The New York Times bestselling author of the Wild About You series delivers the first in a brand-new series that takes readers on the wild ride that comes with loving a cowboy.…
When Vince Durant left Bickford, Texas, he was a rowdy cowboy just looking for a good time. He also left unfinished business. He hadn’t captured the Ghost, a wild stallion that roams the hills, and he never convinced Georgina Bickford to go out with him. Georgie might be a lost cause, but the Ghost has been calling his name ever since....
When Vince returns to Bickford, he finds his old stomping ground a shell of what it used to be, and Georgie still wants nothing to do with him. To her, he’ll always be the womanizing cowboy she knew seven years ago.
And when Vince comes up with a plan that might restore Bickford to its former glory, Georgie wonders if the rough-and-tough cowboy has truly changed. As they get closer, Georgie will have to decide whether to resist Vince’s charm or to attempt to tame the wild stallion who’s stolen her heart.
About the Author
A romance-writing career has brought Vicki Lewis Thompson many wonderful things: New York Times bestseller status, the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award from Romance Writers of America, thousands of readers, many dear friends, and the cutest little yellow convertible in the world. Although she’s written more than a hundred books, she continues to be fascinated by the many ways that a man and a woman fall in love. The age-old story remains a challenging puzzle to be solved anew with each book.
Read an Excerpt
PRAISE FOR VICKI LEWIS THOMPSON AND HER NOVELS
ALSO BY VICKI LEWIS THOMPSON
“Somebody should take a paintbrush to Sadie’s left nipple.” Vince Durant studied the six-by-ten mural on the far wall of Sadie’s Saloon as he sipped his beer. “It’s chipped.”
A well-endowed nude reclined on a red velvet piece of Victorian furniture that he thought was called a fainting couch. Rumor had it that a local woman named Sadie had posed for the mural, but because the painting was more than a century old, the rumor was unconfirmed.
“Sadie’s not the only thing needing a little TLC around here.” Ike Plunkett was still behind the bar, which was reassuring.
Vince remembered Ike from four years ago, and although the bartender’s hair was a little thinner and his glasses a little thicker, he looked virtually the same. That couldn’t be said for the town of Bickford, though. Except for the general store and this historic hotel, the place was pretty much dead.
Come to think of it, he’d seen no evidence that anyone else was staying at the hotel besides him and the two friends who hadn’t arrived yet. Even more troubling, the saloon was deserted, and that wasn’t normal for a Friday afternoon. At the end of the day, cowboys in the Texas Panhandle enjoyed sipping a cold one. “I never realized how much the town depended on the Double J.”
“I don’t think any of us did until it was gone.”
“You’d think by now somebody would have reopened it.” Vince wouldn’t mind working there again. Turned out he was good at wrangling greenhorns.
“Can’t.” Ike used a bar rag to wipe down the whiskey bottles lined up beneath an ornate mirror behind the bar. “Somebody torched it, probably for the insurance, and the land’s tied up in a big legal hassle.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Vince polished off his beer and signaled for another. He was thirsty after the long drive from Fort Worth.
“Not half as sorry as we are.”
“No, probably not.” But he was sorry, and disappointed, too. He’d talked his buddies Mac Foster and Travis Langdon into having a reunion, figuring they could party in Bickford like they had during the three years they’d all worked for the Double J Guest Ranch. “I don’t suppose you have live music this weekend?”
“We haven’t had a band in here for a long time. Can’t afford to pay ’em.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Oh, well. At least you have beer.” Vince lifted his bottle in the direction of the mural. “And Sadie! After a few of these, I might decide to repaint her nipple myself.”
The street door opened with the squeak of an unoiled hinge and Vince turned to see if Mac or Travis had come straight into the saloon instead of stopping by the hotel desk to check in like he had.
His smile of welcome faltered when Georgina Bickford walked through the door. He took some comfort in noticing that she seemed as disoriented by his presence as he was by hers. That made no sense, really. It wasn’t like they had a history, although he’d tried his damnedest to create one.
His fabled charm hadn’t worked on her and she’d never gone out with him. Maybe that was why he’d thought of her so often since then. She was the one girl he’d never been able to impress.
She didn’t look particularly impressed to see him now, either. “Hello, Vince.”
“Hello, Georgie.” He remembered that cool voice of hers, but at least she hadn’t forgotten his name. After four years, that said something. He wasn’t convinced it said something positive, though. A name could stick in a person’s mind for both good reasons and bad.
“I’m surprised to see you here.” She approached slowly, as if he had yellow caution tape draped around his barstool. “Just passing through?”
“Not exactly.” He thumbed back his hat so he could see her better. She’d gotten prettier, but she’d always been great to look at with her big brown eyes and honey-colored hair. When he’d first started working at the Double J, he’d asked around and had learned that she’d left college to run the general store after her dad died. He’d tried to be friendly, but she’d never given him the time of day.
She frowned. “If you’re looking for work, there’s not much to be had, I’m afraid.”
“So I gather.” He hesitated. Oh, what the hell. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“No, thank you.”
Shot down again, damn it.
“Georgie’s first drink is always on the house.” Ike sent a glance of compassion Vince’s way as he placed a glass of red wine on the bar. “All of the council members get one free drink per day. Bickford Hotel policy. It’s the least we can do when they have such a thankless job.”
“You’re on the town council?” Then he wished he hadn’t sounded so surprised. “I mean, I’m sure you’re well-qualified and all. I just . . .”
She appeared to take pity on him. “It’s okay. I’m the youngest member, but I also run the second biggest revenue producer in town, so it’s logical for me to be on the council.” She smiled. “It wasn’t a tough race. No one ran against me.”
Hey, a smile. Progress.
“They wouldn’t have dared run against you,” Ike said. “What can I get you from the kitchen?”
