Cowboy Casanova Page 16

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No. Ainsley knew it wasn’t that cut and dried. Logically she understood the difference between giving control and having a man take control away. What amazed her was that she hadn’t felt powerless at any point. All she’d felt was relief.


Which gave credence to Bennett’s claim: the submissive had all the power in the situation. The dominant was restricted only to the amount of power the submissive relinquished. But that didn’t answer the question of why she’d trusted Bennett so easily? So quickly? Which led to the next question weighing on her mind: would there be a next time?


She had until Friday to decide. And heaven knew she’d dissect this scenario and potential outcomes a hundred times before then. The image that kept popping up when the doubts plagued her was Bennett’s face and the intense way he studied her. He wanted to know her, inside and out. Her every gesture, her every laugh, her every facial twitch and her every word were memorized and filed away for his future use.


And if she was totally honest with herself, she was less spooked by that than she was immensely flattered.


Tapping on her car window startled her. She glanced at the intruder, slicked up, anal-retentive, nosy Turton Ingvold, the man she’d secretly dubbed the turd. Because boy howdy, did the name fit him. Brown hair, brown eyes, and a total brown-noser—to everyone except her. Turton treated her with an air of derision. He’d expected to land the bank president position after the man who’d initially been tapped for the job last spring had been abruptly reassigned. But she’d been offered the plum job for this new branch office, making Turton her second-in-command.


She managed to smile at him after she exited her car. “Morning, Turton.”


He walked beside her—right beside her—up the sidewalk. “I trust you’ll handle the situation with Rita this week?”


No hello, no good morning, no surprise. Half the time she wondered how Turton had reached management level because he had zero social skills and practically no tact. “Yes. I believe she works tomorrow.”


“Good. Because I’d hate to think you were showing favoritism and we’d have disgruntled employees—”


“I said, I’d handle it, so can we please drop it?” She felt him breathing down her neck as they walked single file into the bank lobby and it creeped her out.


She stopped for a minute and took stock of the space. The lobby paid tribute to Wyoming’s western heritage. Stacked slabs of native stone, exposed wooden beams, rusty barbed wire used throughout in unique ways. Even the chairs were covered in cowhide. The corporation had invested in local artists for the rest of the décor, large bronzes, painted scenes with cowboys and Indians, as well as a large mural depicting the spectacular and desolate landscape in the Sundance area. The brand new building had only been open for business two weeks and Ainsley already thought of the place as hers.


Evidently Turton had been trying to engage her in conversation, or treating her to a thinly veiled comment about her incompetence, and when she hadn’t responded, he’d stormed off to his office.


She ditched her coat and briefcase in her office before heading to the employee break room for a cup of coffee. Leslie, the lone loan officer, sat at the break table, dunking a teabag in hot water while she flipped through the newspaper. She glanced up and smiled. “How was your weekend?”


Enlightening. “Too short. How about yours?”


“Between the kids’ activities and the laundry I was happy to come to work this morning.”


Jenny, the receptionist, sitting next to Leslie, said, “My car wouldn’t start and my dad couldn’t figure out what’s wrong with it, so I spent the entire weekend carless, at home watching TV instead of barhopping with my friends.” She sent Leslie a sly look. “If I can’t get my car fixed, I might have to come to you for a loan for a new car.”


“You’d have to make an appointment for next week, because I’m full up this week,” Leslie said.


“That’s always good news to hear first thing on Monday morning.”


“So what did you do this weekend, Miss Hamilton?” Jenny asked, giving Ainsley’s suit a thorough inspection.


Miss Hamilton. Like she was an old spinster. The twenty-something woman was a tad mean-spirited, but efficient, so usually Ainsley let her barbs slide. Not today. She poked Jenny back. “Oh, I went to a club.”


Jenny furrowed her brow. “Like a supper club or a knitting club or something?”


The little snot. “No, to a night club.”


“Which one?”


“You wouldn’t know it. It’s out of town. I had a great time but it was exhausting. I discovered muscles I hadn’t used in years.” She smiled and sailed from the room.


Her taunt literally came back to bite her in the ass when her butt met the leather seat of her office chair.


Ben ditched his gloves and dug his cell phone from his front pocket after it rang for the third time. “Hello?”


“Thank God you’re home. I need a huge favor.”


