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Big Country, Small Town

Jace Worley lives for two things: his ranch and his four-year-old daughter, Mia. Since losing his wife to cancer years ago, he’s had little interest in relationships, despite women chasing him. When critical care nurse Cora Abbot saves Mia’s life, however, Jace feels something he hasn’t felt in years. But Cora is already in a relationship—though not a satisfying one. If the two can get over their fears and take the leap, they may just find themselves flying higher than they ever thought possible!

Age Rating: 18+

Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.

 

Big Country, Small Town by SarahMayBooks is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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1

SUMMARY

Jace Worley lives for two things: his ranch and his four-year-old daughter, Mia. Since losing his wife to cancer years ago, he’s had little interest in relationships, despite women chasing him. When critical care nurse Cora Abbot saves Mia’s life, however, Jace feels something he hasn’t felt in years. But Cora is already in a relationship—though not a satisfying one. If the two can get over their fears and take the leap, they may just find themselves flying higher than they ever thought possible!

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: Sara May

Note: This story is the author's original version and does not have sound.

Cora

“Cora!” Steve’s voice yelled through the heavy door as his fist pounded on it, startling me awake.

“Yeah, come in!” I yelled back, sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of my eyes as the door pushed open and the fluorescent light flooded in from the hallway, blinding me momentarily.

“There’s a peds case rolling in and they need you in the bay. Four-year-old female, febrile, tachycardic, tachypneic, and seizing. No medical history.

“ETA eight minutes,” he reported off as I shoved my blankets back and climbed out of the small cot, searching for my shoes.

“Where’s Doc Roberts?” I asked, swiping my foot under the old metal frame and kicking out the mate to the clog I had spotted on the floor.

“Steph’s trying to track him down and Tracy’s already paging him. Miller’s already in the bay.”

“Wonderful,” I mumbled to myself.

As if it wasn’t bad enough to have an incredibly sick kid in the middle of nowhere without the necessary resources, I had to deal with some shit travel doc that didn’t know his head from his ass.

I grabbed my hair tie from the small table next to the cot and Steve held the door open for me before we both quickly started down the hallway.

We bypassed the elevators in favor of the stairs, jogging up the single flight to the ground floor and entering in through the back of our small emergency department.

I pulled my hair back loosely as we approached the ambulance bay, and I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from saying anything to our dear Dr. Miller.

He was gowned up with a full-face shield and a lead apron like he was getting ready to go into a gunshot victim.

For a brief second, I wondered if it would still hurt him enough to make it worth it if I kicked him in the nads with all that gear on.

Julie, our freshly graduated nurse joined us in the bay as we put on our surgical masks and gloves and went to stand by the door as we waited to receive the young girl from the paramedics.

As we saw the ambulance turn the corner into the parking lot entrance, lights flashing brightly as the early summer sun was starting to set, that all too familiar ball of anxiety tightened in my chest.

I clasped my hands together and said a silent prayer for the little girl that was coming into us.

When the driver backed up and then jumped out, literally running to open the back door, I knew it was bad.

Steve, Julie, and I jogged outside, gathering around the gurney as the senior medic started reporting off what had happened, and what meds and treatments were given en route.

I looked down at the girl who had a head full of dark-golden curls, her eyes clenched shut as tears streamed down from the sides of her eyes.

Her loud cries were piercing, it was the type of cry that said she didn’t know how else to explain her pain and her fear.

I tucked my mask down under my chin and reached over, using the blanket that was draped over her to wipe the tears from her cheeks.

“Mia, sweetie. I’m nurse Cora, and these are my friends Steve and Julie. We’re going to take good care of you, okay?” I explained in a friendly voice.

“I want Daddy!” She cried, choking out another sob.

“I’m sure he’ll be here any second, honey,” I ran my fingers through her hair, offering her a smile.

As we got her inside and moved her from the gurney over to our litter, a tall man with a heavy dark scruff on his face and a strong body that was signature of a physically demanding job came running in through the double doors.

He removed his cowboy hat as he looked around, sheer panic written across his face.

As soon as his eyes fell onto her, he started charging towards us in desperation, his boots hitting the floor loudly with each step.

I noticed that Mia had stopped crying and glanced down, recognizing the blank look on her face that I had seen so many times before. I nudged Steve with my elbow, and he looked up at me.

I nodded towards the man who was clearly Mia’s father and Steve took one look at him before leaving Mia in mine and Julie’s hands.

“Where’s he going?” Julie questioned, looking at me with wide eyes.

“He’s going to talk her dad through this while you and I calmly get her through it,” I explained as I grabbed the crash cart and broke the lock.

“Through what?”

I didn’t even have the chance to answer her question before Mia’s back arched off the bed and she went into a full-blown seizure.

I reached up and turned the oxygen on, attaching the tubing and holding the mask by her face as her tiny body continued to spasm.

I kept glancing up at the clock, keeping track of the seconds that continued to pass that Mia’s body wasn’t allowing her to breathe properly, and I instructed Julie to find the Ativan.

Dr. Miller strolled over closer to us, crossing his arms over his chest as he stood there and let us do all of the work.

“Give her two milligrams of Ativan IV to bring her out of it,” he instructed.

“Wait,” I told Julie, pulling my mask back up over my face so the douchebag couldn’t read my lips. “Only push 0.5,” I coached her firmly.

“If you push the full two it will stop the seizures, but it will put her into respiratory arrest, and we’ll end up intubating. Two is an adult dose, not a pediatric dose.

“Just push slowly, and he’ll never know. Roberts will be up here any minute and he’s going to sign off on the chart anyway.”

“Got it,” she replied softly before doing exactly as I said.

Finally, after nearly a full minute Mia’s body relaxed. I watched her small chest, waiting for it to start rising and falling, reaching for the resuscitation equipment from the cart.

I peeked up at the heart monitor, relieved to see that her rhythm was still regular but fast because of the seizure.

I switched the oxygen tubing over to the resuscitation bag and placed it over Mia’s mouth, tilting her head back as I held it down to seal it tightly while giving her artificial breaths.

“Get me a tray, we’re intubating,” Dr. Miller directed at Julie.

“Not yet. She’s post-ictal, she just needs a minute to recover,” I countered, still watching the monitors.

“Excuse me, Nurse?” He spat. I could feel his eyes boring into me.

“All due respect, Doctor,” I started as I looked up at him and made eye contact. “My patient is oxygenating just fine with being bagged.

“She just seized and her brain needs a minute to regain control of her body.

“I’m not going to let you perform an unnecessary procedure on a little girl who is already going through enough.” I looked down at Mia again who was starting to move her arms and legs again before going back to watching the monitor.

“How dare you!” He raised his voice. “I will have you escorted from this hospital, and then I’ll have you stripped of your license!”

“I’d like to see you try,” I scoffed with a laugh, just before Mia started pushing the mask away.

“Is there a problem here?” Dr. Roberts questioned as he approached us from behind Dr. Miller.

“This nurse is disrespectful and out of line! She needs to be dismissed!” Miller nearly shouted.

