"Cord stop looking at me like that."
Cassidy just stood in front of the man in question folding her arms as he approached her. Damn he looked fine, a little rumpled from the jet lag that had hit the both but otherwise, their whirlwind business trip hadn't subtracted from the fact that he remained ruggedly attractive while she…she looked a mess.
He flashed a look of total innocence on his face.
She almost bust up laughing but she knew she had to be serious here. Why was it that a man could travel halfway around the world and look the better for it while women like her started out fine enough and ended up looking wrecked?
"Like I'm somebody else," she said, "Some other woman…look if you want to go out and unwind from your trip, you can call up Felicia's Foxes…"
He furrowed his brow.
She blew a loose strand of hair away from her face.
"Felicia's Foxes, an escort service," she said, "I believe they deliver."
Cord chuckled as he walked over to the wet bar to go pour himself some Scotch, his first glass of it since they'd hit home soil for the first time in two weeks. He took his glass back to the couch and settled down on it, clearly amused.
"I've heard of it thanks."
She poured herself some orange juice and went to sit in a chair next to the sofa.
"Why doesn't that surprise me?"
"I think I went out with Felicia back in college," he said, "A real firecracker but then again, she had just gotten out of convent school."
"Okay so you know her."
He paused looking her over very carefully.
"Yes…but what surprises me is that you heard about her business."
She read his face watching his mouth curve up into a smile.
"You're not considering a career change are you," he said, "or to moonlight…business executive by day, escort by night?"
She rolled her eyes at him.
"Not likely but I don't want to be a collectable either."
She sure remembered how it used to be with him, how he collected girlfriends like some people collected Faberge eggs. All of them given their own name cards in his Rolodex, stashed away in his office. He could call up anyone of them right now and probably find a woman to come on down to the office or meet him in his place to smooth out his rough edges.
What she wanted to do was to throw her stuff in the car and head on to her little bungalow by the beach to start off her evening with a couple of hours in a hot tub overflowing with lavender bubbly. A glass of white wine and some rich dessert cake would only add to her relaxation before she would sleep off the last couple of weeks.
She looked up at Cord who stood there sipping his Scotch, looking at her, with several buttons on his rumpled dress shirt unbuttoned. She already knew the shirt covered a lean but muscular build, the man had lived for athletics and being outdoors usually both at once. A man like him should be arrested for still looking so damn tempting within minutes after getting off a red eye flight but….no she had to keep her hands off of him.
Because when he looked at her right now, he probably didn't even see the woman he worked with who needed a hot bath and a few nights sleep but the young girl who wore her hair in tight braids and had bucked teeth. Her hair had grown out curly and thick and her teeth had been straightened since then but wasn't it true about childhood friends that first impressions still lingered.
She saw that little girl for just a flicker of a moment each time she looked in her mirror. The girl who had wildly curly hair that had to be tamed each morning before she went to school or church. Tall and skinny, not to mention flat as an ironing board as the neighborhood boys used to say until one day her hormones kicked in and she lost her edges, developed curves and she stopped trying to tame her hair too much.
But she remembered what it had been like to be if not the ugly duckling, the plain one in a sea of swans.
The man in front of her had no such problems, having been a magnet for the opposite sex since he'd been in junior high and his athleticism had followed his maturity. He'd been the star of both the baseball and football teams while she had spent most of her free time studying for exams and writing papers in the library.
He smiled at her again and her insides wanted to melt.
"Cass….you sure you don't want to go out and unwind?"
She decided that maybe she needed something stronger than fruit juice, something like what he had in his glass. Then she remembered that she couldn't drink anything stronger than juice while jetlagged unless she wanted to do something she'd later regret over the porcelain goddess.
"No I think I'm just going to go home and soak in the tub," she said, "then head to bed…I'm pretty worn out."
He eyed her critically.
"You do look a little tired…I was thinking of a quiet dinner someplace."
Cassidy blinked her eyes at him.
"Cord that doesn't sound like you," she said, "Usually you're pacing around like a caged tiger after you get back from these trips looking for some action."
He cocked an eyebrow at her description.
"You really look at me as a player don't you?"
She shrugged, looking at him.
"You said it not me…look Cord you do like to spend time with women…as many women as you can fit on your social calendar and there's nothing wrong with that if it works for you."
He scowled but his eyes told her he didn't mean it.
"Cord don't be upset…there's no law that says that you have to date one woman at a time anyway," she said, "though I don't envy you the task of having to keep them all straight."
He leaned back on the couch, nursing his Scotch.
"It's not that tough and believe it or not, I only date one woman at a time."
She folded her arms eying him.
"That's not what I heard and I'm not one to judge," she said, "whatever makes you happy."
Cord seemed to digest that and they both sipped their drinks neither of them eager to move and do anything.
"So what about tomorrow…? You got any plans?"
Cassidy looked up at him, pondering her words carefully.
"Actually I do. During our trip I've been going back and forth with a realtor and I just found out this morning that my offer's been accepted."
His glass stopped halfway to his mouth.
She nodded, smiling at him.
"Yes…on a parcel of land just outside L.A."
He furrowed his brow at her, clearly trying to make sense of what she just said.
