Secret confessions: down & dusty — lucky

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Secret Confessions: Down & Dusty — Lucky

Cate Ellink

www.escapepublishing.com.au

Secret Confessions: Down & Dusty — LuckyCate Ellink

Welcome to the heart—and heat—of Australia…

They say that no one has secrets in a small town—these women prove them wrong.

Eight brand-new stories from some of Australia’s hottest writers in Australia’s hottest genre. From the bar stools of the local pub to the wide open plains of the biggest stations in the world, these tales travel the dusty roads to the heart of Australia and the women who understand how to work hard—and play even harder.

In the latest in the wildly successful Secret Confessions series from Escape Publishing, the women of Down & Dusty invite you into their lives—and their bedrooms.

As the single female owner of Milpinyani Spring’s only pub, Lucky has learned that her behaviour has to be above reproach. She works hard at home, and when she needs to play hard, she does so—far away from the prying eyes of her neighbours and friends. So when the hot new cop swaggers up to bar, she knows the rules: look, don’t touch. But Dare doesn’t know how to play her game, and he’s about to show her that the only rules that count are the ones that you break.

Secret Confessions: Down & Dusty

Reading order

1.  Casey—Rachael Johns

2.  Lucky—Cate Ellink

3.  Kelly—Fiona Lowe

4.  Brooke—Eden Summers

5.  Clarissa—Mel Teshco

6.  Skye—Rhyll Biest

7.  Maree—Elizabeth Dunk

8.  Frankie—Jackie Ashenden

About the Author

Cate Ellink became intrigued by the erotic when her grandfather used to pass books to her father saying, ‘Don’t let the girls read page X.’ Although her mother and sisters never bothered to chase those pages, Cate always did. Invariably, her imagination was better than what she read.

While pursuing a career in science, Cate amused herself by writing about ordinary events and giving them an erotic twist. It’s taken more than a few years to brave exposing her mind to the public.

Cate lives near the beach in NSW, Australia, with a long-suffering husband. She writes erotic adventures likeThe Virginity MissionandDeep Diving, published with Escape Publishing, and has published a few short stories. She was lucky enough to be involved in another Escape Publishing anthology,Secret Confessions: Sydney Housewives — Lana.

You can find out more at:www.cateellink.com.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the marvellous Kate Cuthbert for inviting me to again be a part of a special Escape Publishing anthology. I love your projects. It’s an honour to work with you.

Thanks to Tracey O’Hara for her editing, tips and guidance.

Thanks also to Jennie Jones, Rachael Johns, Eden Summers, and Rhyll Biest for reading and commenting on early drafts of Lucky’s story.

Special thanks to Ann Britton who answered a few questions for me on Facebook. Thank you for answering queries from a stranger. Your information was much appreciated, and your photography always inspires me.

A huge thank you for all of you who read my stories. I don’t know you, but I’m forever in your debt. Knowing someone is reading what I write, keeps me writing and keeps me pushing my limits as a writer.

Mr E, thanks again for your support. I couldn’t do this without you – although sometimes I’m sure you wish I didn’t!

To the other authors in this anthology, Rach, Eden, Fiona, Rhyll, Jackie, Nicole and Mel – thanks for our Down & Dusty fun!

For women who have to guard their hearts

Contents

About the Author

Acknowledgements

Episode 2—Lucky

Bestselling Titles by Escape Publishing…

Episode 2—Lucky

Dare strode towards the Milpinyani Springs Royal Hotel which was both the site of his accommodation and the hub of the town, if anything with a population of 356 could have a hub. He’d never lived in a small town but if that’s what it took to be made an acting sergeant, and then hopefully sergeant, that’s what he’d do. He’d arrived an hour ago keen, eager, maybe even a little full of himself, but that soon vanished when he found the police house not ‘a little rundown’ but uninhabitable. Broken windows had granted access to vermin and they’d taken up residence. He’d have to live at the pub until repairs were made—and no one could tell him how long that would take. Apparently services weren’t easily available this far from a large town. No one had fully explained the joys of rural living.

