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Janeen White's first trip to Texas to visit her good friend Lindsey Crenshaw really opened her eyes to Southwestern hospitality. She took in the scene around her with amazement and acknowledged that the Crenshaws certainly knew how to throw a party.
The sprawling live oak trees scattered across the vast lawn were covered in fairy lights. Musicians played country music near a large patio where people were dancing. The delicious aroma of barbecue wafted through the air, and several tables holding vast quantities of food teased the senses. Long picnic tables sat among the trees and people stood in line to fill their plates.
The clear sky with a full moon put the finishing touch on the festivities.
Janeen and Lindsey sat in lawn chairs out of the traffic area and watched the dancers, the various groups of men and women talking and laughing and others filling their plates with food.
The two women had been friends for years, ever since they'd first met while attending Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Janeen loved Georgetown, but to get there, she had had to defy her mother, who wanted her to go to school in New England. She'd had to deal with weekly calls from said mother, telling her about every crime that had been reported anywhere near Washington. Lindsey had listened sympathetically to Janeen's laments about her mother, who felt it her right and duty to organize Janeen's life.
Since Lindsey had grown up without a mother, she'd found the stories fascinating, even funny at times. The bond created between the two had lasted for years.
After graduation, Janeen had taken a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in Manhattan, and Lindsay had married Jared Crenshaw and moved to Texas. But they had always kept in touch. In fact, a few years ago Lindsey had lived with Janeen in her New York apartment during a particularly bad patch in Lindsey and Jared's marriage.
She would never forget the day she opened the door to her apartment to find standing before her a tall, well-built hunk with gorgeous blue eyes dressed in cowboy garb, asking for Lindsey. She could immediately see why Lindsey was so crazy about him.
When Lindsey had returned to Houston with her husband, the two friends continued to stay in touch by e-mail and long phone conversations. Lindsey extended an open invitation for Janeen to come down and visit her, and Janeen had assured Lindsey that one of these days she'd take her up on her offer.
When the Met had had to cut back and Janeen suddenly found herself without a job, she'd called Lindsey for consolation. Instead of commiserating with her, Lindsey had pressed her to come down to Texas to visit for an extended stay and forget her life in New York for a while.
The offer couldn't have come at a better time. Steve was becoming a problem. She'd been casually dating him until she found out that he was nothing like he'd first appeared to be. Then she'd stopped going out with him. He didn't want to take no for an answer and kept phoning and dropping by to see her at work and her apartment.
If she left town for a while, he would hopefully forget about her and move on. Visiting Texas had sounded like just the answer for her.
She'd been in Texas for a week now. She'd had a chance to say hello and goodbye to Jared before he took off on another one of his extended trips overseas. Once he left, she and Lindsey stayed busy catching up on everything that hadn't been discussed by phone and e-mail. Janeen also took the opportunity to get to know Lindsey and Jared's three children after years of seeing them only in photographs.
For some time the children had been pleading to go visit their cousins in Central Texas. By the end of the week, Lindsey decided to go in order to escape the heat and high humidity of Houstonlocated on the Texas coastand to give Janeen the opportunity to see more of the state.
Once they had arrived at the ranch, Janeen could better understand why the children begged to come here. Jared's older brother, Jake, his wife, Ashley, and their children lived in the hacienda-style Crenshaw family home.
The home was big enough to get lost inmore like a hotel and truly historic. Crenshaws had lived there for generations. There were so many outbuildings that when the two women had arrived yesterday afternoon, Janeen thought at first the place was a village.
When Jake and Ashley decided to have a barbecue in her honor, Janeen had been taken aback until Lindsey had laughingly explained that the Crenshaws used any excuse to throw a barbecue and invite everyone around.
Janeen could definitely believe it. She'd met so many Crenshaws since she'd arrived that her head was spinning. Grandfathers and fathers and uncles and aunts and so many cousins she'd lost count. All of them were welcoming and friendly.
She was in another world, nothing like the one she was from. The men were certainly eye-catching. Janeen wished she'd brought a camera to prove to friends in New York that such men really existedtall, tanned, broad-shouldered, self-confident and brimming with sex appeal.