“Cora, I thought I asked you to play nice with the new guys,” Dr. Roberts smirked as Mia let out a loud scream, clearly now able to breathe on her own again.

“Ask the agency to stop sending incompetent chauvinistic pigs and I’ll try to be a bit nicer,” I flashed him the biggest fake smile I could. He let out a deep sigh.

“Dr. Miller, you’re excused. I’ll take over this case,” he advised him as he grabbed his stethoscope from around his neck and smiled down at Mia with a small wave.

“But I-” He started, just to be cut off.

“You have rounds to make on the floor,” Dr. Roberts added, not even bothering to look at him again as he put his stethoscope earpieces in and leaned down to listen to Mia’s lungs.

As Dr. Roberts continued to assess Mia, rattling off orders for medications and tests, I stayed with her and tried to keep her calm.

Once he was finished examining her and her father had calmed down a bit, Steve brought him over to see her.

She immediately reached for him, attempting to stand up on the thin mattress as he set his hat down at the bottom.

He wrapped his tanned arms around her, lifting her and balancing her on his hip as she buried her face into his chest. He closed his eyes and rested his cheek against the top of her head.

I grabbed the IV pole, moving it closer so that she wouldn’t pull her IV out as she reached up and grasped her small hands into his plaid shirt as she continued to cry hysterically.

“Shh, it’s alright, princess,” the deep, rugged voice soothed. “Daddy’s got you,” he reassured her, pressing kisses to the top of her head as he ran his hand over her curls.

“I don’t feel good,” she cried, clenching her hands again.

“I know, baby. I know,” he whispered. His southern drawl really starting to come out as he relaxed a bit now that he had her in his arms.

“Do you need us to call anyone for you?” I asked him softly. “Do you need us to notify her mother or anything?” I added, taking notice of the lack of wedding ring on his finger.

“Thanks,” he bit out coldly before his hazel eyes shot open and glared into mine, “but it’s just us.”

“Oh, okay. Sorry,” I apologized, thrown off by his demeanor. He inhaled sharply, pressing his lips to Mia’s forehead again before he turned to look at me.

“No, I’m sorry,” he offered, his tone a bit more gentle. “We lost her mother a few months after Mia was born.

“I’m doing the best I can, but when stuff like this happens, I’m not sure how to handle it,” he admitted.

I could see right through his tough outer shell and past his strong jawline, recognizing that he was still flat-out terrified.

Strong jawline? Pull your shit together, Cora. Not the time or place, and you have Alex, remember? I silently scolded myself.

“Let us help,” I offered him a genuine smile, placing my hand on his upper arm affectionately.

“Thank you…” he paused, looking for my badge. I looked down and flipped it so that it was facing the right direction.

“Cora. Cora Abbot,” I blushed. What is wrong with me? “I promise you, Mr. Worley, Mia is in good hands.”

“Jace. My dad is Mr. Worley, just call me Jace,” he gave a small nod before looking back down at Mia who was finally starting to settle.

I flashed him another small smile before bringing him a chair and then going to sit at the desk and chart while we waited for some of Mia’s test results to come back.

As soon as I saw some of her labs start resulting, I knew it was even worse than what we had originally thought.

Her white blood cells that indicated infection were through the roof, other levels that monitored for inflammation in the body were extremely elevated, and her kidneys were showing signs of being affected.

I intermittently checked her temperature, and despite the Tylenol and Motrin that she had on board, her fever hadn’t gone down at all.

Thankfully, she hadn’t yet seized again, but she was still at risk due to the high fevers and whatever infection it was that she had going on.

Before we even had all of the results back, Dr. Roberts had made the call and gotten her accepted to the Children’s Hospital in Dallas.

She was much to ill to be handled in our small hospital, and she needed pediatric specialists to manage her care.

Moving her via ambulance meant a nearly four-hour drive with no physician and limited supplies, so the specialist who had accepted her in Dallas requested air transport just to be safe.

Julie called for the chopper and gave them report, putting them on hold and looking back at Dr. Roberts who was sitting a computer behind us.

“Doctor, they’re saying they won’t have a nurse for another two hours, but they can send a helicopter with medics now if we can give them a nurse,” she relayed to him.

“Tell them we’ll send Cora,” he answered without looking away from his screen.

I rolled my eyes and looked over at Julie with a smirk when she glanced over at me curiously. I mouthed to her that it was fine before finishing up what I was charting and signing out of my computer.

I made a quick trip to the bathroom and to gather my things, and when I returned Dr. Roberts was explaining to Jace what the plan was and why it was so urgent to get Mia to Dallas.

Mia was currently sleeping on the bed, curled up on her side as Jace’s large hand carefully held hers in a safe cocoon.

He looked up at me when the doctor stepped away, the panic filling his eyes once more.

“She’s going to lose her mind when she wakes up and realizes I can’t go with her,” he scoffed.

“It will be harder on you than it will be on her,” I sighed. “Things are going to happen quickly, but there’s going to be a lot going on. Kids are very perceptive and curious.

“Luckily, they’re also pretty resilient,” I explained as she started to stir awake, immediately searching for her dad.

“I’m still here. It’s alright, baby. Don’t cry,” he reached over and started stroking her cheek.

“This is going to sound crazy, but do you have an extra shirt in your car or something that she can take with her? Something to comfort her?”

“I can give her this one. I have a t-shirt on under it, and another one in the car that I can put on when I go outside.

“This one’s probably cleaner anyway,” he added with a ghost of a smile on his face. I looked down at his worn but fitted jeans, curious as to what exactly it is that he does for a living.

Less than thirty minutes later the chopper was landing out in the field next to the hospital.

Jace had just slipped his plaid shirt off and I had unhooked Mia’s IV for a moment while he pulled it on over her shoulders, and then rolled up sleeves before I reconnected it.

As predicted, hysterics had broken out when she realized that she had to go somewhere without her daddy.

Jace was trying to talk her down as I maneuvered around the thrashing four-year-old to switch her over to the portable monitor.

He tried to lay her down on the gurney that the flight crew had rolled in and she wrapped her arms and legs around him, clinging on for dear life.

“Jace, I know you barely know me, but I’m going to do something, and I need you to just trust me, okay?” I looked up at him, knowing that every minute we spent struggling was another minute that something could go seriously wrong.

“What are you going to do?” He countered, his tough attitude coming back with a vengeance.

“The only way we can get in that chopper is if she’s secured. If we try to lay her down and strap her in, she’s going to turn into a child Hulk and panic even more, hurting herself or one of us.

“We try to avoid sedation with small children because we walk a fine line between keeping them calm and impairing their ability to breathe.

“So, I’m going to get on the litter, and we’ll wrap her up in a blanket, they’ll strap both of us in, and they’ll make sure I can see the monitors.

“Your job is to talk her through this, pass her off to me, and stay with her until we’re ready to leave.”

“What about when you get to Dallas?” He questioned, his eyes becoming even darker.

“I’m going to stay with her until you can get there,” I promised, placing my hand over his that was resting on her back.

