Roping the Rancher

How far will he go to give her what she wants?

A NotMy1stRodeo.com Story

Tommy Tucker doesn’t know what he wants. All he knows is that the girls his own age that he asks out don’t quite do it for him. Until he meets Carly, the manager at a local restaurant.

Carly can’t believe a young buck like Tommy would even look twice at her and she has no interest in being anyone’s cougar. The last time she got involved with a customer, she wound up in a horrible marriage.

Still, when Tommy tells her that he’ll do whatever she tells him to…Carly can’t resist the chance to take what she wants from a man with no strings attached. But no one said anything about scarves…

When Tommy graduates, will Carly let him go—or will she keep him for herself?

Warning: Contains an older woman in charge, a younger man eager to please and a silk scarf tied to a headboard.

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Note: This is a new cover and publisher for novellas that were previously in July 2016.

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Chapter One

The drink hit Tommy Tucker square in the face. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Stacy asked as she stood and grabbed her things.

Well, for starters, he was now wearing an amaretto sour. “Baby,” Tommy started to say, but he wasn’t fast enough. Not that he was trying to be all that fast.

Stacy was not that into him. A nine-dollar drink to the face made that pretty damned clear.

“Don’t you ‘baby’ me, you ass.” Stacy threw her coat over her shoulders and shot him a mean look. “Why did you even want to be with me if you think you want to see other people? I didn’t say anything about seeing other people. I thought—”

Oh, God. Her lip quivered.

“—I was what you wanted.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Tommy protested, but he was talking to nothing but air. Stacy was gone—just like all the others before her had gone, with a huff and a cutting look.

For the life of him, Tommy didn’t even know why he’d brought up having an open relationship. He’d only been seeing Stacy for about five weeks—by some standards, that wasn’t even long enough to be exclusive in the first place.

He’d brought her here tonight with the intention of telling her about his father’s upcoming wedding. But at the last second, he’d changed course. Almost without realizing what words were coming out of his mouth, he’d asked instead if it’d be okay if they slept with other people.

That was a hell of a far cry from a wedding invitation.

Stacy should have been perfect. She was hot and smart and…hot. She liked cowboys and she loved riding reverse cowboy. What more did a guy need in college, right?

But then she’d had to go and celebrate their first-month anniversary last week. She’d gotten him a rose, for crying out loud. Who the hell marked a one-month anniversary with flowers?

He wiped the amaretto off his cheek. His shirt would never be the same. That was his own damn fault—he had to stop wearing white shirts on dates.

“That didn’t look like it went so well.” A towel appeared in front of him. “You all right, hon?”

Tommy wiped off his face and looked up at his savior. Carlene. He didn’t know her last name—Carlene was all her nametag said.

He didn’t know much at all about the woman standing before him, only that she was a waitress here at Peachtree’s. She was older and she didn’t wear a ring. He didn’t know how much older, though. She wasn’t a college girl, that much was clear. She had a woman’s curves.

Not that he’d noticed. He hadn’t. Not much, anyway.

What he did know was that he had been bringing various dates to this Peachtree’s in Helena, Montana, throughout his senior year at the University of Montana and Carlene had been his waitress for all of them. She had served him dinner and brought him beer through three different girlfriends, Stacy included, four other dates that went nowhere, and once when he’d been stood up by a girl from his economics class.

Actually, Tommy knew other things about Carlene. She wore tight, slim-cut pants—pants, not leggings or jeggings or whatever the hell the college girls were wearing. She wore actual pants, usually black, cut close to show off her ass. And she wore heels. Not comfort shoes and not trendy platforms. Not even boots, which during a crushing Montana winter, were everywhere. She usually had on black pumps with at least a four-inch heel.

While the other servers in the restaurant wore Peachtree’s emblazoned polo tops, Carlene almost always had on a button-up shirt, usually white and usually unbuttoned to the point where he could almost glimpse the edge of her bra when she leaned forward to set his drinks on the table. Almost, but not quite.

She liked sports. She frequently paused in the middle of her rounds, her eyes fastened on one of the seven screens that dotted the Peachtree’s bar as she watched a touchdown or three-pointer. If it was her team, she’d do this little shimmy in celebration that always made his mouth go dry. And if it wasn’t her team, she’d stomp her foot in frustration—all without ever spilling a drop of anything she was carrying. As far as Tommy could tell, she rooted for Denver and Seattle’s teams—football, basketball. He hadn’t been coming here long enough to know if she followed baseball.

