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"I take it you've heard the rumors," Luke Carrigan said as he ushered Trevor McCabe into the study of his Laramie, Texas home.
Who in the county hadn't?
Tired of his three daughters' well-known aversion to commitment, Luke Carrigan had vowed to take a hand in introducing them all to "suitable" men, in what Trevor figured was a vain hope they would soon settle down and have families.
What was it about their parents" generation, Trevor wondered, dropping down into the wing chair Luke indicated, that made them think marriage was essential to a person's happiness? He was content living the single life, and saw no reason to change his own circumstances.
"Don't worry, that's not why you're here," Luke continued. Trevor held back a sigh of relief.
Luke sat down behind his desk. "I did want to talk to you about Rebecca, though."
Trevor tensed. Luke's second-to-oldest child had been two years behind him in school. The two of them had nothing in common then—or now. He vaguely recalled Rebecca Carrigan as a rah-rah type who had always been busy organizing something.
"She has a tendency to go off on—well, let's just call them tangents."
Trevor didn't know what Luke was getting at, but he was willing to hear the noted family physician out and settled more comfortably in his seat. "Last I heard Rebecca was in Asia." "Actually, she's been all over the world with the tour company she worked for."
Trevor shrugged his broad shoulders. "That's one way to travel the globe."
"Don't get me wrong. I'm very proud of how hard Rebecca has worked since she graduated college. Even more delighted with the staggering amount of money she has saved in thepast six years." Luke paused and looked at Trevor, his eyes full of parental concern.
"What worries me is what she plans to do with it."
Trevor grimaced. "Dr. Carrigan, I really don't think this is any of my business."
"You may change your mind when you hear what my second to-oldest daughter has planned."
Trevor doubted it. Honorable men did not step in the middle of other families" contretemps.
"You know that small ranch you've had your eye on?" Trevor tensed at the mention of his neighbor to the west. The fifty-acre tract was definitely in his sights, along with the much larger property on the other side of it, The Circle Y. "I gather you're talking about The Primrose?"
Luke dipped his head in acknowledgement. "Miss Mim is planning to sell it to Rebecca."
Trevor swallowed a curse. His jaw set. "That can't be right." He and Miss Mim had an understanding.
"I'm afraid it is," Luke replied. He didn't sound happy. Trevor forced himself to put emotion aside and think about this rationally. "Your daughter doesn't have a background in ranching," he pointed out. Growing up, she'd never been a member of any of the agricultural groups such as 4-H. She'd selected SMU instead of Texas A&M, where all the agricultural students went, for college.
Luke shrugged. "That won't stop Rebecca. She wants The Primrose. She's leveraging everything to get it. And that's what has me so worried, the lengths to which she's willing to go." Luke paused before continuing. "I need someone who's been there to talk some sense into her, make her realize that buying and starting up a ranching operation is no game. It's grueling, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, work."
And probably harder than anything she had ever done before, Trevor thought. He wondered how long it would take her to give up and sell out, like every other dilettante who had a romantic instead of practical view of the ranching life. Hell's afire.
Trevor exhaled in slow deliberation. "What makes you think she would listen to me?"
"Nothing, except you're her age and well respected in the ranching community."
"Are you sure your daughter is planning to work the property? Or just reap the financial rewards? After all, Miss Mim has never actually managed it. She's leased it out to me, and other ranchers who needed extra land to run their herd." Trevor wouldn't have a problem with Rebecca living "next door" if she continued the lease.
Luke tapped his fingers on his desk. "If the risky financial dealings she's concocted with that San Angelo bank go through—and I have to tell you, right now it looks as if they will—Rebecca plans to breed alpacas."
"Alpacas!" Trevor echoed, gripping the arms of the chair. "She plans to raise alpacas in the middle of cattle country?"
"That's what she says unless someone can convince her otherwise. Which is why—" Luke leaned across his desk and looked Trevor straight in the eye "—since you're going to be living right next door to her, I've summoned you."
REBECCA CARRIGAN was just turning the corner onto the street where her parents lived when she saw Trevor McCabe driving away.
