SLOW HAND by VICTORIA VANE
In rural Montana…Wade Knowlton is a hardworking lawyer who’s torn between his small-town Montana law practice and a struggling family ranch. He’s on the brink of exhaustion from trying to save everybody and everything, when gorgeous Nicole Powell walks into his office. She’s a damsel in distress and the breath of fresh air he needs.
Even the lawyers wear boots… Nicole Powell is a sassy Southern girl who has officially sworn off cowboys after a spate of bad seeds-until her father’s death sends her to Montana and into the arms of a man who seems too good to be true. Her instincts tell her to high tail it out of Montana, but she can’t resist a cowboy with a slow hand…
“Please, you’ve got to help me,” Nikki pleaded with the gate agent. “I didn’t even want to make this trip to begin with, but my father has passed away. I have to get on this flight.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, miss.” The agent’s gaze barely flickered up from the computer monitor. Although the words were sympathetic, the voice was anything but. “I have done all I can. The next flight is already overbooked due to the inclement weather and all the earlier cancellations. I have you on standby, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. I can confirm you on our noon departure tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? You mean I’ll be stuck here overnight?”
The woman glanced up with an exasperated sigh. “We can provide a room and meal voucher.” She gazed over Nikki’s shoulder and beckoned to the next passenger.
“Wait! You don’t understand! I have to be there.”
Nikki felt a burning sensation behind her eyes. Keep it together, Nikki. You’ve already made an ass of yourself in front of a hundred strangers. Don’t you dare cry.
“I’m sorry, miss.” The agent’s face was completely impassive, now looking past Nikki as if she wasn’t there. “Next in line, please.”
With eyes blurring with tears she still refused to acknowledge, Nikki spun around, but found no vacant seats close to the gate. Lacking any other options, she threw herself to the floor beside her bag, fished out a Kleenex from her purse, and blew her nose loud enough to draw some stares. Well, more stares.
What had possessed her to break down into near-hysterics over a man she’d hardly known? She shook her head, drew in a ragged breath, and scrubbed her face with her palms. For a moment she deliberated turning back, catching the next flight to Atlanta, but that would be cowardly.
And Nikki was no coward.
She’d proven it enough times in her life. Except for flying, that is, but she’d even braved that horror when she’d had to. She drew another long and shaky breath in an effort at composure, glaring back at those who still gaped at her, reserving her best glower for the cowboy she’d caught staring at her ass. He was slouched in his seat with his Stetson hat and ostrich Lucchese boots, his long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, taking up all the surrounding floor space as if he owned it.
God, how I hate arrogant, swaggering cowboys.
She’d had a bellyful of them with their tall boots, big hats, monster trucks, Red Man, and NASCAR. It was one of the reasons for getting the hell out of Toccoa ten years ago—to avoid repeating all of her past mistakes involving no-account cowboys. At least greater Atlanta had a more diversified mix of losers and players—the only two breeds of male she’d identified so far—unfortunately, by dating them.
When Marlboro Man rose to talk to the gate agent, she assumed he must also be on standby. She slanted a covetous glance at his seat the moment he’d vacated, as did several other people. Well hell, if she didn’t take it, someone else certainly would. She stood and slid into it, noting with surprise that it was still warm. somehow it seemed weird to be absorbing a total stranger’s body heat in such an intimate place.
After his exchange with the agent, Mr. Look-How-Damned-Hot-I-Am headed away from the gate area. Thank God for small favors. The jerk actually had the balls to tip his hat at her with a smirk that said I’m God’s gift to womankind. Perhaps he’d decided to take the noon flight tomorrow, which made her wonder what the chances were—
“Paging passenger Powell. Passenger Powell, please come to gate number fifty.”
It was her ass he’d noticed first—actually, he couldn’t avoid it since it was parked right in front of him at eye level. Clad in tight denim, supported by legs that went all the way up, it was a mighty fine, shapely, womanly ass, the kind a man liked to fill his hands with.
His interest piqued, Wade’s gaze roamed higher to light brown hair that fell in waves over her shoulders. With her back to him, he couldn’t see her face or judge her age, nor could he hear a word she spoke with George Strait crooning in his earbuds. Still, he was an observer by nature, and his innate ability to read body language had been further honed by his profession. Lacking any other distraction, he watched her, playing a game with himself to see how much of her story he could discern by her actions alone.
The youngish woman attached to the prime ass had a boarding pass in hand that she flapped at the apathetic gate agent whose attention appeared fully engaged in tapping on the keyboard, and staring into her monitor like it was a crystal ball. After a time, the wooden-faced woman glanced up and shook her head. Further fruitless argument ensued, at which point Wade pulled out his earbuds to eavesdrop.
Hot Ass wasn’t getting on the flight.
She spun around giving Wade the first glimpse of her face. With red blotches staining her neck and cheeks, and mascara and snot streaming down her face, what a hot mess Hot Ass turned out to be. She threw herself to the floor beside her bag, a vision of pure woebegone.
“I have to say good-bye,” she repeated to herself in a choked whisper.
Ah hell! Her desolate expression and pathetic words sent Wade surging to his feet with a groan. He’d been bred to do the right thing, especially where women, children, and animals were concerned, and the right thing now was to give up his damned seat—even though this was the last flight to Bozeman tonight and he had a court date in Virginia City at nine a.m.
He glanced at his watch. It was nearly six. If he rented a car, he could be on the road within the hour, and if he drove through the night, he’d hit Virginia City by six a.m. He figured he could crash for an hour in his office and still make his appearance, albeit not in his most pristine condition.
Having set his course, he stashed his iPod and earbuds, threw his carry-on over his shoulder, and approached the desk. After a few minutes of low conversation, Wade turned to leave, tipping his hat and flashing his killer smile at Hot Ass as he passed. Having appropriated his seat, she averted her face with a guilty look.
Seconds later when the garbled PA system called out her almost indistinguishable name, he couldn’t help glancing over his shoulder to catch her surprise.