“Does Henry have any barbecued pork back there?”
“I believe he does.”
“Then a barbecued pork sandwich would be great. Thanks, Ike.”
The bartender glanced at Vince. “Want to order some food? We still have Henry Blaylock cooking for us. Don’t know if you remember, but he’s terrific.”
“I do remember Henry’s food. Good stuff. But I’ll wait for Mac and Travis to get here before I order.”
“Fair enough.” Ike opened the hinged section of the bar and walked back toward the kitchen.
“Mac and Travis?” Georgie picked up her wineglass but remained standing beside the bar instead of hopping up on a stool. “The same Mac and Travis who used to work for the Double J?”
“You have a good memory.” She hadn’t dated those old boys, either. Vince, Mac, and Travis had been the cutups of the group, and Georgie didn’t approve of cutups. She’d made that clear soon after they’d met, and he doubted that she’d changed.
She took a sip of her wine. “Are you having some kind of Double J reunion?”
“In a way, but it’s just the three of us.”
Her brown eyes lit with curiosity. “And you’re meeting here, in Bickford?”
“That’s the plan.” He liked her haircut, which was a little shorter than he remembered. It used to hang past her shoulders, but now it was chin length. The new cut made her look more sophisticated. Sexier.
“Why meet here?”
He shrugged. “It’s where we used to hang out, but I didn’t realize the place had gone . . . uh, that it’s not the same.”
“If you were about to say it’s gone to hell in a hand- basket, you’d be on target. If you want to have a fun time, y’all might want to head somewhere else. Go on up to Amarillo, maybe.”
“It’ll be okay.” He didn’t remember her being quite so curvy the last time he’d seen her. She filled out the Bickford General Store’s hunter-green T-shirt, although he was careful not to be caught ogling. He’d noticed that her jeans fit mighty nice, too. Not that it made any difference whether she was a knockout or not. She hadn’t changed regarding him. She showed no interest whatsoever.
“I can’t imagine what you’ll find to do around here,” she said. “Sadie’s doesn’t heat up like it used to on the weekend. Anastasia and I might be the last two single women under thirty in Bickford.”
“What about Charmaine?” Seven years ago, when he was a new hire at the Double J, Georgie’s stepsisters had been too young to go out dancing at Sadie’s, but Charmaine, the older one, had snuck in one time and Georgie had marched her back home.
“She’s working in Dallas. She’d party with you if she could, but she isn’t here, and Anastasia’s not into that. Besides, even if she was, there’s no live music anymore.”
“Yeah, Ike said it wasn’t in the budget. No worries. I haven’t seen Mac and Travis since we left the Double J. Maybe it’s better this way. We can drink beer and catch up.”
“For the entire weekend?” She sounded skeptical.
“Well, no. We’ll do that at night, but during the day we’ll head out and round up the Ghost. Ike says he’s still—”
“You most certainly will not!” She set her wineglass down with a sharp click and faced him, sparks of anger in her eyes. “Don’t y’all dare go out there and harass that poor horse for your own amusement!”
He blinked in confusion. The dappled gray stallion and his small band of wild horses used to be fair game, a challenge for the cowboys who worked at the Double J. Vince and his buddies hadn’t succeeded in roping him, mostly because they’d never been able to devote an entire weekend to the project. Now they could.
But Georgie was obviously ready to rip him a new one on the subject of the wild stallion. “There is no reason on God’s green earth why you should go after him! He’s not hurting anything, especially now that so few horses live in the area. Back when the Double J was in operation, I admit he tried to raid the corral a couple of times, but those days are over. There are four horses boarded at Ed’s stable, and they’re all geldings. No mares. The Ghost leaves us alone and we leave him alone!”
“Is that why you decided to rendezvous here? To go after that stallion?”
“Partly, yeah. We always talked about capturing him, but we never did. Now seems as good a time as any.”
Her eyes glittered in defiance. “You won’t find him.”
“Oh, I think we will. We have two whole days to look.”
Ike returned from the kitchen, and Georgie wheeled on him. “Did you tell Vince that the Ghost was still out there?”
Ike shrugged. “He asked. I wasn’t going to lie to the man.”
“Are you aware that Vince and his two cohorts are heading out on some macho quest to rope him?”
“I didn’t know that.” Ike looked at Vince. “You might want to reconsider. Georgie takes a special interest in those wild horses.”
Crap. First he’d discovered that the town was deader than a doornail, and now Georgie Bickford was raining all over his wild horse roundup. Maybe she was right and they should take this party elsewhere, but he’d craved the small-town experience and he wouldn’t get that in Amarillo or Lubbock.
Mac and Travis chose that moment to walk into the saloon. They’d shared a ride here because they both worked at a ranch outside Midland. They sauntered in with wide grins as if they owned the place. Vince left his barstool and went over to greet them. Much joking around and backslapping followed. Vince couldn’t believe how happy he was to see those old boys. Until they arrived, he’d been outnumbered.
Mac and Travis tipped their hats and said hello to Georgie, who replied without smiling.
“So where is everybody?” Mac glanced around. “Hey, Georgie. What’s happened to this place?”
“We’re experiencing an economic downturn.” Georgie’s jaw tightened. “I suggest you three mosey on to a place that’s more suited to your needs.”
“Nah, we don’t need to do that,” Travis said. “I assume Sadie’s still serves beer.”
“We do,” Ike said.
“Then we’re in business.” Travis walked over to the bar and shook hands with Ike. “Good to see you. I’ll have a longneck, like always.”
“And I’ll take my usual draft.” Mac sat on a stool next to him.
“Coming up.” Ike looked nervous, but he busied himself getting the beer.
Georgie cleared her throat. “I understand y’all are planning to round up the Ghost this weekend.”
