“Here he comes.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Shhhh! He might hear you!”
“Not likely. He’s wearing earphones.”
Caroline jumped out from behind the stack of pallets and tossed the heavy horse blanket over Mr. J. Smither’s surprisingly athletic figure.
Steph followed her out of hiding, quickly dropping a double-looped lasso on top of the blanket and pulled it nice and snug, trapping the financier’s arms against his sides.
Jackie bounded out from the other side of the pallets and with surprise on their side, the three friends managed to maneuver the man into the side door of their van before he had a chance to react to his abduction. Served the no good, lying, cheating con man right. She hoped the rug would leave a few burn marks on Mr. Smither’s traitorous skin.
The three women scrambled into the front of the vehicle and slammed the doors shut. Jackie quickly turned the key, and the engine roared to life, drowning out the muffled sounds from their captive. Within minutes they were on the highway and headed to the old homestead building on the back acreage of their ranch.
Well, it used to be their ranch. Before this low down dirty scum had tricked them out of it. But that little glitch in their business plan was about to be rectified. Once they arrived at their destination, they intended to persuade Mr. Asshole here to return their property to its rightful owners.
Jackie kind of hoped he wouldn’t agree right away. She really wanted a chance to hurt him. Not much. She was a pacifist, after all. But even a loving goddess would have to agree that a couple of well placed kicks wouldn’t go amiss, given the circumstances.
Maybe she’d let him wallow in the aroma of one of her home cooked meals while feeding him canned spaghetti and store bought bread. Yeah. That could be considered harsh punishment. She smiled.
“Hang on, girls. Dirt road coming up fast.” She yanked the steering wheel hard to the right, and the van lurched onto the one-lane washboard track leading to the cabin.
“You could slow down a bit.” Caroline clenched her teeth against the bumpy ride.
“Sorry. Got caught up in the moment.” Jackie took her foot off the gas pedal and the old vehicle slowed to a more reasonable speed for the rarely used dirt track. “How’s our package doing?”
A muffled exclamation from the rug draped man managed to express his outrage. The three women looked at each other, their expressions solemn for a long moment before they all broke out in laughter.
“We did it! We got him!”
“Phase one of the plan complete. On to phase two!” Caroline, their self-appointed organizer smiled. She’d compiled their five year business plan when they’d started the bed and breakfast at the ranch, and she’d outlined the plan to get the ranch back from the con-man who’d taken advantage of their trusting nature.
Jackie had to give him credit. He’d played them with impressive finesse.
When Steph had read the documents for their business expansion loan, she had been ecstatic. Seed money for small business start ups was notoriously hard to find, especially at interest rates like the ones Mr. Smithers offered.
She swore to her partners that the paragraph stating that the title of the ranch would transfer to Mr. Smithers if he did not receive repayment in full within sixty days had not been in the original contract, and Jackie was inclined to believe her. As a legal assistant, Stephanie was quite adept at reading small print.
Somehow, this low down excuse for a man had inserted that little gem some time between them signing and the papers being filed at the county seat.
Exactly sixty one days after receiving what they thought was a gift from the goddesses, they’d received notice of eviction.
Kind of made a gal want to kick that hog-tied excuse for a man right where it hurt.
“Help me get these hobbles on him.” Caroline motioned Stephanie to hold the man’s legs while she twisted a length of rope around them, leaving just enough slack for him to hobble slowly. “I don’t aim to carry the no-good critter into the cabin.”
Jackie pulled the van up to the front of the cabin and killed the engine. “And we’re home!”
A very loud expletive emanated from under the rug as Caroline pulled the hobbles a tad tighter than necessary. Jackie turned in her seat and slapped the side of his legs by way of acknowledgement, secretly glad of an excuse to hit him. After what this guy had done, none of them felt any sympathy. Hell, if they could have gotten away with it, they would have tied him to the roof of the van for the trip to the cabin.
