The New York Times bestselling author of Brash returns to the Triple C Ranch in River Black, Texas, for more cowboys, romance, and danger…
Ranch hand Blue Perez’s once simple life is spinning out of control. He’s discovered he has three half-brothers, and they’re not ready to accept his claim on the ranch. Also, Blue’s girlfriend may have betrayed him in the worst way possible. And after one evening of drowning his sorrows at the bar, there’s someone he can’t get out of his mind, a woman who says she’s carrying his child.
Following a night of breathtaking passion in the arms of a man who now rules her dreams, waitress Emily Shiver is contemplating her next step. Blue is determined to be a part of her life, yet she would rather raise the baby on her own. But when she becomes the target of someone’s dark obsession, Emily must let Blue in—to both her heart and her future.
About the Author
Laura Wright is the New York Times bestselling author of the Cavanaugh Brothers novels, including Brash and Broken, and the Mark of the Vampire Novels, including Eternal Sin and Eternal Demon. Though she has spent most of her life immersed in acting, singing, and competitive ballroom dancing, when she found the world of writing and books and endless cups of coffee, she knew she was home. She is passionate about romantic fiction. Laura lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two young children, and three lovable dogs.
Read an Excerpt
Some people might call it the hots, but if you asked Emily Shiver directly what her feelings regarding Blue Perez were, she’d probably say it was more like an . . . appreciation.
Especially seated on that barstool like he was.
She righted the flower tucked behind her ear and headed back into the Bull’s Eye kitchen. She didn’t do “hots.” It sounded so junior high school—which was when she’d seen Blue for the first time. Of course, back then he hadn’t been all that much to look at. Tall; super skinny; shy; huge, nervous blue eyes. Not that she could blame him on the nervous thing. He’d just come to town with his mother, hadn’t known anyone—moved into the Triple C to take care of the house and Everett Cavanaugh. The older man was alone. Wife had passed on, all three of his boys gone. For Blue, it couldn’t have been a happy place to come to. From the outside looking in, doom and gloom coated that ranch like thick, hungry fog.
But truly, what did anyone expect? From Everett or from those boys? Well . . . especially the boys. They’d lost their girl. Cass. In the most painful way imaginable. Taken from the movie theater bathroom when they were only a few feet away. Those poor kids. They’d just wanted to do what every brother would’ve wanted to do: watch the darn movie. Not take their annoying kid sis to the bathroom. To them, she was old enough to do that on her own—and grab some Skittles and popcorn on the return trip. But there’d been no return. She’d gone missing.
Christ, the terror that family must have felt. And the horror that followed when her body had turned up in the meadow out past Lake Tonka. The world as they’d all known it, over.
Emily remembered those days well. Seemed like the whole town of River Black was just watching and praying and hoping. Their breaths held. But it was no use. No coming back from pain that all consuming. The Cavanaughs had been irrevocably destroyed. Their mama gone mad. Seemed like no light would ever find its way to them. Then in came Elena Perez and her son, Blue. Moved in, cleaned up and out. A hope for comfort and peace, and maybe things returning to some new sense of normal. Which they had. For a while. Until Everett passed . . . and the truth of his affair with Elena, long before she’d moved into the Triple C, and the child they’d created came to light.
“Emily, hon,” came a voice near her right shoulder. “That’s my Coke you’re manhandling there.”
The kitchen of the Bull’s Eye came into focus like someone was fiddling with the lens of a microscope. Emily looked up into the gentle dark eyes of Rae, the Eye’s longest-serving employee, then back down to her hands wrapped around a large red tumbler filled to the brim with black liquid. She instantly released the glass and stepped back from the soda machine.
“Sorry, Rae,” she stumbled. “My brain isn’t working well tonight.”
“Least it’s just the one night. Mine hasn’t been firing on all cylinders for a while now.” With a soft laugh, the older woman placed the bubbling Coke on her tray. “You only have ’bout fifteen minutes left, ain’t that right?”
Emily glanced up at the clock on the wall. Quarter of nine. “Can’t come soon enough. Along with my addled brain, my feet are pretty much done in.”
“Give it a few years and a layer of calluses, honey,” Rae said before pulling out and heading back into the dining room.
