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Love to Distraction

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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. 

Chapter Text

Beth wasn’t a worrier. She didn’t sit at home and knead her hands or sip her whiskey too quickly because Rip wasn’t where he said he’d be (drinking a beer on the porch of his cabin, if you feel like stopping by he’d told her with a wiggle of his eyebrows); they were independent people with mountains of responsibility between them, not lovesick children. Besides — Rip had always been the worrier of the two. 

But it was a rare thing for Rip to not keep his word, even for something as simple and trivial as this. 

Sometimes the daily work of the ranch could go long. Sometimes her father would send him on unexpected errands. Sometimes the wranglers would do something stupid and Rip would have to smack some sense into them and pick up the pieces. There were other reasons that could keep him too, so she shouldn’t be sitting on his porch, watching the condensation tear down the bottle of beer she stopped drinking from an hour ago. 

But here she sat, refusing to admit to herself that she was concerned. 

She thought about calling her father or Kayce to see if they knew where he was, but it struck her as intrusive; he didn’t check up on her, so it would definitely be a breach of their as of yet fuzzy and vague boundaries for her to so blatantly check up on him. Rip could take care of himself. Beth could be patient. 

She waited for another hour — even though patience had never been her virtue — and she was rewarded by two figures walking slowly out of the darkness into the splash of light cast by the lamps on the porch. She recognized both of them; Rip’s broad, stockier silhouette and then the slimmer, wiry frame of Lloyd. Rip had one arm thrown over Lloyd’s shoulders as the other man supported him. His stride was uneven; he was hardly putting weight on his left foot. 

She stood. “Rip?” 

Both men looked up at her, wide-eyed like children caught in the middle of making trouble. Rip’s expression was taut with discomfort, but it softened a little at the sight of her. Lloyd grinned crookedly. 

“Good evenin’, Ms. Beth.” Lloyd drawled. 

She couldn’t help but smile back; Lloyd had called her that since he’d first walked onto the ranch as a wrangler and seen her wince when the others called her ‘Ms. Dutton’. The latter had always fit wrong, even before her mother’s death. Lloyd was also Rip’s unspoken right-hand, the man who would always have his back, and Beth respected that. “Evenin’ Lloyd. Is everything all right?”

The older man looked a little chagrined as he helped Rip limp a few more awkward steps forward to the edge of the porch stairs. “Rip just got his’self a little banged up.”

“Banged up?”

Rip swore lowly under his breath as he tried to hop up the first step, so Beth moved to his other side to take some of his weight. She caught some of his muttered obscenities; Jimmy’s name featured heavily among them. The cursing intensified as she and Lloyd helped Rip across the porch and inside to one of the chairs in the den. When he was settled, Beth looked over Rip’s head at Lloyd, lifting her brows to prompt further explanation. 

“Jimmy got tangled up and nearly trampled, but Rip here intervened. When he was pulling Jimmy over the fence, one of the heffers slammed up against Rip’s leg ‘fore he could get it clear.” He motioned down to the injured limb. “It ain’t broken, but it’s bruised to hell.”

“No shit.” Rip’s words were bitten-off growls, promising terrible, low man work for Jimmy the next day. Beth carefully kept her smile in-check; Rip had a soft spot for the kid, despite his tendency to act like the village idiot — he’d admitted to her once that he was constantly afraid Jimmy would get himself killed, and it kept him up at night. These days, Beth could always tell when Jimmy had finally learned something, or done work to Rip’s standards, cause her beau would be stepping a little lighter at the end of the day, and his smiles would more readily crease his face. 

Beth could only imagine the panicked I’m gonna die look on Jimmy’s face when Rip had been injured saving his sorry ass. Lloyd’s expression — his steady good humor dampened a bit by concern, but he was smiling at Rip’s eloquent vulgarities towards Jimmy’s person — told her that Rip would probably be just fine if he iced his leg and rested. She decided that she was best-equipped to persuade Rip to do both. 

“Lloyd.” 

The older man looked over to her. 

“Would you be so kind as to get the bag of frozen peas from the freezer?” She asked with a rare, entirely genuine sweetness just to see the narrow-eyed don’t you dare glare Rip directed at her. Lloyd caught on immediately, his dark eyes twinkling as he tipped his hat. 

“Yes ma’am.” 

He clomped over to the kitchen, and Rip’s glare shifted to put-upon exasperation. He caught her hand with his. “Beth, I’m fine.”

“You just cursed your way up the steps, baby. I think icing your ankle is bare minimum.”

Beth.”

She leaned down to kiss him briefly, ignoring the way his low growl sent pleasant shivers of heat down her spine. “You can just sit there and look pretty.” 

He caught her hand again before she could maneuver away. “You ain’t my nursemaid.”

