“Thank you.” She couldn’t help but feel touched. His words sounded heartfelt. “It’s not something I make a habit of sharing. But I guess I got rattled after the kiss, and felt like you should know.”
“I’d like you to move to the Creek Spill, where I have top-notch security.”
She noticed he didn’t say anything about the kiss, which was probably just as well. Maybe he wanted to forget about that moment of heated craziness, too.
Her thoughts skipped ahead to her position in the cast and what he’d just said about her staying at the other ranch. “Do you mean I can keep this job? You don’t plan on making Zoe send me back home?”
A hint of a smile pulled at one corner of his mouth. She remembered what it had felt like to kiss him and got a pleasant shiver just thinking about it. It wasn’t going to be easy to forget what had happened between them.
“One thing at a time,” he cautioned. Pulling his phone from his back pocket, he tapped in some commands. “I’ve got a family obligation tonight, but I can have someone help you pack your things and move you into a suite at the Creek Spill.”
“That’s so kind of you, but I don’t need help—”
The warning look in his eyes stopped her protest. “Then consider it a favor for my peace of mind. From now on, you’re my personal guest.”
The seriousness in his voice made her wonder how personal a guest she was going to be. Plenty of the first unit cast members were staying on his property, so she assumed she would be housed with them. Still, it might make things a little awkward with Zoe and her second unit crew if she wasn’t staying with them.
“I’m not sure if my director will think that’s such a good idea.”
Carson finished whatever he was doing on his phone and pocketed the device. Then he put both hands on her shoulders, causing a warm heat that made her insides flutter.
“Then you can tell her the rationale, or I will, but she’s going to have to agree to the arrangement.” His thumbs sketched a light touch along her collarbone, and her skin heated everywhere. “I just asked one of the White Canyon staffers to meet you at your room, and transportation is on the way. The attendant will help you with your bags and see you into the vehicle. You’ll be met on the other end by my housekeeper, Mrs. Tillson. She’ll show you the suite where you can put your things and will have dinner ready as soon as you arrive.”
She tried not to notice the way she wanted to sway toward him. No man had touched her this way in years. As for tending to her every need so thoroughly? No man had done that. Ever.
Emma reminded herself not to get used to it. As soon as filming was done, she would be back in LA, trying to carve out a life for herself while Carson McNeill would still be lord of all he surveyed in Cheyenne. She couldn’t afford to get used to the sort of help he offered.
“That’s more than generous.” Blinking, she straightened away from his touch, needing to stand strong on her own feet. “Thank you.”
He studied her for a moment longer before he gave a clipped nod. “I’d help you settle in myself but my stepmother has been in the hospital and my family is expecting me over there. I’ll see you in the morning, though. Help yourself to anything you need while I’m away.”
He moved toward the driveway where he’d parked his vehicle, but stopped when she didn’t join him.
She was still stuck on what he’d said about helping herself. While he was away.
Did that imply he’d be...with her when he returned?
The breeze blowing off the hills made her wrap her arms around herself, as a chill set in from the sweat that had dried on her skin after her run. A chill...or a pleasurable shiver. She didn’t know what she was feeling, but she knew she needed to get a handle on herself.
“What is it?” he asked, though he didn’t move toward her.
“I. Um. Just wondering.” Nerves skittered through her. “Where exactly will I be staying at the ranch?”
He frowned. “The bunkhouse and external buildings are filled to capacity with the ranch’s employees and with the film’s cast and crew. But there’s plenty of room in the main house. You’ll stay with me.”
* * *
Carson couldn’t stop thinking about Emma.
He sat beside his stepmother, who’d finally been transported to the Cheyenne hospital after a week in a medical facility nine hours away. She had been cleared for a flight on a fixed-wing medical plane at the family’s expense so she could recover closer to home.
And she was recovering, according to her team of doctors, even if Carson couldn’t see much improvement in her condition. At least she was off the ventilator now. And all three of his half sisters—Scarlett as well as Maisie and Madeline—had been in the room with her yesterday when she’d opened her eyes briefly, a sign Paige was pulling out of the coma.
That was why Carson didn’t consider it disrespectful that his thoughts wandered to Emma so often in the hours that he’d been watching over his stepmother in her private room. The door was closed to shut out most of the sounds in the hallway. A nurse came in every half hour to check monitors and adjust IVs, but other than that, the room was quiet except for a gray clock ticking on the far wall. His half sisters had left to grab some dinner and change before Scarlett—the youngest of the daughters Paige had with Carson’s father, Donovan—returned to relieve him.
Carson had plenty to worry about right now with overseeing the ranches, making sure the filming didn’t interfere with day-to-day operations, and beginning a private investigation into his stepmother’s past to see if there was any merit to the blackmailer’s claim. Yet as he sat in the big gray lounger between the window and the hospital bed, what concerned him most was Emma.
He’d been floored by the idea of any man raising a hand to her. The thought still made him sick hours later. He wouldn’t have been able to take his shift at the hospital tonight if she’d refused to settle into a suite at his house. Because at least now he had the satisfaction of knowing—thanks to a text from his housekeeper—that Emma was safely ensconced in his place, behind doors with a security code. She was surrounded by ranch hands who worked for him, plus a security guard he’d paid to ensure the equipment barns and horses under his care remained untouched for the duration of the filming.
Carson had already requested two more security guards to start tomorrow. One to ensure Emma’s safety. Another to patrol the grounds. They needed to keep a watch for Emma’s ex, but it would also help the McNeill family to monitor for any new threats from their mystery blackmailer. Emma’s past gave him a good justification for the additional security since his siblings had agreed not to tell their father about the blackmail note Scarlett had received during her visit to LA the day before Paige’s accident.
As for Emma—no one was getting close to her on his watch.
Except for him.
The thought didn’t just whisper across his consciousness. It roared and shouted. The kiss they’d shared had seared itself into his brain, making him realize that despite his good intentions where she was concerned, staying away from her for the next two weeks was going to be impossible. It would have been tough enough for him to keep his distance while they worked together on her riding. But now? All that combustible attraction was going to be front and center, 24/7.
But she had to stay with him.
He’d kissed her. Touched her. Shared her confidence. That made him want to protect her.
The wide door to Paige’s room creaked open and Scarlett backed into the room, juggling a balloon bouquet, flowers and a brightly striped duffel bag.
Carson shot out of his seat to give her a hand, darting around the rolling table with a water pitcher.
“Thanks.” Scarlett threw him a grateful