A few years, Emily thought. She was hoping for one at the most. Just enough time to save up for the down payment on that abandoned storefront on Main and Kettler. Granted, there was nothing wrong with serving up drinks and good food, if that was your choice, but she had a dream of opening her own flower shop she was looking to fulfill.
After filling up another glass with Coke and placing it on her tray alongside the two whiskeys, she too headed for the dining room. It was a slow night, and she had only one table still occupied. A couple of guys she guessed were traveling through, because she’d never seen them around River Black before, and one tended to see the same people over and over. They’d ordered food and several rounds of drinks. Pretty standard. Easy-peasy. She’d serve them up and get herself out, home, and to bed.
And would not—repeat, wouldnot—stare in the direction of the bar while she did it.
As if the silent promise were really an enticement to do just that, Emily’s brown eyes—which her father called doe eyes, or can’t-say-no-to-my-baby-girl eyes—tracked left. Seated at the bar, his back to her, Stetson riding low, was the very object of her . . . what word had she resorted to again? Hots? No. Not hots. Oh yeah, appreciation. And boy oh boy, could she appreciate him tonight. His long, lean, hard body was showcased in nothing special: standard cowboy gear, jeans and a black T-shirt. But her eyes moved covetously over him anyway, from tanned neck to broad shoulders, trim waist, and . . . a denim-clad butt that made her heart kick up and certain unmentionable lady parts quiver.
Sigh. She’d worked at the Bull’s Eye for a year and a half now, and the man had an irritating and—she was pretty sure—random habit of coming in when she was on duty. Not that he was much of a drinker or a socializer. He never sat at the bar, like he was now. Usually at a table eating lunch or dinner with Mackenzie Byrd. The pair worked at the Triple C together and seemed like pretty close friends. Or they had been. Emily hadn’t seen them in the Eye together all that often lately. Since Mac had gone and married the eldest Cavanaugh, in fact.
Emily continued to stare at what God and his parents had granted him. What the heck had brought him in here tonight? So late? And straight to the bar? He’d been tossing back one—
Emily whipped around just as one of her customers shot to his feet, hands going instantly to his crotch. Crap. Emily glanced first at her tray and the now-empty glass on its side, then back at the man—and the denim that was sporting a spattering or two of whiskey. That’s what appreciating does, flower girl—makes for some pretty wet and pissed-off customers. Not to mention the no-tip factor.
As quick as she could, she set the tray down on the empty tabletop behind her and grabbed some napkins. “I am so sorry,” she began, holding out the napkins for him. No way was she offering to clean up his crotch. “Here. Please take these.”
The man’s head jerked up, and venom fairly bled from those two pale brown eyes. “What the fuck are you?” he ground out. “Blind? Or just clumsy?”
Perfect.No forgiveness here. She ignored the grunt of humor from the man’s heavily bearded friend, who was leaning back in his chair, arms folded over his chest. “I really am sorry. Let me get you another, on the house. And some club soda.”
For anyone in River Black, this would’ve been enough. Hell, a free drink would’ve probably garnered a begrudging smile from one of the locals. But for this out-of-towner, blood and humiliation were all he was after now.
“So you can spill that on me too?” he snarled at her, swiping at his crotch with the cloth napkin near his plate of nachos. “Pass.” He turned to his friend. “Should’ve known. Stopping in these tiny towns, all you get are stupid, clumsy bitches with big racks.”
Wow.Okay. Heat spread through Emily’s neck and jaw, and she felt her lip curl against her top teeth. Truth was, assholes came and went. They were part of the job. Maybe not as much in River Black as in the bigger cities, but it happened. For the most part it was always better to walk away from the table or let Dean handle it. But Emily had never been able to suffer insults or blatant misogyny well. Shoot, she’d grown up with two brothers and had schooled them early and often. In fact, they’d stopped thinking they could get away with sexist bullshit at about the age of five.
She eyed the men before her. She supposed Jerkweed One and Two here were going to have to learn that hard fact a little later than most.
“I don’t think I caught all of that, sir,” she began, her tone low and cool as she locked eyes with him. “What did you call me?”
