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Tantrum (Kenshaw Ranch Book 3) by Piper Frost, M. Piper, H.Q. Frost (1)


 

 

Four years ago I left this town. Four years ago I thought I was finally getting away. I thought, 'This is it. I'm going to do something with my life.' Small towns be damned! I was going to a big city to become more than a part-time tattoo artist in a shitty town with less than five hundred people in it. Well, I was fucking wrong. I should have known though. Hell, even Bo Hart ended up back in this hellhole. There's no escaping this place. After Vegas I coulda decided to go somewhere else in the country, but somehow I found myself back at home.

For a while all I did was fuck around in Vegas, that is until shit got out of hand. I was staying with my twin sister, living it up. Her husband didn't like me, but who the fuck cares? Her kids love Uncle Chase. I lived in their basement for a year until I saved up enough to get my own place. That was the best feeling in the world, finally having shit in order to buy my own place. At twenty-seven, I was officially a homeowner. Finally, I was going somewhere with my life.

The tattoo artist gig started getting me in with some important people. I'm great at what I do and I was finally becoming recognized for it. After training under some of the top names in Vegas, I built up my clientele and made a good living. I was hot fucking shit... And then it all went to shit. How the fuck was I supposed to know my most recent big-titted conquest was married to my boss? I barely saw the guy; only met him face to face a handful of times. Our interactions about work were mostly done over the phone. I knew nothing about him except he signed my paycheck. Hell, if I didn't hear his distinguishable voice booming through the hallway of their house while I ran away from his fists, I probably wouldn't have recognized him.

After that, it took him twelve hours to crumble my career. Twelve hours to ruin my reputation and put a hit out on me. The man's not stable. Being in that city any longer would have brought Milano Sverzneck and his hit men my way, and possibly my sister's.  

So…I ran.  

And now at thirty years young, I've returned to this fucking town. Vegas changed me. Maybe not for the better, but I'm more grown than I was. I realized some grudges I was holding really served no purpose other than to make myself miserable. I let all that shit go and I'm back as the proud owner of Disposable Ink. The only tattoo shop within a hundred-mile radius of this place. The building is mine, the apartment over it is my home again, and the bar across the street is, yet again, my second job.  

Nobody here appreciates the work I did in Vegas. Nobody here cares; they just want some redneck bullshit to add to their list of other regrets inked into their flesh. Not that I really fucking give a shit what I'm putting on them, as long as it helps pay the bills, but sometimes it'd be nice to tattoo someone that cared a little more about the craft. I'll survive. At least until I've laid low long enough to move again and start over somewhere bigger. Somewhere with a little more potential. Maybe. That, or turn this place around. The familiarity of it all is comforting at times.

The bar isn't a bad gig either. Willie, the owner, was more than happy to take me back even after all this time, and I stepped in like I'd never left. I was gone for four fucking years and it's still the same faces day in and day out. Just the other day a patron that's been coming to Willies since I can remember walked up to me and tried to carry on a conversation we started before I left.  

People here are so afraid of change it makes me want to rip my hair out. I was more than happy to change when I got out of here. Like I said, maybe it all wasn't for the better. For instance, I walked back into this town in shoes that cost about the same as a month's worth of mortgage on my building. I had a suitcase full of designer clothes you can't even find in this state. That isn't shit I'm too proud of, but I deserved the lavish life I was living. I worked hard for it. There's nothing lavish about living in this town though. The paint on my building's faded and chipped. The door to my apartment gets stuck if you close it too hard. Not to mention the tattoo shop really needs an interior decorator or something. This backwoods motif has got to go. But, the money ain't rolling in like it was in Vegas. I gotta use my talent to make me money, and tattooing will bring me more money than me becoming a farmhand or something worse. Not that I don't respect a hardworking rancher like the Kenshaws, but that shit ain't for me.

