An excerpt from STRIPPED DOWN, a contemporary cowboy romance releasing on February 8th!
Angel still packs a brute-force sensuality that makes no bones about the raw power of the man. Sure and confident, he runs this ranch and everyone on it. Angel is a mostly benevolent dictator—I’ve always know that, even when I gave him shit about his dictatorial ways—but he’s the man in charge, and he’ll always do what he believes is best for Blackhawk Ranch.
He drives me crazy.
There’s no place for me in his world. I’ll never belong to any man, not one percent and definitely not one hundred percent, and Angel would demand nothing less than complete possession. You can tell that just from looking at him. And even if I did have that kind of interest in him, he’s never seen me as more than just another one of his younger brothers’ friends. There’s also one more thing I know: he might yell, but he won’t hurt me. Which means he’s scared the shit out of me on purpose with his sneaking up and issuing threats crap. Before I can think it through, I wind up and chuck the shampoo bottle at him.
He fixes me with a hard stare, one hand shooting up effortlessly to catch the plastic bottle before he sets it down carefully by my things. He’s always so precise, so restrained. It makes me want to crack that gorgeous surface of his and see if I can make him lose control.
I’m different now. I’m not sixteen, and I don’t need or want his attention. Not anymore.
“Hell, Rose,” he drawls. “This is my land. You shouldn’t be out here, swimming all by yourself.” That calm voice is the voice of reason. Logical. So damned right when I’m always wrong. “It’s dark. You’re alone. Does anyone know you’re here?”
“I’m perfectly safe.” I can hear the betraying tightness in my own voice, but now that the adrenaline has subsided, there’s no way I’ll admit he’s right. I never have before, and I’m sure not starting now. Let a man like Angel know he has the upper hand, and he’ll walk all over you. “I practically grew up here. The only people likely to be out here are you and your brothers.”
He shakes his head… and cue the disappointment speech. “Likely doesn’t mean certain, Rose. Shit happens all the time.”
“Yeah.” I ease my head backward, keeping my chest underwater. There are stars overhead— how long has it been since I watched the impossible crispness of this black sky with its countless pinpricks of light? My fingers work through my hair, washing out the last remnants of shampoo. “I know all about shit happening, Angel. I don’t need a lesson from you there.”
He doesn’t say anything, the asshole. Nope. He just keeps on eying me, and I’d pay a fortune I don’t have to know what the man is thinking, because there’s a hot lick of something in his dark eyes. The Mendoza brothers are big, dark men with a family tree rooted in the Spanish conquistadores who claimed vast swaths of California for their own. There’s an almost possessive gleam in his eyes as he stands there.
I’m not sure how much of me is actually on display in the dark, but as he drops into a crouch next to my underwear, he knows damned well that I’m swimming naked. Worse, my awareness of him creates a sweet, hot ache in me that I shouldn’t welcome. I’ve been down this road before, and lusting after my not-quite-stepbrother is an exercise in futility. He doesn’t see me that way, and even if he did, I’ve sworn off men. The sex is never worth it in the end, and I don’t want this one last fantasy smashed. I’m already broken inside, and I don’t need more hurt.
So what if I still dream about Angel? Those dreams happen despite myself, and only now and then. In my dreams, he’s a hot, possessive lover who knows exactly how to make me come, but the real-life cowboy is infuriating.
Instead of going away, however, he leans forward, hands resting on his knees, and the sheer male power of him steals my breath away. He looks sensational, and of course I have to imagine him naked. Mentally stripping away the Levis, the boots, the wash-worn T-shirt, my head goes wild. I’ve always had a good imagination. For example, I imagined all too clearly, before I left Lonesome for the last time, what it might be like to teach Angel a thing or two. On my terms.
“If you don’t want me to teach you a lesson,” he says, as if he’s reading my mind as he reaches down a hand to haul me out, “don’t make me come in there after you.”
He’s not the boss of me, even if he wishes he were, so I ignore that hand and get on with washing the rest of the suds out of my hair.
“I mean it.” His rough growl makes me wetter than I already am. Apparently, I have a secret Neanderthal fetish. You’d think I’d be smarter than that by now.
I recognize the protective, overbearing stance Angel takes all too clearly. This man doesn’t think I should be where I am, and he’s decided to help me out with a little redirect. His intentions might be sweet (although the jury is definitely out on that one, because sweet and Angel have never been used in the same sentence unless it involves kinky sex acts with frosting), but I’m not exactly sweet myself. I’m more used up and bitter, if we’re being honest.
“You won’t come in after me.” Jumping into the water to forcibly fish me out means lowering himself to my level and giving up that much vaunted control of his. Angel guards his control like water in a drought. He’d never play silly games, so I’m safe.
“You sure?” He tosses his hat aside. My libido cheers and urges him to remove another article of clothing. Like his pants. Bad libido.
“I’m naked,” I point out this awkward fact out, just in case he’s missed the Day-Glo pink of my bra and panty set by his boots.
I still can’t read him, but the few months we spent together all those years ago taught me how to rile him up. That knowledge is bittersweet. I’m not the same girl I was, but he hadn’t liked that girl anyhow.
“I’m gonna give you one warning,” he growls. He’s still got just two modes: surly and domineering. Eight years hasn’t changed that. “The next time I see you, I’m making you mine.”
