Authors: Dakota Harrison
For my Mark. Thank you. You are everything to me.
And to Jenny.
Thank you for always believing in me.
Gabe walked beside Emma as she sauntered down the steps toward his pickup.
There was a word for you. Not one he used all that often, but there it was. She sauntered, and damned nicely, if you asked him. What made her even more desirable, besides the full, soft mouth and denim-blue, come-to-bed eyes, was her laugh.
It was addictive, like a drug that was just out of reach but craved with an intensity that shocked you.
The first time he heard it, he’d nearly fallen off the stool at his brother’s bar. Sitting down to eat quickly before the evening rush, he’d heard that incredible burst of sound wash over him from behind.
Turning around, he’d seen the woman that they’d all been making such a fuss about. The men had been wondering how they’d gotten so lucky she’d picked
town to live in, and the women had been wondering what they’d done to deserve it. Her moving to Jefferson’s Crossing, apparently from Australia, of all places, was the most interesting thing to have happened in their sleepy little Colorado town in ages.
The insane thing was she seemed to have no idea how incredibly gorgeous she looked. He darted a quick glance in her direction. Shorts and a New York Yankees tee-shirt. Her long, rich brown hair was pulled back roughly into a ponytail, with soft strands falling out all over the place. Covered head to toe in plaster dust, she didn’t look the kind of girl who was deliberately trying to hook a man. The problem was she looked all the more tempting for that fact.
She’d been in town a week now, and already the guys were wagering on whom she’d date first. There was a list. The blame for that could be laid right at the feet of his friend Ryan. Gabe thought it a little over the top, but since he refused to be placed on the list anyway, it didn’t really matter to him.
Not that he’d been asked.
She kept to herself, having come into the bar only that first evening she was here, and that had only been for directions. She’d hardly been seen since, which was something that had rattled more than a few cages.
“So, ma’am, I think you have a problem,” Gabe said, glancing over at her.
Emma laughed. That unbelievable sound washed over his nerve endings, calming at the same time as inciting them. His breath caught in his lungs. He had to get away from this little lady. She was trouble. Big trouble.
“Please don’t call me ma’am, Gabe. It makes me feel a hundred years old. Besides, no one calls anyone ma’am in Australia.”
Gabe turned to face her, ignoring the rush of blood through his body in response to her smile. And that accent. It was amazing. The way she said certain words wormed inside his ears and wrapped around his brain.
“You’re not in Australia anymore. You’re in Colorado. And here, people
call you that. One of those little things you’re going to have to get used to, I’m afraid. If you like, I’ll try to remember not to. How’s that sound?”
Emma’s mouth curved into a full smile. “Thank you. I’d appreciate it.” She looked at her pickup and shook her head. “Who would ever have thought I’d be driving one of these? They’re so damned big!”
Gabe eyed the large black truck parked on the circular driveway in front of them. He shrugged a shoulder.
“Whatever you’re comfortable with, I suppose. What made you choose it if you think it’s too big?” he asked, curiosity overriding his good judgment. He didn’t need to know details about this woman.
Her flat tone pulled his attention back to her again.
Gabe looked at Emma a little closer. This girl had secrets. He raised an eyebrow but said nothing. It was her business. Everyone was entitled to their own personal demons.
God knows he had plenty.
“That it is. There’re wild deer around these parts, so if you’re driving at night, just keep an eye out, okay? Sometimes they’re hard to spot.”
The tight set left her features, a slight smile tilting her lips.
“Thanks, I appreciate that. When you move to a new place, it’s hard to know the little things. The local knowledge. Usually you only find out when you do something stupid. You said earlier you have cattle?” she asked, curiosity making her eyes sparkle in the sunlight.
Gabe nodded and shifted his gaze to the left. Her ear looked very interesting all of a sudden. “Yeah. I have a ranch a few miles out, on Hampton Road.” He turned and pointed to the south. “That way. I run a part-time veterinary practice from there, along with keeping my own cattle.”
Emma nodded vaguely in the direction he’d indicated. “Why only part-time for your practice?”
“I’m scaling back. Once my herd is at optimum numbers, I intend to close it completely. The cattle are taking up more and more time. Soon I won’t have time for a general practice as well.” He shrugged.
“I’ve looked at the area map a few times this week. Just to try and get my bearings. It’s so lovely here. I don’t know so much about all the cows though. They’re a bit scary.”
Gabe let out a surprised laugh. “Scary? Nah, they’re just big ole steaks on legs. Pretty harmless really. Unless you get in the way of a bull.”
Emma’s smile widened. “Steaks on legs? I like that. But yes, now you know my secret fear. Cows. They’re just so big. They’re a little intimidating.”
Gabe shoved a hand through his collar-length black hair. “Once you get to know them, they’re all right. You should come out one day, once you’re all settled in, and I’ll introduce you to some. You’ll see they’re not so bad.”
Had he really just invited her out to his place? That was the last thing he wanted her to do. His brain was having a hard time keeping up with his mouth around her.
Emma looked surprised. “Thanks. I’ll think about it. So, what exactly is my house’s problem?”
