When they’d been younger, the kisses and hugs didn’t mean much more than a friendly embrace. As they grew older—or more importantly, as he and Liam had grown older—they’d started to notice the changes with Claire. She’d grown breasts, which they noticed when they were seventeen. Liam’s dad had built a pool in the backyard, and when Claire had stripped and dived in, both Liam and Shane had to duck down in the water to hide their reactions.
Then on her eighteenth birthday, Claire had worn the tightest red dress he’d ever seen. Her curves couldn’t be ignored.
Other guys who’d ignored her were starting to pay attention. He and Liam kept them back. Neither would admit their attraction.
Instead, he’d been left wanting a woman he knew he could never have. Claire was one of his best friends, and the only woman he’d ever been open with.
Shane wrapped his arms around her and inhaled her comforting scent. “I’ve loaded the feed,” he said as he pulled away. Having her in his arms wasn’t good for long periods of time. Shane never wanted to let go.
“You work too much,” Claire said as she went back to her space behind the counter.
“It comes with being a ranch hand. We’ve got to eat something,” Liam answered.
Shane stood next to his friend and glanced down at the sheet of paper in front of Claire. “What’s this?”
She snatched it out of his grip. “Nothing.”
“Application forms don’t look like nothing. Are you thinking of moving out of Long Mead?” Shane didn’t want to think of life without her. He loved her, dammit, and didn’t want her to go.
Liam tensed at his side, and Shane knew he’d be equally as upset.
“Yes, no, I don’t know.” She folded up the piece of paper and placed it under the counter.
“It’s either a yes or a no,” Shane said, sounding angry.
Claire sighed and glanced up. Her dark-brown eyes glared back at him. “This isn’t your business. If I move out of town—”
“You’ll be in for a mighty big spanking, that’s what,” Shane said. Liam stayed out of the conversation.
“Don’t threaten me, Shane. I’m a big girl, and if I want to leave, then I can. It’s not like anything is stopping me from going.”
Her comment cut him deep.
“You’ve got me and Liam.”
She scoffed. “I’m sure your wives, when you get them, would love that.”
“We’re not getting married.” Shane knew Liam felt the same way about Claire. Neither of them wanted any other woman. They both wanted her.
“You don’t know that.”
“You’re not leaving Long Mead,” he said.
“Don’t even think of telling me what to do, Shane Cook,” Claire yelled.
Liam stood between them, even with the counter dividing them. “Stop. Claire isn’t leaving town yet. Let’s calm down and talk about it.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. When a decent job comes up, I’m leaving town.”
Shane went to say something else, but Liam cut him off. “We’ll talk later.” He mouthed the words.
He nodded his head and glanced back at Claire. Her chest was heaving, and even after arguing with her, his body responded to her heaving chest. Shane wanted to see her naked, to be able to look at, suck, and kiss every part of her body.
“I’m sorry I yelled,” he said.
“Accepted, and I’m sorry I did, too.” She leaned over the counter and kissed Shane.
For once he wanted to feel her lips against his for longer than a split second. He wanted to know what it would be like to have her melt with pleasure under his hands.
Shane, Liam, and Claire kept talking for the remainder of the staff lunch break and left as the first lot of workers began to drift in.
Shane nodded at a few people and followed Liam out to the truck. He slammed the door harder than usual.
“Shane,” Liam said.
“Don’t.” Shane cut him off.
Shane started the truck and raced toward their ranch. The window was rolled down, and he let the breeze calm him.
After the thirty-minute drive, he pulled up to the ranch.
“We’ve got to talk about Claire,” Liam said the moment the ignition turned off.
“What’s to talk about? She’s going to find a job, leave town, get a man, and never remember us again.” There he went sounding all soppy.
“It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Shane turned to his other best friend. “Why? We can’t make her stay. She deserves to have a life. To have a family and a man who can care about her.”
“I care about her, Shane. Fuck me. I love her. Always have. Nothing’s going to change the way I feel,” Liam argued. Shane paused as the other ranch hands walked toward the car.