The bearded friend made a low whistling sound, his smile wide with delight, before Jerkweed One muttered, “No eyes, but she’s sure got ears.”
“I absolutely do,” she agreed. “And they’re almost as big as my rack.”
Both heads came up. Both sets of eyes widened.
Pressing the flower deeper behind her ear, she continued undaunted. “So I’m surprised I didn’t hear all of the degrading and insulting things you just said to me.” Her eyebrow lifted. “Things I’m sure your mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends, and/or wives wouldn’t be so proud of—am I right?”
They both just stared at her.
“Now,” she said, easing back just a touch, giving them room to rethink their attitudes and drop their crap. She wasn’t looking to have a problem in the Bull’s Eye tonight, and hell, her shift was almost over. Getting home and putting her feet up was a priority. “I sure didn’t mean to splatter you with the whiskey. I’m offering to bring you another. On me. Be done with this. What do you say?”
For one brief, shiny moment, Emily thought the jerkweeds had heard what she’d said and were going to act like civilized human beings about it. But jerkweeds were called jerkweeds and not jerkflowers for a reason.
Number One opened his big mouth and let it rip. “You’re a feisty one, darlin’,” he drawled, dropping into his chair and spreading his legs wide apart so the whiskey stain could be seen by the few people who were still in the Bull’s Eye. “But a man only likes his women feisty in the bedroom.”
“Is that right?” she returned. Oh, this wasn’t going to end well.
He nodded, all slow and thoughtful, his eyes taking on a glitter of malevolence. “I think someone should teach you some manners.”
She rolled her eyes just as Jerkweed Two offered, “I’ll do it.”
“Okay,” Emily said on a sigh, her patience pretty much worn down to the nub. “I’ll get you guys the check. Or, better yet, leave now and I’ll take care of it.”
Jerkweed One laughed. “She thinks she has a say over what we do, Tim.” The man snorted and leaned back even farther in his chair. “Oh, honey, get a clue. Big tits and a nice ass only sway a man—”
“How we doin’ over here?” came a welcome interruption behind Emily. It was a low, masculine, unyielding voice. One that drove both cattle and the cowboys who herded them.
Where, seconds before, the fire of tightly held anger had raged through Emily’s body, now a different kind of heat coursed through her blood. The kind that blanketed her with warmth and curiosity, and she instantly turned toward it, like one of her beloved flowers to the sun. Blue Perez Cavanaugh was standing beside her. He was a good foot taller than her, strong and handsome, with eyes so fierce and so piercing they near took her breath away.
“What do you want, cowboy?” Jerkweed One called out, ruining Emily’s moment of intense perusal.
She wanted to club him.
A muscle flickered in Blue’s jaw, but he kept his voice calm and cool and his eyes on Emily. “You all right?”
“Fine,” she said, her voice a little too breathy.
“That’s right,” Jerkweed One chimed in. “She can handle herself. Get lost, cowboy.”
Emily turned to glare at the man. He was killing the mood. She wanted Blue’s eyes back on her. They were so intense. Forget appreciation. “Hots” might indeed be the word for what was running through her right now.
“I’m not speaking to you,” Blue assured the Jerkweed Twins in a voice so cold it sent a shiver up her back. “Did you think I was speaking to you?”
Jerkweed One’s lip curled and he pushed forward.
“Okay,” Emily broke in. Last thing she wanted to do was watch a fight break out. Or hell, be in the middle of one. Best thing she could do was get the Jerks out of the Bull’s Eye, and Blue back to his barstool. “It’s all good here. Just wrapping things up.” She turned to Blue and gave him an encouraging nod. “Seriously, nothing I haven’t seen, dealt with, or kicked to the curb before.”
“Or got down on your knees for, right, honey?” Jerkweed One tossed in with a chuffed grin, elbowing his friend in the side.
“That’s how we shut her up, right, Tim?” Jerkweed Two said. “Stick something in her mouth.”
Emily felt Blue go rigid beside her.
