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Kiss Me, Cowboy!
By Maureen Child
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Maureen Child
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBeing a virgin wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
But then, Nora Bailey was about to change all that, wasn't she? The question was, just who could she find to help her get rid of her chastity belt? Pickin's were slim, as they say.
Staring out the gleaming front window of her bakery, Nora watched the citizens of Tesoro, California, enjoying a beautiful spring morning. With a calculating eye, she studied only the men walking along the crowded, narrow main street.
First, she spotted Dewy Fontaine, ninety if he was a day, heading into the pharmacy across the street. He stopped to say hello to Dixon Hill, father of six, working on his third wife. Nora shuddered.
Trevor Church raced by on his skateboard. Cute, but eighteen, for pity's sake. The kid popped a wheelie as he slipped around the corner and disappeared.
Harrison DeLong, sixty and just a little too spry, stopped to shake hands and kiss babies. Running for mayor ... again, and who trusts politicians?
Mike Fallon. Nora sighed. Nope. Her gaze lingered on him for a moment or two as he strolled down the street toward the ice-cream parlor. Tall, he wore faded denims and a short-sleeved, dark red shirt. His boots were scuffed, his dark hair was ruffled in the breeze, and Nora knew, without even being able to see them, that his green eyes would be shuttered. Wary. Heck, the only female Mike trusted was his five-year-old daughter, Emily. Just then, the little girl raced up to her father and grabbed his hand with both of hers. Mike glanced down and gave his pretty daughter one of his rare yet breathtaking smiles.
A darn shame that Mike wasn't in the running.
"Wouldn't you know it?" she muttered. "I'm finally ready to `do the deed' and there's no one left to do it with."
Way back in high school, she'd made the decision to remain a virgin until she was married. At the time, it had seemed like the smart thing to do. But she hadn't counted on being the only twenty-eight-year-old virgin in the country, for crying out loud.
She'd expected to graduate from college, find Mr. Right, get married and have babies. Pretty old-fashioned dreams, she supposed, in the grand scheme of things. But then, she'd been born and raised in Tesoro, a tiny coastal town in central California, where people still had bake sales to raise money for the school. Where neighbors looked out for one another and doors were mostly left unlocked.
Where single men were now harder to find than a calorie-free chocolate chip cookie.
So here she stood, eleven years after high school, as pure as the day she was born. The whole celibacy thing had really lost most of its shine. Nora had clung to her vow through the years, despite the fact that both of her younger sisters were married, with a baby each. She'd told herself repeatedly that the right man would come along. But honestly, she'd begun to doubt it lately. After all, she'd never been the kind of woman men lusted after.
Her sisters were small and pretty. Nora was tall, too forthright for her own good and stubborn to boot. She was terrible at flirting, too honest to play games and too busy building her business to kill time at bars or dance clubs.
But the kicker, the impetus to call this whole virginity thing off, had strolled into Nora's bakery only the day before. Becky Sloane was getting married. The kid Nora used to baby-sit had come in to order her wedding cake. A four-tiered, white chocolate number with pink and yellow roses. Becky - or rather her mother - was sparing no expense. At nineteen, Becky was on engagement number two, and Nora was willing to bet she hadn't said no to number one yet, either.
And that's when Nora first wondered just who she'd been saving her virginity for. At the rate she was going, she would be able to be buried "intact" and her headstone could read Returned, Unopened. Depressing. Which was why she was now so determined to leave the ranks of the pure and unsullied behind.
After all, just how much was a woman expected to take?
Naturally, she'd talked her decision over with her best friend, Molly, over lunch yesterday, mentioning her encounter with Becky Sloane.
"Becky Sloane?" Molly repeated, "I remember when the kid couldn't tie her shoe."
"I know. So how old does that make us?"
"God, how humiliating for you," Molly muttered, and took another long drink of the frosty concoction in front of her. "Becky's getting married and here you sit, as pure as the driven - whatever the heck that means - snow."
"Gee, thanks," Nora said. "I feel so much better now."
She winced. "Sorry." Green-eyed Molly Jackson's red hair was short and cut into a pixielike do with sharp edges and twisted curls that somehow looked great on her. Loyal to the bone, Molly was funny, impatient and creative enough to have launched her own greeting card company that she ran from her home. She also happened to be the mother of the world's cutest six month old girl and was married to the town sheriff, a man who absolutely adored her.
"When's the wedding?" Molly asked.
"Next week," Nora told her. "Saturday."
Two red eyebrows arched. "That's fast."
"Yes," Nora said, and twirled her straw through the slushy drink in front of her. "And honestly, Becky didn't look so good. A little green around the gills."
"Hmm. So maybe there's a reason for the big hurry, huh?"
"I don't know," Nora said. "But if Becky is pregnant, then that puts her way ahead of me, doesn't it?"
Molly smiled and shook her head. "This is a contest, then?"
"No." Nora sighed and leaned back in her seat. "It's just that I used to baby-sit her and now she's starting out on her life while I ..."
"Bake a mean cinnamon roll?"
Excerpted from Kiss Me, Cowboy! by Maureen Child Copyright © 2003 by Maureen Child
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.