He set aside his ax. “Sure, Rielle. What do you need?”


“My car has a flat tire. When I went to change it I discovered the spare is flat too. I have a meeting at the new bank in fifteen minutes. Is there any way you can pick me up and take me to town?”


Ben dusted off his Wranglers, scraped the muck from his boots and grabbed his keys from the workbench. “Hopping in my truck now.”


Rielle’s place was up the road three miles. The top half of her one hundred and forty-six acres bordered Casper McKay’s land and Ben’s portion of the McKay Ranch. According to family gossip, thirty years ago both Charlie and Casper had wanted that section. They’d fought over it to the point the original owner had sold the parcel to the Wetzlers, a family from California.


Ben never put much faith in local speculation that the Wetzler’s were dope-selling hippies, but they were an odd bunch. Their housing setup had a commune-like vibe—from the individual cabins spread out from the new main structure, to the acres of gardens, the chicken coops, the animal pens, the dairy cows, the bee hives and the fruit trees.


No one knew how many people had squatted on the land with the Wetzlers’ blessing. But in the two years since the deaths of her parents, Rielle Wetzler had built the Sage Creek Bed and Breakfast to supplement her income from her organic farm. Even with all the improvements, there was still much to be done. And those improvements didn’t come cheap.


Rielle stopped pacing on the porch and bounded down the steps when he pulled up.


The willowy blonde strode toward his truck with an air of gracefulness. Although Ben knew how strong and capable Rielle was, her waif-like appearance didn’t appeal to him. Despite his family’s teasing, she never hinted about them becoming romantically involved—a first in Ben’s life when it came to dealing with a single woman. So their friendship meant a lot to him.


She gathered her long, tie-dyed skirt and slammed the door. “You are a lifesaver, Ben McKay.”


“Happy to help.” He didn’t speak until they were zipping along the blacktop toward town. “So why you goin’ to the bank?”


“Because it’s new. They won’t know my family history and wonder if I’m asking for a loan for new grow lights to increase my secret crop of marijuana.”


Ben laughed.


“Seriously. I’m hoping they’ll loan me money to pay off some debts. Like what I owe you.”


“I told you not to worry about that.”


“I do worry.” She smoothed her palm from the top of her scalp down to the ends, trying to tame her baby-fine hair. “I’m so nervous.”


“You shouldn’t be. Them bankers usually have their minds made up before you even walk in the door. Bunch of controlling bastards. Least, that’s been my experience.”


“I thought all the McKays had more money than they knew what to do with and didn’t owe anyone anything.”


“Not all the McKays. Especially not those of us who’ve built houses or businesses or bought land. I’ve got monthly payments.”


“So what do you think my chances are of getting the money?”


“Most bankers are real tight-asses in this economy. They’ll take into account that you own the land. But they’ll also take into account if your proposed improvements will actually increase the property value.”


Rielle sighed. “Too bad the barter system doesn’t still work with everyone.”


“No kiddin’. Speaking of…thanks for checking in on the dogs this weekend.”


“No biggie. I had nothing else going on. Rory was supposed to be home this weekend but she had to work.”


“How’s her first semester of graduate school?”


“Good. She’s still bartending at Happy John’s three nights a week since her graduate assistant grant only covers classes. I wish I could help her out more.”


Ben shot Rielle a sideways look. “Is that part of why you’re applying for a loan? To give Rory money for school? Because, Ree, I gotta tell ya, your stubborn daughter ain’t gonna be happy about that at all.”


Rielle smiled. “Like mother, like daughter, huh? Too damn independent for our own good. Don’t worry, and don’t tattle on me. The loan is strictly for the Sage Creek.”


The remaining ride to town was quiet. The new National West Bank was an eye-catching structure comprised of blocks of native sandstone, glass and steel. The wooden beams on the outside added an Old West touch, as did the metal trim that would weather and rust in the harsh Wyoming elements. It was a nice addition to the town, even when he questioned whether the citizens of Sundance could support a second bank.


Rielle checked her make-up in the passenger mirror and slicked on a coat of Chapstick. Fussed with her hair. Mumbled to herself and pushed up the sun visor with a decisive snap. “Okay.” She curled her fingers around the door handle. “Ready?”


“You look ready. Knock ’em dead, tiger.”

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