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by Vicki Lewis Thompson

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Following a dream brought Josie Keller to Shoshone, Wyoming. Following her heart brought her plenty of great sex with good-time cowboy Jack Chance! She was head over heels for him… until he left her.

Stay with one woman? Not a chance! Then why does Jack miss Josie like crazy? Had their relationship been more than just incredible… See more details below

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Following a dream brought Josie Keller to Shoshone, Wyoming. Following her heart brought her plenty of great sex with good-time cowboy Jack Chance! She was head over heels for him… until he left her.

Stay with one woman? Not a chance! Then why does Jack miss Josie like crazy? Had their relationship been more than just incredible sex?

Little do Josie and Jack know that a plan's afoot to get them back in the saddle…together. And once there, it's not long before they're burning up the bedsheets again!

But the past is never far away. Before it catches up with them, Jack has to decide if he's going to stake his claim on Josie, or lose her forever….

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Harlequin Blaze Series , #556
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Present day

"Josie, there's a drunken cowboy at the door."

Jack Chance stared at the tall guy silhouetted in the doorway of Josie's place. His Josie. "Who the hell are you?"

"That's none of your business. Look, Josie closed the bar thirty minutes ago, and besides, you don't look as if you need another—"

"You'd better not be her boyfriend." Jack was a tad bit liquored up, but he'd been sober enough to climb the stairs to Josie's apartment above the Spirits and Spurs without stumbling. He also was sober enough to understand the significance of a guy answering her door at this hour of the night.

The intruder shifted his stance. "And you'd better be on your way, cowboy."

That's when Jack noticed the bastard wasn't wearing shoes or socks. Jack's blood boiled. How dare this yahoo move in on his girl? True, they'd broken up a few months ago. Okay, ten months ago. But just who did this idiot think he was, standing barefoot in Josie's apartment like he owned the place?

"Alex?" Josie's voice came from somewhere in the back of the apartment. Like the bedroom. "Find out who it is, okay?"

Jack clenched his right fist. "The name's Jonathan Edward Chance, Jr., and Josie Keller's my girl." Then he punched this Alex joker smack in the kisser.

Sad to say, it wasn't much of a blow. Jack wasn't as steady as he might have been and the guy dodged at the last minute. Failing to land a solid punch, Jack dropped his shoulder and threw a tackle. That proved to be more effective. They both went down hard. Jack lost his hat and a good part of his dignity.

Alex swore and struggled to get free, but Jack had him pinned. It was a hollow victory, though, because Jack had knocked the wind clean out of himself.

"What in the name of heaven is going on?"

I'm guarding my territory. The thought went through Jack's head, but he didn't have the breath to say it.

"Jack Chance, get off my brother this minute!"

Thank God he hadn't said it. Her brother? Jee-sus. The back of his neck grew hot as he pushed himself to his hands and knees.

Alex glared up at him. He didn't look happy. But he did look quite a bit like Josie. Same blond hair, same gray eyes. Come to think of it, Josie had mentioned an older brother named Alex, but he was supposed to be in Chicago, not standing in her doorway barefoot, giving the wrong impression that he was fixing to be Jack's replacement.

"Sorry about that, man." Jack staggered to his feet and held out a hand to help the guy up.

Alex ignored Jack's outstretched hand and stood under his own power. Then he turned to Josie. "I take it you know this jerk."

Josie must have been getting ready for bed. She was wearing that silky black robe Jack remembered, but her jeans peeked out underneath, so she hadn't completed undressing when Jack had arrived. She hadn't taken her long hair out of its braid, either. Jack used to love when she did that. He used to love everything Josie did.

She sighed. "Yes, I know him. This is Jack Chance, the guy I was dating last year."

Dating. Such a lame word for what they'd had going. Josie made it sound as if they'd kept each other company during the occasional dinner, followed by a PG-rated movie. Instead they'd spent hours having wild monkey sex in this apartment. Sometimes they'd even used the bed. There wasn't a piece of furniture in the place that didn't remind Jack of being buck naked with Josie.

Well, maybe the stove. They'd never done it on the stove, because sure as the world they would have hit a switch in the midst of the crazy action and singed something vital. They couldn't get enough of each other back then.

Alex's eyes narrowed and he clenched his fists at his sides. "So this is the one."

