Authors: Kathleen Ball
Secret Cravings Publishing
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A Secret Cravings Publishing Book
Copyright © 2012
First E-book Publication: July 2012
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I dedicate Texas Haven to my brothers and sisters- Jim Tighe, Mike Tighe, Maureen Tighe and Tricia Tighe.
I also dedicate this to my Irish author cousin, Molly Garvin Doherty. She has been a great inspiration to me.
A big thank you to Amber Dane, Julianne Grider, Stefan Ellery and Jessica Musso for their great advice and immeasurable friendship.
Thank you to Jean J
chim and her Tuesday Tales Blog Group. It led to my being discovered by Secret Cravings Publishing.
A very special thank you to Rebecca Hollada.
And to my guys Bruce, Steven, and Colt because I love them.
Copyright © 2012
Burke Dawson frowned as he spotted a rusted black pickup truck on the side of the road. His favorite Garth Brooks’
tune played on the radio. It had been a long day, and he wasn’t in the mood to play Good Samaritan
He shook his head, recognizing the truck as the rental, notorious for breaking down, that Old Rowdy in town kept on his lot.
He wondered which unlucky out-of-towner had rented it this time. The road to Weltworth wasn’t well traveled. Not one car passed him as he drove into town. It was a possibility that the driver had been stranded for a while.
Slowing his truck, he came to a stop behind the rental and got out, pushing his Stetson back. He smiled, puzzled to see small shiny black shoes wagging in the air from inside the hood. The view of shapely calves and dainty ankles looked enticing. Intrigued, he walked to the front and cleared his throat. She turned.
“Need a hand?” he asked, looking into her startled green eyes.
“I didn’t hear you drive up. This bucket of bolts broke down, so I thought I’d take a look at the engine.”
“How does it look?”
She smiled. “I don’t know. I’ve never looked at one before.”
“I could give you a lift,” he offered.
Burke helped her down from the truck, smiling at her oil-stained cuffs. She had a black smudge on her cheek that he felt tempted to wipe away.
Quickly righting her skirt, she thanked him with a nod, and moved to the back of the truck, trying to lift her luggage out.
Burke grinned when she quickly drew away from his touch. Obviously, she wasn’t interested. He followed her to the back of the truck and intentionally put his hand over her small dainty one. He bit back a laugh as she hastily snatched her hand back. Easily lifting her bag out of the truck, he tossed it in his.
There had been a strange energy between them when he lifted her down from the truck. For a moment, he thought it had been his imagination, but the way she snatched her hand back he was pretty sure she felt it too. Burke couldn’t remember feeling quite that way before. Sexual attraction was easy to come by and she was a looker. But somehow, he didn’t think it was just attraction.
He quickly inventoried her assets. He had a fondness for long hair and hers looked beautiful. He’d never seen a shade of auburn quite like hers, bright red with golden highlights. It curled wildly, and Burke had the feeling that there would be no taming it. She wasn’t very tall; she barely came up to his shoulder. She looked a little on the thin side, but it was hard to tell in the baggy clothes she wore, an ankle length green skirt topped off with an ivory blouse and matching green vest.
Her eyes drew him most. They were so vividly green. She looked wide-eyed and innocent, but Burke knew from prior experience that city girls could be trouble. She wasn’t as pretty or as brazen as his ex-wife, but he knew the type.
Standing at the passenger side door of his truck, she looked a bit wary of him. His father had taught him to help a woman into a vehicle, but he wasn’t sure that his good manners would be welcome. Heck, she wouldn’t be able to get in with that skirt she was wearing. He wondered how she managed to get in the first truck.
There was no help for it. Burke headed her way. Her eyes widened and she stared at him. He half expected her to back away but she held her ground. He looked forward to having her in his arms again.
Stopping short, he remembered that he didn’t need or want woman problems. He had just gotten himself on an even keel. He’d get her to town and that would be the end of it.
She still just stared at him. Maybe she hadn’t been as affected as he had.
“Are you going to help me up?”
“I was wondering how you got into the other truck.”
“That’s between me and the man at the rental place.”
Burke laughed. “Old Rowdy lifted you up? That man can barely lift his cane.”