Speaking of the Kenshaws, I had two separate groups of friends growing up here. The 'Kenshaw' clan was one, as I always called them. It was me, Bo, Brandt, Kinlee, and a few other guys I'm glad I don't see anymore. They're good people, but we drifted apart. I was holding grudges about shit that didn't matter and it took me a bit to realize it. I talk to Kinlee often but not near as much as we used to. Saturday night bonfires with the clan are a thing of the past. Sunday morning breakfasts with Kinlee only became memories at some point. We all grew up and now they're all busy chasing kids and the men are so deep in love it makes me feel sorry for them.  

Then there's my other group of friends. The guys. Grant, Tommy, and Felder. They're a little older than me but we all went to the same school growing up. When I wasn't with the Kenshaw clan, I hung out with these three goons. Grant and Tommy both work at the shop. Usually we alter days so we can all make some profit, and even though I own the place, I'm not their boss. We're equals here, they just pay me rent. I wouldn't have it any other way. Felder's a hotshot salesman and he found himself a wife. He talks a big game, acting like he's got his shit together unlike we do, but he's a mess. Him and his girl are a mess of breakups and make-ups and the guy can drink himself into a three-day blackout. But I wouldn't expect anything less from him.

These three are the closest I've got to family in this small town anymore. That's why it's not abnormal for at least one of them to be sitting at Willies with me at ten a.m. while I stock the quiet bar.

“The fuck's your problem this morning?” I ask Felder while he mopes across my bar top.

“I have the craziest wife on the face of this earth,” he grumbles.

Not denying it, I chuckle and hand him a cup of coffee. The bar doesn't open for a couple hours still but I gotta get inventory done and the new taps installed. Once we open, I won't be getting anything done because its homecoming weekend at the local high school and for some reason parents celebrate it with alcohol.

“And that's why I'm never getting married, my friend.” I smirk when he groans.  

“I can't say it's all bad. Women are just nuts. But I refuse to take a D in the B, so here we are.” He takes a long drink of coffee like he's chugging something that'll make him forget he just told me that.

Turning my back, I try to avoid that conversation but I can feel his eyes on me as I try to count the shelf liquor. Setting my clipboard down, I look at the poor schlep. This is obviously a conversation he wants to get off his chest.

“Well…” I glance around, not really having words of wisdom for one of my closest guy friends when it comes to taking a D in the B. “Maybe you should be more adventurous?” I mumble and rub my forehead, really hoping he changes the subject.

We sit in silence a minute and before I'm about to get back to work, he lets out a chuckle. “I still can't believe you didn't find anyone in Vegas, man. Someone that looks like you? A pretty boy? Still single?”

“First.” I point at him. “I'm not a pretty boy. And second, if this is your way of buttering me up before asking me to have a threesome with you and your wife, you can go fuck yourself.”

“Shut the fuck up.” He laughs, slapping the bar. “I'm being serious. There's ass-loads of hot chicks in Vegas. How didn't you end up snagging one?”

“Vegas isn't all it's cracked up to be, Felder. It's a lot of one-night stands and chicks flying out in the morning to go home to their lives. Plus, I never really cared to look.” I shrug and grab my clipboard. “We done having a Dr. Phil moment? Can you get off your ass and help me?”  

“One of these days you're gonna meet someone you can't stop thinking about, dude. Chicks are evil. They cast spells on men.”

“One of these days pigs will fly too,” I mumble, marking off another list of bottles.  

I love women. I love enjoying women. But I've never really thought of myself as the type of guy that could get married and live that American dream. Trust me, I've seen it all. I've seen single parents struggle. I've seen households with married parents still struggle. I'm watching my friend struggle through his marriage.

My mom's a little distraught over my lifestyle choice, but I'm doing what gets me by. She has a kid she can be proud of for getting married and giving her grandbabies, and that's how it'll stay. I'll remain the hopeless son that not only chases his dreams, but the tail of any sexy girl that walks past. Fi can be my mom's golden child. I think it's funny Fiona turned out how she did, considering how we acted as teenagers. I love my sister to death, but she caused some riffs in this town when we were growing up. She's my twin and I always had her back, but that's not to say she wasn't starting shit just to start it. Doesn't matter, we ruled this town. Then, she moved away and left me here to fend for myself. She somehow mentally grew up practically over a summer and split. She succeeded in life while I refused to let go and I struggled to find air in the sea of small town dead ends. Well, now I'm back and I'm determined to either turn my life around or find my way out again.  

