Fashion designer Jules O’Connor is counting the days until she leaves the three-stoplight town of Opal Creek to start her life in New York. She’s finally going to be able to focus on building her career instead of layer cakes. One of the things she will miss about her current job waitressing in her small town is getting to witness sexy rancher Slade Weston attempt to find “the one”.
Fourth-generation cattle rancher Slade Weston is looking to settle down, but not even NotMyFirstRodeo.com has found him a match. When Slade’s string of first dates in the restaurant where Jules works gets comical, she offers to be his wing-woman. He can use all the help he can get. Friends turn into friends with benefits, but Jules doesn't want to be a wife and mom, and Slade sure as hell doesn't want to move to New York City.
With no strings to get tangled in, Jules is free to follow her dreams. But as their attraction grows deeper, both wonder if they need to rethink their dreams of the future
Each book in the Not My First Rodeo 2 series is a STANDALONE story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Books in series:
Captivating the Cowboy
Roping the Rancher
Seducing the Sheriff
About the Author
By day, Jenna Bayley-Burke is faster than a speeding toddler, stronger than a stubborn husband, able to leap tall Lego structures in a single bound...but by night, while the family sleeps, she writes romance novels where no one ever has to scoop up after the dog, change diapers, clip coupons, drive carpool, do laundry, mop floors, get Silly Putty out of hair, vacuum, empty the vacuum bag (gross!), exercise, count calories, apply Band-Aids, clean up puke...wait where was this going? Oh, Jenna writes romance because it is glamorous.
Read an Excerpt
Slade Weston's broad shoulders led the way as he pushed through the heavy mahogany doors and into the wood-paneled lobby at Cattlemen's, the only steakhouse in the three-stoplight town of Opal Creek. Jules's stomach dropped as he glanced behind her, to the table he'd vacated minutes ago. With as busy as they were on a Friday night, she'd reset it as soon as he'd cleared the sidewalk.
"Did you forget something?" She didn't have to check the seating chart to know they were full; there were two tables about to turn, but they were reserved for the couples waiting patiently in the lobby. Sure, people could drive the half-hour from here into Mollalla for more selection, or even the hour into Portland for a food cornucopia, but just as many people made the trip in the other direction. Her uncle had made a name for himself with his blue-collar brand of upscale dining. Cattlemen's topped the list of the best steakhouses in Portland every year, all the way out in Podunk.
Slade closed his eyes and shook his head, his light brown gaze piercing through her when he opened them. "I should have mentioned I was coming back."
Yes, but that didn't solve the problem. She snagged a leather-bound menu and crooked her finger at him to follow. "Don't worry. I'll take care of you."
She didn't know who she felt worse for, Slade or his ditched date. For almost a year now, he'd been coming in every Friday night with a different woman each week. There weren't that many available women in Opal Creek, but apparently everyone from the neighboring counties had gambled for a chance at his glass slipper.
The whole town knew sexy Slade wanted to get married. At least that was the rumor going around. But a man who looked like that wouldn't have any trouble tying the knot if that's what he genuinely wanted. Any red-blooded woman would exchange her panties for a ring from a Weston brother. Well, marriage-minded women. Which she was not.
Tucked behind the bar were four high-backed leather booths. They kept the one in the back corner empty for employees, loyal customers who needed a favor, and situations like this. She set the menu in front of him as he slid into the booth.
"Do you need some time with the menu, or should I have them walk a rib eye near the grill?"
Oh, that smile. Yes, he must be a player of the first order. Because his grin was irresistible.
"Am I that predictable?"
"Apparently not, since I was sure you'd left with your lady of the evening." She tucked the menu under her arm. Curiosity niggled at her to find out what his obsession was with first dates. He might be toying with his parade of women, but she sensed something more.
He pushed back his sun-streaked hair. "Isn't that a hooker?"
"Where?" Jules scanned the sedate restaurant. Nothing exciting ever happened here, even on the busiest nights.