Stepping neatly between Jack and Alex, Josie put a hand on her brother's chest. "I'm not angry about that anymore, Alex."

Jack got a whiff of her perfume, which had always reminded him of peach schnapps. God, how he'd missed her.

"You may not be angry anymore, but I'm pissed as hell." Alex's jaw tightened. "As I recall, this SOB dropped you like a hot potato when his dad died. And now he has the unmitigated gall to barge in here as if—"

"I thought you were her new boyfriend, Keller. Sorry." Nobody had ever accused Jack of having unmitigated gall. Not many folks around Shoshone, Wyoming, talked that way. He'd been accused of having a hell of a lot of nerve, but never unmitigated gall.

Last Jack had heard, Alex was a DJ for one of Chicago's drive-time radio shows. Stood to reason he'd have a big-deal vocabulary to go with his job.

"And what if I had been her boyfriend, hotshot?" Alex balanced on the balls of his feet. "You think you can dictate who she sees? Somebody needs to teach you some manners."

Jack figured the guy could start swinging any minute. Although Jack had never had a sister, he could imagine how a brother might feel toward someone who had treated his sister the way Jack had treated Josie. He wasn't proud of his actions, but at the time they'd made some sort of crazy sense.

He'd been in bed with Josie the morning his dad had called wanting his help to pick up a filly from a nearby ranch. Jack had put him off with the excuse that a storm was brewing, when actually he hadn't wanted to leave Josie. His dad had gone alone, rolled the truck and died. Riddled with guilt, Jack had punished himself the only way he knew how. He'd told Josie they were finished.

No wonder Alex wanted to punch his lights out. Any brother worth his salt would feel the same. Jack had never been one to back down from a fight if he believed in the cause, but this time he was in the wrong and he knew it.

"I'll just leave, then," he said.

Josie relaxed a little. "Good idea, Jack."

He started for the door and paused to glance over his shoulder. "I really did think he was your new boyfriend."

She gazed at him with eyes the color of a storm cloud. "And that would bother you?"

His brain definitely wasn't working, because he hadn't realized until that moment how his caveman tactics had exposed him. "Reflex," he said, trying to pawn the punch off as nothing more than habit.

"I see."

"Pure knee-jerk reaction. See you all later." It might have been a decent exit if he hadn't tripped on the door-sill. He didn't fall, but he came damned close to it. Face burning, he started down the wooden stairway to the street level. If Josie told anybody about this, he'd never hear the end of it.

"Jack, wait." Josie caught up with him partway down and laid a hand on his arm. "You shouldn't drive home."

He glanced back at her. Her hair had come a little bit loose from her braid, and the porch light shone on the top of her head, creating a kind of halo. He knew for a fact she was no angel, but damn, she was beautiful.

"I'm okay," he said. "Just clumsy." He wasn't about to tell her he had no vehicle at his disposal. He hadn't intended to come into town at all tonight.

He'd been at the ranch quietly getting soused. It was his pathetic attempt to ease the crushing sense of responsibility he felt now that he was in charge of everything. He'd been interrupted in that endeavor when his youngest brother, Gabe, had come home devastated because Morgan, the woman he loved, had turned down his marriage proposal.

Jack had convinced him to drive back into town and repeat the proposal with Jack riding shotgun and giving moral support.

"Leave your truck here and let me drive you home," Josie said.

"Sorry. Too humiliating."

"Don't be stupid, Jack. Your family doesn't need another tragedy."

A reminder like that still had the power to slice through him. "That's a cheap shot."

"Maybe, but I don't want to find out tomorrow that you drove into a tree on the way home, so I'm willing to fight dirty. Your truck will be fine here." She glanced down at the parking area. "Where is your truck, by the way? I don't see it."

Jack sighed. Gabe would pay for this. When Gabe's second proposal had worked out, Gabe had disappeared inside Morgan's house, taking the truck keys with him.

On his way in, he'd suggested Jack go knock on Josie's door. Lured by his brother's success with his woman, Jack had decided to go for broke.

Which had landed him in this pile of stinking cow manure.

"Josie, just go back inside and let me take care of my own problems, okay?"

She crossed her arms over her chest. "No."

"What do you mean, no? Are you planning to sling me over your shoulder and throw me in the back of your Bronco?"

