Outside Antelope Flats, Montana
Regina Holland glared down the empty twolane highway, wishing a car would appear. Wishing anything would appear. Even a horsedrawn wagon. She was beyond being picky at this point.
But of course there wasn't any traffic now. She kicked the flat tire on her rented red convertible with the toe of her high heel and instantly regretted it when she saw the dark smudge of black on her expensive red shoe. She cursed her luck as she bent down to thumb at the smudge.
She'd been in the state for three days and her luck had gone from bad to worse. It had seemed such a simple task in the beginning. How hard could it be to find a cowboy in Montana? She had two weeks to find him. If she failed, she could kiss her dream goodbye. Everything was riding on this. Her entire future.
Regina knew exactly what she wanted and as was her character, she wasn't about to quit until she got it. Somewhere in Montana was her cowboy. All she had to do was find him.
Straightening, she tugged down the skirt of her expensive designer suit and scowled at the tire. Oh, she'd found her share of cowboys all right. Men of every size, shape and disposition but definitely not "The One."
But right now she swore she'd take the first cowboy who drove up with a jack and the wherewithal to change her tire. Unfortunately, it didn't look like any were going to come riding up. No John Wayne on the horizon. Not even a rodeo clown. The highway was empty and she could see both ways for miles.
A pickup had come by but hadn't stopped even when she'd tried to wave down the man behind the wheel. He'd acted as if he hadn't seen her. So much for western hospitality.
A few miles away, she thought she could make out a couple of buildings, possibly a town. Not much of one from what she could see, but at least it looked like something.
She could walk in this heat and these heels orshe glanced at the bag of tools she'd found in the trunkor she could try to change the tire herself.
She looked down the highway again. Heat rose off the blacktop and an intense sun beat down from an alltooexpansive clear blue sky. She knew the moment she started to walk in these heels, vultures would begin to circle.
She picked up the bag of tools with two wellmanicured fingers, spilling an assortment of metal objects onto the ground. How hard could it be to change a tire? She had degrees in business and advertising from Berkeley, for crying out loud.
Twenty minutes, and two chipped nails later, Regina knew how hard it could be. Impossible. She was squatting by the tire, trying to figure out how to get the stupid bolts off, when she heard the sound of a truck coming up the road. It appeared like a mirage, a large dirty brown shape floating on the highway's heat waves.
Regina didn't know how long she'd been squatting by the flat tire, but she found that her muscles had permanently locked in that pitiful crouched position. She could only lift an arm and wave frantically as the vehicle bore down on her.
The truck roared past and she thought for one horrible moment, that the driver wouldn't stop. To her relief, she heard the screech of brakes, heard the truck pull over a dozen yards in front of her car. She was bent over assessing a run in her silk stockings when she heard the driver approach.
A pair of boots and the bottom of a pair of jeans stepped into her line of vision. Both the boots and the jeans were worn and muddy. At least she hoped that was mud. The boots stopped before they reached her, then turned away. For one awful moment she thought he was leaving. Instead he called to someone she assumed was back at his truck.
"I told you to stay there, Jennie," he ordered gruffly. "Do as I tell you for once or next time I'm leaving you at home."
Her gaze and her eyebrow came up at the same time. She'd heard some Montana men still bossed their wives but he should be ashamed, talking to a woman like that.
She thought about telling him so in no uncertain terms. Then she remembered her flat tire and bit her glossed lower lip as the man swiveled back around to her.
"Need some help?" he asked in a soft western drawl.
Great voice. Regina took in the cowboy with a trained eye starting at his boots, noting with professional detachment the way he filled out his jeans. Muscled thighs. Long legs. She let her gaze travel up those legs past the slim hips, the narrow waist, to the man's wide chest. Nice. Real nice. His broad shoulders beneath the western shirt literally blocked out the sun.
His face was in shadow under his battered black cowboy hat. Didn't the good guys always wear white hats?
"Oh, I could definitely use some help," Regina said, a little breathless, trying not to flutter her lashes. How far would she go to get this tire changed? She hated to think.
He shoved back his hat. Handsome too, if you liked that rough around the edges type. Such a waste since it wasn't his strong masculine jaw, his spacious shoulders or his seductively low voice that she was looking for.
"If you've got air in your spare, it shouldn't take but a few minutes," he said and stepped past her to bend over to inspect her tire.
Regina sucked in a breath as she eyed the man's posterior. It was positively perfect. "I can't tell you how much this means to me." She practically shouted in glee, amazed at her change of luck. She'd found him. The One.
J. T. McCall went to work changing the tire and trying to hide his amusement. He'd been having a bad day, actually a bad couple of months, but he had to admit this little distraction was definitely elevating his mood.
He hadn't believed it when he'd first seen her dressed all in red, wearing the loftiest pair of high heels he'd ever seen, standing beside a matching red convertible in the middle of nowhere.
What was a woman dressed like that doing just outside Antelope Flats, Montana? Boy was she lost.
He flicked a look at her over his shoulder, mentally shaking his head. Wait until he told Buck, his elderly ranch foreman, about this. Buck wasn't going to believe it.
He felt her gaze on him as he made short work of changing the tire. "Where ya headed?" he asked, unable to curb his curiosity.
"Really?" He couldn't imagine what business this woman could possibly have in the tiny ranching town up the road. It was so small it didn't even have cable TV. For J.T., after weeks on the ranch, it was the big city but for this woman "All done."
He loaded the flat tire and the tools into the trunk and slammed the lid, then took another good look at her as he wiped his dirty hands on his jeans. She was definitely easy on the eyes.
"I can't tell you how much I appreciate this," she gushed.
