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Young rancher Liam O'Connor has a mission. Leave his sister in California at college and go gain experience on a larger spread than his father's, so he can one day run his own ranch. From the moment Jocelyn meets Liam, the sparks and libido ignite. Everyone knows long distance relationships never work. Right? And how can Jocelyn reconcile her feelings for Liam and stick to her goals when Liam has openly admitted his commitment to a traditional lifestyle? Jocelyn wants no complications. Liam is a huge complication. He is positive there is a solution, she is not so sure.
"License and registration please." Jocelyn looked up at the highway patrol officer and groaned her frustration. It had been a hard drive. She had done so well until now; on her third and final exhausting day of travel she had lost her focus. She was about to embark on the adventure of her, thus far, uneventful life. She had driven from her home in North Dakota to sunny Sacramento, California with the high hopes of staying warm for longer in the year. With the added benefit, she reminded herself, of a college degree and the start of a real life on her own. But right now her attempt to make her dream begin in the quickest possible time seemed foolish.
"What’s the hurry, young lady?"
�"I am on my way to college and I guess the excitement was settling in my foot, officer. I have never gotten a ticket before. I am usually a conscientious driver. These highways make it appear as though you are not going as fast as you are."
"Umm-hmm. Sit tight, please. I’ll be right back."
Jocelyn sat rubbing her hands on her jeans and wiggling anxiously around in her seat for what seemed to be an eternity. She hated to wait to do or have anything, but she tried the best that she could until the officer came back with a stern look.
"Miss Charles, we take speed and safety very seriously in California and I hope you remember that."
"Yes, sir, I will." Bracing for the ticket he was going to pass to her, she was relieved when he handed her only the documents she had handed him with no accompanying citation. Staring at him with a question in her eyes, the officer smiled.
"Stay within the speed limit and don’t drive so far at one time alone. You’ll find it works better for everyone. Have a good day, Miss Charles."
"Yes, sir, thank you, sir." Jocelyn smiled her relief and returned the wave the officer offered as he drove back onto the highway.
She was startled to see that almost immediately the officer was again putting on his lights in pursuit of a traffic violator.� Things were different in this part of the world she reminded herself. Slumping in the seat for a few more moments she regained her equipoise before finally continuing on to her new home for the next four years.
It had been difficult leaving her sister Rachel who, at fourteen, had been sexually attacked by another teen. Fortunately, she had been close enough to their home to scream and be heard. Her screams combined with their mother’s screams in racing towards her scared off the perpetrator before he had completed the rape. While he had not completed physical penetration, he had violated her security completely. Rachel had been despondent and unable to participate in life. She was still having trouble but she smiled now and that was a good sign.
The authorities were ambiguous about the attack and its investigation.� Unfortunately, Jocelyn’s family did not live on a reservation which would have brought in more help. Because the attack did not happen on a reservation, which was federal lands, it was hard to find justice in a small town. Even today, native women and children found prejudices and were often victims of rape and sold as sexual slaves. Jocelyn was determined to be part of the solution for Native women and children harmed by abusive men. She knew it was just a fraction of men and even some women who abused, but it made it hard to trust any man easily.
As it was, the charges were dropped for lack of evidence even though the bruises, physically and emotionally, were evident for all to see. She was even denied a restraining order after the charges were dropped which Jocelyn was sure added to her sister’s sense of vulnerability and depression. Rachel lived in fear that he would return.
In response, they had moved closer to her mother’s people and her sister had begun to show some real healing. It was obvious that after a year her sister, while doing better, would always be haunted by the incident. The counseling and support were vital in her recovery and there were signs she would be able to resume a normal life. It was good to see her finding her way out of the depression and fright she had lived in daily for so long.
After spending precious time driving around in search of her dorm building, speaking to the monitor, receiving her key and assistance finding her room, she had arrived. With relief, she put her key in the lock and turned. Her dulled senses were shocked when the door flew open and she found herself looking at the broad expanse of a chambray-covered chest.
�The scent that came from that chest was evergreen, fresh linen, and warm, sweaty male. Mmm, scrumptious, but positively male and this was supposed to be a female dorm room. Jocelyn took a step back and with great caution angled her head to allow her to gaze up into fathomless dark multifaceted hazel eyes and a sun-darkened face that must have been carved in granite.
What framed that inscrutable face was black hair on about 6’2" of brawn.� Not a bodybuilder brawn but a construction or loading dock brawn. She watched a slow, interested smile spread across his face as if he were inspecting a prize just offered. She adjusted her impression of him to include a confidence more befitting the lion and the lamb scenario. She wondered what it would be like to be the lamb to his mountain lion.
