The Rancher's Searing Touch Ch. 03byJazzMatthews©
That Sunday morning, the entire family got up to go to church near Medicine Bow. Camille felt like quite the sinner since she hadn't been to church since the last time she came to visit. Most of her Sunday mornings in California had been occupied with either studying books or studying the back of her eyelids as she slept all morning and part of the afternoon. Even though napping during college was one of her favorite pastimes, Camille knew that things would change now that she was officially in the real world. However, since she still didn't have a job, that transformation from college student to working woman hadn't quite happened yet, and she was content in staying off that inevitable event just a little while longer.
The few days following her arrival had been easier than she thought. Camille hadn't seen nor heard from Caid. Part of her was relieved. The other part had her worried. She just had a premonition that any moment now he was going to spring up on her. Since after that dinner, she had definitely been on her toes and cautious of any time his name was mentioned.
She was still on the fence about his offer. Camille didn't come home just so she could get a job. But Caid had told her himself that he didn't want to take her on just to make love to her. That was relieving but at the same time made her feel so empty. But what did she expect? For him to be bleeding from the heart for her? To be mere seconds away from telling her how much he loved her and couldn't live without her? That was a laugh. Caid Marshall didn't wear his heart on his sleeve for no woman, let alone losing sleep over someone like Camille. He had told her just as much.
If that was how it was supposed to be, and if work was all he was offering her, then why not accept it?
Because she still wasn't ready. His rejection still hurt despite the need still residing within her. It was just her luck to be enthralled with an emotionally unavailable man.
In the meanwhile, she engaged her emotions in her family, and thus they remained until Sunday. They parked Braden's huge truck in a spot and bustled through the church's doors, except when Camille tried to shut the door to the sanctuary, she found that it was stuck. She turned around to see what was causing the resistance until his masculine hand positioned itself at the small of her back and nudged her inside so he could close the door behind them. Her family took residence in the last pew, and she climbed in behind them...followed by Caid.
That turned out to be the most uncomfortable hour Camille has ever endured. It wasn't because she didn't want to be near him, but it seemed that it was the most inopportune time to be aroused by every little element that constituted Caid Marshall.
She jumped every time his long leg encased in a pair of gray slacks would move and brush against her bare legs that were protected by a skirt that, to her dismay, crept up her thighs to give him a show of what she had, and what he had already seen. His scent drowned her until she was swimming in dreams of him surrounding her with all the amore she could handle.
Gale, as she sat beside her, seemed to ignore the silent dance occurring with the occupants sitting to her left. Even Caid didn't seem to pay her no mind as one of his limbs always came dangerously close to brushing against her.
Lord, she was going to hell! All the unhealthy thoughts of a thousand ways to get that man naked, and each of those thousand ways got naughtier, kinkier and hotter. Caid barely looked at her while she was in torment. He acted as if he couldn't tell the way she fidgeted in her seat or the quiet hitch of breath when his hand brushed her thigh when reaching for a hymnal. Or maybe he could, and he wasn't acknowledging it? The brief glance she had given his face gave her nothing. Even as he uplifted his voice to God, his face remained impassive. Good thing for God, He could see into a man's soul and heart. Camille would have better luck looking through concrete than seeing what hid behind those hazel eyes.
But for a moment in time, Camille held onto the memory of when that granite mask had slipped to allow her to see a passionate man who'd do anything in his power to please a woman. And perhaps that memory alone was the reason why her feelings for him had remained in neutral after all this time.
After church, it was difficult to speak to the pastor without breaking into a full-fledged confession in front of God and everyone. Certainly didn't help that Caid stood quietly behind her as she did, as cool and calm as a saint, even though his body was as sexy as sin. The pastor detained her for a bit since he hadn't seen her for a while, which only made Camille be all the more anxious to flee the church. The pastor might have thought something was wrong with her when she hesitated anytime she caught a whiff of Caid or anytime he'd talk to someone passing them to leave. At this rate, he might as well be fondling her from the back. Caid was standing a good size distance between them, but she felt the heat he exuded, and every time she could sense his arm moving, she'd slightly lean forward, fearing he was going to touch her. If he did, she'd come undone in a House of God, and nobody needed to see that.
