Authors: Callie Croix
The Wild Rose Press
Copyright ©2011 by Callie Croix
First published in 2011
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT (C) 2011 by Callie Croix
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewilderroses.com
First Scarlet Rose Edition, August 2011
"I'm not going to make it.” Jessica Talbot wedged her cell phone between her ear and shoulder as she juggled her purse and briefcase and ran through the terminal toward her gate. “Mechanical problems grounded my connection, so they're trying to get me on another flight. It's already boarded,” she added, dodging a young family to find a clear path.
"Aw, you're going to miss the bonfire.” Bridgette's voice rang with disappointment. “I wanted everyone to get to know each other before we turned in for the night."
Jessie was already in a bad mood, and her friend was making it worse. The only reason she'd come on this trip was because Bridgette's fiance had guilted her into going.
Bridge really likes you, and none of my friends or family are going. It'd mean a lot to both of us if you'd go to the ranch.
Already up to her eyeballs in work, Jessica had taken the wheedling for as long as she could before cracking Monday night. Now here she was, stressed about being away from the office when she had so much work to do and chasing a connecting flight after a series of mishaps that was becoming laughable.
Bridgette was a sweetheart, but after the hellish day she'd had, the last thing she cared about was sitting around a smoky bonfire with a bunch of strangers. “Sorry, hon. Go on without me.” God, O'Hare was freaking huge. Twelve more gates to go. Her legs already felt like rubber, and she was having trouble catching her breath. “Once I get to the ranch, I'll be too wiped to visit anyhow, so I'll probably just turn in. If I don't get lost on my way out there, that is,” she muttered under her breath.
"You're renting a car?"
"Guess I'll have to now.” She didn't expect the others to wait around two hours for her.
"No, we'll send out one of the owners to pick you up."
To catch her breath, Jessie finally slowed to a fast walk and shifted her camera bag onto her other shoulder to grab her phone. “You sure? I don't want to put anyone out."
She could hear a deep male voice in the background, then Bridgette's before she came back on the line. “It's not a problem. Deacon will pick you up."
"Deacon. Okay, and how am I going to find him?"
"I just showed him your picture, so he'll find you."
Her picture? Oh, God... She fought back a sigh. “Not the one from your shower last week."
Bridgette laughed. “Sorry, it's the only one I had on my phone."
Jessie swallowed a groan. Lovely. The guy was probably dreading meeting her now. She looked like a stoned vampire in that shot. Complete with red eyes and a head of snarled, frizzy curls from being caught out in the rain.
"Just look for a tall cowboy in a hat and boots, and you can't miss him."
Yeah, like there weren't plenty of those in San Antonio? Her phone beeped. “Damn, my battery's running low. Gotta go, hon, but I'll see you at the ranch."
By the time she got off the plane in San Antonio, all she wanted was a shower and a bed. The thought of spending the weekend with a group of women she didn't know was suddenly enough to make her want to catch a flight home.
Too late now, and you've got no one to blame but yourself. Suck it up, princess.
She followed the throng of passengers to the baggage claim and glanced around to see if anyone looked like they recognized her but, after a few minutes, walked up to the carousel. Her suitcase was one of the last off, of course, and she lugged it off the conveyor with a sigh before turning to face the crowd of people milling about.
She spotted a cowboy wearing a hat, standing off to the side, and started toward him. He was a pleasant-looking man, somewhere in his fifties, and gave her a smile as she approached. “Are you Deacon?"
His smile widened. “No, ma'am, but I wish I was."
"Oh. Thanks.” Embarrassed, she stopped and changed directions, pulling her bags out of the foot traffic so she could scan the area without getting in anyone's way. No more tall cowboys wearing Stetsons. Great, that's all she needed—to have the day capped off by her ride standing her up. Taking a cab out to the ranch from here would probably cost a small fortune. She should have said no and stayed home. Why the hell couldn't she just say no to people?
She fished out her cell and was dialing the ranch when the automatic doors opened and a gorgeous man walked in. Her eyes immediately locked on him and stayed there, admiring his long legs encased in snug jeans and wide shoulders set off by a black T-shirt. His arms rippled with muscle as he moved.
No hat, but whoa. Now
was an attractive man.
When he glanced in her direction, she jerked her gaze away and went back to searching the crowd. In her peripheral vision, she could see him coming closer. Then closer still. She looked over, stealing another peek. A ripple of shock ran through her when she realized he was staring back at her. Heading right toward her. She straightened, her heart tripping. This couldn't be her ride.