"I don't believe it," she muttered to herself as she squinted against the brilliant April sun. She had warned her father not to try and run her social life—or lack thereof—the previous evening, or interfere in her new career. Obviously, he hadn't listened.
Which left her two choices. Ignore what she had just witnessed, wait patiently for Trevor McCabe to make his move and then shut him down.
Or give chase and set him straight.
Always one to take charge when opportunity presented itself, she drove past the big turn-of-the-century Cape Cod she, her two sisters and brother had grown up in, and followed the dark green, extended cab pickup truck through the center of town to the feed store.
Trevor McCabe parked his vehicle in front of the store, and before she could do the same, disappeared inside.
No matter, Rebecca decided, sliding her small yellow pickup truck into the last slot. She'd just follow him in and ask him to step out.
Keys in hand, leather carryall slung over her shoulder, she marched through the doors of the cavernous warehouse.
It was as busy as usual. Stacked sacks of feed took up the majority of space. The rest was occupied by shelves containing various home-veterinary supplies.
Half a dozen ranchers and hired hands stood at the cash register. Another five or six strolled the aisles, mulling over choices. In the middle of the action stood Trevor McCabe.
As always, Rebecca found the sight of the thirty-year-old rancher a little intimidating. It wasn't just that he was tall—he had to be six foot four—and buff in the way that men were who made their living through physical endeavor. It was the tough-but-smart aura he exuded, the cynical I-dare-you-to-try-and-put-something over-on-me gleam in his hazel eyes. He'd had the same confidence back in high school, and it had only grown more daunting since. Not that she was going to let that stop her. Rebecca stepped right in front of him and tapped the toe of her boot on the cement floor. "Could I have a word with you?"
Trevor tipped the brim of his stone-colored hat away from his forehead and looked her up and down.
"Sure." He started to take her elbow.
Rebecca backed away. Suddenly, the thought of having a private conversation with this very grown-up version of Trevor McCabe seemed risky as all get out.
"Actually, I'd rather talk here," Rebecca said.
Trevor's lips compressed. "I don't discuss my private business in public."
No surprise there, given the fact that he probably didn't want everyone in town to know her father had just tried to convince him to make a play for her.
"Well, that's too bad because here and now is the only way we're ever going to converse." All Rebecca wanted to do was set the record straight. Let him know she was definitely not interested in him—romantically or any other way, no matter how ruggedly appealing he had grown up to be.
Their eyes met and held. Electricity sparked between them with all the unpredictability and danger of a downed power line. Rebecca caught her breath, deliberately held it. And prayed and hoped she would get what she wanted from him—a promise he would never meddle in her life, at her father's behest, or for any other reason. Independence mattered to Rebecca. She wanted Trevor—as well as everyone else in town—to respect and believe in her the way her family never had.
For a second, Trevor seemed tempted to hear her out but something—maybe it was the eyes of all the men in the feed store—had him doing otherwise.
"I don't think so." Trevor turned away.
Gosh darn it. What had her father said to him?
Unwilling to give up on this quest, Rebecca stepped closer. When he refused to acknowledge her, she tapped his arm. "I mean it, Trevor McCabe. You and I really need to talk."
His bicep flexing enough to get her to immediately drop her hand, he swung toward her once again. He spoke, carefully enunciating each and every word. "As I said, I don't think here and now is a good idea. I'd be glad to meet you later, however."
Rebecca just bet he would.
The sexual heat in his eyes said he wouldn't waste any time putting the moves on her.
She curled her fingers into a fist, to stop their tingling. Noting he wasn't going to budge on this, and that everyone in the building was definitely staring at the two of them, she felt her temper getting the better of her, and snapped, "Fine, have it your way. I'll do all the talking." Rebecca pointed a trigger finger at the center of his chest. "And you, cowboy, can listen."
His brow arched. All conversation in the feed store had died. Trevor had just dared her to go on. Feeling the temperature between them rise, Rebecca propped both her hands on her hips. Perspiration gathered at her temples, on the back of her neck, in the hollow between her breasts. "I don't care what my father said to you." She paused to let the emphatic words hang in the air. "I am not—I repeat not—going to date you."