“On your feet, Mr. Smartass.” Caroline pushed the carpet-wrapped banker toward the side door as Stephanie slid it open.
Jackie helped her to tip the guy upright, and between the three of them they pushed and pulled the reluctant package into the cabin, ushering him into the extra bedroom just off the Great Room.
“Should we untie him now?” Jackie felt an unwelcome qualm of guilt as the man coughed hoarsely through his gunny sack hood. What if he had asthma? Or allergies? She wasn’t the kind of woman to actually want to hurt a person. At least not too badly.
“Hang on a second. Need to set the scene for him first.” Caroline’s Texas drawl thickened noticeably, a sign she was anticipating some fun. Pivoting on one foot, she disappeared into the back of the cabin, returning with a rifle slung carelessly over one shoulder.
“You can undo him now.” Pulling a fully loaded magazine out of her pocket she slapped it into the .22. “With any luck he’ll give me a chance to use this”
Stephanie rolled her eyes, but didn’t say anything as she glanced over at Jackie. They both knew Caroline wouldn’t hurt a flea if it was biting her on the ass. She did look intimidating though, and that’s what they were counting on.
The plan was to scare this son of a bitch into giving them back their ranch.
Jackie loosened the rope and pulled the blanket off Mr. Smither’s head. Good thing he had one of those short military haircuts, nothing long enough to catch in the rough fabric as it pulled away from his head.
The way he glared at her once his head was free had her tempted to put it right back on again. The man looked dangerous!
Actually, he looked a lot younger than Jackie had expected. She’d pictured him as a middle-aged, white-haired slightly balding banker type, but he was anything but. He looked like he could model for one of those military places, or maybe do a recruitment poster for the Navy Seals. Bankers weren’t supposed to have all those hard angles and bulging muscles.
As if to prove her point, the man brought his hands up, snapping the rope off them with a quick movement of his hands, before he paused and took a good look around. “What the hell? A bunch of women? What is going on?”
Jackie scrambled backward out of arm’s reach. Maybe they should have thought this through a little better. She didn’t know about Steph or Caroline but the thought of their quarry fighting back hadn’t even entered her mind.
“Go ahead, Mr. Smartass. Make my day.” Caroline brought the gun up to her shoulder, sighting down the long barrel as she drawled out the famous phrase.
“Seriously?” The man shook his head, obviously not impressed. “That’s a .22 not a real gun.”
Caroline moved the barrel slightly to the side and pulled the trigger, sending a shot into the chinking between the logs.
“Hey, be careful!” Their captive looked a little less amused. “Those things can ricochet you know!”
“I am very much aware of what can this little baby can do. Now strip before I decide to see if there’s real blood running through those veins of yours, or just ice water.”
“I am not going to strip!” The outrage in the man’s voice almost made Jackie want to laugh. Almost. “What do you want from me?”
“Well.” Caroline smiled, and even Jackie knew it wasn’t a good sign. “You could sign our ranch back over to us, and we might let you go with just a little flogging.”
“Your ranch? You women been drinking or something? That makes no sense.”
“Not yet.” She turned to Stephanie, her gun still trained on Jeb. “You want to go see if there’s a bottle of wine around here somewhere?”
“Sure. I think I saw some in the kitchen cupboards.” Steph turned and left the room.
Caroline turned her attention back to the man. “My arms are getting tired, and this trigger is pretty touchy so you don’t want to annoy me. I want you to take your clothes off. Now you can strip like some idiot in a hurry to go to bed, or you can try to butter me up by making a show of it, but in about ten minutes I want to see your little man parts dangling free and clear. Understand?”
Jeb crossed his arms on his chest and glared at her. “No.”
Caroline raised one brow, a hint of a smile playing around her lips. “No?”
“No. I do not understand. While I agree I’m a nice enough looking guy, I don’t think seeing me naked is enough to risk a jail term for kidnapping so why are you doing this?”
“Let me tell you a little story.”
