Texas Hold 'Em

Texas Hold 'Em

4.6 21
by Christie Craig

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"Hold onto your Stetsons . . . A thrill ride of hunky heroes, hilarious high jinks, and heartwarming romance."
-Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author on Only in Texas


The last thing veterinarian Leah Reece needs is a man in her life. They're nothing but trouble-and not even the fun kind. But when her

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"Hold onto your Stetsons . . . A thrill ride of hunky heroes, hilarious high jinks, and heartwarming romance."
-Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author on Only in Texas


The last thing veterinarian Leah Reece needs is a man in her life. They're nothing but trouble-and not even the fun kind. But when her apartment is broken into and Leah suspects Rafael, her dangerous half-brother, of foul play, she can't deny she could use a little help. She just never expected that help would come with twinkling blue eyes and a sexy smile...

All PI Austin Brook wants is to nail Rafael DeLuna, the man who framed him for murder. He'll do anything for information-even lie about his identity to charm Leah, DeLuna's half-sister. But her sweet dimples and fiery spirit soon make her more than just his only lead. Leah becomes his every desire. As Austin closes in on DeLuna, it's clear he won't go down without a fight. Now the only way Austin can protect Leah is to reveal all of his secrets and risk losing her for good.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Craig throws two love stories, crime, investigation, and the kitchen sink into the third Hotter in Texas contemporary (after Blame It on Texas). Rafael DeLuna framed PI Austin Brook for murder, and now Austin is on his tail. His informant, Roberto, has become unreliable, so Austin targets Rafael’s half-sister, veterinarian Leah Reece. When he goes undercover as a day trader, bugging her apartment and listening to her phone conversations, he is surprised by their attraction. Though the creepy duplicity of Austin’s spying on Leah is jarring, their connection is sweet and genuine, their childhood scars and adult histories making them slow to open up, despite their mutual interest. Two prominent subplots both involve Roberto: a crime story about him infiltrating Rafael’s group, and a gentle romance involving him and Leah’s assistant. Austin and Leah’s story is often dark, and the mysteries, histories, and subplots make the romance feel like an afterthought, but fans of fast-paced thrillers and Craig’s other books will feel at home. Agent: Kim Lionetti, BookEnds. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

Hold onto your Stetsons . . . A thrill ride of hunky heroes, hilarious high jinks, and heartwarming romance."
-Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author"

A fabulously great read. I absolutely loved the characters...I can't wait for the next one in the series."
—Night Owl Reviews"

Another well-written and nicely plotted story, with great leads in Nikki and Dallas...Christie Craig always delivers enjoyable light romantic mysteries - add Don't Mess With Texas to the list."

An entertaining tale with delightful, fully formed characters and an intriguing mystery, along with a nod to dog lovers with a likable pooch."
RT Book Reviews


"Hold onto your Stetsons . . . A thrill ride of hunky heroes, hilarious high jinks, and heartwarming romance."
-Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author

"A fabulously great read. I absolutely loved the characters...I can't wait for the next one in the series."
--Night Owl Reviews

"Another well-written and nicely plotted story, with great leads in Nikki and Dallas...Christie Craig always delivers enjoyable light romantic mysteries - add Don't Mess With Texas to the list."

"An entertaining tale with delightful, fully formed characters and an intriguing mystery, along with a nod to dog lovers with a likable pooch."
--RT Book Reviews

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Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Hotter in Texas Series, #3
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

New York Times bestselling author Christie Craig grew up in Alabama, where she caught lightning bugs, ran barefoot, and regularly rescued potential princes, in the form of bullfrogs, from her brothers. Today, she's still fascinated with lightning bugs and mostly wears shoes, but focuses on rescuing mammals and hasn't kissed a frog in years. She now lives in Texas with her four rescued cats, one dog-who has a bad habit of eating furniture-a son, and a prince of a husband who swears he's not, and never was, a frog.

If Christie isn't writing, she's reading or just enjoying laughter with her friends and family. As a freelance writer, Christie also writes nonfiction books, including the humorous self-help/relationship book Wild, Wicked & Wanton: 101 Ways to Love Like You're in a Romance Novel, as well as paranormal young adult romances under the pen name C. C. Hunter.

You can learn more at:

Twitter @christie_craig

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Read an Excerpt

Texas Hold 'Em

By Christie Craig

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2014 Christie Craig
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-446-58282-7


Austin Brook opened his front door and stared at his two PI partners standing shoulder to shoulder on the front porch. They looked pissed enough to chew glass. He knew why they were here. He even knew why they were pissed. Still, he decided the best approach would be to take a page from his dating manual and do the same thing he always did when he got in trouble with a woman. Namely, feign ignorance and pretend everything was just fine.

"Hey," he said. "What brings you guys by?"

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Dallas O'Connor snapped.

Austin grinned. "Well, I was thinking about taking a piss when someone started pounding on my door."

