The Patriot A Small Town Romance - Jennifer Millikin Page 0,1

gaze stays on me as I walk to him, plucking a bottle of liquor from an empty table as I go. I don’t know what kind it is and I don’t know who it belongs to, but I do know he finds this amusing. A small upward movement of the corner of his mouth is all that breaks through his stoic veneer, but it’s enough.

I slow down as I approach, like a Mack truck putting on its brakes far ahead of a red light. The insane amount of attraction I feel for this person needs a good bit of road in which to slow itself. My goose bumps have returned.

I’m three feet away from him when I stop and take a sip, trying like hell not to grimace at the burn of liquor. “Did you come to a party just to hide out in the back all by your lonesome?”

Something flickers in his dark eyes. “All by my lonesome?” His voice is deep and rough. His Adam’s apple bobs as he speaks and I feel the urge to run my tongue along it.

“That’s what I said.” My eyebrows lift, offering a small challenge.

The corner of his mouth crooks up higher. He sticks an open palm into the air between us. I don’t know if he’s reaching for me or the bottle, but I go with the bottle. Just because I have the desire to throw myself in his arms doesn’t mean he shouldn’t work a little harder for it.

He takes a sip of what I think is probably whiskey, doesn’t appear to fight any sort of grimace, and sets it on the table beside him. The message is clear, If you want it, come over here and get it.

“My grandma used to say that,” he explains. “All by your lonesome.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

“You said used to. Past tense.”

He nods once. “Right. She passed a couple years ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You said that already.”

Now I’m the one fighting a smile.

His gaze lowers to my T-shirt. “Kappa Kappa Gamma?”

At first I’m confused, and then I remember I borrowed Emily’s little sister’s shirt. I was never a sorority girl, not by a long shot.

I shake my head. “Not mine. I borrowed it. I’m a few years past that stage in life.”

His chin lifts, his nod slow and measured. “Are you a friend of Jason’s?”

A smile tugs on the corner of my mouth. “I’ve known him for less than half a day. I’m guessing you’ve known him for longer than that?”

“Military,” he answers, and then nothing more.

I’m quiet, waiting for him to make the next move. And he does.

He holds out his hand again, and this time I know it’s for me. My hand sinks into his, and when our skin touches the goose bumps covering me turn into tiny fires. But these flames? They feel so very good.

His eyes widen just the tiniest amount. His lower lip peels away from his upper, leaving a thin space between them. A flash of fear darts across his face.

“Wes,” he grits, as if his name can barely make it past other words stuck in his throat.

“Dakota.” My voice trembles, which is fitting, because at this moment it feels as if there’s an earthquake shaking me from the inside out.

He tugs gently, bringing me closer.

It’s inevitable.

This. Us.

I step into his arms, and it doesn’t feel new. It feels like the place where I belong, and am only late arriving to.



Present day

“Which one of you fuck faces didn’t count the herd yesterday?” Harsh and angry, my voice slams through Cowboy House and into the ears of the sleeping cowboys.

Josh scrambles from bed, reaching for his boots without a thought to the pajamas he’s still wearing. Denny, Bryce, and Markham (who everyone calls Ham, instead of Mark), are slower to sit up, but even they are moving, pushing up from bed and rubbing at their eyes. It’s Troy who’s still in bed, and I’d bet my last shiny penny he’s the asshole who left a heifer in the field. How the wolves didn’t get to her, God only knows.

With narrowed eyes locked in on Troy’s sleeping form, I stride forward. The wary gazes of the other men bounce off my blue and yellow flannel shirt. Here in Cowboy House, I’m the wolf.

Troy’s closely cropped blond head is all that’s visible. The rest of his body lies nestled beneath the standard-issue Hayden Cattle Company navy blue blanket, as if his mother came and tucked him in. Snug as a bug in