"Oh, hi, you must be Jocelyn Charles. I wondered if you were going to get here today or tomorrow. I’m Kelli, your roommate." Kelli stuck out her hand and Jocelyn quickly returned her gaze to the face of the man still standing in the doorway as she tried to reach her hand around him to Kelli.
"Move, Liam. Let the girl in." She turned to Jocelyn after he slid out of the doorway. "Sorry about that, big brother and all." Kelli dismissed Liam as only a sister could and pulled Jocelyn into the room. "I thought there would be three of us in here, but the dorm monitor said only two in some of the rooms and this is one of them. That’s nice for us. I haven’t lived with less than a handful of siblings in my whole life, or at least the part I can remember."
Jocelyn stood staring with amazement at Kelli, who talked more than anyone she had met in a while and her brother who didn’t speak at all. Kelli continued to chatter away until Liam let out an exasperated noise and asked Jocelyn who came with her. Hearing his voice was like a jolt dragging her out of Kelli’s fast-paced conversation. Husky and assured but yet gently quiet, his voice belied his bronzed masculine body. How did he expect her to pay attention to his words when his voice was so velvety strong? That voice seemed directly connected to her core that heated uncomfortably when the timbre of it hit the sound waves.
Jocelyn again observed Liam and unconsciously sought his eyes that were intently cataloging her whole being pulling her into a vortex they created. She should be offended as she watched him take in her full lips and dark hair that matched his own and meandered down her face making brief but intense eye contact before moving lower. Jocelyn felt a slow flush rise as his gaze lowered and a clenching in areas south as his eye lingered over her womanly attributes. She experienced that quickening of physical response that infrequently presented in her young life but was undoubtedly identifiable when it did happen.
Jocelyn felt unexplainably drawn to him as she watched Liam. He seemed to have finished examining her person and he almost looked like he was in pain. She couldn’t figure out whether it was because of his sister’s constant chatter or something else. Surely he was used to his sister by now. Finally, he spoke.
"Who came with you?" He almost seemed to demand.
"Who came with me? No one came with me, I drove myself."
Jocelyn watched his face harden and his teeth clenched causing his jaw to become hard and angular. His tone and body language echoed his words.
"From North Dakota?" He turned to his sister for confirmation. "Isn’t that where you said your roommate was from?" He then turned back to Jocelyn before his sister could respond. "You drove yourself from North Dakota? Alone?"
Was he irritated? Jocelyn wondered why he would sound so incredulous and something else, maybe possessive, as though he should have safeguarded her or worse yet, stopped her, protected her. She could see he was rubbing his hands and flexing them in an attempt to control them. She was quite capable of driving alone for a few days but couldn’t explain why she wanted to apologize for doing just that. She irrationally felt as though she wanted to please him.
Then she laughed out loud. It was a nervous laugh, but it did the trick. The room relaxed and it was at that point he seemed to need to move but not before her gaze found the reason for some of his discomfort.
"Yes, all the way from Bismarck, North Dakota. It took two long days and most of today, about 1500 miles, not such a long way. I am a big girl and can drive a couple of days myself. I would have made it even sooner if that motorcycle cop didn’t stop me. Where did you two come from?"
"Sheridan, Wyoming and we took three days because Liam didn’t want to rush to get here." Kelli turned to Liam and said in an accusatory tone, "We could have taken it a bit quicker and still been fine." Liam answered with a shrug.
"And," Kelli continued in the same tone, "I would have been fine driving alone but certain males in my family threw a fit at the mere mention of the idea."
"Well, I drive to most places alone." Damn, but she had the uncomfortable thought she should apologize although his tone was more concerned than chastening.
"I am sure you do, but not cross country I bet. Have you driven this far before, alone?" asked Liam.
Jocelyn dismissed the implication. "No, but since I am a good driver and I brought a cell phone, GPS, and a good car, I was not worried."
"Well, if you are going back, don’t do it alone. Since you are sharing living quarters with Kelli, you are an honorary part of our family and that means not doing anything that could jeopardize your safety from here on out."
Ignoring his sister’s lament, he continued in a more parental tone.
"And if I had known, we would have waited for you to get as far as Sheridan and then gone together. Better yet, I would have gone up and come down with you from Bismarck to Sheridan and then we would have come together. But I would never have let you do that trip alone." His body language and tone indicated he meant what he said.
Jocelyn smiled as she shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly and said, "I guess it was a good thing you didn’t know me or my plans at that time. I’m sorry, that was mean, but it was really not difficult and I was fine."