Even though she wasn't looking for a relationship with anyone these days, she could certainly enjoy the view.
"You're awfully quiet," Lindsey said, interrupting the comfortable silence between old friends.
Janeen looked at her and smiled. "This is all so amazing. I had no idea such a place existed."
"Oh, you mean the hacienda? The first Crenshaw bought this land in the early 1840s before Texas became a state. The descendants take pride in ensuring that their legacy will be passed down for years to come."
Janeen looked over at the huge smoker where Jake tended the meatbeef, chicken and pork ribsand inhaled the delicious aroma. "Everyone seems to know everyone else," she said.
"Do you remember that I met Jared at one of these gatherings?"
Janeen smiled. "Couldn't have it more romantic than this, I must admit. Who needs New York when you can have this kind of entertainment for free?"
She noticed a big shiny black four-door pickup truck drive up and park by the barn. She idly watched the driver step down out of the truck and thread his way through the many cars and trucks in the driveway.
"Don't tell me. Let me guess," she said with a grin, nodding toward the newcomer. "The newest arrival has to be a Crenshaw."
Lindsey followed Janeen's glance. "You're right. That's Jordan Crenshaw, Jared and Jake's cousin."
Janeen watched as Jordan sauntered across the lawn, pausing to speak to some of the guests and waving to others while slowly heading toward Jake.
"Hmm," Lindsey said, "I wonder where his fiancée is? According to Ashley, everyone in the family was caught by surprise when Jordan casually mentioned to Jake that he and Cindy O'Neil were engaged. Her dad owns a ranch somewhere around here."
"Jordan's a rancher, too?"
"He raises and breeds quarter horses. Jared once commented that he was convinced Jordan preferred the company of his horses to most human beings."
Janeen glanced over athim again. "Is he some kind of recluse?"
"According to Jared he's shy, first of all. Add to that the fact that he was badly hurt by a woman. He dated somebody at Texas A&M the last semester of their senior year. After graduation she moved back home, somewhere near D.C., I think."
"Although he didn't see her after she moved back East, they talked on the phone. I guess being apart made Jordan realize how much he missed her and loved her. Her family had horses, which was another reason Jordan thought they could have a life together. He gathered up his nerve to go see her with a ring in his pocket. Knowing Jordan, he wouldn't have gone if he wasn't fairly sure she'd say yes."
"Don't stop now. What happened?"
Lindsey shrugged. "I guess she didn't feel the same way about him. Once back home, she'd started dating someone else. He was really torn up over the whole thing. He withdrew from everyone and devoted himself to his horses.
"So you can see why I was surprised to hear about the engagement. It's a good sign, though. Must mean that he's gotten over his college sweetheart. Jared told me to find out when they planned to marry because he would put it on his schedule at work. The Crenshaws are big on family, as you can tell. So of course we'll make sure to be here for their wedding."
"I take it he's an only child."
"Oh, no. He has a twin brother, Jack, but Jack isn't interested in ranching. He travels around the country, following the rodeo circuit. He's won all kinds of prizes."
Janeen smiled. "Good for him."
Lindsey grinned. In a teasing voice she said, "I was disappointed to hear about Jordan's engagement. I'd planned to introduce the two of you."
Janeen frowned. "Why?"
"I thought he might get your mind off that idiot you were datingSteve."
"I was not in love with Steve," she replied. "I thought it was a little odd that he kept suggesting I introduce him to my parents. I finally took him to Connecticutone time, mind youand then I realized he just wanted an in with Dad's corporation. I was disappointed because I was fond of him, and I thought he cared about me. What he really cared about was advancing his career. So at the moment, I'm not particularly interested in meeting somebody new."
"You never told Steve why you called it quits, right?"
"And so he started calling and dropping in on you."
Janeen smiled. "He hated to see his career opportunity slipping away."
Both of them laughed.
"Maybe he really was in love with you."
"Not a chance. At least he won't bother me here in Texas. Hopefully by the time I go back, he will have accepted defeat."
They sat quietly and continued watching people until Lindsey said, "I don't know about you, but I can't resist the smell of that barbecue any longer. Let's go get some, okay?"
