Staking His Claim(7)

By: Lynda Chance


His eyes dropped to her reddened wrist. "Did I hurt you?"

"I'm okay." She pushed the words through gritted teeth.

His eyes ran over her and Elaina was supremely conscious of the fact she should have put on more clothing that morning. Yellow t-shirt, frayed shorts and Converse weren't nearly enough protection against his dark, intense inspection.

He raised his eyes from her body, to her lips. His searing stare held her until he lifted a hand, ran it through his dark hair, and put the truck back into drive.

Three minutes later, he was pulling around to the front of her aunt's house.

She reached down for the handle, but before she could get her hand there, the locks were activated and she was shut inside with him until he decided to let her out. Shocked, her breathing going haywire, she silently turned to face him, her back against the door.

He broodingly watched her and took his time about speaking. "I'm going to get one of my men to put gas in your car and bring it around. There's no sense in having the garage pick it up. But you can bet your ass I'm going to tell Brian what you did. Maybe he can talk some sense into you."

"You're too kind, Mr. Vega." Her words were sarcastic and she watched a quick, ferocious scowl cross his face.

"You just do not know when to quit pushing, do you?"

"Let me out."

He didn't move. His eyes were glued to her.

She tried again. "Let me out."

"Doesn't feel good, does it? Knowing you're stuck. You better be glad it was me that found you, baby. Another man might not have been such a gentleman."

Her eyes flared wide. "A gentleman? Are you f--"

Her voice stopped on that word he hated as he interrupted her at the same time.

"You want your ass blistered?"

Great waves of intense fury mingled with fear pulsed through her bloodstream. The fury won. "You think you're man enough to do it?"

He reached out and swiped her wrist again, but this time, his hold wasn't as tight. Just as strong, but not as tight. "I'm plenty man enough, you grow up some and I'll show you." His eyes glared into hers, then dropped to her lips. His nostrils flared. "That's a promise, Miss Ruiz."

He released her from his hold and pressed a button to unlock the doors.

She didn't wait even a second before jerking the door open and jumping down. Just before she slammed it in his face, his dark voice hit her with one last demand.

"Elaina, do not run out of gas again, understand me?"

She gave him a go-to-hell look, slammed the truck door, and ran up the steps to the house.

****

At ten the next morning, Elaina sat on the side of the unpaved county road in almost the exact same spot where she had run out of gas the day before. Today, her car was safely in the driveway, but she was shaken and bruised. Her morning run had started out fine, but the surface of the road was not what she was used to. It was her own fault she'd tripped and fallen. She'd more than fallen, she had a couple of strawberries on her knees like she hadn't had since she was a kid. They dripped blood down both shins. The palms of her hands were rough and abraded, and one of her ankles was twisted so badly she couldn't even stand. Shit. And that wasn't the worst of it.

She'd been carrying her phone, listening to music and had landed on it, crushing the screen and pretty much disabling it completely.

She was stuck until a vehicle came by. Her aunt and uncle were still in San Antonio. Unease trickled through her. The good news was it was only ten in the morning, she could sit here all day before it got dark, and the weather was unseasonably mild. Another reason she had strawberries on her bare knees. She was wearing shorts again.

She hung her head between her legs and waited.

At one o'clock, not a single car had come by and she was getting more than a little worried. She was ferociously hungry, her face was burning from the sun, and she had to pee. Badly.

****

Raul was cutting down county road on his way to the north pasture when he saw her and braked. Jesus Christ, what the hell was she up to now?

Letting the truck idle, he jumped down and was squatting beside her in seconds.

Her head was hanging between her legs and he gently lifted her chin until he could see her face. Her cheeks were streaked with tears and dust, and he took in the skinned knees and dried blood.

"Christ, little girl, what happened to you?"

"I fell." The answer was short and all she could manage.

"That's it? You fell? What the hell are you doing this far from the house?"

"I was running."

"Running?"

"Yeah, you know, running. Jogging, exercising. Whatever."

Raul was acquainted with the concept. He just never had to do it. He got so much damn exercise around the ranch, he needed extra calories and protein. He damn sure didn't want to expend any of them uselessly.

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