Chapter 1 – South



It was her ass I saw first. Perfect. Lush like a peach. Wiggling as it stuck out of the fridge. I paused and stared because… I wasn’t dead. I leaned against the mudroom doorway, crossed my arms and enjoyed the view. After a morning fighting with a piece of metal that wouldn’t bend the way I wanted, this was a treat.

She was a treat. I hadn’t seen the rest of her besides the way her jeans were molded, but so far, so good.

Hell, so far, incredible.

I’d hated this house for years, just now finally getting comfortable inside these walls that had seen too much when I was a kid. The view of a perfect ass was better. So much better.

One twitch of that perfection and I’m rock-hard. Like one stroke and I’d come kind of hard. A teenager who couldn’t control his dick kind of hard.

She tugged out a glass shelf and set it in the sink filled with soapy water. Food items like mustard and milk were on the counter. Then she saw me. Gasped. She yanked the earbuds free and let them dangle by the cord.

Fuck, the rest of her… my dick swelled and spurted pre-cum. Just like that.

“God, you scared me,” she panted, then offered me a shaky smile. One that said I’m not sure if I’m safe with you.

That voice. Soft, deep. Breathy. I imagined what it would sound like saying my name. South. Yes, South! More.

“Shit, you’re beautiful,” I told her, shifting in the hope my zipper wouldn’t leave a permanent mark on my dick.

She really was beautiful. Maybe it was the artist in me that noticed, because she sure as hell was trying to hide it. Dark hair pulled back in a sloppy bun that hid its length. I could tell it would fall to at least the center of her back by the thickness. Slide over pink nipples. Glasses hid her wide eyes, but I couldn’t miss the chocolate color. No, aged whiskey. Deep and rich. She wore no makeup, but she didn’t need it, especially the way a deep blush colored her cheeks.

I wanted to tug on that hair tie and let those thick locks cascade over her shoulders. Kiss those full lips. Yank off that loose t-shirt and see every inch she hid beneath. Not all that well because those hips were wide, that rack full and more than a handful. I’d surprised her and I was an ass for not apologizing—and for thinking so long with my dick.

“Beautiful?” She rolled her eyes. “I’m up to my arms in soap suds and smell like furniture polish. You get kicked by a horse or something?”

It seemed like it, looking at her. I’d never felt like this before. Never had a reaction so strongly. Oh, I’d had my fair share of women, but they’d fulfilled a need. Nothing more.

This? This was way fucking more than need. It was like something in me shifted. That I’d been waiting for this moment. For her.

She was young. Legal, definitely, but I had to wonder if she could buy herself a drink. No wonder I didn’t know her. A small town meant knowing everyone and their business, but she’d probably been in elementary school when I went off to college. That meant I’d been waiting for her to be old enough to be mine. That was if she’d even grown up here.

Who was she?

I was going to find out. I was at the big house to see Jed. He would know. Since he got together with North, he knew everything that went on around here.

As I took a step closer, she held up her hand. “Stop right there.”

I froze, then couldn’t help but smile at this pint-sized woman bossing me around. In my sister’s house. Hell, Jed could wait.

“What?” I asked. “I won’t hurt you.”

I needed her to know I might be a foot taller and probably a hundred pounds heavier, but I’d never do anything to harm her.

“Don’t bring all that dirt in here,” she said, looking me over. “You might be a hot cowboy, but you’re going to make a mess.”

I grinned. “Hot cowboy, huh?”

She rolled her eyes again, then pointed at me. “You don’t need that fact pointed out. The dirt though…”

I took off my Stetson and looked down at myself. My white t-shirt had dirt stains, a small tear where I’d snagged the fabric on a sharp corner of my latest work. Metal was unforgiving and messy. My jeans had seen better days, the knees soiled from where I’d knelt on the floor of my studio to weld a section in place. My boots were dusty and worn. Clearly, I didn’t look like one of the homeowners. While North was the only one who lived here now, I’d grown up in this mansion until I went off to college. She’d remained, stuck here with Macon, our father.

No, from what North’s ex-assistant Julian had said, he wasn’t our fucking father after all.

It didn’t matter. This was Wainright Ranch and I was a Wainright. I belonged here.

Obviously, she didn’t know that. I didn’t know who she was, but reading the white script on the t-shirt over her perfect right tit, she worked for Nancy’s Cleaning Service. She was one of the maids? If her last name wasn’t Wainright, she worked here.

I might have been a billionaire, but I respected anyone who earned their living the hard way. Through hard work. Unlike Macon, who’d married it. He might’ve earned a hefty salary as CEO of Wainright Holdings, but the real cash had been our mother’s.

“I’m a little dirty, huh?” I said, chagrined. As a sculptor, I never stayed clean on a project.

“Don’t tell me North gets mad at you if there’s a mess. Or a messy person interrupting you.”

“North?” she asked, pushing her glasses up.

“Mad?” She looked surprised. “She’s a sweetheart.”