“No, I’m not. You didn’t ask me to be.” She stared him down and let him see that he was being ridiculous trying to shrug off his pain with her of all people, but also some of the worry that had kept her ass in the chair on the porch for nearly two hours. He saw it, and the fight went out of him in an instant. 

“Didn’t mean to make you worry…” he murmured.

She shrugged, “I just ain’t used to having someone to worry about, I suppose. You usually take better care of yourself.” She added the tease to deflect from the fact that she, Beth Dutton, had just admitted she was worried. She needed whiskey. 

Warm astonishment crept into Rip’s gaze, but Lloyd came back with the frozen peas before Rip’s full grin could swoop across his face. The old wrangler helped Rip elevate his leg and place the makeshift icepack with a gruff, cajoling gentleness, and Rip tolerated it with more patience than he’d give anyone else. Rip still swatted Lloyd away when he made to throw a blanket over his lap or bring him a beer. Beth stifled her low laughter behind her hand. 

Lloyd took his leave shortly after Rip was settled, winking back at Beth just before he strode off into the darkness because he knew the kid he’d been quietly looking after for years was well taken care of. She closed the door grinning, and turned back to Rip with it still half formed on her face, intent on teasing him a little more. 

Rip’s head was tipped back against the chair, his hat set aside, and he was quietly looking at her. His eyes were half-closed, dark with something that was too deep and unknown to call love. 

She moved over to him, leaning down to kiss him again. He shifted like he wanted to coax her into his lap, but she shushed him gently and gathered the sweater she’d set aside. 

“Let me know if you take tomorrow to rest your leg.”

He frowned at her. “Why would I take tomorrow off?”

“So I could stop by and…nurse you back to health.” 

His eyes widened slightly at the obvious innuendo in her tone, and a touch of boyish flush tinged his cheeks. He didn’t look away though, so Beth saw his eyes glint with a different kind of darkness. 

“I’d like that.”

She nodded. She walked to the door with all the calculated swing in her hips she could reasonably pull off, and let herself out. 

Chapter Text

Need a ride from the office. Come in and get me ;)

Rip received the text at half past two in the afternoon. Conveniently, he was already back at the bunkhouse relaying instructions for the rest of the day’s work to the wranglers and ranch hands who weren’t needed at summer camp, and John wasn’t expecting him back until the next day. He grabbed a set of truck keys from the house, stowing his chaps and giving himself a half-assed dust off on his way. He didn’t smell terribly of horse, but if Beth wanted a true chauffeur she could hire one. 

His mind wandered during the hour drive into town. Beth contacting him for a lift wasn’t unusual, per se, but there was a long-standing pattern of time and place that this request didn’t fit. He’d often been her designated driver when she’d been more reliant on alcohol; sometimes he was her buffer against a too-persistent suitor, even when Beth could handle it, she just enjoyed watching Rip swiftly discourage unwanted attention. 

There had been the rare and terrifying instances of real trouble. Rip still caught himself staring at the fading scar beneath Beth’s right eye, wondering if he could’ve made it into town any faster, killed the pair the Becks had sent more slowly. You got there, baby, Beth had murmured not too long ago, cuddled against his side as they talked about their deepest and darkest of thoughts in the wee hours of the morning. I’m right here.

He shook himself. This wasn’t a repeat of his nightmares. It was just Beth asking for a ride back to the ranch.

Her office building was close to the center of town, surrounded by other tall, concrete eyesores with grossly garish art deco facades and ground floors populated with hipster coffee shops. Parking was a little sparse, but he managed, so it was just past 3:45 when he strolled into the lobby of the offices of Schwartz & Meyer. The silver letters on the wall behind the desk were as much a mark of territory as an identifying company sign, just like the Yellowstone hooked ‘y’. The offices beyond were also starkly modern, glass and glossy wood broken up by simple, elegant furniture. Beth’s massive desk occupied the far end of the room, but she wasn’t behind it. Rip suspected she was holding court amongst the group of suits strategically sat in two separate camps across the conference room table. 

He spotted her after a moment, radiant in a cream long-sleeved blouse and a pencil skirt. She’d put in on in front of him that morning, laughing to herself as he’d admired the soft texture of the material. Hands off the suede, honey. She was sitting on the edge of the table, ridiculously high heels swinging idly. She was bored with whatever negotiation was dragging on; Rip could see it in the moue of her lips and the tilt of one of her eyebrows. He suspected he was meant to aid in her escape. 

A perk of the glass walls was that he could stand and observe her in her element. A downside was that Beth spotted him all too quickly. Her boredom immediately disappeared — he’d never admit how much of an ego boost that was — and she beckoned him closer with the barest tilt of her head. 

He smoothed a hand down his mustache to hide his smile and did as she asked, boots clipping sharply on the marble floor to announce his presence. 

