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Get swept away with C.H. Admirand
a storyteller with "amazing flair...Readers will be left panting."—RT Book Reviews 4 ½ Stars
Get swept away with C.H. Admirand
a storyteller with "amazing flair...Readers will be left panting."—RT Book Reviews 4 ½ Stars
Loneliness Will Take a Man Places...
Jesse Garahan has plenty of Irish charm, but having had his heart demolished twice, he's sworn off women forever. Until the fateful day he meets Danielle Brockway and her tiny daughter on their way to their new home in Pleasure, Texas.
But There May Be Places He Doesn't Want To Go...
Fiercely protective of her little girl, Danielle isn't about to let Jesse get anywhere close enough to hurt either of them, no matter how much longing she sees in his eyes...
Praise for Dylan
"Admirand has a sassy writing style that is simply irresistible!"—Huntress Reviews
"Inspired...Pick up this series!"—Night Owl Reviews
"A whole lot of hunk–a–licious cowboy." —Coffee Time Romance
"A story that's got heat, heart, and a little mystery."—Long and Short Reviews
Jesse Garahan hit the gas and breathed in the hot Texas air. He loved the feel of the wind in his face and the engine rumbling beneath him as the hot sun smiled down, trying...
Jesse Garahan hit the gas and breathed in the hot Texas air. He loved the feel of the wind in his face and the engine rumbling beneath him as the hot sun smiled down, trying to parboil him to the driver’s seat.
He’d left the ranch in two pairs of very capable hands—his brothers’. Tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, he wondered if he could find a wild woman like the one Garth Brooks was singing about on the radio. Hell—he didn’t have time for romance right now, too much to do and not enough time to get it done in. Setting that thought aside, he concentrated on the road ahead of him and coaxed as much speed as possible out of his truck.
Flooring it, tearing ass along the road to town, he grinned. He loved driving and figured he missed his calling, having to work at the ranch with his brothers—but Garahans stuck together no matter what, and as long as the ranch still had life left in it, a Garahan would be running it. With enough work for ten men, most days he and his brothers were worn to the bone, but not ready to roll over and give up.
A speck of color off in the distance at the side of the road had him cutting back on the accelerator. Could be one of the Dawson sisters; Miss Pam had told him she’d been having a bit of trouble with her old pickup. Slowing it down, ready to lend a hand, he sucked in a breath and held it. Steam poured out from under the hood of a car that a very curvy, compact, jean-clad blonde was opening. When he noticed the rag in her hand, he knew what she was going to do.
“Damn fool woman!” He feathered the gas for more speed, cranked the wheel hard to the left, whipping the car in a perfect one-eighty. Gravel spit out from beneath his tires as he skidded to a halt behind her vehicle.
When she jumped back with a hand to her heart, he threw the truck in park and swung his door open with enough force to move the dead summer air like the early morning breeze coming across the pond at the Circle G. Stomping over to her, he grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her off to the side, out of harm’s way.
When she yanked free of his hold, he was more than ready to read her the riot act. Drawing in a deep breath, he was about to let loose when he heard a little voice calling.
“Lacy, honey, I told you to stay in the backseat until I fixed the car.”
Looking down, he noticed a pint-sized cowgirl staring up at him, her big blue eyes wide with wonder. Not much surprised Jesse Garahan, but the little bit of a thing, no bigger than a fairy, was wearing pink—from the top of her head to the soles of her feet—and stood out like a swirl of cotton candy at the county fair.
“Go on back now; I have to thank the man for trying to help us.” The woman’s voice was firm, but the little girl wasn’t listening. Before he could process that fact, the vision in pink was tugging on his jeans and asking, “Are you a good guy or a bad guy?”
He shook his head at the incongruity of the situation. He’d intended to put the fear of God into the woman foolish enough to open the cap of her overheated radiator while she stood in front of it, and instead here he was staring down at the tiniest, pinkest cowgirl he’d ever seen.
“I uh…” He didn’t know how to answer. If he’d done what he’d intended to do—yell at her mother—the little girl would probably be crying now, and positive he was a bad guy. “I stopped to help.”
