Molly O’Brien had just pulled on her boots and her cowboy hat after arriving home from a quick trip to town for groceries. “What do you need, Gabe?” she called out to her brother.
“Have you seen Isabella?” his voice came to her from the hallway.
Molly shook her head and smiled. “She’s probably out at the barn with her horse.”
“I checked. She and her horse were gone.” Gabe stopped in front of Molly’s bedroom door. “Where are you going?”
“It’s hot outside. I’ve spent the best part of my day pushing a shopping cart through the grocery store, and I’m ready to blow the cobwebs out of my hair.”
“Going riding, huh?” Gabe nodded. “That’s what Isabella does when she’s all wound up. What’s got your chaps in a twist?”
Gabe grinned. “You’re talking like a female. Didn’t we teach you better?” He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorframe. “Spill.”
She shrugged and stood, stomping her foot to get it the rest of the way into her boot. “I’m twenty-seven years old, I have a degree in marketing, I work at a saloon and I haven’t gotten laid in the past six months. Either things better change around here soon, or I’m heading for Austin to find a job and men my age to date.”
“There are plenty of men in Temptation who’d love to date you,” Gabe said.
Molly lifted her chin. “Yeah? Name one.”
“What about Nick…No, wait…I’m going to his bachelor party next week.” Gabe scratched his jaw and frowned. “How about Grant Raleigh? He’s a champion rodeo rider.”
“Taken,” Molly said. “Try again.”
Gabe lifted two fingers. “Mark or Luke Gray Wolf.”
“In a relationship with Libby Jones.”
Gabe frowned. “Trent Jameson.”
“He and Isaac are with Lucky Albright.”
“Well damn, Molly. You’re not trying hard enough.” Gabe turned and led the way toward the kitchen. “There are more men around than that.”
“I’m running out of options, and I’m not settling for some toothless old goat because I’m desperate.” Molly’s lips twisted. Not even a toothless old goat had asked her out in the last couple of weeks.
Gabe draped an arm around her shoulder. “I don’t expect you to settle for anyone. Especially not an old goat.”
“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, the good ones aren’t beating down my door to ask me out.
Gabe stepped back and stared at Molly in her jeans and tank top. “Why not? You’re all right, for a girl.”
She snorted. “Thanks. I think.”
“You know what I mean.” Gabe scratched his head. “You being my baby sister, and all.”
Molly tilted her head, considering her dilemma. “I think the guys might be intimidated by my heavy-handed brothers.”
“Whose heavy-handed brothers?” Sean entered the kitchen through the back door, followed by Tanner, his arm wrapped around Isabella’s waist.
With three of the four hulking O’Brien men in the kitchen, it didn’t leave Molly much room to move, much less think.
“Are you boys being overprotective again?” Isabella asked. She left Tanner’s side and closed the distance between her and Molly. “Molly’s a grown woman. She can take care of herself.”
“What are you talking about?” Tanner asked. “She’s just a kid.”
“I’m twenty-seven. A year younger than Isabella.”
Isabella slipped an around Molly and hugged her close. “She’s fully capable of making her own decisions about men.”
Molly smiled at Isabella’s defense and gave a curt nod to her brothers. “That’s right.”
Sean frowned. “What if one of them tries to hurt her?”
“Yeah.” Gabe’s chest swelled. “We promised Dad we’d look out for our little sister. Speaking of Dad, he’d kick our asses if he comes home from his trip to Australia to find his baby girl moved out.”
“First of all, if someone tries to hurt me, I’ll take him down with one of the moves you taught me,” Molly said. “Second. Dad isn’t coming home for another month, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him until he gets back, and you boys are too big for Dad to kick your asses.”
Gabe’s brows crooked upward. “You’ve seen him when he gets mad.”
Molly shook her head. “The point is, I haven’t been asked out on a date for a while. It might just be time for me to move on and make a life of my own away from Temptation where everyone knows everyone else.”
“But Austin is such a big city,” Gabe said.
“It’s full of crime,” Sean added.
Tanner frowned. “And far away.”
“It’s not as far as New York City where Jesse lives,” Molly pointed out.
Gabe’s frown deepened. “Don’t even think of running off to New York.”
