Sections: Free Home | Members' Entrance | Contact

Chapter One

“Have I mentioned how much trouble men are lately?” Korey blurted and plopped down on a barstool. “In particular our brother, your guy, and our brother.”

Her triplet sister Kiley glanced up with a bemused smile from where she stood at the kitchen peninsula working on another new holiday cookie recipe. “You mentioned our brother twice, but I suppose you meant to do it.”

Korey snatched a chocolate chip from one of the nearby bowls of ingredients. “He’s back to pestering me about finding a husband. Now that you’ve gotten fairly serious with Ethan, and Katie’s convinced him that she’s a lesbian, I’m numero uno on his matchmaking hit list.”

Kiley giggled and shook her head, the overhead light glinting off the blue streak in her long brunette hair. “He’s so easy to mess with. Imagine him believing that for even an instant!”

“Okay, he’s gullible, which is good for her. I just wish I would’ve thought of the idea first.” Korey popped the chip into her mouth and sighed so deeply that she blew out most of the air from her lungs. “I don’t have time for this nonsense. My business is growing bigger every day and I need to concentrate on it. Even my Yoga classes are getting more popular. Romance and all of the hassles that go with it are too problematic an interruption to deal with right now.”

“Believe me, I understand. Thanksgiving is three weeks away, which means my cookbook deadline is, too.” Her sister gazed at her with dreamy-eyes and gave her that sappy, I’m-so-in-love smile. “Still, busy as I am, I can’t pass up a second of—”

“Stop it! Stop it now!” Korey cut Kiley off. “I do not want to hear about your escapades between the sheets with your hunky rancher. Not, not, not.”

Katie walked into the big, warm kitchen laughing as she captured their attention. “I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one weary to the bone about hearing how super hot Ethan is. How—”

“Jealous. You’re both green with it, but neither of you will admit the truth.” Kiley grabbed the bowl of chocolate chips before Korey could reach for another morsel.

Korey and Katie snorted at the same time. Then Korey scowled at both of her sisters. “Moving past that bit of ridiculousness, I need help with Sam. He and Ethan have joined forces to make my life and Dante Tarrango’s, hell. The two idiots are trying to play matchmakers. Dante and I are so wrong for each other that it’s laughable.”

Her nearly identical sisters shared a sympathetic look. Kiley went back to mixing ingredients, focusing on her task. “Dante is… well, interesting. But you’re right. I can’t see the two of you getting together, ever.”

They all knew a lot of Dante’s story. He was Ethan’s longtime friend and newest ranch hand. It was a complicated arrangement that no one really understood. He’d had a tough childhood that he didn’t talk about. He’d retired at thirty-eight early this year after being a three times Super Bowl winning quarterback for the San Diego Padres. The man had almost more money than God from his earnings and mega endorsement contracts. He didn’t need to work at anything, but he chose to do so. And he had an ex-wife that wasn’t even to be mentioned.

Oddly, Korey took umbrage at her sister’s comment. “You think I’m not good enough for him? Not pretty enough?” She held up a hand before Kiley could respond. “Ignore that. Mouth opened and stupid words came out before I thought it through.”

Now Katie stiffened in irritation. “You are more than good enough for some old football player or any other man, for that matter.”

Her sister’s immediate defense brought everything back into perspective. She had gotten angry with Sam for nothing, really. Okay, he was a buttinski idiot. He couldn’t force her into a relationship she wasn’t interested in even considering. The same was true for Dante. Neither Sam nor Ethan could manipulate him into getting involved with a woman either right or wrong for him.

She sat back on the barstool, less stressed now than she’d been since arguing with Sam an hour ago when he’d stopped by her health food store. He’d upset her so much that she’d temporarily closed her business and come to seek out help from her sisters. They had different interests and opinions on many issues, but they were always there for each other. With Kiley looking toward the stove, she snagged another chocolate morsel and grinned at Katie, who winked and grabbed one, too.

“I know what you’re doing,” Kiley grumbled. She turned back to pull the bowl out of their reach.

“What are you trying out this time?” Korey studied the other ingredients, feeling uncertain about her sister’s latest cooking adventure. “Are those cranberries? Is that pineapple? You’re mixing them with chocolate chips?” That seemed wrong.

Kiley’s back stiffened and her mouth quirked in annoyance. “It will turn out great and you’ll be sorry you ever doubted me.”

“Try them on Sam first,” Katie suggested, stepping out of her sister’s possible reach should she decide to attack in some way.

“Okay, enough picking on Kiley,” Korey intervened, although she agreed that their brother should be the first guinea pig. “I’ve got a serious matter to talk about.”