When the little one nodded but refused to let go of his jeans, the woman came closer and soothed, “He’s a good guy, honey.”
The little girl tilted her head to one side and frowned up at him. “But he gots a black hat—Gramma says good guys wear white hats.”
Jesse chuckled. “Is your grandmother a fan of Gene Autry or Roy Rogers?”
Her little head bobbed up and down, and her cowgirl hat slipped off her head and would have hit the ground if not for the bright white cord attached to it. She was still looking up at him when she said, “Uh-huh.”
“That was a long time ago, and only on TV,” the cowgirl’s mother told her. “The good guys wear white or black hats now.”
The little one bobbled and grabbed a hold of his leg with both little hands and whispered, “Daddy wears a black hat.”
He didn’t need to know that. Concentrating, he couldn’t figure out a way to delicately loosen the little one’s grip without scaring her. Her mother surprised him by kneeling next to him. Looking down at them, he remembered the times his mother had gotten down to eye level with him when he’d been scared as a kid. It always helped ease most of his worries—except for the biggest one—why wasn’t his father coming home?
To keep from letting his mind go down that rocky path, he focused on the still-steaming engine and grumbled, “Don’t you realize how dangerous it is to open the cap on an overheated radiator?” He’d learned that particular lesson from his grandfather years ago; his pride had taken a direct hit, but he hadn’t ended up disfigured from steam burns.
The blonde’s head snapped up and their eyes met. He couldn’t help but notice the frosty blue daggers pointed directly at him.
“I was going to be careful to keep the cap facing away from me.” She cupped her hands around her daughter’s where she still held tight to his leg, and urged, “Come on Lacy, you can let go now.”
To his relief, the little one finally did as she was told. When her mother lifted the itty-bitty cowgirl up in her arms, he relaxed. The only kids he came into contact with were the handful of teenagers who came out to the ranch, working off a debt they owed to his older brother Tyler and his fiancée, Emily.
“But, Mommy,” she whispered, “I gots to ask him.”
He was standing close enough to hear. “Ask me what?”
“Are you a real cowboy?”
Before he could answer the little girl added, “I never seen one in my whole life!”
“Your daddy’s a cowboy.”
“Nuh-uh.” Lacy shook her head. “He rides bulls, not horsies, ’member, Mommy?”
Jesse couldn’t keep the chuckle inside; the rumbling sound seemed to capture little Lacy’s interest because she poked her tiny pointer finger in the middle of his chest.
“Lacy, what did I tell you?” Looking up at him, the blonde’s eyes were troubled. “I’m sorry. She’s curious about everything. We’re working on keeping our fingers to ourselves.” She smoothed a hand over the flyaway hair on the top of Lacy’s head and said, “Aren’t we, sweetie?”
“I was trying to find the sound, Mommy,” the little girl admitted. “His lips din’t move.”
Not much touched his heart since the woman he’d been planning on marrying changed her mind, but this miniature cowgirl had the walls surrounding it cracking. He smiled down at them and it felt good inside. “Name’s Garahan, ma’am,” he said, tipping his hat to the little lady. “Jesse,” he said, staring into the mother’s cool blue eyes.
Her cheeks flushed a tender pink, reminding him of the sweet peas climbing on the fence by the back door that his new sister-in-law, Ronnie, had planted. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Garahan.”
Lacy bounced in her mother’s arms. “Me too, me too!”
Her mother hugged her daughter and looked up at him; her slow smile stole the breath from his lungs. He’d seen a lot of pretty women in his time, and loved his fair share, but something about the pair in front of him just got to him on a level he didn’t quite understand. It was new to him, and he wasn’t quite sure how to react or what to say. Lucky for him, the little one kept babbling about cowboys, black hats, and funny rumbling sounds until his brain kicked in and he realized he’d been staring at the little one’s mother.
She kissed the top of her daughter’s head, and he’d swear he heard another crack echoing deep inside of him.
“Does your mommy have a name, Miss Lacy?”
The girl beamed up at him and nodded.
Satisfied that he’d find out the woman’s name, since she hadn’t offered it yet, he grinned and Lacy answered, “Mommy.”
He pushed his Stetson to the back of his head and let out a breath. “Hel—er, heck, Miss Lacy, I already knew that.”