Bud, Dallas's dog, nosed his way between his owner's legs and stared up with the same bulldog face as Austin's partners at the Only in Texas agency.

The fact that Bud was an English bulldog made his look understandable. Not that Austin didn't understand his partners' dire expressions. He knew they were here to derail his plan.

"I thought you guys were in Galveston." And he was hoping to be gone before they got back. Austin raised his foot and with the toe of his boot scratched the dog's neck between the folds of loose canine skin.

"We came back early. Roberto called us." Dallas, a big man carrying a bad attitude, pushed inside, and Tyler, slightly less bulky but equally tall, joined him. Bud, snorting and probably farting, followed at their heels.

Austin shut the door, then regretted it when the strong odor of doggie gas hit him square in the face. Instinctually, all three men waved a hand to clear the air.

Tyler's gaze, his eyes as dark as his black hair, shifted to Austin's suitcases sitting beside the bar. "I thought we decided to let Roberto handle this."

Roberto was the professional informant they had digging up info on the SOB, DeLuna, who'd framed them. And while Austin liked Roberto, or at least liked what little he knew of the man, he was taking too damn long to get the job done.

"No, you two decided that," Austin said, letting the bitterness shine through in his voice. "I distinctly remember telling you that I was tired of handing everything over to Roberto and getting handed back shit. We're paying this guy big bucks and we really don't know crap about him."

"So far his leads have all been on the mark," Dallas insisted.

"True. But it's been six months since he's given us a solid lead on DeLuna." To Austin that meant it was time for one of them to intervene. And since both of his partners now had wives to consider, he figured it was up to him to do it.

Not that he minded. Taking down that no-good lowlife claimed top spot on his bucket list.

"My bet is by now all of DeLuna's men know our faces," Dallas said. "You go through with this, and we'll be buying your casket in a matter of weeks."

Austin sat down on his favorite armchair and stretched out his cowboy-boot-clad feet. "Just use the one we keep in the entranceway of the office and save yourself some money." The damn casket had been left in the building by the previous owners, who ran a funeral home. Now it was sort of their trademark.

"He's serious," Tyler said, using his calm voice that always reminded Austin of a therapist. Not that he'd gone to one in a hell of a long time. Well, not since he was thirteen and had decided that being a ward of the state didn't mean he had to follow their damn rules.

"You think I'm not serious?" Austin asked. His mind was made up. He didn't mess around with his bucket list.

"What brought this on?" Tyler asked. "Is this about your—?"

"Stop! Quit trying to get in my head." Austin's anger surfaced with a rush. But it was directed more at the stranger who'd shown up at the agency and spilled her dirty laundry right in front of everyone than at his two partners. Still, that didn't mean he had to discuss it. Discussing it meant thinking about it, and he'd spent a whole hell of a lot of energy trying not to do that.

"You want to know what brought this on?" he asked. "It was the year and a half I was fucking locked up in prison. Or have both of you forgotten about that?"

It sure seemed to him they had. Okay, maybe they hadn't forgotten it, exactly, but they'd somehow gotten past it. And while Austin was friggin' happy for them that they'd been able to do that, and he'd danced a jig at both their weddings in the last two months, he couldn't get past it. He wouldn't until DeLuna was behind bars.

Or dead.

Tyler exhaled. "I just think—"

"Then stop thinking!" Austin moaned. The last thing he wanted was to have anyone rummaging through his mental closet. There were too many damn skeletons, too many nailed-shut trunks of emotional crap, that he didn't want to think about.

"Damn it, Austin," Dallas snapped. "This is shit. We need to stick to our plan."

"What plan?" Austin asked. "We don't seem to have a plan anymore."

Dallas's shoulders tightened. "The plan hasn't changed. We keep picking apart DeLuna's organization until we force him to come out of whatever hole he's taken cover in and face us. Use your brain for once. You know as well as I do that we lose every advantage by going to him instead of having him come to us."

"Look, nothing personal, but you two have other priorities right now," Austin said. "As in wives. And I get it. But what he did still eats away at my gut. I want my pound of flesh."

"Roberto is working it," Dallas said. "If you go in now, you'll probably get him killed. Can you live with that?"

Austin raked a hand over his face. When he opened his eyes, he found himself staring at his partners' concerned faces. Real concern. Damn it to hell, he knew they were here because they cared. And yes, he felt the same way about them. If anything, the bond he had with these two was the closest he'd ever come to having a family, but ...

"I don't know what Roberto told you," he said, speaking more calmly, "but I've already worked this out with him. I'm not even going to Fort Worth. I'm checking the other lead that—"

"Which lead?" Dallas asked.

"The sister."

"Half sister," Tyler corrected.

"Whatever," Austin said. "They're Latin, and you"—he pointed to Tyler—"know how important family is in that culture."