“You bet,” Tim answered thickly. “While I stick something in her—”
Not surprisingly, that was as far as Tim got. Blue reached out, grabbed the idiot by the collar, hauled him to his feet, and slammed his fist into the man’s smug face. The guy went flying back and hit a chair at the empty table behind him. In seconds, Jerkweed Two was up and coming after Blue. But the ranch hand was more than ready. No doubt he’d taken on cows five times the man’s size before. While Rae and Dean were rushing over to a mumbling on-his-ass Tim, Blue had Jerkweed Two in a chokehold and was dragging his ass across the Bull’s Eye and toward the front door.
Emily turned to stare at the man on the ground. Tim. Poor, stupid Tim. She sighed. He could’ve just accepted the drink. Asswipe.
Suddenly he too was being hauled to his feet, given a good shake. Blue had returned. Controlled ire sizzled around him. As if the man weighed close to nothing, Blue dragged him over to Emily.
“What do you say?” Blue ground out, giving the jerkweed another molar-cracking shake. “What do you say to her?”
The man blinked several times in succession, no doubt trying to get his full range of vision back. Then he locked eyes with Emily. “Sorry.”
Blue shook him again. “Again. Like you mean it this time.”
“I’m sorry,” he said through clenched teeth. “Ma’am.”
“Yeah, okay,” she returned. “Just, you know, don’t ever come back.”
Blue roughly handed the man off to Dean, who had a few choice words to spill before he escorted Jerkweed out to his waiting and possibly unconscious friend. Emily glanced over at Rae, who just shrugged, then went back to clearing a table. It wasn’t as though they hadn’t seen this kind of thing before. Rae probably more than a few times in her years. Emily turned back to Blue. It was then that she noticed he was bleeding. A small gash on his lip—and his chin was bruised. Must’ve happened outside with Jerkweed Two. Dammit . . . Last thing she wanted was someone getting hurt because of her. Especially someone with such a beautiful face. That hard, sexy jawline . . .
This time when she rolled her eyes it was internal and at herself.
She reached for a napkin on the table behind her. “Your lip . . . Let me clean it up for you.”
“Naw, it’s nothing.”
“You’re bleeding,” she said.
He swiped at his lip and the blood with the back of his hand. “All gone.”
“Well, that wasn’t very sanitary,” she said.
His eyes, those incredible blue eyes, warmed with momentary humor. Then he touched the brim of his hat and turned to head back to the bar. “Ma’am.”
Emily stared after him, confused. What was that? Saves the day and on his way? “Hey, hold on a sec,” she called out. “I didn’t thank you.”
“There’s no need,” he called back, sliding onto the same barstool he’d occupied earlier.
Well, that’s not very neighborly, she mused. She followed him. “Maybe not,” she said, coming up to stand beside him. “But I’m going to do it anyway.”
He turned to look at her but didn’t say anything. Good night, nurse, he was handsome.
She inclined her head formally. “Thank you.”
Those incredible eyes moved over her face then. So probing, so thoughtful. They made her toes curl inside her shoes. “Something tells me you could’ve taken those men out yourself.”
“What tells you that?” she asked.
He ran a hand over his jaw, which was darkening by the minute. “Just a guess.”
Her gaze flickered to the bruise, to his mouth, and she frowned. “Are you in pain?”
“Constantly,” he said, then turned back to his drink.
The strange, almost morose response made her pause. But before she could ask him anything about it, Dean slid back behind the bar and asked, “You want something, Em? After having to deal with those assholes I’d say you’re done for the night. But first, a drink.”
“And it’s on me,” Blue said, then tossed back his tequila.
Dean gave the cowboy a broad grin. “After what you did for our girl here, it’s me who’s buying.”
“Well, thank you kindly.” Blue held up his empty glass. “Another, if you please. And what would you like . . . ?” He turned to Emily and arched a brow at her. “Em, is it?”
The soft masculine growl in his voice made her insides warm. “Emily,” she told him. “Emily Shiver.”
“Right.” He cocked his head to one side and studied her. “The girl with the flowers in her hair,” he said, his gaze catching on the yellow one behind her ear.
Emily smiled. Couldn’t help it. She liked that he’d noticed. “Started when I was little,” she told him. “Stole flowers from my grandmother’s garden every time I was over there. I’d put them everywhere. My room, the tables here, in my hair.” She shrugged. “It became kind of an obsession.”
