Sunset Seduction

By: Charlene Sands

One

Usually nothing much unnerved Audrey Faith Thomas, except for the time six months ago when her big brother was bucked off Old Stormy at an Amarillo rodeo and broke his back. He was tossed eight feet in the air and landed with a solid smack to the ground. Casey’s injury was severe enough to have Audrey quitting veterinary school last semester to nurse him back to health.

Audrey shuddered at the memory and thanked the Almighty that Casey was alive and well and bossy as ever. But as she sat behind the wheel of her truck driving toward her fate, the fear coursing through her veins had nothing to do with Casey’s disastrous five-second ride and resulting retirement from the rodeo. This fear was much different. It scared her silly and made her doubt herself. It made her want to turn her Chevy pickup truck around and go home to Reno and forget all about showing up at Sunset Ranch unannounced.

To face Lucas Slade.

The man she’d seduced and then abandoned in the middle of the night.

Audrey swallowed hard and tried to reconcile her behavior. It wasn’t working. She still couldn’t believe what she’d done and after repeating her motives a thousand times in her head, nothing much had changed.

Last month, after an argument and a three-week standoff with her brother, she’d left her Reno home and ventured to his Lake Tahoe cabin to make amends. He’d been right about the boyfriend she’d just dumped, and she’d needed Casey’s strong shoulder to cry on. But once she’d arrived, Casey was fast asleep on the couch and the last person she’d expected to find sleeping in the guest room, on her bed, was Luke Slade—the man of her fantasies, the one she’d measured every other man against. Luke was the guy she’d crushed on during her teen years while traveling the rodeo circuit with Casey—the guy who’d treated her with kindness and the same sort of brotherly love that Casey had.

Seeing him sent all rational thoughts flying out the window. This was her chance. She wouldn’t let her prudish upbringing interfere with what she needed. His right arm was in a soft cast. That hadn’t stopped her from edging closer.

Luke’s eyelids had parted and two partially opened slits of warm blue honed in on her. “Come closer,” he’d rasped in the darkened room. She’d taken that as an invitation to climb into bed with him, the consequences be damned. That night, her heart and soul, as well as her body, had been involved.

Well…she’d gotten a lot more than a shoulder to cry on, and it had been glorious and amazing and out and out wonderful. How could it not be? She’d been secretly in love with her brother’s good buddy for years.

Audrey sent Jewel, the orange tabby sleeping in the travel carrier next to her, an apologetic glance. “It wasn’t like he was some random guy. It was Luke,” she told the cat as if that explained it all. Her cat, who hadn’t been much company on the drive, opened her eyes and gave her a stare before returning to cat dreamland. Audrey focused her attention back on the winding two-lane road, a shortcut through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Sunset Ranch.

Audrey lowered the brim of her bright pink ball cap, shading her eyes from the glaring sun, and reached back to straighten out her ponytail. Coming through the mountain pass, she made the turn off the interstate and drove a little farther. As her gaze roamed the road, she recognized wisps of tall grass, purple wildflowers and white fences signifying the manicured property surrounding Sunset Lodge. The upscale dudelike resort adjacent to the ranch was another of the Slades’ prosperous enterprises. Once she passed the lodge, the ranch would be half a mile down the road.

“We’re almost there,” she told her sleepy cat.

Audrey couldn’t relax like the mellow feline beside her. Her fingers curled tightly around the steering wheel and as her doubt and fear doubled, her heart pounded hard in her chest.

She should’ve stayed with Luke that night. She should’ve been brave enough to face him in the morning. But every time those thoughts popped into her head, she had images of Casey waking up and finding her in bed with his good buddy. There was no doubt in her mind that Casey would’ve gone ballistic, asking no questions and taking no prisoners. She’d come to the conclusion that leaving Luke and the cabin had been the only way.

And it was a good thing her brother slept like the dead and hadn’t had a clue she’d had a booty call with his best friend.

Two days later, once she’d gotten the nerve to call her brother, she’d learned the reason for Luke’s visit. He’d been trampled by a horse in an awful accident. His arm had been broken along with three ribs. He’d come to Casey’s Lake Tahoe cabin to recuperate.

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