Her sisters gave her their full attention. “Ethan wants me to go to Boots and Beers Friday night with you two. He said he will talk Dante into going as well.” When Kiley glanced at her, an eyebrow raised, Korey added, “I’m not sure the football jock turned cowboy is expecting to be set up by his friend. If that’s the case, he’s either naïve or had one too many concussions while playing football and isn’t thinking straight.”

“You agreed to go?” Katie asked sounding surprised.

Korey shook her head. “Of course I refused.”

“Good for you,” Kiley declared. “I’ll have a chat with Ethan about keeping his nose out of your business, and out of Dante’s.”

“But I’ve changed my mind,” Korey countered. “It isn’t really a double date if I don’t think of it that way. And I’m sure Dante won’t. Besides, it’s been a while since I’ve done any boot scooting and some beer tipping. I could use a little fun.” She climbed off the stool, her mood much improved. She grabbed her leather jacket from the back of the chair and headed out of the room. “One problem down. A couple dozen at the store to get back to.”

She heard her sisters talking quietly behind her, worried about her, hoping she wasn’t making a mistake. It wouldn’t be the first one she’d made as far as men were concerned. But how could this agreement to go share a night of friendly fun be a mistake? It seemed like a win-win thing to her.

***

Dante eased out of the battered ranch truck and breathed in relief that the workday was done. Every square inch of his body ached. He’d trained damn hard during the off-season and played for all he was worth during the football season for seventeen years. And he’d worked out religiously at the gym he belonged to, jogging five miles a day, too, since he’d quit the team nine months ago. He’d thought he was in good physical condition. Two hard-working weeks on the Talbot Ranch told him differently. He had a whole new respect for cowboys.

“Thinking about going back to football for that life of ease?” Ethan teased as he climbed out of the truck as well and grinned at him.

The two of them had torn down fences and replaced them with new ones for the last three days. Ethan’s other ranch hands had handled the regular endless chores. Dante had endured a definite learning curve and he sported a number of scratches and scrapes because of it. But he’d manned up and not begged for someone to kiss his boo-boos and make them better. At least Ethan had almost as many injuries, so he didn’t feel quite so inept. Still, he suspected that his friend’s pretty girlfriend played nurse with him each night when she came over. Ethan was sure in a good mood come morning when they rode to the range together, looking like a man well taken care of.

“Wishing I had a hot little woman to coddle me too. Give me a nice massage.” He looked at Ethan, who was glancing toward the ranch road and Kiley’s yellow VW bug heading in their direction. “Maybe she—”

“Don’t even go there,” Ethan warned. “The lady is all mine.”

“Just kidding, buddy.” He chortled, picturing the spunky brunette with a surprising blue streak in her long hair. He’d met her on his first day at the ranch and learned she was one of triplet sisters, something intriguing. He looked forward to meeting the other two.

Kiley Caruthers was nowhere close to the kind of woman he’d figured his friend would end up with. Ethan had started talking earlier this year about being ready to settle down after being a popular bachelor for a long time. Always a planner, he’d set guidelines for his future wife. The perfect woman would be experienced at mixing with the influential moneymakers and ranching power people that he dealt with regularly. She would be stylish, notable. And she would not be career-minded. Basically he’d wanted a woman who would serve as arm candy, be an impressive hostess, and focus on his social and personal needs. Sometimes a man could be an idiot.

Fortunately, Ethan hadn’t stuck to his goals for a potential wife. He’d fallen in love with someone who would challenge him the rest of his life. Kiley was the right woman for him. But they still had some issues to work through and weren’t setting a wedding date anytime soon.

Dante rolled his shoulders, trying to ease the kinks in the tight muscles there. He hadn’t been lucky in a family relationship like Ethan was, and he’d been really unlucky in love. He couldn’t even remember all of the women who had come and gone from his bed. Being a young football player who made it big early in his career had played havoc with his life. All of it – the money, the status, the fame, the fans, and the women who threw themselves at him – had been good at the beginning… and hell at the end.

He watched the VW driving closer and saw the way Ethan perked up. He was happy for his friend, really. Envious, too. He’d thought after years of playing around with one woman after another that he’d finally found the one. He’d never had love in his life, so his judgment skills had been flawed. Melinda had given him eight years of trauma… before she’d more than burned him on love and romance last year. Just the thought of her and what had happened left a sour taste in his mouth, had his gut tightening.

Thinking about the kind of night Ethan probably had ahead of him, depressed Dante even more. It had been months since he’d had a woman’s soft hands roam over his body, take him in her hot mouth; since he’d spent serious time pleasuring a woman before driving into her and satisfying them both. He was passionate about everything he did: playing football, working hard even as a ranch hand, and definitely in bed. Being celibate was damn hard. But he wasn’t near ready to get involved again. He didn’t need another woman messing with him.

