Read Cowboy Underneath It All Online

Authors: Delores Fossen

Cowboy Underneath It All

Having a fling with his old flame's little sister—who's suddenly all grown up—is the last thing an air force top gun expects when he comes home to Texas in this digital installment of  THE McCORD BROTHERS by
USA TODAY
bestselling author Delores Fossen.

Fresh out of the air force, Kane Bullock comes home expecting things to be the same. But change can strike anywhere, even Spring Hill, Texas. His old flame is about to walk down the aisle and her little sister, Eliza Wright, has told the entire town she and Kane are an item. Kane makes it his mission to confront his “girlfriend” and tell everyone the truth…until he sees that Eliza is all grown up and impossible to resist.

Eliza's attraction to Kane didn't disappear when he stepped into a flight suit. Now that he's back, she intends to show him the cowboy he was meant to be. Helping him rebuild his ranch is the perfect opportunity to step out of her family's shadow and prove her business skill. But how can she go through with a simple plan to pretend to fall in love when everything she feels for Kane is real?

COWBOY
UNDERNEATH
IT ALL

HQN Prequel Novella

Delores Fossen

Chapter One

“I guess you're not feeling too good about your girlfriend getting married, huh?” the bartender said to Captain Kane Bullock.

Kane didn't know the bartender's first name, but he was one of the Fletcher boys, probably barely old enough to tend bar. But he should be old enough to know that it was a stupid-ass thing to say.

Of course Kane wasn't feeling “too good” right about now. It felt as if he'd been kicked in the teeth by an eight-legged bull. All because his girlfriend was apparently about to be wed...

And she didn't have plans to say that “I do” to him.

Not that Kane wanted an “I do.” He didn't. But he darn sure hadn't expected to come home and find Violet Wright, his flame of more than ten years, wearing another man's engagement ring.

“Heard about you getting out of the Army,” Fletcher went on.

“Air Force. I fly fighter jets.
Flew
fighter jets,” he corrected.

Kane had to get used to saying that because once his terminal leave was up in a month, he would no longer be a captain, a fighter pilot or on active duty. It was the right thing to do, giving it up, because it was finally time to put down some roots. Also the right thing to move home to the ranch where he'd grown up. The very place where he thought he'd see Violet again. And he had seen her all right. He just hadn't counted on seeing her like this.

“You know for a fact that Violet's marrying a good fella,” the bartender went on. “For what it's worth.”

Well, it was better than her wedding a bad one, Kane supposed, but hell in a handbasket, it still stung.

Violet could have at least called or emailed to give him a heads-up before he'd gotten back to town. That way he wouldn't have been blindsided ten minutes earlier when he'd literally walked in on her bachelorette party at Calhoun's Pub. All Kane had wanted was a beer after the two-day trip where he'd driven from the base in South Carolina and then here to Spring Hill, Texas.

He'd gotten a lot more than just the beer, though.

After all that driving, Kane had learned of his girlfriend's engagement from Sissy Donovan, the senior-citizen cocktail waitress who had blurted out the news before he'd even been able to sit down at the bar. It wouldn't be long before that same waitress pointed out to Violet that Kane was there. In fact, it was a shocker that she hadn't already done it. Maybe Sissy was the sort who liked to watch a train wreck play out in slow motion. Or perhaps she was just too busy calling every single person she knew to come to the bar for a
showdown
.

“Hate to say it, but my cousin, Charlene, is plenty happy about you and Violet breaking up,” the bartender went on. “She'll be calling you real soon to give you a sweet deal. On some cows,” he added with a knowing wink.

Yeah, Kane was betting Charlene would be calling, and the sale of cows might be involved, but Charlene would have a lot more than that on her mind. Even when Kane had been with Violet, Charlene had made open plays for him, once even offering him sex when Kane had been at a party with Violet. Despite that, Kane might have to deal with Charlene, along with fending her off, because he did need her livestock.

“Guess you gotta have some time to work through this.” The bartender again. Fletcher had been wiping the same spot on the bar—the spot directly in front of Kane—since he'd served him his beer.

Kane decided to keep his response simple, and he gave the guy a look that could have frozen the hottest corners of hell. Fletcher was obviously too young or too stupid to pick up on facial cues because he stayed close.