As soon as I touched him, I felt the warm static charge run through me. His eyes met mine, softening as they searched for something.

I let my hand fall, chewing on my lip as I gave him a reassuring nod and then stepping away to grab a blanket from the warmer.

I focused back on the task at hand as I carried the blanket over to the gurney and adjusted the back into a seated position, climbing up and getting comfortable before looking back up at Jace.

I nodded again for him to bring Mia over, still unsure of what the unspoken exchange had been that had passed between us.

I wasn’t one to get flustered easily, especially when I was taking care of critical patients, let alone pediatric patients.

He reluctantly lowered his little girl into my arms, trying to reassure her that everything was going to be okay.

I wrapped her tightly in the warm blanket and the medics clicked the safety belts into place around us as Jace leaned in and pressed kisses to her cheek and tried to whisper calming words to his daughter.

He was so close that his intoxicating smell of sweat, dirt, and faded aftershave floated up to my nose.

I forced myself to focus on my patient, instead of her father, whom my senses seemed so much more curious about.

I was pulled from my momentary brain fog as the medic propped the monitor on the gurney next to my legs and asked me if I could see it.

I told him that I could before they made sure they had all of the paperwork in order and got ready to go.

They unlocked the wheels on the gurney, and Jace leaned in again to say his goodbyes to Mia, promising her that he would see her in a few hours.

He turned to walk away, then spun back and took my hand in his, sending that warm, fuzzy feeling through me all over again.

“Take care of my little girl, Cora,” he instructed, swallowing back his emotion.

“I promise,” I managed to get out softly, clearing my throat as if it would somehow clear my brain. “We’ll see you in a few hours, okay?”

Jace didn’t answer me. Instead he just gave me a curt nod before picking up his hat, placing it on his head, and strolling out the door.

Another wave of sobs came as Mia saw him walk away, and I ran my fingers through her thick curls and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

I took a deep breath, trying to relax as I did my best to coach her through what was about to happen.

It was about one in the morning by the time we had gotten to the Children’s Hospital, they got Mia into her room, switched her over to their equipment, and got her settled in her bed.

She had been dozing on and off, and one of the times that she had started to slip into unconsciousness I stepped out into the hall to check my cell phone.

I saw that I had about five text messages and just as many missed calls from Alex, and a text from my best friend Becky.

I scrolled to Alex’s name and hit send, leaning back against the wall with a sigh as I waited for him to pick up.

“Where are you, Cora? I’ve been trying to reach you for hours,” he whined more than scolded.

“I know, I’m sorry,” I sighed, looking down at my feet.

“I had to fly into Dallas with a little one, she’s pretty sick and if I didn’t jump on, it would have been a few hours before they could get her here.”

“You couldn’t have picked up the phone to tell me?” He spat. “So, I guess this means our date night is off for tomorrow? Or, rather tonight?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged, almost wondering if I could use this as an excuse to get out of it.

“I’m going to try to catch a ride back with a transport crew in the morning, it depends on what time they end up leaving.”

“I haven’t seen you in days,” he breathed in exasperation. “I feel like I’m dating someone who’s not even there.”

“I’m sorry, Alex,” I choked on a sarcastic laugh. “You know how I work. Seventy-two hours at the hospital a week, sleeping in the basement in case something comes in.

“It’s three days a week that I’m not immediately available to you.”

“Then another day before you’re functional again,” he scoffed. “And forget about the sex, I mean, when it even happens, it’s nothing to write home about.”

“You can’t put that all on me,” I snapped.

“The last few times I made a solid effort to spice things up, you either rolled over and went to sleep or it didn’t change a damn thing!” I got out in a hushed voice.

“Whatever, it’s the middle of the night. I’m not fighting with you about it right now,” he groaned.

“You’re the one who fucking started it,” I shook my head in disbelief. “You know what, maybe Becky’s right. Maybe it is time for me to move on,” I mumbled.

“Then fucking go,” Alex growled. “If I make you so unhappy, then why stay?”

“Do you want me to go?” I questioned angrily.

“Fuck!” He shouted, letting out a frustrated sigh. “No, Cora. I told you before, I want to be with you, but you just don’t make it that easy,” he said softly.

“Well, it’s hard to put the work in when you’re not sure if it’s worth it,” I admitted, closing my eyes as I rubbed my temple. He stayed silent, not responding for a minute.

“I’m going to bed, Cora. I’ll be here when you figure out what the fuck you want,” he finally spoke, before hanging up the phone.

I rubbed my hands over my face then pushed away from the wall and went back into the room as I heard the small voice.

“Nurse Cora,” Mia looked up at me with big worried eyes.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I dropped my phone in my bag that I had brought with me and started towards her.

Approximately 0.2 seconds passed before we reenacted the scene from the exorcist, minus the part where the girl’s head does the 360-degree turn.

The nurses on the unit got Mia cleaned up and changed her bed, getting me a clean pair of scrubs from their stock and allowing me to use their locker room to shower.

When I got back into the room, she was lying on her side crying softly.

The nurse that was sitting with her assured me that they had given her plenty of anti-nausea medication, and that she hadn’t gotten sick any more since the first episode.

Mia reached for me as soon as she saw me, and I leaned down and gave her a hug before climbing into the bed with her and pulling the blanket up over us.

I wiped her tears away as she blinked and more continued to fall.

“Where’s my dad?” She asked with a shaky breath.

“He’ll be here in a couple more hours. He had to drive, and it takes a lot longer to drive than it does to fly,” I rubbed my hand up and down her arm to warm her.

“He seems like a pretty great dad, you must be one lucky girl,” I smiled.

“He’s the best,” she nodded, a weak smile playing on her lips for the first time that night. I couldn’t help but smile back. “His favorite ice cream is rocky road,” she shared.

“Oh, yeah?” I laughed. “What’s your favorite?”

“Double chocolate with chocolate sprinkles.”

“No way! Mine too,” I grinned. She looked up at me curiously. “Us girls gotta have our chocolate, right?” I asked her, and she nodded with a yawn.

“Why don’t you close your eyes and try to go to sleep? You look so tired,” I brushed her hair out of her face.

“Can you tell me a story?” She asked.

“Uh,” I paused, never once telling a bedtime story in my life. “Sure, of course.”

“Okay,” she agreed, cuddling up to me unexpectedly.

“Once upon a time, there was a princess named Mia,” I started, and she smiled. “Mia lived in a magical castle, and she had a unicorn named…..Captain Jack,” I stated off of the top of my head.

“No, she lived on a farm, and Captain Jack is a pony!” She informed me.

“Oh, right,” I laughed. “One day, Princess Mia was on a ride with Captain Jack and they came across a white rabbit.

“The white rabbit told Mia that she could have three wishes, but they would only come true if the wishes weren’t selfish and they would benefit those around her.

“So, that night Princess Mia went home and thought long and hard about her three wishes, that way she would be ready when she went to see the white rabbit again the next day.”

