Steph Haas cares. For the patients in the nursing home she runs, for her family, but most of all, for her partner Lilou, whom she adores. Life is good when she’s pleasing her woman even if it has Steph playing über butch to Lilou’s demanding femme. For them it works ... until suddenly it doesn’t.
Annika mistrusts all women, yet longs for a steady relationship. After unsuccessfully throwing herself at yet another prospect, almost ruining her career in the process, Annika’s boss forces her to take a vacation. Having nowhere to go and no one to go with, Annika is grateful when her gay friend Leo suggests she join him and his partner on the very trip to the US Steph was supposed to take with Lilou.
Knowing Annika and she will be the only non-couple on the Gittie-Up Ranch, Steph is determined to make the best of an altogether bad situation. But traveling with Annika isn’t easy, especially when the maddening woman rebuffs Steph’s attempts at being nice. Instead, Annika drools incessantly over the resident lesbian, a butch cowgirl named Jesse.
Somehow they still become friends, with Steph valiantly fighting her physical attraction to the gorgeous femme, only to give in when Annika suddenly shifts gears and they land in bed together. So what? It’s just a vacation fling. Nobody cares, right?
“This is supposed to be a vacation, not boot camp. Jody barks orders so fast I don’t have a chance to change one thing before she’s on me about something else! I think she’s too old to remember what it’s like to be new at something. She could learn a lot from Jesse.”
Yeah, right. Steph doubted anyone could teach anything to Jody, whose every move was effortless as she controlled the big grey, while completely focused on her students.
“I hate to remind you, but as much as Jesse seems to be Gittie’s right-hand woman, we haven’t even seen her on top of a horse yet. How do you know she’s not an abominable rider?”
“Of course she’s a good rider, or Gittie wouldn’t have her working with the guests. No, if Gittie trusts her with her precious horses and the safety of her guests, then I do, too.” Annika straightened her shoulders and picked up her pace.
Oh, for fuck’s sake! Steph subtly lengthened her stride, easily keeping up with Annika.
“Give it a rest, will you? I get that you’re smitten with her, but don’t you think you’re going overboard just a little?”
Annika stopped in her tracks and turned to face Steph. “I am not smitten!”
“The fuck you aren’t! You’re practically wetting your panties around the poor woman.”
Annika’s face reddened and her eyes blazed. “I ... you ... how dare ... ooh! You ... you don’t know me at all or what I’m ... just because ... fuck you!”
“You wish!” Hands on her hips Steph planted herself right in front of the sputtering Annika.
“Not if you were the last woman on earth!”
Gee, thanks. It’s not like you’re that desirable either. Except Annika was, or could be, if she’d only change her attitude. Not about to let the dang woman know that, Steph opted for haughty. “Hey, I’m not the one acting desperate here.”
Annika pulled herself to her full height in an attempt to match Steph’s demeanor, but it was almost comical as the top of her head barely came to Steph’s chin. “I fail to see how I’m acting desperate just because I can appreciate beauty. If that were the case, you are desperate for that stupid black horse you’re constantly fussing over.”
Appreciating beauty, my ass! You want that lithe runner’s body. For Jesse did run; Steph had overheard her telling Maike about it. “Can you look me in the eye and honestly say you wouldn’t love to get into those tight-fitting jeans Jesse wears?”
“And what business is it of yours if I do?”
“Ha! I knew it.”
“I didn’t say I do, I just said that it’s none of your business!”
Annika’s attempt at haughty was crumbling already, and Steph felt a twinge of pity that made her soften her tone a little.
“Hey, I’m simply trying to save you from making a fool of yourself. The way you drool over Jesse is downright embarrassing.”
“I would think you could find better things to do on this vacation of yours than annoy the crap out of me. At least Jesse doesn’t go out of her way to make me feel worthless.”
Huh? “I would never do that.”
“You constantly do that!”
“How? I haven’t been anything but nice to you.”
“You’ve been nothing but domineering.”
“No way! Hell, I couldn’t even do that if I’d tried and I know someone who’d attest to that.”
“Whatever. All I know is, you treat me like I can’t handle anything. I’m sick to death of trying to be what other people expect me to be all the time.”
“Now, wait a minute! I don’t expect anything from you whatsoever.”
But Annika was on a roll now. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend my vacation worrying about what anyone else thinks of me, least of all some stranger I’m forced to room with.”
“And if I want whatever’s in Jesse’s jeans, and I’m not saying I do, that’s my concern, not yours. It might do you some good to think about something other than horses yourself.” She glared at Steph, which could’ve been funny considering her diminutive size, yet it somehow wasn’t.
“You’ve got some heavy shit going on there, woman. No, don’t deny it, it’s not an accusation.”
“So now you fancy yourself my shrink.” Annika’s eyes glistened but her face was contorted in anger. “Well, if it’s heavy shit you’re into, I’m sure Gittie could use some help shoveling manure. Anything to get you out of the cabin and out of my life!”
Oh, Annika was furious, all right, but underneath all that fury, Steph glimpsed one deeply unhappy woman. And that was all Steph needed to strike her most cheerful note.
“Not an option, sweetie. You’re stuck with me for the next two weeks.”