Authors: Tina Leonard
The look on Cissy’s face was priceless. Thank God he hadn’t had too much invested in the offer, or he’d be devastated. She looked as if she’d just as soon become high priestess of the snake species.
“I don’t suppose you want to sleep with me?”
“Now that you mention it—”
“I thought not,” she said. “You’re a nice guy and cute and smell good and can ride bulls just for the hell of it. But there’s marriage, and then there’s
and when I do it, I really, really want it to be for real.”
His Adam’s apple jumped in his throat. What could he say? Of course he wanted to sleep with her! But he couldn’t say that. Could he?
“We could see what developed,” he said hopefully, trying to hedge.
“I know you like trashy girls, Tex,” she said, and laid her fingertips against his lips. “And I can be that. If you’ll let me.”
Tina Leonard loves to laugh, which is one of the many reasons she loves writing Harlequin American Romance books. In another lifetime, Tina thought she would be single and an East Coast fashion buyer forever. The unexpected happened when Tina met Tim again after many years—she hadn’t seen him since they’d attended school together from first through eighth grade. They married, and now Tina keeps a close eye on her school-age children’s friends! Lisa and Dean keep their mother busy with soccer, gymnastics and horseback riding. They are proud of their mom’s “kissy books” and eagerly help her any way they can. Tina hopes that readers will enjoy the love of family she writes about in her books. Recently a reviewer wrote, “Leonard has a wonderful sense of the ridiculous,” which Tina loved so much she wants it for her epitaph. Right now, however, she’s focusing on her wonderful life and writing a lot more romance!
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
758—DADDY’S LITTLE DARLINGS
771—THE MOST ELIGIBLE…DADDY
796—A MATCH MADE IN TEXAS
811—COWBOY BE MINE
846—SPECIAL ORDER GROOM
873—HIS ARRANGED MARRIAGE
905—QUADRUPLETS ON THE DOORSTEP
977—FRISCO JOE’S FIANCÉE
981—LAREDO’S SASSY SWEETHEART
986—RANGER’S WILD WOMAN
989—TEX TIMES TEN
576—A MAN OF HONOR
—He valiantly keeps the ranch and the family together.
Frisco Joe (36)
—Newly married, he lives in Texas wine country with his wife and daughter.
—Should he pack up and head out to find their long-lost father, Maverick?
Laredo (34), twin to Tex
—His one passion: to go east and do Something Big, which meant marrying the love of his life and moving to North Carolina.
Tex (34), twin to Laredo
—Determined to prove he’s settled, he cross-pollinates roses, but can’t seem to get them to bloom.
—He’s been thinking of hitting the rodeo circuit.
Ranger (32), twin to Archer
—He gave up on joining the military to join his wife in their RV.
Archer (32), twin to Ranger
—He’ll do anything to keep his mind off his brothers’ restlessness—even write poetry to his lady pen pal in Australia.
Crockett (30), twin to Navarro
—He’s an artist who loves to paint portraits—of nudes.
Navarro (30), twin to Crockett
—He may join Calhoun in the bull-riding game.
—He spouts poetry like Whitman—and sometimes nonsense.
—Never least, he loves to dispense advice, especially to his brothers.
Tex Jefferson’s brothers, Frisco Joe, Laredo and Ranger, had tried so hard to outrun a matrimonial state that they’d swerved and crashed headfirst into it.
Tex simply wasn’t going to be caught like that. Running was not a fail-safe cure. His brothers had married good women, and they were happy changing their worlds to suit their new wives.
But I, Tex thought, know that marital stability is not my thing. He could ride the orneriest bull. He could bust heads when defense was necessary and sometimes when it wasn’t. Rope, ride and range.
But he would die coming home to an Annabelle, a Katy or a Hannah every night. Good girls, every one of them. And Tex was happy for his brothers.
And Mimi Cannady, their next-door neighbor, had put a knot in his eldest brother Mason’s life then married someone else. Merry hellfire was Mimi. Tex thought he could almost handle a woman like that.
Maybe. If forced.
But why should he fall for a lady he had no in
tention of marrying? Mason hadn’t married Mimi, and surely that was an example to follow!
