“Why not?” The little boy crosses his arms and stares back at Cade, looking like a tiny version of his dad. Dark hair, set jaw, narrowed eyes. He can’t be more than seven or eight, but he carries himself a lot older than that as he glares at his dad from across the dinner table.
“Because they make a huge mess and are hard to contain. And I don’t need another living thing to take care of and clean up after.”
“I’ll feed it and take care of it.”
All heads swivel back and forth between the two. No one says a thing, but I can tell every single person sitting around the Eaton family dinner table is invested.
“You’re only bringing this up here so people will take your side,” Cade grumps.
“Willa already took my side. She said she’d back me up when it came to it.”
Willa groans and tips her head back. “Luuuuke. You can’t just throw me under the bus like that. We’re supposed to be a team.”
I stifle a smile, rubbing my fingers over my mouth as I focus on staring at the empty plate before me.
“Shit, sorry, Mom.”
Beau’s hand lands on my bare thigh. It’s casual, natural. He’s doing it to brace himself against laughing, but I can’t peel my eyes from his broad palm and calloused fingers, the way the size of him almost swallows me. The way my flesh gives beneath the firm squeeze.
It sets me ablaze instantly. I pull my stare away from the sight that’s got me hot and focused on keeping my breathing even, just in time to see Cade’s eyes bug out.
“Luke!” It’s clear the cuss word is not approved, but based on the hushed chuckles from around the table, it’s not exactly new ground.
“Dad, come on. What’s one little goat?”
The boy’s eyes go big now, wide and pleading. “But Dad, they butcher all the boy ones because they don’t produce any milk. They practically give them away.”
Luke is really taking his shot here; he’s gone from tough and driving a hard bargain to trying the sensitive approach.
“So what you’re telling me is that I’d be better off investing in a female goat and making you milk it so it produces something useful rather than work and mess?”
“Dad, please.” His voice cracks. I swear his eyes fill with tears. “Consider it a rescue goat.”
“Cade, come on. Live a little,” Harvey pipes up. I’ve been watching his keen gaze take in the entire exchange. I can tell he’s a great dad, loves his kids—his grandkids. I don’t know Harvey Eaton well, but I know he’s unlike any man I’ve had in my life.
Cade shoots his dad a dry look. “Of course you’d side with a child. What am I supposed to do with a male goat?”
As Harvey stares at his son, it seems like everyone is holding their breath. Beau’s hand tightens on my leg. I hope it leaves marks. I chance a glance over at him, noting the way he’s lifted a fist up over his mouth.
Harvey makes a contemplative grumbling noise while scrubbing at his beard. “Well, you could try milking the male goat. But that might get weird.”
The most unladylike noise I’ve ever made leaves me in a flurry of trying, and failing, to breathe deeply. Finally, I focus less on Beau touching my bare skin as giggles overtake me at the absurdity and inappropriateness of the older man’s joke.
Willa loses it. I’m talking sprays water from her mouth. She gets up and walks away, swiping furiously at her mane of red hair.
Jasper gets a wildly amused, shit-eating grin on his face.
Beau turns toward me, huffing a soft laugh against the curve of my neck. It’s so hot out, so stagnant, that I lean into the rush of air on my hot skin.
And Cade? Cade just sits there, glaring at his dad. “You’re getting worse the older you get. You know that?”
I can see Harvey biting at the inside of his cheek, trying so hard to keep a straight face. “What are you talking about?”
“Dad. You just made a joke about … ” Cade swipes a hand through his hair and looks at his son before deciding to forge ahead anyway. “Me jacking off a goat.”
A high-pitched gasp lurches from Beau, who is now rubbing at his eye sockets.
“Cade, watch your mouth at the dinner table. And get your head out of the gutter. Male goats have nipples too.”
Cade gapes at his dad. “You fucking serious right now?”
Harvey shakes his head. “I think. They might. Okay, fine. I wasn’t talking about their nipples.” And then he bursts out laughing along with everyone else while Cade drops his head down on the table. His shoulders shake, so I’m pretty sure he’s laughing too.
