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A fire on her ranch sent rodeo champ Jake Reiner blazing into Maggie Langford's life, disrupting her ordinary existence and igniting desires she thought were long gone. But the single mom's temperature reached the boiling point when the cowboy temporarily set up home with her—under her hospitalized father's orders. Jake was like a hot branding iron—Maggie knew she shouldn't touch him, but she couldn't resist the burning temptation his kisses kindled inside her. She knew the cold reality of loving a hot-blooded ...
A fire on her ranch sent rodeo champ Jake Reiner blazing into Maggie Langford's life, disrupting her ordinary existence and igniting desires she thought were long gone. But the single mom's temperature reached the boiling point when the cowboy temporarily set up home with her—under her hospitalized father's orders. Jake was like a hot branding iron—Maggie knew she shouldn't touch him, but she couldn't resist the burning temptation his kisses kindled inside her. She knew the cold reality of loving a hot-blooded cowboy who itched for the open road. But maybe she was the special woman who could warm Jake's hardened heart and convince him to stay forever.
In minutes he came roaring up from a dip in the road, took a curve and saw a tall two-story Victorian house ahead. Shade trees surrounded a three-car garage, a brown barn, a bunkhouse, sheds, and a corral. A Circle A brand was burned in the wood above the barn door. Inside the fenced yard, a woman stepped around the thick trunk of a giant cottonwood tree. In her hand she held a power saw.
Jake's gaze raked over a figure that made his pulse skip. Cutoffs hugged trim hips and revealed long, shapely legs. Stretching snugly over lush breasts, a T-shirt was tucked into the waistband of the cutoffs. His gaze swept up to her face as he approached. She looked wary. Long, golden hair was in a thick braid that hung down her back to her waist.
Barking a warning, a black-and-tan dog ran around the barn. The woman's head snapped around and she spoke to the dog. Stopping beside her, it continued barking.
Jake slowed and braked, sending up a flurry of dust. As theengine idled, he braced his legs. Then he heard a child's cries. Following the sound, he looked at the cottonwood. Perched on a lower limb was a small girl with a gash on her head and tears streaking her cheeks.
"Hold on, Katy," the woman said calmly. Glaring at Jake, she snapped, "What do you want?"
"Can I help?" he asked, getting off the bike, realizing that, between the fire and whatever was happening here, this family had real trouble. At the moment, the child seemed the most urgent problem.
"Why are you here?" the woman asked, her cautious demeanor transforming to anger. As he watched sparks dancing in her blue eyes, he knew he didn't give a reassuring appearance with his shaggy hair, his bike, and his ragged jeans.
"Up by the road your place is on fire." While her gaze flew past him, the color drained from her face.
"Not now!" she gasped and looked up at the child. "I have to get Katy free first." She turned away as if she had already forgotten his presence.
Moving closer to the tree and forgetting the stranger, Maggie Langford fought a rising panic. Katy was caught and hurting, and now their place was on fire. A really bad fire would devastate them. She said a small prayer that she could free Katy's foot, which was wedged between a limb and the trunk. As Maggie raised the heavy saw, a hand closed around her wrist and the stranger took the saw from her.
For a split second, with the physical contact, an electric current of awareness zipped through her. When the stranger stepped closer, Katy let out a howl.
"I'll just cut a little more, and then I can break that limb free. You get up there and hold her so she doesn't fall," he said in a deep voice.
"Hang on, Katy, I'm coming up beside you," Maggie said, trying to calm her child.
"This is my little tomboy," she told the stranger. "Katy was climbing and fell. Shh, Katy. It'll be all right. You'll be loose soon," Maggie said.
"Have to watch these trees. They'll just reach out and grab you," the stranger said to Katy with a reassuring smile that softened his rugged features.
Through tears and the streaks of blood from the head wound, Katy smiled in return.
Maggie caught a limb and pulled herself up, taking hold of her five-year-old. Katy twisted to cling to her.
Maggie looked down at the tall, deeply tanned man. His shaggy black hair hung below the red bandanna wound around his head. He wore a black T-shirt with the sleeves ripped away, and thick muscles flexed as he sawed the limb. The loud buzz of the saw was the only sound until he stopped, set down the saw and glanced up at her with his dark eyes.
She nodded. "Hang on to me, Katy," she said, holding her daughter.
The stranger jumped up, grasped the limb and hung on it. With a sharp crack the limb split from the tree, freeing Katy's foot. As agile as a cat, the stranger landed on his feet and tossed the limb aside.
Katy's arms tightened around Maggie's neck, and Maggie held her tightly in return, relieved to have her daughter safe again. Then the stranger reached up. "Hand her to me."
Maggie passed her daughter down. The stranger set her gently on the ground and Katy rubbed her ankle and sniffed. Maggie swung her legs over the limb to jump down. As she jumped, hands came around her waist and the stranger caught her. Without thought she put her hands out to grip his arms, feeling the rock-solid muscles, looking into brown eyes that bored into her with an electrifying intensity. The instant her hands had closed on his arms, a current had raced through her. Unable to breathe or look away, she stared back at him while her heart hammered. He smelled faintly of sweat and aftershave. The aftershave surprised her. He looked primitive rather than civilized, yet she knew she was rushing to judge too swiftly.
He lowered her to the ground and for seconds she was still caught and held in his compelling gaze.
"Mommy." Her daughter's voice released her from the spell, and Maggie stepped back, dropping her hands to her sides. "Thanks again, mister. I have to call 911 and alert them about the fire."
She knelt beside her daughter. "Let me see your ankle, Katy." She was aware that the stranger watched while she checked Katy's bruised and scratched ankle. She moved her daughter's foot gently. "That hurt?"
"Katy, you should thank the man," Maggie said as she stood.
"Thank you, sir," Katy said politely, sniffing and rubbing her ankle as she tried to stand. Maggie swung her up into her arms.
"My name is Jake Reiner," the stranger said in a voice that stirred a curl of warmth in Maggie. Once more she was riveted by his gaze. With an effort she broke away, turning toward the house. She waved her hand toward the barn. "There's a spigot. You might like a cold drink. I've got a fire to fight. Thanks for alerting me about it. C'mon, Tuffy," she commanded, and the dog trotted at her heels.
She shifted the child and headed for the house as Jake watched, fascinated. Her hips swayed slightly and her cutoffs were short enough to give him a delectable view of long legs. He stood staring at her until the screen door slapped shut behind her.
When he glanced back up the lane to the southwest, Jake saw a plume of gray smoke rising over the treetops, the high wind swirling it away. This ranch family was in deep trouble.
Excerpted from Cowboy's Special Woman by Sara Orwig
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.