It was no difficulty to find the pub—it was in the main street where all the utes were haphazardly stopped out the front. As if quenching your thirst was more important than parking correctly. But he wasn’t here to issue tickets. Not yet anyway. One of the older blokes on the force had suggested he settle in to town before playing the tough cop. He didn’t fully understand that, but Barney wasn’t giving any more pointers, so he’d just have to work it out. He was certain it meant no tickets on his first day in town. Since he wasn’t in uniform, no one would know how he itched to issue tickets or park those utes properly.

He’d heard that Lucky ran a good pub, so he expected something large and modern, like on the coast. The cops who knew the place, along with some of the locals he’d met, spoke of Lucky with respect, so he pictured him as a strict older bloke who was good to his clients and staff and probably didn’t have the time or energy to spruce up the place. It looked rundown and could do with a bit of paint. He looked along the street, but it fitted in with the town.

The pub was a fair size for a small place. A wide verandah looked as though it went right around the building. Out the back, scattered among the huge gums, were sheds.Why would the pub need sheds?He brushed the soles of his boots on the wire mat before he strode across the verandah. Guess he’d find that out while living here.

He pushed against the heavy glass door and it moved soundlessly.The old bloke must keep the doors oiled at least.Immediately in front of him was the short end of the bar—polished wood top, corrugated iron front. He swung to his left and followed it into the large main room. He glanced around. Okay, so maybe he’d made a hasty judgement. Inside was a total contrast to outside. Nothing fancy. Fibro sheeting lined the walls, but it gleamed like it’d been painted recently. Large palms in big pots staked out the corners to give a little privacy or close up the space. It was huge, old, but well-cared for.

The wall behind the bar had shelves with liquor bottles, a few decent landscapes, and the obligatory silver fridge on the floor, running the length of the bar. In the room itself, the walls were covered in hats, caps, postcards and curled photos. He walked to the bar and leant an elbow on it, waiting to be served.

At five o’clock the clientele were a mix of old and young, men and women. Some were scrubbed clean and others looked as if they wore a few weeks’ worth of grime. Music burst from the back of the room, but not so loudly you couldn’t think. Loud enough to muffle conversations. There was a vibe here that was different to any pub he’d been in. Not exactly friendly. But no animosity either. It was early evening, so a bit hard to judge. Maybe things changed as the night came.

A woman who couldn’t be more than five foot two, and fifty kilos wringing wet, stood across the bar from him. She wasn’t young, maybe mid-thirties. Petite, but athletic. Her brown hair was pulled off her face in a ponytail that fell past her shoulders making her look younger, or maybe it was those big sapphire eyes that quickly looked him over. She scanned his eyes, face, lips, neck, shoulders and chest, making heat spread across his skin. The look was quick but intense. And then, rather than smiling or meeting his gaze, she looked behind him. Dismissed him.

He took his elbow off the counter and stepped back.

Dismissed him? That rarely happened. He wasn’t stuck up, but he’d always had the attention of women. Just not Blue Eyes.

‘What can I get for you?’ The jerk of her chin in his direction was the only indication she was asking him the question. Her gaze roamed the room, quickly, expertly.

Her voice was a thick, warm drawl that had his cock paying attention. That voice promised nights of sinful dirty talk that could probably get him off without her touch. He smiled, thinking of late nights and wicked words.

Picking up barmaids had been his specialty … years back, when he picked up. Surely he still had it, even if he was a bit rusty. Sticking his hand out in a friendly gesture, he gave his best smile. ‘Dare Cornish. Just arrived in town. I have a room booked for tonight, but I’ll need to extend that.’

‘Right.’ She was clearly distracted by something over his left shoulder. Sapphire gaze hardening, her face pinched tight before her hand lurched toward his, gave a quick brush against his fingers and pulled away. ‘Be a minute.’ She was gone.

