To Tempt a Wilde
Wyoming Wilde, Book #1
After two years on the run, Althea Hudson may have finally found her safe haven. Who’d have thought it would be in Wyoming, at a sprawling ranch owned by three rugged alpha males? But it’s strapping Nathan Wilde who’s making her heart beat faster…even if the sensual cowboy has made it clear he’s not in the market for romance.
Althea’s genteel manner and sweet charm don’t fool Nathan for a minute. Stung by his ex-fiancée’s betrayal, the relationship-wary rancher isn’t prepared for the overwhelming desire his newest hired hand arouses. But the stunning belle is hiding something…and she may be too proud to ask for his help. If Althea only trusted Nathan with her secret, could they transform the heartbreak of the past into a passionate love for the future?
The sliver of light peeking between the cracked window blinds drew him like a magnet.
He’d had no intention of doing anything besides sitting in the car this time. Knowing that she was nearby and that if he’d wanted to go to her he could had been good enough.
But the minute he saw the light flicker on inside her room, he had been helpless to resist. It was as though she knew he was there.
That she was inviting him to come closer.
He cut the engine on the car.
Pulling his leather coat over his slim body, he then tugged on the matching kid-leather gloves and grabbed the dark knit hat on the passenger side and pulled it over his head, both for protection against the frigid cold and as a means of disguise.
But he doubted anyone could identify him. Or even knew who he was for that matter. But he was always careful. Always.
Lifting the binoculars from around his neck, he pocketed them and left the car. Inching his way toward her window, he stealthily made for the light beckoning him.
As he moved closer, he cast furtive glances over his shoulder just to make sure no one was watching.
As if anyone cared what the hell happened in this godforsaken place, he thought in disgust, wrinkling his nose, the ends of his fine nostrils flaring.
He stopped when he reached a large Dumpster several feet away from her window and withdrew the binoculars from his pocket.
He wouldn’t get too close. Not yet. He didn’t want to chance her seeing him, not before he was ready. Once he had her, she would be his. This time forever.
His full lips split into a wide grin in anticipation of the time to come when he and his baby would be reunited.
The excitement he felt at the thought of their reunion made him so excited he had to take deep, calming, measured breaths. His hand snaked down to the front of his slacks, unconsciously running it over the slight bulge pressing insistently against his zipper.
The sound of a child wailing startled him, making him drop the binoculars he held, his hand quickly moving away from his groin. With a curse he quickly retrieved the binoculars, grinding his teeth in anger.
It had been a long time since he’d been this close to her. In his excitement he could get careless. He needed to get it together.
He waited a bit longer before bringing the binoculars to his eyes. He barely held back a groan of delight when the new angle gave him an even better view of her.
Oh, God, she was beautiful. Even in silhouette she was beautiful.
He crouched down when he heard footsteps behind him. A swift glance over his shoulder revealed a young man and woman strolling his way. He slid behind the funky trash bin, again not taking the chance that anyone would see him.
He bit back a curse when the two lovers stopped less than a foot away from him and decided that was the spot to play grab-ass.
He held his breath as long as he could, trying not to gag on the offensive smell from the Dumpster, until the couple finally broke from their embrace and ambled away.
Bringing the binoculars to his eyes again, he brought her room back into view, cursing when she was no longer standing in front of the window. The room was once again bathed in darkness.
Not only had she turned off the light, but she’d also drawn the curtains. Damn it.
He waited a few minutes more in the hopes she’d get up again when he heard more footsteps coming his way.
What the hell…didn’t these people have to get up in the morning? Didn’t they have jobs to go to? His mental tirade came to a halt as he glanced around.
With a sneer he remembered what type of neighborhood he was in. Ninety percent of the residents were on welfare and the other ten percent held a job just long enough to draw unemployment.
The sneer turned to righteous anger when he thought of Althea choosing to live among people like these, instead of with him.
But all of that would change soon.
Soon he’d have his baby back where she belonged, by his side, living the way she was used to. Soon everything would be back to normal.
And he’d make sure she would never leave him again.
Althea sat straight up in bed, her heart thumping hard against her chest.
She cast a glance around the tiny hotel room and moistened her dry lips with her tongue.
The shadows in the room seemed to be mocking her, laughing at her. Her hand lingered over her heart as though that would calm its frantic hammering.
Turning to the small lamp set atop the scarred table, she flipped it on. It flickered a few times before dying.
“Damn, not again,” she muttered, before grabbing the baseball bat that lay beside her, throwing her legs over the side of the bed and rising.
She breathed a short sigh of relief when she turned on the wall switch and the room was instantly washed in light.
Pulling her sweat jacket from the foot of the bed she drew it over her body and pulled up the zipper, then stuffed her feet inside her sneakers.
She checked the tiny living/bedroom area first before walking to the kitchen. Although she felt foolish, she opened each of the cabinets and peered inside. She’d once made the mistake of not checking a small area.
She fingered the scar near her temple, just above her hairline. She’d never make that mistake again.
Briskly she walked the short distance to the bathroom and turned on the light, cautiously walking into the bathroom. With the bat clenched tightly in her hands, she pushed the paper-thin, cracked shower curtain out of the way and peered inside.
All clear. She blew out a breath of relief she didn’t know she’d been holding.
Slowly she made her way back to the main living area, her routine completed. The routine was as familiar as it was depressing. She relaxed the death grip she held on the bat, glancing around the room once more. There was nothing else to check.