Mac nodded. “Yes, ma’am, we sure are. Isn’t that right, Vince?”
For a split second Vince considered telling Mac there’d been a change of plans. Then his rebellious streak surfaced. By God, he’d organized this adventure and he’d see it through. There was no law against chasing after that horse. He met Georgie’s flinty gaze. “That’s right, Mac.”
Georgie’s mouth thinned. “Over my dead body.”
Vince admired her spirit. He always had. But he couldn’t let her get the upper hand.
“Don’t go sacrificing yourself like that, darlin’.”
She balled her hands into fists. “Do not call me—”
“I promise we won’t hurt those horses one tiny bit.” He turned to his partners in crime. “Isn’t that right, boys?”
“Boys.” She poured a boatload of scorn into the word. “What a perfect description. Men would not be involved in causing distress to animals to stroke their outsized egos.”
Travis stayed hunched over his beer, but Mac swiveled to face them. “Y’know, Vince, we don’t have to round up the Ghost this weekend. Maybe we should just—”
“We’re gonna round him up.” Vince kept his tone mild and conversational, but his gaze locked on Georgie’s. “There’s no law against it.”
Georgie held her ground and matched him stare for stare.
“Georgie?” Ike’s tone was deferential, as if he didn’t want her unleashing her wrath on him.
She gentled her voice. “What, Ike?”
“Your dinner’s ready.”
“Thank you. I’d like to sit in the far corner, please.”
“I’ll set you up over there, then.”
Vince adjusted the fit of his black Stetson. “Seems like your meal’s being served. You wouldn’t want to let that barbecue get cold.”
“I don’t intend to do that. But this is not over.” Turning on her heel, she marched straight to the table where Ike was laying out her silverware on either side of her steaming plate.
* * *
“I don’t think you have to worry about those old boys,” Ike said to Georgie in an undertone.
She settled herself in a chair facing the three cowboys at the bar. “Why not?” Oh, how Vince infuriated her! Her girlfriend Janet, who’d since married and moved away, used to rave about his electric blue eyes and sinfully sexy mouth. Right now Georgie would love to wipe that arrogant grin off his face with a solid right hook to his manly jaw.
Ike kept his voice low. “They all like to drink, and they haven’t seen each other for a long time. They’ll be swapping stories ’til all hours of the night. I predict they’ll be too hungover to go traipsing around the countryside tomorrow.”
“Maybe. But they’ll be here the next day, too.”
Ike shrugged. “By then they’ll have talked themselves out of it. I think they’d rather party than chase horses.”
“Maybe.” She wasn’t convinced.
“You’ll see.” He glanced at her half-full glass. “Want more wine?”
“Yes, thanks. I think I’ll hang around awhile.”
“Suit yourself. But I wouldn’t worry if I were you.” Ike returned to his post behind the bar.
Soon after that Mac ordered up another round and Travis promised to get the next one. So maybe Ike had it right, after all. The last time these three had been in Sadie’s, they’d worked off the effects of their alcohol intake by dancing.
Between the single women who’d driven in from the Double J and the eligible females in Bickford, the cowboys from the ranch had been in demand on the dance floor, especially this particular bunch. Georgie couldn’t lie—she’d loved dancing with all three of them, especially Vince, who had a natural sense of rhythm. But she’d never encouraged him to think she was interested in being anything besides his dance partner.
Janet had told her she was nuts not to go out with him when he’d asked. But at some point they’d had a brief conversation about goals, and he’d admitted to having only one—to enjoy life as it came. That philosophy was fine for a Saturday night of dancing, but she’d had no interest in dating someone who was so unfocused. She’d been picky then and she was picky now.
Her pickiness was moot these days, though. The town’s population of datable men, focused or not, had migrated to areas where jobs were available. Georgie didn’t particularly want to be celibate, but circumstances had given her little choice.
She didn’t approve of Vince’s weekend plan and she would thwart it to the best of her ability. Yet, hypocritical though it might be, she took some guilty pleasure in seeing three virile cowboys at the bar for a change. Because they had their backs turned, she could look without getting caught, and that trio of tight buns perched on neighboring barstools gladdened her starved hormones.
The old guys who played poker here almost every night were adorable and dear. She’d known them all her life. But she couldn’t deny that Vince and his two friends brought with them a blast of testosterone that had been absent from Sadie’s for several years. She’d have to be sexually numb not to feel it.
Vince had always been the acknowledged leader of the group. He had charisma to burn. Mac, his brown hair cut short and his dark eyes perpetually full of the devil, had been Vince’s second-in-command. Travis, younger than both of them, used to play the role of kid brother. He seemed to have grown up, though. His blond hair had darkened and his green eyes had lost their innocence.
Mac delivered the punch line of a story she couldn’t hear and Vince doubled over in laughter. That was another thing she’d missed—the laughter of men her age. Damn these three guys for their misbegotten plan to chase after the Ghost. If they’d come to hang out and talk, she might have enjoyed having them around.
Ike brought her a second glass of wine. He tipped his head toward Vince and company. “Told you. They’ll keep this up until I close the bar.”
“When is that these days?”
“Normally? The poker game ends about eleven and the place is deserted by eleven thirty, so I shut ’er down.”
“Could you do me a huge favor and stay as long as they want?”
“I will, but I won’t be doing it just for you. We haven’t seen cowboys in here spending money on drinks in a long time. Steve and Myra would want me to take advantage of that.”
“I suppose they would.” She certainly didn’t begrudge the Jensons whatever revenue this reunion brought in. Steve and Myra were great, and they’d hung on here at the Bickford Hotel by carefully managing every dime.
