Mariella is in her mid-thirties, and looking backward at a bad divorce and an uncertain future. Then she meets Jakob and Lucas, two cowboys who own the largest cattle ranch in the territory. The handsome men introduce Mariella to a new world of uninhibited passion that she never dreamed was possible. But modern-day cattle ranchers put dark clouds on the horizon…
Mariella Monetti was nervous. She felt this to be rather ridiculous, since, at thirty-four years of age and a divorcee, she was a long way away from being a quivering teenage virgin about to get together with a new boyfriend that she might, or might not, allow touch her breasts if he wanted to get fresh.
They’re just men. Simple cowboys. Get a grip on yourself.
Only it wasn’t quite as uncomplicated as that. Not with Jakob and Lucas Sandstrom. They owned a sizeable cattle ranch, and they bought all their insurance through Mariella, an independent agent. For the past month they had been stopping by her small, tidy office in a renovated motel that had gone bankrupt, asking her questions that could easily have been dealt with over the telephone. They’d also seen her several times at Jimmy’s Saloon and Grille, where she sometimes stopped after work for a libation. She wouldn’t pretend that she hadn’t truly anticipated a meeting with them. She didn’t really like to lie to herself. At least she tried to pretend she didn’t, though the truth of it was in the murky ground between fact and fiction.
The conversations, which had started out being strictly professional, had turned into subtle flirtation over time. But the last time they were having a drink at the saloon, the flirtation was more than just mild banter—both Jakob and Lucas had turned up the heat until Mariella wasn’t at all certain she wouldn’t simply burst into flames right there sitting at a booth in the bar. And they hadn’t even kissed.
It didn’t help that the Norwegian-American brothers were drop-dead gorgeous. And the fact that it had taken two long years for Mariella to finally get her divorce hadn’t helped matters any, either. Since her ex was a total jerk and would do anything to torture Mariella more than he already had, Mariella had remained celibate during the entire two-year legal process. It damned near drove her to the brink of insanity, because Mariella was passionate by nature.
They’re coming here to talk about life insurance policies for the cowboys who work for them. Nothing more than that. Stop worrying so damn much.
But worrying was one of the things that Mariella practically had a master’s degree in. In fact, she did it so well it was nearly an art form. On occasion, she thought of trying to get a patent for it.
From her purse she extracted a compact and checked her makeup in the small round mirror. She decided that a touch-up on the lipstick was in order, and promptly took care of that. She always put on eyelashes first thing in the morning, so they were fine, but she decided that maybe her cheekbones could use a little more magic. She applied the required beauty aid with an artist’s touch.
She thought about it for several seconds before she added a touch more perfume behind both ears. She didn’t want to overdo it—she believed that nothing was worse than a woman who bathed herself in perfume—but she wanted the men to notice that she was someone who had a feminine fragrance to her. Things like that were always important. Overlooked, but critical just the same.
It’s ridiculous that I’m this nervous.
Alone in her office, she smiled to herself. It had been a long time since she had done anything to please a man.
So, which of the brothers is most appealing?
That was the sixty-three-thousand-dollar question, the one that Mariella knew she had to have an answer for, and the one that she had avoided asking herself for nearly a month now.
Jakob and Lucas were both Alpha males—in the extreme. They were the kind of men who had never taken a backward step for anyone, and never would. Mariella had met men like that only a few times in her life, but she’d never gotten to know them as well as she wanted to, for one reason or another.
How long has it been since a man has caressed me?
It was not a question Mariella liked to ask herself, mostly because the answer without fail embarrassed her.
She thought of pouring herself yet another cup of coffee, then remembered that her doctor had warned her about high blood pressure and the need to treat herself “more compassionately.” Her doctor wasn’t her friend, but he did know his business.
The knock on her office door made Mariella flinch. She looked at her wristwatch—it was gold-plated, and a gift to herself for living through a divorce process that would have caused lesser mortals to turn to drugs, alcohol, or bizarre cult beliefs.
Mariella smiled, the wristwatch reminding her that she was stronger than she sometimes suspected she was, and called out, “Come in. The door’s unlocked.”
She had remembered that the Sandstrom brothers were handsome, but seeing them for the first time that day, in their boots and jeans and Stetsons, and those red neckerchiefs that made them look right out of an Old West movie, made her suddenly wonder whether she hadn’t given them enough credit for being truly and righteously panties-wetting drop-dead gorgeous. They were both tall, broad-shouldered, lean-hipped, blond haired, and blue eyed. With the right clothes, they would look perfectly natural on a Viking ship.
“Hello,” Jakob said, smiling broadly, and showing the dimples in his cheeks that were erotic enough to make scores of women lose their panties and be thrilled with their loss.
It wasn’t an exaggeration for Mariella to think that way. She had heard the rumours about the sex lives of the Sandstrom brothers.
Lucas walked in behind his older brother, and said with a handsome smile, “Hello, Mariella. It’s good to see you again.”