Today’s post comes from my contribution to Love Letters Volume 6: Cowboy’s Command (Available TODAY from Carina Press). Here’s a glimpse at my latest contribution to the Love Letters series, V is for Vindicated.
“Let me go, Cole.”
“Not until you tell me why you’re taking such crazy chances.” He let another loop of rope unravel, giving her just enough room to catch her breath before he snatched it away again. “This is more than winning. Winning doesn’t drive you. What are you trying to prove?”
The question hit her like a fist to the gut; he’d pulled out the big guns. Her taut nerves fizzled and popped. She closed her eyes, searching for a little of the raw adrenaline. Pressing the flat of her palm to her stomach, she drew a deep breath, hoping to stir the coals of burned-out anger enough to make one last stand. But when she opened her eyes again she found him standing too close, smelling too good, and looking as if he actually cared. Lord help her, she wanted him to care. Still.
He lowered his arm and the rope fell slack. The neat knot he’d tied bumped its way over her elbow. The roughhewn strands that had bound her to him moments before dropped to the ground at her feet. Michelle didn’t move. She couldn’t. She’d never been able to resist the comfort of him. He knew her too well. At least, he had once upon a time.
The words she’d repeated too often in the past eighteen months rose to her defense. “Barrel racing is a timed event.”
“And you’ve always had enough talent to win easily. You used to be a smart racer, though. You were never reckless.”
His gruff admonishment made her spine stiffen, but the warmth of his hand closing around her elbow threatened to make her bones dissolve into mush. He was right. She’d never done a reckless thing in her life. Not until she walked up to Cole Powell and planted one right on his kisser. The cautious girl she’d become turned to putty the minute his big, rough hands slid into her hair. The starry-eyed optimist inside her had been so certain her good friend Cole would never hurt her. Never in her life had she been so terribly wrong.
“I didn’t like what I saw.” The blunt tips of his fingers pressed into her biceps. Steely gray eyes bore holes in her resolve. “You scared me.”
“Scared you?” His hand tightened when she scoffed. A flash of irritation sharpened his glare. Like a rodeo clown, she tossed out a little taunt. “Since when has a big, tough cowboy like you ever been scared of anything?”
It was a legitimate question, whether she asked it in a snide tone or not. Cole had always been fearless. No horse too wild, no bull too mean for him. Secure in his brains, natural athleticism, and the doting adoration of his family, she’d wager he’d never met a moment of self-doubt. That was why the worry line bisecting his thick gold brows puzzled her so. His injury might have ended the career he’d dreamed of as a boy, but as a seasoned bronc buster, he’d shifted with the whiplash-inducing turn his life had taken and still come out a winner. He was still the golden boy of the circuit, but now he held sway in the business end of things.
“You don’t get it, do you?”
His soft-spoken question made her jerk. She blinked, trying to spur her sluggish brain into catching up. “Get what?”
“There’s only one thing I’ve ever been scared of, Michelle.”
Her breath caught as a surge of warmth and longing darkened his eyes. The tiny line disappeared, chased off by the slow curve of his lips. He slipped a hand up to her nape and drew her a little closer. Her breasts grazed the front of his crisp white shirt. She pressed her lips together and swallowed the hot knot of desire lodged in her throat.
Cole dropped his gaze to her mouth and her traitorous lips parted as if on command. The rough pad of his thumb dragged over her bottom lip, but the caress proved staggeringly tender. She held her breath as he cradled her jaw, tilting her face to the perfect angle. Gold-tipped lashes lowered as he ducked his head. The question she had to ask popped out the second his breath tickled her skin.
“What? What are you scared of?”
Without the slightest hitch, he breathed a soft, “You,” then sealed the confession with a kiss.
Be sure to look for all six volumes in the Love Letters series: