Kylie Prescott couldn’t stop smiling as she stepped onto the wide, rickety wood steps that circled the old farmhouse. According to the tax records, the house was built in the late 1800s, and according to Gage, his great-great-something-or-other-grandparents had built the house with their very hands. That alone made this project so much more exciting than most she had worked on.
The piles of pictures taken over the last several decades certainly hadn’t done the house justice, although they had given her a vivid journey through the wondrous childhood Gage had lived. Not only had she felt the love showered upon every person in the visual catalog of their history, she knew the house would still have remnants of such a sweet, loving family within its walls.
The fact that the house still remained in the family made her want to work that much harder to restore it to its former glory. Her inspiration could also have come from getting to know Gage and hearing the stories of his youth, the years he spent growing up here, the love of his grandmother and grandfather as they raised him after the devastating loss of his parents when he was a teenager.
From where she stood, Kylie could tell that the vast overhang covering the porch had seen better days and at some point in the last two centuries someone had done significant work to the exterior; time had taken its toll though, and the house was definitely in need of rejuvenation to preserve what had been restored so long ago.
There was a lot of work that needed to be done; however, even through the years and the many hands that held hammer and nail, the original uniqueness of the structure had been maintained. A bubble of excitement erupted in Kylie’s belly. In her experience, that didn’t happen very often.
And yes, since the day she met Gage Matthews, when he went into detail about this little project of his, she’d hoped he wasn’t pulling her leg. Clearly, he had been up-front and honest with her. That made her heart sing all the more.
As she spun in a slow circle, taking in the white paint flaking on the strong, sturdy bones of the old house and the sparse lawn that was in desperate need of some water, she felt Gage move up behind her.
“What do you think?”
Rather than turning to face him, Kylie let his arms encircle her from behind, pulling her against his hard body. Leaning her head back on his chest, a comforting warmth consumed her. For two months, the more time she spent with him, the more she’d begun to care for him. Not only was he able to set her body ablaze with just a slight tilt of his lips, but he also had managed to make her feel protected. Cared for.
If ever there was a strictly professional relationship between the two of them, it had since been replaced by a crazy hot attraction, and based on the way his eyes flared with passion when he looked at her, Kylie knew it wasn’t one-sided. In the weeks they’d spent getting to know one another, she still felt as though there were sizable gaps in his life story, but the irrational side of her brain had attributed that to his being a cop. He tended to do the whole evasive-answer thing, and though it got on her nerves, she somehow gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Since she wasn’t interested in a happily ever after at this point—not to say she wasn’t on a fast track in that direction—Kylie had opted to take their relationship one day at a time. She didn’t make a point to date many men, nor did she find herself in situations where she was trying to get to know a man to the extent she’d gone to with Gage, but she did see a considerable amount of similarities between him and a man she used to know. “Mysterious” and “secretive” were two words that immediately came to mind.
At least he hadn’t been prevaricating when it came to his childhood home. It was everything he told her it was and then some.
“It’s charming,” she said, her insides beginning to slowly overheat as his body conformed to hers. “Superb, marvelous, stunning. You’re welcome to stop me at any time, because I could go on forever.”
Gage chuckled, his laugh vibrating through her.
She was grinning like a kid at a carnival with a pocket full of money, ready and determined to win the big prize no matter how she had to do it.
“I could listen to you forever, so feel free to keep going,” he teased.
Kylie elbowed him lightly in the stomach, and he laughed again, pulling away from her and taking her hand in his. “Come on. There’s more to see inside.”
Another giddy sensation erupted in her belly, and she followed, the strength of his fingers enveloping her hand. That protective feeling cloaked her again. She had no idea what it was about this man, but it just seemed . . . right.
Adrenaline burned like jet fuel in her veins as Gage unlocked the front door. Now that she knew the house he’d boasted about actually did exist, she couldn’t wait to see the interior. For the last couple of months, Kylie had had countless encounters with this sexy cowboy, but until now, he hadn’t offered to show her the house he’d been so interested in hiring her to restore.
Until that morning.
She’d been surprised when he blurted out the idea as they sat at a small café having breakfast, which had become a frequent occurrence for them lately—the breakfast part, that is. Until today, Gage hadn’t even told her where the house was, so for him to mention that he was ready for her to see it, she hadn’t known what to say.