"Why did the cop stop you?" asked Liam.
The question was quickly asked and quickly answered without Jocelyn taking the time to hear the warning in the words.
"I guess I zoned a bit and noticed that I was going too fast after the policeman discovered it."
�"How much was it and how much over the limit?"
"Oh, I didn’t end up with a ticket but I guess I was about eleven miles over the limit."
Liam continued, "And the limit was�?"
Jocelyn answered sheepishly, "Seventy." Liam was about to say something so she rushed to finish her thought. "And I am not doing that again, believe me."
"Oh, I am sure you aren’t. If either of you girls gets a ticket for reckless driving, over the limit or worse, drinking and driving, you will be answering to me. Paying your ticket will be the least of your worries."
�Neither girl responded as Jocelyn looked over at Kelli to see if her brother was for real. Jocelyn was in shock that he thought he could speak to her like that. Again she wondered why it thrilled her girlie bits while it irritated her mind at the same time. He had seen the roll of her eyes before Kelli said quickly, "Jos, this is the place where you just say, uh huh and go on. If you don’t, he won’t stop until you do. I tell you, it is the way of the O’Connor men."
Jocelyn looked over at Liam, who showed no signs of relenting or backing down in any way. "Fine, I will be sure to let you know if I plan to do something unsafe."
Liam’s voice lowered and he leaned down to speak near Jocelyn's ear, though still audible to Kelli, "It means you won’t do anything unsafe."
Jocelyn shivered, not from fear, but from his command of the situation, of the conversation, and irritatingly, of her.
She countered, "Fine, I won’t do anything I believe is unsafe."
Kelli missed it, but both Liam and Jocelyn knew she changed the wording just enough to satisfy both of them by half. Liam opened his mouth to speak, but Kelli bumped him out of the way so she could stand closer to Jocelyn. Liam allowed it and dropped the subject. He smothered a grin over Jocelyn’s play with words and then changed the subject to get things moving along.
"Well, let’s go get your luggage before it gets too late and I begin to get too hungry to make polite conversation." He heard Jocelyn almost stifled a chortle, almost.
Kelli took a swing at his broad, muscular arm and said, "And when did you plan to get to the polite conversation?" Liam shrugged his shoulders, grinned again, and looked expectantly at Jocelyn.
"What? Oh, I'm okay. I can get my things. You two go do what you want to do. I’ll be just fine."
Kelli jumped in. "But you could use some help, couldn’t you?"� Jocelyn tried to read between the lines and decided that not rocking the boat would be best for now. It didn’t seem to take much to activate this guy’s macho meter.
"Sure," Jocelyn agreed, "but I don’t need it. I didn’t bring much and I am capable of handling things on my own. I don’t have any brothers to help me out, so I learned to do for myself."
Kelli rolled her eyes and tried to push Jocelyn towards the door. "Well, I wish I had some time without a brother, but here he is, and he is older than me which means he was here first, darn him."
"Are you two the only siblings? Are there no others at home? Oh no, wait, you said lots of siblings."
Kelli laughed. "Lord, I wish. I am blessed to share five overbearing brutes with one sister. Condolences are always appreciated."
Jocelyn joined in Kelli’s laughter.
Liam scowled and grunted. "We are helping you and that is that." And that was that. Kelli shoved Jocelyn out the door. Liam and Kelli made quick work of helping with her things. Once they had emptied Jocelyn’s car and had placed the last bag in the room, Liam said, "Let’s go, ladies, I am starving."
"Oh, I’m not going. I will just stay here and put things away. You guys enjoy and thanks so much for helping me with my stuff. It was sweet of you�"
As Jocelyn was talking, Liam put his arm around her waist, placing his hand on the curve of her hip. He guided her out of the room, ignoring her protests and Kelli grabbed both girls’ handbags as they locked the door behind them.
"Hey, I said I wasn’t hungry."
"No, what you said was you weren’t going."
"No, it isn’t," Liam said as he opened the door for Jocelyn and sat her in the front seat of his pickup. Kelli climbed in the back seat, Liam closing both doors on his way around to the drivers’ side.
Kelli spoke quickly before Liam got to his side of the pickup.
"Sorry, Jocelyn. We call it the cowboy mentality, he is the boss of his world and he is infuriating, but if you need protection, brothers are the best and cowboy brothers beat them all."
Jocelyn laughed and both girls looked over at Liam as he slid into his seat and buckled. He looked at them as though he often was the topic of girls’ conversations. Then he raised his eyebrows and indicated the seat belt.
