Still Irresistible

By: Dawn Atkins


AN IRRITATED WHINNY DREW Callie Cummings’s gaze to the barn, where a cowboy was backing a reluctant horse into the corral with a tight grip on its halter.

Callie caught her breath. It was Deck. She would have recognized that butt blindfolded.

Providing she could touch it.

Touch it. An automatic ping of lust passed through her. And why not? What woman with blood in her veins wouldn’t respond to Declan O’Neill and his fabulous behind?

But she wasn’t here to appreciate Deck’s backside. Or his front side, for that matter, which also delivered. She was here to turn her father’s failing dude ranch into a desert spa.

A daunting task for a Manhattan event planner, but Callie was determined to succeed.

She had no choice. Her father was counting on her. When he’d said he was afraid he’d have to sell, he’d sounded so heartbroken it had been like losing her mother all over again.

Callie stood poised on the bottom porch step with her bag. Eleven years hadn’t reduced the tension between her and Deck. By unspoken agreement, they avoided each other during her frequent trips home. She could pretend she hadn’t seen him and go in, but Deck was ranch foreman and they had to work together. Better to get the first awkward conversation over with.

Plunge into the hard part, that was Callie’s way.

Dropping her bag, Callie took a steadying breath and marched toward the corral, her heart as jumpy as the horse Deck was wrangling, her feet wobbly in the kitten heels perfect for travel, but dangerously flimsy for the rocky desert ground.

You’re not in Manhattan anymore.

For better or worse, she was home. The Arizona sun, warm enough that January was high season, toasted Callie’s scalp and arms. The familiar smells—horse and creosote, hay and wood—made her both homesick and miserable. She missed the place and she dreaded it, too. Mixed memories. Always.

Reaching the corral, she leaned on the fence, trying to look casual, taking Deck in. Tall and lanky with broad shoulders and long legs, he had an animal grace that used to make her melt just watching him walk.

He had all the good-cowboy traits—honor, loyalty, strength, stoicism, skill—and none of the bad. He didn’t chew tobacco or drink or cheat or gamble or act crudely or have bad hygiene. He smelled of Irish Spring and leather and cedar and sunshine. And the only thing ratty about him was his ancient Stetson, but that looked classy.

That was old news. Eleven years old.

Bound by the shared tragedy of losing a parent, they’d fallen into each other’s arms for six incredible weeks their senior year.

“Hey, Deck,” she called. Too late, she saw she’d snagged her silk sleeve on the rough wood and frowned.

“This is no place for silk, Callie. Or anything white.” The crinkles at the edges of his sky-blue eyes deepened with humor. He looked rugged and knowing. And he was laughing at her.

Her cheeks warmed. “I just got here. Give me a minute to get grimy and start smelling like manure.” She hoped she’d sounded amused, not snotty. She never got it right around him.

He just looked at her. What was in his eyes? Disapproval? Superiority? He hadn’t been that way back then. Maybe she’d only assumed she’d understood him. The one thing they’d had in common was grief and need, after all. Now Deck seemed more guarded. On the other hand, when you had history, everything could mean something or nothing at all.

Deck’s expression shifted like clouds in changeable weather, but remained unreadable. She felt another sexual zing.

Did he feel anything? Anything at all?

The horse whinnied and pulled back on the reins.

“You training a new horse?” she asked, glad for an excuse to break an eye lock that felt like arm wrestling.

“Yeah. This is Brandy. Cal bought her for his lady friend. I’ve been working her for a while.” He ran his hand down the neck of the restless horse, who gave a ferocious snort. “Brandy’s still too spirited for a beginner.”

Her father’s lady friend, his first since Callie’s mother died, was Dahlia Mitford, whom Callie would meet for the first time today. She felt responsible for the woman, since she’d paid for the dating service, then prodded her father into using it. He’d hit the jackpot right out of the chute.

“Spirited? She looks demon-eyed with rage.”

“She just needs a rider she can trust, don’t you, girl?” Deck’s voice seemed to send ripples of relaxation down the horse’s body. He’d had the same effect on Callie those first awful days when she’d been frantic with sorrow, wild to escape her own skin.

Deck had saved her. Deck understood her pain, accepted it, having lost his dad to a brain aneurysm after a fall from a horse six months before her own mother’s car wreck.