Crash and burn. Not justa bitrusty.

When he was young, rejection meant a shot at another chick. Now, in his early forties and divorced, rejection was a slap, a nail in his coffin, a step closer to eternal loneliness.

He shook his head. He hadn’t come here to find love, or lust. He’d come here to pull himself together. To work out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, his career. His marriage had disintegrated three years ago and he’d thrown himself into work, but he wanted something more. He wasn’t sure what that was … yet. A small-town community would be able to provide a sense of belonging, an opportunity to see if that was what he was missing. If not, he’d go opal mining and see if the hermit life suited him.

The sound of a rich rumble came from behind and he spun around. He should have turned as soon as the barmaid left him, not been distracted by his woes. She might need help.

‘If I ask you to leavemyestablishment, I’m not doing it for the good ofmyhealth. You’ve had enough. Get the fuck out of here and don’t come back tonight.’ Blue Eyes had bellows for lungs, a heart bigger than Phar Lap, and a gaze that burned holes into the drunk before her. He was beaten and he knew it.

‘Lucky. I didn’t mean—’

‘You never fucking mean. Get the hell out before I throw you out.’ She held her ground, toe-to-toe with the bloke who’d be at least a foot taller and three times her weight. And he knew she had the better of him. How? She was a squirt. The drunken giant could pick her up and move her out of his way with just one arm.

Dare scanned the area to see what trouble the bloke had caused. Slumped on the floor in the corner was an older bloke, hat pulled down over his face, but still breathing. Dare moved towards him.

‘Stay where you are, Mr Cornish.’ The voice was like a whip. It cracked around him and stopped him mid-stride. He turned to stare at her, but she’d already moved to the slumped man. The drunk was on his way out, shuffling through the doors.

Blue Eyes slipped an arm beneath the slumped man’s shoulders and heaved him from the floor. Unsteady on his feet, he wasn’t much taller or heavier than she was, but he’d be an awkward load. She steadied him and then headed through the room towards the back of the pub. No one came to help. No one really stopped their drinking or their conversations. It was as if this happened regularly. Maybe it did.

He waited, but no one else came to serve. Glancing around, there were blokes with empty glasses, but none were lined up, impatient, as they would be in the city.

It was different here. Very different.

He sighed, crossed one ankle over the other, leaned his elbow on the bar and waited.

So Blue Eyes was Lucky, the respected publican.Holy hell.That’s why the giant didn’t challenge her. She was the local legend. The fairest but toughest publican they’d ever had.

Still waiting. No one else seemed to be serving or working. No one spoke to him. No one looked at him. And no one seemed to care if he was here or not. He’d thought people might have come up and said ‘hi’, wanting to meet the new bloke. But no.


Page 2

Strange place this.

Ten minutes later, Blue Eyes whirled back in and had five beers pulled before Dare straightened himself from his slump against the bar. She swapped beer for coins as she worked her way along. Then she was in front of him.

‘Sorry about that. Dare Cornish, wasn’t it? I’m Lucky Percival.’ She extended her hand and he shook it. Her grasp was firm, strong, callused. A working hand. ‘So, you need a room because no one bothered to let you know the station was a bomb site?’

‘You know who I am?’

She gave a quick nod. ‘Cop’s eyes. Cop’s stance. Everyone knew who you were the minute you opened the door and surveyed the scene, categorising everyone in here.’ Her look was haughty. No way was he going to get laid by her—or her voice—and that sent a shaft of disappointment through his heart.

He folded his arms across his chest, then quickly shoved them into his pockets instead. No way was he being defensive.

‘Right. Well.’ He nodded to the area over his left shoulder. ‘A problem you often have?’

She gave him a look. Eyes hard, harder than before. Her lips, which had been lusciously plump, were pulled into such a tight line they almost vanished from her face. Her nose was the only soft feature. Sort of a button. With freckles. He found his cheek twitching and covered it by wiping his face with his hand.