Biting her lip, she turned red. “I did it myself. I am resourceful.”
“What you do lift your skirt up to your waist?”
She gasped then began to laugh. “Well not that high.”
Swallowing hard, Burke wondered just how long her legs were. He took another step toward her wanting to find out.
A slight meow came from behind the sagebrush on the side of the road. Burke watched her walk in the direction of the sound and was surprised when she reemerged with a kitten. It looked tiny and its meow sounded slight. Immediately, she snuggled it under her chin, looking as though she relished its softness.
Burke shook his head, watching her cuddling the kitten. He wasn’t a big cat fan.
“He must have been in a fight or something.” She walked to his side. “Look at his ear. Poor thing, he obviously needs a home.”
“I have enough going on at my ranch already. I can’t take in every stray.”
She nodded, and continued to cuddle the kitten. “Well, we can just drop it off at the humane society.”
“There isn’t one.”
“Really? I can’t just leave it here. I’ll take it town and find it a home. Are you sure you can’t adopt it?”
He knew he was a sucker, but he couldn’t say no to those pleading green eyes. “I’ll take it.” Hell, it was only a kitten. It could live in the barn. He opened the truck door and lifted her and the cat onto the seat. He felt that energy again and it was beginning to make him crazy. He let go of her and rounded the truck, getting in.
“Thank you. I know you won’t regret it.”
Burke had a feeling that he would, but it made this green-eyed beauty happy.
“If there’s a hotel you could recommend, I’d appreciate it.”
“There’s only one motel, but it’s clean and the rates are reasonable. I’ll drop you off and call the garage about your truck.”
“That’s a lot of trouble to go to for a stranger,” she commented.
“I’d do it for anyone.”
“But you don’t even know my name,” she protested.
He laughed, glancing at her. Starting his truck, he drove toward town. “I’m Burke Dawson, born and raised in Weltworth, Texas.”
She smiled back. “I’m Annie Douglas, from New York City.”
“Well, Annie Douglas, it’s nice to meet you.”
“So, do you go to the ‘big F.W.’ a lot?” Annie asked.
“The big F.W.? What’s that?”
“I thought everyone in Texas knew Fort Worth as the big F.W.”
“I have to say that’s a new one on me.”
Annie pulled out a Texas-English dictionary. “I could have sworn that I had it right,” she said, flipping through the pages. “Here it is on page 49,
Fort Worth is known by Texans as the Big F.W.”
“Where did you get that thing?” Burke lips twitched as he tried to contain his laughter.
“The airport gift shop had them. Why?”
“Did you memorize that book?”
“As much as I could. I wanted to fit in.”
“Do yourself a favor and forget everything you learned. We have our sayings, but I think that book is meant in the spirit of a snipe hunt.”
“A snipe hunt?”
“Yes, there’s no such thing as a snipe, but we like to tell greenhorns to hunt them. It’s a little Texas humor. We’re a good bunch, so if you don’t understand, just ask. We’re used to Yankees looking confused.”
“I wonder if the word ‘Yankee’ is in this dictionary?” She looked at him, grinning. “I guess the joke’s on me. I wonder how many of those books they sold at the airport.” She looked around as they pulled into town. “Is this it? I could have walked here.”
“As towns go, this one is small.”
“How quaint this town looks,” she remarked with pleasure.
“Quaint it is.” Burked liked her enthusiasm, but he knew that once she realized that she couldn’t get her gourmet coffee in the morning, she’d think otherwise.
“The motel is just ahead. I’ll drop you off and swing by Barney’s Garage and let them know about the truck,” he explained. “I’ll have him leave word with Wanda, the owner of the motel, when it’s fixed.” He gave her sidelong glance. “That same truck has broken down numerous times.”
“What do you mean? Who would rent out a truck that keeps breaking down?”
“Old Rowdy at the rental place is a bit eccentric. He claims that it runs fine for him. He blames it all on operator error.”
Annie’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped open. “Operator error? I don’t think so!”
Burke parked the truck in the motel parking lot and laughing, raised his hands. “Hey, don’t get mad at me. I didn’t rent you that truck.”
