Tucker Montgomery had one thing on his mind and one thing only: sex.
And it was all Amanda Heller’s fault.
Despite his off-season job, which celebrated sexuality in the most obvious, in your face, hello G-string manner one step short of porn, his taste in women had become a bit too discriminating for his libido. So, naturally, every hip swishing, ultra-feminine gesture Amanda made reminded him that he hadn’t gotten laid in months. His new landlord slash boss slash annoying pain-in-the-butt was a distraction he couldn’t afford.
Not to mention the fact Amanda Heller was a society girl with a capital S. A society girl who went slumming with a sexy dancer who caught her fancy only worked if he was in the city passing through on his way to somewhere else.
Transitional, he thought, savoring the word. Just the way Tucker liked life—always moving, always on the go. Here today, jetting to Vegas, Atlantic City, or Paris tomorrow.
He glared at the clumsy black walking cast attached to his right foot. “Make that my former life,” he muttered.
The future had been looking pretty damn promising until he took a leap of faith and landed wrong, crucifying the tendons and connective tissue in his ankle and foot. Unfortunately, by then he owned a substantial hunk of mountain in Montana and was deep in debt trying to set up a zip line and adventure course.
“A surprisingly enterprising thing to do,” Ona, his Cajun grandmother, had called it. He honestly didn’t know if his grandmother meant that as a compliment or not.
But she’d been the first to invest in Mountie’s Marvelous Montana Zip Line and Enduro Course. Maybe he’d been dazzled by all the support he’d received when he announced his semi-retirement from American Male, Inc.—the company that produced The Great American Male Show, the bawdy male entertainment act he’d been with for most of his adult life. Stepping away from his summer job as a Hotshot Firefighter, hadn’t been as simple.
“Get over yourself,” Justin “The Goat” Oberman told him. “We fight fires. It’s what we do. I’ve already signed you up to be a volunteer…once your ankle heals.”
Goat had stepped in to oversee the construction of the zip line when Tucker’s orthopedic doctor ordered him to stay off the mountain for six weeks minimum. Six weeks Tucker couldn’t afford. The project had already been set back a month or more due to building permit issues. Even with Justin’s help, the zip line was going to lose half the summer tourist season.
Tucker’s decision to open a zip line may have looked impulsive to most people because he hadn’t shared all the research he’d done on the subject over the past two years. Ever since his first, half-drunk zip in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Tucker had been researching the possibility of setting up his own business somewhere in the States.
He’d tabled the idea during last summer’s horrific fire season that included a failed rescue that nearly cost Flynn Bensen his life and his sanity. Flynn and Justin were the brothers Tucker never had. When the two made up their minds to leave the Great Smoky Mountains and move west, Tucker recognized the opportunity as a turning point—the same way he sensed when a wildfire was poised to suddenly and for no apparent reason make an abrupt about-face.
When forty acres of nearly inaccessible Montana mountainside with killer views and, more importantly, a heart-stopping elevation drop more or less fell into his lap, he wrote a check and never looked back.
The front door of Molly O’Neal’s two-bedroom guesthouse opened, bringing a gust of fresh air and Molly’s granddaughter, who apparently could read him like a sidewalk menu at twenty paces: “Still pouting?”
Amanda Heller—five-feet-ten-inches of legs, long hair and class—closed the door behind her and turned to face him.
“I’m a man, not a baby. I prefer to call it sulking.”
Her full, rose-red lips quivered with a smile that sometimes appeared despite her best effort to remain emotionally flatlined.
She slipped off her leather jacket and hung it on the antique coat rack to the left of the door. Would the woman ever understand that leather only kept animals dry, not warm? Warmth required body fat, and she only possessed a teaspoonful…although what little she had was distributed in all the right places.
Sitting at the oak drop-leaf table where he’d spread out the blueprints the project contractor, Paul Zabrinski, had dropped off a few minutes earlier, Tucker glared at the high-tech, molded plastic walking boot with strategically placed Velcro straps, resting on a chair to his right.
“Felled by a f-ing pothole,” he mumbled, wiggling his toes inside the red wool sock that had slipped a good inch since he put it on and now waggled like a limp dick from the end of the open-toed boot. “Ten years on the fire line without an injury and then…this.”
He fought the urge to cuss a blue streak. City Girl’s ears would surely burn. She had too much class to tolerate crap like his. “What are you up to today? Lunch in Soho?” he asked snottily as she walked past him, the heels of her ridiculously sexy knee-high boots tapping a come-have-your-way-with-me staccato that drove him nuts.
She poured herself a cup of coffee from the French press she’d bought yesterday—along with a couple of hundred dollars worth of “necessities.”
Had the woman ever not looked put together? Her ankle-length black slacks clung like wet silk skinny jeans to accentuate her thigh gap. The crisply ironed white blouse with three-quarter sleeves must have been laundered by the Graff’s minions in the still of the night and delivered at first light for a small fortune. Her sage and burgundy paisley print scarf should have looked pretentious but instead lent a polished flair.