I have yet to decide what I want to do, really. I'm coasting, and it'll only be fun for a few more years.

When the bar opens, the regular Saturday morning flow starts in. Soon this place will be crawling with drunks while they celebrate the beginning of the school year before going home to get their kids ready for the dance. Traffic is heavier than expected today and before I know it the sun's sinking into the horizon and I prepare myself for the drunks that'll come from the high school football game. This is the busiest we've been since I came back to town. These people will come up with any reason to get shitfaced, I guess.  

The door clicks again and I groan, wondering how full this tiny bar will get until we're over legal capacity. I look up and when my eyes hit the girl that just walked in, I forget all about drunk parents, bar capacities, and the fact I need to change our most popular tap already. The cutest redhead I've ever seen just waltzed in with some guy on her arm and there's no way she's from around here. The tool she's with doesn't look like he belongs here either, with a popped collar on a baby blue polo; they have to be visiting someone, maybe for the dance tonight.

“What can I get ya?” I yell to her as she approaches the bar, but before she can respond, Gary, who's been here since noon and already drunk, pushes in front of her and slides his arm out to me.  

“'Nother round for the table over there, Chase,” he slurs, shoving a wad of cash at me.

My eyes hit the girl and she smiles, casually looking around while waiting patiently behind Gary. Then another asshole slides in right behind Gary and she takes a step back to give him space. One asshole is too many in my book, and the fact two have practically shoved her out of the way annoys me, but she doesn't look like she gives a damn. I roll my eyes, grabbing Gary's drinks before taking Asshole Number Two's order. All the while, this chick keeps a smile on her face, but her companion looks like he's about to blow his top.  

“What'll it be?” I ask the two of them while grabbing a few empty glasses off the bar. The bar back can't fucking keep up tonight and I'm going to have to wash these fucking glasses before we run out. I've never seen us this slammed!

The cute redhead steps forward and opens her mouth to say something, but doesn't get words out before another patron shoves her aside and pushes an empty glass at me. “Fill'er up!” he yells.  

I look at the girl, waiting for her order and trying to ignore the dick that just pushed his way in front of her, but dude's getting impatient and this girl isn't standing up for herself. That smile on her face hasn't cracked as she moves for the drunken dick to cut in front of her.

“Come on!” the guy yells at me and I grind my jaw before letting out an annoyed chuckle.  

“She's next, man.” I take his empty glass and set it into the soapy water. When he starts to grumble, I try my hardest not to snap on this idiot. Hasn't anyone ever heard of fucking manners around here? Fuck, even in Vegas people weren't so rude!

“Asshole,” the dude the hot chick's with says before shoving the drunk out of the way.

When he stumbles into another person, people start pushing back. The drunk rights himself and gets in the dude's face. They're staring eye to eye, one waiting for the other to even flinch. I should break this up before it escalates, but maybe a fight will clear this place out some. The showdown between the two brutes doesn't last long before the redhead's squeezing between them and nudging her preppy boyfriend away.

“It's okay, you can order,” she says to the drunk before looking at me with a reassuring smile. “He can order,” she tells me then turns to the guy she's with. “We'll order next.”

“Fuck that! We've been in line forever!”

“What'll you two have,” I say, ignoring the drunk who tried to take her up on her offer. I'm done serving rude assholes tonight.

“Bud light and... What do you want?” He looks at her and her pink lips open to tell him but he turns to me before she has a chance to answer. “Tequila sunrise for her.”

Like I said, I'm done serving rude assholes, so I look at her, waiting for her to actually tell me what she wants.

“That's fine.” A damn cute shrug backs her words, and she's still smiling.

“You sure?” Not that I'm one to judge, but she doesn't look like the type of girl that's going to enjoy that drink. “I can make ya anything you want.” Ignoring her boyfriend's eye roll, I smile at her.  

“I really like that pumpkin ale beer.” She points to the new tap I installed before the bar opened.

