“You’re not innocent, you little mutt.”
“Be nice to him,” Jill insists and brushes her fingers through my hair. “He’s just a baby.”
“He’s got you wrapped around his paw.”
She grins and watches me with a sassy expression on her gorgeous face.
“It seems he’s not the only male around here under your spell. I have to let him outside, but I don’t want you to move from this exact spot. Understand?”
“Maybe I need to use the bathroom too.”
“You have thirty seconds.”
I run downstairs with the dog, let him out back, and set on a pot of coffee before returning to my bedroom. Jill is perched on the edge of the bed, the sheet wrapped around her. Her brown hair is tousled and falls around her face and shoulders, and her eyes are still sleepy.
She offers me a shy grin, and my gut clenches in lust and something else I’m not quite ready to recognize. “Hi.”
“Hi yourself.” I lean my shoulder on the doorjamb and cross my arms over my chest, watching her.
“Everything okay downstairs?”
“Fine,” I confirm. “I started some coffee.”
“Oh good, thanks.” She stands to pull on her clothes, but I move quickly, grab her hand, and pull her behind me to the master bathroom.
“What are you doing?”
“We’re going to take a shower.”
“I thought we were going to have coffee.”
“We will. After our shower. I owe you a few more orgasms.” Her jaw drops and she watches as I tug my boxers down and step out of them. “Like what you see?”
To my surprise she reaches out and runs just the tip of her finger down the length of my cock to the tip and back again. “I love this.”
I back away before I explode like a teenager and turn on the shower. “Stay with me this weekend.”
“I have things to do . . .”
I pull her to me and tilt her chin back. “Stay.”
“First things first.” I pick her up and carry her into the shower. “I have to dirty you up before we get clean again.”
“Oh good. I like getting dirty.”
“Hi, Max.” Jill has Max on speakerphone and is typing furiously on the screen. We’ve been hanging out at the house today because it’s just been too cold outside to show her the ranch. “Yes, I found a few places and was about to send you an email.”
“Thanks, Jill. I appreciate it.”
She grins and nods. “No problem. Let me know if any of these look good and we’ll set up a time to go see them.”
“Sounds like a plan,” he replies.
“Great. See you soon.” She hangs up and her fingers continue to fly over the screen.
“How’s Max?” I ask.
“Fine. He’s looking for property to buy here.”
I nod and curse myself for being jealous. Who the fuck cares if Max wants to buy a house? I like Max. He’s my friend.
But I don’t love him calling Jillian.
“What have you been doing outside?” she asks while her nails click on her keyboard.
“Checking on things. It’s actually warming up out there a bit.”
“It’s nine at night,” she reminds me with a raised brow. “Is it clouding up?”
“Nope, but the ice is melting. In fact”—I walk to her and take her phone, set it aside, and pull her to her feet—“I have something to show you.”
“Yes.” I help her step into her boots and bundle her up in her coat and scarf and take her hand in mine, leading her out the back door. We walk past the chicken coop, past the barn to the pasture beyond, where I’ve laid out a thick quilt to lie on and a quilt to cuddle up in.
“You want me to sit on the snow in the middle of winter at this time of night?”
“No,” I reply and guide her onto the quilt. “I want you to lie on it.”
She tilts her head, watching me, and I smile. “Trust me.”
“Okay.” We lie down, side by side, and I pull the heavy quilt over us and we gaze up at the sky.
“I love the sky at night.” I turn my head to look at her profile as she stares up at the stars. “Everyone always talks about how big the Montana sky is, especially when it’s blue, but honestly, I think it looks bigger, more magnificent, on a clear winter night.”
“It’s gorgeous,” she whispers. “Look! A shooting star!”
“This is what I missed the most,” I murmur. “Josh and I used to sneak out at night and come out here to lie in the grass and watch the stars. Of course,”—I laugh and take her hand in mine, linking our fingers—“Mom knew. She just didn’t mind that we were sneaking out to look at stars rather than get in trouble.”
“Yeah, sounds like you were real party animals.”
“That came a bit later.”
“Oh my God, Zack, look!” She points to the left, where the mountains loom in the darkness, and I see it too. “Are those the northern lights?”
“Looks like we’re gonna get a light show.” We watch raptly while green and blue streaks fill the sky above the mountain. “Amazing. I’ve never seen them before.”
“Never?” she asks. I glance over at her. Her eyes are wide with wonder as the colorful lights fill the sky.
“What did you miss the most?” I ask her.
I nod and we lie silently for a long while, watching the night sky give us the best show around.
“Why did you stay away for so long?” she asks softly without looking at me. I didn’t plan on this being the time when we’d share our secrets, but it’s appropriate. Montana is coming to life around us, and this is the most honest, calm moment of my life.
“War sucked ass,” I begin and point to another shooting star. “But living with Kensie was worse.” Her hand tightens in mine, but otherwise there is no indication that she’s uncomfortable, so I continue. “We got pregnant too young. Way too fucking young. It was a mistake, but I was taught to take care of my responsibilities, so I did. Married her. But with a wife and kid on the way, there was no way I could do college. The army was the best thing for all of us. So we left.”
I take a deep breath and let the memories come, wishing it were different.
“It was never good. Kensie is a selfish mess. She was never a touchy-feely mom, and I knew that, but she met Seth’s needs. He was just barely in school when I began the deployments, and when I came home on leave, he was always clean and happy.”