Jocelyn rushed to do his bidding as a red glow of embarrassment flared up her neck. There it was again, that look of control as though he had the right to care for her. It made her shiver with anticipation and apprehension. Ignoring her body and mind’s response, she turned to learn more about Kelli as Liam listened and drove them to a nice little restaurant.
* * * * *
Liam could tell he was making her blood run hot with his penetrating looks. He knew he instinctively had a take charge manner with his sisters but with other women, he rarely felt the desire to connect on that level of intimacy. It was intimacy for him because he was serious about that part of his life and you needed to mean something to him, which was why this was so odd. He just met her. He knew he attracted women physically and the no nonsense manner that was typical of him was appealing on the surface. But when a woman found out that it was more than surface ripple, that it was to the core, they usually dropped him for a more accommodating man.
They arrived at the caf� and sat to enjoy some home-style food. Kelli filled in the unasked question.
"We drove for half an hour yesterday to find this place. Liam said he wasn’t going to eat avocados and bean sprouts for dinner."
Her eyes were sparkling and it was obvious she loved teasing her brother. Liam knew that no matter how many times he had pulled Kelli back between the lines of what was acceptable, she was a wonderful young woman and the whole family was proud of her.
"Hmm, don’t know that I blame him, really. Avocado yes, bean sprouts are iffy and not either for dinner."
Liam smiled and asked Jocelyn what she would like to order. She returned the smile and said, "Guess game is off the menu, so I’ll take a chicken enchilada plate with extra hot sauce and ice tea."
Kelli giggled. "For real, you like game better than a regular hamburger?"
"Don’t you? It is leaner and better for you and it has a fuller and more richly defined flavor, regular beef has no taste."
"Liam, she is too much like you for me to deem myself free of my brother. Did you set this up?"
Liam laughed and tousled her hair. "Nah, but now I won’t worry so much about you. Jocelyn will keep you on the straight and narrow, as much as that is possible."
Liam looked over at Jocelyn and gave her a warm smile, his eyes communicated more than kidding around, it conveyed appreciation. They held gazes for an extended moment. Her blue-gray eyes seemed to have a life of their own and he watched her quickly look away. She was cute, innocent, out of his league and not his typical interest. Nonetheless, he was interested. He listened as Jocelyn chatted about her sister, Rachel, who was fifteen years old, and her parents. About her mom and dad, moving back to where her mom was from originally. And she talked about the importance of her native heritage in her world view.
"Funny, I expected much darker skin and brown eyes or even black eyes, but yours aren’t," observed Kelli.
"They appear mysterious and dark like fog over the ocean," Liam said.
"Liam, when was the last time you saw fog over an ocean?" demanded Kelli.
�"Some things you can recall without having seen or done them for a while. But you are right, now that I think about it her eyes are more like smoke from a campfire or early forest fire."
"Well, it all sounds so exciting and dangerous but I’m neither exciting nor dangerous. I am just a girl from North Dakota that decided she wanted to go to school somewhere else. My dad is French Canadian and my grandparents still live in Canada. They pronounce Charles as Sharles although I have rarely heard them speak French. I grew up in Minot and my parents only recently moved to Bismarck.� My eyes are like my grandfather’s eyes and my skin is a blending between my dark mother and my light father. My hair is dark because both of my parents are dark headed," she spoke this information quietly.
Liam could hear the hesitancy in her voice and the hint of sadness and he wondered what could have caused it. He wanted to ask but decided it was too personal for even him to bring up so he sat quietly for a while longer.
"Mmm, I wish I had your skin coloring because mine is pale and sickly next to your golden skin," said Kelli.
"I am slightly darker than my sister, but I worry about what it will darken to with this warm sun in California."
Kelli and Jocelyn talked for a while, getting to know each other while Liam sat and listened retaining all of the information that Jocelyn was sharing and storing it to review later.
�"I am set up for a job interview at the campus library so tomorrow I may have a job. If I don’t get that one, I’ll get another one."
Kelli, forgetting about the over protective brother seated to her left, quickly responded.
"Working? You really want to go to work? What about parties, and hanging out, going to bed when you want to, doing what you want? That sounds like being too responsible for me. There will be plenty of time to be responsible. I am going to enjoy not having brothers to tell me what to do. Liam is nearly four years older than I am, then Shane is seventeen, Quinlan is sixteen, my sister Caoimhe is fifteen, Ciar�n is fourteen and finally, Ci�n is twelve. So now, do you feel sorry for me? I need some freedom and space. I mean, it is not funny when your brothers mind your business more than you or your parents do."
