“Have you sensed her again, Craig?”
Marrick hadn’t been able to think of anything else since they’d ridden home to the ranch. Like his friend, he kept looking around, hoping to see their intended mate. He’d know her once she was close enough. Or at least, he hoped he would. Yet even if he didn’t, wouldn’t Craig?
“Yeah, I did.” Craig lounged against their pickup.
They’d stayed up most of the night, unable to sleep. The next morning they’d come into the town. They had to be there if she came through on the bus or drove into town.
Would he feel the connection like Craig had? He’d heard about the wondrous instinctual bond that drew intended mates together. If he didn’t sense her, if Craig’s mate wasn’t his, too, what would he do? Could he stay with his friend? Or would it hurt too much to see Craig and his mate together? He imagined seeing them together, kissing, loving each other with him as the outsider. Even now, even before it was a reality, it twisted his gut. As much as he’d be happy for his friend, he’d have to give up his half of Twisted Oaks Ranch and leave.
“It doesn’t mean you’re not her mate, too. Maybe I’m more open to the connection.”
“Maybe.” Marrick sure as hell hoped so.
“You will. I know it. We’re meant to share the woman.”
Marrick couldn’t help but smile. Craig was an optimist. Always had been and always would be. “Let’s find her first. Then we’ll deal with—”
A shout rang out, interrupting him. Marrick turned with Craig and stared at the crowd of people hurrying into the street. A woman and two children slowly walked down the center of the road. They were shuffling more than walking as though the next footstep was an impossible feat. The children’s heads hung low while the woman glanced around her.
“What the hell?” Marrick strode down the sidewalk and then onto the road. The closer he came to the trio, the more certain he was that he recognized the children. “Are those my sister’s kids?” He picked up the pace, fear surging into adrenaline.
Pushing through the crowd around the woman and the children, Marrick found himself face to face with a beautiful brunette with shoulder-length hair. Her blue eyes were clouded with exhaustion and her clothes were dirty. Even though she had dirt smudged on her cheeks and her hair was tangled, she still tugged at his abdomen. She looked regal as she protectively wrapped her arms around his nephew and niece. The children were as haggard as the woman with grime covering their clothes. His friends and neighbors recognized the children, too, and eased away, giving him more room.
“Teag? Kitty? What’s going on?” Strangely, the kids didn’t run to him as they usually did. Instead, they pushed closer to the woman, clinging to her arms and legs.
He tilted his head at her. “Who are you? What are you doing with my sister’s children?”
She blinked, once then twice. “Your sister’s?”
“Yeah. Donna Bask. She’s married to John Bask. These are her twins.” Emotions warred inside him. He was attracted to the woman more than he’d ever been to anyone. The electricity, the burning urge to have her, the absolute need to know her spun wildly through him. Nothing short of the connection could account for how he felt. Elation filled him, yet, at the same time, dread pushed ahead of his rising desire. There was only one reason for Donna’s kids to be with someone he didn’t know.
“What’s your name?” Craig came to stand beside him.
Was exhaustion keeping her from answering? Or was it more? Was she mentally capable of it? Silently, he urged her to speak.
“I’m Lisa Ridgeway.”
“Okay, Ms. Ridgeway—”
For some strange reason, he was glad that she’d wanted him to use her first name. “I’m Marrick Kinsale, their uncle. And this is Craig Westbrook. Okay, Lisa, start talking. Tell me what’s going on.”
Her body slumped as though she could finally relax. “I was driving, trying to find the highway, and got lost. Then I got a flat tire.”
He ground his teeth. “That’s not telling me anything about the kids.” Why were they still clinging to her? Didn’t they know him?
“Take it easy, man. Give her time.” Craig shot him a stern look. “Go ahead, Lisa.”
“I got a flat tire so I started walking.” She glanced down at her feet. “In heels.”
Was she purposely trying to irritate him? Who the fuck cared what kind of shoes she was wearing? “Yeah. And? Tell me about the kids.”
She blinked again then frowned. “I found them in a ditch. Not a very deep one, but it was still a ditch.”
Something was really off. “And their mother? Where was she? Were they alone?”
“Give her time to answer, man,” warned Craig.
Lisa nodded in a sad way that made his stomach do a sickening flip-flop. “She was there. At least,”—she lowered her voice to a whisper—“her body was.”