He started to turn toward the foreman’s house that he was temporarily living in when he spotted another car pulling into the ranch yard. It was one of those super-mileage vehicles, the size he considered made for midgets. No way could he bend his six-foot-five-inch body into it. Peering closer, he caught a glimpse of another brunette behind the wheel. Rather than going about his business, he decided to wait and meet another of the triplets.

Seconds later, two car doors opened and closed. As he did each time he saw Kiley, Dante fought back a smile of amusement at the bright blue streak running down the left side of her mid-back length hair. Pretty conservative thinking for the most part, Ethan wasn’t normally a man who appreciated that kind of thing. But Dante thought it fit her personality.

As she hurried toward Ethan, beaming in obvious love, Dante shifted his focus to the other woman. He’d always favored blondes with small but perky boobs and long, lean legs. She was nothing like that and not actually identical to her sister. Her warm brunette hair was longer, almost reaching her waist, and silky smooth as it draped over one shoulder. Beneath the black leather jacket she wore a rich blue, low-necked sweater that seemed to barely contain a pair of bountiful breasts. Faded blue jeans hugged shapely legs. Immediately he had a vision of cupping those breasts in his bare hands, of those legs wrapped around him, of….

She walked right up to him and gave the impression of peering down her small nose in disgust, which was interesting since she was almost a foot shorter than him. She clearly wasn’t impressed with him for ogling her assets. He braced for her attempt at tearing him a new one, for sure calling him an asshole.

Instead, she took her sweet time moving her blue gaze over him. She studied his scuffed and dirt-covered boots, then his Levi’s with the many cuts from incidents with barbed wire and a couple of blood stains. “Rough day at work, tenderfoot?”

“Don’t be messing with my new ranch hand, Korey,” Ethan said, walking over with his arm draped around Kiley’s shoulders. “Dante might be new on the job, but he’s a darn hard worker and I need him.”

She ignored Ethan and went back to checking him out. Her playful gaze slid over his sheepskin-lined jacket and down to his jeans, stopping at his package. He’d been admired by women before, but, oddly, her examination felt much more intimate, as if she were physically touching him. His erection grew and he attempted to hide it with a casual shift of his stance.

Her blue gaze had darkened when she looked up at him. She smirked, letting him know that he wasn’t fooling her. “So, Tarrango, how does it feel being scrutinized so… intimately?”

“Not my first rodeo, as they say in cowboy terms.” He found himself grinning back at her provocative daring. “Did you like what you saw?” Even as he asked the question, he wondered what he was doing. This was the sister of his best friend’s woman. He didn’t want to cause any problems by taking this light flirtation thing too far.

“Not bad.” She winked and started to say more, but her sister stepped between them.

Kiley shot her a look that clearly said What the hell? Then she looked at him in apology. “She’s not always like this. Sometimes Korey even has manners.”

“Depending on…” Korey shrugged and let him determine the rest of the thought.

He chuckled. “If they’re deserved.”

She smiled and he felt the warmth of it spiraling through him. She had a way of smiling that turned her from pretty to something that made a man want to… He forced the unwanted desire away. Wrong place, wrong time, and for sure the wrong woman. Still, his erection continued pressing at the front of his jeans. He hoped no one else noticed his problem.

Ethan did, though, and sent him a curious glance. Thankfully, he opted to change the subject. “Why exactly are you here, Korey?”

She jutted out her chin in the same defensive manner Dante had seen Kiley show when Ethan annoyed her. “I’ve decided to accept your offer of going to the Boots and Beers tomorrow night. Suddenly I’ve got dancing feet and a thirst for Angry Orchard.”

“Angry Orchard?” Dante asked, reconsidering Ethan’s invitation to go out with him and Kiley that he’d turned down earlier. If Korey was going to be there, the night just might be okay after all. He could use some enjoyment in his life for a change.

“It’s a hard cider.” She licked her lips in a way that had him pulling in a shaky breath. “Beer, but much better.” Her eyes twinkled in amusement and challenge. “Sis and her beau are playing at matchmaking. You get that, don’t you?” She frowned at the accused pair. “I don’t know for sure about Dante, but I’m not interested in that.” She glanced at him. “No offense.”

“None taken.” His ego wondered what about him didn’t interest her. He didn’t think it was his physical appearance, because he’d caught her eyes darkening as she’d checked him over. He recognized a woman faltering on the edge of arousal before their strange little game of flirtation had been interrupted. “So, have we got a date for a non-date, then?”

“You any good at boot scooting, pro boy?”

He chuckled. Pro boy? “I guess you’ll have to find out.”

 


Would you like to read the rest of this story? It's available in our members' area. Joining is quick and easy. Click HERE!