"What parcel…what land," he said, "Since when were you looking to buy some property?"
She sighed heavily.
"Cord I told you I had plans to move out of the city," she said, "Unlike you, I miss my life growing up on a ranch."
He gritted his teeth.
"I never said I didn't miss that life," he said, "I've just moved on from it that's all."
"I can see that and the urbane lifestyle's great for you but it's not what I want," she said, "I've tried so hard to make it work like it does for you but it's for me."
His face softened at her confession, hinting at vulnerability.
"Okay so what's this parcel you've just bought for yourself then?"
She smiled more broadly now.
"The Walker ranch," she said, "I've decided I'm going to buy it."
His expression changed as his body tensed and she knew why.
"I see, so you bought my daddy's ranch."
"Yes I did and as soon as I close escrow, I'm going to move there," she said, "and fix the place up."
He frowned at her.
"When you going to find time to do that with your busy schedule?"
She bit her lip at him just then wandering how he'd handle what she had to say next.
"I'm taking some time off from work," she said, "about four or five months until I get the ranch ready and off the ground."
"You can't be serious Cass."
Her eyes flashed at him.
"Oh yes I am Cord and I'm going to prove that I can make that ranch a success. You didn't want it and your father was ready to sell."
"How could you just buy it?"
"Because he didn't want to deal with it anymore…we both knew that and I'm going to make it work."
She pointed a finger at him then.
"No you just wait and see…"
Six months later….
Cassidy rode the buckskin mare down the old cattle trail through the patch of dogwood trees that sprouted up from the ground every so often to provide some shade in the pasture. She stopped at the end of the trail and put her hand above her eyes as she looked in each direction. She smiled in satisfaction at the band of mares and foals that nibbled on the grass without a care in the world. The valley had been lit up with rumors of coyotes running loose but she had yet to see or even hear one.
What she heard now was the whirl of chopper blades approaching her and she looked up and saw the familiar sight of a helicopter swooping down over a nearby ridge and blowing up the branches in the trees as it approached.
She sighed inwardly knowing who piloted the copter and why he had arrived. It had to be Cord Walker dropping by to check up on her again. She nudged her horse with the squeeze of her legs and continued down the trail. She watched as the helicopter approached and finally landed in the middle of the pasture, blowing up some dirt as it settled on the ground with the rotary blades slowing to a stop. The door opened and out stepped a tall, man with a muscular build dressed in a business suit and tugging at his tie, while he carried a brief case in his other hand. She didn't get off of her horse but folded her arms as he approached, while her horse danced beneath her.
"Easy Chelsea," she whispered as she patted the mare's neck, "It's just Walker. He looks like he just stepped out of a business meeting in that god awful suit of his bought off the rack at Neiman Marcus."
The mare settled down as the man approached quickly, reaching the worn fencing and then deftly hopping over it. Cassidy raised her brows when he approached her.
"Haven't seen you in a while," she said.
"You haven't been at the office," he said, "Dennis told me you extended your sabbatical."
She nodded, pushing back the wavy mahogany curls out of her face absently while she studied the man in front of her. He looked ill at ease in his suit and tie and yet, she had to say he filled both out well. Most women would agree and most women who had crossed paths with him had done that, engaging more in a game of show than tell.
"Yes I did," she said, "I've got more work to do on the ranch."
He looked around at the acreage that surrounded them.
"Why didn't you tell me you bought it?"
"I did tell you," she said, "You just didn't listen. You were busy working with your new partner and hanging around what's her name."
"Business has been piling up so much, I haven't had much time to spend with what's her name."
"You've got Zack to help you now," she said, her arms still folded, "which should leave you plenty of time for a social life and you can work your way through the rest of the female population of L.A."
He ignored her dig and just stared at her sitting on her horse as if she belonged there.
"Cassidy, you bought the ranch."
She looked at him nonplussed.
"It's been on the market forever and your daddy needed some closure," she said, "and I didn't want it to be picked up by someone else but me. Some developer had just offered five times what it's worth to build something on top of it but I beat him out under the dime."
Cord had known that because his realtor had told him about the offer which had just come out of the blue that had nearly dropped him in his tracks but she's already gotten the property. He scratched his head.
"So this is where you've been all this time?"
"I fixed up the house, which needed a new roof and some new flooring on the atrium and that barn out back."
"Who's helping you," he asked.
"Buck and Lawson drove in all the way from Colorado to help out," she said, "It's been like old times, well mostly."
Cord heard the wistful tone in her voice and knew he had hit a sensitive spot that she had kept hidden for a long time, he suspected. In the past few months, she had spent more time away from the office and away from him only he had been too busy to notice. She had sold her house and had said she wanted to get away from the frantic pace of L.A. Still, he had focused on his career with the business while he tried to reestablish his relationship with his father. Cassidy had never begrudged him his desire to reconnect with what was left of his family tree but he hadn't seen her around as much either in recent months.
And she spoke the truth. He had been busy hanging out with some gorgeous ladies after his last of his three engagements went kaput. But what else could he do, he had to prove he still had it as a man. But women weren't his first love…other things were more important. Like..
"How about my daddy's horses?"
