Authors: Helen Hardt
This book is an original publication of Helen Hardt.
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. The publisher does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2016 Waterhouse Press, LLC
Cover Design by Waterhouse Press, LLC
Cover Imagery: Shutterstock
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic format without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
contains adult language and scenes. This story is meant only for adults as defined by the laws of the country where you made your purchase. Store your e-books carefully where they cannot be accessed by younger readers.
to say I always enjoy a Helen Hardt tale. They're spicy, full of robust characters, and have a satisfying plot with a sure fire HEA.
certainly doesn't disappoint. I knew from the start the heroine was going to be quite a handful. As it turns out, the spoiled, pampered Angelina and her antics were certainly nothing Hardt’s hero, Rafe, couldn't handle. I had no problems falling in love with her hero—a splendid Native American man with a wonderful heart. The sparks that flew between these two were palpable on the page. The story line itself grew and explored each of their worlds, both apart and intertwined. I highly recommend this read for fans of Hardt and for those readers who enjoy a spicy romp with a western flair.
~Author Lori Corsentino
elen Hardt makes
you love each and every one of her characters. I started thinking who I would want to read more about from Bakersville, but I decided Ms. Hardt just needs to write about the whole damn town, and I am sure there are neighboring towns as well. Her words are magic, and you become engulfed by them. I really cannot say enough wonderful things, but I don’t want to give anything away. Not a country girl? You don’t know anything about ranching or care for cowboys? Forget all those notions and read this series!
~Delightfully Dirty Reads
elen Hardt writes
a cowboy like no other. I’m beyond enamored with McCray Men and their women…it makes me want to move to Colorado!
I took this book to bed with me and I didn’t sleep until 4 a.m. Yes, it’s that damn engrossing, so grab your copy now!
~Brenda’s Book Beat
Ms. Hardt creates magic…
~The Romance Studio
Flawlessly written and in my opinion a work of art…
~Girly Girl Book Reviews
Is it hot in here? I mean it’s July, the sun is blazing, but I’m sitting in an air conditioned house sweating bullets. Congratulations Ms. Hardt, you dropped me into the middle of a scorching hot story and let me burn.
Ms. Hardt has a way of writing that makes me forget I'm reading a book. It's more like slipping into a world she created and getting lost for a while.
~Whipped Cream Reviews
I loved this book. The characters were wonderful. They each showed their vulnerable sides as well as their strengths. They are real people and have real problems but also some very loving solutions…
~Night Owl Reviews
his one is
for Celina Summers—thank you for your belief in me and my work. You’re the best!
ong black lashes
fringed eyes like perfect emeralds. Cheeks shimmered the color of the palest pink rose. Dark hair hung in two ponytails on either side of an oval face. The red-and-white gingham blouse tied below round breasts—with just a touch of cleavage showing—screamed country girl. The Daisy Dukes, long shapely legs, and fire-engine red toenails peeking out from strappy leather flip-flops screamed siren.
Tall, too. He loved tall women. At six-three, he liked his women to fit his frame.
His groin tightened. He’d never been immune to a pretty woman, and she was about as gorgeous as he’d seen—the perfect combination of innocence and heat, sparkle and sultry, virtue and corruption. How would those cherry lips feels against his own? Against…other places?
The two ponytails that would be ridiculous on most women worked on her. Dark curls tumbled over each shoulder. He imagined her sans blouse, sans hair ribbons, that silky hair cascading over peachy-pink shoulders, rosy-tipped breasts.
How it might feel between his fingers, brushing his chest…
Good lord, she is beautiful.
Then she spoke.
“Hand, I’m looking for Rafe Grayhawk.”
Hand? Not so beautiful inside. The derision in her tone was unmistakable. He fought the urge to ignore her. He was an employee here at McCray Landing. If this woman was looking for him, she probably had a reason.
“I’m Rafe Grayhawk.”
She whipped her hands to her round hips. “I hear you can teach me to ride.”
Huh? Who is this woman anyway?
She vaguely resembled his boss’s wife, though Catie was more refreshing, less “nose-stuck-in-the-air.”
“I can teach anyone to ride, honey.” He eyed her up and down. “But not in that getup. Who are you, anyway?”
“Angelina Bay. Catie’s sister. And don’t call me honey.”
Rafe held out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
She didn’t return the gesture. He dropped his hand back to his side.
“I used to ride a little. I was rodeo queen quite a while ago. But I didn’t keep up with it. My daddy says if I’m going to own one of his ranches someday it’s high time I learned to ride decently. We don’t have any hands at our ranch who have the time or talent to teach me, in his opinion. Daddy wants the best. According to Chad McCray, you’re it.”
“Why not ask your sister? She’s as good a rider as anyone.”
“Clearly you haven’t heard the good news.” Angelina scuffed one sandaled foot in the dirt of the stall. “She’s expecting, and since she had a miscarriage the first time, she and Chad are being ridiculously overprotective this time.”
Didn’t sound unreasonable to Rafe. His mother had struggled with miscarriages and his father had been very protective, but Angelina’s voice registered indignation over her sister’s decision to put her pregnancy first.
