HOPE SPRINGS

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Copyright © 2013 Mari Carr & Jayne Rylon

“Are you insane?” Wyatt shouted at her before kicking a hay bale.

“He could have hurt you,” Clayton murmured as he approached.

“Boone’s big mouth means you must know what that does to me.” Wy rubbed his chest. “There were a million people in that house who love you and you’d risk yourself like that? For what? I know I’m freaking uncivilized sometimes, like this morning—not my best showing, I admit it—but being so inconsiderate of the pain you could have caused your family…that’s just plain selfish and rude. Stupid.”

When he put it like that, she shifted from foot to foot. “I wasn’t afraid of John. I just wanted him gone. Permanently. And maybe to show him that he couldn’t touch me, not really.”

“But he could have.” A vein stood out in Wyatt’s neck, making her worry he’d over exert himself. Relapsing would prolong his recovery and stress him out. None of them needed that. Clay especially, since he had to live with Wy.

“One scream would have rained down enough angry cowboys on him to hold their own rodeo. Sterling knew what was going on and she’s one of the best shots around.” Security at Compass Ranch was guaranteed, in her mind. Nowhere else could have been as safe a haven for her. Unless it was in the arms of two loving ranch hands.

“No kidding, how do you think we realized what you were up to? You’re lucky your father didn’t notice her staring out the window. Hope—” Wyatt’s persistence in his beliefs made her realize civil discussion wasn’t an option. Maybe it never had been. A man like him respected action and bluntness over diplomacy.

Invoking the platinum rule, she prepared to treat him as he preferred.

A sudden fury ignited a conflagration in her like the lightning bolt that had struck the south hay field after last year’s summer-long drought. In this case, the dearth turning her insides to kindling had lasted more than two decades, she supposed. “You know what? Shut the hell up. I’ve had enough of men deciding my future. My dads, my uncles, my ex-boyfriend and now you guys. You can suck it. If you don’t want anything to do with me, you have no right to say how I live my life. A week ago you barely knew my name. Son of a bitch. You were half-dead yesterday and now you’re going to come in here and start brawling to defend my honor or punish me for giving that dirt bag a piece of my mind? I don’t need a lecture from you. Save your energy.”

Wyatt’s grin spread slow and wide. “You cursed. A bunch.”

“Screw you!”

“Hope, you’re wrong about one thing. We’ve known all about you for a while. How could we not?” Clayton’s quiet honesty cut through her rage. “You stand out.”

“You think we didn’t see you prancing around here?” Wyatt scoffed. “We noticed you plenty.”

“Then what the hell were you waiting for? Even after you found out I was curious about trying out your lifestyle, you didn’t make me any offers. Damn it, I practically gave you an engraved invitation and you declined.” Allowing him to see her cry was out of the question. “So go home. Rest. Do the smart thing for once in your life.”

Wyatt ignored her rant. He stared at her as if he actually considered what she’d shouted.

Crossing her arms, she refused to retreat.

“I get wanting to be in control of your destiny. I can respect independence. So is that all you need? To test drive two guys? Doesn’t matter who?” Wyatt peered into her eyes as he put it on the line. “Will screwing us delete this ridiculous idea of the three of us together from your big brain? If you want to have sex, we can handle that. If you want more, it’s impossible. Look at Boone. I won’t do that to another person. And I certainly won’t make you a target for ignorant jerks like the guys at the bar, who’d assume you’d be up for playing with them. Hiding in the shadows isn’t any way to live either. You don’t know what you’re asking for. I didn’t think you were the kind of woman who could separate emotion from sex, but I didn’t think a lot of things about you. I like being wrong sometimes. Maybe this is one of those rare instances.”

Something in her chest fluttered at his adaptability. Could she have judged him wrong too? Was he somewhat more flexible than she’d given him credit for? Steel instead of stone.

If he was bluffing, he was about to be sorry.

“Glad you’re comfortable with screwing up because I think you’re an expert by now.” She loved how she could blurt exactly what she thought without polite phrasing and he could take it. Heck, he seemed to revel in their passionate exchange, which grew more vibrant by the instant.

Arguing with him, debating their future, did something wicked to her.

Hope took a step closer, tilting her head up to maintain eye contact. The intensity of his stare sliced through her, deep into her core.

“You’re pushing him, sweetheart.” Clay’s nostrils flared like one of the horses when it scented a potential mate. “Me along with him.”

Wyatt met her halfway. He caged her between himself and his bunkmate. Their powerful bodies formed canyon walls. She loved being trapped by them. Every instinct she possessed sang with the rightness of it. Surrounded by the two men—their heat and their scent—she feared she might beg them to teach her about all the things she could sense lying barely outside her reach.

“Serves you right.” She pouted just a little.

“Why?” Clay tipped his head. “What’d I do?”

“You’ve been doing the same to me. Teasing me. Putting all these damn ideas in my head. Turning me on with no way to relieve the ache. Don’t leave me like this.” She tossed his words from last night in his face and sealed the deal.

“I won’t. I—I can’t.” Clayton swallowed hard. He looked to Wyatt quickly before he tipped her head up and covered her mouth with his.

Exactly as it had the day before, the connection of their bodies sparked a reaction more potent than the electrostatic attraction that bonded the compatible compounds she’d studied so hard. With Clay, everything was covalent. They agreed on so much. Their personalities had made last night’s companionship easy and light. Wyatt—opposite, and ionic. An explosion of magnetic energy. Or maybe the three of them could fuse into an archetypical bent bond.

Any case provided a similar outcome. A single, perfect connection.

COMPASS GIRLS SERIES ORDER

1. Winter’s Thaw

2. Hope Springs

3. Summer Fling

4. Falling Softly