He stepped in closer. Amusement glimmered in his eyes. "Is that so?"
Feeling as if she had picked the wrong man to humiliate, even if it had been by his choice, not hers, Rebecca angled her chin higher. "You can bet your cattle ranch, it is."
Trevor rocked back on his heels, ran the flat of his palm beneath his jaw. "Well, that's interesting."
His rumbling drawl sent shivers over her skin. "Why?" "Because I hadn't planned to ask."
Deep male chuckles surrounded them.
To her dismay, Rebecca felt her cheeks turn a self-conscious pink. "Then why did you even go and see my dad," she asked, "if you weren't willing to be part of his plan to get all of his daughters married off?"
A plan that Luke had told her started with her, since she was the daughter currently in so much "trouble." Why did her father have a problem with her running a ranch anyway?
"If you want to know why I was talking to your dad this morning, ask him," Trevor said.
"I'm asking you!"
Resentment sparked in Trevor's eyes. He hooked his thumbs through his belt loops and rocked forward on his toes. "Well that's too bad," he said, lowering his handsome face to hers, until they were nose to nose, "because what was said was strictly between me and your father."
Rebecca rocked forward on her toes, too. "But it was about me. Wasn't it?"
To her mounting aggravation, Trevor said nothing.
A discreet cough made them both turn their heads. Rebecca caught sight of a well-dressed thirty-something cowboy she didn't recognize, lingering in the doorway of the warehouse, listening and watching all that was going on. Everyone else was looking at him, too, in the same way, which meant he was not known to people in these parts. The handsome blond-haired hunk lifted a hand in greeting to one and all and headed in their direction.
The stranger smiled pleasantly. "If it were me, I'd tell you everything you needed and wanted to know, and then some." He swept off his hat and waved it at the crowd. "Vince Owen," he introduced himself to one and all. "Trevor and I went to college together." Vince clapped a hand on Trevor's shoulder, grabbed his hand and shook it heartily. "Good to see you, buddy."
Trevor nodded, the expression in his eyes unreadable. "Vince." Vince Owen turned to Rebecca. Charm radiated from him like light from the sun, as his gaze fastened on her face. "And you're…?"
Rebecca smiled, switched her keys to her left hand, and stuck out her right palm. "Rebecca Carrigan."
Vince clasped it warmly. "Good to meet you, darlin". If you need anything, I'm at your service. I just closed on a ranch in the area—The Circle Y. You heard of it?"
Aware that Trevor had gone stone-still with something akin to shock, Rebecca paused. Ignoring the man who had given her so much grief in so little time—what did she care what Trevor McCabe's reaction to the news was anyway—she asked Vince, "It's right next to The Primrose, isn't it?"
He nodded. "And one ranch away from Trevor's Wind Creek Ranch, although I could be his next-door neighbor if I can snap up The Primrose, too."
"I doubt that will happen," Rebecca said politely, not sure she should say more until the papers were actually signed by her and Miss Mim. "I agree with Rebecca." Trevor gave Vince Owen a long, steady look. "Last I heard, The Primrose wasn't for sale."
Which showed just how much Trevor knew, Rebecca thought, a tad guiltily. Miss Mim had told her Trevor'd had his eyes on her place, too, for quite some time now. But that was neither here nor there.
Deciding she had wasted enough time, she tightened her hand on the thick strap of her shoulder bag and took one last look at Trevor. "I meant what I said. I don't care what bill of goods my father tried to sell you about me needing a man in my life, Trevor McCabe." She ignored the chuckles of all the men gathered around them. "I'm fine as is," she continued stubbornly, holding Trevor's testy gaze with effort. "There won't be any connection—any private talks—between the two of us. And I'm sorry if my father misled you otherwise."
Trevor flashed her a grin that was more of a come-on than an expression of mirth.
"You don't look sorry," he remarked.
Knowing this wasn't a conversation that she would ever have the last word in, Rebecca merely rolled her eyes, turned and walked away.