His grin was slow. So, he did have all his teeth, and they were pearly white. She ran her tongue over her dry lips.

“My brother owns it,” he said. “I’m helping him out. It looks like we might be seeing a lot of each other. Name’s Cal-Cal Braxton.”

His thumb idly stroked the rope. For a moment, she was mesmerized as she watched the hypnotic movement.

“You know, you shouldn’t drive with the top down in this heat,” he said.

She almost laughed. It wasn’t the heat from the sun that had momentarily stolen her wits. Cal was good. Ah, yes, he knew all the moves that made a woman yearn for him to caress her naked skin. And he made those moves very well.

She drew in a deep breath. “I’m Nicole Scott. You can call me Nikki-most people do.”

He leaned forward, resting his arms against the saddle horn. “The one who likes it rough.”

He’d remembered. Her pulse sped up a fraction.

He glanced down the road. The cow was trotting off completely unconcerned that she wasn’t supposed to be out of her own pasture. Before he decided to chase after the cow, Nikki spoke.

“You have something against liking it rough?” She certainly hoped not.

He straightened, reining in his prancing horse. “No, but I never would’ve expected it from someone like you.”

Now what did he mean by that?

“Bessie, damn it, not that way!” He glanced at Nikki once more and smiled. “The ranch is just up the road on the left.” He pointed toward an intersection. “Watch for the signs.

“I should be up there before you get signed in and I’ll show you where you’ll be staying.” He whirled the horse around and took off after the cow.

She smiled to herself, liking the idea that he’d remembered she liked it rough. Maybe she should’ve told him she didn’t like to give up control, either. She preferred being the one in charge, no matter what she did.

But then, why scare him off?

She laughed and shifted gears. Tonight should prove interesting. But first, she wanted to soak in a hot tub of bubbles and wash off the layer of dust it felt like she wore.

Did they have spa treatments at the ranch? She could certainly use a massage and a facial. Maybe she’d splurge and have a pedicure, too. After all, Marge was paying for it. She might as well get her money’s worth.

This was going to be the easiest assignment she’d ever had. A little rest and relaxation, and from the way Cal had looked at her, a whole lot of hot sex.

Yum…this was too, too sweet.

Man, this was sweet. Cal wondered how he’d gotten so lucky. Nicole Scott had left the top button of her white blouse undone. But had she left it unbuttoned to let the wind cool her skin or because she knew it would stir a man’s blood to the boiling point?

Sex appeal had oozed from her. From her long, lingering looks to her full, pouty lips. His gut told him Nicole was the kind of woman who didn’t play for keeps. And that was just the kind of relationship he wanted-the kind he was used to. No strings attached. He’d learned his lesson about getting even a little serious. He’d dated Cynthia for a couple of weeks and he still hadn’t shaken her loose. The woman didn’t know the meaning of the word no.

His cell phone rang as he herded Bessie back into the pasture. He pulled it out of his pocket and flipped it open. Jeff? What did he want?


“You’re about to have a visitor, buddy.”

Cal’s eyes narrowed. He and Jeff went back a long way. They’d roomed together in college and been friends ever since. Jeff was one of the few sports reporters who actually cut him a little slack.

Cal scanned the open pasture, not liking the sound of Jeff’s dire prediction, then shook his head. Paranoia didn’t sit well with him.


“A reporter.”

A sour taste formed in his mouth. The press had labeled Cal the bad boy of football. Maybe he hadn’t been a saint, but they’d painted the picture blacker than it was. That, and Cynthia, were the reasons he was at his brother’s ranch. He’d needed a change of scenery so he could get his head screwed on straight.

But it seemed they’d found him.

“Who is he?”

“Not a he. A she, and they call her The Barracuda.”

“Great.” This was all he needed. “Talk to me.”

“Nicole Scott. She goes by Nikki.”

His eyebrows rose. That hot little number in the black sports car? He shook his head. Nah. Sexy, yes. Hot, yes. But a hard-edged reporter? Not likely.

“I’ve met her. She doesn’t look like a sports reporter.” Jeff had to be pulling his leg. And his brother was probably in on the joke.

“She’s a looker, isn’t she?” Jeff asked. “I’ve had a few daydreams about her myself, but the one time I asked her out she gave me a cold stare that practically froze me to the spot. Then she informed me that she made it a policy to never date coworkers. But she’s definitely hot looking.”

“That’s an understatement.”

Jeff’s cynical laugh came through the phone. “Don’t make the same mistake I did and let her sexy looks fool you. She didn’t get the tag Barracuda for nothing. Her parents are two hotshot lawyers. Remember the Snyder case from a few years back?”

“Isn’t that the one where they had the corporate lawyers crying when they left the courtroom? It was all over the papers.”

“Her mother and father are the ones who got all that money for the families. Believe me, Nikki Scott takes after her parents. She might have grown up with a silver spoon in her mouth but when she goes after a story, she’s like a starving dog after a meaty bone. She’s the one who went head-to-head with the man running for senator. James Rutledge, remember him?”

Before Cal could say anything, Jeff continued.

“She exposed the family that he’d dumped. Hell, he didn’t even pay child support. Let his kid grow up practically in the gutter. She became a bounty hunter or something. It was in all the papers.”

“If this reporter is so tough, then why is she here? I’d think my story would be the last thing she’d want to cover. Are you sure she’s not here to just relax and take a nice vacation?”

“I don’t think she would have agreed to do the story if the boss hadn’t talked her into taking it. I bet that’s exactly what happened, too, because Marge came to me first and asked about you, and believe me, there were dollar signs flashing in her eyes. I told her I didn’t have any idea where you were, but apparently, she did some research. And as long as I’ve been at the paper, Nikki Scott has never taken a vacation. If I were you, I’d hightail it to an island far, far away.”

Cal looked at the cloud of dust Nikki’s car had made. It was just settling back down to the road.

Nikki had set him up, and what was worse, he’d fallen for it. She was probably laughing her ass off at his gullibility.

His jaw began to twitch. “No, I won’t be running away.”

“I don’t like the sound of your voice.”

Cal chuckled, but his laughter held little humor. “Maybe I’m tired of being crucified by the press-present company excluded. It’s time I gave a little back.”

“I almost feel sorry for her.”

“You should.” Cal said good-bye and closed the phone before slipping it back inside his pocket.

He’d had his fill of people who lied through their pretty, white teeth. Finally, he had the upper hand. He’d give Nikki her story, but she’d damn well earn every word she wrote about him.

He was going to enjoy this.

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