Everything was the same way it had looked when she’d finally gone to sleep. When she’d checked in a few weeks back, the motel had boasted of a spacious living room and dining area, as well as a kitchenette.
She eyed the room, one brow arching.
The “spacious” living room was actually one room, featuring a bed, a ratty, stained corner chair and round table next to it, which separated the dual room from the even smaller kitchenette. The kitchenette consisted of two overhead cabinets stationed above a minuscule oven, on which only one of the burners worked. The refrigerator was a small cube with barely enough room to store the bare essentials.
She’d had more room in her bedroom closet at one time than in her entire current living space.
She glanced over at the radio clock near the narrow bed…it was two-thirty-two in the morning. This time she’d managed to get a whole four hours of straight sleep.
That hadn’t happened in over a month.
She hesitated, looking over at the small window in the room. With a sigh she walked over and slipped her fingers through the cracked venetian blinds before peering through them, her gaze sweeping over the outside view.
What a view, she thought, shaking her head. A Dumpster was less than five feet away, the smell it emitted was one she tried to combat with scented plug-ins and incense. None of which had made a bit of difference as the faint scent of eau de funk flavored the room no matter what she did. She glanced over at the parking lot, with its odd assortment of beat-up cars and those that looked so out of place it hadn’t taken too much of a guess to figure out what the owners did to afford such vehicles in the poor neighborhood.
Despite the feeling that someone was out there, watching her, the only thing Althea saw was a young couple strolling along the sidewalk. She reclosed the blinds, walked over to the bed and sat down, holding the bat loosely in her hands, tapping the end against her palm.
She leaned over, opened the drawer and withdrew her wallet, pulling out the money inside. She began recounting it, although she already knew how much she had, down to the penny: five hundred twenty-one dollars and thirteen cents.
There was a time when she had never given a thought to how much money she had on hand, hadn’t worried where she would lay her head next, or where she’d live.
Those times seemed as though they’d happened in another lifetime, to another woman.
She glanced down at her hands as she held the money, felt the calluses that were now permanent fixtures on them, before placing the money back inside the drawer. At least she had some money on hand, for when the time came to move on.
She liked the sleepy, small town of Billings, Montana. She’d been there for three weeks, and had been waitressing at a local cafe/truck stop for two of those weeks, twelve-hour shifts straight, in order to save as much money as she could in as short a time as possible.
Althea never knew when she’d have to go back on the run. One week, two weeks or a month.
She’d learned to do whatever it took, take whatever job, no matter how menial, in order to survive.
Although the hours were usually long, and her muscles ached so badly all she could do when she got off work was lie down with a heating pad on her back to ease the pain, she enjoyed the odd jobs. Enjoyed the freedom, the anonymity.
Althea laughed softly, thinking how she would never have imagined she would actually enjoy doing physical labor. Doing work she would have previously thought beneath her. Or that she would enjoy being alone and not on the social scene.
Life changes. Dreams change.
Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.
The ghost of a smile died from her lips as one of her father’s favorite sayings came to her mind.
With a sigh, Althea lay back against the thin headboard. So much for her long-ago dreams.
She was tired of running. But she never ignored her instincts. And her instincts were telling her it was time to go.
But where do I go now?
She unzipped her jacket, and as she tossed it to the foot of the bed, a business card fell from the pocket. As Althea reached over and picked up the card, her brows knitted. Beneath an engraved crest were two Ws linked and the name Wyoming Wilde Ranch in bold script centered on the card.
Thinking of the two brothers who had come into the cafe a few days ago, she frowned. The two men hadn’t looked like brothers to her; one was white and the other Native American. Yet when they’d told her who they were and that they owned a ranch outside of Landers, Wyoming, she’d not asked any questions. That too was something she’d learned not to do. Ask as few questions as possible and stick to herself…keep her head low.
The men had been to the cafe twice in the last week. If it had been a different time in her life…well, she would have had a different reaction to the casual offer both of the good-looking brothers had made to take her out. Although different as day and night, the one
thing the brothers had in common had been that they both seemed to take up all the testosterone in the room. A ghost of a smile lifted the corner of her mouth in appreciation.
She’d been reading the local paper when they’d come inside the cafe the last time, checking out the want ads when one of them—she scrunched her brows—Shilah, the Native American brother, asked her if she was looking for work.
She’d smiled and made an offhand comment that she was always looking for work. An odd expression had crossed his handsome face before he’d told her they were in need of help around the ranch.
He’d told her the ranch was located in Wyoming and the work was only seasonal, but if she were interested.
Although always on the lookout for opportunities, in case she had to leave suddenly, Althea had shied away from answering him. The intensity in his eyes was unnerving; it was as though he were seeing straight to the heart of her, as though he’d read things she didn’t want anyone to know.
She’d thanked him but told him she wasn’t ready to relocate.
He’d opened his mouth as though to speak when she caught the subtle nudge from his brother and a shake of his head. Instead of speaking, he’d handed her his card, telling her the offer would be open if she ever wanted it.
She’d glanced up an hour later and had noted the men leaving, a part of her regretting her decision not to hear more about the job.
Glancing down at the card now, Althea ran her fingers over the raised crest, the looped Ws that resembled a rope, lost in thought.
Welcome to the Wilde side of ranching.
She rose from the bed and turned off the light. Before she did, she glanced back toward the window, a shiver running through her.
Again she raised a hand and ran trembling fingers over the small scar that spanned no more than an inch near her hairline. She’d learned one thing over the last two years: trust her instincts.
Her instincts were telling her—no, screaming at her—that it was time to go. And go now.