But Mason was miserable. Tex was glad to have temporarily left a house that only he and Mason were currently sharing, Tex wandered into one of the riverboat’s many bedrooms. He couldn’t see himself living on a boat the way Hannah’s friend Jellyfish did. Too confining. Too narrow. Louisiana’s Mississippi River had its charm but nothing like the great open spaces of Texas and the Union Junction ranch. He was a man of the soil, not a man of the water.
Of course, land was in Tex’s blood, as it was in the blood of his eleven brothers: Mason, Frisco Joe, Fannin, Laredo, Calhoun, Ranger, Archer, Crockett, Navarro, Bandera and Last. The men shared three houses on the Union Junction ranch. With Frisco, Laredo and Ranger married, the quarters were getting less crowded, leaving room for Helga the Housekeeper. Tex suspected Mimi had sicced Helga on them to keep Mason “safe” from other women—but since Mimi had married Brian, maybe that thought wasn’t honorable. Still, Helga had overseen the Jefferson brothers like a strict governess, making the sprawling ranch seem confining.
Startled, he realized he’d stumbled into the newly decorated honeymoon suite—Hannah’s bedroom converted for that purpose, as Ranger had mentioned. There were white roses galore and two crystal flutes on the nightstand. Fascinated, Tex ogled the place where love ended up. You met a girl, you married a girl and then you bedded down with the girl, every night for the rest of your life.
Sheesh. Not me, Tex thought.
Next to the crystal flutes was a book that bore Hannah Hotchkiss’s name. She was Hannah Jefferson now, since Ranger and she had just said their vows. Through the window, Tex could hear the sound of dance music and happy guests on deck.
He knew he was foregoing dancing for snooping. But he had thought Cissy Kisserton might make it to Hannah’s wedding, since the two of them had gotten close during their infamous road trip with Ranger. He’d hoped for a glimpse of that platinum-haired man-magnet; a glimpse was about all a man could handle. But she hadn’t attended.
Being nosy, Tex picked up Hannah’s book. A picture fell to the floor, which he scooped up guiltily.
And there was Cissy Kisserton, looking like no Cissy he’d ever seen. She wasn’t dressed in a mini-skirt and high heels. She wasn’t wreaking havoc on a man’s groin by wearing catsuit jeans.
This Cissy was dressed for church.
Whew. She was a wicked brew of sin underneath that churchy lace thing. Who was she trying to fool?
Tex wasn’t admitting it, but he’d stayed on that bull, BadAss Blue, just to impress Cissy. Sure, she’d lied about the other bull, Bloodthirsty, pulling left so that Tex’s twin, Laredo, wouldn’t be able to stay on.
But Tex sort of admired a woman with gall.
And he’d stayed on his bull just to show Cissy Kisserton what he was made of. He figured she’d be appropriately admiring and grateful after the rodeo.
She hadn’t been.
It was as if she had too many things on her mind
to be bothered with him. A winning cowboy, and she hadn’t given him the time of day. He’d beat his own brother—not that it was difficult since Laredo couldn’t have stayed on a bull if he’d had crazy glue in his jeans—just to get
Tex turned his gaze back to the picture. Seven children stood around Cissy, some of them clinging to her. There was a church in the background. In fact, she was standing in a church parking lot. The baby stroller at her side held what looked like two more infants, and, he saw with a growing sort of horror, her left hand was on the stroller handle!
Tex’s jaw sagged as if he’d been punched in a bar brawl. The nine little moppets of varying ages were going to church with
If I knew everything, I’d be less of a man Maverick Jefferson to his sons when they bragged to Mimi that their father knew more than Mimi’s father, Sheriff Cannady
“Wimmin are tricky,” Tex Jefferson stated, his voice slurring. “I think they aim to trick ush poor men into matrimony and sex and giving money at church and even stealing candy from babies. Donchoo think?”
Newlyweds Hannah and Ranger Jefferson stared down at Ranger’s thirty-four-year-old brother, who was lolling in the middle of their unchristened honeymoon bed. Tex had obviously helped himself liberally to wedding champagne.
“Tex, dude, that’s all fine and good, but you’re going to have to vacate. What are you doing in here, anyway?” Ranger asked.
