Olivia tried not to show how desperate she was as she sat down on the loveseat next to Cody and pressed indecently close. If anyone with an ounce of class could see her, she’d be shamed for the rest of her life, but she had to get through to the man somehow. And if that somehow required nakedness and brazen attempts at seduction, then so be it. Olivia had a business, a ranch and a family to save.
So many futures rested squarely on her shoulders.
“See? This is the original building.” She put her fingertip on the faded, blurry photograph and traced the single-room structure.
“I’ve seen this before. My grandfather’s got a tintype of it somewhere around here.”
Olivia leaned in harder, squashing her breast against Cody’s arm. Feeling like she was in over her head, she wished she had more feminine wiles at her disposal, but she wasn’t a hearts and flowers kind of girl. If she ever had been, a lifetime of nose-to-the-grindstone financial struggles had beaten all thoughts of romance out of her.
Her father hadn’t been as successful as she might have implied to Cody. The rest of her forefathers had broken their backs making the family ranch a success, but her father had been raised with too much to appreciate the work that had gone into it. Or perhaps he really was the lazy son of a bitch her mother claimed him to be. Either way, he’d gone through money like their spring welled up with cash, rather than water.
“Your bunkhouse is just as old as the main house,” she whispered. “A little worse for wear, but it was built to last.”
“It doesn’t look like it.” Cody stiffened a little when she inched closer—definitely invading his personal space now—and he glanced down at her with an unreadable glint in his wide-held eyes. “Looks like it’ll fall down any day. Is that what happened to the barn?”
“Eugene tore that down and sold the timber at a premium. You know that sometime in the early Forties Opal O’Neal had the bunkhouse and this home jacked up and new foundations laid for both, right? The storm shelter under that bunkhouse rivals the one at the school.”
“Yes, I knew. Opal had been scared of storms. Grandpa wasn’t fond of them, either. He told me he’d once been caught out in a dust storm that had almost killed him, and after that Opal was bit…paranoid.”
“During the drought.” Olivia nodded and leaned farther over Cody’s lap to swipe her fingertip across the photo adhered to the opposite page of the album. “Before that, the Double O was a working ranch, running cattle and breeding horses, as you can see here.”
Peeking up through her lashes, she watched Cody’s face soften as he looked over the image. A small group of men stood by a handful of horses whose quality couldn’t be hidden by the graininess of the ancient photograph. The beasts held their heads high, a small pack of ferocious-looking dogs lay around their feet and a stream carved a path just behind them.
“That stream was quite the source of tension between our families back in the eighteen-hundreds.” Olivia laughed softly. “I don’t know the whole story, but I do know that Offer O’Neal didn’t pay what was owed to my ancestor. But, eventually, some deal was struck that transferred rights to your family, and horses to mine. We still have the descendants of your forefather’s stallion in our stables.”
“And they need the water too. I get it.” Cody slammed the album shut and tossed it onto the table. Olivia knew he would have jumped to his feet, except her weight kept him pinned to the loveseat cushions. Gripping her shoulders, he half-turned and lifted her off him. “What are you doing?”
She widened her eyes and prayed she looked innocent. “What do you mean?”
“Would you rather just sit on my lap?” he asked scathingly. “I can put my feet up and you can crawl right over me, if you’d prefer.”
Her face felt as if it had caught fire, but she lifted her chin and said, “Yes.”
Olivia was no shrinking violet. She’d been raised to go after what she wanted, because Lord knew she wouldn’t get it any other way. Her mother was a strong woman, opinionated and bold, and she’d raised Olivia primarily by herself and in her own image.
She had learned her lessons well. Olivia lifted her chin, pressed closer to Cody in spite of the way he tried to hold her back and nodded. “I’d love to crawl on top of you. It’s been a while since I saw any man worth bothering with, but you’re handsome enough and the guilt in your eyes when you finally paid a visit to Eugene lets me know you regret not being there for him. That’s a mark in your favor.”
Olivia wriggled until Cody’s grip on her arms loosened. Taking quick advantage, she pushed forward and threw her leg over his lap.
He cursed and stiffened, but Olivia ignored him. She was desperate and growing more so as the days went on. Wiggins had been harassing her and it was only a matter of time before he descended on Cody to twist his arm and sucker him into signing his soul away. Olivia had to do something, but the longer she sat on Cody’s lap, the deeper she stared into his eyes and the farther she thrust her fingers into his short, dark curls, the more raw, selfish excitement swept through her.
“Are you serious?” Cody shook his head. “You can’t be serious.”
She’d had hours to think about it. She’d have found a different way to get what she wanted, except that flash of guilt she’d seen in his eyes at the hospital had made this alternative tolerable. Cody was attractive, her body responded to his nearness and he had a spark of compassion inside him. Somewhere beneath his aloofness, hidden under the testiness he’d cloaked himself with earlier, was a good man.
Of course he was. He was Eugene’s grandson, after all, and Eugene had spoken very highly of him.
“I don’t just fuck anybody,” she said. “I look for good people—someone I can respect, at least.”
“Wow. I can’t believe you actually just said that.” Cody closed his eyes while his chest inflated with the breath he took.
“Look. I’m a strong woman. I go after what I want and that’s why I’ve been successful in my business.”
He cracked one eye open. “And you want me to hold on to the water rights.”
“Ideally, I’d rather you gave me the Double O, but that’s your family’s legacy. I wouldn’t sell my ranch, either.”
“So, you’re trying to seduce me into a bargain?”
She has no choice but to put it all on the line…
Olivia Raines is trying to make her ranch a commercial success, but the odds—and the town mayor—are against her. Her elderly neighbor is in poor health, so she turns to his grandson for help, determined to use everything at her disposal, risking even her heart, to get the security she needs.
With his grandfather’s medical bills piling up, Creek Bend’s mayor demanding their water rights and Big Oil offering cash on the barrelhead, Cody O’Neal admits that the sale of the Double O seems inevitable.
He has to decide which is worth more—riches, after generations of struggling for prosperity, or love, the only thing the O’Neals have ever gotten right.\
The Double O Saga