“Three rooms rented is more than we’ve had since that group of rock hounds came through two months ago. Steve told me to make sure these guys had a good time this weekend. They might pass the word on to others that this was a nice place for a getaway.”
Georgie straightened. “I hope that doesn’t include encouraging them in this crazy scheme to round up the wild horses.”
“I can’t say. Steve knows they planned to do some riding, but I don’t think they told him they were after the Ghost. I doubt they told anybody until you came in tonight asking what their plans were.”
“Maybe it’ll never become an issue if they stay drunk for two days. That would be good for everyone, right?”
“I suppose so. Well, not Ed. He could get some income if they rent horses from his stable.”
Georgie considered the situation. “And I can’t ask him not to when he could use the money like everyone else.” She sighed. “I guess if they end up following through on their plan, I’ll have to figure out some other way to make sure they don’t capture the Ghost.”
Ike patted her shoulder. “Like I said, they likely won’t feel like going, but even if they do, they won’t be the sharpest tools in the shed after all that alcohol consumption. The Ghost is cagey. He’ll be fine.”
“I hope so. Anyway, you’d better get over there. I don’t want those cowboys going thirsty.”
“They won’t. Not on my watch.” Ike winked at her before heading back to set up the next round.
Georgie watched as Vince drained his beer bottle, his tanned throat moving in a deep swallow. She took note of his strong hands and the muscled forearms he’d bared when he’d folded back the cuffs of his Western shirt. She remembered the gleam of defiance in his blue eyes when she’d told him not to go after the Ghost. Despite how much he drank tonight, she’d do well not to underestimate Vince Durant.
Vince tried to block out Georgie’s presence because she was damned distracting. He could feel her judgmental gaze boring into his back, and as a result he was drinking more than he should and pretending that Mac’s and Travis’s stories were more hysterical than they actually were. Fortunately the beer helped calm his nerves and made the stories funnier. Great invention.
He raised his bottle. “Gentlemen, I propose a toast. To the inventor of this tasty beverage. I’m betting there was a cowboy involved.”
“You’d lose that bet.” Mac picked up the glass in front of him and studied its contents. “Beer was the preferred drink of the pharaohs, my friend.”
Travis laughed. “Yeah, right. You’re making that shit up like you always do.”
Ike leaned on the bar. “Actually, he’s right. Beer’s ten thousand years old, at least.”
“It is?” Vince narrowed his eyes at Mac. “How’d you know that?”
“I read.” Mac looked extremely proud of himself. “You should try it sometime, Vince.”
“Hey, I read! Just never ran across that factoid.”
“Me, either,” Travis said. “Pharaohs drank beer. Who knew? Speaking of which, did I ever show you guys my Egyptian dance routine?”
“Unfortunately.” Mac rolled his eyes. “Several times.”
“Well, it’s been a few years since you’ve seen it. I think I should refresh your memory.”
“Don’t feel obligated on our account,” Vince said.
“You’re both jealous because you can’t bend your arms right.” Travis climbed off his stool and angled one arm in front and one in back as he strutted along and bobbed his head while humming “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
Ike laughed so hard he had to take off his glasses and wipe his eyes. “That’s good, Travis. Real good. Especially wearing a cowboy hat.”
“Don’t encourage him,” Mac said, “or he’ll be doing that all night.”
“Hey.” Travis reclaimed his stool. “You’re the one who brought up the pharaoh subject. I’m just elaborating on the theme. I didn’t realize beer is such a noble drink.”
“It is that,” Mac said. “The Egyptians considered it sacred.”
Travis grinned. “In that case, maybe I should do another dance. Want to see me dance again?”
“No, we want to see you drink.” Vince finished off his bottle. “Another, if you please, Ike.”
“I sure as hell consider beer sacred.” Travis shoved his empty bottle across the bar. “Hit me again, Ike.”
“You bet.” Ike seemed quite cheerful about serving up the beer.
Vince thought about the sorry state of Bickford. So what if they all drank a little more than they should tonight? It was a celebration and the town could use the money.
“Don’t know if you came across the Mayflower in your beer-related research, Mac.” Ike set a bottle in front of Vince and Travis.
“His research?” Travis chortled with glee. “Vince, did you know we had a scholar among us?”
“A beer scholar at that.” Vince nodded. “Probably has a Ph.B.”
Travis smirked. “Yeah, B for bullshit.”
“Never mind the village idiots.” Mac looked at Ike. “What about the Mayflower?”
“The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock mostly because they were running out of beer.” Ike had a twinkle in his eye.
Travis stared at him. “That can’t be right. I’ll bet ten bucks you’re making that up.” He slapped two fives on the bar.
“You’re on.” Ike fished out his wallet and put a ten on top of Travis’s two fives.
“I’m betting Ike’s right.” Mac added another two fives. “Vince, which way you leaning?”
“Beer on the Mayflower?” He added a ten to the pile. “I’m with Travis on this one. Can’t picture those folks in the gray outfits knocking back the booze. How do we settle it?”
“We have to Google it.” Ike glanced around the group. “Who has Internet on his phone? I left mine at home.”
“Old phone, here.” Travis held his up. “I’m a poor cowhand.”
Mac shook his head. “I have basic service.”
“Me, too.” Vince shrugged. “Guess we’re SOL.” He started to retrieve his bet.
“Not so fast,” Ike said. “Georgie has Internet on her phone.”
As all three cowboys swiveled their stools around to face Georgie’s table, Vince wondered if she’d refuse to look up the info for them. Probably not, though. The Georgie he remembered had liked being a source of knowledge. According to what he’d heard, she would have preferred to stay in school, but she’d had to drop out to save her late father’s cherished general store from going belly-up. Apparently her stepmother was no help.
Ike came out from behind the bar and approached Georgie’s table. “We need to settle a bet. Would you look something up on your phone, please?”