“Okay, enough about Cade and his goat handjobs,” Harvey announces.
I hear a, “There is no me and my goats,” from Cade, but Harvey ignores him and turns his attention to Beau and me. “Let’s talk about the new love birds.”
All my laughter comes to a screeching halt, and a heavy pit of dread drops into my stomach. I don’t want to talk about Beau and me.
For the past several days, we’ve worked well together. As in, we see each other in passing. Beau heads out on the ranch every day with his brother, and I work at the bar. At night, I sleep in my excruciatingly hot trailer while thinking about whether I should chance going into the air-conditioned house.
To find out if Beau is a prude or not.
My money is on not, but every time I get up and almost make it there, I stop. I’m too chickenshit to find out.
“Set a wedding date?” Harvey’s perceptive eyes bounce between Beau and me curiously.
Beau lifts his hand from my leg, and the skin feels clammy without his touch. It’s too hot to be close to someone, yet I wish he’d put it back.
Like he can read my mind, he slings his arm over my shoulder, fingertips drawing casual lines over the bare skin on my shoulder.
If it wasn’t so fucking hot out, I’d cover myself from head to toe so I could avoid the distraction of his skin on mine. Alas, this is the heat wave that never ends.
“A long engagement, I think.” He cants his head toward me as I turn my face up to him. Our lips are so close. Uncomfortably close. It takes me back to that morning at the river.
Beau’s metallic irises drop my gaze and fixate on my mouth.
I wonder if he’ll kiss me.
Our first kiss, at a table full of his family. Part of me wants to dig a hole and hide from that kind of PDA. The other part of me wishes he’d just do it.
We’ll have to kiss at some point. We both know.
A shiver runs down my spine as he stays focused on my lips, moving incrementally closer.
But Beau just smirks down at me. It’s a carnal smirk, one that says he senses me leaning into him, sees my chest rising more rapidly, knows I crossed my legs just to stem the ache between them.
“Yeah.” He turns his face back to everyone sitting around the fancy-style table on the back patio. “Long engagement. Nothing set in stone yet.”
I clear my throat and offer the general vicinity a forced smile. “Taking our time,” I add stupidly, voice sounding all dazed.
“Well, that’s fine. I didn’t put a date on the announcement.”
“Announcement?” My voice cracks when I pose Harvey the question.
“Yeah, for the Chestnut Springs Herald. Did it for all my other kids. You two aren’t getting off scot-free. Plus, it’ll keep all the lady callers of Beau’s away if we get it out there. Some of them are relentless.”
“What?” Beau sounds genuinely confused.
He waves a casual hand. “Ah, yeah. I can’t even go to the grocery store without some woman walking up and inquiring about you like I’m a pimp or something.”
I bristle, shimmying my shoulders taller. I shouldn’t care—I don’t care—it just seems rude that Harvey can’t even get his food in peace.
Sloane’s mom, Cordelia, pats his hand, giving him an amused look. “Harvey, I think that’s enough for one night.”
Somehow, that changes the entire vibe at the table. It’s like everyone’s attention latches onto that one motion. Her hand on his. His eyes on hers. The way he takes her hand, turns it over and links his fingers with hers. I watch the sentimental way he squeezes her hand, an expression of pure adoration on his face.
Then their eyes snap up.
Then they pull their hands back and scoot away from each other.
The table instantly becomes awkward.
Now, I wonder if this is what it was like watching Beau and me staring at each other.
“I got new shoes,” Beau announces, attempting to grab everyone’s attention. “Bailey took me shoe shopping. Ditched the dorky white runners. Got some black runners, suede sneakers, even a pair of leather boots.”
No one talks, wide eyes still moving around the table. Harvey’s ears have turned pink, and he’s gulping water down as though that might save him from having to talk right now.
“New socks are making all the difference. Got some of these double-lined ones to reduce friction and a super thin wool pair. See?” He stretches a foot out toward the end of the table, but his monologue about shoes and socks is barely registering. “Come onnnnn.”