“But tequila will get you drunk faster,” the dude counters.

“Yeah. Okay. That's fine.” She looks at me again. “It's okay, I'll take what he ordered.”

I take a deep breath, hating assholes that think they can dictate what a woman wants, and turn to grab a couple glasses. Fuck this jerk.  

“Bud Light for you,” I murmur, pushing the glass toward him then walk over to the tap and pour her a pint of pumpkin ale. Grinning to myself, I approach the bar again and lock eyes with her. She has beautiful, almost unreal green eyes that drop from my face to the beer before her smile brightens and her eyes find mine again. “A pumpkin ale for the lady.” I wink.  

The fuck she's with scoffs. “That's not what we ordered. We're not paying for that.”

“It's on the house for her. Thanks for being so patient, doll. Yours is five fifty.” I cross my arms in front of me and glare at the asshole.  

“Thank you.” The smile on her face and bounce she does when she grabs her beer proves she wanted this more than the bullshit drink he tried to order for her.

“Give her what she ordered then I'll pay!” The guy pushes closer to the bar to get in my face.

Shoving my hands into my pockets, I smirk and shrug. “The girl told me she wanted pumpkin ale. I got her what she told me she wanted.”

“It's okay, Tim.” Digging through her purse, she pulls out a ten then smiles at me. “Thanks, it's good.”

Tim's not done getting in my face though, apparently, because he yanks the money from her grip then leans his chest farther over the bar top.

“Tim,” she says, but another guy that looks like he crawled out of Tim's ass takes her arm and walks her away.

“What the hell does it matter what she's drinking, Tim?” I ask, my lips purse together while I try to keep myself from laughing in this guy's face. He's such a fucking douche. “Girl's happy. Happy wife, happy life, right?”

“She ain't my wife, man. I just met her and I'm trying to score tonight. Tequila was gonna guarantee that,” he snarls at me.

What a fuckin' winner.  

“You think you have to liquor her up to sleep with you? You're a decent looking man, Tim. Why take advantage of pretty girls like that?” I cross my arms, really wanting to knock the douche out.

“Just give me the fuckin' drink and now you can make it a double for the inconvenience.”

People are waiting to order and this asshole's holding everything up, trying to make sure he can date rape his date tonight.

I lean toward him, making damn sure he'll be able to hear me. “I hold the right to refuse drinks to anyone in this bar, Tim,” I growl. “So how about you take your beer and go be with your date before I call the cops for you trying to drug and date rape that girl over there?”

“Fuck you, asshole! I ain't drugging no one!”

I ignore him, taking the next person and he finally storms off with a grunt.

I'm not usually a confrontational person, but a guy like him with a girl like her makes me angry. It shouldn't. I don't know her, but first impressions tell a lot. She's too sweet for him. Hell, she's too sweet for ninety percent of the people in the bar. She's proved it over and over again tonight. Over the course of the evening I've watched her get pushed aside, ignored, and left alone at the table more times than I could count, but that damn cute smile on her face hasn't waned. Every time I've gotten a free moment to glance out at the room, she's had that smile plastered on her full lips. Each time she's tried getting up to the bar for a drink, she's been cut in front of, bumped into, and practically shoved out of the way, and yet she's still smiling.

Where'd this sweet thing come from?

It's almost closing time and I've never been so happy. The bar's all but cleared out, except for a few stragglers like the girl and the small group she's with. She walks up to the bar top with a different guy and I make it a point to head for them. She's been pushed aside too many times tonight. It's not happening again.  

“Hey, guys, what'll it be?” I ignore the patrons right next to them, as well as some idiot that's been drunkenly yelling at me to serve him for the past thirty minutes.  

“Kay!” The dude next to her yells over the noise. “Hey, Kaydence.” He jostles her arm to get her attention. “What do you want to drink?” When he points at me, she looks and her face lights up with an even bigger smile.

“Oh! Sorry! Can I have another pumpkin ale?” When she hiccups in the middle of a cute as fuck giggle, it's a sign she's past the point of being tipsy.