Jackie winced at the sarcasm in Caroline’s voice.
“Once there were three friends who worked their butts off to start a nice bed and breakfast on a ranch they owned just outside town. They worked really hard, and made a fair success of the business, but they knew they could do better. They just needed a little loan to expand and then, low and behold, a nice man offered to lend them the money.” Her voice hardened. “Only he cheated. And possibly committed fraud. At the very least, he deceived them and stole their business from them.”
She lifted the rifle to her shoulder and sighted along the barrel for a moment before straightening up again. “It’s not nice to cheat decent, hard-working women out of their business, wouldn’t you agree?”
The man’s brows furrowed in confusion. “Well yeah, but what does this have to do with me?”
Jackie groaned out loud, earning herself an impatient look from her friend.
Caroline turned her attention back to the man in front of her. “You are Mr. J Smithers, are you not?”
He nodded slowly. “Mr. J. Smithers. I think I’m starting to get the picture. You borrowed money from Mr. James Smithers?”
There was absolutely no humor in the smile on Caroline’s face. “That is correct, Mr. Smithers.”
He spread his hands wide. “I’m Mr. Jebediah Smithers. You have the wrong man.”
Caroline shook her head. “Nice try, but I don’t buy it. We picked you up coming out of the very same office where we went to sign those papers for the loan.” Her expression hardened. “Now strip!”
“You’ve got the wrong guy!”
Caroline squeezed the trigger slowly, placing a bullet just in front of the man’s feet. “I told you to strip.”
“Fine! But you still have the wrong guy.” Reaching down, he grasped the edge of his shirt and pulled it over his head.
This might just be a lot more interesting than they’d realized. Jackie watched as Mr. Smithers divested himself of his clothing. Very nice. His broad shoulders topped a chest layered with ropes of muscle, and narrowed down to lean hips and muscular thighs. He didn’t even bother to try and cover his impressive manhood as it hung limp. Jackie didn’t take her eyes off him as she stepped over to stand beside Caroline.
At that moment, Stephanie reappeared with an opened bottle of wine and three glasses. “Oh my. Maybe we should reconsider and just keep him in trade for the ranch. I’ve always wanted a pet.”
“I suppose if you want a snake for a pet, he’d be okay.” Caroline obviously wasn’t impressed by the man’s physical attributes. “That does give me an idea though.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Well, Mr. Smithers here seems to need a little more convincing before he’s ready to give us back our ranch, so I’m thinking we might have to do him some bodily harm.”
“Really?” Jackie couldn’t help the squeak in her voice. She hadn’t been sure where Caroline was going with the strip thing, but she was starting to feel sorry for their captive. Maybe he really wasn’t the right guy.
“I don’t look anything like Uncle James!” Exasperation laced the man’s words. “He’s got at least ten years on me, not to mention twenty or thirty pounds. How can you not tell I’m the wrong guy?”
“We didn’t actually meet Mr. Smithers. His secretary did all the paperwork, we just talked to him on the phone and exchanged emails.
Jebediah rolled his eyes. “Well google him or something. I tell you, I’m not the man you’re looking for.”
“Does this look like the kind of place with internet access?” Stephanie handed each of them a glass and poured the wine. “I think we need to tie him to the bed. We can’t keep him at gunpoint all the time, and we don’t want him to escape.”
“I’ll tie him.” Jackie took a big gulp of her wine and put the glass down on the windowsill. “Get up on the bed.”
“And if I don’t?”
Caroline answered with another shot at his feet, this one closer than the last. Jackie sure hoped it wasn’t just luck. The thought of trying to explain what they were doing with a gun and a naked man to the local small town hospital didn’t bear contemplating.
“Right.” The delicious hunk of manhood sat on the edge of the bed. “You do know that firearms and alcohol are a bad combination, right?”
Caroline rolled her eyes. “You do know it’s a bad idea to annoy the woman with the loaded rifle, right?”