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Ride Me Dirty
The woman on the other side of the check-in counter laces her fingers together, her long pink nails clicking against each other softly, and looks at me.
“You should know that I’m one of the top reviewers on Travel After Fifty Dot Com,” she says, giving me a significant look.
Should I? I think.
“Ma’am, I’m very sorry,” I say, hoping that I actually sound sorry. “There’s just no way that I can upgrade your cabin this weekend, we’re fully booked— ”
“Can I speak to your manager?” she says, interrupting me.
I smile at her.
“Sure,” I say. “Let me just give her a call.”
I punch in the extension and wait while the phone rings, fighting the urge to roll my eyes at the woman with the rhinestone-covered cowboy hat. Behind her, an older man — I’m assuming it’s her husband — tucks his thumbs into his belt and looks around at the decor.
The decor is mostly taxidermy.
“Annie here,” a voice answers.
“Hey, Mom,” I say. “One of our guests wants to talk to you about getting her room upgraded this weekend.”
On the other end of the line, my mom snorts.
“We’re booked,” she says.
“I told them that,” I say.
The woman purses her lips. I smile sweetly.
“They think we’re gonna kick someone else out just because they’re pitching a tantrum? Tell them to go suck a frog, sweetheart,” she says into the phone. “I’m not coming down there to tell them.”
I can almost see her, rolling her eyes, cowboy boots up on her desk.
“Thanks, I’ll pass it on,” I say.
“People, I swear,” my mom says, and then we hang up.
The lady at the desk looks like she’s smelling a fart.
“I’m afraid I can’t upgrade you because we’re fully booked this weekend,” I say, my voice so sweet it could give me a toothache.
She harrumphs, grabs the keys off the counter, and shoots me a glare.
“Come on, Bill,” she says, and stomps off toward the cabin.
Bill follows, dragging both their suitcases. Poor Bill.
When they’re gone, I look in the mirror behind the desk and adjust my cowboy hat, frowning. It’s a little too big, but my mom insisted that I had to wear it while working at the front desk, so here I am.
Wearing a giant, goofy ten-gallon hat and working at my parents’ dude ranch in Wyoming. I know there are worse things you can do with a brand-new bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts, but that doesn’t really make me feel better.
The front door opens again, letting a blast of hot air into the lodge, and a tall, broad man in jeans, a button-down plaid shirt and a cowboy hat steps through, his face too backlit to see.
“Howdy!” I force myself to say brightly. “Welcome to the Saddle and Spurs Dude Ranch.”
He stops short for a second. Then he starts laughing, and I can feel my face turning pink.
I didn’t name it, I think defensively. I just have to say it.
“Emmy Winchester, is that you?” he asks.
My heart does a flip at the sound of his voice, my mouth popping open in surprise. He walks up to the counter, takes off his hat, and runs one hand through his hair.
“Afternoon, darlin’,” he says, leaning his elbows on the counter. “Sure is nice to have your pretty face around here again.”
Oh my God. Oh my God.
My entire body is blushing, and my face is frozen in an awkward half-smile. I put one elbow on the counter too, trying to act natural, even though I think my insides have liquified completely.
“Hey, Colton,” I squeak out. “It’s been a while.”
“Sure has,” he says, a teasing light in his blue eyes. “You went and got all grown up.”
He flicks his gaze down my body, just for a split second, but I think I might explode out of my skin.
“Yeah, well, you know,” I fumble. “It happens.”
He grins at me, dimples sinking into his cheeks, visible through a few days of scruff.
“My parents didn’t tell me you were working here again,” I say, grasping at conversation topics. “How long… is it for a while now?”
That was not a sentence, I think.
“Just started again a few months back,” he says, his eyes locking with mine. “Your mom and dad needed someone to manage the place, and I was lookin’ again.”
I glance down at his left hand. No wedding ring. My stupid heart skips a beat.
“Cool,” I say. “That’s great.”
He laughs, standing up straight.
“You comin’ to the bonfire tonight?” he asks, the drawl in his rough baritone like molasses.
“Yes!” I say, a little too eagerly. “Yes, sure, I was gonna stop by.”
“Good,” he says, nodding once. “I’ll see you there. Meanwhile, I’m around. Find me if you need anything.”
Then he winks at me.
I turn to jell-o all over again.
“Sure thing!” I say, my voice still too high-pitched.
“See you around, Emmy,” he says, walking out the back door.
I stare at him at he goes, practically drooling on myself. If there’s actually a perfect physical specimen on Earth — powerful arms, broad shoulders, handsome as hell, nice ass — it’s Colton True.
The door shuts behind him. I put my forehead on the cool counter and take a deep breath, trying to stop blushing fire-engine red.
I can’t believe Mom and Dad didn’t tell me he was working here again, I think.
Before this place was the Saddle & Spurs Dude Ranch, it was the Winchester Cattle Ranch. Colton was one of our hired hands for about four years. When he started, I was just a kid and he was twenty-two.
I had a huge crush on him.
My first crush. My hardest crush. My biggest crush.
As far as Colton was concerned, I was never more than some kid, but my God if only he’d known the times I’d doodled Emmeline True on notebooks.
Or, as I got older, how I used to hide in the barn and peek between the boards while he chopped wood with his shirt off.
Or how, even after he had left for another job, he was still the main fuel for my fantasies as I got older and… discovered things. Secret, under-the-covers-at-night things.
Nothing ever happened, of course. The most we ever touched was when he taught me to shoot a rifle, and — to my great teenage-crush disappointment — he was a professional and a gentleman.
But Colton True looks exactly the same. I’m the one who’s changed… and now, just watching him is making a river of pure molten heat run through my core as I try not to imagine him, shirtless chopping wood.
Grabbing me by the waist, pushing me up against the side of the barn…
The door opens again. I straighten instantly and adjust my hat, hoping I don’t look like I was just lusting over my girlhood crush.
“Howdy!” I say to the middle-aged couple entering, as perky as can be. “Welcome to the Saddle and Spurs Dude Ranch!”