Authors: Shirley Rogers
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Women
“I’m scared.” It was obvious she wasn’t.
His gaze ran intimately over her. “You should be.”
Mary Beth watched him storm from the room. What on earth was wrong with her? All she had to do was bide her time, thank Deke for everything he’d helped with and watch him walk out of her life the way he’d done so easily two years ago. But no. She couldn’t do that. Instead, she’d gone out of her way to provoke him.
It just wasn’t in her nature to let another man run roughshod over her. She’d had enough of that from her father. She no longer had to listen to anyone tell her what she could or couldn’t do.
Cowboys, Babies and Shotgun Vows
A Cowboy, a Bride & a Wedding Vow
Baby of Fortune
One Wedding Night…
Her Texan Temptation
lives in Virginia with her husband, two cats and an adorable Maltese named Blanca. She has two grown children, a son and a daughter. As a child, she was known for having a vivid imagination. It wasn’t until she started reading romances that she realized her true destiny was writing them! Besides reading, she enjoys traveling, seeing movies and spending time with her family.
To my husband, Roger
ot a problem there, Red?”
Mary Beth Adams froze, the toe of her worn brown boot wedged in the hole she’d just kicked in a water trough. Water trickled out of the deteriorated wooden box, forming a small, muddy pool at her feet.
Of all the people in the world she wouldn’t have wanted to catch her in such a dilemma, this heart-stopping cowboy from her past was at the top of her list. She cursed her temper as the taillights of her one and only ranch hand’s car disappeared in the distance. How could he just up and quit? Even if he’d gotten another job offer, she at least deserved some notice.
Gathering her pride, she turned toward Deke, causing her ankle to twist a little more. Pain sliced through it and up her calf, clear into her thigh. She gritted her teeth. “No,
I’m just fine,” she retorted, annoyed that he’d called her by the childhood nickname she detested.
As if the two years since she’d seen him had never passed, a startling thrill tingled her spine. Unprepared for the onslaught of emotion, Mary Beth fought for a sense of control.
You’re not the same woman you were two years ago, harboring a schoolgirl crush, willing to give him your heart.
But by the rapid pounding in her chest, her heart didn’t seem to be listening.
Shoring up her courage, she looked at Deke. Apparently rodeoing agreed with him. His shoulders were infinitely broad, his arms even more muscular than she remembered. It shouldn’t hurt so much to see him.
Finally, because she couldn’t put it off any longer, she lifted her eyes and met his gaze. Sitting atop his horse and leaning back comfortably in his saddle, he grinned at her. Blond strands of hair poked out of his straw cowboy hat. Those gorgeous McCall blue eyes twinkled a little too merrily.
Damned if he didn’t look sexy.
“Yeah?” Deke tipped up his hat and held back a chuckle. Taller than most women, with curves that could stop a man in his tracks, Mary Beth was a sight to see. Balancing on one foot, her arms out like wings, she was shaking her hips in a provocative way that made him remember what it had felt like to make love to her.
Though most of her red hair was clasped behind her head, untamed wisps fell in cute little ringlets around her face, making her look more like nineteen than twenty-five. The glare in her green eyes suggested that the flush on her cheeks stemmed from her embarrassment rather than the late-summer Texas sun.
Gone was the young woman he remembered with the quiet, shy smile, the woman who’d seemed to blush modestly every time he’d spoken to her. Though they’d grown up in the same town, he’d been a couple of grades ahead of her. Truthfully he’d never paid much attention to Mary Beth.
Until that one night two years ago.
That one earth-shattering night had sent him a lethal warning that she could be a threat to his bachelorhood.
Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he watched as she continued to wiggle her hips, trying his level best not to laugh outright. “Looks like you could use some help,” he commented, his expression wry. A chuckle escaped his lips despite his best effort to contain himself.
“Thank you, but, no, I don’t.” What she needed was a miracle. A couple more months of problems that never seemed to let her get a step ahead, and she wouldn’t have to worry about the note coming due on the ranch at all. Short of a miracle, Paradise would be owned by the bank.
And Mary Beth no longer believed in miracles.
With an air of dignity, she managed to work her foot out of the trough without falling and making a bigger fool of herself. Water gushed from the gaping hole. She quickly sidestepped it, then clamped her teeth together when she felt a sharp, stabbing pain in her right foot. Unable to put weight on it without adding to the biting pain, she lifted it slightly off the ground, shifting most of her weight to her other foot. “What are you doing here?” she demanded.