‘I guess not,’ he said.

After quelling him with that look, she handed him a key. ‘Your room’s out back, room seven. It’s right at the back so it should be quiet. Go through the pub, out the back door, follow the path to the left all the way. It’s the only stone cottage away from the pub. You’ll go past a run of six single rooms then walk by a few trees and it’ll be yours.’ She gave him a nod. ‘Dinner’s through there.’ She pointed to a room off to the right beyond the end of the bar. ‘Meals between six and nine pm. If you need me to keep one for you, ring and ask. There’s milk and tea, coffee, snacks in the room. Breakfast will be in the dining room at whatever time you want it. So let me know the night before and we’ll have it ready for you. Or if you want, you can take cereal and toast and look after yourself. If you need lunch, let me know what and when and again, we’ll get it organised for you.’

Efficient. Professional. Aloof.

Everything she should be. Yet not what he wanted at all.

Why did he have to want her? He mentally shook his head. It was the conquest, and her unavailability. He’d get over it. Over her. Quickly.

‘Right. Thanks. I’ll get settled then let you know about food.’

‘And a tip—’ She hesitated until he gave her his attention.Bloody compelling scrap of a woman.‘We haven’t had a cop here for years, so take it easy.’

More advice. Just what he didn’t need.

He gave a curt nod and left to find his room—probably one of the damned sheds.

***

Dare opened his mouth, distracting Lucky’s thoughts. They were in the dining room for breakfast. In the pub, not that you’d know with cop calls coming in at all hours. It’d been like that for the fortnight Dare had been in town, living at the pub.Bloody man.A perfectly cut square of toast, carefully laden with bacon cut to fit and a generous pile of scrambled eggs, made their way into his decadent mouth. His lips closed over the fork and she couldn’t drag her gaze away. Heat pooled between her thighs like a sauna on high. Her stomach tensed and squeezed in time with his every jaw movement. His lips weren’t big, quite the opposite, which only enhanced the decadent fullness of his lower lip that tapered so finely at the corners of his mouth. Sometimes his top lip was so thin she almost lost sight of it. Like when he gave that rare smile that ripped right across his face and all she could concentrate on were his dazzling eyes, his shiny teeth and that bottom lip she’d like to be sucking on.

Oh hell.

His tongue poked between his lips before he licked them. A long slow slide from one side of his mouth to the other. His eyelids half-closed, as if he enjoyed every sinful second. She certainly did.

It hurt to tear her gaze away and stare at her own breakfast. It didn’t look half as good as he did. She needed to thump her head against the table to knock in some sense. Thank fuck he hadn’t seen her perving. A knot of tied-up sexual tension, that’s all she’d become, and all because she had rules and would obey them. Well, half of her would. Rule number one was no sex in Milpinyani Springs, but anything associated with her steaming libido wanted her to break that rule, now, by humping him on the kitchen table.That’d be good for town gossip, her sensible brain reminded her horny pussy.

She blamed his eyes. Smoky-blue fuck-me bedroom eyes. They tried to lure her into temptation first. Even before the lips. The moment he set his gaze on her, something inside sat up and paid attention. Every day since, a new piece of him had given her the exact same reaction.

‘How’s breakfast?’ Casey, the cook, came out of the kitchen with her plate of food. She didn’t look so good. Lucky had hoped to see her all glowing this morning, which would have made her lies to get Casey to town worthwhile, but that wasn’t so. In fact, she looked worse than she had yesterday when she’d arrived.

‘Great, thanks.’ Dare’s glance over Casey made Lucky’s hackles rise. For just a moment. Until she told her libido to quit being a dick.

‘I’m glad you could come, Case. I wasn’t looking forward to the weekend without you and your cooking.’ Her voice sounded right. Honest and friendly. Not a ridiculous hackle in sight.