She tilted her head to one side and studied him for a moment. “I like him,” she said in a stage whisper. “Even if he wears a black hat like Daddy.”
The look of sadness in her mother’s eyes was swift and filled with pain. “We’ll talk about that later, sweet pea.” She looked at him and said, “My name’s Danielle Brockway, and you already know this little cowgirl is Lacy.”
“Pleasure to meet you both.” And it was. When the two were laughing, it was contagious, and for the first time in weeks, he felt lighter, happier. Wanting to keep the feeling going just a bit longer, he nodded toward her overheated car. “Can I give you and Miss Lacy a lift into town?”
“Shouldn’t we crank open that cap first?”
He shook his head. “It’ll cool off better if you let it sit. I’ll stop by on my way back to the Circle G and check the radiator and coolant level for you. Where can I drop you ladies off?”
When she looked at him and then over her shoulder, he knew she was going to refuse. She shifted Lacy in her arms and reached into her back pocket and pulled out her cell phone. After pressing a couple of buttons, her troubled gaze met his. “The battery’s dead.”
“S’OK, Mommy.” Lacy patted her on the cheek. “You can plug it in the car, ’member?”
She hugged her daughter with just a hint of desperation. “I don’t have a charger, Lacy honey, this is our new phone. We had to give the other one back.”
Her gaze shot to his, and he knew she hadn’t meant to mention that last little bit of information. No surprise—women liked to talk, except when a man was trying to find out what he wanted to know. Then all of the sudden, a woman had nothing to say. Her eyes filled with sadness, and for reasons he couldn’t understand or explain, he wanted to do something to help.
Why did they have to give their damned phone back?
Where the hell is Lacy’s daddy?
And why is Danielle sad?
Before he could ask, she was thanking him for his time and trouble. “We’ll be fine. My uncle will be worried if we don’t show up soon; he’ll come looking for us.”
“And he’ll know just where to look because?”
The light of irritation in her pretty blue eyes made him feel a whole lot better. He liked a woman with a little temper but as of late preferred redheads to blondes. Blondes only led to trouble. He’d better be wary around this one.
The longer he stared at her, he noticed there was something familiar about her. “I’m trying to help you,” he ground out. “Not hurt you.”
Had they met before? Had he broken a promise or, worse, her heart? A feeling of dread swamped him.
“Who’s your uncle?”
She shrugged and Jesse was starting to get a clearer picture about these two damsels in distress: Lacy’s daddy wasn’t in the picture; they’d traveled far enough driving a car that either had little or no maintenance done on it or had a crack in the radiator—either option would cause the car to overheat. He wondered if her uncle had any idea that she and Lacy were headed into Pleasure to visit with him.
He asked again, and this time she answered. “James Sullivan, he owns—”
“Sullivan’s Diner,” he interrupted. Crap.
“Thank Mr. Garahan for stopping to help us, Lacy.”
“But I…” His words died in his throat as the little girl practically leaped out of her mother’s arms reaching for him. “Whoa there, little filly,” he warned, taking a step closer.
Breathless belly laughs had the little girl tumbling further out of her mother’s arms. He reached for Lacy as her mother changed her grip to keep her daughter from falling on her head. Jesse was faster. And before his head could warn his heart to be careful, the ladies were cradled in the protective circle of his arms, warming him from the inside out.
“You saved me!” The little girl’s squeal of excitement was a totally foreign sound to him. Uneasy and unsure of the feelings he wasn’t used to experiencing, he settled her safely in her mother’s arms and stepped back.
But the pint-sized cowgirl wasn’t through. “Leggo, Mommy. I gotta thank my hero.”
Jesse rolled his eyes, another phenomenon; men didn’t roll their eyes. Hell, he’d only been in the company of these two females for fifteen minutes and already he was acting like someone else. Shaking his head, he held up his hands and said, “My pleasure, ma’am.”
Lacy seemed disappointed, but he had other worries on his mind. “You can use my phone.” He reached into the breast pocket of his shirt, then offered it to her. “Call your uncle.”