“For you, Ike, I’d be happy to.” She smiled and pulled her phone out of the pocket of her jeans. “You want to know if the Pilgrims had beer on the Mayflower, right?” She tapped the information into her phone.
Ike nodded. “Right.”
So she’d been following their conversation. Vince wondered if she’d been listening in hopes she could figure out a way to upset their plans. He wasn’t about to allow that.
Georgie consulted her phone. “So who’s betting on the Pilgrims having beer on board?”
“Me and Mac,” Ike said. “I know I read it somewhere.”
“According to this, they did.” Georgie held up her phone. “They decided to land because they were out of supplies, chiefly beer. Apparently beer didn’t go bad on a long voyage, while water did.”
Mac hopped off his stool and snatched a startled Georgie out of her chair. “Thank you, sweet lady!” He swung her around in a brief victory dance. “You brought the light of reason to dispel the darkness of ignorance.”
“Oh, hell.” Travis glanced at Vince. “It’s getting deep in here.”
“No kidding.” Watching Mac dance with Georgie brought back memories of Saturday nights when he’d been the one holding her like that. They’d danced well together and had seemed to anticipate each other’s moves. She’d never said he was her favorite partner, but he’d known it, anyway. Those days were long gone, though, and he’d do well to forget about them.
Travis swiveled back toward the bar. “After all that talk about beer, I could use another one.”
“Me, too.” Vince turned his back on the sight of Mac escorting Georgie to her chair.
Then Mac added insult to injury by returning to his stool and leaning close to Vince. “You’re playing this all wrong, buddy. You’d catch more flies with honey, if you get my meaning.”
Vince’s jaw tightened. “She won’t be a problem.”
“You could guarantee that with a different approach.” Mac picked up his beer.
Vince wasn’t so sure about that. He still wondered what she’d meant by that over my dead body comment. It continued to gnaw at him as he tried to imagine what stunt she might pull to keep them from going after the Ghost. He’d have to be on his guard. He’d always known she was smart.
She’d mentioned that Ed’s riding stable only had four horses in it. He maybe ought to see if three of them were available before he let any more time go by. With her considerable influence in this town, she could fix it so he and his buddies had no transportation out to the maze of canyons where the Ghost kept his little band.
Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out his phone. It didn’t have Internet, but it suited him just fine. “Ike, you got a number for Ed’s stable?”
“I do.” Ike reached under the counter, pulled out a card, and pushed it toward Vince. “That’s his cell. He’s probably at supper, but he keeps his phone on.”
“I hate to interrupt his meal, but I want to make sure we have some horses to ride tomorrow.”
“Right.” Ike’s gaze flicked over Vince’s shoulder to where Georgie had returned to eating her barbecue and drinking her wine.
As Vince dialed Ed’s number, Mac leaned toward him. “You could hold off ’til tomorrow morning.”
“I don’t think so. He only has four horses.”
“Yeah, but there are zero tourists in town, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“We’re not tourists. We’re cowboys.”
“Without horses.” Vince turned away as Ed answered. The stable owner sounded as if he had a mouthful of food.
Vince identified himself and apologized for interrupting Ed’s dinner before launching into his request. “Mac Foster and Travis Langdon are here with me, and we’d like to rent three of your horses for tomorrow.”
“Absolutely!” Ed quickly swallowed. “When?”
Vince considered that. The best time to locate any wild animal was early morning. “Six thirty.”
Beside him, Mac groaned.
“Hang on, Ed.” Vince grinned at Mac. “Make it six forty-five.”
Mac shook his head. “I always knew you were a sadistic SOB.”
“Six forty-five it is, then,” Ed confirmed. “I’ll have ’em saddled and ready.”
“Great. We’ll be there.” Vince disconnected the phone. “We’re all set. Ed seemed real glad for the business.”
“I’m sure he is.” Mac scowled at him. “But what’s this crack-of-dawn routine? I thought we were on vacation.”
“No, Mac,” Travis said. “We’re on a quest. Isn’t that right, Vince?”
“That’s a perfect description. And you don’t start a quest at noon. Anybody knows that. You start at dawn.”
Travis raised his beer bottle. “To the quest.”
“To the quest!” Vince leaned over and tapped Travis’s bottle with his. “Mac? You in?”
Mac grimaced and raised his glass with a decided lack of enthusiasm. “To the quest.”
From the direction of Georgie’s table came a snort of disgust. Well, let her be disgusted. He had the horses reserved and come morning, they’d head out. He couldn’t think of any way she could stop them.
* * *
The impromptu dance with Mac had flustered Georgie. She wasn’t used to being swirled into a dance without warning. Such a thing hadn’t happened to her in years, not since the Double J cowhands had left town.
Her heart continued to race after Mac returned her to her seat and her half-finished meal. Mac didn’t interest her, either. None of them did. But she’d forgotten how lovely it was to be caught up in strong arms and whisked around the floor, even without the benefit of music.
She’d forgotten how much she’d enjoyed the company of virile men, too. These three cowboys weren’t her cup of tea, not by a long shot, but they certainly were . . . male. Exceedingly so. She gulped her wine.
What a fine mess she’d created for herself. By staying in Bickford and attempting to help save the town from total ruin, she’d suppressed hormonal urges that any typical twenty-eight-year-old woman would welcome. Doing that had been easy when no attractive, single men were in the vicinity.
When the cowboys left town Sunday night, the number of single guys her age would drop to zero once again. She’d been so busy worrying about the store and the town that she hadn’t stopped to think that if things continued as they were, she could end up dateless for some time to come. She was willing to sacrifice a lot for the future of Bickford, but she hadn’t intended to sacrifice her sex life.
