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The Cowboy's Baby Bargain
By Emilie Rose
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBrooke Blake picked up her beer, sipped and grimaced. Success was an acquired taste. Evidently, so was the bitter, yeasty brew in the longneck bottle. But she was determined to experience everything her new home state had to offer - including the beer bottled here.
Glancing at her watch, she granted herself ten minutes to brood over the contradictory state of her life. Professionally, her success as a bestselling motivational author and speaker continued to rise, but her credibility was in jeopardy because personally, she needed a lifestyle makeover. She'd failed to achieve her most important goal ever.
She'd calculated and taken all the appropriate steps, but her goal of having a family by her thirty-fifth birthday had eluded her. What had she overlooked in her approach? Opening her Day Planner, she flipped back until she found her five-year plan.
The door of the bar opened. A draft of fresh air stirred the smoke hovering over the room and ruffled the pages of her planner. Lifting her gaze to the mirror behind the bar, she studied the cowboy's reflection when he paused to survey the room. Until the door closed behind him the fading afternoon light silhouetted his slim hips and broad shoulders. Nice, but alas, not her type. The only Remingtons she wanted to possess were cast in bronze and made to sit on a mantel.
This guy looked like he could have posed for the artist. All he needed were chaps, a horse and a lariat thrown over his shoulder. He crossed the hardwood floor with the grace of an athlete and the presence of a man used to leading not following. She was abundantly familiar with the type and had discovered that most of them felt threatened by a successful woman.
He made his way toward the bar and stopped behind her, catching her gaze in the mirror. She hoped he hadn't considered her scrutiny an invitation, but was prepared to correct him if he had. Unwanted attention was a part of her job. She turned to face him and forgot all about the polite rejection she'd mastered years ago.
The cowboy's reflection in the cloudy mirror hadn't done him justice. The hard angles and planes of his face were too rough to be classified as handsome, but she found him compelling regardless. Dark stubble covered a stubborn, square jaw with an incredibly sexy cleft. In his long-sleeved chambray shirt, opened just enough to reveal dark chest hair, and Wranglers snug enough to reveal rather impressive territory, he could have stepped right off the pages of a calendar geared toward women with Wild West fantasies.
Specifically, not her. She preferred the academic type.
His gaze drifted over her the way the lazy stream wandered over her new ranch - slow and easy with numerous detours. His eyes, the rich brown of coffee beans, affected her like a shot of espresso. Unwelcome awareness rippled through her, settling in the pit of her stomach.
He removed his hat, revealing thick, glossy hair the same coffee-rich shade. "Mind if I sit?"
His voice was middle-of-the-night-secrets deep, and his soft, full lips were made to whisper sweet nothings in some woman's ear. But not hers. She liked her men more refined, more ... urban, but for a moment she wondered what it would be like to make love to a man as primitive as this one. She seriously doubted it would be the kind of silent, civilized coupling to which she'd become accustomed. This man would be earthier, noisier. More adventurous.
Shutting down her improper, but stimulating, mental meanderings, she straightened her shoulders and glanced around the room. She'd been so intent on discovering the glitch in her goals that she hadn't noticed the bar filling. The only empty seat was the one beside hers.
Her type or not, the cowboy would be sharing her space. She lifted her purse from the stool beside her and hung it on the wooden slatted back of her own. "Be my guest."
"Thanks." As he settled his long, lean frame onto the stool his knee brushed her thigh. She wondered if he'd done it on purpose, but he didn't try to extend the contact.
"'Scuse me, ma'am."
Instead of rubbing the tingling spot where they'd touched, she clenched her hand around the amber bottle in front of her and lifted it to moisten her suddenly dry mouth. She shuddered as the now tepid beverage filled her mouth and then forced herself to swallow. She'd never acquire a taste for this stuff.
Cowboys, on the other hand, were a different story. If the ones she would encounter once she moved into her new home looked and smelled as good as this one, she probably wouldn't have any trouble finding the right man to settle down with her on her ranch. However, she would prefer one a little less rough around the edges. A cultured cowboy - if there were such a thing.
She picked up her pen and wrote in her planner. Failure is a temporary condition. She felt slightly better so she added another line. Any goal is attainable if approached in the proper manner. So where had she veered off the path to her goal of finding a husband?
The men in her life thus far had either resented the time she devoted to her career or wanted to ride on the coattails of her success. She drew a vertical line on the page and listed their names in one of two categories: Users or Losers.
In her peripheral vision she saw the cowboy settle his hat on his opposite knee and lift a finger to signal for the bartender. She could feel his assessing gaze on her. "I would have taken you for a chardonnay drinker."
She shrugged without looking his way and forced down another noxious sip of beer. It grew more disgusting by the moment. "You'd have been right, but when in Rome ..."
The bartender approached. "What can I get you?"
"Tequila. Straight. Better make it a double shot. You have any white wine back there for the lady?"
"Sure. Coming right up."
She didn't want him to get the idea that she was here to pick up a man. That would have to wait until she'd moved into her new home, and then she'd be looking for Mr. Right, not Mr. July. A vision of the cowboy wearing nothing but a staple in his navel flashed in her mind. The image practically jolted her out of her seat. Nudie magazines had never been a favorite of hers, and yet here she was with visions of cowboy buns dancing in her head.
She turned quickly and their legs bumped again - this time her fault. "Pardon me. You don't have to buy me a drink."
"I do if I don't want to watch you making that face. Looked like you were choking down cough medicine."
She hadn't blushed in years, but to her surprise heat climbed her cheeks. She tucked her chin and ran a fingernail beneath the edge of the bottle's label. "I've never been crazy about beer."
"No kidding." She heard laughter in his voice. Out of the corner of her eye she studied his big, tanned hands. Numerous scars crisscrossed the backs, but his nails were clean and neatly trimmed. He shelled a peanut from the bowl on the bar one-handed and popped it into his mouth.
"So what are you crazy about - besides making lists?"
Brooke closed her planner. She absolutely refused to discuss her failures, and it was no one's business that she'd have to start on her goal of having a family alone. She wasn't about to confess to some stranger that tomorrow she had an appointment to be artificially inseminated.
The uneasy feeling in her stomach intensified. Her hands started to shake. She'd thought it out, plotted the pros and cons, and chosen the most appropriate donor. He was blond like her and came from a similar academic background. He'd been carefully screened, had no known medical problems, and was the genetically ideal choice.
Pasting on a sympathetic smile, she faced the cowboy and turned the conversation in a different direction. "I'm crazy about my work, but let's not talk about me. You ordered a double. It sounds as if you've had a rough day." She was a master at pulling information from others and at making even the most pessimistic see the brighter side.
"Worse than some. Better than others." He pulled out his wallet and laid a bill on the bar. "Nobody died."
A smile twitched her lips at his dry humor. "That's always positive. Any permanent damage?"
The bartender slid their drinks onto the counter. Brooke reached for her purse.
The cowboy shook his head. "It's on me."
"Well ... thank you, but I really don't think -"
"No buts. Just a drink. I'm not looking for more."
Taken aback by his frankness, she blinked at him. "Neither was I."
Excerpted from The Cowboy's Baby Bargain by Emilie Rose Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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