Teach this piece of work to ride? Not in this lifetime.
He turned back to the horse he was currying. “I’m afraid I can’t help you. McCray expects all his hands to put in forty hours a week here.”
“I already okayed it through him. Didn’t I just say he said you’re the best to teach me? Sheesh.”
Eye roll. He wasn’t looking at her, but he knew her pupils were curving upward against her lids.
“Darlin’, you’ve got a sight to learn about askin’ for a favor.”
“I’m not asking for a favor, hand. You’ll be well paid.”
Hand again? Christ, I have a name.
He turned and gazed into those eyes clear as the Mediterranean Sea. “Well paid, huh? Just how much constitutes ‘well paid’ to you?”
“Fifty dollars an hour.”
A fair price, for sure. Not worth it to put up with this prima donna, though.
“Make it a hundred.”
The porcelain hands dashed to her hips again.
“A hundred? Are you kidding me? Fifty is the going rate around here.”
“Then I’m sure you won’t have any problem finding someone else at that price. Nice meeting you.” He turned his back to her.
“But Chad says you’re the best.”
“The man speaks the truth.” Rafe smoothed the gelding’s dark mane.
“Seventy-five is as high as I’ll go.”
Rafe pursed his lips. Seventy-five dollars an hour would go a long way helping his father get out of that damned trailer park. For the last couple of years, Rafe and his brother, Tom, had been putting all their extra money towards a place in Arizona for Jack Grayhawk. Since the death of Rafe’s mother, his dad had been wasting away in that old dump. Though only fifty, he’d had to leave construction work after a debilitating injury to his hip. He could still get around, but work was out of the question. He drew a small disability pension, but it wasn’t enough. He also suffered from chronic asthma, and though Colorado weather wasn’t bad, the dryer Arizona weather and mild winters would be better. Yeah, this money would sure help. Rafe turned around and gazed at the slender woman. Spending time looking at Angelina Bay would be no hardship. Still, to put up with her attitude…
“The price is a hundred. Take it or leave it.”
“I’ll leave it.”
The beauty turned on her heels and marched toward the door of the barn.
Shit, I should have taken the seventy-five.
He could have made life easier for his dad. Jack could take Lilia, the Mexican woman who’d kept house for him for the last five years, with him. Since Finola Grayhawk had passed on three years ago, Lilia cooked and cleaned in exchange for room and board in Rafe and Tom’s old room. Lilia had reduced her hours as a receptionist to part time to help keep house for Jack. The two would have had a wonderful new life in Arizona.
Ah well, Rafe had no doubt saved himself a lifetime’s worth of headache. He put the currycomb down and grabbed the stiff bristle brush. This particular gelding, Adonis, loved the stiff bristle brush. Rafe started at the neck with short flicking motions. “That’s a good boy.”
A throat cleared behind him. He turned. Angelina.
“You still here? Thought you’d marched out in a huff.”
“A hundred it is then, hand.”
“There ain’t enough money in the world for me to put up with you calling me ‘hand.’”
“That’s what I call all the hands.”
“They have names, you know.”
“You expect me to remember all those names?”
“Why not? They remember yours, don’t they?”
“That’s different. I’m the boss’s daughter, and there’s only one of me.”
If another Angelina existed, he’d lose all hope for the world. “You’re not the boss’s daughter here.”
“I’m the boss’s sister-in-law.”
“Whatever. You want my help? The price is a hundred an hour, and if you call me ‘hand’ one more time, all deals are off.”
“Fine. Rafe, then.”
“How about Mr. Grayhawk?”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, I am, Miss Bay.”
Let’s see how she handles this one
“Of course you should call me Miss Bay. I’m the boss and you’re the help.”
Help? Seriously? Normally he’d think twice about getting into it with his boss’s sister-in-law, but Chad McCray respected him and his work, and this little snot brought out the worst in him. “I obviously have something you want. I won’t deal with disrespect from anyone, especially not a flouncy ranch girl.”
Hands to hips again. Did she have two indentations there? “Girl? I happen to be thirty-two years old.”
Thirty-two? He’d have guessed her younger than his own age of twenty-five. The years had been kind to Miss Bay. She had the skin and body of a nineteen-year-old. She was a beauty. On the outside, at least.
“Thirty-two years old and acting like a spoiled brat? Grow up, Angelina.”
“Angelina. And you’ll call me Rafe. I hate Mr. Grayhawk.”
She tapped her foot on the barn floor. “It was your idea.”
“I was trying to make a point. You were being disrespectful.”
“I’m not used to being respectful to hands.”
“Well, get used to it. We’re people, just like you, and disrespect hurts us, just like it hurts you.” Though he doubted she’d ever experienced disrespect.
Her eyes widened—just a little, but he’d made her think. For a second, anyway.
When can we start?”
“You got a horse?”
“Yes. Just bought her. A beautiful black mare named Belle.”
“Have her brought over by seven tonight.”
“And I’ll see you tomorrow. Six a.m. sharp.”
This time when her hands flew to her hips her eyes turned to saucers. “Six a.m.? Sorry. I don’t do the crack of dawn.”