He thought she’d refuse and wondered what it was about him that worried her. Most of the women in town were happy to have his help—some more than others. After a few moments, she finally reached for the phone and dialed.
He was surprised when she handed the phone back to him. “Uncle Jimmy wants to talk to you.”
He took the phone, met her gaze, and smiled. A deep, gravelly voice on the other end demanded to know what the hell happened and who the hell he was talking to. Putting himself in the other man’s shoes, he calmly answered, “This is Jesse Garahan, Mr. Sullivan.” He waited for the owner of the diner to say something about the time he and his brothers got caught stealing a pie from the windowsill of the damned diner.
It wasn’t long in coming. “What the hell did you do to my niece’s car? Don’t think I don’t remember you and your brothers, Garahan.” He felt like he was a kid again, caught with the pie in his hands. Tyler had passed it off to Dylan, and Dylan to him as Sullivan was hollering at them from inside his diner. They’d nearly gotten away, but Jesse had tripped and fallen on top of the pie. They’d had to make it up to Sullivan; their grandfather had insisted.
To this day, he always steered clear of the diner. Too bad. Jimmy Sullivan made the best damned pie in Pleasure.
“Did you hear me?” The man’s question brought him back to the present.
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. I was driving by on my way to town and noticed them stranded by the side of the road. Their car overheated. I’ll check things out later. Yes,” he answered, wishing he could ease the frown lines between her eyebrows. “Not a problem, I’ll make the time.”
After reassuring her uncle that he wasn’t going to go back and steal her car, or let her stand by the side of the road baking her brain in the hot Texas sun, he handed the phone back to her. “Your uncle wants to talk to you.”
She narrowed her eyes and frowned up at him. He shrugged and walked back over to her car. It should be cool enough to add more fluid to the radiator by the time he was on his way back to the Circle G. Damn but her uncle had a way of making him feel like an irresponsible kid again. Lost in thought, he didn’t hear her approach.
He looked over his shoulder. “I guess you don’t remember me… I’m only a couple of years older than you. Call me Jesse.”
She squinted at him. “Vaguely.”
Once he’d made the connection, he remembered meeting her at Dawson’s; she’d been pestering her uncle for a chance to ride a real horse and not a stupid old pony. The memory made him smile.
“Jesse, then,” she grumbled. “If you’re sure it’s no trouble, would you please drop us off at my uncle’s diner?”
“None at all, ma’am.” Placing his hand beneath Danielle’s elbow, he led her toward his truck. “Can you slide into the middle, Miss Lacy?”
He waited until they were settled on the front seat before he closed the door and rounded the cab to get in the driver’s side. The odd thought that he’d like to keep them and bring them back home to the Circle G had him shaking his head as he slid onto the seat. Closing the door, he waited while Danielle buckled the seat belt around her daughter and then herself, before he put the truck in drive.
Cruising along the road at a more sedate pace, Jesse had the feeling that these two ladies had just changed his life. While they chattered back and forth about the hole in the knee of his jeans and the smear of dirt on his shirtsleeve, he wondered if it was too late to head for the hills and regroup. Women were trouble, and in pairs—dangerous.
He shook that thought from his head. Garahans don’t back down and they sure as hell don’t retreat. He gripped the steering wheel tighter and concentrated on getting them into town so he could drop them off at Sullivan’s Diner. Distance was required if he was going to clear his mind and deal with his reaction to the ladies.
Danielle Brockway dug deep for the smile she needed to reassure little Lacy that everything was going to be fine. The big man sitting just inches away from her was just this side of intimidating and wasn’t the type of man to be ignored for long. The fierce frown furrowing between his brows wasn’t making it easy for her. She wished she could remember meeting him. A quick glance down and she knew it didn’t matter how angry or brooding the cowboy appeared, or if she’d known him for years; for her daughter’s sake, she’d dance in the truck bed or on the roof of the cab if it would make Lacy smile.
“Mommy, how come we’re in Mr. Garahan’s truck?”
“Because ours overheated, sweetie.”
“He’s not a stranger, right, Mommy?”
“That’s right,” she said, smoothing the hair out of her daughter’s eyes. “He knows Uncle Jimmy.” She straightened the bubblegum pink cowgirl hat that had been a gift from Lacy’s father. Her little girl slept with it clutched in her tiny hands… every night… as if that would bring her daddy back or change his mind.