The receptionist puffed up like he was going to dissuade Rip from entering, but by his stricken expression he ultimately knew he couldn’t do a damn thing; he didn’t even have time to stutter a word before Rip threw out “Beth is expecting me” and sauntered by. The kid went bug-eyed. 

Another perk and a potential downside to the glass walls was not only could Beth see him coming, but so could the rest of the suits. Rip knew what he looked like, knew that while his dusty clothes, calloused hands, and tanned face said cowboy, his posture and his eyes projected something else that more perceptive people were wary of. Beth had described it as a mix of confidence and his natural don’t fuck with me nature. A mix of derision and apprehension flickered amongst the gathered faces.

He paused at the door, glancing at Beth to make sure she wanted him to enter — her smile was coy and growing, he took that as a yes — so he stepped in behind the swing of the door. He wasn’t sure what part she was going to have him play but was certain she’d let him know. Maybe she wanted him to loom over the difficult parties, a silent, threatening motivation, or make sure no one got in her face after she ruined one of their multi-million dollar businesses or a decades-long career. 

Instead, Beth stood from her perch to sway over and kiss him on the cheek. 

He blinked down at her, not expecting such an open display of affection — of weakness, an insecure little voice in his head muttered — but Beth’s smile was warm and hinted at mischief. She didn’t do or say anything thoughtlessly. This demonstration was to elicit some kind of reaction, or communicate that she was so exhausted with their corporate bullshit she’d decided to invite her boyfriend in. 

Regardless, Rip trusted her to get him into and out of any trouble she was fixing to stir up. And there was a bit of a stir, dark looks from some of the men who couldn’t keep it in their pants about Beth, and narrowed eyes of interest and recalculation from most of the rest. He paid them no mind.

“Hey, honey.” He murmured, sweeping a hand gently down her arm. “You ready to go?”

Beth’s smile sharpened for the barest moment, approving, before it returned to the colder, more mocking expression she put on for professional personalities. “Gimme just a minute.” She bit off the ‘t’s like she was imagining they were someone’s head, and Rip had a glimpse of how frustrating her work day must have been. He nodded in understanding, leaning back against the glass wall.

Beth turned back to the room. Rip saw the subtle way she rolled her shoulders back, muscles flexing beneath the satin of her top, and knew several people might leave with a newly-torn asshole in the next sixty seconds. 

He wasn’t disappointed. 

It took more than a minute, and Rip couldn’t claim to understand half of the terminology that was thrown out, but Beth had the owners of both companies — each that Schwartz and Meyer was assimilating into their larger holdings — staring at the table, defeated, and the members of their entourages quivering and near tears. Her final words were a twenty-four hour deadline to meet the terms she’d set for the highly technical merger, and to tell them they could kindly get the fuck out of her office. 

She didn’t wait for them to shuffle out. She turned and grabbed Rip’s hand to drag him out of the conference room in her wake, only detouring to her desk to grab her laptop and purse before practically loping out of the offices. She wasn’t harried, and didn’t seem stressed, but just like she wanted to be out of the office before anyone could catch her. 

The receptionist’s eyes went wide again at the sight of Beth and Rip walking out hand in hand. 

The cultivated posture that Beth put on around her business associates relaxed the further the elevator descended, but the predatory triumph still lurked in the glint of her eyes and her smile. She wore it well, and the glint of her wolfish smile matched the catch of the afternoon sunlight in her hair when they got outside. 

Rip tugged her to a stop. Beth pirouetted neatly back to him and saw the admiration in his eyes. She rolled her own, but indulged him with a brief kiss. 

“Do you wanna get ice cream before I take you back?” he muttered as she drew back.

“Ice cream?” She was surprised, but delighted underneath it. 

He tipped his head down the block to the shop he’d seen driving in, grinning as she followed him, fingers still twined with his. “To celebrate your success.”

“They could choose not to take the deal, y’know.” She playfully nudged him with her hip, he reached out to pinch her waist, and they fell into a brief battle for sidewalk space like a pair of children. When Rip conceded, and Beth had tucked her arm through his to lean her head against his shoulder, he shrugged.

“They’ll take it. You know that better than I do.” He’d known she was confident in her win as soon as she’d wordlessly agreed to ice cream; if she hadn’t been, she’d have already demanded to be back at the ranch to do more research. Still, he was surprised when the barest touch of pink flushed across her cheeks at his confidence in her. The smile she graced him with was warm and open, the kind she usually reserved for when they were alone. 

It turned sly as they ordered — chocolate chip for him, pralines and cream for her — and she muttered, “Are we gonna get ice cream every time?”

“Every time?”

“Every time I ruin someone’s day at work.”

It happened more often than not, Rip knew. “If you want.”

Beth’s eyes were the same sparkling blue of a creek in the sun. “I would.”

“Alright then.” His voice had gone soft and tender, a tone he reserved solely for the woman before him. He leaned down to kiss her again. 

She tasted like candied pecans and cream.