“I’m not going to New York. Yet. But I am going to Austin, just as soon as I find a job. I’ve updated my resume, and I’ve signed up with a headhunter. It’s time I grew up and got a life of my own.”
All three of her brothers spoke at once, the combined noise too much to make any sense.
Molly raised her hand. “Don’t bother trying to talk me out of it. I need to do this for me. There’s nothing in Temptation holding me back.” And no one begging her to stay.
“What about us?” Sean asked. “Don’t you care about us?”
With a gentle smile for her brother, Molly touched his cheek. “I love you all, and Isabella too. You know how happy I am you’ve found each other. Seeing your loving relationship only makes me feel more alone.”
“You’re not alone,” Tanner said. “You have us.”
Molly shook her head. “You missed the part about my not having gotten laid in the past six months.”
Tanner pressed his hands over his ears. “I did not want to know that.”
“That I haven’t been laid? Or that I’m not a virgin?” She backhanded him in the belly, forcing him to drop his hands.
“Either.” Tanner closed his eyes. “I can’t see my baby sister in bed with a man.” He shook his head and glanced at her. “Sorry. I’ll always see you as a ten-year-old.”
“Exactly.” She stared around at three of her four brothers. “As long as you three are around, I’ll be an old maid. I’m giving Audrey my notice tonight. I’m giving myself two weeks to find a job, and then I’m out of here.” She marched toward the door, pushing past Tanner.
“Wait!” Tanner snagged her arm. “What about those fly boys, Jake and Tucker Maddox?”
“Yeah,” Sean said. “They aren’t too old.”
Her footsteps faltered at the thought of the Maddox brothers. Yeah, she liked them all right, had even thought she might be falling in love with them. She’d gone out several times with each and enjoyed the dates immensely, but neither had called her in more than two weeks. “What about them?” she hedged.
“I thought you liked one of them,” Tanner said.
Sean added, “They’re single.”
Gabe grinned. “Best of all they’re young, and have all of their teeth.”
“Huh?” Tanner looked at his brother.
Gabe waved his hand. “Never mind. You ought to be able to catch one of the Maddox brothers.”
Molly shook her head. “They aren’t fish. I’m not going to throw a line in the water and snag one of them.”
Isabella chuckled and rolled her eyes. “Molly, sweetie, good luck with these three poor excuses for matchmakers. I’m going to get a shower.” She hugged her. “If you need an ear to vent in, come see me later.”
Molly gave Isabella a grateful glance. “Thanks, Bella.”
Fortunately all three of her brothers’ attention swerved to their departing love, as Bella left the kitchen.
“Well, uh, I’m sure you’ll figure it all out,” Sean said to Molly, his gaze on Isabella’s swaying hips.
“Yeah, Isabella’s right—you’re old enough to make your own decisions.” Tanner pushed past Sean on his way after Isabella.
“Hey!” Sean grabbed his brother’s arm and hauled him back. “The shower’s only big enough for two.”
“I know,” Tanner said. “Isabella is one. I’m the two.”
“Like hell you are.” The two wrestled each other out of the kitchen and bumped into the walls down the hallway.
“I’m taking my shower alone,” Isabella called out from the back of the house.
The men stopped fighting.
“What about after?” Sean asked.
“We’ll see,” Isabella’s voice faded away.
Gabe pulled Molly into one of his big bear hugs. “Just don’t rush into leaving. We love you and would like you to stay close to family. We’ve already lost one of us to the lure of the big city, we’d hate to lose you as well.”
Molly squeezed her brother around the middle, burying her face in his shirt, loving the scent of the outdoors that reminded her so much of her father. “You didn’t lose Jesse. He’s alive and well, riding his horse for the New York City Police Department. And he’s happy with the love of his life.” She leaned back in her brother’s arms and stared up at him. “That’s all I want—to be happy with the love of my life.”
Her brother tweaked her nose like he had when she’d been an eight-year-old. “I get that. But give the men of the area a chance before you bail on the ranch and us. That’s all we’re asking.”
Molly sighed. “I’ll give it until I find a job I can make a living at in Austin. If nothing happens by then, no promising men step up to the plate with at least a hint of happily ever after, and I’m packing my bags.”
