Just when it was starting to get good, he heard the mother of the wild little boys screech at one of them. For some reason, she sounded like Cynthia, his ex fiancee. That was enough to kill his amorous mood.

He almost hoped Nicole was matronly. He didn’t need to start another relationship. Just look what happened with the last one. He’d glanced away and found himself engaged to Cynthia-the witch from hell who’d decided she wanted him on a leash, another toy to add to her collection, then discard when she was tired of her plaything.

He hated manipulative women. No, make that rich, spoiled, manipulative women. Women who didn’t know or care about the meaning of survival. They ranked on the top of his list of people to avoid-right along with reporters, who’d dogged his football career right from the start and made his life a living hell.

But like his grandpa had always told him, what goes around, comes around. He had no doubt that someday the people he wanted to avoid would realize the errors of their way, and if he ever got the chance to help them see the light, he planned to take it.

Nikki cringed when she hit another pothole. She expected her little black sports car to plunge into one any minute and she and the convertible would never be seen again.

The Bermuda Pothole.

Lord, she should’ve at least put the top up. The dust was choking her to death. It wasn’t doing a whole hell of a lot for her white blouse, either.

And she was going through this why?

As though she didn’t know the answer to that one. Because she’d gotten the hots for a face on a glossy eight by ten. Well, that and her editor could talk her into doing just about anything, and Marge really wanted the scoop on Cal Braxton.

A fluff piece! How could Marge do this to her?

She must be losing her touch. Cal Braxton was a football player, for Pete’s sake. When he grinned it would probably be like looking into the Grand Canyon: no teeth whatsoever. He was just another big dumb jock and she didn’t even like sports.

A flash of heat suddenly swept over her and it wasn’t from the heat of the sun.

Ahh, but with his mouth shut, he looked pretty yummy: thick black hair, deep green eyes that seemed to look right back at her. Hell, if he could flirt that good in a picture what would the real thing be like?

Then there was his voice. Goose bumps popped up on her arms when she remembered his soft Texas drawl. When they’d talked on the phone, his voice had practically curled her toes.

So what if this was a fluff story? The fairy-tale prince falls in love with the princess, one Ms. Cynthia Cole, and they get engaged. Except something goes wrong and there’s no happily ever after ending. The kind of story most women devoured.

Maybe it wouldn’t shake up the political arena, but she needed a break-she needed something…something different. Besides, how bad could the country be?

The right wheel dipped deep, then the car righted only to dip again when the back tire hit the same hole. She bounced against the door then quickly took a firmer grip on the steering wheel.

Damned bad!

Jeez! Did no one pay county taxes out here? A little asphalt would be nice right about now.

How much farther was it? Her teeth had been rattled for at least twenty miles. The old man at the gas station had said “a fair piece.” Whatever the hell that meant.

And it was so isolated. She hadn’t seen a barn or house for miles. It was more than a little creepy. Surely it wasn’t that far now. She was hungry, hot, and tired-in that order. All she’d had to eat today was Texas dust, and a lot of it.

Her hands choked the steering wheel. This story had better be worth it. Hell, Cal Braxton had better be worth it. But then, if he looked anything like his picture, he would be.

A smile curved her lips. She’d get her story and her man. She never lost. The word wasn’t even in her dictionary, not that she planned on losing.

She hit another pothole.

Dammit! They came out of nowhere. As soon as she got home, she’d need to take her car in for realignment. And she’d send Marge the bill.

She topped a rise and slammed on the brakes, the car fishtailed, spewing a thick cloud of dust behind her. Her heart felt as if it had taken residence in her throat. She skidded to a stop, barely missing the cow that languidly stood in the middle of the road looking unconcerned that it had almost been splattered across her windshield.

Nikki’s heart pounded inside her chest and her hands shook. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, the black and white cow looked at her with total unconcern. This was so not how she wanted to start her vacation slash investigative reporting.

“I almost wrecked because of you.” She glared at the cow. Her cold-eyed, steely glare that she’d perfected over the years. If it had been a person rather than a dumb animal, it would’ve been frozen to the spot.

The cow opened its mouth and bellowed a low, meandering, I-was-here-first moo.

She didn’t think the cow cared one little bit that it had almost become hamburger. Damned country. She’d take city life and dirty politicians any day.

“Move!” She clapped her hands.

The cow didn’t get in any hurry as it lumbered to the side of the narrow road and lowered its head. The four- legged beast chomped down on a bunch of grass, then slowly began to chew.

She shifted into park, then waved her arms. “Shoo!”


She honked the horn.


The hot sun beat down on her. A bead of sweat slid uncomfortably between her breasts. She judged the narrow road, wondering if she could maneuver around the cow without going into the ditch.

Before she decided to attempt it, another sound drew her attention. She glanced down the dirt road, shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun as a cloud of dust came toward her. The cloud of dust became a man on a horse.

Correction. A cowboy on a horse.

Hi-ho, Silver, the Lone Ranger, she thought sarcastically.

But the closer he got, the more her sarcasm faded. The Lone Ranger had nothing on this cowboy. Broad shoulders, black hat pulled low on his forehead…

Black hat. Bad guys wore black hats. Right? Things were looking up.

At least until he brought the horse to a grinding halt and dust swirled around her-again. She coughed and waved her hands in front of her face.

“Bessie, how the hell do you keep getting out?” he asked.

His slow, southern drawl drizzled over her like warmed honey, and she knew from experience warmed honey drizzling over her naked body could be very good. Sticky, but oh so sexy.

Did he look as good as he sounded?

She shaded her eyes again at the same time he pushed his hat higher on his forehead with one finger. Cal Braxton’s tanned face stared down at her. His cool, deep-green eyes only made her body grow warmer with each passing second.

So this was the infamous playboy star football player. The man who had a pretty woman on his arm almost every night of the week-at least until Cynthia Cole had come into his life.

“I almost hit your cow,” she told him as she slipped off one of her high heels and rubbed the insole with her other foot. It didn’t stop the tingle of pleasure that was running up and down her legs. He could park his boots by her bed any day.

“Sorry about that. Bessie thinks the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”

He pulled a rolled-up rope off the saddle horn and swatted the end of it against Bessie’s rump. The cow gave him a disgruntled look before ambling down the road.

His gaze returned to her…roaming over her…seducing her. “Are you lost?”

“On vacation.”

He easily controlled the prancing horse beneath him. “Staying nearby?”

“At the Crystal Creek Dude Ranch.”

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