"I mean that you owe me, Jack Chance. You owe me big time for the way you acted ten months ago. I don't want things to get any uglier because you drove away from my place and got in a wreck. Your family already blames me for—"

"They don't."

"Not to my face, but it was because of me you didn't pick up that filly with your dad. If I hadn't been in the picture, he might still be alive."

"Good God, is that what you think? That it's somehow your fault?" Jack was stunned. He thought he had the corner on guilt, but maybe not.

"Logically I know it wasn't my fault. You're a big boy."

"My point exactly. About that morning and tonight. Go back inside. I'm not your problem."

She didn't budge. "Logically I get that. But emotion-ally…that's a whole other thing. I wish I'd kicked you out of bed that morning, Jack. I wish I'd told you to go help your dad trailer that filly to the Last Chance."

"Wasn't your call."

"So you don't blame me?"

He heard the pain in her voice and knew that he'd caused it. "I never did."

"Then why'd you end…us?"

"Some sort of penance, I guess. Thought I didn't deserve to be happy." And he had been happy. They had been happy. In his slightly inebriated state tonight, he'd deluded himself into thinking that the problems between them would magically evaporate and they could be happy again.

She bowed her head for a moment. When she looked at him, her gaze was direct. "I'm driving you home. Stay right here while I put my shirt on and get my wallet and keys."

"Josie, I can—"

"Do it, Jack! Let's stop the bullshit and do the sensible thing for once! I didn't kick you out of bed ten months ago, but I damned sure won't let you drive home tonight. I won't have it on my conscience."

She was fired up, and he couldn't say he blamed her. After all, he was the one who had knocked on her door. Gabe had suggested it, but he hadn't twisted Jack's arm. Once again, Jack knew who was to blame for this disaster. "All right," he said. "I'll wait here until you get back."

"Let me drive him home," Alex said once Josie announced her intentions. "You shouldn't be dealing with that jerk."

"I appreciate your protectiveness, but better me than you." Josie smiled at him. She loved having her only sibling around, although she hated his reason for coming.

His divorce from Crystal had become final this week, and he'd taken unused vacation time to get some perspective on the situation. Crystal had initiated the proceedings, and he still hadn't recovered from the shock.

Only two years apart, Josie and Alex had fought like wildcats as kids, but as adults they were the best of friends. Alex was the first person Josie called for advice, and vice-versa. They were always there for each other, and she was happy to have him camp out on her hide-a-bed for as long as he needed to.

"What if I promise not to rough him up?" Alex said.

Josie laughed as she headed into the bedroom to change out of her bathrobe. "I wouldn't believe you. You should have seen yourself once you knew who he was. You all but pawed the ground."

Alex followed her down the short hallway of her apartment. "Have you forgotten how miserable you were when he pulled the plug on the relationship?"

"No, I haven't forgotten." She turned and looked at her blond Adonis of a brother. Crystal was an idiot who'd never appreciated him. "Tell me this, Alex. If you thought there was a chance to start over with Crystal, would you take it?"

He hesitated. "I don't know. We've said some things that can't be unsaid."

"Same with me and Jack. But we meant a lot to each other once." More than a lot. Jack had been everything to her, and she'd kidded herself that he felt the same. Then he'd spoken those horrible words that she'd never forget—No big deal, Josie. It was just sex.

"Be careful, sis."

"I will." And she would be, she vowed as she went into her bedroom to exchange her robe for the western shirt she'd thrown on the bed. Ten months ago, when she'd been more gullible, Jack had been capable of cutting her off at the knees.

But since then she'd admitted to herself that she'd woven a fantasy out of nothing. Jack had never told her he loved her, never suggested they could spend their lives together. No matter what happened between her and Jack now, she wouldn't wear rose-colored glasses ever again.

She liked having the advantage that he'd come to her, though. True, he was slightly drunk and his guard was down. Ever since the painful phone call announcing Jonathan's death and the end of their relationship, Jack had avoided the Spirits and Spurs. Josie had run into him a few times in town, and he'd remained polite but distant. He wasn't that way now, but he could be again.

In fact, she could count on it. Jack didn't like to be vulnerable, and that's exactly what he'd been tonight. He didn't want her driving him home, but she'd played her trump card by reminding him that his dad had been killed behind the wheel.

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