“Hidin’ from wimmin,” Tex told them, trying to roll onto his side to achieve an upright position and failing miserably as he listed to the left, back onto
the down pillows. “Did you notice all the wimmin out there at the reception? They’re plotting,” he said to Ranger in a hushed whisper. “I could tell they were plotting something. It’s not safe!”
Ranger cleared his throat. “I don’t think it’s you they’re after, particularly. Here, let me heave your arse out of our bed. Hannah and I have a wedding night to enjoy, without you, bro.”
Together, Hannah and Ranger pulled Tex to his feet and helped him—pushed him—to the door.
Tex peered owlishly down the hall. “Are they gone?”
“Who?” Hannah asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Now, you head on to bed.
You’ll be safe in your own room.”
“Okay. ’Night,” Tex said, lurching down the hall. He wasn’t certain if this riverboat suited him or not. It was pretty and all. He felt claustrophobic.
Or maybe he felt left out. He certainly hadn’t wanted to dance with Hannah’s stylist sisters from the Lonely Hearts salon. That way led to certain danger. And he hadn’t wanted to stand around and gab with his brothers—all they did anymore was rib him about his problems with his rose beds. Budus Interruptus! Shoot, it was only April! Who expected a rose to open in April, anyway? All right, so to morrow began the month of May, but it was his opinion that anything that took a long time was worth waiting for. When they finally bloomed, his
roses were going to be so spectacular his brothers would shut up for good.
He’d endured a lot of ribbing about those roses, and his own “unplowed” field. Only at Malfunction Junction would a man’s lack of a sex life be such a game topic of conversation. His eleven brothers: all lures to the female gender. And he, Tex, lately eschewing female companionship. For two months now, though he wasn’t counting.
But his brothers were.
“Mind their own beeswaxes,” he said to himself, opening the door to his room. “I don’t need any wimmin. Nothing but trouble. Arrgh!” he cried, his brain late to assess what his eyes were surveying in disbelief. The entire female wedding party was assembled in his room.
Maybe it wasn’t his room. He backed up and looked at the letter on the door, but one of the girls took his hand and pulled him inside, closing the door behind him.
“Hello, Tex,” they chorused.
It was a she-wolf pack. A curse. He was going down. They were after him, and he didn’t know a man who could outrun more than a dozen determined females.
He was vastly outnumbered.
“Can I have a last meal?” he asked.
over the Never Lonely Cut-n-Gurls salon, counting the number of male cus
tomers for her report to Marvella. In the past couple of weeks, Cissy had become resigned to her fate—one more year serving as Marvella’s hostess. She wished she’d known about the salon’s brothel reputation, but a girl did what she had to do, especially when she had nine mouths to feed.
With a glance around, she slipped upstairs to call her grandmother, who cared for the children her siblings and their spouses had left behind when they’d become missionaries and found themselves in a hotbed of rebel activity. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. He’d taken, and she still didn’t know if her siblings were dead or alive.
“Gran?” Cissy said when the phone was answered.
“Hey, honey,” her grandmother said.
A small smile touched Cissy’s face as the memory of oatmeal-raisin cookies and homemade soups flowed over her. The warmth of her grandmother’s home. A blooming garden outside where the sun kissed the earth, even in winter. “How are the kids?” Cissy asked.
“How are you?” Gran countered.
“You don’t sound fine. You sound sad.”
Cissy drew a deep breath. “Just a little homesick, is all.”
“I know. I can tell. How ’bout I send you a box of your favorite cookies?”
“Tell me how the baby is doing? And the other children? And you?” Cissy said, battling back tears.
“We’re fine and dandy. I took your last check and went out and bought the kids new crayons. And some shorts from the secondhand store for the bigger ones.
You won’t believe how much these young’uns have grown.”
“I know I wouldn’t.” Cissy sat down on the bed and picked at the comforter.
“Well, we all miss you, but you shouldn’t be spending your money on calling us so often. Sunday nights are fine. Besides, the children are all in bed now. You’ve missed speaking to them.”
Cissy shook her head. “I really just wanted to hear your voice. I’m feeling much better now.”
“Cissy,” Gran said, “there’s just no way out of that contract with Marvella, is there?”