Casey grinned, but the falseness in her smile nearly broke Lucky’s heart. There were three more days. Days when Lucky could help Casey remember how great they worked together. How much she fitted into Mil Springs. Lucky had to make the time even if they’d be so busy feeding and watering the hordes of tourists who descended on the place for the Milpinyani Springs Rodeo. Case was a great girl with a big loving heart who deserved happiness, and Lucky was sure it was here that Case would find it, with Joel.

‘So, does it get wild here in the pub?’ Dare’s voice stopped Lucky’s examination of Casey.

She darted a look at him, then flashed a warning look at Case, willing her to keep her mouth shut tight. ‘Nothing I can’t handle.’ Her words were almost bitten out. Too tense. Too closed up. Too much like picking a fight, but he bugged the hell out of her. She’d fought hard to earn respect so she could run this pub properly. A cop undermined her authority, especially when he was living here, and part of her resented that, resented him, as well as being annoyed by his presence.

Casey swung a look from one to the other, then back again. She scoffed the last of her toast and grabbed both of their empty plates. ‘I’ll, ah, leave you to it.’ Casey left.

Dare sat back and stared at Lucky. His eyes were icy today, as if her defensiveness had made him angry. But he didn’t do angry. Surely?

A tinge of guilt made her speak again. ‘I’ve been here, working, for fifteen rodeos. I know what I’m doing.’ Damn it. Still too much steel in her voice. She didn’t know how to soften it. She wasn’t sure she should. He rubbed her the wrong way, even if that wasn’t his intention.

‘I don’t.’ His admission was softly given and his eyes lost their iciness. He glanced away.

‘Are you worried?’ When he didn’t answer, she stretched her arm and laid her hand over his. ‘Dare?’ Big effing mistake. His hand was warm, muscled, solid. Such a bleedin’ temptation. She wanted to drag it against her body. Suck on his thick fingers. Kiss into his solid palm, follow that with a lick from her flat tongue.

He turned his head sharply, the movement snapping her from lustful thoughts. He stared at her, then flicked his glance to their hands, then back to her face. A frown ran across his forehead as if he wasn’t sure what to say. She shouldn’t have touched him.

She pulled her hand away before explaining the weekend. ‘The rodeo runs pretty smoothly. A lot of blokes get on the piss pretty hard, but it’s usually only fights that don’t get too dangerous. Doc has to do a few stitches sometimes, maybe deal with bruises or concussion, but so far nothing serious.’ His stare hadn’t softened any, but the tension seemed less.

‘I worry about you, mate.’

She sat back sharply as if she’d come upon a snake.Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.He so did not say that. She looked all around the dining room but had to drag her gaze back to his face. She wished she could look anywhere but at him.What in God’s name are you scared of seeing?She couldn’t answer her own question.

His eyes were more smoke and less ice.Damn it all to hell.He worried about her. She didn’t want him to care. How could she stick to her rules knowing he cared for her?

‘You’ve been here a fortnight, hasn’t that shown you I can look after myself?’ He really knew how to get her riled up. ‘Do your job and let me do mine. I can fucking handle it.’ With that, she jumped from her seat and stormed out the back door. Her place was going to be no sanctuary, so she hastened through the buildings, swung over the back fence and strode across the back paddock.

Goddamn the man. What gave him the right to say shit like that?

He already made her horny and that was while he annoyed the crap out of her too. Having him say he worried about her only made both those things worse. She didn’t want him here and she sure as hell didn’t want him to care.

Effing hell.

He was so much taller than her, his chest so broad, sometimes she wanted to curl up against him and just be held. She wanted those eyes all smoky with desire, for her. She wanted to run her fingers through that brown-blond hair that was too long for his polite perfection. Draw it from his face, hold that floppy fringe back from his forehead like he tried to do a million times a day. Her fingers ached to claw into the shoulders she’d seen exposed by his singlet when he jogged at night or early morning. Not that she’d been looking for him, or listening for him—much.

