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He' d always been told he was too cocky for his own good.
On a sunny November morning, Brady Randell hobbled out to the porch with the aid of a crutch. His left leg was bandaged from his last surgery and covered in a removable cast strapped from his foot up over his knee to his thigh. It served to protect the damaged bone so it could heal properly. If it ever did. Three months since the accident, and he wasn't feeling so damn cocky anymore.
With a groan Brady dropped into the Adirondack chair. This was about as far as he traveled these days. He was tired of doing nothing but sleeping, eating and sitting around. Oh, yeah, he forgot about going to therapy twice a week. Or maybe he should call it torture.
After all his hard work, he hoped for a payoff, some good news when he saw the doctor next week. With a little luck he could get the cast off and finally be able to walk on his own again.
"Wouldn't that be a miracle," he murmured in frustration.
He sighed, recalling the vivid details of the accident that had caused him to drop right out of the sky. He'd barely had time to eject from the cockpit before the crash of his F-16.
Brady tensed. He could still feel the bone-bruising tremors; hear the death screams of the powerful aircraft disintegrating as it plowed into the desert floor. He'd gone over and over in his head what he could have done differently. What had gone so terribly wrong that day?
Was this possibly the end of Captain "Rebel" Randell's air force career?
Now instead of being in the cockpit of the Fighting Falcon, he was parked on a porch of the foreman's house outside San Angelo, Texas. His daddy's home, the Rocking R Ranch. After Sam Randell's death, it now belonged to him and his half brother, Luke, who, after thirty years, he'd finally met. Since the accident, Brady had needed a place to heal. He thought a remote, inherited ranch would be perfect for a loner like him.
Brady stared out toward the barn and corral area where his new sister-in-law, Tess Randell, was working one of her horses in the large arena. She rode like nobody's business. Watching her skill and grace was the treat of his day. That and being left alone.
Brady closed his eyes and leaned back. Not that he was going to get any peace and quiet staying here. He had family coming out of the woodwork. Up at the main ranch house Luke lived with his bride and read-ymade familya young daughter, Livy, Tess's father, Ray, who had Alzheimer's and kept referring to Brady as Sam's boy. And Aunt Bernice, who spoke her mind and could cook up a storm.
They weren't so bad, but the six Randell cousins who lived in the neighboring ranches with all their wives and kids were a bit much. And there were lots of kids. Evidently, there wasn't much else to do on the ranch during those long nights.
With a groan he shifted in his chair, recalling the last time he'd spent the night with a willing woman. It had been too long.
"Excuse me, are you all right?"
At the sound of a female voice, Brady's eyes shot open. He blinked and focused on a pair of big, emerald-green eyes staring back at him from the edge of the porch. They belonged to a petite woman dressed in snug jeans, a white blouse and a denim jacket. Her hair was the rich color of cinnamon, cut just at her jawline, and wayward strands brushed against her full lips. A black cowboy hat sat firmly on her head.
He swallowed the sudden dryness in his throat. "I'm fine," he told her.
"I heard you groan and" she glanced down at his injured leg "wondered if you were in pain."
Damn right he was. "I'm fine," he repeated.
She gave him a half smile and his heart began to race. "Then I apologize for disturbing you."
This woman could disturb a man in a coma. She looked like every man's dream. That was if you were into fiery redheads. Oh, yeah. He sat up straighter. "Are you lost or something?"
She looked around. "I'm here to see Tess Randell."
Brady glanced at the oversize case she was toting. Great, a solicitor out in the middle of nowhere. "If you're here to sell her something, she's busy."
The woman shook her head and raised an eyebrow. "Actually, I was invited. She called me."
Her shoulders tensed. "If you'll just direct me to Tess Randell, I won't bother you any longer."
From the corner of his eye, Brady saw his sister-in-law hurrying toward them. "Looks like we'll both get our wish," he told the pretty intruder.
Tess rushed toward them. "Good, you found us," she said a little breathless. The statuesque blonde wore her long hair tired back in a ponytail. "Did you have much trouble with my directions?"
The redhead glanced at Brady. "Nothing I couldn't handle."
Smiling, Tess's gaze shifted to him. "Have you two met?"
