Copyright © 2013 by Leah Braemel
If someone had told Allie O’Keefe fifteen years ago that she’d set even one toe on Bull’s Hollow Ranch again, she’d have cussed them out. After she’d decked them. Which explained why Allie jammed her foot on the brake when she reached the ranch’s wrought-iron gate. Or maybe she stopped because of the man talking to a group of ranch hands in front of the ranch’s trailer office. It wasn’t just his weathered brown Stetson that stood out from the standard baseball caps the others wore. After a casual glance in her direction, he resumed talking.
Even from this far away she could tell who he was—Ben Grady, the first man she’d ever loved. Just as he had back in high school, he still managed to set butterflies fluttering in her stomach, although right now they felt more like boulders tumbling in a spin dryer.
Ben Grady was the quintessential cowboy, from the way he stood with his thumbs hooked through a belt loop, leaving his fingers to drum on the worn leather of his chaps, right down to his dust-covered boots. He could step back in the 1800s and live in the Wild West with no problems. The only thing missing was the six-shooter at his hip.
He hasn’t seen you yet. You could still turn around. Plead with her boss once again to have someone else assigned to the case. Although all her previous attempts had earned her was a “suck it up, buttercup” comment from her boss.
Two of his men strutted over to ATVs parked neatly in a row by the bar while the other took the reins of the bay horse. Finally freed of whatever responsibility had been keeping his attention, Ben faced her.
One look at that straight nose and angular jaw and bam, her body softened.
Not good, not good, not good, she repeated. You’re not eighteen years old anymore. And you didn’t do anything wrong.
Right. She could do this.
Taking a shaky breath, she parked her car beside the mud-crusted white pickup, its dual rear wheels dwarfing her small sedan. Tucking her case beneath her arm, she picked her way across the gravel-strewn yard. She really shouldn’t have worn her heels today, but her pride wanted to show off that she’d traded in her work boots for kick-ass stilettos that stopped traffic. Her not-so-subtle see what you missed out on statement. Which would be lost if she twisted her ankle.
His gaze locked on her, Ben leaned against the stair railing in his oh-so-casual way. When they’d dated, she’d loved how he’d stop to watch her approach. Now she felt like a gazelle being stalked by a lion. No, not such a proud animal. The Gradys were scavengers. Vultures, ready to pick the flesh from the bones of anyone who got in their way.
He’d filled out from the rangy teenager she’d known. He’d always been strong, but his muscles were more defined, the light cotton shirt tight across his chest and wide shoulders. His biceps bulged as he gripped the stair railing, hinting at the strength to lift and haul both hay bales and stray calves.
Ben tipped his hat up with one finger and shot her a lazy grin that melted her a little inside. His gaze swept down her body, blazing a path even hotter than the sun, then returned to meet hers. The lines at the corners of his sky-blue eyes gave him a distinguished air.
“You’re early. I wasn’t expecting you for another half hour.”
His voice still had the low roughness that had driven her crazy, especially when they were lying skin-to-skin. Damn it, she’d gotten over him, so why was the ache in her chest back? She took a deep breath but the anguish didn’t ease.
Clutching her case tight under her arm, she stopped in front of him and shielded her eyes from the morning sun. “Hello, Ben.”
His eyes widened in shock. “Allie? What are you doing here?”
Her breath rushed out at the realization he hadn’t recognized her. If there’d been even a hint of friendliness to his voice, she might not have snapped, “I’m here to save your ass.”
*HARLEQUIN COVER ART: Cover Art Copyright© 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. © and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.
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