The man at the bar shakes his head. “You're so drunk! Stay away from Tim. You ain't goin' home with him.” He's sternly pointing a finger in her face and her head's nodding in agreement.

“And for you?” I interrupt, noticing the eye color is almost spot on to this girl's.

“I'm serious, Kaydence,” he warns her.

Kaydence.

A beautiful goddamned name for a stunning woman.

“Just order, Ty!” She giggles, giving him a shove.

“Sorry.” He looks at me; his smile almost matches hers perfectly. They're definitely related. “I'll have a Jager bomb and same beer.”

“Coming right up.” I smile, thankful she's at least got someone looking out for her tonight. I hate seeing girls getting taken advantage of, and in her state that's exactly what that Tim guy's looking to do tonight.  

When I slide the drinks across the bar to them, the guy pays for their drinks and I glance over the room, noticing Popped Collar Tim has his hands all over some blonde chick.  

“Oh! Tim! I should order him something.” The redhead blurts, pushing against the bar.

“No, come on.” The kid tries to walk her away but she pulls free and leans against the bar again.

“He's been paying for my drinks all night, Ty. I can buy him one. He's really sweet.” Her hands slap the bar between us and she smiles. “Hi.” Her drunk giggles make me chuckle. She's cute. She's incredibly drunk and I feel bad for the morning she'll have, but she's still cute.  

“Hey.” I grin.

“Hi. Oh my god.” Laughing, she covers her face while her cheeks turn red. “Can I get Tim a...beer. I don't remember what kind of beer. Shoot.” She wrenches to find the asshat, spotting him standing at their table pressed against the blonde and I see her brows dip. “Um.” Her eyes find mine and I actually feel bad for the girl. “Just a Bud Light, I guess,” she mumbles and glances back at her date on some other woman.

“I think he's perfectly capable of grabbing his own beer, don't you, Ty?” I glance at her relative and after he observes her date, he shakes his head.

“He's fine, Kay. Fuck him.”

“Don't waste your money on an asshole like him.”

“They're…friends.” She glances back at them before pushing a smile on her face and looking at me again. “It's okay. They're friends. And we're just dating.”

“Come on.” Ty grabs her arm.

“I'm going to the bathroom. I'll meet you at the table.”

When she walks away my eyes fall to her ass then quickly back to the bar when I hear Ty clear his throat. I shrug and give him a grin before he walks away. Can't judge a man for looking.  

“Hey!” Someone yells from the other end of the bar and I roll my eyes. “Barkeep! We need alcohol!” I look up at the fuck that's bellowing so loud everyone out in the parking lot can probably hear him. Of course it's Tim.

“Last call was five minute ago, buddy. Sorry 'bout that.” I shrug and continue to wipe down the bar, straightening shit up just to keep my hands busy. It's either stay busy, or punch this guy's lights out, and I'm too tired to fight tonight.  

“Hey.” He stumbles toward me with the blonde under his arm. “I said we need more alcohol. What'll you have?” He asks his new date and I roll my eyes while she orders a tequila sunrise. “And I'll have a shot of whiskey.” His hand snakes over her shoulder and rests on her tit.

I raise my eyebrows at him, surprised at the boldness of this fuck that walked in here tonight with a different girl under his arm. In my opinion, he definitely downgraded with this blonde though.

“Like I said. Last call's already over. Not serving any more tonight.” I stand my ground as the blonde under Tim's arm whines that she's still thirsty. No way in fucking hell I'm aiding this. Last call technically happens right about now, but I'm not serving these two anything else tonight.  

“It's not even two!” He gestures to the clock behind me. “Ya fucking asshole.”

“Fuck him, we'll go back to my place.” The blonde starts sloppily pulling at his face.

“Not tonight. Kay expects me to take her home tonight.”

“Fuck that bitch too. You've only been dating a week,” she whines then attacks his face with her messy red lips.  

They're going at it like dogs fighting over a bone. I cringe and take a step away. They need to get the hell out of this bar. I try to ignore them but when I hear the bathroom door open and glance over at Kaydence, my gut drops for this poor girl. Her eyes hit the rabid dogs and Tim quickly pushes the blonde off him.

