All she had to do was say no...
When Ashern Ridley returns to the family homestead after his father's death, he learns that Ridley Ranch is in deep, financial trouble. In order to save his legacy, he must ask for help from the most unlikely source—Madison Maddox. She agrees to put up the money and soon locks horns with not only Ashern, but Amber Symthe, the ranch's new maid, who wants the Ridley heir for her own.
Madison remembers Ashern as a spoiled, mischievous child, and quickly discovers that little has changed about him. Now that he's all grown up and far too handsome than he has a right to be, she realizes too late that perhaps she's bitten off more than she can handle.
She drove home against a dark, overcast sky. Thunder rumbled in the distance, which was accompanied by several magnificent flashes of lightning in the west. “A big rain's moving in,” she murmured. The air through her open truck window carried the tangy, electrified scent that always came before a storm. By the time she pulled into the drive leading to her cabin, the rumbling thunder had moved closer. Thicker, jagged streaks flashed across the valley.
Ash’s silver SUV shone like the moon in one of those flashes. Madison thought about turning around, but he’d already seen her headlights. She pulled up next to the house and slowly got out of the truck. He sat on the bottom step, so she had no choice but to walk past him. Before she made it to the top step, he spoke.
“We have to talk.”
She whirled around and glared down at him. Sparks of anger burst inside, and she didn’t trust her voice. Just then, fat raindrops began to fall. The wind picked up in velocity, howling through the trees. She raised her voice in order to be heard over the incoming storm. “Here’s the new deal, Ash. I’ll come out and check on the horses once a week and I promise to stay out of your way. When Dale goes home, I’ll make my visits short and schedule them when you’re not around. That’s the deal. You can take or leave it.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Deep wrinkles marred his forehead as he looked up at the angry sky. “Don’t you think it'd be better to talk inside?”
“No.” She crossed her arms like a defiant child, wanting him off her property as quickly as possible. Even with the storm, she smelled his unique scent; saw the rippling muscles that stood out against his abdomen every time the wind blew against his shirt; and the little crooked droop his mouth made whenever he smiled. No. She didn't want to be near him.
The skies suddenly opened up and released its fury. The rain poured down, soaking them in seconds.
“You want to stand out here and talk?” he yelled above the booming peals of thunder.
“We have nothing else to talk about, Ash. And those are my terms.” She brushed back a clump of sodden locks stuck to her cheek. The flash of anger in his eyes was undeniable. He proceeded up the stairs until he stood one step below her and stared straight in her eyes. His hair clung to his head, making him look like he’d just walked out of the shower. Her heart began a strange dance inside her chest. She stumbled backward until her shoulders hit the screen door.
“It’s always on your terms, isn’t it?” He moved up the final step until he loomed over her. His scent smelled stronger, especially mixed with the rain, but it was the intensity in his eyes that stunned her. “Right from the beginning of this whole damn arrangement, it’s been by your rules. Fine. Have it your way. I’m not arguing with you anymore. When the year's up, you’ll have all of your money back. I guarantee it.” Like a taut rubberband, she snapped. Without any self-control, she flung herself forward and crushed her mouth against his. She tasted the rain mixed with the sweetness of his lips.
Realization hit her like a slap. She pulled away, shocked and repulsed at what she’d done. Ash refused. He grabbed her elbows and embraced her again, kissing back with such wild abandon her knees almost gave out. Her body ached for so much more. Their tongues met in an erotic dance, each fighting for supremacy. She almost lost herself. Using every ounce of willpower she could muster, she shoved him away. Amber's conversation resonated through her mind. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “That’s the way it’s going to be. Now leave my property.”
His face revealed hurt and shocked disbelief. “What the hell—?”
“Leave my property. NOW!”
He pursed his lips and brushed back the hair from his eyes. Without a word he walked down the stairs, his shoulders slumped. He stopped a few feet away from the last step and turned, yelling over the next crashing thunderclap. “You seem to forget, Madison. It’s my property.”