Lacy had turned inside out with pleasure when her ex had shown up with his parting gift. Lacy hadn’t understood at the time that he wasn’t coming back. Urging Lacy closer, Danielle relaxed when she felt the warmth of her daughter’s little body go slack against her side.
“She’s plumb tuckered out.” The deep rumbling voice rolled over her like a slow moving wave coming in from the Gulf. She shivered in reaction.
An odd feeling combined with the rush of love she felt for her daughter, a feeling so strong, her head felt light. Breathing deeply, hoping the feeling would subside, she realized that she’d felt something similar once before—trouble was, it had led her to heartache. Lacy mumbled in her sleep and Danielle shook her head. No, that wasn’t exactly true; while they had had some difficulties that led to her ex’s cleaning out their joint savings account, he’d given her a gift beyond compare. She had a beautiful little girl, who up until he decided he wanted to pursue his bull-riding career solo—without strings or family weighing him down—had been the light of her ex’s life.
It had been next to impossible to explain that Lacy’s daddy wasn’t coming back—ever. The little girl had adopted the same stubborn mind-set Danielle had had since a child—if she wished hard enough for anything, it would happen. She stopped wishing sometime last year. Hard work and determination made things happen.
She brushed her hand on Lacy’s cheek, reveling in the familiar silky soft skin and the way her daughter snuggled closer. She might regret her husband’s financial decision to invest their life savings in an RV so he could travel the rodeo circuit in style, while she and Lacy lost their home, but she’d never regret giving birth to the only miracle in their lives. Heck, it was only a house, four strong walls on the outside, broken on the inside—like Danielle—since Buddy Brockway lit out toward Amarillo.
“So are you just stopping by for a visit?”
Distracted by the dark feelings swamping her, she shook her head.
“If you don’t want me to run off the road, Dani darlin’, you’ll stop shaking your head and answer me.”
Heat of a whole other kind filled her belly to bursting. She tried to tamp down the feelings that roared to the surface with the low, rumbled nickname. He was just being polite by trying to keep his voice down so as not to wake Lacy. He didn’t pitch it that way so that it would distract her with feelings she had no business feeling—so soon after her ex. Down that particular road was a wreck of Titanic proportions. She had no intention of ever going that way again—but Lord, she was tempted.
Digging deep for the control that had helped her show as little heartache as possible when her ex was packing his brand new RV, Danielle forced a smile. “Sorry, Mr. Garahan. Lacy and I are staying for the summer.”
She didn’t want the man to know her whole sorry story; she’d nearly slipped when she’d reminded Lacy about the new phone. No reason to confide in a stranger—no matter that she’d decided to trust him because her Uncle Jimmy knew him. It was too hot outside to let Lacy bake in a car that had no air-conditioning with an engine that had decided to call it quits—just like… Stop thinking about that man and blaming him—marriage is a two-way street.
She’d known he wasn’t ready to settle down and start a family, but thought he’d change his mind when she told him the good news. Well, she’d been wrong about that too; he had urged her to terminate the pregnancy, citing his budding career as a bull rider and the fact that he was too young to be tied down.
Now that she thought about it, he never asked her how she felt about having a baby once she’d told him she was keeping it. A soft, snuffling sound had her returning to the present and the reality that one simple slipup resulted in—the fairy-sized cowgirl snuggling on the front seat of another handsome-as-sin cowboy’s battered pickup truck.
When would she ever learn? Maybe she was destined to make choices that seemed wrong at the time, but ended up with rewards that she’d reap for a lifetime. Her little girl was proof of that. Would there be a reward for getting to know Jesse? Stealing a glance out of the corner of her eye, she got sidetracked by the breadth of his shoulders, the strength in his arms, and the size of his hands as they gripped the wheel. Biting back a moan of sheer pleasure, she could just imagine that getting to know him better would be just this side of amazing, but could she risk letting her head follow where her heart led again?
“Vacations are nice,” he offered. “Haven’t taken one myself since—well, hell,” he laughed, “ever!”
