He Found Me(9)

By: Whitney Barbetti

“You can call me J.J,” he said from behind me, interrupting my thoughts.

I grabbed the door handle and turned around to him while opening it. “I prefer Julian.” I smiled sweetly at him, in challenge, a little annoyed that he’d affected me so much with just the brush of his thumb over my knuckles earlier.

We stood on the porch just staring at each other for a moment before he grinned widely at me. He stepped closer and I didn’t allow him the pleasure of seeing me step backwards in retreat. He lifted his hand to my face and I kept my eyes glued to his as his fingers paused at my hairline for a moment before tucking a wayward tendril behind my ear. His thumb traced the bottom of my ear lobe in a warm whisper before he leaned down to that same ear. “As you wish,” he replied before stepping back and walking through the open doorway, the scent of sandalwood following him. My ear tingled.

I lifted my hand to my ear, and felt my fingers trembling. What the hell was that? Three minutes after meeting him and I was practically panting like a dog in heat. I tugged my earlobe stubbornly.

I followed Julian in and rounded the reception desk, making sure to keep a safe distance from him. I grabbed the set of keys from the drawer and slid the signature pad in front of him. I typed his name into the software we used to keep track of reservations. “Since you already electronically signed our rules and policies contract, there’s not much I need from you besides your driver’s license and credit card for incidentals.”

After he fished the two cards out of his wallet and slid them to me, I recited our disclaimers while documenting the license and credit card into our system. After handing both back to him, I grabbed the map of the property we provided each guest. “Here,” I said, leaning over the paper and circling a cabin on the map, “is your cabin. This is obviously the big house. Here are the pastures and the horse stalls. Please remember not to go into these areas unless accompanied by staff and please do not feed the horses. Since you’ll be here for an extended duration of time, you’ll probably see people in the barns, out in the pastures, or training in the arena with the horses. They are the owners of the horses we board.”

I brushed a tendril away from my eyes and looked at him to make sure he was paying attention. He was. Completely. My eyes locked onto his chocolate-colored ones for a moment before I swallowed hard. This man was wholly focused on me. It was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying.

“We have paddle boats and mountain bikes available to rent at no cost to all guests. ATVs can be rented, but we ask that you keep them on the trails mapped out on this map,” I said, gesturing to the maps to side of the desk. “You can arrange to take a horse on the trails as well, though we require that you hire a guide to join you for your own safety and the safety of our horses. And helmets are supplied and required for riding any bike, ATV, or horse.” I straightened to stand and avoided looking back at him.

I passed the keys over and was more than a little disappointed when Julian’s hand didn’t linger on mine when he took them from my palm. “If you need anything, you can ask Rosa or me. Rosa runs this place; you’ll know her when you see her. Any of the ranch hands can help you if you feel inclined to ride the horses. You can usually find me in here, by the cabins, or out by the gardens in the back.”

With my arm extended, I motioned for us to move back onto the porch. “You’re in cabin ten. Cabin one is used as a full-time residence for the lead ranch hand, Dylan. If something goes bump in the night, he’s the one you call. Just dial 01 for his cabin.” I walked down the steps, heading towards cabin ten. I heard his footsteps crunching the grass behind me, and lengthened my stride. I hesitated for a moment before saying the next part. “I’m in cabin fifteen. Call me if you need something more basic.” I heard Julian cough-choke behind me before I turned around to face him.

“Basic?” he choked out.

I smiled up at him and walked closer, happy I finally had the upper hand in our verbal challenge. “Yes,” I said huskily. I ran one finger down his sinewy forearm and licked my lips. “Like…” I started, inhaling his sandalwood and Julian scent. I locked gazes with him and then dropped my hand from his arm and grinned, “Towels, shampoo, more pillows, etcetera.” I turned my back to him and opened the door back up to his cabin before turning back around to where he was, affording me a smile for my blatant flirting.

Julian hadn’t moved from his spot. He started to laugh, a rich, full-bodied sound punctuating the air between us. “There’s a lot of promise in that etcetera, Andra.”

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