Anastasia didn’t have anybody to date in Bickford, either, but she didn’t seem all that concerned about it. Georgie’s stepmother, Evelyn, wouldn’t want Anastasia to end up with someone from Bickford, anyway. She’d been trying to convince Anastasia to go live with Charmaine in Dallas so they could both find wealthy husbands, but Anastasia had resisted the plan.
Despite her art school training, she seemed content to help out at the store. Unfortunately she was such a dreamer that Georgie hesitated to leave her alone there. She’d once flooded the back room when she’d forgotten about the water running in the sink, and another time she’d almost burned the place down with a scented candle she’d set under a hand towel.
Georgie had finished her dinner and was about to leave when Clyde Abbott, the eightysomething mayor of Bickford and a dear friend, walked into the saloon. If she’d been paying attention to the time, she would have expected him. He was always the first to arrive for the nightly poker game.
Short and plump, he’d been married to his wife, Inez, for sixty years. She was thin and a good six inches taller than Clyde. They adored each other and attributed their happy marriage to giving each other plenty of space. Clyde played poker with his cronies every night and Inez watched crime drama on TV.
Clyde surveyed the three men sitting at the bar before making his way over to Georgie’s table and pulling out a chair. “Those boys look familiar,” he said in a low voice. “Did they work at the Double J?”
Georgie nodded and quietly gave him a rundown. Clyde was the only member of the council besides her who wasn’t partially deaf. That allowed them to talk about the newcomers without being heard. She filled him in on the cowboys’ plan to round up the Ghost and Ike’s belief that they’d be too hungover to manage it.
Clyde kept glancing at the newcomers as she talked. When she was finished, he focused his attention on her. “I’m sure this upsets you.”
“Let’s think about this logically, Georgie.” Clyde’s recent cataract surgery meant he didn’t have to wear glasses. His gaze was sharp and clear. “Your Ghost may be a little slower, but he’s smarter, too.”
“I hope so.” She appreciated Clyde’s understanding more than she could say. Of all the people in town, he and Anastasia were the only two with some idea of what the horses meant to her. “And he’s not my Ghost. I don’t have any claim to him.”
“Nobody does, which is the point. But he’s your project, so that’s all I meant. I’m inclined to think Ike is right and this problem will take care of itself.”
“They’ve rented three of Ed’s horses. Vince did that a little while ago. They’re supposed to pick them up at six forty-five.”
Raucous laughter erupted from the trio perched on the barstools.
Clyde lifted his bushy white eyebrows. “Hear that?”
“I know, but—”
“It’s the sound of happy cowboys tanked up on beer. They won’t be in any shape to round up a slow-moving armadillo at six forty-five in the morning, let alone a spirited animal like the Ghost. You can relax, Georgie. Your wild stallion is safe.”
“Okay, Clyde. I bow to your experience in these matters.”
“And we mustn’t forget that as long as they’re here, they’re spending money in Bickford. We get precious few visitors these days.”
She sighed. “I know. I briefly thought about asking Ed not to provide them with horses, but Ed, like everybody around here, needs the money.”
“We all do—that’s for sure. Steve told me he’d rented three rooms this weekend, and I nearly fell over. I didn’t recognize the names, but now that I see them, I recognize the faces. Whenever those three came into town, the bar tabs at Sadie’s doubled. They were a draw.”
He gazed at the men sitting at the bar. “I’d sure love to have those days back.”
“Without an operation like the Double J, I don’t know how we can generate the same kind of excitement.”
“I’m well aware of that. Inez, bless her heart, keeps suggesting that we have a bake sale, or enlist all the women in town to make quilts and sell those. I don’t know how to tell her that those wouldn’t generate the kind of revenue required. We need something more dramatic than that if we expect to turn things around.”
“I know, and I’ve been racking my brain to come up with proposals for Monday night’s meeting.”
He turned to her, his expression eager. “And?”
His shoulders slumped. “Yeah, me, either. There has to be an answer, but I’ll be damned if I can come up with one.”
“I don’t know how Steve and Myra manage to keep the hotel afloat,” Georgie said. “With the general store I can count on the people in town to buy basic supplies. It’s not a lot of income, but it has to be better than sitting with empty hotel rooms night after night.”
“They wouldn’t make it except for the saloon, and the guys and I do our part with the poker game every night. We usually order plenty of drinks and snacks. What, with our retirement income, we’re the richest folks in town.” He glanced toward the bar again. “These cowboys showing up will give Steve a temporary boost. Sure, it’s not enough to save the day, but it keeps him solvent for a little longer.”
“You’re right, and I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds us, so to speak, but couldn’t they just stay here and drink and forget about chasing the Ghost?”
Clyde smiled at her. “I was their age once, and it doesn’t seem that long ago. I was full of piss and vinegar, just like them.”
“I’m sure you were.” Georgie wasn’t about to laugh, even though the thought of portly Clyde being a rabble-rouser was tough to imagine. His reasoned approach to life was what she cherished about him, but he was past eighty. He’d probably come to that wisdom gradually.
“Anyway, my advice is to relax and trust that the Ghost is a whole lot smarter than those young bucks, especially when they’ve spent the night sucking up beer and he’s spent the night sucking up oxygen in the wide-open spaces. His head will be much clearer than theirs come morning.”
Georgie chuckled. “You make a valid point.”
“I should hope so. I’m the mayor.” He smiled at her. “And speaking of that, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go over and welcome those cowboys to Bickford.” He pushed back his chair and stood. “We want them to know we’re glad they came for a visit.”
Instantly Georgie felt contrite. “Clyde, I have to warn you that I didn’t make them feel welcome. In fact, I probably did the exact opposite.”
“Why is that? What did you say?”