"She's half-Latin," Tyler corrected again. "And stop stereotyping."

"It's a good stereotype," Austin said. For someone who grew up without a family, he could have used a little of that stereotype in his life. Of course, when he saw how his partners' families drove them crazy, sometimes he wasn't so sure.

"Roberto watched her for a month and found no connection to DeLuna," Dallas added.

"Yeah," Austin replied, "but I'd bet my left nut she knows what rock he's hiding under."

"You could lose more than your left nut. And even if she knows, why would she tell you?" Dallas asked. "Plus, Roberto tried connecting with her and it didn't work."

Austin smiled. "I'm not Roberto. I'm charming. Women like me. It's a gift."

He was just like his biological father ... or so his "mother," aka the woman who'd given birth to him, raised him for a few years, and then abandoned him, had said when she'd shown up last week. The brief conversation they'd shared came back to haunt him, but he pushed it aside. He wasn't going to think about that. Nope. So he shoved the memory back into his mental closet.

Only it kept falling out. She'd come looking for peace of mind and ruined his in the process.

"We know the type of women who find you charming," Tyler said. "Leah Reece is educated, and she's part Latin, which means she's too smart to fall into bed with you."

"Now who's stereotyping?" Austin asked. "Besides, I didn't say I was going to sleep with her. I'm going to charm her. Get her to trust me enough to confide in me. And actually, her being Latin works in my favor." He grinned. "We've discussed this before. I go for blondes. Of all the Victoria's Secret models, there's only one brunette I'd pick before I'd sleep with their whole catalog of blond models."

"How the hell did Victoria's Secret models come into this?" Dallas ranted.

"Anytime you can bring them into the conversation, it's a good thing," Austin added with humor. "Besides, I've already worked out a plan. Roberto rented the apartment next to hers. She's a vet, and I'm thinking about getting a dog. I'll buy one, then pop in to see her and say ... 'Hey, aren't we neighbors?' And, voilà! Instant connection."

"Right," Tyler said. "Once again, you didn't do your research. Leah Reece isn't a regular vet, she's a specialty vet. Special as in a feline specialist. Feline as in cats." He laughed. "I'd pay to be a fly on the wall. You, an ailurophobe, are going to try to charm a feline specialist. I'll bet she owns at least two or three cats."

People owned three cats? "I'm not scared of cats." But it would be a cold day in hell before he acquired one of those clawed varmints. The scar beneath his right arm started to itch.

"So, the vet angle won't work," Austin said. "I'll find a different way." Somehow he'd win Leah Reece over enough that she'd confide in him about her brother. How hard could it be? She was, according to Roberto, a petite, pretty little thing with a soft spot for animals.

"I still don't like it," Dallas said.

"Me, either," Austin admitted, still thinking about the cats. "But I'm doing it."

Monday morning, Leah Reece was busy doing one of the things she did best.

"I swear, you enjoy this, don't you?" Sara, her vet assistant and good friend, teased as she stroked the anesthetized cat on the table.

"Can't you see the satisfaction in her eyes?" Evelyn, the office manager of Purrfect Pet Veterinarian Clinic, added from the doorway.

Leah grinned but didn't look up until she removed the second testicle from the tiny incision and dropped it into the metal container. It landed with a tiny thud in the pan beside its brother ball. "I was just thinking that I'm good at it, but it doesn't bring me the joy you two are insinuating. Now, if Spooky walked on two legs, thought he was God's gift to women, and spewed out come-on lines instead of purring, then it would do my heart good."

They laughed. Then Evelyn cleared her throat. "It's been two years since the divorce. I think it's time you stop dreaming of castrating them all and remember what a man can do for you."

"You mean like cheating on you with your neighbors and running up your credit cards by having phone sex with strangers?" They laughed again. Sometimes even the truth was funny. Or it could be after two years.

Still in the doorway, Evelyn gave Leah her I'm-serious look. Leah adored Evelyn; she'd been the first employee Leah hired three years ago when she started the practice.

She'd known Evelyn was the right fit when Leah asked her if she had any prior office management experience and the fifty-five-year-old answered, "Nope, but I managed to keep a household afloat, take in over ten cats, clothe and feed three boys, and get two through college on my husband's car salesman income. If you need someone who can run a tight ship, balance a budget, knows how to get stains out of men's underwear, and doesn't mind picking up hair balls, I'm your woman. Besides, with the economy down, and one boy still in college, I could really use a job."

Evelyn cleared her throat again, pulling Leah back to the present. "Brandon was an idiot."

And managed to make me feel like one, too. "But he was so good at it." Leah checked Spooky's scrotum one more time.

Sara chuckled. "I think both of us would have helped you castrate Brandon. But Evelyn's right—not all men are scum."

