Authors: Vicki Lewis Thompson
“Snappy, funny, romantic.”
New York Times
bestselling author Carly Phillips
“A trademark blend of comedy and heart.”
“Count on Vicki Lewis Thompson for a sharp, sassy, sexy read. Stranded on a desert island? I hope you've got this book in your beach bag.”
New York Times
bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz
“Wildly sexyÂ .Â .Â . a full complement of oddball characters and sparkles with sassy humor.”
“A riotous cast of colorful charactersÂ .Â .Â . fills the pages with hilarious situations and hot, creative sex.”
“Sweet and light and, above all, charming.”
“[A] lighthearted and frisky tale of discovery between two engaging people.”
The Oakland Press
“A funny and thrilling ride!”
âRomance Reviews Today
“Extremely sexyÂ .Â .Â . over-the-topÂ .Â .Â . sparkling.”
“A whole new dimension in laughter. A bigÂ .Â .Â . bravo!”
âA Romance Review
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First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library,
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Copyright Â© Vicki Lewis Thompson, 2015
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For David and Marlena Faulkner, two of my favorite
I'm grateful for my editor Claire Zion's continued belief in me, and for the guidance of my agent, Jenny Bent. And as always, I wouldn't function nearly as well without my amazing assistant, Audrey Sharpe.
omebody should take a paintbrush to Sadie's left nipple.” Vince Durant studied the six-by-ten mural on the far wall of Sadie's Saloon as he sipped his beer. “It's chipped.”
A well-endowed nude reclined on a red velvet piece of Victorian furniture that he thought was called a fainting couch. Rumor had it that a local woman named Sadie had posed for the mural, but because the painting was more than a century old, the rumor was unconfirmed.
“Sadie's not the only thing needing a little TLC around here.” Ike Plunkett was still behind the bar, which was reassuring.
Vince remembered Ike from four years ago, and although the bartender's hair was a little thinner and his glasses a little thicker, he looked virtually the same. That couldn't be said for the town of Bickford, though. Except for the general store and this historic hotel, the place was pretty much dead.
Come to think of it, he'd seen no evidence that anyone else was staying at the hotel besides him and the two friends who hadn't arrived yet. Even more troubling, the saloon was deserted, and that wasn't normal for a Friday afternoon. At the end of the day, cowboys in the Texas Panhandle enjoyed sipping a cold one. “I never realized how much the town depended on the Double J.”
“I don't think any of us did until it was gone.”
“You'd think by now somebody would have reopened it.” Vince wouldn't mind working there again. Turned out he was good at wrangling greenhorns.
“Can't.” Ike used a bar rag to wipe down the whiskey bottles lined up beneath an ornate mirror behind the bar. “Somebody torched it, probably for the insurance, and the land's tied up in a big legal hassle.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Vince polished off his beer and signaled for another. He was thirsty after the long drive from Fort Worth.
“Not half as sorry as we are.”
“No, probably not.” But he
sorry, and disappointed, too. He'd talked his buddies Mac Foster and Travis Langdon into having a reunion, figuring they could party in Bickford like they had during the three years they'd all worked for the Double J Guest Ranch. “I don't suppose you have live music this weekend?”
“We haven't had a band in here for a long time. Can't afford to pay 'em.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Oh, well. At least you have beer.” Vince lifted his bottle in the direction of the mural. “And Sadie! After a few of these, I might decide to repaint her nipple myself.”
The street door opened with the squeak of an unoiled hinge and Vince turned to see if Mac or Travis had come straight into the saloon instead of stopping by the hotel desk to check in like he had.
His smile of welcome faltered when Georgina Bickford walked through the door. He took some comfort in noticing that she seemed as disoriented by his presence as he was by hers. That made no sense, really. It wasn't like they had a history, although he'd tried his damnedest to create one.
His fabled charm hadn't worked on her and she'd never gone out with him. Maybe that was why he'd thought of her so often since then. She was the one girl he'd never been able to impress.
She didn't look particularly impressed to see him now, either. “Hello, Vince.”
“Hello, Georgie.” He remembered that cool voice of hers, but at least she hadn't forgotten his name. After four years, that said something. He wasn't convinced it said something positive, though. A name could stick in a person's mind for both good reasons and bad.
“I'm surprised to see you here.” She approached slowly, as if he had yellow caution tape draped around his barstool. “Just passing through?”