“Took you so long?” he asks her and the look on her face makes me feel for her.

“Tim,” she murmurs. “I thought we were dating?” Her timid voice barely carries.

“We are.” He yanks her toward him.

“But you were just kissing Felicia.”  

“No we weren't!”  

The fuckstick has red lipstick all over his face.

“Yeah he was.” I shove a napkin at him. “You've got her lipstick all over your face, dude.”

“Fuck you, asshole!” He rushes the bar and grabs my shirt, trying to take a swing, but he's too drunk. I yank my shirt out of his grasp and he stumbles into the bar.

“You can leave now,” I growl at him, clenching my fists at my side.  

“You're an asshole! You need to be fired! Fuck you!” He tries to swing again and when I look where Kaydence was standing, the guy that's related to her is pulling her out of the bar.

“Fuck you, you asshole!” the blonde screeches at me and I take a slap to the face, never seeing it coming.

“Out!” I bark, rounding the bar and grabbing douche-head's shirt by his flipped collar. “Take your trash, and get the fuck out of my bar.”

He struggles against me and takes a few more weak, unbalanced swings as I drag his ass to the door. Bitching all the way, he stumbles out and toward the group he's with. Before I go back in, trusting they'll all get lost, I watch him for a few minutes. The minute he finds Kaydence he grabs her arm and I have to stop myself from pouncing on the fucker.

“Come on.” He grips her arm tight and tries to pull her away but the dude she's related to steps in.

“Man, back the hell up off my sister before I roundhouse you!” Ty shoves him so hard he trips, bouncing his face off the cement and their group of friends start to laugh.

A few people clean him up, carrying him away while Ty stands guard of his sister. Another girl is inspecting the finger marks from Tim on Kaydence's arm while she stays put behind her brother.

Inhaling a deep breath, I walk over to her, touching her elbow to get her attention. “You okay?”  

“Me?” The same smile that's been on her face all night lifts those sexy lips. “I'm fine.”

“You're not mad that asshole treated you like that? I mean, not that you should lose sleep over him. But he fuckin' came here with you.”  

“We were only dating. Everything happens for a reason. That probably saved me from a really embarrassing walk of shame in the morning.” She covers her laugh.

I nod, shoving my hands in my pocket. What girl can just shrug something like that off?  

“Okay then… Well, sorry I had to be a dick to your boyfriend…ex… Just, sorry. Hope it doesn't scare you away from comin' back here.”

“Not at all! We'll be back. How long you worked here?”

“While now.” I glance around at the crowd that's finally dispersing. “You new to town?” I feel like I'd remember someone like her.  

“Sorta. Been here a few months, but I'm new to this bar. You're all so nice here.” She starts playing with her hair and I move a little closer until her brother walks up and puts his arm between us.

“We gotta go, Kaydence.” He gives me a glance.

“Thanks for the great service all night.” She smiles at me and waves while her brother and another guy walk her away.

I watch them leave before heading back inside to finish closing up for the night. Not every night at the bar is this exciting, but tonight's definitely one I'm going to remember. And only because I've never found a redhead so attractive before.  

Kaydence.  

I wonder what her story is.  

“Ma, I gotta go. I'm pullin' into the drive,” I say for the fourth time since this phone call started. If I know my mother, it's going to take me at least seven tries to actually end this call.  

“Don't forget my eggs!”  

“That's the whole reason I'm here, mom. I won't.” I roll my eyes. The woman hasn't changed a bit since I've been gone.   

When we end the call I hop out of the truck, scanning the grounds for Brandt Kenshaw. I texted him that I was heading over for another dozen eggs for my mom but he never replied, which means he's probably out in the fields, or with his family. With no one in sight, I huff and grab my boots from the back of the truck and pull them on. I fuckin' hate these things, but there's no way I'm walking around this ranch in the shoes I came in. Too much animal shit around and I'll be damned if I have to clean it off my expensive shoes.