“I find that hard to believe,” she soothed, “everyone takes time off now and again, especially during breaks from school.”
He glanced in her direction and then back at the road ahead of them. “Easter break and summer vacation meant more time helping our grandfather keep the ranch running smoothly. When you own a spread and raise cattle and horses, you pretty much work twenty-four/seven.”
She looked down at the sleeping angel by her side and smiled. “A lot like being a parent.”
He chuckled. “I guess it is. Don’t have much experience in that area, though.”
He frowned, and she wondered what direction his thoughts were headed. She didn’t have to wait long to find out.
“I don’t know much about kids and can’t tell just by looking. How old is she?”
“She’ll be four on her next birthday.”
He grinned but didn’t look away from the curving road. “Sure is tiny… but a pistol for her age.”
“Nothing wrong with being a bit on the feisty side.”
Jesse stole a look at her this time. “I like women with a little P and V in them.”
She shook her head. “What does that stand for?”
“Piss and vinegar.”
“Hey, it was one of my grandfather’s favorite sayings—he had quite a few.”
Reaching across the sleeping child between them, she touched his elbow. “Your loss.” The warmth radiating through the worn fabric of his shirt surprised her, but not as much as the tingling sensation zinging through the tips of her fingers where she touched him. Careful, she thought, this man could be trouble.
The simple word pleased her. It had been some time since a handsome man had thanked her for anything. Wrapping the feeling close to her heart, she let the motion of the truck and the rumble of the engine lull her to a semi-aware state. Just ahead was the turn-off Uncle Jimmy had reminded her about. It had been years since she’d seen him and still more since she’d had a vacation—time off, since it wasn’t technically fun time. Her plan was to find a job in Pleasure. Knowing she’d have a safe place for her and Lacy to stay for the next little while eased the guilt she still felt for having to uproot her daughter.
“Are there a lot of employment opportunities in Pleasure?”
His quiet laughter caught her off guard. “Well now, there’s always work in Pleasure, Texas, especially if you’re a rancher, but do you mean paying jobs?”
She crossed her arms beneath her breasts and was about to give the man a snappy comeback but didn’t want to wake Lacy. Letting concern for her sleeping child flow through her, she redirected her ire. “Yes, that’s what I mean.”
He shrugged. “Don’t rightly know, but if anyone has their finger on the heartbeat of this town, it’s Mavis Beeton. It’s hard to say where she’ll be this time of day; the woman’s a mover and a shaker. I can ask over at the feed store after I drop you off at Sullivan’s.”
Gratitude soothed the rest of the feathers he’d unknowingly ruffled, but added yet another aspect of the man that appealed to her—his compassion for others. Lord, she’d better be careful to watch her step and guard her heart. She had a feeling that this was one cowboy she’d like to get to know better. For her sake and Lacy’s, she’d best remember that history had a way of repeating itself.
Danielle let her mind drift as the scenery slipped past them on the ride into town. Fence posts, grassy land, and barbed wire blurred, merging until she was only aware of colors and shapes. Sounds became muffled and indistinct. Relaxing for the first time in days, she closed her eyes and let her worries go.
The most marvelous scent clouded her mind. It was a combination of fresh-mown hay and sun-warmed male, with a hint of horse. Sighing in contentment, she lingered in a state of semi-awareness, soaking up the odd feeling of being protected.
“Dani darlin’, wake up.”
The rumbled request jarred her awake. Oh God! She’d fallen asleep, with her precious child between herself and a virtual stranger. Even though her uncle knew him, and Jesse swore they’d met, she should have been on her guard, vigilant and protective. There were no excuses that she could think to offer.
“I’m so sorry!” She sat up and groaned, “I didn’t mean to—”
“You were exhausted,” Jesse interrupted. “Not a crime in this town.” His smile was slow and easy. “I’d wanted a quiet ride into town, and after the both of you stopped snoring, it was.”
Mortification crept up from her toes; she could feel her skin flushing as her emotions ran the gamut between embarrassment and self-directed anger. “I normally don’t close my eyes during the day,” she began, and then what he said sunk in. “Did you say snore?”
