Hogtied and Branded
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Hog-tied and Branded


Opening scene

Chapter One

Tires crunched over the gravel road and the scent of dust filtered through her home office window. Suzi Calworth peered outside, away from her work, and her heart constricted as she recognized the roaring engine of Clint Malone’s truck.

For months, she’d avoided the man by hiding away at a job in Oklahoma City. The special project that had consumed most of her days and nights was over. Yet instead of toughing out the next few weeks in temporary housing as she originally planned, she had opted to return home to her grandparents’ house.

Granted, she shouldn’t call it that anymore. Now, the place belonged to her. Granny and Poppy lived in Florida, near her uncle. They had warm weather and a cool coastal breeze to enjoy, the problems of the farm and their stray grandchild no longer a concern.

Luckily, as a graduate of OSU, she was no longer a needy orphan whose parents had deserted her. Now, she cared for herself and earned good money as a programmer with the added benefit of being able to work from home. If it was not for the conversion of the inventory system, she never would have spent the last four months away from home, or learn that she...

“Was Clint’s good-time girl. Hell, he never intended to marry me.” A bitter taste coated Suzi’s tongue, her stomach twisted into knots, and her head rolled into her splayed hands.

For two years, she’d made herself available to the man. He walked through her door, and she put her world on hold to please him. Mistakenly, she had believed he cared.

“That was until the beginning of the year,” she muttered and recalled how much she dreaded telling him about the special assignment she’d been giving. She had fixed him his favorite dinner and taken extra care with her appearance to avoid an unpleasant scene. Yet as the evening wore on, she had lost her nerve, and had unintentionally blurted her news. “I have to move to Oklahoma City for a few months.”

He shoved her grandmother’s fine china aside and shrugged as if unconcern by the forced separation. “If that’s what you need to do.”

The mashed potato in her mouth turned to sawdust and she washed it down with a long swig of wine. The special treat for the evening didn’t even tempt her palate or dull the ache in her chest. “Then you really don’t mind?”

“Why should I? I have no hold on you. We’re just having fun here. No strings attached.” He scooted back his chair and rolled onto the expensive heels of his boots. “We can always get together when you come home for long weekends or after the project is over.”

The shock of his words still vibrated through her chest. Bile backed into her throat. She clutched her hands into fists and repeated the same words she had yelled at him at the time, “Why you sorry son of a bitch!”

Unable to sit still, she thrust away from her desk. How could he think so little of her or the time they shared together? Didn’t he have a clue how much she’d loved him?

Still loved him?

“Get over it, it’s a moot point.” They had no future together—not then, not now, not ever. Depressed by the thought, Suzi strolled to the window. The cloud of dust marking the trail his truck had traveled slowly returned to the ground. She guessed his destination to be the gate, which led to her property. He held the lease on her land, farming part of it and running his cattle on the rest. At the end of the year, his contract would expire. Did she want to renew?

She rose and walked out of her office. For the last three days, she’d worked sixteen-hour days and gotten only a few hours of rest. She needed a break. After racing down the stairs, she grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and strolled out onto the back porch to enjoy the warmth of a beautiful spring afternoon.

****

The rebirth of green covered the land, driving home the change in weather from the crisp bite of winter to the warmer pleasures of spring. Peace settled over Clint and he enjoyed the simple joy of watching his cows graze.

He continued to drive along the fence line, checking for breaks and downed wire. Music filtered through the driver’s side window, and he eased up on the accelerator.

The dirt road he drove along followed the fence line, circled the pasture, and led him within a few hundred yards of the back wall of the Calworth’s garage before veering northward.

His truck moseyed along the dirt trail and the engine’s roar fell to a low hum. The music blared louder. Suzi Calworth.

“Damn, can’t she turn down the volume?”

If the rumors had it right, she arrived back in town the prior weekend. She attended church and talked to almost everyone in town. Everyone except him it seemed, because the people he’d met over the last several days had enjoyed telling him of the fact. They all had offered him advice too.

“Just marry the girl and have yourself a house full of young’uns.”

Hey, right. After the mistake, he’d made when she left, it wasn’t likely she’d welcome him back into her life with open arms.

Hell, it wasn’t his fault she hadn’t listened. He’d told her more than once that he had no plans of ever getting married. However, somewhere in the two years they had dated, she’d lost sight of the fact. He’d hurt her. Bad, if he wasn’t mistaken, and he didn’t like himself much for doing it.

What else could he do? Marry her? Pain bubbled up into his chest. “No, damn it, she deserves better.”

Slamming his truck into park, he cut the engine. Dust backwashed through the truck’s open windows, adding a dry scratchy ache to his already parched throat. A love song floated on the wind and the urge to see her again booted him into action. He tugged the keys free of the ignition and swung open the driver’s side door.

“Nothing’s wrong with being neighborly.” He provided himself a plausible reason to visit and stomped through the dirt to the narrow gate leading to her backyard.

He strolled along the side of her garage as the song on the stereo changed. Shania Twain’s voice played on the light breeze. Fast and upbeat, the music soared even louder when he rounded the corner of the garage.

His gaze immediately fell on a figure dancing in the back yard. Arms waving in the wind, Suzi’s willowy body flowed with the erotic beat of the song. Her legs, free of clothing, stretched up for an eternity before the fringe of her very short denim shorts played over her thighs. The rolling sway of her hips teased him with a peek-a-boo show of her ass and robbed him of the ability to swallow the wet need pooling on his tongue.

Spinning in a circle, her long blonde hair flying, the sleek line of her back turned into a bountiful vision of cotton-covered breasts. Nipples excited by her sensual movements peaked behind the white stretchy material.

His cock instantly hardened. He couldn’t fight the testosterone surge and imagined all the things he loved doing with—to Suzi. If she’d only let him, he’d strip off her clothes and make love to her right here in the back yard on a soft bed of grass.

Man, how could he resist?

Unable to stop, he stomped across the gravel driveway. The crunching noise must have alerted her because she paused. Her hands dropped and her crystal-blue gaze locked onto his. Plunged into a wet dream, he struggled to catch his breath.

She blinked and without a word, turned. Hips swaying provocatively, she walked up the back porch steps and pressed the power button on the stereo.

Silence hit Clint with almost as much force as the blare of music had unsettled him earlier. The fantasy of her lying naked on the ground, her wet pussy enticing him closer stayed with him for a brief moment more before it faded.

Get your head out of your jeans and say something.

****

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