Before Brady could speak, the woman said, "We haven't had a chance."
"Brady, this is Dr. Lindsey Stafford. She's the new veterinarian taking over Dr. Hillman's practice while he's recovering from his hip surgery. Be nice, or you'll have to answer to the Randell cousins, especially Travis. He went all the way to Dallas to find her." Tess turned to the redhead. "Lindsey, this is my brother-in-law, Brady Randell. He's a captain in the air force."
Lindsey fought her nervousness. Not because the man was drop-dead gorgeous, but every time she met another Randell she was afraid someone would figure out who she was.
"It was nice to meet you, Brady." She held out her hand.
He shook it. "Same here, Doc. You'll excuse me if I don't get up."
She nodded, not missing the sarcasm in his voice. "Hope you have a speedy recovery."
Those midnight eyes locked with hers. "Not nearly as much as I do."
"Well," Tess began, "I better take you down to the barn." She turned to Brady. "You need anything?"
"No, I can manage."
Tess nodded. "If you see Luke, tell him where I went. Come with me, Lindsey."
Lindsey quickly followed Tess along the path. She didn't want to have any more conversation with the man.
"Sorry about my brother-in-law," Tess began. "He's recovering from an accident and is a little antsy with his confinement. Of course, that doesn't excuse his rude behavior."
"You don't have to apologize for him. I'll just keep my distance next visit."
Tess Randell was beautiful to begin with, but when she smiled she was gorgeous. Tall, with long legs, her every movement was graceful. Everything Lindsey always wanted to be. But at twenty-nine she was resigned to the fact she'd stopped growing at five-foot-three, and her freckles across her nose would not suddenly vanish.
They arrived at the pristine white barn and walked inside. Lindsey looked around the well-kept area where new-looking stalls lined both walls. She followed Tess down the center aisle to a section that was designated as the grooming area. A stable boy was washing one of the horses.
They continued past three beautiful quarter horses that peered over their gates to see the visitors. "These are horses I board and train, and their owner has given me permission to call you if I feel the need."
"Good." Lindsey stopped to pet one of the equines. "I'd hate to think about something happening to one of these beautiful animals."
"That's the reason I'm so happy you came here to practice."
"I was lucky to get the chance." She walked alongside of Tess. "I don't have much experience yet, and this will definitely help build my résumé." And she never dreamed she would get the opportunity to meet the Randells. It was a chance she couldn't pass up.
"The vet you interned for in Ft. Worth gave you a glowing recommendation. That's good enough for us." They stopped at the stall of a young bay stallion. "This here is Smooth Whiskey Doc. He's my number-one concern. I hope to have him compete in the NCHA Futurity."
Lindsey was mesmerized by the beautiful golden bay horse. When she went to him, he showed no shyness and came to the gate to greet her. She set her case down and he immediately nudged her hand. When she rubbed his muzzle, he blew out a breath.
"I think I'm in love," Lindsey said with a big grin. But her thoughts suddenly turned to the brooding Brady Randell.
"Be careful," Tess warned. "He's fickle."
"I don't doubt that for a second," she said, remarking about both stallions.
Whiskey bobbed his head as if to agree and they both laughed. All the time, Lindsey was looking the animal over. He was about sixteen hands high, his eyes were clear, and his coat shiny. Well cared for.
"What seems to be your problem, big boy?"
Tess swung open the gate and walked in beside the horse. Her hand smoothed over his withers across his back and down his rump. "It's probably minor, but I didn't want to take a chance with this guy." She talked soothingly as she leaned down to reveal the gash just below the hock on his hind leg.
"I was working him in a cutting exercise and he got clipped by a steer."
Lindsey ran her hand along the horse's rump as she crooned to him. She didn't want to get kicked because the animal was nervous. Tess did her part, too, to keep Whiskey still.
Lindsey examined the open wound closely, then asked, "When did it happen?"
"About a week ago. I've been treating it with the normal antiseptic cream and clean bandages."
"You were right to call me. In a few more days, this could have really gotten infected. I believe a strong dose of antibiotics will clear it up, but I want you to stop training for a few days."
