“That’s what you call food? Please tell me you ain’t one of them actresses who starves herself to look like a heroin addict.”
“Do I look like I starve myself?”
His gaze might’ve lingered on certain curves longer than polite. “No, Hollywood, you look exactly like a woman ought to. Let’s head to town. The Shell station has the best chilidogs I’ve ever tasted.”
“Do they have tofu dogs?”
Chase’s smile fell. “Oh hell no. You’re not a vegetarian?”
“And if I was?” she intoned sweetly.
“I’d take it as my sworn duty as the son of a cattleman to send you packing off McKay land immediately.”
There was that little sexy smirk again. “Relax, cowboy. I’m a carnivore to the core. I seriously doubt Wyoming can boast the best chilidog, but I’m willing to give it a fair shake.” She pointed at him with her car keys. “You brag, you buy.”
When Ava started to jerk on the handle to open the barn door, Chase gently moved her aside. He wasn’t sure if he expected to see her ripping it up in a Ferrari, but the vehicle behind the door was a letdown. A black four-door RAV4. With Colorado plates. “You didn’t drive here?”
“I flew to Denver, rented this and drove the rest of the way. So I really don’t care if you spill chili and cheese all over the seats.”
There was another glimpse of her bizarre sense of humor, which made her seem normal and not movie starish.
In Sundance, Chase pulled his sweatshirt hood over his head. “You’ll have to go inside and load them up.”
“Why can’t you help?”
“Family. Fans. I’m on the down low, remember?”
“What exactly am I slathering on these dogs besides chili?”
“Mustard. Onion. A couple of squirts of that fake cheese.” Chase dug a crumpled twenty from his front pocket and pressed it into her hand. “And anything else that strikes your fancy.”
“Should I leave the car running in case you need to make a quick getaway from your adoring fans?”
“No, but I tell you what. I’ll keep it running in case you do,” he shot back.
She laughed. “We’re quite the pair, huh?”
Chase slumped into the seat, trying to stay inconspicuous.
After almost ten minutes, the car door opened. “Careful, those are hot and oozing stuff out the sides.”
“That means you did it right.” Chase peeked inside the bag she’d dropped on his lap. Two bundles wrapped in white parchment paper, two single-serving packages of nacho cheese Doritos and two Heath bars. When she shoved two bottles of grape soda in the beverage holders, he gave her a dubious look. “How’d you know this is exactly what I would’ve gotten?”
“Lucky guess?” She twisted the top on a bottle of soda. “Or maybe there’s an index card that lists Sundance’s own PBR bull rider Chase McKay’s favorites! on the wall by the hot food section.”
“Are you serious?”
“Christ. That’s embarrassing.”
“Where to now?” she asked with a smirk.
“Follow the signs to Devil’s Tower.” They started the twisty ascent out of Sundance. After a few miles they entered a valley and he said, “Turn left and take the road until it stops.”
“This is considered a road?”
“In Wyoming? Yes.”
Once they came around the last bend, Ava said, “Oh wow. Look at that view.”
Devil’s Tower jutted up, the land surrounding it a rainbow palette of red dirt, dark green pine trees, caramel-colored buttes against the backdrop of a cloudless blue sky. “You like?”
“It’s spectacular. I’ll bet most tourists don’t even know this view is here.”
“Some stumble on it. But it’s mostly a local secret.” Chase tossed her a bag of Doritos and a hot dog.
As he slowly unwrapped his food, the familiar scent of spicy chili, creamy cheese, tangy mustard and onion caused a sharp pang, not of hunger, of homesickness. It’d been ages since he’d taken time to stop at the Shell station that’d at one time been a constant in his life.
Ava released a long, deep moan. A moan that sounded like a woman about to come undone by pure pleasure.
Chase shot her a sideways glance. Her beautiful face had a dreamy look best described as post-orgasmic. From sucking on a hot dog?
“That’s the best chili dog I’ve ever eaten.” Ava kept making throaty groans.
His brain overloaded. He imagined dragging her across the console and giving her another reason to moan. Pushing down her sweatpants and pressing her legs wide open. Burying his face between her thighs. Turning her moans into screams of ecstasy as she came against his mouth in a wet rush.
He jumped at the closeness of her voice in his ear and snapped, “Jesus, what?”