Jesus. She was a mess. A horny, aching mess on the one weekend of the year when she had to focus totally and completely on the pub.

‘Mate.’

Damn it. Of course he’d followed her. He was chivalrous. She stopped under a large gum near the creek edge. She could be well mannered too. If she tried hard.

‘Knowing you can look after yourself doesn’t stop me worrying.’ The voice of reason was soft and gentle, coaxing. So effing polite.

‘I don’t want you worrying about me. I don’t want you thinking about me. I don’t want anything at all.’ Snappy. Snarling. Too much. Why couldn’t she calm down?

‘I didn’t either.’ He sounded so resigned.

‘Well, fight harder.’ The words exploded from her. When they hit the air, they became totally stupid words. Idiotic words. She wanted him to fight whatever stupid attraction he felt for her—like she was doing. Stupid. Any sensible woman would want the man. Half of her was sensible—the half she let loose on holidays. He was effing hot. Sexy. Full of buttoned-up politeness that hid a seething lust-monster, or so her dreams told her.

Her lips itched. She looked up at him ready to apologise and try to explain. His face was blank of expression, but his eyes were wide. She’d hurt and shocked him with her outburst. ‘I’m a dick. Sorry.’ She owed him that but she couldn’t explain. She had to keep up the fight against the lust alone, which meant she wasn’t talking about it. Hell, she couldn’t think about it. She wasn’t giving in. She didn’t do sex in Mil Springs. There had to be a way for him to forget about her.

His expressions ran through shock, sorrow, then a touch of something she couldn’t identify. Sympathy, maybe? ‘What are you so worried about, mate?’

She shook her head, fast. As if he’d stop asking questions because she didn’t want to face the answers.

‘You don’t want to talk about it?’ He sounded disbelieving. Why would he think she’d want to spill her guts? ‘Can I talk about it?’

Hell. He wasn’t going to give up, was he? She shrugged.

If he knew about her past, which she suspected he did, that should turn him against her. He wouldn’t want her then. This could work in her favour if she could bury her emotion and deal with that logically.

‘Someone hurt you. A long time ago. You trusted them and they spat that right back at you.’ His voice was gentle, but it didn’t calm her one bit. How could the sordid tales of her past be twisted so she was the one being hurt?

She stiffened. ‘Who told you that?’ She could think of a few people who’d air her dirt to him, probably take great pride in doing so. But none who’d paint her as the victim. No, they’d make her out to be the town whore, which is exactly what had been said about her.

No matter how bloody hard she worked for respect, some people would never give it to her. She’d made a mistake in her youth and it would live with her forever. The joys of a small effing town.

He shrugged.

She turned away. ‘It was fifteen friggin’ years ago.’

‘You haven’t forgotten.’

‘How could I? I live in Mil Springs, the tiniest pond in living history. Everyone knows what everyone does, what they did, probably what they’ll do in the effing future. So who told you?’ If they’d told him, they must have seen there was something between them. Hell. That was the last thing she needed. She’d worked damn hard for her position in this town and she wasn’t going to lose it again for shagging an unworthy bloke.

Was Dare unworthy?

She leant her forehead against the tree trunk. Why this weekend? She had too much to do to worry about her past. Or think about Dare.

Hands closed over her shoulders, kneading—not exactly gently either. Dare should be gentle and soft, like his polite exterior. But his fingers dug deep into her flesh, kneading tight muscles like they knew what they were doing.

Digging into her effing soul.

‘Stop.’ She spun from him, away from the tree, back into the open. ‘I can’t do this. Not this weekend. I’m flat out. I’ve every room booked, meals will be constant, the place full.’

‘Next week, we’ll talk.’

‘No.’ She stared at him, taking in the icy stare but meeting it with her own, and she wasn’t backing down. ‘I’m not doing this. I have rules and I’m not breaking them.’

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