Beth didn’t know when she’d started to sleep over at Rip’s to just...sleep — obviously they still had enough ridiculously sublime sex to satisfy the both of them many times over, but lately, it wasn’t an assumption — but she’d fallen into a habit almost without realizing it until a night when she was back under the coverlet in her room in the main house and rolled over expecting Rip’s body to be there only not to find it.
She sat in the dark for a long while thinking about how quickly she’d grown accustomed to his soft, deep breaths and the steady warmth he’d radiate.
So the next night she went back to his place, fell asleep plastered against his back, and deeply, satisfyingly, slept the whole night through.
In an alignment of chance and finally sleeping enough, she was awake before Rip. It was a rare slow morning for the both of them; Beth knew for a fact that Rip didn’t have any pressing ranch work that Kayce couldn’t take care of for a few hours, and she could start working whenever she damn well pleased, so she shifted to her side and watched the light slowly illuminate the room and the man in the bed beside her.
Rip’s sun-squinted scowl was relaxed in sleep, hair tousled and curling deliciously wild. Beth didn’t give in to the temptation to tangle her fingers in it, content to observe the man who she was becoming distractingly attached to.
Upper body bared of his usual button-up shirt and jacket, Rip’s chest, shoulders, and arms were dense with muscle; Beth knew his legs were much the same, his whole body cut and molded over years of hard labor and scrap fights into a walking brick wall. There were scars, some faint and some less so, that told the story of some of his fights. Beth didn’t know the truth about most, but had heard rumors ranging from ridiculous to probably true about how many people Rip had decked in various scuffles. None of the people who speculated about Rip ever got to see him like this, though. Softened by sleep. Vulnerable.
He shifted, beginning to stir, and she instinctively reached out to soothe him, stroking her fingers over his cheek, through his beard, down through the whorls of his chest hair. He settled with a deep sigh. A smile crept onto her face; Rip was generally a feather-light sleeper — she’d unintentionally startled him awake by moving during the night more than a few times — but she had the fanciful, romantic thought that he didn’t stir because he knew she was there.
He dozed, and she let her touch wander across his sleep-warmed skin. It couldn’t have been more than an hour before Rip came slowly awake. His breathing changed, and one eye squinted open and then lazily shut again. He seemed just as inclined as her to relish the morning. She continued her tracing, stroking over the muscles molded to his ribs, the taut cords of his forearms, and tantalizingly lower to the furrow of his hip and the soft skin below his navel. He shivered a little at the last brush of her fingers, his eyes slitting open again.
“What’re’y’doin?” The words slurred together, his drawl thicker in the mornings. It was endearing as hell, and warmed her insides like a shot of whiskey.
“Lookin’ at you.” She whispered.
He hummed, the sound so deep Beth felt it vibrate in her chest. His hand found her bare thigh under the sheets, and his thumb brushed over her knee. “Careful now...you ain't jus' lookin'.”
She slid closer, gratified that as the sheets fell from covering her breasts his gaze roamed over them and back up, heat darkening the blues of his eyes in that love-tempered way he’d directed at her for a long time. She folded herself into the lee of his body, kissed him lightly, and hooked one hand under his chin to scratch her nails through the wiry curls of his beard. Predictably, he melted, his sigh practically purring out of him as his arms came around her waist, and she grinned. It was a heady feeling having this bronco of a man yield willingly to her touch, seek it out more often than not. “You haven't minded before now...”
She stroked her other hand a little lower to prove her point. Rip groaned, chuckling hoarsely as she teased him for the barest moment.
“God damn, woman.” He murmured. He pulled her flush to his chest, kissing her open-mouthed despite the stale alcohol on her tongue and morning breath. She kissed him hungrily back, even though it wasn’t the kind of kiss that usually lead to a raucous and nerve-searing fuck; it was thorough but soothing, slow and caught up with the simple pleasure of it. His lips brushed against each corner of her mouth and her nose as he drew away, shifting her gently onto her back so he could pillow his head on her chest, one arm loose and low over her waist.
She gently stroked one hand through his hair, nails scritching over his scalp. He sighed happily, and she felt the hand at her waist gently follow the curve of her hip and arse, a softly repeated motion that Beth suspected Rip wasn’t consciously aware of.
Beth smothered a chuckle. They had cuddled before, despite her harrowing need to extricate herself almost immediately after their frantic coupling had ended, but spending a lazy morning staring at her boyfriend as he slept and then playing with his hair as he contentedly dozed half-laid across her struck Beth as damned domestic. She felt less exposed at the realization that because it was the two of them — Beth Dutton and Rip Wheeler, two of the scariest, not-to-be-fucked-with people in the county — no one would expect it, so these little moments of softness were made entirely their own.
She leaned down to kiss Rip’s brow. He tilted his head to look up at her, a smile threatening to curl the corner of his mouth. His eyes were the bright, saturated blue of the sky on a cloudless day; she saw something like apprehension manifest in them, and his eyes darted away with bashfulness.
“D’you...have the time to stay for breakfast?”
She gave a noncommittal hum, even though she’d already made up her mind to stay the minute he’d worked up the courage to voice the first word. His shoulders hunched a little, waiting rejection, but she tapped one finger against his cheekbone until he looked up at her again.
“Eggs and toast?”
Beth could get drunk off of the affection that bloomed across Rip’s tanned face, though he tried to stifle it. He leaned up to kiss her again. “Only if you make the coffee, honey.”
She snorted — as if he had any room to bargain — but then he kissed her again, once, twice, before kicking the sheets aside and padding naked to the shower. She watched him go.
She rolled over into the warm spot he left, drinking in the last moments of lethargy before she’d get up and set up the percolator. If she tucked her face into his pillow to smell the lingering hints of leather, earth, and the sandalwood soap Rip liked — all of it combining to be home and safety and love —smiling wide and happy, that was no one’s business but hers.