His gaze flickered to the flower in her hair again, then returned to her face. “Pretty.”
Heat instantly spread through Emily’s insides. Granted, plenty of men came into the Bull’s Eye and looked at her with eyes heavy on the hungry—either for food or for her. Hell, sometimes both. But no one had ever looked at her like Blue was now. Curious, frustrated, interested . . .
Swallowing hard, she turned to see a waiting and mildly curious Dean. “Just a Coke for me, boss. Thanks.”
Blue groaned as Dean filled a glass with ice.
“What’s wrong?” Emily asked him, wondering if his jaw was paining him.
But the man just chuckled softly. “Come on, now. Have something a little stronger than that. You’re gonna make me feel bad. Or worse.” Under his breath he added, “If that’s even possible tonight.”
Curiosity coiled within her at his words. The way he looked at her, spoke, acted . . . clearly he was working through some heavy feelings tonight. Was it about the fight with the jerkweeds? Or something that came before it? She bit her lip. Did she ask? Or did she wait for him to tell her? But why would he tell her? They barely knew each other.
Maybe she should just ignore it . . .
Dean set the Coke before her and poured another round of tequila for Blue, which the cowboy drained in about five seconds flat; then he tapped the bar top to indicate he wanted another.
Oh yeah. Definitely dealing with something. She’d worked at the Bull’s Eye long enough to know that drinking like he was doing had nothing to do with relaxing after a long day. Dark feelings were running through Blue Perez’s blood. And maybe some demons to go along with them.
“Everything all right tonight, cowboy?” she asked.
“Yep.” He turned to look at her again, his gaze not all that sharp or engaged now. The liquor was starting to do its thing. “I remember you. Flowers, and a ton of strawberry blond curls.”
Emily’s breath caught inside her lungs. What a strange and very suggestive thing to say. Not that she minded. Just wished he’d have said it before the double shot. And the way he was staring at her . . . like he was trying to memorize her features or something. Then suddenly, he reached out and touched her hair, fingered one of those curls caught up in a ponytail.
A hot, powerful shiver moved up her spine.
“Here you go,” Dean interrupted, filling Blue’s glass once again.
“Thanks,” Blue said, though his eyes were still on Emily. Even when his fingers curled around the glass, his eyes remained locked with hers. “Sure you don’t want something stronger, Em?” he asked.
Emily’s brows shot up, and her belly clenched with awareness. “I think you’re doing fine for the both of us,” she said, reaching for her Coke and taking a sip. Her mouth was incredibly dry. “And I’m going to assume that you’ll be walking home.”
He downed the contents of the glass and chuckled. “Not to worry, darlin’. I got my truck.”
Oh jeez. Not to worry? She shook her head. People could be so stupid sometimes. So reckless. Even gorgeous cowboys with eyes the color of a cloudless Texas sky—and a pair of lips that kept calling to her own.
Like the meddlesome gal she was, she reached over and grabbed his keys off the bar top. Blue’s gaze turned sharply to hers, and under the heat of that electric stare, Emily tried not to melt. Well, outwardly at any rate.
Yes, you’re hot and sexy and annoyed at my ass now. But I’m not going to let you be a shit for brains.
She held up the keys. “No rush, cowboy. I got my Coke here, and nowhere to get to. I’m going to take you home when you’ve sufficiently drowned yourself.”
Blue didn’t like that one bit. He released a breath and ground out, “Not necessary.”
“I say it is,” she returned.
“You don’t want to do that, darlin’. I’m not fit to be around tonight.”
“Maybe not. But there’s no use arguing the matter. I always win arguments. Right, Dean?”
The bartender chuckled. “Don’t even try anymore.”
“If you’re really going to push this, I can call someone—” Blue started, then stopped. His eyes came up and met hers, and it was impossible to miss the heavy, pulsing pain that echoed there.
This wasn’t about the jerks or a bad day. This was deep and long lasting. Emily knew some of what had happened to him in the past couple of months. Finding out—along with the whole town—that his daddy was Everett Cavanaugh. That he had part claim to the Triple C. Along with a set of three new brothers. But clearly there was more that was weighing on him. So much more, she’d venture to guess.