After saying her goodbyes and promises to see the pastor next Sunday, Camille followed her family out and took care of not looking into Caid's direction as she passed. By the time they all got into the truck and were backing out did Camille spot Caid coming out of the church, stopping as he watch them leave the parking lot and drive out of sight.
Camille didn't dwell on what that meant. That look she caught on his face as they drove away, that look of slight disappointment for missing them, was not meant for her. Why would it be? He sat in church as if she never affected him as he did her. That his skin didn't burn where it grazed against her. God, she hated that these torrential emotions were solely on her side. That she desired more than anything was to be with a man who didn't want her. It was time to put these emotions to bed. She was twenty-three, far past the age of adolescent crushes. Far past the hope of ever getting the one man she wanted.
By late afternoon, Camille was doing her best to push the thought of one man out of her mind as she curled up on a couch in Braden's study, losing herself in the plotlines of her book. Until the doorbell rang. She frowned at the suddenness of it. Not many people came calling on Sundays, especially after church. Most people ate their Sunday meals, got the "itis" then promptly dozed off for an afternoon nap. But visitations weren't usually an option.
"Coming! Keep your shirt on," Camille griped beneath her breath as the impatient visitor began to obsessively pound on the door when the doorbell wasn't getting their point across. With her middle finger playing as her bookmark, Camille gracefully rounded the corner on the balls of her bare feet, making it into the foyer without slipping on the rug that rested at the threshold. When she managed to open the front door, her eyes collided with ones that were churning rich gold and brown.
Seeing Caid there stole the breath from her body, but Camille played it off by casually leaning against the doorjamb with a tired look. He, like her, had dressed down from church, now wearing a tight, burgundy t-shirt tucked into some jeans as an Indiana Jones styled Stetson was pushed low upon his brow that gave him a guarded look. Muscles of his lithe body bulged and strained as he shifted from one leg to another. Camille remembered how those muscles felt against her naked flesh.
"What are you doing here?" Camille asked, pulling together the scurrying wits Caid helped scattered whenever she was in his presence.
"You all left so suddenly after church. I didn't get to talk to you." Caid took a quick look behind him to the vacant spot on the driveway. "Braden go out?"
"Yeah. He and baby girl left to take Mama Gale back home."
"Upstairs resting, unless your little obsessive knocking woke her up." She briefly looked down at her feet, passing them along the rough surface of the welcome mat. "I'll let Braden know you came by."
She turned to leave but was caught by a chiding "uh-uh" and a hand wrapping around her wrist where she was sure he could feel the erratic thump of her heartbeat against his fingertips. And Camille trembled when they caressed the sensitive skin located there.
Caid still held her at arm's length, not going far into her personal space. But he didn't have to. It felt like that was exactly where he was.
"Don't run yet," he uttered, his voice like warm whiskey poured over ice. "You're the reason for my visit this time." Caid took her in, how she had her book crushed to her chest with her free arm as if it was the only thing that could save her. Camille's gaze seemed more interested in the porch than him, but he kept that slight stroke along the inside of her wrist to let her know that he was still there.
His eyes followed down to her chest. "Ian McEwan?"
Dark brown eyes touched down to the book that had the author's name etched across the hardback spine. "Yeah. I read Atonement every year."
Caid nodded. "He's good. I've read a few of his books myself. I think Saturday is one of the best he's ever written. Have you read that one?" Camille shook her head. "Maybe I'll let you borrow it one day."
She didn't want this, didn't want insight into a man who was shaping out to be more than just a rancher and someone of her past. She didn't want to know anything else.
"What do you want me for, Caid?"
A few ways he could answer that question, but the one reason she wanted to hear wasn't what was said. "It's been about four days since I asked you to help me out. You said you'd think about it. What's your answer?"
Camille did a halfhearted lift of her shoulders with a woeful shake of her head. "I still don't know, Caid."