His chuckle was beginning to lose its appeal. “Yes, ma’am. You two could be in the Olympics, tag-teaming, if snoring was a sport.”
Lacy waking up saved the man from a verbal tongue-lashing, and prevented Danielle from having to apologize for something else. “It’s all right, honey, we’re here.”
Jesse had already closed the door on his side and rounded the truck cab to open the passenger door. She wasn’t sure if he was being gentlemanly or getting out of striking range. She wouldn’t have hit him—although the urge to smack that grin off his face had crossed her mind before she tamped it down—but she wasn’t prone to violence, so she let that unfamiliar thought go as soon as it occurred to her.
Focusing on what was important, she smoothed the hair out of her daughter’s face and settled Lacy’s cowgirl hat back on her head. “Are you ready to see Uncle Jimmy?”
“Can I have pie?”
The deep laughter echoing hers warmed her heart. “I think that can be arranged, sweetie. But first we need to thank Mr. Garahan for rescuing us.”
Lacy nodded and scooted across the seat following her. Danielle stood and scooped her daughter into her arms. Before she could open her mouth to speak, Lacy beat her to it. “Thanks for saving us.”
If she hadn’t been watching him closely, Danielle would have missed the odd look in their rescuer’s dark eyes. It was an emotion she hadn’t seen in a man’s eyes in a long while. Too nervous to put a name to the emotion or admit that a similar one was sweeping through her, she added her thanks.
“My pleasure, little lady,” he replied, touching the tip of his finger to Lacy’s button nose. “It’s part of the Cowboy Code to rescue damsels in distress.”
Gratitude filled her, but the look in Jesse’s eyes haunted her, reminding her of the rift in her life and the gut-burning knowledge that Lacy’s daddy had signed over his rights to be a part of Lacy’s life along with the dissolution of their marriage. Deep down she knew why—he simply no longer cared about either one of them.
“What’s a code?” Lacy asked.
Pushing his hat to the back of his head, he grinned. “It’s like a law or rules that us cowboys have to follow.”
“Mommy gots rules—no stuffing frogs in my pockets.”
Their eyes met over Lacy’s head. Danielle saw his facial muscles twitch and knew he wanted to smile, but he kept his expression serious for Lacy’s sake.
He nodded. “Well, your mom’s right, you don’t want to squish ’em, do you?”
Lacy shook her head.
“I bet I have more rules to follow.”
“I’m bigger,” he said with a laugh.
Lacy frowned. “Tell me another one.”
He grinned at the little girl. “A cowboy should never shoot first—”
“Do you have a gun?” Lacy wiggled in her mother’s arms trying to see if he did.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered, his lips twitching. “I keep a shotgun under the front seat. Pleasure’s been known to have wolves, coyotes, and snakes.”
Danielle’s heart began to pound at the thought. Why hadn’t she remembered that they were going to be living in the country and not the urban life she was used to?
“Did you shoot anybody today?”
Jesse laughed a full, rich sound that vibrated from deep within his impressive chest cavity. “Uh… no, ma’am. I only shoot to protect our herd.”
“Do you have buffalo?”
Watching the way her daughter lit up like a firefly at twilight as Jesse answered her, Danielle realized just how deeply the scars her ex’s leaving would go. It was just a matter of time before Lacy would start coming home with tales of other kids’ dads taking them places, showing them how to play ball or ride a horse. The list would be endless, and her guilt for having failed to save her marriage, thereby keeping Lacy’s daddy as an active part of their little girl’s life, would be soul deep.
“Don’t you want to know the rest of the rule?”
Without thinking Danielle answered first, “Yes.”
His eyes twinkled as his beautifully sculpted lips slowly lifted into a smile that had her heart picking up the beat, pounding in her breast. He winked at her, and said, “Well, there are a couple of cowboy codes out there, but my grandfather was real partial to Gene Autry, so he had us memorize the list as kids: never hit a smaller man or take unfair advantage.”
Disappointment arrowed through her. “So you’re saying that it’s a Hollywood thing, this code?” She couldn’t believe it; she’d thought it was something handed down from generation to generation.