“Sorry. It’s been a really long day.” She gave the kitten a quick kiss, got down out of the truck, and thanked Burke as he handed her the luggage. “Be good to Kitty,” she added.
“I will. It was nice to meet you, Annie Douglas,” Burke said, surprised with himself that he meant it. “Wanda will get you a room. Barney shouldn’t be long towing the truck.”
Flustered, Annie realized that she’d been staring at Burke. He was such a big man, tall in stature with wide shoulders and slim hips. His western-style shirt, stretched tightly across his broad chest, enhanced his masculine appeal. He enthralled her, but at the same time, he scared her. She couldn’t allow herself to feel fascinated by any man, not ever.
Annie felt a strange sense of loss as she watched him drive away. She imagined he’d be a good friend to have around; that was something that she sorely lacked—friends. Walking toward the motel office, she wondered about the strange tingling she’d felt when he touched her. Shrugging her shoulders, she became determined to put it out of her mind. Men weren’t for her. She might want a husband and a family, but sadly, that would never be. Right now she needed to get a room for the night.
Wanda the motel owner was as nice as Burke described. Before she knew it, Annie was in her room ready for bed, falling asleep the moment her head hit the pillow.
The next morning she decided to walked through town and explore. The main street stood lined with privately owned businesses and Mom and Pop stores. She realized that there wasn’t one chain store or restaurant in sight. She would miss her morning Starbucks coffee, but she had a feeling that the novelty of the small town would make up for it. She spotted Hal’s Hardware, Penny’s General Store, Floyd’s Feed and Grain, Julie’s Yarn Basket and Wilt’s Hat and Spurs. There was even an old-fashioned diner and a church. The town had a feel of history to it and buildings that all looked like they had been there forever, with their original weather-worn wooden fronts. There wasn’t one neon sign in sight. The smell of coffee and pancakes lured her to the restaurant.
Soon Annie found herself sipping her third cup of coffee in the homiest diner she had ever seen. The smell of bacon, cinnamon rolls
and coffee comforted her. It reminded her of better times. In fact, she even prolonged her stay
Three cups of coffee was not her norm, but she was reluctant to leave the intimate setting. All morning, families and cowboys came in for breakfast, greeted by the middle-aged owner, Noreen. She seemed a dynamo of a woman, greeting customers, running the front counter and exchanging gossip with all. She was easy to talk to and had ferreted out Annie’s reason for being in town in less than ten minutes.
“Howdy, you two old cowpokes,” Noreen said saucily to two older men who sat at the counter. She tried to tuck her gray hair into a bun. “Coffee and the usual for you both?” she asked and without waiting for an answer, she poured them both coffee and nodded toward Annie. “Hank and Bo, this is Annie. These two old cowpokes have lived in this town forever.” She waited as they all greeted each other. “Annie here is looking over some land her stepbrother just bought. She’s from New York City.”
“Which land would that be, Miss Annie?” Hank inquired.
“It’s on Dawes Road.”
Hank and Bo exchanged a strange look. “I didn’t know anyone had bought that property, ma’am,” Bo drawled.
The look puzzled Annie. “My stepbrother bought it recently.”
“Well, Miss Annie, I hope he doesn’t plan to be a long-distance landlord. We have enough of those already. What we do need is new blood in this town. Young people like you.” Hank took a swig of his coffee.
“To tell you the truth, I have no idea what he plans to do.”
“Well, whatever his plans are, it’s nice to have someone as pretty as you to enjoy our breakfast with,” Hank said, winking at her.
Annie blushed at the compliment. She knew it wasn’t true, but it was nice to hear for once. Lord knew that her stepbrother, Sonny, had told her often enough that she was nothing to look at. At twenty-three, she’d only had one boyfriend, actually an ex-fiancé. The breakup had shaken her self-confidence. Two months later, Annie still reeled from the shock, hurt, and humiliation of finding her fiancé and best friend in bed together. It seemed like it only took a matter of hours before their break-up became common knowledge within their group of friends and only minutes after that for Annie to realize that she didn’t have any real friends at all. Everyone in their social group seemed to have known, and they had laughed at her naiveté.