Initially, “yes” had been the only word to come to the tip of her tongue, but she didn’t let him off the hook that easily. He had smiled when she finally caved after giving him a hard time for a few minutes. Playfully, of course.
Now that they were here, the tiny town of Coyote Ridge, which was nothing more than a blip on the Texas map, was growing on her. When she tried to do some research on her cell phone regarding their destination, Gage had taken her phone right out of her hands, laughing and insisting that this be a surprise. He wanted to be the one to introduce her to the small town, so she’d acquiesced. Only when she promised had he given her phone back.
As soon as they turned off the main highway, they had stopped at a small gas station—simply named Gas ’n’ Go—just within the town limits. After conversing with Henry Powers, the sweet little old man who ran the store, Gage had purchased their sodas and they’d been back on the road again. It seemed Gage had been content to sit there and chat until Kylie started asking inquisitive questions regarding the town. Before Henry could even get an answer out, Gage had grabbed her arm and hightailed it from the store like it was burning down around them.
He made up for the confusing behavior by pulling her close and kissing the daylights out of her, which he must’ve come to realize was always an easy way to get her to stop talking. Even though she hungered for those kisses, it still irked her that she knew remarkably few details about Gage’s hometown, because he was the equivalent of a closed book. But seeing the house had once again redirected her focus, and she was eager to see more.
Before stepping inside the house, knowing her brain was going to go offline with the overwhelming excitement that would overtake her mental processes, Kylie turned to glance once more at the exterior.
“How many acres does it sit on?” she asked as he opened the sun-faded door, swinging it inward, gesturing for her to precede him into the house.
From what she could tell, there wasn’t anything else on the land, with the exception of a dilapidated one-car garage that they should have condemned rather than risk the thing falling in on them. The idea of what might be living in there made her skin crawl.
As she crossed over the threshold, all thoughts of creepy-crawly things evaporated right from her mind, replaced by the exaltation of seeing an old historical home for the first time.
“Wow,” she breathed as she stepped into the entry.
As usual, as soon as her feet landed on solid, old hardwood, she felt as though she were in a time warp, imagining the life that passed through the walls for the last two-hundred-some-odd years. Thanks to Gage’s family history and the wonderful pictures he had shared with her, there was a resplendent slide show playing in her head.
Just like she expected, as was the norm for the period in which the house had been built, there were walls everywhere, enclosing small spaces to create more rooms. The idea of open concept that so many people longed for these days hadn’t even been a blip on the radar so long ago.
The small foyer, which was large enough to possibly hold a coatrack, led directly into a lovely parlor, spacious enough for a vintage chair or two to liven up the space. Enclosing the small sitting room was a set of French doors that Kylie wanted to remove in order to open up the area.
Her feet propelled her forward until an elegantly ornate staircase caught her eye. Each wide step was gloriously rich in color and continued upward in a “U” that placed the second floor above Kylie’s head but left a wall of stained glass windows running tall and proud and visible from both downstairs and up.
Kylie smiled. Imagine being able to see such articulate detail day in and day out. Her revitalizing eye said the staircase would only need a little buffing and a fresh coat of varnish for it to sparkle like the sun. As though they’d been protected by the hands of God over the years, the windows didn’t appear to need anything more than a quick spritz of Windex.
Wringing her hands together, Kylie willed herself to calm down. There was a flurry of excitement spinning wildly in her belly as she took everything in. She did a one-eighty and found herself standing in the dark-wood-trimmed doorway that led into the fairly open living area. The room was somewhat awkward because it was long and narrow, but with the appropriate placement of furniture, Kylie could see it as a place for families to gather.
Without slowing, anxious to see more, Kylie continued through the living room, then the dining room with its floor-to-ceiling cabinets that would be used to display precious tableware, fine china, and whatnot. The dining room was separated from what she assumed was the kitchen by a wide door that swung both directions. Kylie pushed inward and stepped into what was probably the most awkward of all the rooms.
The kitchen was rather large, but the placement of the island and a small butler’s pantry didn’t suit the space. Her brain automatically began calculating what additional square footage she could free up by remodeling the room entirely.