I think it’s sweet how he’s trying to save his dad from this moment. For a guy who wanted his family to stop paying him so much attention, he sure is happy to throw himself center stage.
Beau crosses his arms and gazes away from everyone dramatically. “Why is no one asking me how fast I can run in my new shoes? Being an adult sucks.”
And it’s Luke who comes to his rescue, drawing a few chuckles. “I’ll race you, Uncle Beau!”
“Do you really think my dad is hooking up with my dead mom’s little sister?”
It’s the first thing Beau says to me when I pull up beside him at his house and step out of my truck. We met at the main house for dinner and drove back separately.
“But like … how?” He slams his door and rounds his truck, meeting me at the front grill of mine. His eyes are wide, and he looks … adorably naive.
“I—” My head quirks at him. “Well, I don’t have any first-hand experience with how it works, but I’ve done extensive video research. I think the basics are that he would put his—”
His hand covers my mouth. “Whatever you do, never finish that sentence. We’re talking about my dad.”
I laugh against his palm and nod my head.
When he removes his hand, I hold his gaze and shrug. “I think it’s nice he has someone.”
Beau scrubs at the back of his neck, clearly trying to work his brain around the familiar way Cordelia and Harvey had held hands at dinner.
“I guess. Kinda weird that it’s my mom’s sister.”
“Is it? Maybe it makes perfect sense it wouldn’t threaten her. Maybe it’s okay for your dad to still love her because they both love her? Or like,” I shrug. “Maybe it’s nice for them to have her in common?”
Beau winces. “She died a long time ago. It’s just weird. He’s never brought someone around. And he hasn’t told us anything.”
“It’s almost like you don’t need to tell your family every single thing that happens in your personal life, huh?”
He points at me and says, “Fair,” while walking closer.
I thought the heat coming from the front of my truck was uncomfortable to lean against, but the way Beau is stalking toward me has me pressing back against it like it’s the more comfortable option.
His black sneakers come almost close enough to stub my toes through the tips of my sandals.
“Nice shoes, soldier. They look fast.” I toss him a wink and cross my arms, trying to be casual.
“They are.” His eyes assess me. “How’s the trailer treating ya?”
I swallow. “Great. Wonderful. I love my trailer.”
“Pretty hot these days.”
Again, his breath is a cool breeze.
“Still holding out on my AC offer?” He quirks a brow and mirrors my crossed arm position. And he oozes … promise.
I don’t know how else to put it. He’s not even touching me, and in this moment, I know exactly what he’s promising.
Touch. Pleasure. Experience.
He said he wouldn’t have sex with me, but what about everything else? It seems improbable. Looking at him, he’s like a big, cocky Adonis.
It seems like a bad idea.
But he’s also your fiancé. You trust him. He’s so damn good to you.
I’m ovulating. That’s the only reason my brain is rationalizing this to me.
I let my gaze slide down his thick body and land on the crotch of his shorts. They’re fitted … ish.
Maybe that’s why I can see a bulge so clearly. The really big bulge.
It’s just the clothes. Not a real boner.
That would be absurd.
“Please let me know what I owe you for the set of tires.”
He ignores me. “Just you alone, up sweating all night. I can imagine it.”
“I’m climatized,” I squeak, actually spinning and rolling myself against the hood of my truck to escape him.
“Bullshit.” He chuckles, watching me flee.
“Love the heat,” I toss over my shoulder, dreading how hot my trailer will be when I open that door. I’m exhausted from poor sleep and easily agitated from being so hot for so many days.
“Why are you running from me?” he calls, and I can detect the smug note in his voice. He knows what he does to me. How could he not? I showed him my hard nipples the other day. What am I supposed to do now? Deny it?
“You scared, sugar?”
“Have fun doing more extensive video research.”
“Might do some of my own tonight too.”
I trip. My flip-flop jams into the grass, and my cheeks flare as I finally reach for the door handle, fiddling with the keys.
“Back door’s open if you need some AC! Or live inspiration!”
I throw myself into the most unbearable heat I can imagine.
But somehow, even the unbearable heat is more bearable than having to face Beau after that toe-curling invite.