“Not exactly.” He thumbed back his hat so he could see her better. She'd gotten prettier, but she'd always been great to look at with her big brown eyes and honey-colored hair. When he'd first started working at the Double J, he'd asked around and had learned that she'd left college to run the general store after her dad died. He'd tried to be friendly, but she'd never given him the time of day.
She frowned. “If you're looking for work, there's not much to be had, I'm afraid.”
“So I gather.” He hesitated. Oh, what the hell. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“No, thank you.”
Shot down again, damn it.
“Georgie's first drink is always on the house.” Ike sent a glance of compassion Vince's way as he placed a glass of red wine on the bar. “All of the council members get one free drink per day. Bickford Hotel policy. It's the least we can do when they have such a thankless job.”
“You're on the town council?” Then he wished he hadn't sounded so surprised. “I mean, I'm sure you're well-qualified and all. I justÂ .Â .Â .”
She appeared to take pity on him. “It's okay. I'm the youngest member, but I also run the second biggest revenue producer in town, so it's logical for me to be on the council.” She smiled. “It wasn't a tough race. No one ran against me.”
Hey, a smile. Progress.
“They wouldn't have dared run against you,” Ike said. “What can I get you from the kitchen?”
“Does Henry have any barbecued pork back there?”
“I believe he does.”
“Then a barbecued pork sandwich would be great. Thanks, Ike.”
The bartender glanced at Vince. “Want to order some food? We still have Henry Blaylock cooking for us. Don't know if you remember, but he's terrific.”
“I do remember Henry's food. Good stuff. But I'll wait for Mac and Travis to get here before I order.”
“Fair enough.” Ike opened the hinged section of the bar and walked back toward the kitchen.
“Mac and Travis?” Georgie picked up her wineglass but remained standing beside the bar instead of hopping up on a stool. “The same Mac and Travis who used to work for the Double J?”
“You have a good memory.” She hadn't dated those old boys, either. Vince, Mac, and Travis had been the cutups of the group, and Georgie didn't approve of cutups. She'd made that clear soon after they'd met, and he doubted that she'd changed.
She took a sip of her wine. “Are you having some kind of Double J reunion?”
“In a way, but it's just the three of us.”
Her brown eyes lit with curiosity. “And you're meeting here, in Bickford?”
“That's the plan.” He liked her haircut, which was a little shorter than he remembered. It used to hang past her shoulders, but now it was chin length. The new cut made her look more sophisticated. Sexier.
“Why meet here?”
He shrugged. “It's where we used to hang out, but I didn't realize the place had goneÂ .Â .Â . uh, that it's not the same.”
“If you were about to say it's gone to hell in a hand- basket, you'd be on target. If you want to have a fun time, y'all might want to head somewhere else. Go on up to Amarillo, maybe.”
“It'll be okay.” He didn't remember her being quite so curvy the last time he'd seen her. She filled out the Bickford General Store's hunter-green T-shirt, although he was careful not to be caught ogling. He'd noticed that her jeans fit mighty nice, too. Not that it made any difference whether she was a knockout or not. She hadn't changed regarding him. She showed no interest whatsoever.
“I can't imagine what you'll find to do around here,” she said. “Sadie's doesn't heat up like it used to on the weekend. Anastasia and I might be the last two single women under thirty in Bickford.”
“What about Charmaine?” Seven years ago, when he was a new hire at the Double J, Georgie's stepsisters had been too young to go out dancing at Sadie's, but Charmaine, the older one, had snuck in one time and Georgie had marched her back home.
“She's working in Dallas. She'd party with you if she could, but she isn't here, and Anastasia's not into that. Besides, even if she was, there's no live music anymore.”
“Yeah, Ike said it wasn't in the budget. No worries. I haven't seen Mac and Travis since we left the Double J. Maybe it's better this way. We can drink beer and catch up.”
“For the entire weekend?” She sounded skeptical.
“Well, no. We'll do that at night, but during the day we'll head out and round up the Ghost. Ike says he's stillâ”
“You most certainly will not!” She set her wineglass down with a sharp
and faced him, sparks of anger in her eyes. “Don't y'all dare go out there and harass that poor horse for your own amusement!”
He blinked in confusion. The dappled gray stallion and his small band of wild horses used to be fair game, a challenge for the cowboys who worked at the Double J. Vince and his buddies hadn't succeeded in roping him, mostly because they'd never been able to devote an entire weekend to the project. Now they could.
