Apparently everything they’d gained last night had no bearing today. Something she had said or did had clearly aggravated him. She stepped back and leaned against the wall opposite the stall, silently daring him to go on with his challenge or inquiry or whatever he was getting at.
Seeing the challenge, he was more than happy to oblige. “I bet you think horses are just pretty animals that give you rides when you put a saddle on them.” His voice was harsh, but somehow Brianna felt he wasn’t trying to be as maliciously insulting as he sounded. Part of it was clearly frustration.
“No,” she answered his question absolutely, yet worried something in her voice betrayed her. Last week, that had been all she had known about horses. She stared at him boldly until he returned her gaze.
The coldness was clear. He had set out to trip her up and had succeeded in spite of her efforts to the contrary. He glared at her in silence. When she wouldn’t go on with more details, he spit out, “Get out of here.” His voice was rife with anger and annoyance that had been bottled up for a long time.
But even through the anger, there was a sense of conflict within his words as if they were displaced and perhaps not wholly directed at her. However, Brianna was tired of being intimidated by him for no clear reason. She had thought they had shared something last night in the cool air of post-rain quiet, but now he was trying so hard to push her away. It wasn’t going to be that easy. Not now, not this time. Brianna decidedly refused to drop Matt’s gaze, willing him to turn away first. After a momentary test of wills, he did, swirling on his heel and heading to the tack box for some tools.
He expects me to just leave, she realized. She wasn’t about to give him that satisfaction. “Why?” she asked, her voice full of challenge.
Matt began to brush Montana, every stroke showing his harsh emotions. She took a step away from the wall toward him, and he abruptly looked up at her.
She caught his gaze fully and gasped—not in fear, but confusion. He’s scared? No, not scared; unnerved. About talking to me? Now? Why? She almost smiled at the revelation, and he saw it in her eyes.
In a rush of animalistic fury, Matt flew out of the stall and charged the few steps toward her, pinning her to the wall. “Because!”
Brianna felt as though she were physically restrained, but tearing her eyes away from his for just a second, she glanced down and saw he wasn’t even touching her; he hadn’t touched her at all. Matt’s face was only inches from hers, she realized, when she looked back up. His dark eyes bored into hers, and his breath came hard and fast. His gaze dropped down to her lips. Brianna’s heart was already beating fast with adrenaline, but it abruptly changed rhythm without slowing. Her eyes went to his lips, and she saw him wet them with his tongue.
He’s going to kiss me, she thought wildly as every synapse in her body went off.
Matt leaned in slightly, and her eyelids instinctively dropped a little as she anticipated the warm pressure of his lips against hers. She could feel his breath on her cheek, fast and warm. After a few seconds of nothing, her eyes flew open. He hadn’t moved, but his lips and eyes were shut tight. Slowly, his eyes opened and sought hers. They were cloudy and confused.
In a voice barely above a whisper, he breathed, “Just because. Leave.” With that, his eyes hardened, and he pushed himself away from her and the wall. He turned his back on her and leaned against the half-wall of Montana’s stall.
A rush of cool air came across her when his body drew away from hers, waking her from her daze. She stood there silently for a moment, then, in a louder voice than she had intended, she asked, “What is it?”
Matt’s shoulders tensed, and he swung around at her suddenly, but remained silent. Readjusting her tone as she began to feel more confidently defiant, she dared further, “What are you so scard of?”
“You seem so tense. Will you please tell me what’s wrong?”
Brianna looked at Ben for a moment. His head rested against the couch back. His eyes were unguarded, and he truly was concerned. Coming to a decision, she said, “No.”
Ben’s eyes closed in frustration, and he was about to protest when she kissed him. She felt his shock then willing acceptance, wholly and hungrily kissing her back. Her mind whirled and heart raced faster with every moment as she felt his hand reach up and cup the back of her head, pulling her even closer and kissing her more deeply until he took her very breath away.
With blood pounding in her ears and coursing through her body, she unraveled herself from the blanket without her lips leaving his and pushed herself to her knees, causing his head to lean further back against the couch. Freed from her constraints, she leaned toward him more and felt his arms come around her waist. Encouraged, she lifted her leg and shifted so she straddled him, pushing herself against him as his hands roamed her back.
She broke the kiss then, and he strained toward her for more, but she held him there, willing him to open his eyes. They drifted slowly open, and she was met with a look of clouded passion, all for her. “Brianna,” he croaked in a voice heavy with desire as his gaze dropped to her mouth.
Hearing her name on his lips was an aphrodisiac, accentuated by the hard evidence of his arousal beneath her. Feeling incredibly brazen, she found her voice and asked softly, “Do you want me to stop?” before leaning in again and kissing him where his jaw met his neck.
“No,” he said with evident strain, his breathing ragged. “I want you so bad I can taste it.”
She pulled back and looked into his eyes with renewed passion all the more intense with his matched desire. “Then taste it.”
His lips met hers fiercely with maddened hunger. Her mind rushed with intense flashes of arousal as he turned slightly and pressed forward, lowering her onto her back on the couch.
Brianna was startled awake and gasped as the front door opened loudly. Her heart continued to pound wildly as she looked dazedly around her. She was still wrapped tightly in her blanket. Looking beside her, Ben was still entirely on the other cushion of the small couch. His eyes went to her briefly then toward the door.
She looked down in bewilderment, feeling the blood rush to her face. She had fallen asleep. It had been all a dream; a very, very vivid dream. Taking a deep breath, she physically shook her head to clear it before looking up dazedly at the new arrival.
Quickly sidestepping to block her way, he continued, “Non, non, non. Not when we are finally meeting for real. Stay and have a drink with me.” He threw out a dazzlingly bright smile to sweeten the offer.
She raised a surprised and annoyed eyebrow before shifting again and walking past him.
“S’il vous plaît… Elyse.”
That stopped her, and she turned toward him, blinking dumbly for several seconds before her brow furrowed in confusion and a little apprehension. “How—?”
The dark-haired man smiled even brighter. It dawned on her almost immediately, and she felt stupid at not having realized it. The name tag on her bag at the airport; he had read out her name. Of course he could know it, but to remember it still? He had been thinking about her all this time then?
With that thought, Elyse bristled again with the fact that he had, indeed, been following her for days and he’d just stolen something and embraced her on a side street all too familiarly. She blushed at that memory. She had not been completely innocent; she’d responded to his advance. And now he wanted to have a drink with her? Did he actually think she’d say yes? Did she want to say no?
At her hesitation, he smiled again and took a step forward, reaching for her hand. “You want to. Why do you fight this?”
Knowing he was right and not entirely happy about it, Elyse pulled her hand from his and pushed past him, needing to gather her thoughts and finding that incredibly challenging when he was smiling at her like that. He was incredibly handsome and clearly interested, which was flattering and excited her in a way she couldn’t push down. But he had stolen something, and she knew it was probably best just to walk away.
Romance Rendezvous Book Blast: Victoria is one of the attending authors at the Romance Rendezvous Book Blast Signing Event in Cedar Falls, IA, August 21, 2021.
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Author House released Awake in Elysian Fields in June 2020.
Bartleby the Brave (and the Spanish translation Miedosin el Valiente) are now available!
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