“No.” Although for a few days last month, Cissy had hoped and prayed that she’d escaped with Han nah Hotchkiss’s help. Tonight, her friend would be come Hannah Jefferson. And Cissy couldn’t go to the wedding because she had to work. An iron-clad contract with Marvella and a desperate need for money to send to her family was enough to make certain Cissy stayed exactly where she was. “It’s good money, Gran. I’m glad you bought the kids new crayons. They couldn’t have a better teacher than you.”
And that was the truth. If there was a happy place to grow up, it was Gran’s. “I have to go now,” she said softly. “Tell the children I’ll call on Sunday.”
“You do that. And Cissy,” her grandmother said,
“there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. We just haven’t seen it yet.”
“I’m sure it’s there.”
“Clearly, I’m going to have to dream up a handsome-prince-rescues-my-Cissy scenario for you. I just don’t know any handsome princes.”
“I don’t know any that provide rescue service. Good night, Gran. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
She hung up the phone, feeling better and worse all at once. Lost in thought, she was startled when the phone rang under her hand. “Hello?”
“Shishy?” a voice said.
Cissy frowned. “This is Cissy.”
“Thish ish Tex.”
“You sound…like you’ve enjoyed the wedding.” Her heart began pounding. Why would that handsome cowboy be calling her? It was as if her dreams were coming true…but of course, the dreams she dreamed couldn’t possibly come true for her.
“I haven’t enjoyed anything!” he said urgently, though his voice was hushed.
“What is your problem?” she demanded. “You sound like you’re in a pipe.”
“I’m not in a pipe! I’m in a jam. I need you to save me!”
Her brows shot up. “Oh, gosh, thank heaven. There for a minute I thought my Prince Charming might actually be calling me.”
“Nothing. Saving cowboys isn’t exactly my specialty. And besides, it sounds like you’re about three bottles past salvation.”
“These wimmin want me. That’s the problem!”
She laughed. “Tex, that’s a male oxymoron.”
“Oxy-what? I’m not in the mood for big chat, Cissy. I need you to come get me out of here before they find me!”
“Where are you?”
“In a broom closet on the riverboat!”
She sat on the bed, beginning to enjoy his dilemma. “Hiding from women.”
“Pawn them off on your brothers. How was the wedding?”
“I dunno. I fell asleep.”
“And then you found the champagne.”
“Well, yes. And then they grabbed me. And so I found more champagne. But it’s starting to taste sharp to me. I need a good old-fashioned beer.”
“Who grabbed you?”
“The women from the other two salons.”
Oh. Her rivals. Hannah’s stylist sisters. “Most men don’t complain about women wanting them, Tex. Is there a problem you want to share?”
“No,” he said, his voice tense. “It’s what they want to do with me that’s the problem.”
“And that would be?”
“Raffle me. And my brothers. My brothers are go
ing to kill me, because I agreed. But there was just so much pressure, Cissy!”
He was starting to sound better now that he was putting voice to his anxiety. Cissy crawled up in her bed and leaned against the headboard. “What kind of pressure?” Although she could imagine, since he was a gorgeous guy.
“I don’t know. Pressure!”
“I have to take a report to Marvella, Tex. You go sleep off your pressure, okay? I think you’ll be fine in the morning.” She should have known that the only reason he’d ever ring her phone was if he was three sheets to the wind and heading downstream fast.
“Cissy, listen to me. This is really all your fault.”
“Yes. Because you told my brother that Bloodthirsty Black pulled left, when he didn’t. Laredo could have been killed!”
“He could have been killed, anyway, since he couldn’t ride a bull. How is that my fault?”
“Because you work for the wicked witch. And Hannah suggested a cowboy raffle to get you out of your contract. Only Marvella turned down the idea, and now the other salons have picked it up. And I got roped into taking part.”
“You wouldn’t want to be on this salon’s team, Tex. It’s definitely not the team of good sportswomanship.”
“I know. And what will happen if I get won? Have you ever considered that, Miss Kisserton?”
“Oh,” she said. “You’re figuring that someone in this salon might buy you.”
“Marvella,” he said, sounding squeaky. “I mean, what if?”
She laughed. “I don’t think she wants you, cow boy.”
“She might. To ride BadAss Blue for her. Or some other enslavement. Think, Cissy. I could end up dancing on her hot tub wearing nothing more than a pair of jeans! Or she might make me be a butler for an evening, her personal boy-toy.”