I opened my mouth to argue. My sister? The ice princess? At least former ice princess since her man Jed had thawed her? Since most of her stress died with Macon?

“Don’t say anything otherwise,” she added, giving me a stern librarian look through those glasses.

I frowned. “You afraid of being fired?” That wasn’t going to happen. Although if I had my way, she wouldn’t be working here long. I didn’t know her dreams. Her plans. I doubted they were scrubbing someone else’s fridge. I’d help her with them. See them come true.

“No. Her father passed away recently, and she’s been through a lot. The entire family has. Just because they have money doesn’t mean they don’t have hardship.”

I blinked. “You’re right,” I agreed, knowing the truth of her words firsthand. I only wasn’t expecting her to say so.

She was defending North. And me. She didn’t even know it. I liked her even more. I was used to women flinging themselves at me. At my money. I didn’t look like a million bucks all the time like North. More like a billion. This place wasn’t nicknamed Billionaire Ranch for nothing.

I lived in a simple farmhouse down the road, refusing to live in this place. Worked with my hands sculpting metal from scrap to art. Lived off my commissions, never touching a dime of my trust. Sure, I ate the Wainright cook’s food when I came over. I enjoyed the liquor cabinet from time to time. I rode the horses. On occasion, I even flew in the helicopter that was North’s main commute to the office.

But I never wanted to be known for being South Wainright, billionaire.

I was just a man.

And I’d found my woman.

She didn’t know it yet.

“All right, beautiful.” I couldn’t help the endearment. She was so fucking lovely. Inside and out. “I don’t want to make more work for you.” I crooked my finger. “Come over here.”

“I really need to get back to my work.” She thumbed over her shoulder toward the fridge.

“North’s a sweetheart, you said. She’ll understand you wanting to take a minute to talk to a hot cowboy.”

She huffed out a laugh. “If I’d known it would go to your head, I’d never have said it.”

“Too late.”

Yeah, it was too fucking late for both of us.

“You’re cute,” she countered.

It was my turn to laugh. “Cute? Beautiful, I’ve never been called cute in my life.”

Fucker. Dumbass. Pansy. Stupid. Macon had tossed all that out and I’d let it stick. For years. But I’d still gone to art school. Gotten away from his poison and lived my life. Made something of myself on my own. Proved him wrong. I just hadn’t realized the price North paid for it until after the asshole had been dead and buried.

“You know what’s cute?” I said, steering my thoughts back to what was important. Her. “That ass of yours. Now get it over here.”

A pretty flush crept into her cheeks. I saw the interest in her eyes. The desire to obey. She thought I was more than hot. More than cute. I couldn’t miss the hard points of her nipples through her t-shirt. I’d bet my latest commission she was wet for me.

She came over but not close enough. I reached out, snagged her hand in mine and pulled her so my chest almost bumped hers. I wanted her in my arms, my mouth on hers, to drag her into some barely-used room and learn what made her gasp my name, but I was smart enough not to come on too strong. If she could read my mind, she’d run away screaming. Good thing she couldn’t.

Jed came into the kitchen from deep in the house. For some reason, he liked to work at Macon’s desk in that stuffy fucking office. The room had been filled with animal heads; conquests Macon had killed for sport. North and Jed had found a place to deal with the animals respectfully, so it wasn’t like a horror flick going in there any longer.

She flushed and tried to take a step back seeing Jed, but I curled my fingers around her elbow.

“Be with you in a sec, Jed,” I said, never taking my eyes off of her.

“Came to tell you I’m driving to Billings to get North. Too windy for the helicopter,” he murmured. “I’ll talk with you when I get back.”

“Sure,” I replied. “Got a phone, beautiful?”

She nodded as Jed’s footsteps got quieter. We were alone again.

“Can I see it?”

“Why?” she asked, even while pulling it out of her jeans’ pocket. She had a Band-Aid around the top of her pointer finger. I wasn’t the only one who had rough hands. I didn’t like the idea of her getting hurt, even something small that only required a simple covering.

“So I can put my number in there so you’ll call me,” I explained.

She handed it to me as she bit her lip. Yet she asked again, “Why?”

I leaned in so we were eye to eye. “Because I want to take you out. Get to know you. Kiss you.”

She laughed again. “You just met me five minutes ago.”

“Don’t need more than that to know what I want. Besides, you just met me and handed me your phone. You feel it, too.”

She looked up at me, her head tilted back because I was so much taller. Nodded.

Fuck, yes.

“But Jed—”

“Don’t worry about Jed. We’ve done nothing wrong.”

I texted myself from her cell and mine dinged from my pocket. Confident I wouldn’t be without her for long, I handed hers back. Stroked a knuckle down her cheek. “I respect you have work to do. I’ll let you get back to it. Text me.”

I leaned down, brushed my lips against her forehead, then left, confident. As I turned around to leave—the meeting with Jed delayed—I grinned. I didn’t even know her name, yet the woman was mine. I was leaving her now, but not for long.








Vanessa Vale