A Cowboy For Christmas – Chapter 3
Sarah was so lost in her own thoughts she startled when a gentle hand touched her arm.
“Ma’am, we’re starting our descent. You need to buckle up, please.”
Smiling up at the air hostess, she murmured her thanks. Buckling herself in, she felt the multitude of butterflies that had taken up residence in her stomach take flight. She hadn’t seen her brother in two and a half years, and now she couldn’t wait. But she was aware that once all the pleasantries were dispensed with, she would have to come clean as to the real reason she was here.
She knew he was thrilled to have her with him for the holidays, but she also knew he suspected there was far more to the story than she’d told him. And to be fair, she owed him the truth. She just didn’t know how to open up that part of herself. Being a private person by nature at the best of times, it was hard for her to share such intensely personal details with others, even her loved ones.
Feeling the wheels touch down, Sarah undid her seatbelt. The plane taxied to a stop, and she waited until the initial rush passed so she could leave her seat without being jostled. As the last person passed her on their way to the exit, she rose from her seat.
Stepping off the plane into the tunnel, she hurried into the building, intent on reaching baggage claim as quickly as possible. She was so ready for this trip to be over. Reeling with exhaustion, she wanted nothing more than a long, hot soak in the tub and to sleep for a million hours.
She was thankful she’d waited to disembark last when she found baggage claim mercifully quiet and she managed to find her luggage fairly quickly. Gripping the handle of her luggage cart she strode purposefully towards the exit that would take her into the main building—and her brother. Anticipation had her quickening her step. God, she’d missed him.
Reaching the door that would take her into the main terminal, Sarah faltered to a stop. Suddenly it was all too real–she was here in Colorado, about to face her brother, and she was no longer sure she had the nerve to deal with the inevitable.
She felt her face warm with humiliation, thinking back to her last encounter with Greg. Sarah had needed him to come clean, but instead he had done what he’d always done. It was so easy to see it now that she had distanced herself and disillusionment had given her such clear vision. Greg had been his usual passive-aggressive self. Instead of taking responsibility, he’d fired her, without explanation, turning it all back on her in an attempt to make her feel as if everything were her fault.
Taking a deep breath, she gathered the tattered remnants of her courage around her like a cloak and stepped through the automatic doors that would take her to Steve. She came to a stop just inside the arrivals terminal and scanned the crowd, looking for him. When she didn’t immediately spot him, a momentary pang of panic rolled through her.
Where was the confounded man? Surely he hadn’t forgotten to fetch her? Sarah rooted around in her bag for her cell phone when she realised it was still off, and he wouldn’t have been able to reach her. Just as she was powering the phone back up, she felt a hand on her shoulder.
For the second time that morning, Sarah startled at the unexpected gesture, nearly dropping the device in her hand.
“Sorry, ma’am,” a beautiful voice apologized from behind her.
She had yet to turn around, but if the owner of that voice looked anything like he sounded, she’d be in trouble. It was pure seduction, conjuring up dark nights and satin sheets.
Finally turning towards the soft, southern drawl, she laid eyes on every woman’s wet dream. His well-muscled frame towered over her; tousled, sun-streaked hair had her fingers itching to sink into the soft-looking strands. Full lips had her wanting to press hers against them. But the thing that caught her attention above all else were the deep, endless pools of green that were his eyes. An unusual, bright emerald green, his eyes were impossibly gently lit with a gleam of humour.
Sarah blushed as her brain started firing again, becoming aware that she was staring at the gorgeous man in front of her, completely missing what he was saying. Worse still, she could see he knew the effect he was having on her.
Stammering, her blush deepening, she managed a small, “I beg your pardon?”
And damned if the man didn’t laugh. Adding insult to injury, twin dimples appeared on his cheeks as he chuckled down at her. Damn it. How was that playing fair? Her poor brain was already fried from just looking at him; how was she supposed to focus on what he was saying too?
Taking a deep breath, she attempted to pull herself together. Surely a first grader would have more aplomb than her in this moment. Then again, taking another sneak peek at the vision before her, she wasn’t so sure.
“My apologies, ma’am, I didn’t mean to startle you,” the demigod drawled. Extending his hand to her, he continued, “My name is Jesse Colter. Steve sent me to collect you.”
At the mention of her brother’s name, Sarah looked up at the stranger in front of her. Just where was the man anyway? How did this Jesse know him? Did he even know Steve? He certainly knew his name. So surely he knew Steve, right? The thoughts fired rapidly.
Tentatively taking his hand, she asked, “How do you know Steve? And where is he anyway?”
Another panty-melting smile accompanied his reply. “One of the ranch hands took an unexpected horn to the body, so your brother’s taken him to the hospital to be checked out. He asked me to come get you and let you know he’ll see you back at the ranch.”
“And Carol? Did she go with them?”
“No, Carol was visiting with our mom when Jake got hurt. I told her I’d come get you since she and Ma have been planning this for ages.”
“Your mom?” Sarah asked, thoroughly confused.
With another seductive laugh, Jesse reached into his pocket. Not sure what to expect, Sarah was about to step away from him when he pulled out his mobile. He tapped on the screen and turned the phone toward her, opened to his gallery.
She saw a grid of photos of him with both Steve and Caroline, taken at his and Caroline’s parents’ ranch at what appeared to be Thanksgiving. Handing her the phone, he said, “Caroline is my sister.”
Looking up at him, Sarah asked, “So how come you weren’t at the wedding? I don’t remember seeing …” Trailing off, she worried at her bottom lip as she suddenly remembered Caroline talking about her brother, the Navy SEAL, who was on deployment and couldn’t make it home for the wedding. “Are you the SEAL?” she asked rather baldly.
Those twin dimples made another appearance. “Yes ma’am. I was on a mission when Steve and Carol got married. I only found out they’d tied the knot when we eventually got back Stateside.”
Looking at the phone in her hand, she studied the photo of Jesse, Steve, and Caroline. She could see the resemblance between the siblings, and that put her a bit more at ease. After staring at the image in front of her for some time, she handed the phone back, squared her shoulders, and reached for her baggage trolley.
“Let me.” Jesse stepped up to the cart and laid his hand over hers
Sarah felt the contact all the way up her arm, like she’d touched a live wire. Her head snapped up to look at Jesse, and by his expression, he must have felt it too. A frown line marred his forehead as he studied her intently for a moment.
With a tiny shake of his head, he looked down at her and murmured, “Shall we?”
Not sure she’d be able to get a word out, Sarah simply nodded.
As he led the way out of the airport, she hurried to keep up with his long-legged stride, petrified of losing him in the crowd. Luckily for her, he was tall and broad shouldered, so not easily lost in the crowd, but still, why take the chance?
Now that he couldn’t see her scrutinising him, she took in the sheer beauty that was the man. Enjoying the view, Sarah followed him out into the dark of a cold winter and a brand-new chapter in her life.