Just past the refrigerator, there were two additional doorways. One led to an oversized utility room with a door that would lead outside. The other led to . . . Kylie squealed a little as she stepped into the hallway. There in front of her was another set of stairs, this one much narrower with steep steps leading to the second floor.
“This is amazing,” she muttered to herself as she quickly ascended to the next floor.
From what she could tell, the second floor was where the bedrooms were, the doors on one side, while opposite them was the magnificent view of the stained glass window overlooking the side of the house. Kylie peered out, realizing the decayed remains of the garage were visible. Without question, they were going to have to tear it down and relocate somewhere else. She did not want anything obstructing Gage’s breathtaking view through the multicolored glass.
She wandered through the first three bedrooms quickly. They were spacious, and each led to a covered terrace that overlooked the backyard. One had a decent-sized bath attached; the other two were connected by one large Jack and Jill bathroom.
Out the door and down the hall, Kylie came upon two additional bedrooms. She spent the most time wandering through the last two and the shoe-box-sized bathroom between them. Strangely enough, one of the rooms was the largest of all the bedrooms, but there was no possible way she could expect this to be the master suite with the minuscule shower, pedestal sink, and toilet in what was supposedly a bathroom.
Daring to look, she moved to the other side of the small bath and opened another door, where she would have expected to find a closet. Not a closet. The door led to the other room, though this was much smaller, possibly used as a nursery at one time or another. The idea to steal some of the space from the smaller bedroom for the bathroom and use the rest as a large walk-in closet hit her and made her smile brightly once more.
God, she wanted this job. She’d been doing this—restoring historic homes—for the last eight years, but never had she taken on a project quite this large.
“You still interested?” Gage’s deep, thundering voice filled the interior of the tiny bedroom she was standing in.
“Are you kidding?” Kylie was grinning from ear to ear as she stared at the cracked plaster and the hideous floor. She wondered whether there were hardwood floors beneath the dingy, shaggy, olive-green wall-to-wall carpet.
Kylie pivoted, staring back at the man filling the doorway. She could’ve sworn the relatively small space seemed somewhat larger before he walked in. As she stared at the sexy, dark-haired cowboy with the seductive brown eyes, she still found it strange how he’d blown a mountain-sized hole in her life in just a matter of weeks with his unexpected arrival on her doorstep looking for her specifically. The fact that he lived about an hour away, according to him, had made her question why he’d seek her out to help him in this endeavor in the first place.
Although she didn’t normally take such ambitious projects so far away from home, the longer she stood there, the more interested she became, and she couldn’t help but wonder whether the attractive cowboy-cop played into her enthusiasm just as much as the house did. She was no longer wondering how he’d found out about her or whether she would want to have to live out of a hotel for the foreseeable future just to be close to the house she was working on.
Just that morning, Gage had talked to her about a timeline and getting things rolling. He was tired of living in his modest rental in town and was looking forward to moving into the house that had been in his family for generations, just as soon as the renovations were completed. The sooner the better, he’d told her. Kylie didn’t make him any promises as far as timing was concerned because he hadn’t even allowed her to see what she was getting herself into until now.
If she did take on the project, she’d be able to work on a home that appealed to her unlike any other since her own, and she’d have the opportunity to continue pursuing this relationship with Gage. Although he seemed genuinely interested in hiring her to do the work on his house, he also seemed open to the idea of them getting to know one another better.
Over the course of two months, they had become quite relaxed with one another, hanging out, going to dinner and movies, playing miniature golf. All the things a couple would do if they were dating. And although they hadn’t ventured down the path that would lead them to what would likely be scorching-hot sex, Kylie didn’t doubt that it was in their future.
For all of three seconds, back when she first met him, Kylie had worried whether mixing business with pleasure would cause problems she didn’t want to have to deal with. But the longer she was in Gage’s company and the more she got to know him, the more she wanted to have her cake and eat it, too.
Her dating life had been dormant for quite some time—or maybe a better term would be nonexistent. The reason? Well, she’d used one excuse after the other, most of them pertaining to her being too engrossed in work to have time for anything else. No way would she have entertained the idea of a relationship, but that was before Gage walked into her life. Not that what she and Gage had could be considered a relationship, but she knew for a fact that it was more than friendship. Or she hoped so. After all, the couple of times he’d kissed her sure didn’t feel like just friends to her.