She slipped the keys into her jeans pocket and settled back in front of her Coke. This wasn’t how she’d wanted the night to go. Watching over a hot, drunk cowboy. She’d had visions of a bathtub, a great book, and some buttered noodles afterward. But tonight this man had offered up his protection, and she couldn’t help but do the same.
* * *
She tasted like heaven, her mouth so warm and hungry he fell easily in lust with it. His mind was clouded, unusable. But his limbs, his muscles, his tongue, his dick, and his will were all alive with feeling.
She was sitting on top of him. Strawberry blond curls falling down past her shoulders, the tips licking her nipples. His mouth watered. That was what he wanted to be doing. Licking those dark raspberries. Tugging at them. Biting.
If he just knew where he was. What he was . . .
No. He didn’t want any of that.
This was his heaven. In the real world, real life, he didn’t get to go to heaven. She was it.
She smelled like flowers.
Where was that flower?
He groaned as her warm, soft fingers glided up and down his shaft. “I need to take you. Be inside you. Can I, darlin’?”
There was a moment’s hesitation as if she was thinking. Don’t think.Don’t think.It’s bad.
“Blue . . . ,” she whispered, her voice urgent.
Was he Blue? Blue Perez? Blue Cavanaugh? The tequila wasn’t talking.
Clasping her soft, small waist in his hands, he lifted her up and placed her down on his shaft.
White, brilliant, healing heat surged into him.
“Wait,” she uttered. Breathy. “We need—”
But his mouth was on hers and his fingers were playing in her hot, slick sex. And all that remained were the sounds of ecstasy and his cock working inside her. It was the only sound that mattered. Only music that should ever fill his ears.
“Oh, Blue . . . God, yes.”
“I need to shut it out, angel,” he rasped. “Them, all of them. And her. The pain. Please.”
And then he was falling. No. No. Not done. Not over.
Heat and tightness, and a rush of moisture fisted around his cock.
Hated this. He wanted more. Her. Only her. She fit him.
Idiot.Fool. No one fits.
He came in a growl of madness, pumping wildly into her—his hands cupping her breasts, his ears filled with her moans. He should . . . should let her go. Now. But he couldn’t. Not until she ran. Or lied. Or deceived. That would be all too soon. This woman was from hell. Had to be. And yet she felt like heaven.
Still inside her, he wrapped his body around her.
She was an angel.
Dark and addicting.
Blackness spread through his worried mind, and in the muddled seconds before sleep took him, he felt her disentangle herself from his grasp, heard her pull on her clothes and whisper a pained, “Oh God,” as she hurried from the bedroom of the Triple C’s river cottage.
Three weeks later
“It’s still small,” Aubrey said in that disapproving voice she used every time they looked at the Main Street storefront property.
The Realtor wanted to go big.
It was Texas, after all.
“I think it’s perfect,” Emily told her, sighing with appreciation. It really was perfect. Just what she needed and wanted to get her business up and running. It even had a small apartment above it if her mother ever let her move out of the house. The thought made her grin. Mama Shiver had a hard time letting go of her babies.
Aubrey crossed her arms over her chest, which sported just the barest of cleavage in her tasteful pale pink suit. “Clearly, I will never talk you out of this mouse house, so you want to put in an offer?”
Oh, hell, yes, she did. More than anything. Problem was, she was about five thousand shy of what she needed. “You think Mrs. Tambrick would change her mind about the lease?”
Aubrey’s bright pink lips thinned and she shook her head. “She wants to sell, leave clean, honey. Her son lives in Key West now. She doesn’t want any ties, you understand.”
Despite the feelings of disappointment running through her, Emily nodded. Hell, if anyone understood the close binds of family, it was her. She couldn’t imagine not living in the same town as her brothers and parents. She’d just keep working toward her goal and hoping no one snatched the property up in the meantime.
“You’re not showing it to anyone else, right?” she asked with that Girl Scout look of enthusiasm. It was the same expression she wore every time Aubrey showed her 16½ Main Street. And every time, the agent just laughed at her as if that question was just about the silliest thing she’d ever heard. Like, Come on now, darlin’. Who would want this tiny closet posing as a storefront?
