Brazen (Elaine Hopper)

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[size=125:3uy9pujn][color=#FF8000:3uy9pujn]"Ugh!" Stephanie Dwyer slammed her apartment door and stomped her foot. "Creep!" A picture fell off the wall and shattered. Water logged, droplets dripped from her nose, her hair, and her eyelashes, pooling at her feet. She scowled. Her new high heels were utterly ruined.

Courtney hid a chuckle behind her hand. Pointing the remote control at the television, she clicked off the sitcom she’d been watching. Her lips crooked into a half smirk. "This one turned into a jerk, too?"

Stephanie dropped her purse onto the coffee table and flopped onto the couch. She kicked her shoes off, scaring the cat who ran into the other room. Staring at the ceiling, she said, "All men should crash and burn."

"That good?" Courtney sat forward, flicking her long black hair behind her shoulders. "There’s got to be a couple of good men out there. All we need is one good man each. Is that too much to ask?"

Stephanie lifted pained eyes to her roommate and best friend. "I don’t think there’s two good guys in this whole universe. I give up. I’ve had it. I’m not kissing any more toads."

Courtney looked thoughtful, tapping her chin with her forefinger. "Maybe we’ve been looking in the wrong universe."

Her friend was losing it big time. "What are you talking about?" Handsome Patrick had seemed so perfect, so wonderful. Until she’d caught him with Alyssa tonight, telling her the moon and stars shone only for her, that they were soulmates – the same pathetic lines he’d snared her with.

Some soulmate!

Jumping to her feet, Courtney paced in front of her. "What we need is a vacation away from the city to someplace totally different."

"With totally different kinds of men." Despite herself, her interest was piqued. "We need men who are the opposite of the bozos we’ve been finding here. No more big shot professionals."

< 2 >
Courtney grinned from ear to ear. "No more men who drive Mercedes."

"Or who wear Rolex’s." Steph started to feel alive again.

"Or who drink champagne." Courtney downed a sip of her diet soda. Mischief danced in her dark eyes. "Give me a down to earth man who guzzles beer."

The spirit grabbed Steph, rejuvenating her. "Give me a man who wears boots!"

Courtney slapped her thigh. "Are you thinking what I’m thinking?"

Steph couldn’t help but crack a smile. "Let’s catch ourselves a couple of cowboys."

"Yahoo!" Courtney crossed the room and turned on the computer.

Steph followed her, staring over her shoulder. Her friend went straight to the Ultimate Travel Agency’s booking page.

"I like Texas style. That okay with you?" Courtney’s fingers flew over the keyboard as she hummed Mickey Gilley’s tune, Looking For Love in All the Wrong Places.

"Sounds yummy. But no big cities. Nothing remotely like New York."

"Don’t worry. I’m in the mood for a little two-stepping and wrestling in the hay." Courtney paused, looking up at her. "Can you get off work for two weeks now? I’ll have Suzie reschedule all my appointments or give them to Glenn." Courtney was a psychologist and could pretty much set her own schedule.

"Tony owes me two years vacation. I’ll tell him to give me two weeks now or pay me severance plus vacation pay." Big words said with lots of bravado.

"You go girl." Courtney thrust the phone into her hands.

"You mean now?" Steph’s voice cracked, hoarse. Bother her boss at home on the weekend? He’d kill her. Suddenly she didn’t feel so brave. Rent was pretty high and she still owed student loans . . . .

< 3 >
"Unless you wanna pay for nonrefundable tickets and waste them?" Her roommate batted her eyelashes coyly, her finger poised over the enter key.

Scowling, Steph punched numbers on the phone. Sucking in a huge breath, she prayed Tony was in a good mood.

*

Courtney circled her hand above her head as she rode the mechanical bull. "Yahoo!" She pushed her new red cowboy hat back on her head, and then crooked her finger at Steph who line danced next to a hunky Billy Ray Cyrus look alike. "Your turn."

No way! Sore thighs and a broken rump weren’t her idea of vacation. She shook her head, unused to the feel of her own cowboy hat. Courtney had made her wear it, swearing no one could visit the Lone Star state without wearing a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and a Texas tie. For good measure, her friend had given her a big silver and turquoise belt buckle to wear, also. "I’ll pass."

"Oh no you don’t! Everybody rides the bull." The cutie pie next to her scooped her into his arms and carried her to the bull. His voice coated her like honey, and his eyes warmed her soul, making her tingly all over.

Half-heartedly she laughed, protesting, "But this is so Urban Cowboy . . . ."

The man’s wavy brown hair fluttered around his gorgeous face and she longed to run her fingers through it. "Tell you what, ma’am. You ride the bull and I’ll take you for a moonlight ride out on the range on my mare."

Tongue-tied, she smiled down at the man. "I don’t even know your name."

When he draped his arm across the front of the bull and smiled up at her, she about melted into his arms. He had the sexiest, liveliest eyes she’d ever seen. Deep brown, soulful, and fringed with the longest, sootiest lashes she’d ever seen on a man. They put her own to shame. "I’m Cory Lord. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

< 4 >
Her heart pitter-pattered so loudly she was sure he knew she was pleased to make his acquaintance, too. Breathlessly, she said, "I’m Stephanie Dwyer." She could kick herself for sounding so starry-eyed. Any moment she’d drool. They sure didn’t make men like this in the big city. Courtney should change careers and open a dating service. Thus far she had a completely satisfied client. And she’d never cared for men with hair longer than hers before. Texas must be seeping into her blood.