Caught a little off guard, but more than grateful for the distraction, Kylie turned away briefly, trying to wipe the smile from her face. When it didn’t work, she gave in and turned back.
Gage truly was one of the most attractive men she had ever seen. Dark hair, dark eyes, and a body that tempted her to sin like the devil. “Fine, why?”
The smile he shot in her direction made her tummy dance with a sweet tingle that she’d been oblivious to for longer than she cared to admit. Or maybe she just hadn’t had that tingle in a solid decade or so.
“You’ve never heard of Coyote Ridge?” he asked, his attention directed to the chipped plaster that clearly needed some attention.
The way he asked the question made her feel as though she should have heard about the tiny little town that this man called home. “Nope. Not until today,” she said casually, trying to redirect her wayward thoughts back to the house and the possibilities.
Kylie had become somewhat accustomed to Gage’s random questions, most of them somewhat personal in nature. He’d certainly asked more than his fair share over the last two months since she met him, especially considering how remarkably little he’d been willing to share about himself. He was just naturally nosey—or so was his answer after she scrounged up the courage to ask.
Rather than squirm beneath the scrutiny of his gaze, Kylie slipped beneath his arm and out into the hallway once again. As she admired the finer details, she found that her thoughts about Gage weren’t ready to be wrangled in just yet.
For the better part of two months, the two of them had been dancing around the subject of sex, neither of them fully embracing what was bound to come sooner or later. No pun intended. Considering they were acting very much like a well-established couple—one that had subconsciously agreed to a no-sex clause—Kylie couldn’t help but wonder what the next step for them would be.
They’d long since gotten past the getting to know you phase, which meant there were only two directions they could go from here. Either down the path to fervent sexual gratification, or they would turn around and head back the way they came, sticking with a more professional association.
Kylie wanted the sex, plain and simple.
Ever since the first night Gage took her out to dinner, Kylie had been thinking some rather heated thoughts about the man. They shared quite a few intimate meals together, and some much more casual dates, most of them spent chatting it up like long-lost friends, with that very distinct buzz of sexual attraction in the background.
Having not been on many dates where hopping into bed within the first ten minutes wasn’t on the guy’s agenda, Kylie was a little off-kilter around Gage. She spent most of her time wondering whether they would jump one another’s bones the next time they saw each other or if he’d be content simply asking her personal questions about her past.
With her hormones beginning to overflow, Kylie wasn’t sure how much more she possibly could store up before the lid blew off due to the pressure. If Gage kept up this perfect-gentleman routine, she was going to have to buy stock in Duracell or Energizer just so she could function on a daily basis.
She found herself wondering more and more why they hadn’t moved to the next phase of what felt like a potential relationship either. They’d had make-out sessions that were testing the limits of her smoke detectors, but never had they ventured farther than second base.
If chemistry was all it took, they would have been horizontal for most of the time they had known one another, because what happened between them when they kissed was explosive. But every time they got close to rounding the bases and heading for a home run, Gage put the brakes on. A sudden, abrupt stop that sent Kylie careening headfirst into the dashboard, her brain jarring from the impact.
And of course, every time Gage halted their progress, Kylie managed to take a step back, taking advantage of the opportunity to reflect on what was happening between them. She genuinely liked him. They laughed, talked, and yes, he knocked her socks off with his kisses, but as far as going any further, she didn’t deny that taking things slowly was for the best. At least with them moving at a snail’s pace, she wouldn’t risk the possibility of getting too attached.
Kylie Marie Prescott did not roll that way.
Not after Travis Walker ruined her for all time.
Kylie instinctively closed her eyes, refusing to allow the image of Travis to come to mind. As a rule, she avoided any and all memories that involved him because as sure as the sun would rise in the morning, thoughts of him caused a painful ache to return, and the echo of long-ago love still had a devastating impact.
Even all these years later, her body reacted in strange ways to those lingering recollections that hadn’t yet faded around the edges. Sort of like muscle memory, the feel of his skin, his mouth, his hands, it was as though he hadn’t been gone from her life for ten years. No, it felt more like yesterday. Considering how he walked out on her after they’d been married only three weeks, it would make more sense if she wanted to slap him, not jump him, but damn it if she didn’t want to just . . .