"A lady of the evening. That's what they called hookers in the westerns my dad and granddad used to watch." He tilted his head, and she couldn't tell if he were amused or annoyed. Amused she could work with, but she couldn't let him leave tonight displeased. Weston Ridge provided the prime beef for Cattlemen's, and her uncle would have her head if he lost the deal.
"Oh, that's not what I meant. You'd never have to pay for it." Her eyes widened, her common sense slapping her upside the head as he laughed. "And now I owe you a beer as well as dinner. I'm going to go put in your order before I put my foot in it again and wind up having to sign over my first born."
Jules clutched the menu to her chest as she sped to the bar. She keyed in his order, grateful the bartender wasn't busy and could deliver the draft. Thank goodness, she only had a few more weeks in this town before she finally got to head back to New York. No telling what she might say next week when Slade Weston brought in yet another first date. She sure as hell wouldn't be giving away his table again, even if he bailed before the entree.
Slade Weston studied the sepia-toned photo of a barn hanging on the exposed brick wall, the wood-beamed ceiling, and the wagon wheel chandeliers in the dining room. Anything to keep his gaze off the toned ass of the hostess. He always made a special effort to try not to notice she wore a different dress each time he saw her, or that her eyes were the same bottomless blue of Crater Lake. It didn't do to notice another woman while you were on a date.
Not that he was anymore. He'd done the despicable, and faked an emergency to get out of this one. She'd seemed nice enough on the phone, but they hadn't even ordered and she'd regaled him with the history of Weston Ridge and their rise from family ranch to successful cattlemen. And he knew what it meant when he'd been the keyword in a Google search. Was it really too much to ask to want a woman to see him and not dollar signs?
This close to the kitchen of Cattlemen's he could hear the sizzling steaks popping over the croon of Sinatra on the sound system. The unbuttoned steakhouse was perfect for a date night. Everyone in the place was coupled up, only he'd spent the better part of the year looking for his plus one with no luck. And he was done. With summer coming, work on the ranch would be ramping up, and he'd be too busy to be bothered with looking for the next Mrs. Weston.
He took a long draw of the hoppy brew the bartender had delivered. Every date was another step away from what he needed, and he'd made no progress all damn year. The only thing that kept him trying was how much he hated going home alone. Friday nights were the worst. The kids were at his in-laws, which made his place hauntingly quiet. After growing up as one of five kids on a bustling cattle ranch, silence was one of the few things that unnerved him. That, and the meddling matchmakers around town.
A friend had told him about the Not My 1st Rodeo dating site, a service that specialized in matching people within the western lifestyle for the divorced or widowed. Like him. He took another drink. He missed Amanda every day, but Friday nights were the hardest. Friday nights, holidays, and each time he had to take April to the doctor. Two-year-olds were supposed to talk.
He leaned his head back against the booth and wished he could get drunk. But he'd spent the first few months after Amanda died in a stupor, and his behavior caused more problems than it solved. He had to cowboy up, keep trying to find a wife, whether he liked it or not. Because his kids deserved a mother.
The scent of hot steak and grilled onions brought him back to reality, and a burning punch of attraction hit him in the gut. She delivered his plate, her black lace dress reminding him of lingerie as she leaned down, gifting him with an ample view of her cleavage.
"One Weston, rare." She slid into the booth opposite him, her blue eyes sparkling with mischief. She'd brought a glass of wine so pale it could be water. "Am I forgiven?" "For what?" He cleared his throat, trying to focus on her heart-shaped face. A woman like her could catch the eye of a hurricane.
"Giving away your table, calling your date a hooker. The usual." She rested her slim fingers on the white tablecloth. She had a sparkly ring on each hand, but not on that finger.
"The table was my fault. But no harm, no foul."
"Good, because now that I have you alone, I've been dying to ask you something."
He licked his lips, wary of whatever it could be.
"You're here every week, but never with the same girl. Tell me, are you burying them in your backyard? Aren't you running out of room?"
