The Long Road To You
The Brothers Agee – Nick, Book 2
by Jane Leopold Quinn
eBook ISBN: B00SX7AR5K
[ Historical (Western) Romance ]
When pulling a woman off a rearing horse, Nick loses his heart. Margee runs her ranch with a creepy ranch foreman. She won’t allow Nick near her no matter how handsome he is. Will they survive their past secrets, finding the love they didn’t know they craved?
Note: Prologue omitted.
Joshua, California 1881
The day was warm for early spring in the mountains, the sky luminously blue and topped with a few high clouds mashed-looking as if with the tines of a fork. Unlike the heavy, hot, moist heat of the southern part of the state, the air was arid up here. Fir trees on the mountain slopes had a crisp, clean, triangle-like look.
Nick had known where Jake and Ivy had settled since they’d reunited several months ago. He’d debated with himself if he should stay away or seek them out. But at thirty-one, he was weary of the uncertainty and loneliness of tramping around the country. Reuniting with Joey, who now went by the more grown up sounding Jake, had been bittersweet. Thank God the kid had turned out all right and not like his jail bird older brother.
He’d been hired by her father to find the runaway Ivy Westlake. It was a once in a lifetime chance that the baby brother he hadn’t seen for fifteen years was with her. He’d been jealous of the obvious love between Jake and Ivy, but he’d had a job to do. Then she was kidnapped by his own two henchmen. After rescuing her, he’d protected her all the way to Los Angeles, holding her when she’d vomited every morning. When he learned she was pregnant with Jake’s child, he’d promised to find Jake and send him to her in Mexico. But Jake had found her all by himself.
Now it seemed Nick had found them here together with a ranch of their own and a baby on the way. Family. Something he’d never really had. Something he was aching for now.
The ranch house, painted white and with a wide porch, looked inviting. A wooden fence surrounded a large swath of grass across the front with bushes and flowers as a border. He smiled as he rode closer. It appeared Jake had the ideal home. A woman leaned against the porch railing, one hand above her eyes to cut the sun so she could see better. Ivy. God, she looked wonderful even at a distance and even heavy with child.
“Jake, come out here!”
Nick reined in at the bottom of the porch steps, his expression neutral. After all, he had no inkling if Jake would be happy to see him.
“What is it, honey?” Jake joined Ivy on the porch, letting the screen door slam shut. He came up behind her, sliding his arms around her, resting his hands on top of her belly.
Nick could see the tense expression on his brother’s face and recognized the possessive stance.
“Welcome, Nick. I see you found us.”
Innocuous enough from Ivy but still a greeting. He pushed his hat back on his head and leaned forward crossing his arms over the pommel. “Ivy. Jake. You both look real good.”
“I’m glad to see you. Can you stay a while?”
“Guess that’d be up to Jake.”
“Not completely.” She turned in her husband’s arms. “Darling,” she said. “I told you what happened.”
“It’s not that easy to forget,” Jake replied.
“I just want you to try. Leave the past in the past, and focus on what’s happening now. We have so much. Let Nick in.”
Jake’s gaze clung to hers before he transferred his attention to Nick. “You’re welcome to stay a while, Nick.”
He climbed off his horse and tied the reins to the hitching post. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”
“Would you like a cold drink? I’ve got dinner on the stove. It’ll be ready in about half an hour.”
The next day, Nick felt a little more comfortable at the Agee ranch. He was proud of his little brother for creating and building up what seemed like a perfect home for himself. He’d like to stick around here until the baby came and see the next member of the Agee family. All they had were the people on this ranch.
Keeping himself busy in the barn, Nick Gabriel heard the shrill screams. “What the hell?” He sprinted outside. Pandemonium. The ranch yard had erupted with a chaotic din of sounds. A half-ton horse’s iron-clad killing hooves batted the air. His heart almost exploded in his chest in fear for the heavily pregnant Ivy. She was right under the rearing gelding.
“Get that damn horse!” he yelled, racing toward them. Christ. The baby.