The water’s cold, and I tell myself that’s why I fight back a shiver. It has nothing to do with the way Angel looks at me, like he’s finally seeing me.
“Time to get out, Rose.” He reaches out to me again and temptation beckons. One good tug—he won’t expect that— and I’ll have him in the water. He simply waits there, so big and tough and confident; I want to take him down a notch or two. Put him at a disadvantage. When I shove my hand into his, his fingers wrap around mine, the muscles tensing to pull me out. Instead of letting him, I pull, hard.
His large, hard body hits mine, his rough curse filling my ears as we both go under. The delicious coolness of the water closes over my head, and I sink downwards, letting the weight of his body pull me toward the bottom.
Finally, I’ve gotten to him—the same way he always did to me.
I hit the water hard, twisting to spare Rose my full weight, because damned if I saw this coming. I’m not a small man. The impact traps her slender frame beneath mine and both of us go down deep beneath the surface.
The cold shock of the water feels good, even if I hadn’t planned on swimming in my clothes. Or my boots. Rose bucks, pushing away from me instinctively, fighting to reach the surface and breathe, and my hands brush her soft skin. It would be so simple to let my fingers move of their own accord and trace her slick pussy. Her body is warm and supple, despite the chill of the water, and I could pull her close so easily. She can’t fight me, not here.
But she’s not mine to touch. Not yet. She’s not a woman flirting with her lover. I’m her former best friends’ older brother. Her not-quite-stepbrother for a few short months. Fuck. I don’t feel the least bit avuncular. Despite the cold water, I’m rock hard and have been since the moment I spotted Rose swimming.
Wrapping an arm beneath her breasts, I kick upward with powerful strokes, bringing her with me toward the surface. I won’t leave her behind. Rose has always been resilient, but this isn’t a thing to chance. Not in the dark, where it’s impossible to find her underwater if something went wrong. Afghanistan taught me that. No one gets left behind in the dark ever again.
Three hard kicks, and I break the surface, her back pressed to my front. She squirms, pushing at my arm locking her in place.
“Be still,” I order. Damned if I’m moving before we have a few things straight, Rose and I. “Did you think this one through?”
Rose has never done the expected. She should be pissed off, scared, something. Instead, she laughs, and the sound is downright happy and amused. I’ve never been able to read her. “No, but you think too much.”
“You’re alone out here,” I point out roughly. “Naked. In the dark. What do you think could happen, Rose?”
“You wouldn’t hurt me,” she says and that makes me angrier. She shouldn’t make that assumption. There are so many things wrong inside me, so many broken parts of me. If she stripped away my skin and got inside, I don’t think she’d like what she finds. I don’t.
Instead of answering, I brush my thumb over the underside of her breast where there’s some kind of green vine with a pink flower. She’s impossibly soft and so damn pretty. “You so sure I’m safe, Rose?”
“What else would you be, Angel?”
Some primitive part of me responds fiercely to the unmistakable challenge in her voice, or maybe that’s the broken part of me. Because the question isn’t what I want to be—it’s what I want her to be. Mine. I drag my thumb over her skin again.
Unfortunately, Rose Jordan has always loved challenging me, and she keeps right on talking like I’m not inches from claiming her nipple.
“I swam here for years. Why shouldn’t I now?”
She tries again to twist away from me. I consider tightening my arms. Showing her just what happens when she teases like that. Wouldn’t be right, though, so I simply hold on. Rose is different than the girl who spent six months in Lonesome. My feelings for her haven’t changed, though, even if they feel more right than wrong now.
My dick throbs in agreement, the cold water no deterrent to what she stirs up inside me.
She freezes—no way she doesn’t feel that. I’m big, and I’m not trying to hide. She’s plastered up against me, and my clothes are soaked through.
“I’m asking again, Rose,” I whisper, my mouth by her ear, where the scent of those damned apples is strongest. “You so very sure I’m safe?”
She shoves at my arm. “Let me go.”
I do let go, despite my unruly dick fighting to overrule the good manners that were drilled into me as a kid. I kind of want to hang on to her, haul her up really close until she stops asking questions and the only demands she issues are sensual ones. But that can’t happen. Not yet. She’s gonna give it up to me, surrender herself, and that can’t happen if I take tonight.
“You’re the one who started this, Rose. I’ll be happy to finish it, though.”
She cuts through the water with fast, sure strokes. There’s a teasing flash of bare arms and legs as she hauls herself out of the swimming hole. She waxes and that little strip of soft, soft hair on her otherwise bare pussy hides a part of Rose Jordan I intend to be kissing sometime real soon.
She bends down, reaching for her towel, and my libido explodes. Christ, doesn’t she care what she looks like? What that luscious body of hers does to me? Is she deliberately teasing me—or am I still just her friends’ older brother, hardworking and sexless?
Treading water, I watch her. My boots are uncomfortably heavy with wetness, but I can’t haul myself out of the water sporting the erection that seems to be my new permanent companion. She must sense my impatience, because she doesn’t bother getting dressed, just scoops up her clothes and beats a retreat.
“Night, Angel,” she calls, making tracks for the Bug. Damned if she isn’t going to drive away bare-assed naked. I bite back a grin. The mental picture is almost worth the soaking.
I swim for the ledge. She’s got her head start, but now I’m coming for her, and this time she’s not getting away.