Are girls like her bred without the normal “bed head” gene?
“Just called for take out from Ernie’s. Best vegan focaccia in the city,” she answered.
He liked her snarky comeback, which he deserved.
She shrugged. “Tell Medicare. I was on the phone all morning.”
Her way of saying, “Sorry for keeping you waiting, Tucker”?
Doubtful. Women like Amanda didn’t apologize. City girls. Society women like—he cut off the thought. There was no comparison between Amanda and Caroline Mayhue, and nothing to be gained by thinking about the mother who abandoned her half-Cajun baby in New Orleans to pursue her dream in New York City.
Sipping from her mug, Amanda strolled to the table. “Are these the final plans for next door?”
“Yep. Pretty cut and dried. Paul will give us a final quote as soon as we green light the changes.”
Unlike Tucker who’d moved into her grandmother’s guesthouse the instant the cleaners were out the door, Amanda had chosen to stay at the pricy Graff Hotel until phone service to the cottage was restored—along with Wi-Fi.
Apparently, Daddy’s pockets were a lot deeper than Tucker’s. Not that Tucker was opposed to the occasional excess decadence, but when the pennies he was pinching belonged to someone he loved, he could do with a lot less. And the unpretentious two-bedroom house fit his needs perfectly. So far, he’d been able to communicate adequately with Justin and Paul Zabrinski, the contractor who would be working on the big house next door, by using his cell phone.
He got up, gracelessly, of course.
“Can I get you something?”
He shook his head. “Just restless. Thanks. I’m not a sitter by nature. I’m a doer.”
She stood across the table from him, head bent to study the pale blue lines and printed notations in the margins. Tucker had a similar set for the zip line—about thirty pages thicker—awaiting approval from some faceless board, committee or paper-pushing bureaucrat somewhere.
Waiting. Tucker’s least favorite thing.
“I got an email from my mother this morning,” Amanda said, not looking up.
Something in her tone alerted him to what was coming. More changes.
“What now?” He spread his hands flat and lowered his head to make her face him eye-to-eye.
He hated—more than hated—he loathed being looked down at. This experience of being partially handicapped had opened his eyes to the world of the disabled. He’d already texted Justin to say they needed to make the place ADA friendly.
“She wants heated floors.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“She asked if this technology exists in Montana.”
Tucker blinked and made a face he was certain conveyed his consternation. He didn’t know Amanda’s mother but his opinion of the woman vacillated between bored airhead to self-absorbed nutcase. “Of course the technology exists. This isn’t a third world country. But I guarantee the installation won’t be cheap. I thought your goal was to make this place safe for your grandmother’s twilight years then sell the home for a profit. Does your mother have any idea how much that would cost?”
“No. Which is why I told her it would be a thousand dollars per lineal foot.”
He blinked. “If we used gold pipes maybe.”
She sipped her coffee trying to hide her self-satisfied smile.
A feeling Tucker wasn’t expecting suddenly landed squarely in his middle chest—very close to his heart. A woman who surprised him. In a good way. How often did that happen?
“Nicely played, Heller.”
“I thought so.”
She heaved a small sigh. Big enough to draw Tucker’s gaze to her beautifully sculpted bosom.
“Unfortunately, this only buys us a little time. Once Mother feeds the numbers to my father, I’ll receive an irate text telling me to get him the correct numbers or I will be fired.”
She nodded. “Mother is bored. Traveling with my father, who spends most of his day in meetings or on the phone with work, can get old.”
“Why doesn’t she come back?”
“And leave Father exposed to temptations and interlopers who might steal away her precious provider? Never in a million years. Which is why she sent me to handle things with her mother in this god-awful state. Does it ever warm up?”
“What are you talking about? I saw a robin this morning. That means spring is officially here,” he interjected before she could start another I-hate-Montana jag.
She rolled her eyes. “And that last storm—the one that dumped a bunch of snow on the mountains and nearly took out Kat Robinson’s little boy—was just a Montana version of a spring shower?”
He shrugged. “Keeps life interesting.”
Although, honestly, life had been a little too damn “interesting” lately, in Tucker’s opinion. Kat Robinson—his best friend, Flynn Bensen’s new girlfriend—nearly lost her son, Brady, to the little boy’s impulsive actions and a dangerous spring storm. The escapade had put everyone to the test, especially Flynn, who finally had to admit how much he cared for Brady’s mom.
Thankfully, things appeared to be shaking out. Brady was safe, and Flynn and Kat were making long-term plans.
By comparison, Tucker felt like a slacker.
“Speaking of spring,” he said, moving with care to the picture window, where he’d opened the heavy drapes hours earlier to let in the natural light, “What did you decide to do about the landscaping? Paul said he could give me the name of a couple of landscape contractors.”
She joined him to look out the cottage’s large picture window, which framed a view of a thicket just starting to leaf out. Where the thicket ended, an uneven, weathered, partly falling down privacy fence separated the guesthouse from the main home.
