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Stepbrother Master(2)

By:Ava Jackson



***

I barely had time to look around the foyer before Mom bustled over. “Emmie!” She enveloped me in a tight hug, pressing a very European kiss to each cheek. “How was your flight? You look good. Oh, it's so nice to see you.”

“You’re acting like you haven’t seen me in months. It’s only been a couple weeks,” I said, unable to hold back my smile as I squeezed her. It was good to see her again—especially with the same love-struck, happy expression she’d had on her face when she first guilted me into coming here. “My flight was fine. You really didn’t have to send a jet.”

She finally released me. “Nonsense. You know I only want the best for my baby girl.”

I opened my mouth to argue, but she turned away as a tall, dark-haired man came in from the kitchen, toweling off his hands. “Russ, this is Emma! I’m so excited for the two of you to finally meet.”

A genuine smile spread over his handsome face. I could already see why Mom liked him.

“Well, it’s about damn time. Your mom talks nonstop about you, Emma. So glad to finally put a face to the name.” He reached out for a damp, but firm handshake. “We’re happy to have you with us for the festivities and the rest of the summer.”

Footsteps creaked behind me and Russ glanced over my shoulder. “Hey, perfect timing, Ford. Now I don’t have to track you down to meet Emma.”

I turned to see … the hottie from outside. I started to smile, but Russ continued, “Emma, this is Ford, my son. He runs the ranch.”

No. Way. In. Hell.

My libido wilted like old lettuce. My new stepbrother-to-be had the nicest ass I’d ever seen on a man. And an eight-pack I wanted to trace with my tongue. On what planet is that fair?

I held out my hand politely and forced down a shiver as his skin connected with mine. I noticed how large his hand was—and how rough it was from his work—as he shook it. I let my eyes linger on him for only a moment this time. It didn’t take a genius to see the family resemblance: the height, the build, and—now that his hat was off—the black hair and blue eyes. One look at Russ gave me a pretty good idea of what Ford would look like in about thirty or so years.

Ford’s blue eyes were hard … almost cold. What happened to the stare that had caressed my entire body just outside? Apparently, I’d been imagining things. He had definitely not been undressing me with his eyes earlier. Just the thought did things to my belly. And lower. I mentally slapped myself. Bad Emma! No thinking like that about a guy who's seven days away from being family.

Oblivious of my inner turmoil, Russ smiled at us. “Why don't you and your mom catch up while I get the steaks on the grill?”

Mom commented in a stage whisper, “We have a darling housekeeper, but Russ likes to sear a cow every now and again. Part of the whole 'dude ranch' experience.”

Russ snapped her butt with the towel as he went by. Mom yelped and turned to grin at him. I couldn't decide whether to feel grossed out or laugh, so I glanced at Ford. “So … you run this whole place, huh?”

He nodded, but that was all.

I tried again. “How long have you been in charge?”

“Since college.” His voice was deep and smooth—in a way that would have been attractive, I forcibly reminded myself, if he weren't about to be my new stepbrother.

“Is it weird to have your dad as a boss?”

He studied me for a second. “My dad’s retired, actually, so I’m the boss around here.” His voice was as icy and cold as the look on his face. “Probably a good thing, because someone has to look out for him.”

What the hell is that supposed to mean? His posture stiffened when he glanced toward the window. I followed his line of sight to where our respective parents acted like teenagers, playing grab-ass while pretending to grill. I snapped my gaze back to Ford. That wasn’t something I wanted to see—and apparently he felt the same. Something told me he was less than happy about this whirlwind romance and upcoming wedding. I looked for a way to break the awkward silence.

But before I could think of anything, Ford turned away. “Excuse me. I've got work to do before dinner.”

And then he just walked off. I stared after him, trying really hard not to notice how his worn jeans clung to his perfect, you-could-bounce-a-quarter-off-it ass.

Mom swept back into the house, wincing as the front door slammed behind Ford. “Everything okay in here?”

I gave her a wry look. “Ford doesn't seem like the 'singing kumbaya' type.”

Mom made a thoughtful noise. “He's a little … um … shy,” she finally said. “He takes a while to open up. You have to get to know him.”

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