No, Leah thought. Some of them were even worse. Brandon was just the last in a long line of men in her life to disappoint her. First had been her father. Then her half brother. And a few lying-cheating boyfriends along the way. If not for Luis, her younger brother, she'd have given up on the whole male species. But as it was, she would be hard pressed to trust another man. And the only kind she'd let get close were the feline variety that she'd previously neutered.

"Don't you miss it, just a little bit?" Evelyn asked.

"Miss what?" Leah moved Spooky into the cage on a soft mat where he'd wake up. She gave the unconscious feline an ear rub. Hopefully now that he was fixed, she could find him a home. But Lordy, she was such a sucker for a stray.

If only she didn't already have four at home ...

"A man's touch," Sara answered for Evelyn, her voice dreamy. "The way the palm of his hand moves over your skin or fits just so in the curve of your waist. The way he looks at you like you're eye candy, making your skin get ultrasensitive. Those sexy bedroom smiles that make you squeeze your thighs together a little tighter. Oh, and that moment when he's naked between the sheets and—"

"Oh, my." Evelyn fanned herself. "I'm calling my Stewart and telling him to come home early." She walked out, her step peppier than when she'd walked in.

"Well?" Sara asked.

"Well, what?" Leah barely got the two words out. Her mind was mush and her body ached for something she didn't think she could ever allow herself to have again. She'd tried it. As wonderful as it all was in the beginning, it cost too damn much. Both emotionally and monetarily. Phone sex didn't come cheap.

"Do you miss it?" Sara asked.

"Nope," Leah lied, and looked down at the removed testicles.

Evelyn appeared in the doorway again. "You have a phone call. He says he's your brother, but it doesn't sound like Luis."


Monday afternoon, Austin waited in his truck for Leah Reece to return to her apartment. His plan was simple. Bump into her, start a conversation, eventually get her to trust him enough to tell him about her long-lost, piece-of-shit brother. If that didn't work, he'd move to plan B.

Problem was, plan B was slightly illegal and could get his ass thrown in jail. He didn't like jail.

He'd concluded that in the first fifteen minutes of his sixteen-month stay.

But it was worth the risk to get to DeLuna—the man who'd put him there.

He frowned. How late did vets work?

According to Roberto's description, the woman was petite, young, and pretty. Which sounded almost as bad as "a good personality." Even if she wasn't some hot babe, she had the young part going for her, so what was she doing working twelve-hour days?

Hell, maybe she left work and went straight to some date. He could be here until midnight. He groaned. Patience had never been his strong point.

A white Honda pulled in a spot across the way. Right color, wrong car, and parked in the wrong spot. Still, Austin paid attention.

A young, small brunette exited the car. Was it Leah? He should've done a better upfront investigation. Tyler always accused him of not being a Boy Scout and being unprepared, and maybe this one time, his partner had a point.

Roberto had sent some surveillance images when he'd done his own Leah Reece investigation, but, pissed when the report stated Roberto had struck out, Austin deleted them.

He continued to study the Honda's driver. She snatched a baby from the back. Damn! Leah Reece wasn't a mom.

Another car engine roared close by. The brunette with the baby stepped away from her bumper at the same time a red Ford Focus came hauling ass down the parking lot. He slapped one hand on the horn and bolted out of his car. The woman, clutching her baby, jumped back.

"Slow down," he yelled at the fleeing car, but he doubted the driver heard him over the music vibrating the windows. The woman nodded a thank-you. He nodded back and crawled back in his truck.

He'd arrived in the town of Heartbroke yesterday and got settled into the apartment. Not that it required a lot of settling. He'd hired a rental company to furnish the apartment on Friday. All he'd brought with him were a few clothes, his laptop, his phone, some basic tools, and Marilyn.

Some guys named their boats, their vehicles, or their dicks. Austin had named his Glock.

Never leave home without Marilyn. He pulled out his gun from the glove compartment. He'd cleaned the weapon twice yesterday to pass time.

Another car engine roared through the parking lot. He set his gun on the passenger seat. When a silver Toyota passed, he flopped back against the seat.

Call him optimistic, but he'd hoped to connect with Leah yesterday—and to have already scheduled a coffee date or something. But she'd stayed locked up in her place. He knew because his apartment was next to hers and he'd kept an ear to the wall half the time.

She'd watched TV and talked on the phone. Not knowing if perhaps she was chatting with her half brother, Rafael DeLuna, frustrated the hell out of him. Hence plan B.

When he'd woken up at six a.m. and didn't hear anything, he'd run to the parking lot, only to find her white Chevy Cruze gone.

On the way to get plan B supplies, he'd driven by her office. Her car was parked in the back. Why couldn't she have been a regular vet? He really liked his original plan of getting a dog. Partly because he was thinking about getting one. He liked Bud, Dallas's dog. Well, everything but the gas bombs he dropped.


Excerpted from Texas Hold 'Em by Christie Craig. Copyright © 2014 Christie Craig. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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