He ignored the bartender, sipped his Lone Star and watched the goings-on in the mirror above the bar. Normally, it was a pretty good place to take in the action in his small hometown even late on a Wednesday afternoon when there wasn't much to see.

But right now there was plenty in the seeing department.

Kane wished there had been a different scene playing out behind him other than a giggling Violet who hadn't even noticed him. Wished, too, that he could just leave, but if he did now without finishing his beer, it'd be all over town that he was jealous.

Of course, the jealousy would get blown to epic proportions, and by the time the gossips were done, it'd be all around town that he had been crying in his beer. No tears, but he was well past the being pissed-off stage.

Along with maybe being a little hurt.

He'd always thought of Violet as his. Had always counted on her being there when he came home on leave, and not once had she ever asked to carry their relationship to the next level. She certainly hadn't mentioned anything about putting a ring on it. Of course, if she had, it might have sent him running.

The sound of more laughter pulled Kane's attention back to the mirror. Violet and her pals were in a booth in the back corner of the pub, where they were tossing back pink-colored drinks with green paper umbrellas on them. Violet was wearing a bridal veil that sparkled even in the dim lighting. The veil-wearing was a little early, since according to the bartender, the wedding was still three days away.

And the groom was none other than Kane's old high school football buddy, Dax Foreman. Dax was a cowboy, of course.

It wasn't hard to find one of those around Spring Hill, since it was basically a town that'd built up around the sprawling McCord Ranch. But what riled every rileable bone in Kane's body was that Violet had thought this pretty-boy bronco rider was more of a cowboy than Kane was.

Pretty Boy wasn't. No one was.

Kane silently cursed. Yes, he'd been gone for a while, finishing up ten years in the Air Force. And beneath the flight suit he'd worn all those years, he was pure cowboy. Raised on a ranch not far from here. A ranch his parents had sold when Kane had left for the Air Force, but he'd recently rebought it.

Hell, he wasn't just a cowboy, he could be a poster model for one.

He shifted his attention when the front door opened, and a woman hurried in. A brunette in a clingy red dress. The bartender made a sound of appreciation, and Kane could see why. All those curves and long legs. She stopped, no doubt to give her eyes time to adjust to the lack of light, and she glanced at the back of the room before she looked in Kane's direction.

Crap.

It wasn't a woman. Well, it was, but it was the wrong woman. It was Eliza, Violet's kid sister.

When the hell had she gotten curves like that?

“I've been looking all over for you,” Eliza greeted. Except it wasn't much of a greeting. She sounded annoyed or something.

Since he hadn't seen her in ages, Kane didn't think he was the reason for the annoyance. Unless Eliza was miffed because he wasn't the one marrying her sister.

“I tried to call you, but your old number didn't work,” she added.

“I had to change providers since the old one didn't have good service here.” That didn't explain, though, why Violet hadn't contacted him because he'd only switched two weeks ago. He was betting she'd been engaged longer than that.

Volleying glances between him and the booth with the bridal party, Eliza caught onto his arm, practically dragging him off the bar stool. “We have to talk—now,” she said. “I'm so sorry about everything.”

Kane didn't put up a fuss about her dragging him, but this was unnecessary. Especially the apology. It wasn't her fault that her sister was getting married.

“I've already heard about Violet,” he assured her.

Eliza didn't respond to that other than mumbling the “I'm so sorry” again. She also just kept pulling him, and Kane didn't like the direction they were heading. Right toward the women's bathroom.

“The waitress told me about your sister,” he repeated, hoping it would stop her. It didn't. In fact, Eliza didn't stop until she had him inside the ladies' room, and had shut the door.

“I didn't think you were still in the dark, not about that anyway,” she said, as if that explained everything. It didn't explain squat. “No one in this town would have kept that a secret from you.”

Well, they hadn't after the fact, but he would have liked a heads-up even if it'd come from the gossip mill.

“Why'd you bring me in here?” Kane asked. “And since when did you start wearing dresses like that?”

All in all, that last one just wasn't a very good question, especially considering everything else that was going on. He followed it up with a comment that wasn't very good, either. “It makes you look like, well, a woman.”

She glanced down at her dress. Then gave him a look that was anything but flat. Her left eyebrow lifted. “I
am
a woman. A twenty-eight-year-old one. You're the only man in Spring Hill who hasn't noticed that.”