But strangely, Aubrey wasn’t laughing today. In fact, she looked a little sheepish.
“What?” Emily asked.
“It seems that mouse houses are growing in popularity,” she explained. “Because there is someone else who’s interested.”
Emily felt the blood rush from her face. “No.”
“Honey, I’m as surprised as you are.”
“When did you show it to this . . . this . . . person?” Emily pressed as George Goss’s “Ain’t No Honky Tonks in Jail” erupted from Aubrey’s very fancy snow-white purse.
The woman reached in, grabbed her cell phone, and, after a quick look at who was calling, dropped it back in her bag. “About a week or so ago.”
Anger rushed over Emily like a fierce November wind across the Texas prairie lands. Holding back the urge to growl, And you didn’t tell me?!, she asked, “Who is it, Aubrey?”
“You know I can’t tell you that, honey.”
Emily snorted and glanced around the small, charming space that had already, in her mind, become the home to River Black’s first flower shop, Petal Pushers. “Well, you could,” she pushed the Realtor. “Maybe a little hint? Hair color? Married?”
“Nope. Not going to budge. I took a vow, you know.” The woman laughed and slung her purse over her shoulder. “I understand your anger and frustration, hon. But you have options here. If it’s money you need, can I say it again? Suggest it . . . again?”
Emily knew right where this was going, and she cut it off at the knees. “I’m not taking money from my parents.”
“Is it really taking, Emily?” Aubrey argued. “I mean, I’m talking about a loan. I’ve known your parents since I was a teenager. Don’t know two more caring and supportive people in the world. They’d do this for you in a heartbeat.”
“’Course they would,” Emily agreed. “Hell, they’d buy me the place if I asked.” She sighed. “But I’m not asking.”
Emily had the most wonderful family in the world. They were all real close. Honest with each other. Had each other’s backs. Did their best not to judge when one or more of them screwed up. But as much as Ben and Susie Shiver wanted more than anything to help their children, they’d also raised them to stand on their own feet. Reach for their dreams and work hard to land them. Wasn’t anyone else’s job, now was it? No favors were owed. Nope. This shop would come to her. She just had to work a little harder, a little longer, maybe take a few extra shifts at the Bull’s Eye. It was like her grandma Gypsy used to say: Dreams ain’t like milk, honey. They don’t come with an expiration date.
Of course, she mused slyly, in the meantime, there was nothing wrong with a little sniffing around. If Aubrey wasn’t going to tell her who was interested in the mouse house, then maybe she’d just have to find out on her own. And if it was someone she knew . . . maybe they could have a little chat.
The plan instantly revived her, and Emily straightened her shoulders and headed for the front door. “Thanks, Aubrey. I’ll keep you updated, and hopefully you can do the same with me.”
“Sure thing,” the woman agreed, following her out onto the sidewalk. “Sorry for being the bearer of bad news.”
“Not bad yet.” Emily gave the woman a quick wave before she could ask what that meant, then hurried down the street. Her shift started in fifteen minutes, and it wouldn’t do for her to be late. Not now. Not when she was going to be asking for more shifts.
She was slightly breathless when she sailed through the front door of the Bull’s Eye and passed her manager, Dean, behind the bar. Dean was such a good guy. Maybe five years older than her. He had a wife and three-month-old baby and was looking to buy them a nice single-family home just outside town. Seemed everyone at the Bull’s Eye was working toward something. Or for something. Grabbing her uniform out of her locker, she stole into the bathroom and locked the door. The bar wasn’t extraordinarily busy at the moment, but she hurried anyway.
After she dressed, she opened her purse and felt around for her hairbrush and makeup bag. She didn’t do anything special with herself for work, but she liked to look nice and put together. Maybe she’d steal one of the roses off the table for her hair, as she’d forgotten to “plant” one in her hair this morning. But the second her fingers wrapped around a box at the bottom of her bag, all thoughts of mouse houses and flowers went right out the window. Gut tight, she pulled it out, blanched when she saw the letters EPT on the side, and set it down on the back of the toilet. She had put the thing in her purse not that morning, but three days ago. When her period had been officially two days late.
