A Cowboy's Temptation(8)

By: Barbara Dunlop



 “Wild speculation on your part.” He braced his hand against the wall, close to her shoulder.

 “Why are you here?”

 “I don’t need to send a minion to deal with you.”

 She wondered again about the plan to flirt with him. Was it crazy? Would it work? Would it put him off his game?

 She seemed to be out of other options, so she tossed her hair back and let her gaze go soft. “Exactly how are you planning to deal with me, Seth?”

 He blinked.

 She added a coquettish smile for good measure.

 He inched ever so slightly closer. “You really think that’s going to work?”

 “Do I think what’s going to work?”

 He leaned closer still. “You can’t flirt your way out of the missing signatures. And what happened to you not flirting back?”

 “Who’s flirting back?”

 He reached forward, resting his palm on her hip, his intense blue gaze trapping hers. “You’re flirting.”

 “In your dreams, cowboy.”

 “Perhaps. But right now in real life, too.”

 The timbre of his voice made her chest tighten. Her pulse sped up, and a warm flush made her skin tingle.

 His tone dropped to a lower rumble. “How far you going to take this?”

 Excellent question.

 While she struggled to come up with a reasonable answer, he eased forward. She told herself to back off, but for some reason, she didn’t move. She told herself this was a terrible idea, but still, she didn’t move.

 He whispered her name in obvious frustration, and then his hot lips came down on hers.

 The searing power of his kiss zipped through her nervous system, bringing her entire body to instantaneous life. He wrapped his arm around her, pressing it against her back. The doorjamb dug into her shoulder but she barely felt it. Endorphins and who knew what else had formed a hormone-fueled cocktail that took over her senses. All she felt was Seth.

 He didn’t let up. His lips urged hers open, while his tongue teased, and hers answered in kind. Her nipples tightened, and heat flooded her body, making her pliant and malleable.

 When his hands moved to her bottom, urging her against his hard body, she came to him willingly. Her arms snaked their way around his neck, and she tilted her head while he deepened their kiss. His fingers then splayed into her hair, and the friction from his hard chest made her nipples tingle with desire.

 Color and light swirled through her brain. The world tipped beneath her, and her equilibrium was lost. If not for Seth’s enveloping hug, she might have tumbled to the porch.

 Her one small scrap of sanity was no match for the avalanche of passion flooding her body. She had a sudden urge to tear off their clothes and make love right there on the front porch.

 He drew back, dragging in breaths, looking as dazed as she felt. “Another minute, and I’ll be swearing it’s six hundred names.”

 Another minute and Darby would be sporting a train engineer’s hat.

 He dropped his hands and stepped back. “This could get me into a lot of trouble at the office.”

 “I’m sorry—” She stopped, not sure exactly what she was sorry about.

 He laughed. “For being a great flirt? I’ve got to hand it to you, Darby. I didn’t think you’d go through with a kiss.”

 Still feeling slightly unsteady on her feet, she forced out a casual laugh. There was no way she’d let him know how he’d affected her. “I figured it was worth a shot.”

 His expression turned serious. “Take another shot, any old time you’d like.”

 “We’re getting more signatures,” she told him, ignoring the urge to kiss him again right here and now. “Marta’s out there signing more people up.”

 “You can’t do that. The deadline’s passed.”

 “There’s nothing in the policy that says all six hundred have to be present at the deadline.”

 “That’s the whole point.”

 “Maybe,” she allowed. “Maybe not. But if you don’t approve the referendum, I’ll have to meet you in court so we can let a judge decide.”

 “Fightin’ words, Ms. Carroll.”

 “You have paint on your jacket, Mr. Mayor.”

 He followed her gaze to the finger-shaped smears of peach where she’d gripped his sleeves. He blew out a heavy sigh.

 “You’re a regular walking disaster.”

 She stifled a smile. “I’ll pay for the dry-cleaning.”

 He shrugged. “Sadly, the jacket barely registers on my radar today. There’s also a problem with your property survey on file at the Lands Office.”

 The sudden change in topic took her by surprise.

 “What problem?” She scrambled to figure out his new angle.

 “Mountain Railway’s lawyers did some research—”

 “Oh, no, you don’t,” she interrupted. “You are not going to mess around with my land—”

 “I’m not messing around—”

 “I don’t care who you are, Seth Jacobs.” She closed the space between them, tapping her index finger against his chest. “I will not be—”

 “You own more land than you thought,” Seth all but shouted over her, grasping her paint-smeared hand and dragging it away from him.

 “Huh?”

 “The mistake is bad for me. I’m not here to cheat. Not that you don’t deserve someone who plays dirty.”

 While he spoke, Seth suspiciously checked his shirtfront. “There was a mistake made in the survey record back in 1893. It turns out your land goes across the rail right-of-way. That being the case, we’ll be asking you for an easement.” He stopped talking.

 The breeze gusted up from the lake, while songbirds darted from tree to tree.

 “Are you saying I own more land?” She struggled to wrap her head around the news.

 “Yes. The Lands Office will redraft your plan to match the one on the official file,” Seth said.

 “So the train would come across my land?”

 “If you grant an easement,” he confirmed.

 “I don’t see that happening.”

 “Neither do I,” he admitted. “So I’ll expropriate your land.”

 “You can’t do that.” If it was her land, she should have a say.

 “Yes,” he told her firmly, “I can.”

 She believed him. “I’ll fight you.”

 Their relationship was about to get more adversarial than ever.

 “You can’t fight me on this one. And a petition won’t help.”

 “Do you enjoy being the bad guy?” asked Darby.

 “I’ve never been the bad guy. And I’m the good guy now. It’s what the people want, Darby. Accept it and move on.”

 “A referendum will tell you what the people want.”

 He shook his head and drew away, looking every inch in control. “The election already told me that.”

 * * *

 “What happens if they succeed?” Travis asked Seth from the passenger seat of the mayor’s official car.

 “Succeed at what?” Seth asked, needing Travis to narrow the question down. Darby Carroll was uppermost on his mind, but as mayor, he was battling problems on a whole lot of fronts right now.

 The two men were driving along the River Road on the way to a Rodeo Association dinner. Seth was at the wheel of his official vehicle, working hard at avoiding potholes.

 “Succeed in getting the railway referendum.”

 “They didn’t get enough signatures.”

 “It might not matter,” said Travis. “Abigail read the bylaw, and Darby isn’t wrong. There’s nothing specifically stopping her from submitting additional signatures after the petition is filed.”

 “It’s going in front of Judge Hawthorn.”

 “So?”

 “So, he grew up in the Valley. Half his family is still in ranching.”

 Travis frowned. “You’re not saying what I think you’re saying.”

 “I’m saying Judge Hawthorn will give us a straight-up reading of the bylaw and the intent of the bylaw. He’s not going to go looking for esoteric little loopholes to derail progress.”

 “He’s honor bound to follow the law.”

 Seth splashed the car through a puddle, knowing he’d have to get it washed yet again. “Exactly. I’m counting on that.”

 Red and yellow leaves fluttered in bursts from the woods, ticking their way across the windshield. Seth rounded a corner and came to a rolling field where cattle dotted the golden wheatgrass. Snow was gathering on the high, distant peaks, and a chill blew down from the mountains.

 He angled the car into the gravel parking lot of the association’s clubhouse, sliding it between a powder-blue pickup and a steel-gray SUV.

 “Anything I can do to help?” Travis asked as they exited the car.

 “I’m the one who ran for office,” Seth responded, knowing, for better or worse, he was getting what he’d signed up for, and it was his responsibility to deal with the problems.

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