Read Chapter 6 before you continue…
It began with only the softest brush of his lips against hers before he raised his head to see her reaction. Her eyes were closed and her face turned up towards his. But then she sighed and relaxed against him and he lost control as jolts of pleasure shot through his body. He crushed his mouth against hers and nibbled at her sweet lips. He let his tongue dart out and flick the corners of her mouth until she relented and allowed him access to her honeyed depth. He angled his mouth so he could swirl and capture as much of this honey that she offered him. And still it was not enough.
Groaning with frustration and need, he moved his hand from her cheek into her hair until he had it pressed against the back of her head to deepen the kiss. His other hand moved from her waist to her derriere until he could prove to her the extent of his arousal. He kneaded and plodded and roved her body as much as their position would allow. And still it was not enough.
He did not understand it. This hunger and craving. For her. Desire for a woman he was familiar with. Even desire for a stranger he had occasionally indulged in. He had an active sexual life that most men only boasted about without any basis. But this was different. Even this early in their relationship, he knew this feeling was new and unique and maybe even a once in a life kind of feeling. It scared him to the core but he could not turn away. He only knew her for a couple of days but he felt as frenzied as an animal with his need to touch her – and touch her everywhere he must. But more so, he wanted her to touch him. And then she did.
He felt rather than heard her moan against his mouth as her hands brushed against his collar before they snaked into his hair. Her arms raised, he could feel her breasts press against his chest and thought the heat radiating from his body would ignite their clothes and disintegrate them to soot despite their wet state. But they did not and suddenly it seemed that they had too many clothes on. Again he felt like an animal, but having her breasts pressed against him through their clothes was no longer enough and he needed to touch them naked with his palms. He needed to see what they looked and felt like and if they looked and felt as good as his imagine was currently promising them to be.
Both of his hands joined to the front of her shirt as he fumbled to open the buttons that hid his goal from him. He didn’t break their kiss and was oddly calculating somewhere in the back of his mind that this might be the longest kiss that he ever participated in, but he needed more. His tongue plundered her mouth the way his hands searched to plunder her body. He almost had all the buttons undone and thanked his lucky stars that she had not protested at his optimistic overtures.
And then somewhere a horse whinnied. He felt Elaina tense. And before he knew what was happening, she had broken his record breaking kiss and was pulling away, leaving him to feel bereft. Her buttons forgotten, he tried to pull her back into his arms. “Please,” he begged, knowing how weak it made him sound but he felt like a starving man so he did not care. And again he did not understand this emotion and he was not comfortable with it but he could not help it either.
Elaina shook her head as if to clear her head. Her eyes were dazed and that only reignited his desire. “I have to go,” she whispered, but her tone sounded resolute.
“No, you don’t.”
“I do.” She turned and walked over to the horse that he had earlier seen tethered to a tree. He wanted to stop her but knew it would be futile. So instead he watched her get on her horse in one smooth motion and, despite his disappointed passions, he could not fail to admire how regal she looked sitting on the beast. But then she turned towards him and he saw the grim look in her eyes and the firm set of her mouth and heard her clearly state, “Forget this ever happened,” before she kicked her horse into a gallop and rode away.
Matthew felt his temper spark, albeit belatedly. Like hell he would forget this ever happened! If the painful proof of his desire straining against his clothes had anything to say about it, this definitely happened. And it was not over.
Angry as a teased mule, he marched over to the tree behind which he had set up his tripod and left his camera to begin gathering his belongings. He was in no mood to carry on with his evening’s task and, frankly, his body was in no state to do so either. Forget this ever happened. Ha! He could not even if he wanted to. He threw his backpack over his shoulder and climbed the side of the hill to the road where he had parked Mr. McKenna’s pickup, glad that the exercise was dissipating whatever remnants of his body’s yearnings that was left over from after Elaina had so easily dismissed their kiss.