But even as she asked the question, her mind slipped back two years. Alone and hurting after her father’s funeral, Deke had offered her comfort. It had been so easy to sink against him, to lose herself in his embrace. Though all of her life he’d barely noticed her, she’d been half in love with him since she’d been a teenager.
“Here in Texas or here on Paradise?” Deke asked, referring to her ranch.
Mary Beth looked around her, seeing the run-down ranch through his eyes. The disrepair of the house and outbuildings were obvious…and embarrassing. Even with the few head of cattle she ran, to call Paradise a ranch was a gross exaggeration. He was probably wondering why she’d let it get so dilapidated.
“On my land.” She didn’t care why he was back in Texas. Really, she didn’t. He’d broken her heart. Maybe not intentionally. He hadn’t
she’d harbored feelings for him all those years. But she’d suffered the sting of his rejection just the same. Well, times had changed.
changed. She was no longer a lovesick young girl, and she wouldn’t be so susceptible to his charm again.
In her gut she’d known that a McCall would never take up with an Adams. At least, not permanently. Her family had been poor, while the McCalls owned the most profitable ranch in Crockett County. She shouldn’t have been surprised when, after they’d made love, Deke had never bothered to call. But that hadn’t made his leaving hurt any less.
Her curt tone caused his eyes to lose a bit of their sparkle. “Some of the cattle with your brand have broken through a fence, and I came over to investigate. Thought I’d better ride down here and let you know.”
“I’ll take care of it right away.” How, she didn’t know. Though undependable and trifling, Clyde, her ranch hand, had been better than nothing. Now he’d quit to take a job with a spread near Dallas. Great. Another man in her life who couldn’t be depended on. When was she going to learn? With Clyde gone and without the money to hire anyone decent to replace him, she was on her own.
Why had she been obsessed with keeping this place?
What made her even think she wanted to try to make it turn a profit?
Because your father didn’t think you have what it takes.
But her father had been dead two years now, and things on Paradise were worse instead of better. What was she doing here, still trying to prove a dead man wrong? If she had any sense, she’d quit and go back to her life in San Antonio.
Except, if she left now, she’d be the failure he’d always claimed she would be. She choked back a tear. Why couldn’t he have loved her? If she’d been a son, his love and approval would have been automatic. But not for a girl.
Not for her.
“You expect Clyde back soon?”
Mary Beth blinked, her eyes focusing once again on her current problem—Deke McCall. “I said I’ll take care of it,” she said, ignoring his question. She’d figure a way to get the cattle off McCall land somehow. Damn, she hated asking for help. But the mortgage on the ranch was coming due, and if she lost even one head of cattle before she could sell them, she wasn’t going to be able to meet the payment. Still, she’d risk even that before she’d stoop to asking Deke for anything.
Deke’s eyebrows drew together as he sat up straight, his back rigid. “I just thought you might want me to lend a hand.” He figured he deserved her ire. Years ago he’d taken advantage of her, had made love to her, then he’d left and hadn’t so much as called her in the two years since. Now he’d shown up unexpectedly. What did he expect, a warm welcome?
to make love to her.
She’d been gone from Crockett a couple of years. He’d heard she’d been living in San Antonio. Then she’d been
called home because her father had been in an accident. Hank Adams had passed away a couple of weeks after she’d arrived at Paradise.
Out of respect Deke had attended the funeral. He hadn’t cared much for Hank, but then, not many people had. Mary Beth had caught Deke’s attention when he’d spotted her in the crowd of well-wishers gathered around her. She’d returned to Crockett a changed woman, confident and vivacious, with a smile and a good word—for everyone, it seemed, but him.
That’s why he’d lingered at her house after the funeral when everyone one else had left. It had bothered him when he’d sensed that she had gone out of her way to avoid him.
“Thanks, anyway.” Mary Beth shook her head. A warm September breeze caught a strand of her hair, and she brushed it from her face. “If that’s all—”
Her brusque tone sent Deke a distinct message—she didn’t want him hanging around. He was downright offended and actually considered leaving. But since Clyde wasn’t there, Deke had a niggling doubt about her assurance that she could get the cattle rounded up. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, she needed his help. Despite the fact that she wanted to be rid of him, he couldn’t leave her in a jam. Hell, the neighborly thing to do would be to lend her a hand.
“Look,” he began calmly, “I can help you round up the strays. We can have it done in no time, then I’ll leave you alone.”
