While spending an entire summer listening to her father curse the name Brandon Sharpe, Danika finds herself intrigued by the newcomer to Hart’s Fall…until she encounters the scarred and burly Irish rancher face to face. Her girlish fantasies are shattered and transformed to tantalizing curiosity. When her father’s business falls on hard times, Danika recklessly turns to Brandon for help, never anticipating the price for loving a man like Brandon.
No stranger to glares and whispers, Brandon knows his pickings are slim when it comes to women. As owner of the Bar S ranch, Brandon values his privacy and solitude. Yet, when faced suddenly with the possibility of claiming the daughter of his enemy for his own, Brandon seizes the chance and bargains with Danika Prescott—become his wife in exchange for the money she desperately needs.
But after a string of cattle thefts on his ranch and mounting suspicion of those involved, will Brandon be left to wonder if being with Danika was the worst mistake or the biggest reward of his life?
Hours later after the workers trickled out of the house, Brandon wasn’t sure if he was relieved or terrified. He was a married man without a single clue of what he was doing. Marrying Danika or any other woman for truth sakes, had never been in his plans, but the alternative of allowing Danika to walk away from him, possibly into the arms of another man who could provide her with the money she needed, was unthinkable.
And now…now he was staring at his wife of only a few hours, as she stood by the doorway of the kitchen, fear and restlessness mirrored in her alluring dark brown eyes. Did she think he was going to attack her on their first night together?
Brandon clenched his hands at his sides. God, he hoped he wouldn’t. That dress she was wearing didn’t help in the slightest to calm the raging erection inside his pants. Since the moment she had stepped out of the limousine, he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her. Being alone with her made keeping his distance a feat unto itself.
Danika might not welcome his touch right now, but at least he could look. And look his fill he would. Brandon lowered his gaze to the steady rise and fall of her chest. Her breasts were pushed high against the barely there neckline. They looked as if they would spill blessedly out, with much luck right into his awaiting hands, if she made the slightest ill movement. Sadly, the moment never came.
Brandon swallowed a lump in his throat and crooked his finger to her. He prayed she would come to him. He needed to feel the softness of her skin beneath his touch to remind himself this wasn’t another dream that left him burning with arousal so hot, not even the bitter reality of their differences could extinguish it.
“Your friends were all really nice.” She stopped before him, her lips tilted in a smile.
His own lips curved in response. He knew her smile was a mixture of nerves and bravado.
“They’re workers. I write their paychecks. They have to be nice.”
Her smile wilted in the span of a heartbeat. Sensing her plan to withdraw from him, Brandon maneuvered his arm around her waist. He held her close with one hand rested above the small of her slender back, right at the provocative dip where the silken fabric hugged the bare skin above her sweetly rounded ass.
She stiffened at his touch and averted her eyes with a defiant turn of the chin. Her refusal to look at him spurred Brandon into anger. “How interesting. You’ve yet to ask about the money. Were you thinking about it while you repeated the vows, Danika? Perhaps that explains why the words fell so easily and sweetly off your lips? Or were you waiting until after we had sex to demand your payment?”
Her huge brown eyes grew wide, reflecting his own shock that he’d lashed out and demeaned her. The acid taste of shame and regret on the surface of his tongue robbed him of speech. The hand on her bottom fell limply at his side.
“How…” She took a sharp breath. “How long were you waiting to say that to me?”
Shite. “Danika, I didn’t—”
“You meant it. You’re thinking of me just like everyone else would if they found out I agreed to marry you for money.” She shook her head. “You have no idea how much I’m starting to despise that word. When I recited those vows, money was nowhere on my mind. You can’t imagine how many nights I’ve lain in bed this past week eaten up with regret that our longest conversation in the two years I’ve known you was centered on money. I wish it could have been different.” She threw a hand in the air. “What am I even saying? My reasons for getting into this marriage are obvious, but you still haven’t given a good reason why you were so willing to make this deal. It’s still up for debate if you even like me. If you would have dated me. For all I know, you could have suggested this just so you’d have something over my father. So tell me, Brandon, is that what it is? Did you plan to keep me here for humiliation as a way of scoring revenge on my father? Did everyone at the ceremony know that I came to you and asked for the money, because my father is about to lose everything?”
His chest tightened with pain. Eyes watery and vivid with the sting of betrayal stared back at him. The tautness in her cheeks told him she awaited his answer as if she truly believed he was capable of hurting her.
“No. Apart from Clint—who’ll take it to the grave—no one else knows the truth and let’s clear this up right now. The only way Prescott factors into our marriage is that you’re the only reason he won’t be living on the streets.
Her irises sparkled. “I take it that’s your way of trying to make me feel better. It ain’t working, Brandon and I just can’t shake the feeling that you look down on me.”
“That’s not true.” He should have known better than allowing his insecurities to taint their first night together. “I didn’t mean a word of what I said.”
“Then why did you bring it up?” Her shoulders lifted on a sigh. “You have no idea how scared I was. It took a full week for me to gather the courage to come to you in the first place. I was well aware you could have ordered, if not hauled me off your property.”
“That would never happen,” he said thickly.
She tapped a finger to her lip in mock concentration. “That’s weird, considering I’m no different from everyone else in town you separate yourself from. Tell me something, Brandon. Were you pining for me all this time? Were you going insane with want for me?” Hips cocked at an enticing angle, she swept a hand through her hair and coiffed a fistful of those tiny curls to the top of her head. Her lips, though pouted in an exaggerated mocking of sensuality, made his shaft twitch. “Did you see all this B-cupped chocolaty goodness and know you had to have a taste?”
The ache inside his chest became unbearable. It was heartbreaking to watch her mock herself because of the doubts he had placed doubts within her. Brandon stuck a hand inside his pocket and matched her gaze. “I wanted you long before you came out to the ranch and I want you now more than ever.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You want a woman who you believe will up and leave after you dole out the cash?”