“Are you okay?”
“Uh. Yeah. Why?”
“Oh, you’re just squeezing that chili dog so hard I thought the meat might shoot straight out of the bun.”
Dammit. He eyed the balled-up wrapper in her hand. “You finished yours? Already?”
“I was hungry,” she retorted. “And for all your grumbling about being starved, you sure were looking at that hot dog like you wanted to eat something else.”
You have no idea. Chase took a bite and chewed.
“Can we skip the ATV thingy today and check out the countryside?”
“Good. And will you drive so I can film?”
Thank God. Nothing he hated more than being a captive passenger on a trip without purpose. “Sure. You want me to choose our route?”
When her extraordinary aquamarine eyes lit up, Chase was nearly struck stupid by her beauty.
“That would be awesome! But I need footage of this spot before we go.” She snagged her cameras off the backseat and hopped from the car.
Chase ditched his hoodie and exited the SUV. Slipping on his shades, he parked his backside against the front quarter panel and watched her.
She’d videotape, then grab her camera and click off a few still shots. The elegance of her movements, even simply crouching down in the gravel were naturally graceful. Several strands of glossy brown hair blew around her face, but she didn’t swipe them away. In that moment, Chase wished for a camera to capture the loveliness of Ava’s profile.
She smiled at him. “Bored yet?”
“Nope. It’s a gorgeous day, I’m hauling around a gorgeous…ah, friend. What more could a man want?”
Her sultry look said a real man should want more. A lot more. Like hot kisses and frantic touches that led to bare skin rubbing on bare skin. Like bodies slamming together, hard breathing and moans of raw pleasure. But Ava didn’t give voice to that image. She didn’t have to. Every thought was right there on her beautiful face.
Movement on the edge of the ridge caught his eye. “Quick, get your video camera.”
She picked up the equipment and said, “Where?”
Chase pointed to the sky. “There. Two red-tailed hawks are hovering on a thermal.”
“I see them.” They didn’t speak, just watched the grace of the birds. Circling higher, swooping down, then floating, remaining so still they’d look like blots on the horizon to the casual observer. After the birds drifted away, she shut off her camera and faced him. “Thank you.”
He didn’t ruin the moment and confess if he hadn’t been observing her, he wouldn’t have noticed the birds. He smiled back. “No problem. You ready to move on?”
Seeing the long line of tourists at the Devil’s Tower entrance, he suggested an alternative.
“How much of this is McKay land?”
“A lot of it.” All of it for the last ten miles in fact. But he knew she couldn’t grasp the enormity of McKay land holdings.
“I’m not sure how the ranch succession works. Do you, or will you own part of it?”
“Not since I opted out.” He settled in the driver’s seat and stole glances at her when she talked about expectations of family businesses. “How does the succession work in yours?”
“My mom was an only child, so she inherited everything. She’s been at the helm of the Cooper Hotel chain and the other businesses in the Cooper conglomerate since before I was born. Since I’ve no interest in running it, my brother has been learning the ropes, but I still own a chunk of it by default.”
She was an heiress to the Cooper conglomerate, which meant she was loaded. Like really fucking loaded. “This might sound weird, but as an actress, did you purposely use Cooper as your last name because of…?”
“Paris Hilton? Yep. Worked for her, didn’t it? But while I’m on sabbatical, I’m Ava Dumond.”
He drove, although it seemed they stopped every two miles so she could get out and film something new. Everything from gnarled fence posts to different breeds of cows, to clusters of scrub oak. She got a huge kick out of the frolicking calves and the bovine mamas mooing a warning at her.
Chase noticed the calves were awful young for the time of year. He squinted at the mile marker at the end of the gravel road. Near as he could tell they were near the Glanzers’ place. He’d heard through the McKay grapevine the trio had increased their acreage the past five years and were experimenting with different breeds. He didn’t want to stick around and find out if these late-born calves were theirs.
Ava put the video camera away. “How far are we from the closest town?”
“Why? Bored already?”
“No, Sundance, I’m not bored. Geez. Give me some credit.”
“I need to use the facilities.”
“Okay.” Chase stopped the car on the edge of the road. He pointed across the field. “See that tree? It’ll offer some privacy, but be careful when you climb over the barbwire fence. Watch out for snakes.”