Okay, totally inappropriate. Tune back in to reality, girl.
Kylie knew that it didn’t help that they were still married, which was a painful reminder each and every day. A mere technicality, she told herself repeatedly. But one she hadn’t put much thought into rectifying until she’d started getting closer to Gage.
In truth, the only thing real about their nuptials was the paper they’d received that validated it. It was easy to pretend otherwise because living with a man for three weeks did not a marriage make. Especially when he turned the other cheek and walked away as though she didn’t mean a thing to him.
If only she thought she could emotionally survive seeing Travis again, she’d seek a divorce. Every year she convinced herself that she’d be stronger next year. Since she still didn’t believe she could handle seeing him, and since he hadn’t yet taken the initiative himself, Kylie was still married to Travis Walker.
The only benefit was that she didn’t have to relive Travis ripping her heart right out of her chest and walking away with it still beating in his hands. Because sure as she breathed, seeing him would blow another crater right in the center of her chest.
Okay, you’re cut off now, woman. No more thinking.
Her inner monologue was enough to set her straight as she headed down the back staircase. She busied herself taking notes in the kitchen, jotting down the ideas she’d come up with so far.
“Let me know when you’re done. I’d like to take you to meet some folks.”
Kylie was leaning over the island, her pen tapping steadily against the notepad as she stared back at him. Dropping the pen because, quite frankly, she was getting on her own nerves, she exhaled and smiled. She was suddenly eager to get some fresh air. Whether it was the close proximity of this handsome man or thoughts of the one from her past, she wasn’t sure, but the room was getting a little warm.
“I’m good for now. As long as you promise I’ll get to come back soon.”
“Darlin’, you’ve got the job if you want it,” Gage said, grinning.
“You don’t even know my price,” she informed him.
Money had never been a subject they broached up to this point, but Gage’s nonchalant attitude when anything even close came up made her believe he wasn’t necessarily hurting financially. Which made her question other things, because she knew for a fact that a cop’s salary wasn’t going to give him money to burn.
No doubt this project wasn’t going to be cheap, but at least she could do the work in stages. And she was extremely resourceful. She just needed some local crews to help because those she normally worked with weren’t likely to venture this far out. And if Gage was looking to save some money, he could add some elbow grease of his own.
After Gage locked up the house and helped her into his truck, Kylie allowed her mind to relax as he drove. The familiar song on the radio made her want to tap her foot on the floor, but she refrained. It was rare that she was in a good mood after such pressing thoughts from her past, but for some reason, just being in Gage’s company helped. That and the prospect of the new job made her smile.
For once, she just wanted to enjoy what life threw her way. It was high time she stopped trying to hide behind those events that had changed her life irreparably. Time to move forward.
Still smiling, Kylie pulled herself back to the present as Gage turned onto a long dirt driveway. In the distance, she saw a lovely old farmhouse come into view; the fresh paint and new roof gleamed radiantly in the bright Texas sunshine. This one looked significantly different from the one they’d just left. This one was sporting a recent face-lift.
Refraining from asking questions, Kylie paid attention to the details of the house in case Gage was here to show her some ideas he had, her brain barely registering the men moving furniture into the house. As she focused on what they were doing, she noticed two more talking on one end of the beautiful wraparound porch.
Kylie mentally cleared her throat because . . . Wow! Did this place only breed hot, sexy cowboys?
When Gage pulled the truck to a stop, Kylie unbuckled her seat belt and climbed out. She continued to stare up at the beautiful house, her eye for detail noting the few things they’d done to stick with the house’s former glory, although there were quite a few enhancements they’d made to modernize it as well. Either way, she was impressed. Wouldn’t have been her choice, but then again, it wasn’t her house.
Gage surprised her when he walked around to her side of the truck, taking her hand in his. That tingle that had been stirring in her belly erupted into a volcanic explosion of activity, and she wondered if her palms were going to start sweating. God, she hoped not. At least not while he was holding her hand.
Eager to make a good impression on these people, whoever they were, Kylie pasted on a smile and fell into step beside Gage.