She placed her hands on either side of the sink and inhaled deeply through her nose. She was never, ever late. Twenty-eight days like clockwork.
Then, this month—nothing.
Lord, she’d panicked something fierce, then driven all the way out to Brunsville so no one would see her at the River Black market or the drugstore.
Her stomach clenched painfully and her mouth felt very dry. She’d hoped she was just late. But every day that passed without Aunt Flo coming to town sent a new rush of terror through her heart.
Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
How could you have let that happen?
No. How could you have let that happen without a condom?
Heart slamming fiercely against her ribs, Emily turned and stared at the box. She needed to be dressed and on the floor in ten minutes.
What you need to do is this. Just get it done and over. Odds are it’s nothing but stress.
Five. Days. Late.
Maybe she should do it later. Like tonight. At home. Hell, maybe she should stick it back in her purse and conveniently forget about it again.
Like you’ve forgotten that night? And him? His eyes? His hands on your skin? The way he moved inside of you like he couldn’t get close enough? The way you come into work every day hoping he’ll be here? Sitting at a table? At the bar? Hoping he wasn’t as drunk as you thought he was? Hoping he can’t get you out of his mind either?
On a curse, she pushed away from the sink and swiped a hand across her face. It was a mistake, Emily. One stupid night. Where he mentioned wanting to forget his ex-girlfriend while he was inside of you.
“Oh God,” she groaned. Please let this not be happening.
A knock on the door of the bathroom jolted her.
“Hey? You okay in there, Em?” Rae called.
No. “Yes, I’m fine,” she called back quickly. “Just taking my time. And I . . .” What? What do you have? A pregnancy test? “I have a run in my panty hose.” She rolled her eyes at herself.
“Well, I have an extra pair if you need it.”
“No. Thanks. I have one too.”
“All right, then. See you out there.”
“Yep. See you.”
Emily waited for the sound of the waitress’s retreating footsteps, then turned to the box on the back of the toilet. Oh God. Oh shit! It was now or . . . later. And she couldn’t do this at home. Not with her family around.
She grabbed the box and with shaky fingers tore it open and pulled out one of the tests. The toilet felt cold against her backside, but she followed the directions and placed the white strip of plastic on the sink counter when she was done. As she waited, she stared at herself in the mirror and picked up where she’d left off in the chastising department. She wasn’t one of those girls who believed that a night of incredible, mind-blowing, still-could-feel-his-lips-and-tongue-and-hands-on-her sex couldn’t end in a full belly. Oh, she’d known. She’d known and she’d let it happen anyway.
No. She’d reveled in it.
Because the man had made her feel things she hadn’t even known existed. It had been like a damn awakening.
Blue who hasn’t sought you out since. Hasn’t called or come into the Bull’s Eye. Who probably doesn’t even remember anything beyond throwing those assholes out the barroom door.
Or he remembers it all but wishes he didn’t.
Slowly, she let her gaze fall. Please.Please don’t be . . . “Oh damn,” she uttered on an exhalation, staring at the readout. God in heaven, how had she let this happen?
With Blue Perez Cavanaugh’s baby.
* * *
Cutting his horse left, then right, and calling out, Blue came around the twelve or so stragglers, driving them toward the fresh pasture. Stubborn females. Got your whole herd over there taking down the green stuff, and look at you.
In reply, the flink moved like damn snails toward their final destination. Wanted him pissed. Appreciated his frustration—his lack of control. Like most females he knew. Well, maybe not most. There was the one . . . But he wasn’t thinking about her. She wasn’t real. He’d decided. She was a dream. A dream that had up and left his drunk and sorry ass in the middle of the night.
Excerpted from "Bonded"
Copyright © 2015 Laura Wright.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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.
What People are Saying About This
“Wright’s cowboys are sinfully hot.”—New York Times bestselling author Elisabeth Naughton
Praise for the Cavanaugh Brothers series
“Deadly secrets, explosive sex, four brothers in a fight over a sprawling Texas ranch...a real page-turner.”—New York Times bestselling author Kaki Warner
“A sexy hero, a sassy heroine, and a compelling story line…I loved it!”—New York Times bestselling author Lorelei James