“What’s the rabbit’s name?” Mia questioned sleepily.

“Roger,” I told her. “Roger Rabbit,” I reiterated, and she gave a small nod. “The next morning, Mia found Roger Rabbit in the same place as before.

“He asked her if she had made her decision about her three wishes, and she said that she did. Her first wish was…” I looked down at Mia, and she smiled up at me.

“She wished for every kid to have a pony, so they knew how much fun it was,” she grinned.

“Good wish,” I nodded with a wink.

“So, Roger Rabbit granted her wish and all of a sudden thousands of ponies started running out of the woods and going off to the kids they were supposed to make happy.

“Roger Rabbit asked the Princess what her second wish was, and she said…”

“No bedtimes, ever,” Mia replied quickly. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“And then, Roger Rabbit hereby declared that there will be no more bedtimes, ever.”

“I already know the third wish too, it’s for Daddy.”

“Oh? And what’s your, I mean, Princess Mia’s third wish?” I brushed my hand over her hair.

“I wished for Daddy to not be so sad,” she yawned.

“Aww, what do you mean, sweetie? I think you make your daddy very happy,” I reasoned, stroking the backs of my fingers over her cheek.

“Nana and Poppop always talk about how he needs to find a good woman to cheer him up.

“They say he needs to quit fartin’ around and start looking for his soul mate,” she explained as though she had heard the story a hundred times before.

“Maybe all he needs is you,” I tried to rationalize, knowing damn well that attempting to rationalize with a preschooler was pretty much a dead end.

“I think he needs someone else, too. I think he gets lonely at night. He’s awake a lot and he watches too much TV if he can’t sleep,” she sighed.

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to the information she had shared. I hadn’t expected a simple made-up bedtime story to derail into an intense discussion about her father’s love life.

Her seriously attractive, albeit possibly incredibly rude and asshole worthy father’s love life. Although, to be fair, he was scared for his daughter, and he’s apparently doing this alone.

I can’t blame him for being so worried. It sounded like his family was at least there to support him by the way Mia had talked about her Nana and Poppop.

“You’re such a sweet girl, Mia.

“Your daddy is just as lucky to have you as you are to have him,” I whispered, pressing my lips to her forehead as she gave a tiny nod before slowly drifting off into her dreamland.

Mia woke up a couple more times before finally settling into a deep sleep.

I stirred awake the next morning as the sun started to shine through the window, carefully stretching so I wouldn’t wake the sleeping child that was sprawled out and softly snoring next to me.

I glanced out the window that overlooked the city, freezing as I spotted the hand sticking out from the heap of blankets on the window bench. How had I not heard him come in last night?

I slipped out from under the blankets and tiptoed over to the chair where my bag was sitting, digging through it and pulling out my sweatshirt.

I turned around to get my shoes and kicked the foot of the IV pole stubbing my toe.

I cursed under my breath as my toe throbbed and I waited for a second to see if my sock was going to start filling with blood. Serves me right for not putting my shoes on as soon as I got out of bed.

Considering I was in a hospital filled with germs, my nurse brain was going to kick in and by the end of the day I would probably have myself convinced that a broken toenail was going to result in gangrene and I’d have to have my foot amputated.

“You alright?” The deep, rugged voice from the night before asked me softly, causing me to startle.

“I think so,” I nodded, finally slipping my shoes on and grabbing my bag before heading out into the hallway. Jace was right behind me.

“Cora,” he called quietly, pulling the door shut behind him so we wouldn’t wake Mia. I turned to face him. “I’m sorry if I seemed a bit harsh last night.

“I really appreciate everything you’ve done for us.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to not be on edge,” I offered a smile. “I’m sure seeing her in that state last night was terrifying,” I acknowledged.

“Thank you for staying with her. She seems to have taken to you and knowing that you were here with her at least gave me a little peace of mind,” he rubbed the back of his neck nervously.

“Of course,” I smiled more genuinely. “She seems like a great kid, loves you to pieces,” I added with a small laugh.

“She has it pretty good in life,” he smirked. “Pretty spoiled, actually. She probably loves the ponies more than she loves me,” he joked.

“Ponies?” I questioned, and he nodded with a smile. “That explains a bedtime story that totally derailed,” I shared thoughtfully, both of us unable to contain our laughter.

We settled down and he cracked the door open to check on Mia, holding up a hand and telling me to wait for him for a minute before disappearing inside.

He popped back out a few seconds later, and we exchanged smiles again as our eyes met. His presence was all-consuming, and I could have just stood there and stared for days.

The man was solid, attractive, rugged, and the way he looked at me demanded my attention. It was like I couldn’t look away.

“She’s down for the count,” he nodded towards the door. “I don’t know about you, but I haven’t eaten since yesterday, and I sure could use a cup of coffee right about now.”

“Um,” I swallowed, looking up at him with uncertainty. “I don’t know if that’s…”

“Please, just as a thank you for your help,” he cut me off. I looked back at the door as I thought about the little girl.

“I hear they make a terrible cup of coffee in the cafeteria, so what do you say?” He smirked. I chewed on my lip again, rolling it over in my head for a moment.

“I mean, you make it impossible for me to turn you down,” I rolled my eyes.

“Great, lead the way,” he gestured.

We turned and headed for the elevators, and I pressed the button to go down. As the elevator arrived at our floor and the doors opened, he placed his hand on the small of my back to escort me inside.

A tingling sensation ran up my spine and straight to my nether regions, causing me to almost trip as we stepped in.

His strong hands steadied me, one at my back and one on my arm, and my breasts swelled with excitement. There was something about this man that was dangerous to me.

Never in my life had I had this type of physical response to a man who simply looked at me, or touched me in an innocent way.

We needed to hurry up and get this day over with, because the sooner Jace Worley was out of my life, the better off I would be.

 

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2

Jace

I followed the directions that they had given me on the phone as I navigated through the large Children’s Hospital in search of my daughter’s room.

The tension in the pit of my stomach had been so tight that I’d felt sick to my stomach throughout most of the drive.

When I saw my baby girl lying lifeless for that moment or two after her last seizure, I thought I was going to die.

Had it not been for the nurse Cora staying cool and calm, I think I would have killed the staff that were keeping me from going to her.

I spotted the room number and saw through the cracked open door that the light inside had been dimmed.

I wasn’t sure what I had been expecting when I walked in, but finding Mia wrapped snuggly in Cora’s arms with her head nestled against her chest wasn’t even in the realm of possibilities.

I quietly pushed the door closed before walking over to the hospital bed and leaning down, closing my eyes as I pressed a kiss to Mia’s head and breathed her in.

I said what felt like my hundredth silent prayer for the night, this time thanking God for not taking her from me, and thanking Shannon for keeping an eye on our little girl.

I stood back up, leaning on the bed rail as I tucked Mia’s hair out of her face. I glanced over to Cora and took in her natural beauty. She looked like a natural blonde.

Her hair was sun bleached and her skin had a natural tawny glow, telling me that she spent a lot of time outside.