He paused as he placed his equipment on the passenger seat of the pickup. Only now he came to realize that in less than the three days that he came to know her, Elaina had already walked or rode away from him four times. It was turning out to be a really bad habit on her part and he could not countenance such dismissals. And as he started the engine, he promised himself one thing – she will not be so lucky during their next encounter.
She did not want to think about it. Yet it was all she thought about since it happened. That kiss was now the bane of her existence. She had been too embarrassed by her own indiscretion to sleep well and had gotten up before the crack of dawn. Restless, she had taken her favorite horse, a mustang named Bottles, out for a ride. They had sprinted across the countryside with the freedom that only the solitary hours before dawn could permit. The mustang had always been a bit on the wild side, broken but never quite letting go of its intractable past when it used to roam free in the woods of Lainie’s Creek before their old foreman had found him stranded and brought him to the ranch. It was just the kind of free-spirited abandon Elaina had needed that morning to tire her body out until her mind was emptied of that damnable kiss.
But despite her determination for the opposite effect, she had eventually ridden Bottles to the very spot where the kiss had taken place. Matthew had kissed her thoroughly out of her wits during the sunset before, and she did not know if it was because of the certain similarity with the pinkish-orange glow that dappled across the dawn sky, but she had been drawn to the creek to relive that kiss in her mind as the sun came into full view. Then, as if conducting some ritualistic self-flagellation, Elaina had returned to the ranch to set up a grueling schedule for herself to drive the tantalizing memory out.
By noon, she had only achieved half of her set goals. She had managed to complete all the chores around the ranch that she had self-employed, including taking over Jonny’s share since he had gone off to another of his blasted photography tutorials with Matthew. Yet her mind had been unable to rest more than five minutes before tracing back to the memory of Matthew’s kiss.
Her traitorous body had robbed her of her senses and she could feel no compunction in blaming Matthew thoroughly for the shortcomings of her mind. He had done this to her – left her with this mortifying consciousness of loss even as she had finally managed to break off the kiss. But the truth was that she had never been kissed before – never like this.
She had a few boyfriends in her past and had experimented with the physical aspects of a romantic relationship out of curiosity and guilty pleasures. And she had lost her virginity out of spite. After Brooke had betrayed her with Pollack on her prom night and then promptly left town the week after, Elaina had taken only a couple of weeks to grieve over the incident. Then she had searched for validation with a vengeance.
Brooke’s absence had left an opening for the next high school sweetheart. When Elaina had entered school one morning soon after, without even meaning to, she had found herself as the first runner up for the coveted position. She had always been one of the more popular girls in school but even so, she noticed a change in the way her schoolmates began paying her extra attention and approached her in the classrooms and hallways. At first, she accepted it to have been sparked by a curiosity as to Brooke’s absence or from a wish to learn how soon she would return. But then she realized that they were more interested in her and to earn her approbation.
She had been in no mental state to reciprocate their appeals initially. Moreover, she was wary of the sudden universal appreciation. Then, one morning, she got up and was tired of fighting the pedestal that all the boys of her school were so eager to place her on and even the girls seemed to approve rather than envy. And Elaina decided to take up the opportunity to learn what it felt like to be Brooke. Accept, despite being best friends with the queen of high school all her life, she was not Brooke. Within only the two weeks leading to their graduation, Elaina had tired of all the courtesy and putting up the front to enjoy it. Sure, she had accepted their football team’s star quarterback’s invitation to be his date to the graduation after-party but she did not feel up to the task. She had looked the part of the elegant heroine during the event but felt like a phony.
And afterwards, she had acquiesced to her date’s request to go with him to the local motel room he had rented and given him her virginity. When it was all over, she could only remember what Brooke had said about Pollack having been a disappointment. She did not want to commiserate with her former best friend but she did. To be polite, she had continued with her quarterback to give this new life a fair shot and him an opportunity to prove his next four attempts at love making up to par.