“I was somewhat forceful about my concerns for the wild horses, and when Vince insisted on his course of action I said . . .” Heat rose in her cheeks. “I said over my dead body.”
Clyde blinked, and then he began to laugh. “Georgie, I wouldn’t be your age again for anything.”
She had a feeling she’d been insulted. In this community, she was a little touchy about her relative youth. “What’s my age got to do with it?”
“You’re as passionate and determined to keep the cowboys from disturbing the Ghost as they are to have their big adventure. You each take your unshakable positions and charge forward, butting heads like mountain goats. I have a nostalgic fondness for those days but I would never want to relive them.”
Now Georgie was certain that she’d been insulted. “Are you saying I’m just like those cowboys over there?”
“In the sense that you’re as hot-blooded and ready for battle? Yes, I’m saying that. I’m glad they’re here. It’s put roses in your cheeks.”
Georgie sat in stunned silence as Clyde walked over and reintroduced himself to Vince, Mac, and Travis. She was not anything like them! Age-wise, yes, but temperament? No way. She was mature and reasonable, while they were immature and reckless.
She couldn’t begrudge the town the money the cowboys spent here this weekend, but she’d rather they hadn’t shown up at all. Yet even as she thought that, she realized it wasn’t true. She hadn’t felt this alive in months, maybe even years. If she could keep them from rounding up the stallion, then their visit would be a win for everyone.
Before he’d fallen into bed at God-knows-what-hour, Vince had set the alarm clock sitting on his nightstand. He vaguely remembered thinking he’d get about four hours’ sleep, or maybe it was only three. His math skills hadn’t been at their best after drinking so many beers that he’d lost count.
He couldn’t even blame Georgie for the amount of alcohol he’d consumed. She’d left about the time the mayor had come over to welcome them to Bickford. After that, things were kind of a blur. More old guys had shown up, and a poker game had materialized.
Four years ago Sadie’s had been all about music and dancing, but now that was gone and poker games with senior citizens had taken its place. But Vince, Mac, and Travis were nothing if not flexible. They’d fallen right in with the poker crowd.
The poker game didn’t explain the late night, though, because the old guys had left by eleven. Sensible cowboys with a six forty-five ETA at the stables would have hit the sack, but no. Mac had suggested tequila shots, and the discussion had devolved into autopsies of their failed relationships.
Mac had the highest body count. He’d wooed and lost six women since they’d left the Double J. Vince could claim three, and Travis only had one. He’d been involved with a married woman and had finally broken it off not long before coming to Bickford.
Vince had listened in amazement. Travis had claimed that she was the love of his life and that she’d promised to leave her husband for him. In the end, he’d figured out that she had never intended to do that.
She had a luxurious lifestyle through her marriage and a red-hot lover on the side. She’d never been serious about leaving her sugar daddy. Which sucked for poor Travis.
Vince had further concluded that Travis wouldn’t have revealed any of that if he hadn’t put away at least ten beers and an untold number of tequila shots. Poor kid. He wasn’t a kid any longer, especially after having his dreams crushed, but even so, the guy had taken it in the shorts and he was obviously torn up about it. Vince felt sorry for him.
When the alarm jangled at six fifteen, however, Vince felt sorry for himself. What the hell had he been thinking? He’d known they’d probably stay up late drinking and yet he’d been goaded by Georgie’s challenge into renting horses so they could head out at sunrise because he didn’t want her to interfere with his grand plan.
It didn’t sound so damned grand now. But he hauled himself out of bed and staggered to the bathroom to splash cold water on his face. The horses would be saddled and patiently waiting for riders to show up, and Ed expected an all-day rental fee. A true cowboy didn’t leave saddled horses standing around, nor did he stiff a guy who made his living providing mounts for those who didn’t have them.
The hotel had a little breakfast room for guests. Mac and Travis had made it there ahead of him and were slugging back coffee and staring vacantly at plates loaded with food they probably wouldn’t eat. Just the thought of bacon and eggs made Vince’s stomach pitch.
He wondered if he looked as much like a desperado as his buddies. He hadn’t shaved, either, and he couldn’t guarantee his shirt was buttoned up right. Travis’s definitely was not. Mac had opted to wear a pullover sweatshirt, which was not acceptable cowboy attire, but Vince understood the impulse to put on something that didn’t require coordination.
Vince sat without saying anything and poured himself coffee from the pot on the table. He was about halfway through his first cup when Mac spoke.
“Here’s my idea.” His voice sounded as if he’d swallowed barbed wire.
Travis pressed shaky fingers to his temples. “Could you talk a little softer?”
As if too miserable to argue, Mac obligingly lowered his voice. “We go over to Ed’s, pay him for a full day, and help him unsaddle the horses.”
Vince gazed at him. The idea had merit, but he didn’t want to give up completely. Then Georgie would win. Besides, rounding up the Ghost had been the main activity for this weekend, the source of stories for the bar and for the next reunion.
He cleared his throat, which felt about the way Mac’s had sounded. “So we’ll go out tomorrow morning?”
“Hell, I don’t know if I’ll be recovered by tomorrow morning. I haven’t had that much booze since I made myself sick as a dog on my twenty-first birthday.”
“I’ve never had that much.” Travis’s face was the color of the white linen tablecloth.
Myra, who cooked breakfast every morning for the hotel guests, bustled up to the table. “You boys haven’t touched your breakfast! Now eat up. I’m putting together a sack lunch for the trail. Do you want chicken salad or tuna salad on your sandwiches? Or some of each?”
“No, thanks.” Travis’s face went from white to green and he bolted from the table.
Myra frowned as she stared after him. “My goodness.” She brought her attention back to Mac and Vince. “If he doesn’t like chicken or tuna, I could whip up some ham salad.”
“It’s not that, ma’am,” Vince said. “Travis had a little too much to drink last night and he’s not feeling well.”