The second the horse’s front feet hit the ground, the female rider, her legs wrapped around the barrel belly, jerked the reins sharply to the left yanking her mount away from Ivy. Snorting, angry at being thwarted, the beast tossed his head from side to side, dancing and twisting his hindquarters frantically.
Nick’s eyes and throat burned from the dust and dirt kicked up by heavy hooves. With one hand, he grabbed the bridle, pulling it down to force the horse’s head lower. The other hand snared the woman off and into his arms.
“What are you doing! Where’s Ivy?” The female struggled with him, trying to get away.
“Damn it, woman! Hold still.” His heart pounded with a mixture of fury and fear. “Shouldn’t be on a horse if you can’t control it,” he muttered in a tight cold growl.
Her head snapped up. Her light eyes flashed at him. Her mouth opened and closed as she gasped for breath while digging her fingernails into his arm to pry it from around her waist.
“I’ve got him, Nick.”
He let go of the reins when he heard Jake’s voice. Both hands free now, he spun the woman around and slammed her against his chest. She landed hard. They were glued together, chest to thigh. Her fists flew at him, striking wildly at his nose and ears, knocking his Stetson off. He bent her backwards to throw her off balance and gripped one wrist, pulling it in between them. That didn’t stop her. Gasping and grunting, she continued pushing at him and landing increasingly painful blows with her knees added to the mix.
“Let me go, damn you!”
Then she went limp like she was trying to shimmy right out of his arms. Why he just didn’t release her he had no idea. All he knew was that her soft wiggling body felt good in his hands. His fear for Ivy, anger at this woman, and the startling sensuality of her in his arms baffled him. He was hot, and it was caused by more than the blazing sun.
“Where’s Ivy?” she cried, twisting to survey the yard.
“She’s fine. She’s on the porch,” Jake said as he soothed the gelding by walking it back and forth.
Nick glanced at the porch, gratified to see Ivy safe and secure.
“Let me go!” The woman pushed at his chest.
He should have let her go, but he couldn’t seem to. His large hands circled her waist. She wasn’t a particularly petite woman, her nose came to his chin. Slender and fine boned and, by God, she didn’t have a corset on. But she was strong. Her white-knuckled fingers gripped his shirtfront. Those knuckles were the only things that kept her breasts from being pressed flatly against him.
“Let. Me. Go,” she snarled again.
Ivy was safe. He had no excuse any longer. This woman’s wriggling was only turning him on, and an obvious erection would not be a good thing to show off. Her firm long thighs glancing off his played havoc with his naturally susceptible cock.
They stilled in each other’s arms. It was as if she felt the physical reaction too, as if they were suddenly alone in the yard, sensually aware of each other, aware of the location of each other’s hands. He gazed into her upturned face, into her green eyes, golden rings circling the pupils. Through her parted lips, he could feel her breath on his face in spurts. Warm moist spurts. He could feel both of them breathing heavily, their bodies bumping into each other’s.
“Stinger, Nick!” Jake yelled.
Nick jerked his head up. “Huh?”
Jake, his arm proprietarily around Ivy’s shoulders, shouted from the porch, “A wasp. Stung by a wasp.”
“I’m asking—no—I’m telling you—to let me go, or I’ll hurt you so hard you’ll never touch another woman again.”
His eyes flickered back to her. He’d seen the grin on Jake’s face, obviously quite amused by his troubles. The irritating luscious female took advantage of his momentary distraction, wrenched herself out of his arms, and resolutely stomped to the porch.
“Oh Ivy, I’m so sorry. Are you all right?” The two women hugged as Ivy was urged into the seat of a rocking chair.
Still so stupefied by his reactions, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut even though he’d heard Jake say a wasp had stung the horse. “If you can’t control a horse, you shouldn’t be riding it.” Ivy’d been right under the horse’s hooves, for Christ’s sake.
“Nick, I’m fine,” Ivy said. “Jake got me out of the way. It wasn’t Margee’s fault.”
