After Cass’s strong show of personal boundaries the day before, Emilio counted himself fortunate to have talked her into an outing the next evening.
He walked the stone path toward the pool house late in the afternoon, going through his game plan in his head since he didn’t want to trigger Cass’s defenses again today. It wasn’t that Emilio couldn’t handle rejection. Because even though it sucked to be shown the door, he understood her reticence where he was concerned. Respected it, even.
But after the way she’d gone ten shades of pale at the sound of the tractor backfiring, he hadn’t wanted to leave her alone. He hated trusting her safety to an alarm system, but what choice did he have?
So today, as he rapped on the front door of the pool house, he reminded himself to focus on having fun. To remind her of the friendship they’d once shared while they enjoyed the first rodeo of the spring.
When the door opened a second later and Cass appeared framed in the entryway, his breath caught. Not just because she looked so sexy in her jeans and a pink-and-gray flannel, but also because he was struck by the sense that she belonged here. Like she fit perfectly into ranch life and Montana. Her hair was caught in a low ponytail that rested on one shoulder. Curls cascaded from the pink elastic, spilling down one arm and over her breast. Her cowboy boots were work-weathered and creased, telling him they weren’t just for show.
“Are you ready?” he asked, his voice rougher than he’d intended. Probably because he was fighting the urge to kiss her hard—then and there—and persuade her with his hands and his tongue that they were better off staying in her bedroom all day.
But that wasn’t the game plan. Not yet, anyway.
An hour later, after parking his truck in the fairgrounds overflow lot, Emilio paid their admission to a couple of gangly teens for Chuck Wagon Days. Live country music played on the midway, the smell of popcorn and barbecue mingling in the air. And of course, the ever-present scent of hay and horses, rodeo staples.
“Would you believe I haven’t been to a rodeo since one of my foster parents took me the summer I turned thirteen?” Cassandra remarked as they paused to join a crowd watching a rubber duck race.
They’d ridden a few rides and he’d treated her to barbecue in the food tent, but now they took their time visiting the vendors and seeing some of the games.
“Then you’ve been missing out.” Emilio applauded for the winners of the race, a family team whose duck wore a white cowboy hat. “I owe everything I have now to rodeo.”
Cassandra straightened from the rail where they’d watched the end of the duck race, and they continued down the midway. A roping demonstration drew a small crowd, but they bypassed it to head toward the musical performers.
“You mentioned that’s how you met Gavin.” She had to raise her voice to be heard over the twang of steel guitars as they skirted the band shell.
As they rounded the open-air structure, Emilio spotted a makeshift dance floor under a small pavilion where couples two-stepped until the music changed to a slower number. Other pairs joined the dancers, while some two-steppers bowed out.
Unable to resist the chance to touch Cassandra, he took her hand.
“I’ll tell you all about it if you’ll dance with me.”
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