“The possibilities are endless,” Cissy said. “But I think you’re overrating your appeal.” Actually, he wasn’t, but Cissy wasn’t going to reward his vanity or his paranoia.
A knock on her door made her jump. “Who is it?”
“Hang on,” she whispered to Tex. “Marvella wants to talk to me. Come in,” she called.
Her nemesis walked in, dressed in a conservative navy-blue dress, her white hair piled high and iron-sprayed. “I’ve been waiting for the report.” She eyed Cissy’s clothing with approval, and then the phone Cissy was holding with disapproval.
“I’m sorry. I got an unexpected phone call. Fifty customers downstairs, including the mayor and a police captain from the town over. Drink tab is up by fifty percent. And the cowgirl-loving ship captain is back, paying court to Valentine. He likes her phone-
voice so much he hasn’t yet figured out she can’t ride a horse.”
“Good.” Marvella nodded. “Who are you talking to?”
Cissy swallowed. “Tex Jefferson.”
“Excellent.” Her voice turned soft and cooing. “Please tell Tex I say hello. And that I’m so hoping he’ll ride BadAss Blue for me at this month’s Mayfest. I’m also thinking of doing a children’s petting zoo, if he can think of some animals I could rent for the event.”
Cissy’s jaw went slack. “I told you,” Tex said in her ear. “She’ll think of a way to use and abuse me!”
“I’ll tell him, Marvella,” Cissy said.
Marvella smiled. “Good night.”
“Good night.” She waited until Marvella closed the door. “Now, don’t get all wadded up,” she told Tex.
“Oh, no, I have no reason to be wadded. But this is your fault.”
She gasped. “Nothing is my fault!”
“You told Laredo that Bloodthirsty cranked left, which caused me to have to get involved, and now Marvella wants me. And if she gets the chance to win me, I’m toast.”
“You have toast between your ears. It’s simply not as bad as you paint it. So you’ll ride a bull. That’s not exactly a stretch for you.”
“But I don’t want to ride for Marvella anymore,” Tex said. “It hurts Delilah’s feelings. She doesn’t
say so, but I feel uneasy. And I’ve learned to pay attention to my uneasy feelings.”
Delilah owned the salon across the street, and the two sisters stayed at each other’s throats. Marvella accused Delilah of stealing Marvella’s husband many years ago, but Cissy privately thought Marvella’s meanness had probably run her husband off. “I think Delilah understands the situation.”
“I’m not going to do it,” Tex said suddenly. “I refuse to take part in this charity event.”
“Have it your way. It’s no big loss, I’m sure. I have to go,” she told him. “Thanks for calling. I think.” Actually, she was a little miffed that he’d only called to cry on her shoulder.
She wanted him to call her because he wanted to talk to her. Really talk to her. Not just wheeze. Even though she felt like wheezing about Marvella herself.
“Okay. I just needed to hear you say that ducking out on a charity event was all right.”
“It’s fine. You have given yourself permission to be a weasel. Good night.” And she hung up the phone.
But five hours later, when Cissy was sound asleep in her bed, something sat on her feet. Something large. She let out a shriek and struggled to sit up.
“Sh,” the something large said. “It’s Tex.”
“What are you doing?” she demanded furiously, though she was greatly relieved to know it was Tex and not a patron of Marvella’s. “How did you get into my room?”
“We’ll discuss terms of entry later,” he said.
“Right now, I’ve got to talk to you.”
She switched on her side-table lamp, tucking in a startled breath when she got a look at the gorgeous man sitting on her feet. Hot enough to radiate his own heat. And yet, she didn’t dare melt for him again. “Could you get off of me?” she asked.
He didn’t move. Instead, he handed her a white box. “Wedding cake. Hannah commissioned me to courier this to you. Actually, she also told me the secret to getting into Rapunzel’s ivory tower. Of course she wasn’t expecting me to drop in on you in your sleep, but I prefer the thrill of surprise.” He handed her some wedding napkins that had Ranger’s and Hannah’s names entwined in burgundy, and a rose he’d swiped from the table decorations. “Now, this is a rose,” he said. “This I envy. But I give it to you. And I’ll stop with the brownnosing there.”