“It was one we could relate to, having watched videos and DVDs of The Gene Autry Show as kids.” Looking up into her eyes, he added, “We never met our great-grandfather, but he had a set of rules that was handed down to us. The list is similar. Not as well-known, but the heart of the list is the same.”
“If I don’t shoot nobody, can I be a real cowgirl?” Lacy’s gaze was riveted to Jesse’s, waiting for his answer.
“Well there, little filly, you’ve already got the boots and hat, all you need is a horse.”
Her daughter giggled and bounced in Danielle’s arms. “I wanna ride. Will you teach me… pretty please?”
He hesitated and she hoped her daughter wouldn’t have a hard time when Lacy realized that they probably wouldn’t be seeing their rescuer again. Ranchers were busy people and normally didn’t have time during the middle of the day to visit. Once Danielle explained her situation to her uncle, she and Lacy would be busy too. The hard part would be convincing her uncle that she wouldn’t let him take care of them indefinitely.
As if he’d read her mind or heard her unspoken thoughts, Jesse looked at her and rocked back on his boot heels. “Well now, that depends on your mother.”
Unexpected. She looked down into Lacy’s upturned face and wondered if she could trust this man with one of her daughter’s dreams. “If you’re offering to teach Lacy, we’d be obliged, but I don’t have a lot of extra cash right now—”
His frown was fierce and Danielle wondered about the temper that might go along with it. The Irish were known for their hair-trigger tempers. Her ex had had one; would Jesse?
It simmered in his gaze, and he clenched and unclenched his hands before putting them in his pockets, as if needing to do something with them. Their eyes met and she sensed that Jesse had better control of his temper. Relief flowed through her.
“Lessons are free,” he said to Danielle. Turning to Lacy, he added, “I’d be happy to teach you, Miss Lacy.”
Lacy placed her hands on either side of her mother’s face and turned Danielle’s head until they were eye-to-eye. “Can I, Mommy, can I, can I?”
Danielle chuckled. “I don’t see why not, but we don’t have a horse, sweetie, or a car.”
Lacy slid one hand around her mother’s neck and leaned the side of her little head against Danielle’s. “Do you got horses in your herd?”
Jesse smiled. “We have horses, but our herd is made up of longhorns, beef cattle.”
Lacy’s eyes grew wide. “Can I see ’em? Can we ride now?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “I’ve got to get on over to Dawson’s and then on to Harrison’s feed store to take care of business. From there I have to check your car and then I’ve got to get on back to the Circle G to help my brothers in the south pasture.”
Lacy’s shoulders slumped and Danielle’s heart ached for her. This was how it had always been with Lacy’s father. She wanted to blast the man for raising her daughter’s hopes but didn’t have the chance because Lacy spoke up.
He seemed to be thinking about it. “We usually finish our daytime chores around supper time. I might be able to squeeze in some time for a lesson before the evening chores.”
“OK,” Lacy said, before asking, “all right, Mommy?”
“We don’t have a car right now, honey. Maybe another time.”
Jesse nodded. “Your car is probably just low on coolant, but how about if I come into town and pick you ladies up? I can give you a tour around the ranch and then show little Miss Lacy how to ride.” He tipped his hat forward and touched the brim. “If you ladies will excuse me, I’ve got to head on over to Dawson’s.”
“Promise?” Lacy called out.
“Yes, ma’am!” he answered before getting into the truck and driving away.
Danielle and Lacy watched their rescuer drive away. When he was gone, Lacy patted the side of Danielle’s face to get her attention. “Mommy, is it tomorrow yet?”
“Down-home characters who have all the best qualities of small-town America and a narrative with a definite Texas twang. 4 Stars” - RT Book Reviews
“Down-home characters who have all the best qualities of small-town America and a narrative with a definite Texas twang. 4 Stars” - RT Book Reviews
“A sweet slice of down home romance that’s equal parts sugar and spice.” - Novels Alive
“I think I need to take a trip to Texas.” - Vampires, Werewolves & Fairies. Oh My!
“Hot guys, independent women and to kill for story lines kept me glued to each story and had me up way past my bed time because I just couldn’t put them down. ” - Night Owl Reviews
Length: 6.875 in
Width: 4.1875 in
Weight: 0.00 oz
Page Count: 352 pages