A bark of laughter escaped him as she grinned. "I'm a serial dater, not a serial killer."
"Pity, I was thinking I had the scoop. Why is it you're the king of first dates?"
He shifted against the leather of the seat. "That's not a crown I want to wear. I liked being married. I want a wife, and more kids. I've been using this dating website, but the matches haven't clicked."
"Then try a new one."
If only it were that easy. He sliced into his steak and tried to explain. "This one worked for my sister. Though she did have to drive three hours south."
He shook his head. "No, she wound up moving, and I'm rooted to the ranch. Honestly, I'm exhausted by the whole process. And summer's coming, so the ranch is busy. I'll pick it up again in the fall."
"Screw the website. I'll be your wingman."
Oh hell no. He did not need a personal dating assistant. Especially one with such a lush pink mouth that had him thinking about kisses. Which he hadn't enjoyed for far too long. "It's not getting dates that's my problem, it's finding a woman worthy of my kids. Besides, I don't know you. How old are you anyway?"
"Old enough to know better than to answer that question. Don't worry, my ID is legit." She leaned back in the booth, giving him a view of her tight little body wrapped up in black lace. "I'm not trying to wreck your Friday, I've just been watching you come in here for almost a year now. What you're doing isn't working."
"Thanks, lady who gave away my table." He shoved a bite of steak into his mouth, not even tasting it as he chewed.
"Jules O'Connor. I thought everybody in here knew my name."
"It's not like you wear a nametag. Or the same dress twice."
Was that a blush? "I sell them."
"The dresses. Finding clothes out here is a lesson in futility, so I design what I like and women who come in ask where I got it, and voila, sale. I even have my own rack at Macie's."
"The department store?"
"The boutique on Main and First. Though maybe someday. That's why I'm going to design school in New York."
He drowned his shock with the rest of his beer. "You're eighteen?" "Twenty-three. My sister is graduating high school, and we're heading back to New York together. Eight years in this town is enough." Her big blue eyes widened and she rubbed her forehead. "Except you rule the town so now I've insulted you. Again. What is wrong with me tonight?" "I don't rule the town."
"The Westons own practically everything. Kind of like medieval feudal lords. Everyone in Opal Creek works for you in some capacity."
He shook his head. "Ace likes the world to think he owns it, but my brother is only legendary on his own land. It's quite the spread, but we worked hard to get it. The town is separate. And we all work for a living. Despite what you and my date may have heard, the only thing we're rolling in is cow shit."
"Oh, is that why you got rid of her? Good call."
"Thanks?" She watched while he ate, but didn't leave. "Don't you have people to seat?"
"They roll up the sidewalks in this town at ten. I sat my last tables while Uncle Ben made your dinner." She took a sip of her wine, then leaned across the table. "I do think I could help you."
"I'm not looking for help right now." He pushed his empty plate to the side and caught her gaze. The way she pulled her bottom lip between her teeth grabbed his libido as surely as if she'd grabbed his cock.
"You said you were done with your dating site for a while. Why not let me try?"
"Try what?" He'd said far too much already, much more than he'd intended. He knew better than to be swayed a pretty face and a rocking little body. Yet, he was desperate for the dating game to be over. He drained the last of his beer.
"Finding your next wife. You must be over thinking it. You have a good job, you want kids, and you're the hottest Weston brother."
He choked on his beer. Her honesty was refreshing, yet with as much dating as he'd packed into the last year, he didn't know if she were coming on to him or not.
"I can't be the first woman to tell you that. It's the shoulders, I think. Or maybe the hair."
"Careful, I married the last woman who told me that."
Jules shuddered and scrunched up her button nose. "Forget I said it then."
"Maybe we should forget this whole evening." Because from her reaction, she hadn't been flirting. And he had no intention of his dating life being this chick's pet project.