Good God, he was gorgeous. Over six feet, with short dark hair and a chiseled, clean-shaven face that made the breath catch in her throat. His confident stride and posture drew every female eye. Every dormant sexual fiber in her body suddenly flared to life. Unable to look away, she stared at him. To the point of rudeness.
As he neared, he nodded to her. Dark blue eyes met her startled gaze, and the corners crinkled in something close to a smile.
"Jessica?” His deep, Texas drawl rolled over her like melted chocolate, and his teeth were a flash of white in his tan face.
Squelching the sudden nerves in her stomach, she gave him a polite smile. “Yes. You're Deacon?"
Of course he was. She couldn't believe Bridgette hadn't at least warned her so she could freshen up before meeting him. The man screamed sex, and not the polite, gentle kind. No, a man like that would dole out hard, sweaty loving that would leave her feeling tired and a bit sore. The kind of sex she hadn't had in...
Hell, she couldn't remember the last time she'd had sex like that. But definitely not since she and her ex had first been together.
Deacon offered his hand. “Call me Deke."
She swiped hers self-consciously against her jeans before clasping his firmly. His palm was warm and hard, but his long fingers closed around hers in a gentle grip. The brief contact sent a jolt straight up her arm and down to the pit of her stomach. When he let go a second later, her heart was pounding against her ribs.
Gathering her scattered wits, she found her voice. “Thanks for coming to get me."
"My pleasure.” He nodded at her luggage. “Is this it?"
"Yes. Sorry I didn't recognize you, but I was looking for someone wearing a hat.”
You sound retarded. Stop talking.
A grin. “It's in the truck. Ready?"
He grasped the handle of her suitcase and pivoted around to set a hand on the small of her back. She jerked at his touch, and cursed her fair coloring that betrayed her nervous blush at his nearness.
He didn't seem to notice. “We're out this way."
His broad hand pressed above her waistband as he guided her out to the curb, the delicious warmth of it seeping into her skin. The contact was firm yet gentle, and somehow protective. It stirred up everything female inside her. That simple touch made her nipples bead against her bra and set off alarm bells in her head.
Since her broken engagement, she'd barely looked twice at a man. And she'd never reacted to one so strongly. But something about Deacon made her body sit up and take notice. She hadn't seen a ring on his wedding finger, but maybe he couldn't wear one because of his work at the ranch.
Or maybe he was single.
Single doesn't necessarily mean unattached.
Shocked by her thoughts, she gave herself a mental shake and forced away the nerves squirming in her belly. Why was she even wondering about his marital status? In her head, she groaned. He was yet another complication she didn't want to face this weekend, but for the next forty five minutes or so, she didn't have much choice.
This was going to be a long drive out to the ranch.
Whoever had taken that damn ugly photo of her should be shot.
Deke guided the little brunette out the automatic doors to his truck, stealing a glance at her through his lashes. She was a hell of a lot prettier than that awful picture. Not very tall, coming up to his shoulder, she was trim and curvy in her jeans and form-fitting white shirt that stretched across surprisingly lush breasts. The picture had made her look twenty years older and not at all attractive.
Remembering his manners, he dragged his gaze from her excellent breasts. “Have a good flight?"
"Yes, fine.” She ran a hand through her long, curly hair, flipping it over her shoulder. He caught a whiff of her scent when the breeze picked up. She smelled good, like strawberries. It made him want to lean in close and get a good whiff of her, but since she already seemed a bit uncomfortable, he refrained.
"This is us,” he said as they approached his black F-250. He opened the door and took her hand to help her in, charmed at the faint pink in her cheeks when her golden brown eyes darted to his. He liked knowing she was aware of him as a man.
"You're welcome, sugar.” He almost smiled at the way her blush deepened. Shy little thing. If his manners and subtle flirting were enough to bring color to her ivory cheeks, the bachelorette weekend was going to be interesting for her.
He shut the door behind her, ignored the twinge in his lower back when he loaded her bag in the truck bed, and slid behind the wheel. Pulling away from the curb, he stole another glance at her. She had her hands clasped neatly in her lap, and he noticed the way she tapped her foot. Nervous of him, and wound tighter than a coiled lariat. Time out at the ranch was just what she needed, but he didn't think she'd much enjoy the festivities planned. Unless she was one of those women who let loose after a few glasses of wine. He opened his mouth to make an attempt at small talk, but she beat him to it.
"So, you and your brothers own the ranch?"
Her eyes were real pretty—whiskey-colored and fringed by thick black lashes. “Yeah. The four of us."
"Are you the oldest?"
"Nope. Second in line.” And there wasn't a moment on the ranch that he didn't remember it. He shoulder-checked as he merged them onto the highway toward Bandera. “Ever been to a dude ranch before?"