Rowan Braden loved the nickname his brothers had given him-the Loner. He didn't mind that his brothers complained that he spent too much time working and not enough on his personal life. He wasn't interested in love, especially when he had his hands full keeping his short-term employee, Akayie, out of trouble.
One minute he wanted to toss her off his property-and in the next- he wanted to carry her bundle of sexiness upstairs and make love to her all night long.
What in the hell was he supposed to do?
Photographer Akayie Mathis couldn't believe her luck when she got offered 'The Men of Braden Ranch' calendar job. It was just what she needed to help save her failing photography studio, but there was one thing she hadn't been expecting-Rowan.
He was the most maddening and arrogant man she'd ever met in her life. She hated her burning attraction to the rancher's sexy Texas drawl and muscular body. Yet, she couldn't deny it was there shimmering between them like a low burning flame.
Would she be able to fight off the long, hot look of his hazel eyes or would she be the woman who would finally tame the Loner?
"I'm beginning to regret allowing her anywhere on my ranch, more and more. I shouldn't have agreed to her coming here. Look at her out there, walking around like she owns the place and flirting with my employees," Rowan Braden complained, staring out his office window. "I knew she'd cause a lot of issues by being here, but I let you talk me into it and it's turning out to be a huge mistake."
He heard the groan behind him, but he didn't care. She had to go, and the sooner the better. He couldn't have his men's daily routines disturbed by a captivating smile and a soft, silky voice.
"Come on. She hasn't been so bad. You're making way more out of a few glances than is really there. Calm down a little and try to relax," the voice said, trying to reason with him. "I think she's pretty nice. You're just mad that most of the guys here turn to look at her when she walks past them. If I didn't know you, I would think that you're jealous because she hasn't smiled at you yet. You're way too involved in your precious ranch to even notice a gorgeous woman within touching distance of you."
"You don't what in the hell you're talking about."
Rowan hated to admit it, but some of the things Morgan said were the truth. He hated the fact that a part of him was a little envious of the attention the other men got from her. Yet, he wasn't about to admit it to his brother.
"Anyways, we all agreed that the money we will be getting from the calendars will be donated to Dante's wife's homeless shelter," his brother Morgan reminded him. "You know Dante still hasn't completely let us back into his life. This is a good way to prove that we meant what we told him."
Rowan felt guilty as it was for driving an even bigger wedge between Dante and his other brothers. Why did Morgan have to keep bringing it up over and over?
"I know it's my fault Dante doesn't want to give you, Tanner, and Lucas another chance. I shouldn't have been such an asshole to him when he came to see you in the hospital, but seeing Dante standing there in your room after so many years was a shock. You can't tell me you weren't taken back by it yourself."
Moving beside him, Morgan placed his hand on his shoulder. "Of course, I was stunned to see Dante, but I quickly shoved it to the side, got over it, and then I was thrilled he came. But, I think old wounds from the past made all of us say things we shouldn't have. Everything got way out of hand between us way too fast. I think by the time Amara put us in our places it was too late in Dante's eyes. He had already made the decision right then and there to be done with us."
Rowan took a step to the side, making Morgan's hand fall off his shoulder. "I know we…I mean, I was wrong," he corrected when his brother gave him a look. "Isn't that why we made the trip to Los Angeles to apologize to him in person? But he didn't even let us inside his house. He told us to leave and then slammed the door in our faces."
Folding his arms across his chest, Morgan rested his hip against the desk and continued looking at him. "Dante had the right to do what he did after we hadn't accepted his apologies over the years. We shouldn't have expected him to bend so quickly when none of us showed him the same consideration."
Glancing away from the woman outside causing more harm than good, Rowan shot his brother a hard look. "Are you saying that we are the ones to blame for Dante being gone since we were kids?" he demanded hotly. "I don't remember having anything to do with him not returning home after he got released from the boy's detention center."
Sighing, Morgan uncrossed his arms, then held up his hands and took a step back. "No, I'm not implying that at all. But we shouldn't place all the blame on him either. Why can't we leave the past in the past? I'm tired of using Griffin as a go-between when it comes to my own brother. I hate all this unwanted tension lingering between all of us. I think we need to make another trip to Los Angeles and work on getting things settled once and for all, especially now Dante is about to become a father. I want to be an uncle to my niece or nephew."
Rowan wanted to do the same thing as Morgan, but he wasn't about to have Dante slam the door in his face a second time. He had too much pride for that. He wasn't the same boy who longed for his big brother to come home all those years ago. He had grown up and saw the world for what it really was. Everyone was in it for themselves and that was the way it was.
He shook his head. He wasn't about to make another trip to Los Angeles. If Dante wanted to see him then he would have to come to Texas.
"No, I can't do it. Not now. I need to stay here and keep a watch on her. You know how important this time of year is for the ranch, and my men can't be goofing off because of her."
Rowan glanced away from Morgan back towards the window at Akayie Mathis, the photographer. He'd promised her a thirty-day pass to his ranch. He told her she could take photos for an upcoming calendar called The Men of Braden Ranch¸ along with selling the best shots of Braden Ranch at a local gallery back in New York. As long as they got some of the profits from the gallery sales. However, he was truly second guessing his rash decision.
They had mostly communicated through emails and phone calls. The only video chat had been done by Morgan because he was scheduled to be out of town on business. So, he wasn't prepared for how striking Akayie Mathis would be in person.
Right now, her smooth, mahogany skin looked beautiful against her white-shirt tucked into a pair of dark blue jeans. She wore tan riding boots and her thick black hair was tied back into a cute ponytail that swung above her shoulder blades. Ms. Mathis was different from other women who had visited the ranch. Her natural beauty was attention grabbing and didn't go unnoticed by the men whose pictures she was taking for her project.
As much as he tried to fight it, he just couldn't do it. She kept wandering back into his thoughts when he didn't need her there. Yesterday, he woke up thinking about her was and actually looking forward to seeing her. But, Akayie constantly acted like he was a pain in her side and it pissed the hell out of him. He wasn't used to any woman trying to get away from him. They usually ran in his direction. Why did Akayie have to be so different?
"I have to take care of something," he told Morgan. "I know you know the way out. We can talk more about Dante later."
Morgan glanced out the window and then back at him. "Please don't go and do something you will regret later."
"I don't have time for a lecture from you. This is my property and I'm the only one who makes the decisions about it."
He wasn't going to listen to any more of Morgan's unwanted advice. It would be for the best if he took care of this now, so nothing would get out of hand later. Rowan took one last look out of the window before spinning on his heel for his office door. He hadn't hired Akayie to be the newest diversion for his men. She needed to get her job done before her thirty days was up, because he wasn't going to let her stay a minute longer.