The first time her eyes had met mine I couldn’t help but be taken in by her piercing baby blues.

Then there had been that moment when she had placed her hand on mine, and her touch had lingered for long after she had stepped away.

Not to mention that moment when our eyes had met, a sudden sense of calm had overcome me. I knew that Mia was safe with her.

I watched the two of them for a moment longer before scoping out the room and spotting a pillow and some blankets sitting in the long window seat.

I reached up above the bed and turned out the light before carefully making my way over to the other side of the room.

I kicked off my boots and tried to get as comfortable as I could on the narrow surface, covering up with some blankets and finally closing my heavy eyes.

I’ve had trouble sleeping for years, but after being awake for nearly twenty-four hours straight and having such a stressful night the exhaustion quickly overcame me.

I inhaled deeply, waking as I heard a small bang followed by a soft string of cursing. I pushed the blankets off of me, rubbing my hands over my face as I turned over.

I made a mental note that I needed to shave after this whole disaster was finally over with. I saw Cora standing and looking for her shoes, and I knew I needed to speak with her before she left.

After making sure she was alright and checking to make sure Mia was in one of her deep sleeps, I had to find a way to figure out what the hell had passed between us last night.

I wasn’t sure exactly how I had talked her into it aside from a bad coffee joke, but the next thing I knew we were walking towards the elevator.

When the door opened, I gestured for her to enter first, instinctively placing my hand on her lower back. As soon as I touched her I felt a slow burn ignite.

The tip of her shoe caught as we stepped inside and I reached out to catch her, the proximity of her body to mine causing my muscles to tense and my heart to speed up.

“You alright?” I steadied her as she regained her balance.

“Fine,” she looked up me with a small blush. “Just clumsy,” she added, biting her bottom lip. My eyes fell to her petite mouth and I wanted so badly to taste her.

“You’re probably exhausted,” I sighed, trying to force my mind into a different place. “You’ve had a long night.”

“I’ve had a long three days,” she smirked with a small laugh. “I work 72 hour stretches, sleep a few hours here and there when I can. It’s hard to find qualified nurses in Black Mills,” she sighed.

“That sounds pretty rough,” I shook my head in disbelief. “You must really love your job.”

“I love the patients,” she nodded. “My co-workers aren’t half bad. We’re all in the same sinking ship, so we tend to work pretty well together. The pay is decent enough that I can live comfortably.”

“Sounds tolerable, at least.”

“Depends on the day,” she looked up at me with a small smile.

We reached the ground floor and I followed her through the hospital to the cafeteria. It quickly became apparent that she was somewhat familiar with the building.

We entered into the serving area and grabbed some breakfast sandwiches, coffee, and some juice.

She tried to pull her wallet out at the register, but I placed my hand over hers before she could get it out of her bag and passed my card to the cashier.

“I told you, my treat,” I reminded her, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.

What are you doing? You’re treating her to breakfast as a thank you for helping take care of Mia, not taking her on a date. Stop making excuses to touch her.

I quickly dropped my hand before we picked up our items and headed out to the seating area. We found a small booth and took a seat and she started rummaging through her bag.

I watched her curiously as I took a sip from my black, unsweetened coffee and she finally pulled out a small compact mirror.

She flipped it open and groaned as she smoothed down her hair before tossing it back in her bag.

“Sorry you have to be seen in public with me. I’m an embarrassment to society,” she rolled her eyes as she reached for her coffee.

“Not from where I’m sitting.” The words came out before I even had a chance to process them. “I mean, you look fine,” I shrugged, trying to play it off.

“Sure, Don Juan,” she laughed, finally taking a sip of her coffee as I got a whiff of the vanilla creamer that she had added to it.

“You’re just lucky that I showered a few hours ago and I don’t smell like a sweaty sock.”

“How did you manage to fit a shower in between Black Mills and Dallas?” I smirked, relaxing back in my seat.

“Sometime around two in the morning, right after Mia went all Linda Blair circa 1973,” she snorted with a smile and I cringed.

“Ugh, that’s the worst,” I shuddered. “It’s the one part of parenting I wouldn’t mind giving up permanently. I never got used to it.”

“I could do without it too,” she made a face.

“Mia was super colicky when she was a baby. We went through literally ten different formulas before we found one that she tolerated.

“Now the kid would drink milk straight from the cow if I let her,” I rolled my eyes.

“So, you guys live on a farm?” She questioned, her eyes lighting up with curiosity.

“You could call it a farm,” I nodded, picturing the 300+ acres that I owned.

That didn’t even factor in all of the cattle, the horses, the herding dogs, and the homes my family had on the property along with their random animal ventures such as goats and chickens.

“She must love that,” she grinned, her eyes lighting up with her smile. “It seems like she must have it pretty good between family and all those ponies to keep her occupied.”

“Yeah,” I nodded, smiling. “My family’s been there for me through it all, since my wife Shannon died,” I started unwrapping my sandwich.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said softly, looking up at me with a hint of sadness in her eyes. “We don’t have to talk about it, I don’t want to upset you.”

“No, it’s fine,” I met her gaze. “She’s been gone for a long time, and I’ve made my peace with it.”

“You seem to have the whole single dad thing figured out pretty well,” she offered before taking a bite of her food.

“Well,” I took another sip of coffee to wash down the bite I had just taken, “I knew since before she was even born that I was going to be doing it myself, so I had some time to figure it out.

“Blessing in disguise, I guess,” I shared, and her eyebrows furrowed.

“Sounds complicated.”

“They found a lump in Shannon’s breast when she went for her first prenatal appointment. It wasn’t very big, but something about it concerned the doctor.

“They did some ultrasounds, ended up doing a biopsy, and it turned out to be a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer,” I started to explain.

“Oh my gosh, Jace,” Cora’s face fell. “That’s terrible,” she reached over and gently placed her hand on my arm that was resting on the table. “I’m so sorry.”

“We went to the oncologist, they gave her all of the odds, the success rates of treatment if she would start right away versus if she waited until after she delivered,” I continued.

“She told me she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she terminated the pregnancy to start treatment.

“They C-sectioned her a month and a half early because the cancer had made her so sick that they were worried about Mia. They did some more tests as soon as she delivered, and it was already too late.

“The day I brought Mia home from the NICU, I brought Shannon home on hospice.”

“I can’t imagine,” she rubbed her thumb back and forth on my arm in a soothing manner. I was finding an odd comfort in telling this woman that I barely knew about one of the toughest times in my life.

“Those last few months we had together were tough. I was figuring out how to raise a newborn while taking care of my dying wife. I went through a lot of emotional shit.

“I was angry with Shannon for a long time for making the choice that she did and then leaving me to do this all on my own. It took me a while to realize that she’s still looking down on us.”

“She was there last night, and she’s still watching over her now,” she smiled, her eyes looking up for a brief second before locking back on mine.

I couldn’t hold back the stupid smile as an unexpected relief flooded through me. I had told Shannon’s story plenty of times before, many of them being to women.

Their usual response was to hang on my every word, and then tell me all of the ways they could help me heal my pain.

