Aubrey Madison is starting over. Leaving Los Angeles and everything behind except the scars of her ruined past, Bree sets out for cowboy country. Now she has a new home, a new job—and a new worry: the ruggedly sexy rancher who makes her long for things she shouldn't...
Rough and tumble cattleman Max Jameson has broken wild stallions and faced angry bulls. Yet the redheaded city cupcake who turned up at the High Heather Ranch might be his undoing. Bree has a plan to rescue the ranch from foreclosure that's just crazy enough to work. But will Max gamble his future on a beautiful stranger?
Ducking his head to hide his grin, he tugged the passenger door handle. It didn’t budge. Damn, he’d forgotten. Last week, a bull had mistook the truck for competition and charged it. The dent was just one more in the ranch truck’s collection, but now the passenger door wouldn’t open.
“You’ll have to slide in from the other side.” She gave him a dubious stare but followed as he walked to the driver’s door and jerked it open. She looked at the truck, then at him. “What?”
“Where do you propose I sit?”
He squinted into the shadowed interior and felt his ears heat. Reaching in, he pushed tools, receipts, soda cans, and bits of baling wire to the floorboard with a brush of his arm. “Well, excuse me, princess. I wasn’t expecting royalty or I’d have brought ’round the Bentley.”
It was her turn to redden, and he enjoyed the view as she flounced into the cab and scooted to the far door. He climbed in, pulled off his hat, and hung it on the shotgun rack in the back window.
She moved as far away as possible, cranked down the window, and rested her arm on the sill. The engine fired with only a prolonged crank. They rolled down the dirt drive, and when the truck hit the asphalt, she dropped her chin on her arm and closed her eyes.
The scattered freckles on her cheeks stood out against her translucent skin. The dark circles beneath her eyes attested to the kind of tired that comes from long nights that don’t have much to do with sleep.
“I’m sorry about your dad.” She sounded sincere.
His knuckles on the steering wheel whitened. “Thanks.”
“You must miss him. Were you and he close?”
“What was he like?”
He spit the toothpick out the window. “He was a Western cattleman. Out here, that means stubborn, hardworking, and an eternal optimist.”
“Wyatt says you’re a lot like him, but he doesn’t say it like it’s a good thing.”
Max kept his eyes on the road. “He was a hard man. The gene pool got watered down by the time it got to me.”
A snort from his right. “Was he a good dad?”
“To me he was.” Her hair swirled in the wind, bringing him the smell of lemons.
“Is your dad the reason Wyatt left?”
He reached in front of her. She started and scrabbled back in the seat. When he tore the duct tape that held the glove box, it flopped open, spilling receipts to swirl onto the floorboard. He jerked out a hank of twine and handed it to her. “How about reining in that mop? Your hair is going to be all over my truck.”
Bree perused the trash on the floor and raised an eyebrow. “Well. If it’s gonna wreck your truck, by all means . . .”
He resisted the urge to watch. “As long as we’re getting cozy in each other’s business, where did you come from?”
“California.” The tight in her voice drew his eyes from the road.
Small but perky breasts strained the fabric as she raised her arms to tie hair the color of fresh- cut cedar. He shifted to ease the sudden tightness in his jeans. He’d always been a sucker for red hair. Bree’s was thick and curly, not like Jo’s straight tresses. “Now, that fact does not come as a shock. What did you do for work?”
Out the corner of his eye, he saw her fingers trace the angry weal at her neck. “Where’d you get the scar?”
She cut him a cold glance. “I heard from John Wayne movies there was a rule in the West that people don’t ask where you came from.”
If the edge on her words were real, he’d be bleeding.
“Fair enough.” He held his hands up in surrender, then put one back on the wheel. “Then how about we play a little quid pro quo? You tell me what you’re comfortable with, and I’ll tell you what you want to know.”
“I suppose we could try that,” she said in a careful hostage-negotiator tone.
“Wyatt and my dad didn’t click almost from the time Wyatt started talking. Wyatt was a good kid and couldn’t understand why Dad shied from him. Not sure my dad did either, at least at first.”
“Did your dad know that Wyatt was gay?”
He thought a moment. “Satchmo said, ‘I don’t let my mouth say nothin’ my head can't stand.’ It was like that. Your turn.”
She hesitated, seeming to weigh her words. “After I was born, my mom brought me home from the hospital. My dad was gone, with his stuff and anything of hers he could hock. All she had was an empty apartment, an envelope full of bills, and me. Growing up, she told me a watered- down ‘You and me against the world’ story. But now I understand the terror she must have felt.”
And from the looks of you, you’ve been bunking with that terror for a while now.
“A retired neighbor lady kept me during the day, and Mom went out and got a job waitressing at The Eighteen Wh— at a local truck stop.”
“Your momma sounds like a stand-up gal.”
They reached the outskirts of town. He’d save the next round of interrogation for later.
2. When the going gets tough, he gets sticky – staying till the end.
3. He’s willing to face what he fears for a woman
4. He does small things to lighten a woman’s burden, rather than bring flowers or in showy displays
5. An endearing habit: spouting quotes or talking to dogs, or sneaking cheater glasses because he’s too vain to be seen in them.
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