Mary Beth lifted her chin. “I don’t need your help.” Feeling light-headed, she put her hand to her forehead, which was damp from sweat. Either the sun was getting to her, or her injury was worse than she’d thought. If she didn’t do something soon for the pain and swelling in her ankle, she was going to faint right in front of him!
Deke looked skyward and frowned at the churn of black clouds. “Looks like a storm’s brewing. With both of us working, we can probably beat the rain.” His gaze turned to Mary Beth again. A familiar longing that he’d thought he’d overcome stirred in his chest. After making love with her, he’d lain there stunned…and wanting more. But what she’d made him feel, what she’d made him long for, went way past physical need. If he wasn’t careful, a relationship with a woman like her could lead to more, much more than he had to give.
Apparently he’d been right, if she could affect him so easily after all this time.
“I wouldn’t want to keep you from something important,” she said with as much aloofness as she could muster. “Aren’t you suppose to be at a rodeo or something?” Because she couldn’t stand on one leg much longer, she put her foot down. A stinging sensation stole her breath, but she remained still, determined not to give him a reason to stay.
Noting a trace of disdain in her voice, Deke’s lips thinned. “I’ve been home on a short break.” Did she dislike rodeo cowboys in general or him in particular? Before she could conceal it, he caught the look of anguish that flashed through her eyes. He quickly swung his leg over his horse and dismounted, annoyed that he hadn’t realized she was injured. In an instant he was by her side. “What’d you do? Hurt yourself?” Frowning, he knelt on one knee and touched her leg.
“Get your hands off me!” she blurted, then shoved his shoulder hard.
Already down on his haunches, Deke braced his hand on the ground, barely stopping himself from falling on his backside. He shot her a hard look. “Calm down,” he com
manded. Using his other hand, he clasped her thigh just above her knee. “I’m just gonna check your foot.”
is fine.” She wasn’t lying. It was her ankle that was killing her. But Deke didn’t have to know that.
He ignored her. As long as he’d known her, Mary Beth had never wanted to accept a helping hand. She was unlike her father in that way. Hank Adams, in Deke’s opinion, had always been looking for the easy way in life, while Mary Beth had diligently taken care of her sick mother, as well as the cooking, cleaning and whatever else it took to make her mother’s life easier. He couldn’t help thinking that Mary Beth was going to spend her life trying to live down her father’s irresponsible reputation.
Turning his attention to her injury, Deke carefully lifted her leg and propped it on his thigh. To maintain her balance, Mary Beth touched the tips of her fingers to his shoulder. His gut tightened from the contact, and he tried not to notice her light scent. As he gingerly worked off her boot, Deke remembered the last time he’d undressed her.
That evening he’d only meant to console her. It seemed as if she’d been holding herself in check all day. Finally, alone with him, everything crashed in on her. She’d crumbled against him and confided that with her father’s death, she’d felt all alone. And she’d missed her mother, who had died only a year before.
Deke had held her and whispered words of comfort. When she’d looked at him, her eyes filled with tears, he’d kissed them away, soothing her sorrow. Mary Beth had burrowed closer, pressing herself to him, and Deke had given in to a need to taste her. Their kisses had quickly ignited a fire between them that soon raged out of control. Not wanting to take advantage of her momentary weak
ness, he’d tried to hold back. But she’d pulled him to her and whispered that she’d needed him.
Caught in a delicate moment between compassion and desire, he’d made love to her.
He’d made a quick retreat, leaving before she could get under his skin. Or so he’d thought. Later, alone in his room, he’d discovered he hadn’t left quick enough. Being with Mary Beth that night had touched something deep inside him. Shamefully, he hadn’t called her because she’d have wanted promises—promises he wouldn’t have been able to give.
Then or now.
“Stay still,” he ordered brusquely, annoyed that he’d let his thoughts drift into forbidden territory. Again. He had to get out of there before he went crazy with wanting her. But he couldn’t leave her injured. He’d hang around long enough to see that she was okay. Then he’d be out like a shot—away from her. Because with her this close, she was a threat to him, to everything he’d been working for on the rodeo circuit.
He couldn’t stay. And he sure as hell didn’t want to hurt her again.
“I can’t, with you holding on to my leg.” She tried not to fall on her butt. She didn’t like being this close to him, didn’t want to feel his heat. Touching him provoked memories she’d tried to forget. However, she was no longer the innocent girl she’d been two years ago. Back then she’d been so unbelievably needy, wanting him to see her as a woman. Of course, he probably hadn’t even thought about her since that night.