But Georgie was obviously ready to rip him a new one on the subject of the wild stallion. “There is no reason on God's green earth why you should go after him! He's not hurting anything, especially now that so few horses live in the area. Back when the Double J was in operation, I admit he tried to raid the corral a couple of times, but those days are over. There are four horses boarded at Ed's stable, and they're all geldings. No mares. The Ghost leaves us alone and we leave him alone!”
“Is that why you decided to rendezvous here? To go after that stallion?”
“Partly, yeah. We always talked about capturing him, but we never did. Now seems as good a time as any.”
Her eyes glittered in defiance. “You won't find him.”
“Oh, I think we will. We have two whole days to look.”
Ike returned from the kitchen, and Georgie wheeled on him. “Did you tell Vince that the Ghost was still out there?”
Ike shrugged. “He asked. I wasn't going to lie to the man.”
“Are you aware that Vince and his two cohorts are heading out on some macho quest to rope him?”
“I didn't know that.” Ike looked at Vince. “You might want to reconsider. Georgie takes a special interest in those wild horses.”
First he'd discovered that the town was deader than a doornail, and now Georgie Bickford was raining all over his wild horse roundup. Maybe she was right and they should take this party elsewhere, but he'd craved the small-town experience and he wouldn't get that in Amarillo or Lubbock.
Mac and Travis chose that moment to walk into the saloon. They'd shared a ride here because they both worked at a ranch outside Midland. They sauntered in with wide grins as if they owned the place. Vince left his barstool and went over to greet them. Much joking around and backslapping followed. Vince couldn't believe how happy he was to see those old boys. Until they arrived, he'd been outnumbered.
Mac and Travis tipped their hats and said hello to Georgie, who replied without smiling.
“So where is everybody?” Mac glanced around. “Hey, Georgie. What's happened to this place?”
“We're experiencing an economic downturn.” Georgie's jaw tightened. “I suggest you three mosey on to a place that's more suited to your needs.”
“Nah, we don't need to do that,” Travis said. “I assume Sadie's still serves beer.”
“We do,” Ike said.
“Then we're in business.” Travis walked over to the bar and shook hands with Ike. “Good to see you. I'll have a longneck, like always.”
“And I'll take my usual draft.” Mac sat on a stool next to him.
“Coming up.” Ike looked nervous, but he busied himself getting the beer.
Georgie cleared her throat. “I understand y'all are planning to round up the Ghost this weekend.”
Mac nodded. “Yes, ma'am, we sure are. Isn't that right, Vince?”
For a split second Vince considered telling Mac there'd been a change of plans. Then his rebellious streak surfaced. By God, he'd organized this adventure and he'd see it through. There was no law against chasing after that horse. He met Georgie's flinty gaze. “That's right, Mac.”
Georgie's mouth thinned. “Over my dead body.”
Vince admired her spirit. He always had. But he couldn't let her get the upper hand.
“Don't go sacrificing yourself like that, darlin'.”
She balled her hands into fists. “Do
“I promise we won't hurt those horses one tiny bit.” He turned to his partners in crime. “Isn't that right, boys?”
She poured a boatload of scorn into the word. “What a perfect description.
would not be involved in causing distress to animals to stroke their outsized egos.”
Travis stayed hunched over his beer, but Mac swiveled to face them. “Y'know, Vince, we don't
to round up the Ghost this weekend. Maybe we should justâ”
“We're gonna round him up.” Vince kept his tone mild and conversational, but his gaze locked on Georgie's. “There's no law against it.”
Georgie held her ground and matched him stare for stare.
“Georgie?” Ike's tone was deferential, as if he didn't want her unleashing her wrath on him.
She gentled her voice. “What, Ike?”
“Your dinner's ready.”
“Thank you. I'd like to sit in the far corner, please.”
“I'll set you up over there, then.”
Vince adjusted the fit of his black Stetson. “Seems like your meal's being served. You wouldn't want to let that barbecue get cold.”
“I don't intend to do that. But this is not over.” Turning on her heel, she marched straight to the table where Ike was laying out her silverware on either side of her steaming plate.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
“I don't think you have to worry about those old boys,” Ike said to Georgie in an undertone.
She settled herself in a chair facing the three cowboys at the bar. “Why not?” Oh, how Vince infuriated her! Her girlfriend Janet, who'd since married and moved away, used to rave about his
electric blue eyes
sinfully sexy mouth
. Right now Georgie would love to wipe that arrogant grin off his face with a solid right hook to his manly jaw.