I round the corner of the horse barn and almost run into someone carrying a bag of feed three times the size of him or her. Brandt's wife is always tryin' to do shit she shouldn't be. Where the hell are the men on this ranch?

“Whoa. Jo, that bag's way too big for you.” I laugh, pulling the bag from her arms.  

“Thanks! But I'm not Jo.” No…she's not. I know that smile, and those green eyes and red hair. “Hey! You work at Willies.” The bright smile on her cute face makes me grin.  

“That I do.” The blinding sunlight is hitting her perfectly and making her red hair and green eyes even brighter. “What're you doing here?”

“I work here. What are you doing here?” Her fingers start messing with her hair, re-doing the messy braid.

“I know the Kenshaws and I had texted Brandt. My momma needs some eggs.”  Her smile's contagious and I don't even know what we're smiling about but she's cute as hell. “I can't seem to find him though,” I lie, only because I'd like to spend more time with her and I'm hoping maybe she'll help me.

She stops messing with her braid. “Eggs? You need to borrow eggs? I can run inside and see if Donna has any.”  

I chuckle, rubbing the back of my neck. “Uh... We typically just get 'em from the chickens. I can go grab Brandt, doll. It's okay.” I nod out to the field but don't see him. Not that I don't want to be around this girl, but she's kinda clueless and as cute as she is, I really need to get back to the shop.

She starts to giggle and her cheeks light up. “I didn't know they had eggs like that.” With an oblivious expression she glances around the ranch. I wonder what the hell she does here if she doesn't know that. “Brandt's all the way by the creek.” She points. “You want me to ride out and get him? Or you can. You can take a four-wheeler if you don't ride horses. I'm sorry. I don't know where they keep the eggs and I can't just steal them from the coop.”

“Right,” I murmur, trying not to laugh at her expense but she seems a little scatterbrained. “How about I just head to the coop and grab a dozen or so? I've been doin' this practically my entire life. I think I can figure my way around. I'll let Brandt know I already grabbed them.” I wink at her and start my way toward the barn. I don't need Brandt here to grab eggs. They're fuckin' eggs. You literally pick them up from the coop, take them home, and eat them. How the hell do you work at a ranch and not know where the eggs are?  

“I ride,” her voice says as she follows me. When I glance back at her, her cheeks are still blazing in embarrassment. “What I mean is, I'm not an idiot, I just don't do much on the ranch but teach riding lessons.”

Something about her makes me believe she's not always this dense so I feel like I should maybe give her another chance.  

“Come on, I'll show you the ropes.” I'm not sure why I'm doing this. She's gotta be at least five years younger than me, and the wide-eyed look she walks around with makes it seem like she hasn't seen much ugly in the world. Hell, probably not much of anything. Definitely not my type. I'm not at a shortage of women or anything, but this one... This one's different.  

“Jo's showed me around a few times, but I stick to the horse barn.” She points to the barn I found her in. “I'm Kaydence, by the way.”

“I know,” I say, grinning at her. “Steel trap.” She giggles when I tap my temple and I like that sound. “I'm Chase. By the way.”

“Chase,” she repeats like she's storing it then her eyes flick back to mine. “Did I tell you my name the other night?” There's the giggle again. She seems to do it a lot. Giggle and smile. That's her MO. “I'm sorry. I wasn't that drunk, but I don't remember.”

“Nah. You were too busy downing those pumpkin ales. But a few of your friends said your name enough. It's a pretty name. Different. I guess it stuck.” When you get trapped in a girl's gaze, you should run, but I can't even walk away from this girl. “This real?” I ask, giving her braid a small tug.  

She laughs and looks away. “Yessss. I'm a natural redhead.”

“Are you as crazy as they say redheads are?” I laugh.

“Oh my god!” When she starts to laugh, I'm glad I didn't offend her. “That's not true. We're not our own breed. I don't think I'm crazy.” Her shrug is like she knows she is but would never admit it. “I guess that's for other people to decide.”

I narrow my eyes at her before breaking away from whatever hold she's got on me. That laugh is beautiful...and fuckin' laughs shouldn't be beautiful.  