“That fence would make a nice stack of kindling,” he said. “It’s never too early to start planning for next winter. You know what Ona would say? The sooner you start, the sooner you can—”
“Stop right there with your Ona.” Her gorgeous upper lip—the half he’d had fantasies about—flattened into a snarl. He’d had a few fantasies about the two of them working out some mutual angst in a mutually pleasurable way. “If you give me one more of your ol’ Cajun grannie’s homespun truisms, I’m going to stomp on your sore foot with the very pointy heel of my boot.”
She spun on said heel and marched to the apartment-size refrigerator.
His groin tightened. No, no, no. This horny dog thing has to stop.
She was so far out of his league, he might as well be playing sandlot ball in the barrio. Not that he’d ever been in a barrio, but the image sounded about right.
“Is there anything to eat? Molly has physical therapy today and I didn’t want to wait for room service. I need food and, damn it, Ernie’s doesn’t deliver,” she said, unwinding the soft, feminine-looking scarf from her neck. “I asked.”
Was that a hint of homesickness he heard in her tone?
She dropped the scarf carelessly on top of her things and turned to face him, hands on her narrow hips.
Normally, he went for women with a little more substance. Why, then, did Amanda’s tight little ass traipse through his dreams every night? Proximity? Had to be.
“Huh?” he asked, realizing he’d missed her question.
“Are we on track?”
“Which track would that be? The one to the Poor House? Yes, I definitely have that covered.”
Even though the construction of his new zip line business was finally moving forward under Justin’s capable management, the no-work delay that took place while the powers-that-be played political chess with his permit had put the project several weeks behind schedule. Fingers crossed his lawyer, Austen Zabrinski, would hear something today about the status of the final roadblock. The frustration of waiting, compounded by his injury and not being able to oversee the construction himself, had taken a toll on Tucker’s reputedly affable personality.
She leaned forward and tapped one perfectly manicured nail on the house plans spread across the table. “I meant with my grandmother’s remodeling.”
“Oh, right. Everything looks fine. All of Flynn’s red-tagged areas of concern have been addressed. The biggest change is moving the laundry out of the basement and converting the front parlor into a bedroom.”
“Without changing it so much the next owners can’t return it to its former function,” Amanda put in. “Mother would prefer to move Molly into a group home, but my grandmother won’t hear of it. What do you think? Is it worth moving Molly back in here, given her age? We all know where she’s going to wind up eventually? How long are we talking?”
Her attitude bothered him. Probably because of Ona. He’d grown up under the benevolent eye of his paternal grandparents. He couldn’t imagine kicking Ona out of her house to live with strangers. If Ona ever needed full-time care, he’d do whatever it took to make sure she remained close to family.
Amanda leaned forward to read some of the margin notes. Unfortunately, this put her very lovely cleavage right in his line of vision. He tried to stifle his groan but it came out anyway.
She glanced up. “What is your problem? You’re like a grumpy bear that just woke up from hibernation.”
A grumpy horny bear that went without all winter.
“My pain meds are wearing off.”
Her eyes narrowed. She didn’t believe him.
“And I’m not used to being stuck in one place for so long.”
“You’ve got ants in your pants.” She stood, reaching for her purse. “Yes, well, we’re both out of our element and forced to do things outside our comfort zone. Oh, well.”
“Oh, well?” He frowned. “You don’t strike me as an oh-well sort of woman, Amanda.”
Before she could reply, her phone jingled. She must have hit the speaker icon when she turned it on because a man’s voice came across loud and clear.
“Amanda? It’s James. Your mother is driving me crazy. She just called to tell me you were losing your mind. Something about gold-plated plumbing. She begged me to fly to Montana to check on you.”
Something changed in Amanda’s face. A look he’d never seen before appeared. Vulnerability. Panic. Hurt. Hell’s bells, there’s a real person under that society girl façade after all.
Even though he’d normally be the bigger man and walk away instead of eavesdropping, his foot throbbed, so he returned to his chair and propped it on the pillow. Naturally, this meant he couldn’t help but listen.
“Why would she call you, James? Did she forget we broke up? Or is this her very obvious ploy to get us back together?”
“June knows the wedding is off. But apparently she believes I’m your only friend.”
Ex-fiancé. Interesting. Rebounds could be highly erotic. He spoke from experience—as both the dumper and the dumpee.
Did the color of her beautiful, slightly hollowed out cheeks deepen with a blush when she looked at him? Yes. And damn if the color didn’t make her more human and even prettier.
“No. Stay where you are.” She spoke in a low, angry voice he’d never heard before. As she stalked off, Tucker watched—mouth salivating like a damn dog, no doubt—as her stupid sexy, four-inch boots made her butt wiggle and shimmy in a way that probably gave the damn things their nickname…f-me pumps.
He’d do the deed in a heartbeat. Too bad any sort of hooking up between them was out of the question. He couldn’t afford the inevitable sticky awkwardness when his marvelous summer adventure ended and he left Montana to go back on tour. Dance, business, and his friends. That’s all he had time for right now. And his priorities weren’t going to change any time soon—great ass or no great ass.
End of Excerpt