That was the reason he was here, standing next to this pocket bombshell of a woman. She’d had a burst pipe in the bathroom and, it being a Saturday afternoon, couldn’t get a plumber. Harry Deeks had done the neighborly thing and given her his number. Gabe had done some handyman work about Harry’s place a few months ago, when Harry had broken his leg falling off a ladder while trying to clean out his gutters.
Gabe glanced at Emma again. His father’s best friend thought he was helping the girl by being a good neighbor. Gabe wished he hadn’t. She was too pretty for her own good and too darn distracting. He didn’t need to be distracted.
“Your pipes are rusted out.”
Emma grimaced. “I figured as much. I suppose that’s what you get for buying an old house on the Internet. I bought it on impulse. The estate agent said it had no termites or major structural damage—I didn’t think to ask about anything else.”
She turned to Gabe, and the deep blue of her eyes hit him sharp in the belly. He edged toward his pickup, eager to be away from her and the unwanted feelings she seemed to stir up. For heaven’s sake, he’d only seen her twice, and already his body was reacting like a teenager’s. It couldn’t be good for his health.
“The Internet, huh? Seems a strange way to buy a house, from another country and all. But I suppose it was easier than having to come all this way just to see it.”
Emma went to answer him, but her eyes narrowed when she glanced over at her driveway.
Gabe looked over and groaned out loud.
A light-blue, late-model sedan pulled up in front of them. Gabe shook his head. This was going to be hell.
The driver’s door opened, and a slim young woman stepped out onto the gravel drive. She held a cake platter in her hands, bounced the car door shut with her hip and smiled broadly in their direction. She looked at him, the questions in her grey eyes obvious.
Grey eyes—just like his.
The woman walked the few steps to Emma and held out a hand, balancing the cake on one arm.
“Hi, I’m Darby Jameson. I thought it was about time someone welcomed you to Jefferson’s Crossing. But I see I’ve been beaten to it.” She sent a pointed glance in his direction. “You’ve met my brother?”
Emma smiled and sent a surprised look to him.
“Apparently so.” Emma looked back to Darby and took her hand. “Thank you. Would you like to come in?” She stepped back, making room for Darby to follow her up the steps.
“Love to.” Darby looked at Gabe. “You coming too?”
Gabe shifted to his other foot and shook his head. “No. I was just on my way out.” He flicked his eyes back to Emma, who was standing a couple of steps above him. “Nice to meet you, ma’am…I mean, Emma. I’ll see you around. You let me know if that pipe acts up again before Monday, okay?”
Emma nodded. “Thanks so much for coming. I don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t.”
Gabe looked back up at her, his hand on the door handle of his truck. “No problem. See you, Darb.”
He slid into his pickup, not waiting for an answer. She’d be in his ear later anyway, and he needed to get out of there before he changed his mind and stayed for some of that cake. He didn’t want his twin noticing how much that woman had affected him in such a short space of time.
And notice she would if he stayed one minute longer.
Emma held the door open and followed Darby into the house, leading the way after Darby stopped in the entry. She glanced over her shoulder at her guest.
“I apologize for the mess. I wasn’t expecting guests.”
“Don’t apologize. I’m the one who’s unannounced. I see you’ve been busy in here. You’ve only been here a week, and look at all you’ve gotten done already!”
Emma smiled, satisfaction at her start on her new house shining on her face. “I didn’t see any point in waiting. It’s not going to fix itself. The poor old place has needed some TLC for a long while, by the looks of things.”
“Oh that’s for sure! Ben left, and no one’s been near the place in ten years. Except to mow the lawn once a month, that is. There must’ve been some dust in here when you arrived.”
They reached the kitchen at the back of the house. Emma flicked the electric kettle on to boil and looked around for some plates.
“Um…yeah…there was a little.” She looked at Darby. Her open, friendly face so very like that of the man’s who’d just left. Only Darby wasn’t jittery and itching to leave like he had been. Somehow, she must have made one heck of a bad impression in the whole half hour he’d been there. Or perhaps he just didn’t like getting called out by strangers on the weekend. “Would you like a coffee? It’s here somewhere.”
Darby laughed, bringing Emma’s attention back to her.
“I’d love some, if it’s not too much trouble. I’ll even help you look for it.”
Emma’s face heated. “I really am sorry. I’ve been so busy with sanding the walls that I put stuff down and forget what I’ve done with it. I know I have plates around here too.”
She walked to the overhead cupboards lining the kitchen walls and started opening them. She’d bought a set of dinner plates and all the basics in Pueblo, on her way to Jefferson’s Crossing. She’d put them away in one of the cupboards, but had been using paper plates, since she’d been alone. It was easier just to throw the plates out once she was done, at least until the painting was finished.
For an old home, the storage space was impressive and they were in very good condition. The warm honey-colored wood brightened up the large, airy room. A coat of lacquer and they’d be as good as new.
Emma found the plates and mugs in the end cupboard. Luckily, the coffee had ended up back in the pantry. She made it quickly and set the steaming mugs down beside the cake platter, pulled a knife from the drawer and turned to her guest.
Five-star service,” she joked.
Darby grinned at her, her amusement plain. “Thanks. You’re Australian? I like your accent.”
So. The inquisition begins.
Emma had wondered how long it would take for someone to come and check her out. She’d been warned about small towns.
Emma nodded and took a sip of hot coffee. She indicated for Darby to sit, while she leaned back against the counter. “Yes.”