With Cora though, this incredibly beautiful woman whom I barely knew anything about aside from the fact that she had helped save my daughter’s life out of duty and compassion, I found a strange sense of calm similar to the one I had felt with her the night before.

We were pulled from the moment as her cell phone started to ring and she quickly pulled it out of her bag to take the call.

After a brief conversation, she relayed to me that there was a transport coming in from Black Mills in an hour that was going to refuel and then turn around that she was able to ride back with.

We finished our breakfasts before heading back up to Mia’s room. Cora followed me inside and I was relieved to see that Mia was still sound asleep.

“She’s so precious, I can’t stand it,” Cora whispered with a smile, pulling the blanket up over her shoulders.

“She is pretty amazing,” I agreed.

The door opened behind us and two doctors walked in, causing Mia to stir awake. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and looked around, her eyes brightening as she spotted me.

She held her arms up and I bent down to pick her up, holding her to me as she nuzzled into the crook of my neck.

Cora hung back, listening attentively as the doctors explained what they had found and what treatments they were using to treat the infection that Mia had.

The doctors answered all of my questions before leaving, and then Cora stood, looking down at her watch with a sigh.

“It’s time for me to head out,” she ran her fingers through Mia’s hair. “I’m looking forward to going home and crawling into bed for about twelve hours straight,” she joked.

“Yeah, I think I’m going to have a long few days ahead of me,” I groaned with a small chuckle. “Thanks again, for everything,” I told her honestly.

“Of course,” she smiled back, her tired blue eyes shining brightly as they met mine. “You guys take care, okay?”

“Will do,” I nodded before she turned and headed out the door.

I stared at the door for a moment as I thought about the fact that I would probably never see her again. Our paths had never crossed before. I was sure that I would have remembered meeting her.

Mia was sleepily playing with the button on my shirt as I laid her back down on the bed and kissed her on the cheek.

She looked up at me with her momma’s smile and I couldn’t help but grin back at her.

I couldn’t deny the fact that the last time I had even wanted something more from a woman than a night in a strange bed was with Mia’s mother. Cora had woken something up deep within me.

Something about her made me want to get to know the woman she was on the inside.

I gave Mia another kiss and promised her I would be back in a second before stepping out into the hall. I looked towards the elevators just as I saw the door opening and Cora stepped inside.

I tried to get there quickly, calling her name before the doors closed. She either hadn’t heard me or had chosen to ignore me.

I stopped as the light flickered to the number for the next floor, placing one hand on my hip and rubbing the other over my chin.

I hoped that I hadn’t just made my biggest mistake by letting her walk away.

After three days of being in the hospital Mia was finally cleared, and we were able to make the long drive home.

I turned off of the county highway onto the bumpy dirt road that drove into the heart of the ranch, peeking in the rearview mirror as I slowed down to avoid waking Mia.

It was going on ten in the evening, and I was grateful to finally be back home.

I hadn’t showered in four days, I was still in my dirty clothes from working the day that she had gone to the hospital, and my back was stiff as hell from trying to sleep in weird positions in the hospital bed right next to my now thoroughly miserable and highly irritable four-year-old.

We finally pulled up to the house after five minutes or so of navigating around divots and potholes.

I very carefully got Mia out of her car seat and quietly closed the door, waiting until I had gotten into the house to lock and engage the alarm with the remote.

She needed a bath too, but that could wait until morning. If I had any luck at all, she would finally sleep through the night now that she was home and in her own bed.

I nodded to my sister Theresa who was working in my kitchen before carrying Mia upstairs to her room.

I managed to change her into her pajamas without her fully waking up, and then she promptly snuggled up with her stuffed pony and fell back into her heavy sleep.

Once I flipped her nightlight on, I left her door open a crack and headed for my bedroom.

I grabbed pair of boxers and a pair of sweatpants on the way to my private bathroom, stripping down as I headed for the shower.

When my parents had moved out into one of the other houses on the property, the first thing I had done was remodel the master bath.

I worked long, hard days and while I wasn’t typically one for luxurious things, I had gone all out by gutting it and designing a custom bathroom fit for a king.

When entering the bathroom, to the left was a long countertop that housed double sinks below a mirror that stretched to the ceiling.

To the right was a large jacuzzi tub that generally only got used on the days that I had either been bucked off or thrown out my back.

Towards the back of the bathroom were two doors that broke off in opposite diagonal directions. The one on the left was a glass door that opened up to a large, tiled, rainfall/steam shower.

The one on the right was a solid door that opened up to the area where the commode was located. The far back wall, between the two diagonal doors, housed a large window.

I had installed shutters on the inside so that on the days that the weather was fairer, I could let the breeze in without giving anyone a show.

After I finished in the shower I headed downstairs to see if Theresa was still around. I found her sitting at the kitchen table flipping through a magazine.

I opened the fridge to see that she had apparently been cooking up a storm while we were gone and flashed her a thankful smile.

I reached for a beer, popping the cap off and tossing it in the trash and grabbing an apple from the bowl on the counter. I sat down across from her, biting into the fruit as I relaxed into the chair.

“Thanks for the help around the house, Resa. You didn’t have to go to all of the trouble, but I appreciate it,” I nodded. “I’m surprised you’re still around.”

“You know me,” she shrugged, closing the magazine and pushing it to the side. “Always the night owl, especially now.

“This little one sleeps all day and parties all night,” she patted her six-and-a-half-month pregnant belly. “I’m starting to feel as exhausted as you usually look.”

“Get used to it now, because it ain’t getting any better once the rug rat makes his appearance,” I laughed. “I haven’t slept a full eight hours in four-and-a-half years.”

“Maybe if you found a woman worth your time to warm your bed at night, that would all change,” she countered with a smirk.

“I have no trouble finding a woman to warm my bed at night, thank you very much,” I looked at her skeptically.

“I’m not talking about their bed, or the bed of a cheap hotel, Jace. I’m talking about someone to fall asleep next to every night and to wake up with every morning. and

“ A woman who will be good for you, not just to you. Someone that will treat you and your daughter right,” she explained.

An image of Cora flashed in my mind, but I quickly pushed it away, resting my arm on the table.

“Are we really going to do this right now at,” I turned and looked at the clock on the wall, “almost eleven at night?”

“Jace,” she sighed, running her hand through her hair.

“I appreciate your concern, but I don’t have the time, or the energy right now to commit to a relationship.

“Do you guys have any idea how hard I work to keep this place running like the well-oiled machine that it is?

“Has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason I don’t sleep at night is because I’m thinking about the next transport I need to make, or the deadlines I need to meet with saddle breaking the horses, or how many steer I need to round up the next day.

“Not to mention the financial aspect of this place.

“I mean, fuck, the only reason we’re as well off as we are is because I sit down nearly every day and look at the books to make sure not one penny goes unnoticed.”

“I know, Jace,” she rolled her eyes. “You do a lot for us. This ranch and this family wouldn’t have survived after Daddy’s accident if it wasn’t for you.