Margee. Nick ambled over to the porch, stuck one foot on the lower step, and gripped the railing.
“Stinger,” Jake said, handing the miniscule item over to the woman.
She held it in her palm and glared at Nick, her lips pursed, nostrils flared. “See?”
“Yeah, well,” he responded ungraciously.
“And I was holding him just fine until you yanked me off.”
“Come on, let’s start over,” Ivy soothed. “Everyone’s fine. I’m fine. Margee’s fine. Nick, sit down somewhere. Quit fuming.”
“As long as you’re okay,” he said to Ivy as he leaned against the railing, trying to look like he was in control of himself again.
“Nick.” Ivy’s voice held a warning. “This is Margaret McPherson. Margee’s our closest neighbor and owns the Lazy M ranch.”
Turning stiffly, he nodded. “Ma’am,” he said, stubbornly refusing to let go of his anger. He understood why the horse shied, but his reaction to the woman was way out of proportion.
Ivy sighed and patiently completed the introduction. “Margee, this galoot is Nick Gabriel. He’s Jake’s brother. And he’s really not as bad as he may first appear.”
“I’m sure he’s not. Mr. Gabriel,” she acknowledged, just as cool and distant as she could be.
She sure hadn’t felt cool a few minutes ago when she was wriggling and thrashing around in his arms.
“Ivy,” the dratted female said, sounding as sweet as apple pie. “I just wanted to check up on you, but as long as you’re all right, I have to get home. Got to talk to my foreman.”
He heard her aversion at the mention of the foreman. Exchanging a glance with Jake, he promised himself to ask about it later.
When Margee and then Jake rose, Nick didn’t move from his comfortable position lounging against the railing.
She hugged Ivy, nodding tersely in his direction and snapping, “Mr. Gabriel.” Then to Jake, “Remember to send someone for me when the baby comes, and I’ll get here as fast as I can.”
“I sure will,” Jake responded. “Thanks, honey.”
Nick scrubbed his face with his hand as he watched his brother escort her to her horse. He knew the minute she rode out Ivy would be wondering what the hell he thought he was doing. But she wouldn’t put it so rudely. He didn’t intend to be around for the third degree. Sneaking away back to the barn, he knew, was the coward’s way out, but he needed to think.
Grabbing a pitchfork, he started picking apart bales and tossing hay onto the floor of the stalls. He didn’t need Ivy asking him what the hell just happened. He was a grown man and had a pretty good idea. In some ways the woman resembled Ivy, both were tall and dark haired. But Margee’s hair had bright auburn glints, and her eyes were a glorious golden green which he’d seen quite clearly as she’d glared up at him like a spit fire. He chuckled quietly.
Ivy had become his ideal of womanhood, and she was a spit fire. Man oh man, Margee McPherson was a nice handful of woman. Christ!
Well, it didn’t matter, because obviously she didn’t care much for him. She was probably a dried up old maid whose only interests were her ranch and her cows. “Humph!” She wasn’t all that old, and her body didn’t feel all that dried up. It didn’t sound like she had a husband. She’d said she had to meet with her foreman. It was interesting that she was the sole owner of the Lazy M.
“Damn.” He forked the hay, sneezing at the dust upended in his furious tossing. And wasn’t she one fine woman? Her body sure felt fine. Astute enough to realize where his mind was headed, he wasn’t sure he should let it go there. “She’s probably tough as nails if she runs her own ranch,” he muttered, sticking the pitchfork into the ground and leaning on the handle. His fingers curled into his palms. She’d been warm and soft. Nothing much on under her clothes, no corset anyway, no whalebones. Did she wear men’s undergarments or female silk? Silk with lace and bows?
Well, I’ll just have to find out. She’d been pretty steamed at him, but he was skilled at seduction. It hadn’t been too long ago that he’d left San Francisco and the lovely sexy Yvonne DuPuy. He shouldn’t be hungry for another woman, but he found he was. Hungry for one Margee McPherson.