She had been so polite during the whole façade that when she had finally broken it off with him to return to the self-contained existence she had adopted since Brooke left, he had acted as if hit by a brick. Later, during one of the few times her old girlfriends had visited her at the ranch in an attempt to reconnect with her after high school, she had learnt that he had abused her publicly at one of their summer soirees. She, however, was to the point beyond caring. By then Elaina had moved on to her next crisis – her father wanted to ship her off to the college to which he thought she had been accepted but she wanted to remain home and work on the ranch. And the biggest problem was that she had lied about ever having even applied.
So here she was five years later, in the stable, brushing her workhorse after his cool down and tending to his dietary needs. This was the life. She had her privacy, she was working on the ranch she loved so much, and she was in the bosom of her family, which was soon to increase in number. She felt miserable. It had been so many years since she had begun to fester her bitterness towards Brooke that it had almost become second nature to her. It was not at all a positive feeling to draw strength and determination from but it had worked for her. But now suddenly she wanted to be free of its bondage – free enough to be solely who she was without any shadows of her past conflicts hounding her. And it was all Matthew’s fault.
He had come into her life and showed her that she could be desirable. His interest in her to become part of his project had flattered her senses and, not immune to all of the superficial desires prone to human nature, he had gratified her need to feel accepted beyond her private sphere. And then he had to go and kiss her the way he did and she lost her head. But even as she tried to convince herself that her response to his kiss was simply an attempt to allow him to prove her irresistibility to her, she could not deny that her reactions originated from baser instincts.
She had reveled in the way his mouth had devoured hers and his hands had possessed her body, and she had wanted to indulge in that sexual high even as her mind had battled over the idea that her heart needed for him to prove her a desirable woman against the knowledge of his connection to Brooke. The irony that her most private aspirations could possibly be answered by her nemesis’s probable boyfriend did not escape her. She really must steer clear from Matthew’s path. Thank god he is only here for a week!
As if on cue, she heard his voice outside the stable. “You really think I did well?” he was saying, even as his voice drew nearer to the entrance of the stable.
“It was just ace-high for your first lesson,” Jonny returned as they entered.
Elaina noticed the that both her brother and Matthew were leading in their separate horses, gleeful grins stretching their lips, before slipping further into her own horse’s stall and shutting its door. Unfortunately, in her rush, she miscalculated her swing and a resounding crash of wood against wood echoed through the hollowed structure. Her horse neighed gruffly in protest.
“Is that you, Bobby?” her brother called out, obviously mistaking her to be their stable keeper.
Elaina kept silent, placing her hand on her horse’s flank in apology for startling him and to sooth his agitated emotions. Another big mistake as her horse whinnied again, this time giving away their location.
The door to their stall swung open and Jonny peered in. “Oh, it’s only you,” said he.
“Yup, only me,” she muttered, too dejected at being found to be affronted by her brother’s less than enthusiastic greeting.
“I guess you’ll do as well,” Jonny was saying. “Can you help Matthew to put the horses back in their stalls and teach him how to check them after a ride?”
“Why can’t you show him,” asked Elaina in a panicked voice.
“Hayden needs me outside with him for something. I promised I’d get back soon as I had the horses settled. I was hoping to find Bobby to show him but he’s obviously out.”
“I’ll go and see what Hayden needs so you can carry on with Matthew.”
Jonny shook his head and stepped forward into the stall. “I appreciate the offer, Sis, but that wouldn’t be wise just now,” his voice barely above a whisper. “Hayden seems mightily irritated about something and with all the chores I’m missing for my photography lessons, I don’t want him to turn his irritation on me. So will you help?”
As much as she did not want to be left alone with Matthew and despite the many times she had called her little brother a pest to his face, she loved Jonny and knew Hayden’s dark moods too well. So she agreed to his request and what she was sure was her impending doom. She wanted to tell herself that the kiss her younger brother smacked on her cheek before bounding out of the stables was worth it, but could not muster up the courage and enthusiasm to teach Matthew, of all people, to take care of horses.
And then Matthew came into view and stepped into the stall in which she had taken refuge, an ominous smile on his lips as he loomed over her. “My, my, my, who have we here?” said he, sounding too much like a villain to be of comfort.
Read Chapter 8