Jocelyn started to answer, but before she could, Liam said, "if you continue to talk about parties and doing what you want, I am going to pack you back up and take you home. You don’t sound old enough to live at the college or anywhere else without supervision."
Kelli threw him a killing stare. "I know you did what you wanted when you went to college and now it is my turn. I intend to get my degree and learn to enjoy being an adult. So is Jocelyn, right Jos?"
Jocelyn extended her hands as if to ward off evil. "If you don’t mind, could you leave me out of this? It is too early to make waves. I came to earn my degree. There is nothing more important than that right now." There was something odd in the vehemence of her declaration, thought Liam. "Mine will take five years because I am going for a master’s degree. What are you going to do, Kelli? Do you know what degree do you want?"
"I don’t need to know right now, so I am just going to do my basic requirements and decide at that point."
"Surely, you must know what you like, what you are interested in looking at," insisted Jocelyn.
"Yeah, not so much. I was good on the debate team but that isn’t a degree and it is hard work, something I am not interested in right now. So, I’ll ride the wave and see what interests me."
Liam listened while he ate and added a few comments but predominantly remained a quiet observer. Jocelyn was a young woman with a level head on her shoulders, but he could see she took risks she did not need to take. She apparently did not come from money because she needed to work and there was nothing wrong with that. His own father paid for his and now Kelli’s education but required that he have a part time job to pay for his own living expenses because it was good to learn how to do that. He had not sent Kelli with the same requirement but if she squandered her money, she would find herself also looking for a part time job.
Liam would like to spend more time with Jocelyn and possibly find out what she wasn’t telling them tonight. He again thought about the fact that she had driven alone to college and he decided that being self-assured could be a good and bad thing. When they had spoken of her traffic stop, she had dismissed his concerns and irritation and embarked on a whole new line of conversation with no more effort than it took to inhale her next breath. Liam was not sure he liked hearing she was so independent she was reckless but was proud of the ability to stand on her own.
The unbidden thought flashed that he wanted to paddle her bottom for risking it and then shocked that he even was giving this any contemplation at all. He didn’t even know who this person was outside of Kelli’s roommate, which should make it irrational for him to feel that way. She might not have taken her own safety into account as his sisters or girlfriends would have needed to do, but paddling a woman he just met was not his style. He had not considered that corrective activity with another female aside from his sisters. Well, not unless they were dating and it was consensual, that is. There was a rather obvious physical response to the thought that he might run his hand on that perky bottom.� Whoa, boy, back it up and re-stable yourself.
He announced that he had decided to stay through the next day. After dinner, they contemplated going to a movie but after a discussion it was agreed they were weary after the long day. Once it was decided to stay in for the night, Kelli tried to bargain a putt-putt golf game without success. She was rather loud about the lack of agreement for her idea. Liam advised her quietly, but not quietly enough for Jocelyn not to hear, that she needed to stop whining about staying in or he would be happy to give her a reason to whine. Ultimately, Kelli agreed they would de-stress well by playing a few hands of cards.
Jocelyn wondered at the semi-private conversation that Liam and Kelli had engaged in earlier. Did he do what it sounded like he did? She knew spanking was different than hitting, but did men really spank women outside of the bedroom? She was sure that is what it sounded like happened at the O’Connors. Jocelyn, having just dealt with the issues of her sister’s attack in the last year, she was not sure how she felt about the thought of spanking for discipline, but she was curious.
Liam stated there were no male visitors allowed in the dorm rooms, relatives or not, so it was decided to go to Liam’s hotel room. The university was co-ed but not the dorm rooms. They spent the next few hours laughing, becoming comfortable and learning each other’s personalities. Jocelyn could see how Liam watched her mannerisms and paid attention to her responses, anticipating them when possible making physical contact whenever the opportunity presented itself. At nine o’clock, Jocelyn said she needed to get back to the dorm.
"I want to put everything away before I go to bed tonight and that will take about an hour. I am going to that interview tomorrow morning at ten o’clock, remember."
Liam laughed at Kelli who moaned at needing to go home so early and he promised she could spend her college career staying out until at least nine-thirty. In reply, she made a face and slung her purse over her shoulder.
"Fine, let’s go then. I guess I can put my things away too. So, you’re not a neat freak are you, Jos?"
"No, but I’m not a slob either so you’ll have to meet me in the middle I’m afraid."
"Right, well that’s okay then. My sister is a neat freak and I need a rest from the strain of meeting her higher than human standards."
Jocelyn just laughed.