Courtney’s lilting laughter broke into her thoughts. "Who needs Patrick what’s his name?"

Unable to tear her gaze away from Cory, she smiled dreamily. "Patrick who?"

"Wahoo! I knew this place was magical. See if he has a friend for me?"

Like Courtney lacked male attention! Five knock-out cowboys vied for her friend’s attention.

The bull went wild beneath her, almost hurling her off before she knew her ride had begun.

"Scallop your rear and squeeze with your knees." Cory steadied her when she would’ve fallen off. His large calloused hands burned through the thin material of the shirt covering her waist.

Incredible yearnings to feel his hands slide lower blindsided her. She couldn’t string two coherent thoughts together or exhale air from her lungs. She’d never felt so exhilarated. So alive.

Perspiration had beaded her brow and upper lip by the time the bull slowed to a stop. Tendrils of damp hair clung to her heated cheeks.

"Your turn." She laughed as Cory lifted her down from the mechanical critter. He didn’t move back so she slid down his length, into the curve of his arms, feeling every sinew, every muscle of him.

As if on cue, the band slowed their pace and crooned a song of love turned wrong. Pathos washed over them and Cory sang in her ear, his warm breath driving her mad. His hands kneaded her waist, mesmerizing her, setting her on fire.

< 5 >
She’d never been engulfed in such flame, never been so mindless over any man. She didn’t even know where he lived or what he did for a living! All she knew was his name and that he had the most incredible effect on her and that he had the most kissable looking lips she’d ever laid eyes on.

She stared up at those lips: soft, yet firm and chiseled, darting out her tongue to lick her own suddenly dry lips. Undeniable hunger surged through her. She had to taste his lips, had to nibble them and tease them or she’d die. It was a photo-finish whether he leaned down to savor her lips first or if she tiptoed up to press her lips to his first. It wasn’t a contest but if it was, they were both winners.

No one had ever kissed her like this before. Not Patrick. Not Gary. Not any of their predecessors. Cory’s lips ignited fires deep in her belly, shooting fireworks through every nerve ending, and turning her knees to gelatin. If not for his strong arms encircling her waist or her arms latched around his neck, she’d have melted to the floor.

Instead, she strained against him, needing him fiercely, longing to be one with him. The feelings were so strong they scared her, yet she couldn’t break free. She’d rather stop breathing.

She wanted to protest when he drew away. Chill air chapped her bruised, swollen lips.

His gaze smoldered into hers. "Let’s check out the moonlight . . . . I’m getting claustrophobic." His teeth nipped her earlobe, and then his tongue lathed her ear.

Arching her neck she shivered against him. He was right. They were too closed in it was too smoky in here. Fresh air and privacy lured her. When he captured her hand in his larger one, she let him lead her outside.

< 6 >
Courtney flashed her a dazzling smile and gave her the thumbs up sign. She’d wrangled herself a cowboy, too – a young Robert Redford in a black cowboy hat that gazed at her with adoration and longing.

The music faded as Cory led her out to his truck. Crickets serenaded them and stars twinkled overhead in the Texas sky.

Warm fuzzies filled her and she looked at him seductively, giving into her urge to kiss him long and slow and rub her body against his. When he groaned into her mouth, she pressed closer. She knew she tempted him beyond all mercy. She shocked herself at her brazenness. But she couldn’t help herself. She couldn’t get enough of him. No man had ever gotten under her skin like this one. Not so like lightening nor so deep.

Tomorrow didn’t matter, only here and now. She wanted him like she’d wanted no one else.

Then Courtney’s laughter sliced through the spell, and Cory pulled back. Not much, but their lips no longer plundered each other. Their bodies still curved against one another, sharing heat, trembling.

Mortified at her own response, she laughed self-consciously. Huskily, she murmured, "I’ve never behaved this way before. I’ve never . . . ."

He put his fingers over her mouth, shushing her. "You’ve never fallen head over heels in love at first glance before?" He stroked her hair. "Me neither. I think you’ve bewitched me."

A slow, sexy smile dawned over his face that made her blood simmer. "Our hearts know each other." He dragged her hand to his chest and she splayed her fingers over his rapidly beating heart.

She smiled back, deciding to follow her heart. He trembled as she traced his strong jaw line with her fingernail and she delighted in her effect on him. "Guess I caught myself a cowboy."

< 7 >
Cory blushed, craned his neck, and gazed up at the stars. In a gruff, hesitant voice he said, "I’m not a real cowboy."

"No?" She let her gaze slide over his body, from the tip of his pointy, dusty cowboy boots, to his Texas tie. Languidly, she asked, "What are you then?"

"A venture capitalist from Chicago." He cocked a half grin at her. "I thought I’d come here to find a good old fashioned country girl."

The irony caught her off guard and she chuckled. "I’m from New York City. I wanted a good old fashioned country boy."

His gaze turned serious as he hauled her back against him. "Too late. . . . I’m staking my claim and I’ll fight any of those cowboys that come near you."

"Ditto, Sir. I didn’t really fancy living on the range with a lot of smelly cows anyway." She rubbed her aching behind and admitted, "And I don’t ever want to ride that darn mechanical bull again as long as I live!"

Cory laughed. "Done. How about we hold any more talk till morning?" He nibbled her neck as his hands caressed her heated flesh.

All thought fled.[/color:3uy9pujn][/size:3uy9pujn]

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