“Yeah so, here are the chickens.” Shoving the door open, I move aside to let her in. “Quick. I'm not helping you if you let these fuckers out.” The door shuts behind us and dims the coop. “And there are the eggs.” I nod toward the stalls.  

“I probably won't come in here much.” She covers her nose and chuckles.  

“You get used to it. The Kenshaws do a good job keeping their coops clean.” I grab a carton. “Wanna help?” Holding one out to her, she stares at it a few seconds, her hand still covering her nose.

“I'll race you. I bet I can fill my carton before you.” Snatching the carton from my hand, she studies the eggs a minute like she's planning her route.

I only need one dozen, but the grin on her face makes me accept the challenge. “Oh, it's on.” I grab another carton and count down. “On three, ready? One, two—” Before I get to three, she takes off, snatching eggs faster than I can blink. I bark out a laugh and grab an egg, getting to work. When I hear her laugh, I look over and she's reaching deep; my eyes go to her tight jeans and they stay on her nice ass.  

Well that's it. I'm fuckin' losing this battle.  

“You got that?” I can't help but laugh myself.  

“Oh, shit!” she blurts and turns toward me, her mouth gaping open. When I look at her hand, she has egg running down her arm. “I squeezed.” Her head throws back as laughter bellows from her and she almost stumbles into the wall.

Before she can topple over, I grip her hip but keep my distance from her egg-soaked hand.  

“Careful. You fall in here and you'll be covered in more than just dripping egg,” I murmur as she rights herself.

The smile stays on her lips and her eyes hit mine. Holy hell, she's fucking beautiful. I mean, naturally beautiful. The type of shit you don't ever see because girls are too addicted to makeup and shit. Not this girl. She's…wow.   

“I won.” She looks at her hand that's dripping egg. “Or maybe I lost.”

“You killed Chicken Little,” I utter, trying not to show how being this close to her is affecting me. It's real fucking hard though, because if I keep thinking about her like I am I'm gonna be pitching a tent soon enough.

“Oh no. I'm a baby chicken killer.” She grins at me and before I can react, her hand slides down my bicep and covers my arm in egg goo. “You're an accomplice now.”  

“I...” I pause and laugh. “Are we doing this? I've heard eggs are awesome for hair.” I grab an egg, holding it over her head and grinning stupidly.  

She gasps. “Chase...”

“I like the way my name sounds on your lips,” I whisper. Before I can get another word out, the door to the coop swings open and my eyes fly to Brandt, who's standing there eyebrows creased, looking at us like we've lost our damn minds. “Hey, man.”

“Hi, Brandt.” Kaydence waves her egg hand at him.

“The hell's goin' on in here?” He almost laughs. “Kay, is that egg dripping down your arm?”

“Um, yes?” She glances at her hand. “Chase was getting eggs for his mom.” She smiles at me and my sight stays on her lips a few seconds too long.

“And one just exploded on you?” He laughs. “Chase, sorry. I just got your texts. I see my cousin here has you covered, though.” His eyes flick between the two of us before he nods. “Ok then.” He shoves his hands in his pockets and leans against the doorframe.  

“Cousin?” I ask. My eyes dart back to Kaydence and I look into her face, checking for a resemblance but don't see one. “No similarities.”

“I look like my mom. My brother looks more like a Kenshaw.” She smiles and steps around Brandt to head for the door.

“I, for one, am not complaining you don't have his ugly mug.” I nudge Brandt but he doesn't budge.  

“Kay, get yourself cleaned up. Your student's here,” he tells her, still watching me.  

“Thanks for the help with the eggs,” I call out to her as she walks away with a small hop to her step.

“I'll probably see you again,” she yells behind her on her walk to the barn. My eyes travel to her ass and in those jeans it's damn near perfect.  

“Dude,” Brandt blurts and I move my gaze to him and grin.  

“Yeah?”  

“My little cousin.” He crosses his arms in front of him.  

“That she is.” I grab the carton of eggs. “Thanks for these, man.” I pat his shoulder before sliding around him and heading back to my truck.

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