“That doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to find someone to make you happy,” she tried to reason.

“Noah and Tucker are more than capable of running transports or herding the cattle,” she referred to our younger brothers who were both in their early twenties.

“You know Bobby’s even offered to help out where he can,” she added, offering up her husband.

“I’d trust you to herd before I’d trust those two, and they get lost on our property, let alone driving across state lines.

“Bobby has enough on his plate, he does enough considering he cuts us such a big break with all of the veterinary care,” I took the last bite of my apple before standing and going to toss the core in the trash.

“I’m just saying, is all,” she lowered her head, somewhat in defeat. Bring on the guilt trip.

“Resa,” I took a deep breath, moving behind her and rubbing her shoulders. “Thank you for trying to look out for me, but I promise you that I’m fine.

“I’ve got Mia, and that’s enough for me,” I leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “Now go on home to your husband. I’ll see you around tomorrow.”

She finally gave in, standing to give me a hug before we said our goodbyes and she left for the night.

I made sure the house was locked up before sitting back on the sofa and flipping on the television. Despite being bleary eyed from the long drive by the time we had gotten home, I was now wide awake.

I knew if I went to bed I would only lay there and stare at the ceiling. I took a sip from my beer as I propped my feet up on the coffee table, contemplating my entertainment options for the night.

I shielded my eyes from the late afternoon sun as I tried to stretch my lower back before getting comfortable back in my saddle.

I was waiting for my best friend, and my right-hand man, Travis to call over the radio to let me know he was ready.

It had been a long week trying to catch up from when Mia was in the hospital, and my body felt much older than it appeared.

I looked over at my border collie Cooper to my left as he sat perfectly still and stared at the herd in front of us, patiently waiting for his cue.

The fences in pasture twelve were due to be replaced, so we were herding a group of yearling steers two pastures up.

Noah and Tucker were already waiting in the next pasture over to make sure that when we drove them through, they would keep on going into the next.

“In position and ready to rock,” Travis’ voice came over the radio. I unhooked the radio from my belt and pressed the button.

“You morons ready in the front?” I questioned, already thoroughly annoyed with them for managing to bust one of the feed scales in the barn for our working horses this morning.

“Ready,” they each called, one after the other.

“You ready Coop?” I asked, securing my radio back into place as the dog jumped up and started dancing and wagging his tail.

“Go get ’em, buddy,” I told him as I pushed the call button on the radio that sent a signal tone out to everyone on our frequency.

Cooper went wide while my morgan horse Tank and I took off towards the back.

As soon as Cooper started barking and the other dogs started in from the other directions, the herd became alert and started to scramble.

Travis and I passed by each other multiple times, turning around every time we got near the edges of the herd.

The dogs ran alongside them, keeping them tight and funneling them through the gate and into the next pasture.

Once we had cleared the first gate, Noah swung back to close it while Tucker joined Travis and I at the back of the herd.

We drove them through that pasture, only having to chase a few stragglers, before finally corralling them through the second gate and into their final destination.

Noah came up behind us, and we backed out, helping him secure that gate before we turned to head back to the barn. My brothers, still sensing my annoyance with them, took off into a gallop.

After all, it was nearly six in the evening on a Friday. They had plenty of places that they’d rather be than out herding animals.

“How’s Mia doing?” Travis questioned as we navigated out of the pastures to the edge of the property so we wouldn’t have to keep going through gates.

“She’s fine,” I scoffed with a laugh. “You’d never know the kid was that sick a week ago.”

“She’s a tough cookie. Sounds just like her dad,” he joked.

“Yeah, she does get that from me. Never knows when to slow down.”

“You coming out to the bar tonight?” He looked over at me expectantly.

“I don’t know man, I just don’t know if I’m feeling it,” I shrugged.

“Alright, so what’s your excuse this time?” He glared over at me with a smirk. “Let me guess, a bottle of Scotch while you wallow in self-pity?

“Oh, wait, that’s tomorrow night,” he paused, and I shook my head, laughing again. “I got it!

“It’s the finale of some cooking show that you like to watch, which is bullshit anyway because we all know you’re already a damn good cook.

“Or, is Mia staying at your parent’s place and you’d rather bust out the spank bank instead of actually going out and getting the real thing?”

“Oh, right. Because apparently the idea of a single father wanting a few hours to himself is the equivalent of never wanting to get laid again,” I cocked my eyebrow.

“When was the last time you even got laid, dude?

“You haven’t gone out with us in months, you sure as hell don’t hang out with anyone else, and I know you don’t have anyone that you’re bringing back here. You’re thirty going on sixty-five.

“You’re one of the most boring people I know.”

“If I agree to go out with you guys tonight, will it stop the intolerable badgering?” I squinted at him.

“Maybe,” he smiled. “One more question though.”

“I’m afraid to ask,” I sighed.

“When’s your retirement party, bro? I want to make sure I get it on my calendar.”

“Fuck you, dude,” I couldn’t hold back my chuckle, both of us laughing as we squeezed our horses into a run.

Two hours later I found myself climbing out of my Suburban, actually cleaned up with my face trimmed and all for the first time in weeks.

I grabbed my hat off of the passenger’s seat and dropped it on my head, locking the car and dropping my keys in my pocket as I headed for the door.

It wasn’t that I disliked going out, it was just that after working such long days, barely sleeping, and knowing that certain women were going to hound me right away was exhausting.

I took pride in my appearance, and the fact that I owned the most successful ranch in three counties made me quite the catch.

The problem was that I didn’t consider someone throwing themselves at me because of who I was a quality I would want in a woman. Did I take advantage of it on occasion, especially after drinking?

Of course, I’m a single man with needs just like anyone else. That didn’t mean I was going to take any of them home to meet the family, contrary to their beliefs and desires.

I spotted Travis sitting at the bar with Bobby as soon as I stepped inside. I joined them, taking a seat with them and ordering a beer as we waited for the rest of the guys to arrive.

We talked shop for a bit, discussing our plans for the upcoming week at the ranch. Once Noah and Tucker showed up, we grabbed a table and ordered some food.

After a few more rounds of drinks and quite a bit of fried menu items that I was pretty sure I would regret at some point the next day, Travis and I headed for the pool table.

He racked the balls before we flipped a coin, deciding that I would break. I sunk the thirteen into the corner pocket, earning me the stripes for the game.

I took two more shots, sinking the nine into the side pocket and then scratching in my attempt to hit the eleven into the far corner.

As I stood off to the side holding my cue, watching Travis quickly start to overtake my two points, I felt hands on my shoulders and I inwardly groaned.

I looked down at my left shoulder and saw the artificial nails and I knew immediately who the hands belonged to.

“Hey, baby,” Dawn greeted softly, the sweet smell of her rum and coke coming off of her breath. “What are you up too?”

“I’m busy playing a game,” I nodded towards the billiard table, trying to dismiss her.

“What are you doing after your game?” She questioned, moving around to my left side and sliding her hand around to my chest.

“Hanging out with my friends,” I looked down at her with a raised eyebrow.

