Chapter 13, Gracie
“You had me worried there, princess.”
I heard his deep voice from directly behind me. The last person on earth that I wanted to see right now. And yet, just the sound of his guttural tone had a direct correlation to my stomach flips.
I slowly turned around, resting both elbows on the bar behind me, and stared up at him with my most intimidating expression.
“Are you following me now?” I asked.
“Well, as a matter of fact, I am,” he replied.
“Don’t you have anything better to do right now? Like picking out baby clothes and the color of your nursery room?”
He scowled at that, and it actually made me think twice about giving him sass. There could be some consequences. The thought of said consequences, delivered to my ass, made my tummy flip again.
“Gracie, I told you: it’s not what it looks like. I don’t want to talk about it here.” The softness of his tone was more formidable than any threatening tone he could possibly take.
I tried to show bravado by taking the remaining half shot and tossing it back. My tactic was foiled by the fact that the straight tequila made me cough.
Luke reached over and patted me gently on the back. “What kind of trouble are you trying to get yourself into, Gracie?”
“Well, apparently, I got myself into trouble when I came over to your house and stayed the night. I got myself into trouble when I actually believed that your kisses meant something. I got myself into trouble…”
My voice was getting louder. I couldn’t stop myself, partially because I was sassy as a general practice and partially because I had had more than a few.
“I got myself into trouble when I believed that I actually meant something to you. I think you even said that the other day. You actually told me I meant something to you. And here you are, about to be the father to another woman’s baby.”
Even though I was extremely angry, I didn’t want to cause a scene. I didn’t want the whole town to know what was happening between Luke and me. So, I sidestepped around him and began to march off.
“Gracie, come here.” It was that soft tone again, non-threatening. But the one hundred percent chillax in his voice was more convincing than if he had shouted at me or actually raised his voice.
I stopped marching, standing there in my blinging cowboy boots and black velvet burnout tunic dress, which was covered in a floral design and dipped between my breasts to showcase my considerable cleavage. The outfit had been purchased with the intent of making Luke want me, and now it seemed like things would never be the same between us.
Just as I was beginning to see that he would take care of me, pamper me, and even discipline me in the way I had always dreamed of.
Mortifyingly, I put my face in both hands and felt tears come to my eyes.
Too much tequila. That was all.
I didn’t want to be seen bursting into tears by the crowd. I’d be damned if I’d be convinced to stay with this man who had way too much commotion going on in his life, just because he used his Ninja Daddy voice on me.
I stalked around the dancefloor and headed for the back of the barn so that I could gather my breath. I started my square breathing when I felt the freak-out begin to overtake me. It was hard to catch my breath.
I knew that if I didn’t get to a safe space very quickly, it could soon escalate into a full-blown anxiety attack. Not something that I relished doing in front of two hundred and something wedding guests gathered for a very special day.
* * *
I braced my arms against the side of the barn, fully aware that I was standing in almost the same spot where the bratty blonde had been talking to Luke. I concentrated so hard on not taking a flight of fancy that the black leather cowboy boots that appeared alongside mine startled me. I jumped back away from the barn.
That was all it took. That small scare launched me into sucking my breath in like a freight train, dragging it into my lungs, trying to get enough oxygen so that I didn’t feel faint and lightheaded.
“Gracie, Gracie…” he whispered softly, the tone sliding over my skin like silk. I wanted to wrap myself in it and roll around on a plush bed stacked high with down pillows.
He made my body feel almost feline; I wanted to rub my side against the length of his, like a cat seeking attention. I wanted him to pet me—everywhere—as if he were the proud owner of his very own pet, a.k.a. me.
And yet none of that could be with what had transpired lately. Sylvia had ruined everything. It made me regress to the old familiar thought that I could never have a real relationship. Just because I knew that it stemmed from feeling unwanted as a child, having drugs chosen over me by my parents, didn’t mean that I could convince myself that this thing with Luke would work out.
Then Luke gathered me in his arms, held me tight, and made me feel safe.
“Why don’t you let me take you out to dinner, little girl? We haven’t been to the Hotel Caspian together, and you need a real meal after tossing back those tequilas. Will you come with me, Gracie?”
Oh God, if he had tried any other tactic, I’d have been able to resist. But his sweet pleading caught me off guard.
I looked up at him, and the slight smile on his face spoke more than words ever could. His affection for me was evident. I couldn’t see how he could possibly be faking it. I didn’t think a man would look at a woman like that unless he had more than just a party in his pants in mind.
“Okay,” I said.
The tequila and the vodka were definitely going to my head. I walked ahead of him and stumbled a little, causing him to scoop me up in his arms as if I were the bride being carried over the threshold today.
“Luke, what are you doing?”
He rounded the corner of the barn and headed toward the dancefloor. I saw people starting to point, whisper, and giggle to each other behind their hands. Some of them just wore huge smiles on their faces.
Luke strode boldly between the dancers, and, as he did so, people started to clap sporadically and then eventually the scattered clapping turned to applause. Some even made cowboy whistles. I hid my face in Luke’s chest. There was no way in hell I could wriggle free from his hold, and I wasn’t sure I would have wanted to, anyway.
Luke carried me over to the hayride and held my hips as I climbed the two steps to get inside the wagon. He sat beside me and held me close to him the entire way into town. More than once, he reached down, grabbed my chin, and lifted it up so that he could kiss me softly on the lips. It felt reassuring, and when he swiped at my lips with his tongue, it enflamed me.
* * *
Our waitress, wearing a denim shirt with pearl snaps, towered over me and recognized Luke as soon as he walked through the door.
“Hey, Luke. Two for dinner?”
“Yeah, Loretta. Can we have a spot by the fire?”
“Absolutely,” she said.