Myra surveyed Vince and Mac. “Now that you mention it, you boys don’t look a whole lot better than your friend. You might want to reconsider that trail ride.”
Vince decided retreat was in order so they could live to fight another day. “I think we will take that suggestion, ma’am.” He pushed back his chair. “Thanks for the coffee.”
“You’re welcome. Just go on back to bed, both of you.”
Mac stood, too. “I promise we’ll do that, ma’am, right after we walk down to the stable and pay Ed for his trouble.”
“Never mind about that. I can call him. It’ll be fine.”
Mac looked tempted.
“Thank you,” Vince said, “but this is something we need to take care of. Ed expected the money and we intend to get it to him. The fresh air will do us good.” He glanced at Mac. “And while we’re at it, we’ll reserve the horses for tomorrow morning.”
Mac’s eyebrows lifted, but he didn’t say anything. He touched his fingers to the brim of his hat. “Thank you for the coffee, ma’am. Sorry we wasted the food. Be sure and put it on my bill.” He left money on the table for a tip.
“I wouldn’t dream of it. Get yourself jackets before you go outside. It’s nippy out there.”
Vince looked at Mac and could tell he was thinking the same thing. If the two of them climbed the stairs to their rooms to fetch jackets, they’d never make it back down again. “We’ll be okay,” Vince said.
But when they stepped out on the hotel’s front porch, he sucked in a breath. “Damn. She was right. Must be no more’n forty degrees out here.”
“We’ll walk fast.” Mac crossed the wooden porch and took the steps with care, as if worried that he might trip and fall down them.
“I don’t think you’re capable of walking fast, old man.” Vince clattered down the steps and had to stop at the bottom while his vision cleared and the rocks stopped tumbling in his brain. “Whoa.”
“Yeah.” Mac fell into step beside him as they started down the sidewalk toward the stable. Fortunately it was only about two blocks away, a little beyond what people used to call the Bickford House where Georgie lived with her stepmother and stepsister.
“Remind me not to suggest tequila shots tonight,” Mac said.
“I will.” Vince started to nod his head and then thought better of it. “We would’ve been fine if we’d stuck to the beer, but adding those shots was the killer.”
“Do you suppose Travis will wonder whether we went without him?”
“I think Travis is praying that we left without him. That boy was in bad shape.”
“I know.” Mac took a deep breath. “But one good thing, he got that stuff off his chest.”
“And we won’t bring it up again.”
“Nope.” Mac looked to his right as they passed a boarded-up storefront. “That used to be an antiques store, didn’t it?”
“That’s what I remember. And beyond that was an ice-cream parlor.”
“Right.” Mac’s voice was beginning to sound more normal. “Used to make damned tasty hot fudge sundaes.”
“It’s sad, you know? It was a quaint little town. Nice people. Good-looking women.”
Vince couldn’t help but smile, in spite of his aching head. “The town’s dying and you’re mourning the loss of the women. That’s so you, Mac.”
“What can I say? I consider women to be one of the benefits of being born a man.”
“Six in the past four years?” Vince had been drunk, but not too drunk to be floored by that number.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Vicki Lewis Thompson and her novels:
“Snappy, funny, romantic.”—New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips
“A trademark blend of comedy and heart.”—Publishers Weekly
“Count on Vicki Lewis Thompson for a sharp, sassy, sexy read. Stranded on a desert island? I hope you’ve got this book in your beach bag.”—New York Times bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz
“Wildly sexy…a full complement of oddball characters and sparkles with sassy humor.”—Library Journal
“A riotous cast of colorful characters…fills the pages with hilarious situations and hot, creative sex.”—Booklist
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Review for Crazy For The Cowboy (Sexy Texans Book 1) Welcome to Bickford, Texas! I enjoyed my stay in this sleepy little town, where the characters I met were filled with heart, determination and a strength of purpose I found refreshing. Through the eyes of Georgie Bickford I learned to never underestimate a woman who knows what she wants, and how to get it. Enter Vince Durant, who isn't sure why he's here except to have some fun and maybe settle a few scores that eluded him in the past. One thing that's for certain is when Vince and Georgie come together emotions run high. Can these two save Bickford together and in the process find love? Why don't you step inside Sadie's, sit a spell and see...
Was quickly enmeshed in the characters' lives. The conflict and attraction is easily felt. Supporting characters are strong and I can hardly wait for their stories.
What could be more exciting than a story with a handsome, sexy cowboy and a beautiful, strong-willed woman unless you add a wild stallion that's determined to keep his freedom. The cowboy wants to capture the horse, the woman wants the horse to remain free and the sparks start to fly. The setting takes place in a town that is slowly dying and its remaining interesting residents who want to save it, a horse that could be instrumental in the town's survival and a man and woman who could provide the answer to the problem if they could only agree to work together. Who will win...the cowboy, the woman, the wild stallion or the town? Read this exciting book and find out. The story has wonderful characters and enough humor to put a smile on your face as you enjoy it. Looking forward to the next story.
Vince is the epitome of a quintessential All American cowboy, honorable, intelligent, compassionate and hard working. He’s the perfect Sexy Texan in VLT’s new trilogy featuring the reunion of three friends Vince, Mac and Travis who used to work together at the now defunct Double J Dude Ranch in Bickford, Texas. Georgie is the dedicated daughter who returns from school to save her dad’s general store. I loved the interest and chemistry that resurfaces when these two meet up again. They fight their attraction as he needs to move on and she needs to stay. Interesting family dynamics between Georgie and her step sisters Charlotte and Anastasia and her step mother. I can’t wait to see what happens when Mac and Travis also move back to Bickford. The wild horses and the scenery add a lot of color to the storyline.