“Yeah, I’m all right.” He glanced up to see Carlene watching him closely. He wasn’t exactly upset that Stacy had bailed, but he wished he didn’t look like such a loser in front of Carlene. He tried to make a joke to cover his embarrassment. “Another wild Saturday night, I guess.”

“Was that the second or third time one of those girls threw their drink in your face?” Carlene clucked at him. “I don’t know what you’re saying to them, but maybe you should try a different line.”

His cheeks heated. Was she scolding him?

But then her voice dropped as she said, “Here, you missed a spot.”

Before Tommy knew what was happening, Carlene had taken her towel back from him. She found a drier corner and began to blot amaretto sour from his forehead.

Tommy’s eyes fluttered at her touch and he went more than a little bit hard in his jeans. Thank God for the table, because he’d hate to be busted sporting a hard-on in the middle of a family dining establishment.

Something about this wasn’t right. He was twenty-two, for God’s sake. He should not be sitting in Peachtree’s, seconds after being justifiably dumped for being an asshole, and getting hard as an older woman cleaned his face.

Carlene ran a manicured finger under his chin and lifted his face up. The tip of her nail scraped over his skin and he shivered. She felt it, too. Her eyes widened and her lips parted. A vision of her in bed, panting and moaning in satisfaction, made his mouth dry. “You keep coming in here,” she said in a much softer voice that sent shockwaves through him, “with all these pretty young things and it never seems to end well, does it?”

This was madness. But what the hell. “Maybe I should try something else,” he said, gazing up at her. He hoped like hell he didn’t look like some lost puppy dog that needed to be taken home and fed a warm bowl of milk.

If she was offended, she didn’t show it. Instead, Carlene leaned down and ran the rough edge of the towel over his cheek as she said, “Maybe you should.”

Half hard? More like rock hard. Her voice vibrated right through his chest and the tension between them began to tighten, pulling him closer toward her. He had the overwhelming urge to do something—pull her into his lap, fall down at her knees—anything to show her that he wasn’t some novice who needed to be taken care of.

He wanted to show her that he could take care of her.

If only he knew how. But even he could see the folly in asking his waitress out mere minutes after being dumped. Nothing would reek of desperation more.

Carlene’s eyes widened slightly, her pupils darkening. Hell, she was interested. But as he opened his mouth to say something, she straightened up, breaking the tension between them. “Keep the towel,” she said in her usual waitress voice. “I’ll bring you another beer—on the house.”

“You’re a wonderful woman, Carlene,” Tommy called after her and he wasn’t even joking about it.

She paused and shot him a look over her shoulder that made his blood run hot in a way Stacy’s looks never had. “Just figuring that out, are you?” And then she went to the bar.

 

 

He sat there for a long time—longer than he usually did when he brought his dates to her restaurant. Carly tried not to think about what happened between Tommy and his dates after they left together, arms slung around each other’s waists. It was none of her business.

Or it hadn’t been, anyway.

Saturday night was busy and Carly had to manage the restaurant, but she kept an eye on the young cowboy. Men flirted with her all the time. It was one of those things that went with the job—a warm smile and prompt refills seem to be an invitation to some people and most of those people were men. Not always, but most.

Not that Carly was a waitress. She wasn’t. She was the assistant manager of this restaurant and the weekend was her regular shift. But Saturday, it seemed, was prime time for someone to call in “sick” and it was easier for Carly to fill in than it was to call in someone else. Well, it’d been that way in the beginning.

That’s not the way it still was. Not when it seemed like every other week that young cowboy came in with yet another girl. She shouldn’t be as invested in Tommy’s life as she was. She shouldn’t care what he did with his girlfriends, how many girlfriends he had—or how many threw their drinks in his face.

He was one of her regulars, that was all. She’d always been the kind of person who got involved with people—that’s why she was still in the restaurant business twenty years after she’d taken her first job as a waitress at the age of sixteen.

Besides, that young buck was far too young for her. That’s all there was to it.

Except he was still sitting there, nursing his beer and watching a Denver Nuggets game. And every so often, Carly would glance in his direction and catch his eyes on her.