"Why? What else you plan on doing?"
"Well, there's the baby to attend to," Camille supplied weakly.
"Which won't be here for another four months," Caid remarked, a wry smile teasing his mouth as he studied her. "And don't try to substitute it with Sierra. She's been taken care off since you hightailed it to California. Care to try another one?" When she didn't, his teasing smirk faded. "What are you afraid of, Camille?"
Fire flared into her eyes as they hotly regarded him. "Not you."
"Then why won't you work for me? Are you afraid of being alone with me again?"
"Then what's the problem?"
The incessant, tender caressing of his fingers along her wrist was the sweetest agony. He was willing to seduce her into his office or his bed first, but Camille couldn't afford either location if she could help it.
Defiantly, she jerked her arm away from him. "Maybe I don't want to work for you."
It was just like it was before but worse. Far worse. Being alone with him was dangerous. Just the slight, constant floating of his fingers along the delicate skin at her wrist made her mad with desire. She felt the strings of it pull at the center of her being more forcibly than they ever did before. But the trembling that vibrated through her frame only confirmed one thing: he still had a devastating affect on her, and he knew it.
When Camille withdrew into herself, Caid retreated away, giving her space. "Well, I see that the Puritan is still afraid of all the naughty things the shameless libertine might do to her."
Ironically enough, the Puritan he was referring to has imagined what naughty things the libertine might do to her at every turn, and the Puritan enjoyed every blissful moment of them. "As I said, I'm not afraid of you," she quickly replied. "And I don't understand why you haven't asked anyone else to do this."
"Because your sister has her hands too full to do my books, and everyone else in this town has their own businesses and affairs to attend to. If I didn't sincerely need the help, I wouldn't have asked because I know how sensitive you are about me. Even if you don't want to admit it."
It was partly true. She had admitted it but only to herself. Her running was as clear as day of how it was. She might have written it off as a self-preservation thing on her part, but it had little to do with that. Camille was still scared. She wasn't numb to the feelings he placed in her. But the man's simple touch almost made her flood with more than emotions, and she was scared. Too scared to be made so vulnerable again.
But at the same time, Camille had to confront the past and had to come to terms that what had happened between them was done and over with. She had to move on like he had, and simply put it off as something that never should have happened.
Her dark, chocolate brown eyes studied the features that had often appeared to her in her dreams. "What are your conditions?"
"You won't be under contract since I'm asking you this as a favor. You work a standard workweek, eight to five except for a couple of days."
"Why?" Camille asked.
"I'll be in the field most of the time, but I'll try and be there every morning to give you a brief rundown of what I'll need done for the day. But two of those days will probably be the only time I'm able to sit down with you and go over my books and whatever else I'll need your help on. I'll pay you fairly with overtime."
"Do I need to fill out a two weeks' notice? I mean, it'll be virtually impossible for me to if I get a job somewhere and need to leave as soon as possible."
His eyes churned as he regarded her. "You won't be obligated to give one, but only with the understanding that you're leaving the state for a job, not because I did or said something to piss you off."
Camille scoffed. "No promises. You have the tendency to push buttons."
"As you have the tendency to retreat every chance you get."
"Only so I can live to fight another day," Camille replied with a smile that partially hid the pain she still harbored. "But wounds can take time to heal. Some never do." She shifted until her left hand rested on the doorknob to let herself back into the house. "If there's nothing else, you'll see me, Mr. Marshall, bright and early tomorrow morning."
The voicing of her name prompted her to look back at him from over her shoulder. "I know you don't think I'm worth a damn, and I'm sorry for a lot of things I've done or said to you, but I was never sorry for wanting you that day." Camille stood silently shocked from the apology, watching as he descended the stairs. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Camille didn't move until he had peeled out of the driveway. She, in turn, went back to the study and resumed reading her book, but her mind wasn't as submerged into the plot like it was before. Instead, her mind was dissecting every little word he had said, ever little look that was given, and his touch...