Lindsey went to her bag. "I've looked over Dr. Hillman's file on Whiskey. He was examined just a month ago, but I'll give him a quick check just so I can get familiar with him."
Tess looked relieved. "That's fine with me."
After the exam, Lindsey gave Whiskey a glowing report. They came out of the stall in time to see a man walking down the aisle. He was tall with a muscular build, coal-black hair and a cleft chin. Obviously another Randell.
"Luke," Tess called, love shining in her eyes. "You're finished with the meeting already."
"Not exactly." He leaned down and kissed his wife, then looked at Lindsey. "Hello, you must be Dr. Stafford. I'm Luke Randell."
She nodded. So, another cousin to Jack's boys. "Lindsey, please. Nice to meet you." Oh, my, another charming Randell man. Suddenly Captain Brady Randell came into her head. Correction. Not all were charming. Some were just too damn good-looking.
Brady stood leaning against the porch post as he watched for the redheaded vet to come out of the barn. Hell, why not? How often did a pretty womanwho wasn't a Randellcome around? It was the most excitement he'd had in days. Besides, he had nothing better to do.
That wasn't exactly true.
He glanced toward the large house on the hill. There were several cars parked in the driveway, probably for another business meeting with Randell Corp. He'd been invited to attend, but he'd declined. He wasn't into numbers and budgets. That was his brother's show.
All Brady had to do was sit back and let everyone else handle things. Hadn't that been what he'd done since he arrived here? Just sit around and heal. Isn't that what he wanted? Silence and solitude so he could think?
He raked his fingers through his grown-out regulation military cut, then across the two-day beard along his jaw. He'd let himself go to hell. Suddenly he cared, because a woman showed up here.
The sound of laughter brought him back to reality. He looked toward the barn to see Luke and Tess, escorting the pretty vet down the path toward the house.
Great. Why hadn't he gone inside sooner. The last thing he wanted was for them to find him here. But before he could make his escape, his brother spotted him.
"Hey, Brady." He waved and they started to the porch.
He froze. "Hey, Luke."
They arrived all smiles and Brady suddenly felt left out. "Have you met Lindsey Stafford?"
He nodded, trying to balance his weight using the post. "We've met already."
The redhead looked up at Luke and smiled. "Brady mistook me for a salesperson."
"Really." Luke stood there looking smug.
Brady refused to let his brother outmaneuver him. He could sweet-talk as well as the next guy. "Well, Doc, no one said our new vet would look like you. I guess you could say I was blindsided."
Lindsey could see through Brady's sudden charming attitude. Well, she wasn't going to let him have the upper hand. "Believe me, it won't happen again," she told him, unable to understand why he seemed to dislike her so. "I should get back, Mr. Randell," she said, then turned away to go with Tess and Luke.
Before she could make her departure, she heard a curse and a thud. She swung around to find Brady Randell lying on the porch floor.
"Brady!" Luke called. He was the first to reach him. Lindsey followed behind him.
She knelt down beside Brady, who was lying flat on his back. He tried to raise his head, his face strained in pain. "No, stay where you are," she ordered.
He grimaced again. "Who made you the boss?"
"Are you going to fight me for the title?" She was eyeing the leg in a cast. "Did you twist your leg?"
"No, I fell on my arm, trying to catch myself," he said, still fighting her to sit up.
Once again, she pushed him back down. "Lie still," she ordered, then reached for his arm.
"What the hell are you doing?" He tried to pull away.
"I just can't resist you, Mr. Randell. So lie there and enjoy the attention."
Brady's angry gaze went to his brother, but Luke just held up his hand in surrender. "I suggest you listen to her."
"Then make it quick. And if you're going to get familiar, you can drop the mister." With a groan, he did as he was told.
Lindsey checked his arms and good leg, happy to find nothing broken. But she soon discovered a lump on the back of his head. She had him open those piercing brown eyes. Although they weren't dilated, he could still have a concussion.
She turned to Luke. "Seems nothing is broken. Could you help me get him on his feet and inside?"
"I don't need help, Doc," Brady continued to argue.
"Come on, Brady," his brother urged. "You need to listen, or I'm going to take you to the emergency room."