Janeen laughed. "Thank goodness. I've been drooling just from the aroma."
When they reached the food line, Lindsey introduced Janeen to several of the people around them. Once again, Janeen was amazed by everyone's friendliness. She was really touched.
While standing in line, Janeen glanced around at the tables. Most of them looked full. Maybe they should have come to eat sooner.
She and Lindsey filled their plates from the various dishes set out on one long table. There was German potato salad, coleslaw, baked beans and Texas toastand that was before they reached the barbecued meat. Janeen felt embarrassed for piling her plate so high until she saw that not only Lindsey but everyone else held similar plates.
Once through the line, Lindsey paused beside her. "Looks like we waited too long. All the tables are full. Oh, wait. There's one over there," she said and headed to one of the tables that wasn't easily visible. Two men sat at the table nestled in the shadows of one of the large trees. "Let's go before anyone else gets there."
As they approached, Janeen recognized one of the men as the Crenshaw cousin. What was his name?
Lindsey asked, "Mind if we join you?"
One of them spoke. "Not at all," and Janeen realized it was the other man who had replied.
Once seated, Lindsey said, "Janeen, I'd like you to meet Tom Grayson. He's a banker. And this is Jordan Crenshaw. Jordan has a horse ranch not far from here. Gentlemen, this is my very good friend, Janeen White."
Janeen nodded to both men, smiled and said, "Hello."
Jordan paused from eating and looked at her without smiling. "Hello," he replied and continued to eat. Tom grinned, looking at her with undisguised interest and said, "Pleased to meet you, ma'am. Janeen, you say?"
"Well, if you're looking for some fine fixings, you've come to the right place. These Crenshaws really know how to put on a spread, that's for sure." When he finally stopped looking at Janeen, he turned to Lindsey and asked, "Where's Jared? I haven't seen him." He glanced around with a slight frown.
"Oh, he didn't come with us, Tom. He's traveling on business and won't be back for a few weeks," Lindsey replied.
There wasn't much more conversation during the meal. It was only after the plates were almost empty that Lindsey said, "Jordan, I understand congratulations are in order."
He straightened and looked at her, reaching for his longneck bottle of beer. He took a drink before he answered. "Thanks," he said. He picked up a rib and began to eat it.
Not to be put off when she was looking for information, Lindsey asked, "Where is Cindy tonight?"
Jordan wiped his hands on one of the large paper towels and said, "She couldn't come. She said it looked as if her dad was coming down with the flu, and she didn't want to leave him, so I came on over here by myself."
Lindsey smiled. "I'm glad you came. I haven't seen you in more than a year."
Jordan looked around at the other people. "Are your children here?"
Lindsey replied, "Oh, yes. They're in that group chasing each other around the trees. They've been begging to come spend some time over here. They definitely have the Crenshaw blood in them. They would much prefer to live in the country than in Houston. I have to admit there's a great deal to do here."
They all continued to eat until Tom looked at Janeen and said, "So you're here visiting, I take it?"
Janeen nodded, her mouth full. Lindsey came to her rescue. "Yes, she is. I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying her being here. I've been trying to get her to come to Texas for years. Janeen recently took a leave of absence from the museum in Manhattan where she works and decided to come spend some time with us."
Janeen swallowed, took a quick drink from her glass of iced tea and shook her head. "No point in pretending, Lindsey." She looked at the men. "I was fired."
"Laid off," Lindsey said.
Janeen sighed. "Whatever you call it, I'm unemployed." She looked at Jordan. "I understand you raise horses. My dad has a stable, and he's kept horses as far back as I can remember. I spent more time in the stable than I did in the house when I was growing up. Do you have an opening, by any chance? I can muck out stalls with the best of them."
Lindsey and Tom burst out laughing. "This is supposed to be a vacation, sweetie," Lindsey said. "You'll have plenty of time to look for work once you go back home."
Jordan finished his meal, carefully cleaned his hands, finished off his beer and only then did he look at Janeen. This woman, dressed in obviously expensive clothes, with her carefully coifed light blond hair and exquisite makeup, was obviously making a joke at his expense. His imagination wasn't vivid enough to imagine a woman like her mucking out stalls.