Well, he was sure noticing now.

Eliza had always been a looker, even as a kid. But she'd always been just that. A kid.

Until right this minute.

“You're really twenty-eight?” he asked. That was a year older than the last woman he'd gone out with in South Carolina. Then Kane remembered something really important he should be addressing. “Why are we in the ladies' room?”

“Yes, I'm twenty-eight. Only four years younger than you. And that's the reason we're in here.”

Kane did a mental double take. “Say what?”

Eliza huffed. “I lied, all right! That's what I'm sorry about. I heard from Lucky McCord that you were getting out of the Air Force and moving back to try your hand at running the ranch. Most people thought you'd never actually return, since you've owned the place for over a year and had barely stepped foot on it.”

“Because I had to finish up my military commitment.”

“I know, and I kept telling folks that you'd be home, but I wasn't expecting you until next week.”

“I finished up earlier at the base than planned.” He stopped. “How'd you find out I was coming home today?” He no longer had family here, and Kane hadn't gotten around to telling Lucky or anyone else the exact day he'd be arriving, since he'd been so busy out-processing from the Air Force.

Another huff from her. Obviously, these were not questions she wanted to hear, but Kane was trying to make sense of it. And it was just the beginning of the things he needed to ask her.

“I went to your place to check on it, and there was an electrician there from San Antonio,” she explained. “He said you'd wanted the house checked to make sure everything was working fine because you were moving back today.” She huffed. “You know, it wouldn't have killed you to let someone know.”

Heck, he never let anyone know that. Kane just showed up. He'd been doing that for years, and no one had complained. Not until now anyway.

Since he wasn't getting anywhere with this discussion, he moved on to the next questions. “And what does any of this have to do with you lying? Better yet, what lie did you tell?”


Lies
,” she corrected. Eliza groaned, squeezed her eyes shut a moment and leaned against the aqua-painted concrete-block wall. “God, I'm so sorry, but I told my sister that you and I had been texting and calling each other. And we do talk, remember?”

Yes, around Christmas Eliza had called to chat. It was June now. And, yes, they had also texted a couple of times since then, but both the calls and the texts had been about business. Kane often hired some of the hands at Eliza's family's ranch to keep the yard and pastures in shape at his own place. Eliza was the business manager there, so Kane went through her to get that done.

But why had Eliza told her sister about his needing the grass cut?

Kane tried to follow that through to some logical conclusion, but he couldn't come up with one. “Why the hell would you do that?”

“Because I could see that Violet was falling for Dax, and I didn't want there to be any obstacles.”

He had to throw his hands up in the air. Not a good idea because he raked his fingers across her left breast. Nice breasts, too. Something he wished he hadn't noticed. He wished Eliza hadn't noticed his reaction, either, because a slightly heated look followed her sound of surprise.

Kane quickly got his mind back on the right track. And the right track certainly wasn't noticing or touching her breasts. “I'm not an obstacle. I'm her boyfriend.”

Eliza had obviously practiced flat looks over the years because she gave him a good one. “You two saw each other when it was convenient. It was more of a habit than a real relationship, and you know it.”

He didn't want to admit it. Even if it was true. “So what? I called Violet just a couple of months ago, and she didn't mention a word about Dax.”

“You called her eight months ago,” Eliza corrected.

Kane frowned. That was possibly true. Heck, had it really been that long?

“That's about the time she and Dax started dating,” Eliza went on. “It wasn't love at first sight exactly, but it happened shortly afterward. And then they got engaged, and they hurried to put this wedding together because they didn't want to wait to get married.”

And no one had told him. Of course, he wasn't exactly in the gossip loop since his best friend in Spring Hill, Lucky McCord, didn't spend much time here, either. Lucky was a bull rider on the rodeo circuit and was gone almost as much as Kane was.

“You could have let me know what was going on,” Kane pointed out to her.

Eliza nodded. “I started to do that a couple of times, but then the lie kept snowballing. And you know that Violet has always wanted to marry a cowboy.”

There weren't enough curse words for his response. “And what in Sam Hill am I—French toast?”

She looked at him, and for a moment he thought she was going to point out the obvious, that he was a fighter pilot. She didn't. “You're someone who hasn't been around very much, and my sister fell in love with another man. I lied to her because I wanted her to have an open path to finding the happiness she deserves.”

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