"No," she reached out and rested her slim fingers on the back of his hand. Her touch set off a spiral of longing that went deeper with every second she touched him. "I just need to think before I speak. Most of the women in this town want what you have on offer. The house and the kids and the cowboy to come home to. I just can't relate to that."
She released him, tightening her hand into a fist before she gripped the stem of her wineglass. He pressed down on the white tablecloth to keep from reaching for more.
"When you know what you want, you can develop a plan to get there. I want to design clothes, so I'm going to design school. You want a wife, so we find you one. But first I need more information." She twisted in the booth and looked back at the dining room.
"Purely on a physical level, what's your type? See that woman in purple? What about her? Those boobs are real. Are you a boob man?" He gave his best blank stare. He'd put all of this onto the dating site. He preferred brunettes, on the tall side. He didn't give a fuck about clothes or makeup. He wanted a partner, not a princess.
"Okay, so you're not into boobs. Oh, what about Amy McKenzie? Her ass is on point. She teaches some kind of dance aerobic thing at the gym."
"I had no idea women objectified other women." If he were to say the same thing, he'd be slapped.
"Don't get judgey. Women dress for other women, not for men. I doubt you notice the difference between a shift dress and an a-line." She swirled her wine in her glass before taking a drink.
"Exactly my point. So tell me, what's your type?"
He shook his head. He was not doing this. "I'm taking a break. I'm tired of chasing after a relationship. I should just let it happen. It's been almost of year of trying to connect with women I never have anything in common with."
"Some guys would think a new woman every week is ideal." She tucked her blonde hair behind her ears, her diamond drop earrings sparkling in the light.
He shrugged. "Maybe in my rodeo days, but even then ... not so much."
"Variety is the spice of life." Her blue eyes shone with mischief.
He coughed and leaned in close so he could whisper. "I'm not sleeping with them. It's a first date."
She pushed her wineglass aside and lowered her voice as well. "So you haven't had sex since you started Project Replacement Wife?"
He straightened. "I'm not replacing my wife. It's not like my coffee pot stopped working and I'm shopping for a new one."
"How long has it been?" She leaned closer, and the scent of roses and early summer blocked out everything else.
"Not quite two years." He rubbed the back of his neck. Everyone had drilled into him that you did not talk about your wife on a date. And so he never talked about her at all. But this wasn't a date. Even though he was more attracted to Jules than he'd been to all of the other women he'd had dinner with here, put together.
"You haven't had any action since she died?"
He pushed back from the table, away from the pity in her gaze. "This conversation has gone off the rails."
"Like, at all?"
He shook his head. He wasn't a saint. "I had a rough time the year she died. Wound up pretty disgusted with myself. Sleeping around is different after you have kids."
"Wow. You're like the bizarro cowboy." She reached for him again, her fingers resting on his forearm. The thin cotton of his shirt did nothing to block the heat of her touch. "That's a compliment."
"Good, because I couldn't tell." He met her gaze and despite himself, felt his cheeks lifting in a grin that matched hers. When he started dating again, he'd have to find a new restaurant. Even after she left for school, this would be Jules's place in his mind.
"If you were a woman, I'd tell you to date yourself. Take the pressure off and just do what you want to do."
"But I'm a guy, so ..."
"Believe me, I know. But what you're doing isn't working. Instead of trying to see thirty years with someone, just think thirty days. Give yourself permission to have something that works for now, not forever."
"That's not really an option for me. Like you said, in this town people have an expectation of what I should do. If I tried to date anyone, their friends and family would have us married in their heads before the second date."
"You need someone who doesn't want to get tangled in the strings, or tie you in them. It shouldn't be that hard." She took the last sip of her wine and looked at him. "We could have fun."
"I'm having more fun here than on a year of dates put together."
She tilted her head to the side, her sleek blonde hair brushing her shoulder. "Hmm, maybe you aren't ready for what I had in mind."
Excerpted from "Captivating the Cowboy"
Copyright © 2017 Jenna Bayley-Burke.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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