A Cowboy in Manhattan(4)

He smelled steaks grilling and knew his brother had a head start on dinner. He’d learned that steaks were the only thing Caleb knew how to cook. Thinking about his brother’s ineptitude in the kitchen made something warm settle deep into Reed’s chest.

It had only been a few weeks since he’d reconciled with his fraternal twin brother. They’d been estranged and angry with each other since their mother had passed away ten years ago. They’d both blamed their cruel, domineering father for her death from untreated pneumonia. But their reactions had been poles apart. Caleb had left home in anger. Reed had stayed behind to protect his mother’s ranch heritage.

Reed heard a female voice through the screen door.

Mandy, obviously.

When Caleb had come home to settle problems with the will, the two had reconnected and fallen deeply in love. Reed smiled. He’d always thought of Mandy as a sister. It would be nice to have her officially become part of the family.

He grabbed himself a cold bottle of beer from the fridge, flipped the cap into the trash can and headed outside. There, he stopped short, seeing Katrina sitting at the table. Hearing his footsteps, she turned toward him.

A glass of red wine dangled between delicate fingers tipped with sculpted nails. And she was laughing at something Mandy had said. Her jewel-blue eyes were alight in the evening sunshine. The slanting rays glinted off her shimmering blouse where it clung to softly rounded breasts. As a professional dancer, her body had a perfect shape and symmetry that kick-started his libido.

As she took in his expression, her smile faltered, and the glow left her blue eyes. “Hello, Reed.” She paused. “Something wrong?”

He realized he was scowling. She was Mandy’s sister. He shouldn’t be secretly fantasizing about her. She might not spend much time in Lyndon Valley, but he was going to have to make this work.

“Nothing’s wrong,” he insisted, striding forward. “I’m hungry.” He forced himself to focus on Caleb who was wielding a spatula over the grill.

“About ten minutes,” Caleb offered.

Since dishes, salads and bread were already set out on the rectangular table, Reed chose one of the low-slung wooden Adirondack chairs, parked his body and took a swig of his beer.

Mandy moved to the barbecue beside Caleb, placing her hand lightly on his shoulder, their backs to Reed and Katrina.

“Did you have a nice flight in?” Reed asked Katrina, keeping his tone polite and even.

“It was good.” She nodded, her tone even in return. “Very comfortable.” She swiveled to perch herself backward on the bench seat at the table, fully facing him.

In his peripheral vision, he saw Mandy playfully kiss his brother’s cheek and whisper something in his ear.

“First class?” he asked Katrina.


He caught the narrowing of her eyes. “No reason.”

“You think I’m a princess?”

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Truth was, he was thinking that nobody had a “very comfortable” flight in coach. He was also thinking that first-class seating was a waste on somebody as petite as her.

Their gazes clashed for several seconds.

“Staying long?” he tried, wondering if she’d turn that into an insult, as well.

But her expression faltered, and she didn’t answer for a moment. “A week. Maybe two.”

“Still dancing?” He didn’t know anything about her life in New York City, except that she was some kind of important ballerina, and Mandy was anxious to go see her perform.

“Still dancing,” she confirmed, with a quirk of a smile. “You’re still ranching?”

“Still ranching.” He nodded. “You must be here on vacation?”

“Yes,” she replied, the barest hint of sarcasm in her tone.

“What?” he probed.

“What?” she responded, concentrating on taking a sip of her wine.

“It’s not a vacation?” he guessed.

She glanced sideways at her sister for a split second. Then she shrugged. “No pool deck or palm trees. But I guess you could call it a vacation.”

“Princess,” he muttered through a smile.

“A girl’s got to keep up her tan.”

He gave a pointed glance to his deeply browned forearms. “Not a problem around these parts.”

“I bet you’ve got those farmer-tan lines at the short-sleeve mark.”

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