She shook her head. Once, she’d let herself get infatuated with one of her patrons. She’d been twenty-one, putting herself through college by waitressing tables. Drake had been older, a distinguished professor who taught economics at her college, although she’d never taken one of his classes. He’d been lonely, sweet—or so she’d thought—and good-looking. Especially that.

The fact that he’d been picking up a waitress almost half his age should have been her first clue. But she’d ignored that warning sign and all the ones that came after that until it was too late. Instead, she’d tried to convince herself that if she could be the woman he wanted, he’d finally love her like he’d promised he would.

She’d married Drake Wilton before she was twenty-four. The marriage lasted less than three years before she’d gotten out.

Since then, Carly hadn’t gotten involved with the customers or co-workers—or anyone else, for that matter—at any of her jobs. Especially not here, where over the last nine years—since her divorce—she’d worked her way up to assistant manager.

She shuddered at the unbidden memories. She would never give up her hard-won security again. No man was worth the pain.

“Can I get you anything else?” she said, clearing the now-empty beer glass off Tommy’s table.

He didn’t say anything at first, and she braced herself for the cliché, “just your number!” But it didn’t come.

Instead, Tommy looked at her as if he was really seeing her, which always made Carly nervous. She had cultivated her work personality and she could play the part of the friendly waitress who cared about how you like your steaks cooked in her sleep. After the whole thing with Drake, she’d made sure to keep that waitress mask up and on at all times. The moment she arrived at work, she was Carlene, your friendly local restaurant manager. She loved cleaning up messes. She lived to refresh soft drinks. Nothing made her as happy as making sure that you had a good meal.

But that wasn’t who she was.

And for the first time in months, she wondered if someone could tell.

“Not tonight,” Tommy finally said, still staring at her as if she was a puzzle he could solve, if only he could find the right piece.

She shouldn’t. “You going to be okay on your own tonight?” It was the kind of offer that any reasonably red-blooded man would take exactly one way. She didn’t know why she said it. She didn’t even know how she wanted him to take it.

It wasn’t fair for this kid—and she was under no illusion that that’s what he was, a kid with one foot barely into adulthood—to look this good, even with the stains of his date’s drink marring his collar. His beautiful brown eyes widened and one corner of his mouth curved up into a lazy smile. He knew exactly what she had asked.

Dammit. She must be an idiot to even imply that she could take care of this boy. How could she get out of this without losing one of her best customers? Because Tommy was. He tipped generously and, aside from the occasional spilled drink, never left a mess.

He stood slowly and Carly had the chance to take in all of him. Okay, so he was a boy playacting being a man. That didn’t mean he didn’t have a man’s body. He was at least six-feet tall—Carly knew that because she was five-eleven in her heels. But he wasn’t gangly. He might’ve been when he was younger, but he’d filled out. His shoulders were wide and his chest…

She shouldn’t be staring at his chest, no matter how broad and muscled it was. Nope. Not staring.

Not. Staring.

In a panic, she snapped her gaze back up to his face. Oh, hell—busted. He was watching her watch him.

“Been thinking about what you said,” he said in a casual voice as he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and fished out two fifties—more than enough to cover his tab, especially since that last beer had been on her. He didn’t hand her the money, though. Instead, he laid it out on the table.

Carly cringed on the inside. Okay, so she might’ve started this—what with the towel and caring about if he was going to be okay tonight. But the problem with being a waitress who worked for tips—or even an assistant manager who worked for tips—was that when men hit on you, it always carried the stink of a transaction. Leave a nice tip; get some flirting. Leave an even nicer tip; he gets your telephone number—or more. It was the men who expected the more that made her skin crawl.

She didn’t want Tommy to think she could be bought.

“Yeah?” She didn’t miss the way her voice wavered a little bit. $100 on a $50 bill was a huge tip.

“Yeah,” he said, picking up his hat and putting on his head. With the hat on, he looked at least ten years older. He looked like he almost might have been her age, or close enough that it wouldn’t have been weird for her to be caught gaping at his chest like a schoolgirl. “I think I might be ready to try something different.”

And then, giving her that sly smile that did things to her that it shouldn’t, he touched the tip of his fingers to the brim of his hat, turned around, and walked out of the restaurant.

Well.

That’d been different, all right.

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