Rafe shook his head. “And you expect to own your father’s ranch someday? Do you have any idea what time he gets up? Chad and Catie are up before five every morning.”
“I’m not Catie.”
She was right about that. Did the two of them really come from the same gene pool? The physical evidence was there, but little else.
“Six a.m.,” he said, “and wear clothes suitable for riding.”
She stormed out, sulking.
Rafe chuckled. No way would she show up.
, how are you?” Debra Montgomery took her arm. “What can we show you today?”
“Whatever you have that’s new.”
Deb nodded. “I’ll call in the reserves.”
Angie was known around town for her shopping sprees. She ignored the snotty remarks that she alone kept Deb’s Boutique in business. Right now she wanted new clothes, and then she’d head over to the beauty shop for some pampering.
Because she felt like it, that’s why.
“We just got in some great new studded jeans from New York,” Deb said. “I’ll have Lori bring some out in your size.”
Angie tried on six pairs of jeans, discarded three, and added the other three to her pile. “I’ll need some shirts to go with these,” she told Lori, the red-haired clerk she hadn’t seen before.
Lori brought in shirt after shirt, but none suited Angie. She piled them back into Lori’s arms. “Don’t you have anything that doesn’t look like it came from a discount store tent sale? Sheesh!”
Lori sighed. “I’ll check with Deb.”
Deb herself came over. “I’m sorry our selection of blouses isn’t to your liking today, Angie. You know I stock only the latest fashions.”
Angie rolled her eyes. “Do you have anything else?”
“Lori’s getting a few more for you.”
“Maybe you should light a fire under her. Your new clerk is incredibly slow.”
Deb smiled. Deb always smiled. She had to. Angie spent a lot of money in her boutique.
Lori came out with four more blouses. Angie touched the fabric. “Is this supposed to be silk?”
“That one’s rayon,” Lori said.
“Rayon? A man-made fabric?”
“Rayon is a semi-synthetic, actually,” Deb said. “All the top houses in New York and Europe use it. You know that.”
“Whatever.” Angie took the blouses. “I’ll try them on.” She walked back into the dressing room.
“How do you stand her?” she heard Lori whisper.
Angie shook her head as her temper rose. “You may want to tell your new clerk to install soundproof doors on your dressing rooms. I heard that!”
“I’m sorry, Angie,” Deb’s voice said. “I’ll take care you myself today.”
Angie discarded three of the blouses into Deb’s waiting arms. “You should fire that new girl. Hasn’t she ever heard that the customer is always right?”
“Lori knows fashion,” Deb said. “I’m sorry she insulted you, but I won’t fire her. She came highly recommended, and just in the week she’s been here she’s made more sales than Gwen did all month.”
“Fine,” Angie said. “Put the clothes on my tab and have them delivered. And don’t expect to see me in here again as long as that little snot is working here.”
She walked out the door and headed to Judy’s Beauty Shop across the street.
“Amber, are you free?”
The pretty platinum blond manicurist, Bakersville’s reigning rodeo queen, looked up. “Hi, Angie. Yeah, I can squeeze you in. Manicure?”
“Mani and pedi. It’s been a day.”
Amber motioned her over to her table. “What’s going on? Deb didn’t have what you were looking for?”
Angie noted the sarcasm in Amber’s voice but decided to ignore it. She had bigger fish to fry. “Deb never has what I’m looking for, but that’s not the main problem.” She sighed. “My father thinks I need riding lessons.”
Amber picked up her cuticle nippers. “I thought you knew how to ride.”
“I do. Sort of. I just haven’t done it in a while. I was good enough to do the rodeo queen patterns a million years ago, but I was just never that into it. I’m not Catie.”
“Catie’s a natural.”
“Totally. Did you hear she’s pregnant again?”
“Yeah, she stopped in yesterday and told me. I’m so happy for her and Chad.”
“Yeah, me too.” At least she wanted to be. But Catie’s pregnancy only reminded her of her own biological clock. Her baby sister would be a mother before she would. Not that she had any grand desire to be a mother. At least that’s what she kept telling herself.
Hell, how did I get on this subject?
“Can we get back to my riding?”
“Sure. You brought up Catie being pregnant.”
“I know. But right now this riding thing is driving me nuts.”
“Riding is tough to learn, for sure, but there’s nothing like it. I love it myself.”
“Maybe you could teach me then.”
Amber laughed. “Me? Are you kidding? I can get around, but I’m not qualified to instruct anyone.”
Crap. Oh well.
She’d approached a few local riding instructors before Chad led her to Rafe Grayhawk. They’d all turned her down flat. Course she hadn’t offered any of them a hundred bucks an hour, but they’d all seemed eager to tell her how they were too busy to teach the older Bay daughter how to ride a horse properly. Was she that difficult?
“Do I have a…reputation in this town?” she asked Amber.
Amber’s gaze was locked on Angie’s cuticles. Was she deliberately avoiding eye contact?
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I mean…as being…difficult to work with, or something?”
Amber cleared her throat. “You’re not difficult with me. We get along great.”