his in return.”

  “Go away, Sharon. No one needs your advice tonight,” Kellan mutters.

  Sharon laughs and disappears in the crowd.

  What was that all about?

  I want to ask him who Sharon is when Kellan grabs another beer bottle and pushes it toward me. “Ignore her.”

  “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I shake my head, not sure whether I mean that it’s a bad idea to ignore Sharon’s advice or have another drink with him.

  In fact, I think both of them rank pretty high on my things-not-to-do-in-Montana list.

  “As you wish.” He downs his drink.

  I scan his face as he tunes back into Josh and Mandy’s conversation. Is he mad that I declined him? He doesn’t look like it. But then, I know nothing about this man, except for the few tidbits of information, that he’s close to his family and collects panties—the dirty kind.

  I like the family part. It makes him a nice guy. The panties part? Uh, not so much.

  “You okay? You look a little flushed,” Kellan says, genuine concern etched in his features.

  “I’m fine. I’m just—“

  Jealous?

  Maybe a little bit, which I’d never admit to him.

  I wave my hand, like it’s nothing really.

  Kellan regards me for a few moments. And then, to my surprise, he leans closer, though there’s nothing sexual about the way his fingers brush my hand.

  “How’s your ankle? Still hurting?”

  Staring at his hand on mine, I shake my head in response. “It’s all good. Thanks to you.”

  “Good.” Kellan intertwines his fingers with mine and pulls me to my feet. “Come on.”

  “Where are we going?” I ask, but don’t put up a fight.

  He only answers after we’ve reached the door. “I haven’t shown you around yet.”

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  Sightseeing after dusk is another bad idea that’s just made my bad-ideas-in-Montana list.

  A balmy breeze whispers around us as Kellan leads me out of the bar and into the dark street. A group of teens squeeze past us, pushing me into him so hard I almost take a tumble. His hand reaches around my wai
st, steadying me until I’ve regained my equilibrium.

  “Hey, guys, watch it,” he calls after the teens, his voice conveying more anger than is necessary.

  “It’s okay.” I touch his arm.

  Kellan shakes his head. I can feel the waves of anger wafting from him. Suddenly, he seems a million miles away.

  “Hey.” I touch his arm again, this time to get his attention. “They’re just kids having a good time.”

  His attention returns to me, and for a second I think I see something in his eyes.

  A fierceness that isn’t lust.

  A spark that isn’t want.

  He’s protective.

  My body’s still pressed up against him. His arm is still wrapped around my waist.

  I use the proximity and rise on my toes to kiss the corner of his mouth, though only manage to reach up as far as his chin.

  “What was that for?” Kellan asks, his tone just a little hoarser than it should be.

  I shrug and ease out of his embrace. “You’re not such a bad guy after all.”

  “Coming from you, I’ll take that as a compliment.” His lips twitch, the heaviness between us gone.

  “I didn’t say you were a good guy either.”

  His arm goes around my waist. “I know almost nothing about you.”

  The statement takes me by surprise. My eyes rise to meet his, and I flinch at what I see in them.

  For a moment, it’s like I’m looking at a different person…someone who’s genuinely interested in me, not in peeling off any layers of my inhibitions.

  Or maybe it’s a ploy to do just that.

  Either way, I sort of like the sudden gentleness about him.

  “I’m a single child. Both of my parents are composers.”

  “Ah,” he says. “That’s why you hate music.”

  “No.” I frown as I consider his statement. “Maybe. I’m not sure.” I shrug. “Does it matter? They wanted me to follow in their footsteps, but I wasn’t really interested. For the life of me, I just couldn’t figure out the cello. Surely you can imagine how disappointed they were that I didn’t inherit their talents. I wasn’t a child prodigy. They were so enthusiastic and pushy, until one day they realized their plans of raising the female version of Beethoven or Mozart were nothing but a pipe dream.”

 
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