"My pleasure." He figured she'd try to slip him money but he'd be darned if he'd take even the price of a cold beer at the Mello Dee. No, just seeing her the way she looked right now was plenty thanks. Standing there, teetering on her heels in the middle of the highway, a lock of her dark hair fleeing from her tight little nononsense French roll or whatever women called those things, and a smudge of dirt on that perfectly madeup face.
"I'd like to do something for you," she said.
He shook his head. "Consider it your welcome to Antelope Flats."
"You're from here?" she asked, eyeing him speculatively.
"Ranch just back up the road. Name's J. T. McCall," he said, not sure he liked the way she was looking at him. He started to step around her.
"Really, I must insist. You've been so kind," she said quickly, blocking his exit. "In fact, I have something in mind."
He raised a brow and grinned, telling himself this wasn't happening and if it was, no one would believe it. "Of course, I'd have to see you in the saddle," she added. "I beg your pardon?"
Her eyes widened. "You do ride a horse, don't you?"
Torn between feeling insulted and curious about where she was headed with this, he said, "I guess you could say I ride."
"Good." She looked pleased. "Because I'm in Montana looking for a cowboy." She flashed him a flawless smile, all teeth, all perfect. "And I think you're that cowboy."
If she thought he'd be thrilled to hear this, she was sadly mistaken. He'd already encountered one city girl who'd come to Montana looking for a reallife cowboy. Once was plenty enough.
"I appreciate the thought," he said more politely than he felt, "But, I'm not your cowboy." He started past her.
She caught his arm with one of those wellmanicured hands, the nails the same red as her outfit. The hand was white as new snow, the skin softlooking. This woman hadn't done one day of hard manual labor in her life.
"Wait," she cried. "You don't know what I'm offering you."
"I'm afraid I do," he said, carefully removing her hand from his arm. "No offense, but I'm just not interested."
"No!" she cried. "That's not it." Frowning, she brushed back a lock of hair and put another dark smudge on her cheek. The imperfection made her more appealing somehow.
"I'm looking for a cowboy to do a television commercial for my jeans company, not" She waved a hand through the air, her cheeks flushed.
She wanted him for a blue jeans commercial?
"You understand that you'd have to audition," she explained. "I can't promise that you'd make the cut but"
"To see how you look on a horse." She narrowed her gaze at him as if she was worried he wasn't getting it. Oh, he was getting it all right.
"You see, it would be a closeup shot," she said, hurrying on. "Your face wouldn't show, just your" She glanced below his elk horn belt buckle.
He followed her gaze, shocked. "My what?"
backside. It would be a closeup of it in the jeans on the horse. Your posterior, which I might add, is perfect. For the commercial," she quickly amended.
Well, now he really was insulted. He'd never had a woman proposition him before. Well, at least not like this. And he realized he didn't like it. She was sizing him up like a piece of beef on the hoof. Or maybe he just didn't like the fact that she was only interested in his "southend."
"Thanks just the same," he said as he tipped his hat. He and his perfect posterior were leaving.
She seemed surprised. "But the commercial will be shown on national television," she said trotting unsteadily along beside him toward his truck. "You'd be paid, of course, and you'd get to keep the jeans."
"Get paid and get to keep the jeans?" he asked sarcastically.
"Yes," she said smiling. "And if it worked out, this could lead to all kinds of opportunities. This could open the door for a whole new career for you, Mr. McCall."
He almost stopped walking to tell her what he thought, but he was trying to be a gentleman. That's why he'd pulled his truck over to help her in the first place.
"Wait," she cried. "At least let me give you my card."
"Lady, I hate to be rude, but I really don't have time for this," he said turning back to her, but she'd already trotted back to get her card for him.
He waited at the rear of his muddy flatbed truck, shaking his head in wonder. "I'm not going to change my mind," he called to her, not sure if the woman heard him, but doubting she would listen anyway.
He watched her lean into the car, providing him with a nice view of her tightskirted bottom. Now that backside would make a wonderful commercial, he thought, momentarily distracted.
Before he could stop her, she'd rushed back to thrust her card into his hand. "I really think you should reconsider. This commercial pays more than you probably make in a year chasing cows," she said taking in his attireand his truck.
That did it. He glanced down at the card, just long enough to see her name. Regina Holland. Regina? What kind of name was that? And her address. Los Angeles. He should have known.
"Listen up, Reggie, I happen to like chasing cows. And right now I have six hundred head to chase down from summer pasture, my camp cook is out with a broken leg and I don't want my butt anywhere but in a saddle heading into the high country before dark. Is that clear enough for you?"
He shoved the cardnow slightly crumpled from being balled in his fistback into her hand and went to his truck, jerking open the door.
"Reggie?" he heard her mutter behind him. Then she called after him: "Perhaps you should discuss it with your wife Jenny."
His wife? He shook his head. "Good girl, Jennie," he said, patting the mutt before pushing her over to her side of the pickup seat. "What would make the woman think I was married to a mongrel dog?" He had a feeling he should be even more insulted.
Glancing back as he pulled out onto the highway, he saw that Regina Holland was standing in the middle of the road, looking as lost as when he'd found her. His irritation dissolved and he chuckled to himself as he shifted into second and put some distance between him and the red sports car.
No, he thought shaking his head, no one was going to believe this. Not that anyone would ever hear about it. He sure had no intention of ever telling a living soul now that he realized what the woman wanted. Perfect behind, his butt. He'd never live down the razzing he'd get. Never in a million years.
He topped a rise in the road and Regina Holland disappeared from his rearview mirror. Gone, if not forgotten.
All morning he'd been trying not to stew and he had a hell of a lot to stew over. Something was going on at the ranch and had been even before his mother returned. For almost all of his thirtysix years, he'd been led to believe that his mother was dead. Hell, he and his brother Cash, the only two of the McCall kids who actually remembered their mother, had been putting flowers on her grave every Sunday.