“Don’t you want to come over and play with me?” She pouted.

“Not really, no,” I replied truthfully.

“Come on, Jace. It’s been too long. I miss you,” she tried to lean up and press her lips to my neck, but I quickly stepped away.

“Damn it, Dawn. I said no,” I repeated, glaring at her. Her whole demeanor changed, and she stomped her foot and placed her hands on her hips.

“You don’t have to be such an ass about it!” She raised her voice.

“You’re trashed. Why don’t you ask your friend Tanya to take you home?” I suggested.

“Fuck you, Jace Worley!”

“Well, fuck you, too,” I smiled charmingly, knowing exactly how to get under her skin.

“You mean to tell me that she doesn’t do it for you?” Travis teased as Dawn stomped her way back towards her friends, rudely knocking into other people as she went.

“Dude,” I scoffed, “I made that mistake one time. I started to get dressed afterwards and she started begging me to stay so I could go to church with her and her parents in the morning.”

“Maybe she didn’t get the memo,” he shrugged, and I looked over at him curiously. “You know, ten commandments, adultery, all that shit,” he added, both of us bursting into laughter.

I walked over to the table and started looking for my next shot, only to have my attention pulled away as I saw the familiar blonde hair out of the corner of my eye.

I watched as the woman who fit the profile from behind, along with a brunette that was a bit taller, headed for the bar and took a seat.

I felt Travis’ presence next to me as he followed my gaze to see who I was staring at.

The blonde reached up and pulled her hair over to one shoulder, looking over at her friend in annoyance with a piercing glare.

I felt my heart drop into my stomach as soon as those angry blue eyes scanned the bar and fell onto me.

Cora’s eyes widened before she quickly spun back around, looking down at the menu in front of her.

“Looks like fresh meat,” Travis commented. “I’ve seen the brunette in here a time or two, but never the blonde. She looks like she could be fun.”

“I know her,” I stated softly, passing my cue over to him.

“What do you mean you know her? Like you know her as in you’ve met her before, or you know her as in you’ve nailed her before?” He questioned sarcastically. I could hear the smile in his voice.

“I know her as in all you other fuckers better not try anything stupid or I’ll fuck you up,” I replied as her friend glanced over her shoulder, looking at me with a smile.

“Jesus, Jace. Calm down, man. I was just joking around.” Travis’ voice started to fade out as I started towards the women.

Her friend said something to her, and Cora looked back at me, mumbling under her breath as she turned away from me again.

She was wearing a denim skirt with sandals and a white, lace crop top that left her shoulders and midriff exposed, just enough to leave me wanting more.

Her friend spun around on the barstool next to her, crossing one leg over the other and looking up at me with a grin. I flashed her an inquisitive smile, noticing Cora scowling from beside her.

“So, you’re “Hot Dad?“” The Brunette stated more than asked.

“Excuse me?” Uh, what?

“Daughter, Dallas, muscles…. Heard all about it,” she continued on.

“Becky!” Cora spat through gritted teeth.

“Okay…” I cleared my throat, unsure of where this was going.

“I’m gonna break it down for you, okay?” She didn’t even give me time to answer before she continued. “My girl Cora here is in desperate need of a good lay.”

“You didn’t just say that,” Cora groaned, resting her head down on her arms. “Just fucking kill me now, please.”

“Ignore her, she’ll be fine,” Becky stated matter-of-factly.

“She’ll try to tell you she has a boyfriend, but he’s a total douchebag that she rarely ever sees, and he’s a complete asshole to her whenever she does get a chance to see him.

“Plus, he’s an accountant so how exciting can he be in bed anyway, right?”

“I hate you so much right now,” Cora lifted her head and looked at her again, her entire face heated with embarrassment.

“My point is, that she apparently finds you incredibly attractive, and she’s going through a dry spell because “Alex the accountant” rarely puts out.

So, if you find her attractive too, it could probably happen,” she smiled. “You picking up what I’m throwing down, Cowboy?” Cora hid her face in her hands.

“Uh, sure…” I replied slowly, not sure what exactly to say.

“Good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go use the ladies’ room,” she said sweetly, grabbing her clutch and trotting off across the bar.

“I am so, so, sorry,” Cora swallowed nervously. I took a seat next to her.

“So, you think I’m attractive?” I smirked. She clasped her hands together with a deep sigh and turned her head towards me.

“Is your kid looking for a new best friend? Because I’m breaking up with mine and I’m going to need a new one,” she scoffed, shaking her head. “She literally has no filter.”

“She just doesn’t want to deal with any bullshit,” I shrugged. “Seriously though, you think I’m hot?” I smiled, causing her to blush again.

“Let me ask. Has anyone ever said that they weren’t attracted to you?” She laughed. “I mean, let’s be honest, you do own mirrors, right?”

“Sure,” I shrugged. “It’s just nice to hear it from someone other than my mom that I’m handsome,” I teased, making her laugh genuinely. God, I loved her laugh.

“How serious is it with “Alex the accountant,” anyway?” I pried.

“It’s pretty complicated,” she answered, thanking the bartender as he brought her gin and tonic. “It’s sort of a one foot in, one foot out kind of deal,” she chewed on her lip.

How badly half-drunk me wanted to taste those lips.

“What you’re saying, is that I do have a chance?” I wagged my eyebrows.

“Okay, is this a conspiracy between you and Becky? Like, is there some sort of inside joke I don’t know about?”

“Never seen her before in my life,” I assured her with a grin. “When’s your next night off? Let me take you out for dinner,” I suggested, surprising even myself.

“Uh,” Cora’s jaw dropped.

“Alright, cowboy. Out of my seat. We’ll be here all night, so you can move in on her later,” Her friend, who I now knew as Becky stated as she appeared in front of me.

“Of course, wouldn’t want to ruin a night between two good friends,” I stood, tipping my hat to her. Becky sat down and turned around to face the bar.

I moved behind Cora, placing my hand on the back of her shoulder and leaning down to whisper in her ear. “Just for the record, you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

I gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze, and she looked up at me. Her blue eyes shining brightly as her lips curled into a sweet smile.

I reached down, placing my hand on her warm cheek and brushing my thumb over her lips. It took everything in me not to lean in and cover them with mine.

As I let my hand slowly fall, I dragged my fingers along the side of her neck, lightly grazing over her soft skin.

My eyes fell to the rise and fall of her ample breasts, and I felt my jeans get a little bit tighter.

I smiled once more before stepping away and going back over to where Travis was now sitting back at our table. He looked over at me with a smug smile, and I couldn’t help but glance back over at Cora.

She flashed me another nervous smile over her shoulder, biting her lip once again. I had to fight the groan as I felt my dick getting even harder. I should have kept my hands to myself.

Now I wouldn’t be able to take my mind off of her.

“What the fuck was that?” Travis spat, acting insulted like he had been left out on some sort of secret.

“I honestly don’t even know,” I shook my head, my eyes still focused on the beautiful woman sitting at the bar.

 

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Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.

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