Her skin still burned where his thumb had faintly traced over the inside of her wrist. Camille still wasn't sure if this was such a good idea. That touch was a clear indication that she was still sprung on him. That she still wanted him. Nothing in the span of the last three and a half years had changed that. It was worse than before because of the absence.
Camille had known that.
She had direly craved for him in all the time she was in California. What good it did her. Camille had to stop this hero worship. It wasn't healthy for her to pine for a man who saw her nothing outside of someone who had filled a need at one time. And now, it seemed as if he was teasing her because he knew he could. Would he hold that over her head now that he was armed with that knowledge?
Only tomorrow would tell.
Camille snapped awake during the dead hours of the night. She was sweating, her mind racing as she shot up into a sitting position in bed. She ran fingers through her slick but short black hair, calming her hurried breathing as she listened to any possible footsteps coming down the hall. Did she scream in her sleep? Did they hear her?
She waited but heard nothing. They were either sleeping like the dead, or she managed to keep her whimpering quiet. Camille had once been on sleeping medication but hated the way they made her hallucinate. And once the sleeping aids had taken hold, there was no way to run away from demons that haunted her dreams.
Camille sighed as she laid back down, turning on her side to stare out the window. The moon in its serenity shone through her window pane. In the distance, she managed to see the top of a house settled upon a rise, which she knew was Caid's.
Many nights in the past were spent at her window seat, pining and wondering how he was spending his nights. Camille tried not to think of him spending it in another female's company, but instead with her. She used to dream of him as being attentive, charming, and very much in love with her. A fool's dream, but she had cherished it. And it was a dream she had thought was coming true on her twentieth birthday...
"Happy Birthday, Camille!"
Many rejoinders followed, wishing her a happy twentieth birthday in the early evening hours of October 16th. The birthday girl glanced around to the people who were a part of her family. The guys had stopped in for the small gathering before going home for the evening, but Camille teased them that they only came in because they were really after a slice of the divine cake Andrea had whipped up for her little sister.
Camille was flanked at the counter by Braden and Andrea, the latter of who securely held a ten-month-old Sierra in her arms playing with her mother's hair.
"Blow out the candles, Cammy!" Andrea encouraged. Camille paused a second to think of her wish, but she already knew what she wanted without question: to have Caid Marshall notice her.
Ever since the day of her arrival, Caid had walked widely around her. But when he was forced to be in her company, he was cool but civil if nothing else. She figured it was because he didn't like her since he was golden to everyone else. She had often watched as the warmth in his eyes would ebb to a tempestuous look every time he looked her way. Nothing of pleasure was ever on his face when he talked to her, as minimum as conversation were between them. That was unfortunate for her. Out of all the eligible men in Rock River or at the University of Wyoming, she had a crush on the one who couldn't stand her. From the very beginning, he had intrigued her, and he probably knew it. The moment they had shared in the hallway her first day there was testament. Camille knew all too well about the instant attraction on her end, as was he. She had assumed he was attracted to her then too by the carnal way he had caressed her, but apparently she had been wrong. It was to tease her, not because of passion or even love. He proved it every time Camille saw him parading around his current, brainless floozy, and it hurt every time even though Camille tried to talk herself out of her longing for him.
Despite knowing that Caid was one wish she will never have, what was the harm in making one more? It will go unanswered like every wish before, and then she will grow up and turn to men who wouldn't look at her as if she was the last woman on earth they'd ever touch.
She took a deep breath and blew all twenty candles out. Everyone cheered as the guys started to crowd her to be the first ones to get some cake. But she turned to face whoever gave her a subtle tap on the shoulder and saw the handsome, smiling features of Kel.
"Happy Birthday, Camille," he wished warmly.
Kel was friendly and courteous to her, and a complete antithesis of his crude older brother, Dane. They got along famously since he was only three years old than her. She wasn't ignorant to detect his interest in her, and if she wasn't bleeding from the heart over someone less deserving, Kel would have been the ideal man to date. He was always sweet and brought her flowers, not to mention, talked to her whenever he had the time.