She pointed back towards the pastures.
"They're out grazing now," she said, "I turned them out this morning and they couldn't be happier."
He watched them eating and couldn't find fault with that not having had much time in the past year for them either. Cord wondered if they would even recognize him especially gussied up like he was now. Still a question nagged at him and he had to ask it. But she beat him to the punch as she often did, having a mind that worked a tick quicker than his own.
"So why are you here," she asked.
"To find out what you're doing with my ranch," he said.
She just looked at him.
"Walker I bought it," she said, "but it doesn't mean you can't come out here anytime you'd like or keep your animals here. Even Rasputin.
His mood brightened at the mention of his father's beloved goat which had been given to him by a neighbor and would come as close to a pet as his daddy would ever acknowledge.
"How's he doing anyway?"
"Overseeing his own kingdom of offspring with his mate Hilda," she said, "the world can't have too many goats."
Cord didn't know what to say about that. Cassidy dismounted from Chelsea and held onto the mare's reins. Cord looked at the woman in front of him, dressed in faded jeans and an old sweatshirt that looked suspiciously like it had belonged to him.
"Walker, I didn't buy your ranch to hurt your feelings," she said, "I didn't want to see it go to anyone else if you weren't going to hold onto it."
He knew she meant what she said and a part of him had been relieved when he learned she was its new owner but he wished she had just told him. But she really hadn't been telling him much lately and truth be told he had no idea what she thought about in her head these days.
"Would you like to come to the house and get something to drink," she offered.
He looked at his watch.
"I have to head back," he said, "but oh wait, I did have some paperwork for you to sign on that new merger."
She took the folder with the contract enclosed and asked him for a pen which he handed to her.
"You could have gotten Dennis to sign it," she said.
He knew that was true but he had wanted to see her. He hadn't seen enough of her lately since she had taken her leave from the agency and had obviously moved out to the ranch. Zack, his new partner had picked up the slack fairly quickly but even though the two men had been life-long buddies stemming from high school, he missed working with Cassidy. He wondered if she knew that.
"How are things going with you," he asked.
She smiled at him.
"I'm happy Walker," she said, "I love working on the ranch with the guys and there's a nice town nearby with nice people. I'm exactly where I want to be."
She didn't add that some of them had even asked her to help them with their own businesses. And how she had enjoyed spending the evenings on her porch watching the moon light up the sky amid a carpet of stars extending all the way to the horizon. She didn't miss the city at all. Okay, she missed her favorite nightclub on the Sunset strip but the rest of it…not as much.
"I'd better head back to the office," he said, "Thanks for signing this for me."
She shrugged and got back on her horse, thinking about how much she missed seeing him in his favorite pair of jeans and on the back of a horse. But he had chosen what he wanted in his life and it clearly was to play the urban jetsetter.
"I'd better get back to work," she said.
She waited until he got back on his helicopter and took off heading back to L.A. and the world she had left behind at least for a little while.
Cord sat at his desk as Zack came in and dropped a stack of papers.
"More clients," Cord asked.
"Picked up a half dozen this week," Zack said, "It's going to be tough to schedule time for them all."
Dennis poked his head in.
"There's a long line of employees waiting for signatures on a bunch of paperwork," he said.
Cord sighed, knowing he had lost the element of surprise which would allow him to make a quick getaway from his office assistants. It might be another hour before he could leave the office and head off to a dinner meeting with a new client that Zack had set up.
" Cassidy bought the ranch," Cord said.
Zack looked up at him from some papers he was reading.
"Oh, so that's where she's been…"
"She's already put a great deal of work into it," he said, "The work I never got around to doing."
"You've been very busy with your business," Zack said, "It's only natural to stick to doing the most important things when your time's limited."
Cord frowned from his desk.
"I missed the ranch," he said, "I was actually sorry that it sold until I found out who bought it."
Zack signed a couple of forms and put them on Cord's desk.
"She needed an outlet," he said, "She was feeling restless here."
Cord hadn't been sure that was it, the reason why she had taken her sabbatical. Not that she had really given him a reason. He had just assumed she needed a break after years spent working hard and wanted to focus her energies elsewhere. He knew the feeling himself, having wanted to take off at a moment's notice himself. But he had his burgeoning caseload to consider before he could take any vacations, not that he wasn't tempted to just take off for a while at least once a day. Then there was his company which was in the capable hands of Dennis but…
"I guess she needed a change," Cord admitted, "Hopefully she'll finish up with the ranch and return to work soon."
After coming to her senses, he added to himself.
Even as he said that, Cord didn't feel so sure. After all, she hadn't been the same in the past couple of months and she looked so much happier up on her horse looking at the world than she did wearing a three-piece suit inside his office. Still, she loved practicing law and surely that would draw her back soon enough. But then she could still be smarting from her breakup with Randy, an attorney with a firm in the skyscraper across the street. She hadn't talked much about it, just said that it had ended and that it had been for the best. Even when he offered to take her out for dinner as a friend so she could talk about it, she had shook her head and closed the topic off from further discussion just like that. Just like she did on so many subjects these days. He wondered when she had started pushing him out of her life but couldn't remember when it had all started.