“Fair enough.” He let his arms fall to his sides.
Molly nodded toward the hallway where Isabella, Sean and Tanner had disappeared. “You better hurry. The boys will wear her out before you get to her.”
Gabe winked. “I can wait.”
“Maybe you can, but can she?” Molly laughed. “I don’t know how you four make it work.”
Her brother ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t either, but somehow it does. Who’d have thought the three of us could share one woman and not kill each other?”
Molly smiled, shaking her head. “I’m happy for you. Isabella is special. Don’t screw it up.” She left Gabe in the kitchen and headed out to the barn.
Little Joe stood at the pasture fence, waiting for her, stomping his hoof.
“You are so spoiled.” Molly dug a carrot out of her pocket and held it out for the horse. She had to stop bringing carrots, apples and sugar cubes when she visited the barn. Little Joe had come to expect a treat every time.
She led the gelding into the barn, brushed and saddled him and slipped a bridle over his head. By the time she was finished, he was dancing excitedly, as ready as she was to race across the pasture, letting the wind blow in his ears.
Outside the barn, Molly stepped into the stirrup and slung her leg over the saddle. She hadn’t even gotten her foot in the other stirrup before Little Joe took off.
Laughing out loud, she let go of her worries, leaning over the horse’s neck, loving the feel of the hot sun’s rays beating down on her back and the big, blue hazy sky of a Texas summer stretching above her.
Little Joe galloped across the fields, down into the valleys and up over the knolls, headed for his and Molly’s favorite place in the whole world—the bend in the creek where a pool had formed. The place her parents brought her and her brothers when they were little and taught them to swim.
It was the one place on the entire ranch where she felt the most relaxed and comfortable. Away from everything and everyone. She could really think through her options…or not think at all.
Little Joe arrived at the creek, breathing hard, his coat lathered with sweat.
Molly swung off his back and dropped to the ground. She led the horse to the water and he drank, pulling gulp after of gulp into his mouth. When he was satisfied, he wandered toward a shady patch of grass where he happily munched.
Oh to be so easily satisfied. Molly sighed, toed off her boots and sat on a boulder at the pool’s edge, dangling her feet in the cool water, watching the ripples spread out across the surface.
Gabe’s words came back to her.
What about the Maddox brothers?
That was a question she had posed to herself a dozen times. She’d been around them for years, hanging out the Ugly Stick Saloon. They’d danced together, and partied when the saloon had special events. Tucker and Jake were brothers, but as different as night and day.
Tucker was the levelheaded, sweet and considerate man a girl could see herself marrying. Oh, and he was an excellent kisser, and his slow, steady foreplay stirred her insides to the point, she’d wanted to strip naked and push him out of that sweet comfort zone. He’d only gone to second base, feeling up her breasts before he’d stepped away and ended the evenings they’d spent together. He wanted her to be sure about them before they went any further. Yeah, he was sweet, and those big, rough hands…Wowza.
Now, Jake was the kind of man mamma’s warned their daughters about, and daddies stood at the front door with their shotguns to keep away. He made her core ignite. One of the dates she’d been on with him had ended abruptly when her brother, Tanner, drove up behind them at Lookout Point and put the kibosh on a backseat quickie. Yeah, her brothers had a habit of showing up at the wrong time.
And what killed her was that the dates had stopped a couple weeks ago. Neither Jake nor Tucker had called to claim another. And maybe that was a good thing. At some point, she’d have to choose between the two of them and she wasn’t so sure she could.
On the one hand, Jake was the devil of a temptation. On the other hand…Tucker’s hands made her want to do all kinds of naughty to get him to shake out of that gentleman mode and make crazy monkey sex with her.
Both men were professional pilots, driven in their desire to make their business work for them, and cowboys at heart. She loved that about them and she was so very close to falling in love with both of them, it scared her.
The thought of the two men made the day warmer to the point Molly pulled her tank top out of the waistband of her jeans and flapped the hem to stir up a breeze against her heated skin.
“Oh, what the heck.” She yanked the shirt over her head and dropped it beside her on the boulder. The cool, clear water below beckoned. Within seconds, she’d shucked the rest of her clothes down to the bathing suit she’d been born with.