Before Lisa could ask another question, Lena stood up and called to the kids. “Teag. Kitty. Who’s ready to help Miss Lena bake cookies?”
She couldn’t have orchestrated a better distraction. The children let out a squeal, dropping the carrots and rushing toward the older woman. Laughing, Lena ushered them through the door then turned to Lisa again.
“You listen up, honey.” She tilted her head toward the men who were heading into the barn. “Don’t pussy foot around with this. I’ll handle the kids. In the meantime, you get your pretty little ass in that barn and let yourself go wild.”
Lisa was still gaping as Lena gave her a wink then disappeared into the house. Was Lena telling her to have sex with them? But she couldn’t be. Not with the kids around. And yet, she had no doubt Lena would keep them busy—and away from the barn.
Like her hands before, now her entire body shook. Leaving her drink where it was, she moved slowly but deliberately toward the barn.
They’d said they wanted her and Lena had confirmed it. Yet what would she do if they turned her down? She stopped in the entrance and waited for her sight to adjust to the shade in the barn.
Craig was busy mixing feed then scooping it into the trough of horse called Gypsy. Marrick hung a bridle on the tack board. When he pivoted around, he froze. Curiosity as well as a look that spoke of the same yearning brewing inside her came to his face.
“Is everything all right, baby?”
She nodded, not trusting what she might say. Instead, she walked into the barn, determined to take the risk. She tugged on her T-shirt, pulling it over her head in one quick move.
“Oh, shit,” murmured Craig. He dropped the pail and closed the stall door behind him.
She kept walking toward them while undoing her jeans. Pausing long enough to kick her jeans over her bare feet, she started her leisurely stroll toward them again. Her nipples peaked and goosebumps rose along her skin. Whether from excitement or from the loss of her clothes, she wasn’t sure and she didn’t care.
“Baby, are you sure?”
“Lena said she can tell.” She stopped about five feet from them.
“She can tell what?” asked Craig.
“That we have…feelings…for each other.”
“We told you how we felt.” Marrick’s gaze was intense, his frown marring his forehead. “Did you have to hear it from Lena to believe it?”
“Who the hell cares?” Craig stalked toward her. He took hold of her, searching her as though waiting for her to tell him to stop. When she didn’t, he lifted her into his arms.
She’d been with men before, but the sensations tearing through her now were fierce, primal instincts that pushed away any effort to think straight. Thinking wasn’t what she needed. The men were all that mattered. She was consumed by the need to have them.
Craig carried her over to the long table with bridles and tools strewn across it. The rough wood bit into her bottom, but she didn’t care. She’d welcome whatever pain they gave her, intentional or otherwise. She laid back then let out a small cry as Craig took hold of her bra and ripped it from her.
“What about the kids?” Marrick hurriedly unbuttoned his shirt, half tearing it in his rush to get it off.
“Lena.” Her chest rose and fell with her labored breathing. Watching Craig tug his T-shirt off captivated her attention. His jeans dipped enticingly toward the dark patch lying an inch or so above the button.
“Hurry,” she whispered. Lena had been right. If she didn’t have them soon, she’d lose her mind.
Craig shoved his jeans down as he toed off his boots. If Marrick hadn’t come to stand on the other side of the table, she wouldn’t have taken her attention off Craig. His jeans were gone, his massive chest hovering above her face.
The men’s expressions were wondrous and awe-filled, mixed with fiery lust. An animal-like aroma flowed from them, capturing her in its pungent allure.
Craig slid his palms along her legs, warming the goosebumps. Suddenly, taking hold of her ankles, he jerked her legs upward. He bent them at the knees then went lower until his face was even with her torso.
“You’re ours, babe. From this moment on, you’re ours.” Craig’s gaze locked to hers as he pressed his mouth against her pussy. His tongue raked over the seam, pushing just hard enough to open her folds the slightest bit.
She inhaled and laid her head back against the table. Craig’s touch opened the cage to feelings she’d kept in check since the first moment she’d seen them. All at once, everything was clear and simple. These were the men she could never have dreamed of, the men no fantasy could ever have envisioned.
“Get ready, baby. We’re going to take you and turn you inside out.”
“Yes. Do it.” Hell, she’d been born ready.