Sir Oliver Fortune Hayes is new to Horseback Hollow new to Texas and even new to parenting. It's enough to drive a man daftand daft he would go, if it weren't for Ollie's new nanny, Shannon Singleton.
A cowgirl for a nanny? It's a little unorthodox, but it works. The trouble is, now Oliver can't help imagining sweet Shannon as his Valentine. She's warm and bubbly and much too young for the likes of him. Will proper Oliver maintain his upper-crust composure? Or will the love of a good Texas woman rope him in for good?
About the Author
Since selling her first story to Harlequin Books in 1999, Cindy has been forced to juggle her love of reading with her passion for creating stories of her own. But it's worth it. Writing for Harlequin Special Edition is a dream come true.
Read an Excerpt
Shannon Singleton took a sip of the Superette's medium roast coffee and exhaled a happy sigh. Since returning to Horseback Hollow several months earlier, she'd come to realize how much she'd missed the town in north Texas where she'd grown up.
The postage-stamp eating area of the Superette consisted of three orange vinyl booths and two tables, each adorned with a bud vase of silk flowers. Nice, but no comparison to the cute little coffee shop Shannon used to frequent when she lived in Lubbock.
Still, the location was bright and cheery. Thanks to a wall of glass windows, Shannon even had a stellar view of the large pothole in the middle of the street.
"I wish they'd choose one of us and get it over with." Rachel Robinson expelled a frustrated sigh and sat back in the booth.
Shannon enjoyed meeting her friend every Tuesday morning for coffee, but frankly was tired of obsessing overand discussingthe job they both wanted.
It was a bit awkward, being in competitionagainwith her friend. The other times Rachel had bested her, it had been over inconsequential things; like the last piece of dessert at the Hollows Cantina or the pair of boots they'd both spotted at that cute little boutique in Vicker's Corners.
This time was different. This time the outcome mattered. Professional positions in this small town an hour south of Lubbock were few and far between. And Shannon really wanted the marketing job with the Fortune Foundation.
In the four years since graduation from Texas Tech with a degree in business, all of Shannon's experience had been in marketing. Rachel had readily admitted she didn't have experience in the marketing arena.
But that fact didn't mean squat. Just as with those pretty turquoise boots, it seemed whenever she and Rachel competed for anything, Rachel came out ahead.
"Earth to Shannon."
Shannon brought the cup to her lips and focused on her friend. She and Rachel were both in their midtwenties, had brown hair and similar interests. But that's where the comparison ended. Shannon considered herself slightly above average while Rachel was stunning. "What? Rewind."
"Wouldn't it be cool if they hired us both?" Rachel smiled at the thought and broke off a piece of scone. The woman's cheerful nature was just one of her many admirable qualities.
"I guess we'll find out but not until the end of February." Shannon added more cream to her coffee, her tone pensive. "I don't see why it has to take that long. They completed interviews last month."
"It's probably because they're just getting this office location up and running," Rachel said, sounding way too understanding.
Of course her friend could afford to be charitable. She had a job and was earning her way. Shannon was back living with her parents and, other than the chores she performed at the ranch for her mom and dad, had been out of work for over two months. "Just between you and me, I can't believe they're going to open a foundation branch in Horseback Hollow."
"Doesn't surprise me." Rachel laughed. "This town is turning into a Fortune family hot spot."
The Fortunes were a wealthy family with business ventures all over the world. Their largest Texas base of operations was in Red Rock, just outside San Antonio. But there were also Fortunes in Horseback Hollow. Christopher Fortune Jones, who'd grown up in the area, would be heading the foundation branch in town.
"I'm tired of worrying about a job I might not get." To soothe her rising stress level, Shannon bit into the scone. Oh, yeah, babysugar and blueberries, topped with a lemon glaze. Talk about stress eating. She could almost feel her waistline expand.
"Are you going to the party on Saturday?" Rachel asked, changing the subject.
The "party" was actually a couple's baby shower being thrown by friends. The fact it was a couple's baby shower practically guaranteed there wouldn't be any unattached men attending. After all, what single straight guy would willingly give up his Saturday night to attend such an event?
"I promised Gabi I'd attend." Shannon paused and narrowed her gaze. Outside, a sleek black car she didn't recognize pulled into the lot. "My other choice is playing cards with my parents and their friends."
Rachel gave an exaggerated shudder.
"It's not that bad." Shannon liked her parents and enjoyed the members of their card club. In fact, if she hadn't given Gabi Mendoza her word she'd show, she'd be seriously tempted to skip the shower and play cards instead.
Rachel took a sip of her chai tea. "I'm crossing my fingers there'll be some fresh meat at this little soiree."
"Don't hold your breath." Shannon could have said more but pressed her lips shut. Let the woman have her dreams
Rachel startled her by emitting a low whistle and pointing to the window. "Get a load of that."
"I saw it." Obligingly, Shannon leaned forward for a better look. Just south of the humongous pothole sat a shiny vehicle that cost more than she used to make in a year. It was rare to see such an expensive car in Horseback Hollow. "Mercedes."
"Forget the car." Though they were alone in the café, Rachel's voice was soft, almost reverent. "Feast your eyes on him."
Shannon swung her gaze from the sleek lines and shiny black finish of the SL250 to focus on the tall, broad-shouldered man with dark brown hair exiting the vehicle.
A man obviously on a mission, he rounded the back of the car with decisive steps. When he bent over to retrieve something from the backseat, Shannon's lips curved.
"Ooh la la," Rachel breathed.
For a second Shannon forgot how to breathe as the pristine white shirt stretched tight across the breadth of shoulders, muscular legs encased in dark trousers.
Shannon's heart quivered. "If his face is half as good as his backside, we're in for a treat."
As if in answer to her prayer, the guy straightened and turned. Ooh la la, indeed. He had classically handsome features with a strong jaw, straight nose and cheekbones that looked as if they had been chiseled from granite. She'd wager his stylishly cut dark hair had never seen the insides of a Cut 'N' Curl.
Yes, indeed, the man was an impressive hunk of masculinity even with sunglasses covering his eyes.
While the set of those shoulders and confident stance said "don't mess with me," messing with him was just what Shannon longed to do. Until she saw two little legs dangling from the blanketed bundle he'd pulled from the car.
Rachel expelled a heavy sigh, apparently seeing the evidence of daddy-hood, as well. "He's got a kid."
Her friend sounded as disappointed as Shannon felt.
"Figures he'd be taken." Shannon heaved her own sigh. "The cute ones always are."
"Marriage doesn't stop some of them from sniffing around."
"My old boss Jerry was a perfect example of that." Even as she spoke, Shannon's gaze returned to the dark-haired stranger.
"You taught Jerry the Jerk not to mess with you."
Shannon just smiled and shrugged. Lately she'd begun to wonder if there was a way she could have handled the situation differently and kept her job.
Water under a collapsed bridge.
The man shut the door firmly, then stepped away, giving Shannon a glimpse of a furry head with perked-up ears, little paws braced on the dash. She couldn't stop a smile. She loved animals almost as much as she loved children. "He's got a dog, too."
Rachel looked up from the text she'd glanced down to read. Apparently discovering the stranger had a kid had turned her initial interest to indifference.
"The hot guy has a kid and a dog," Shannon told her friend.
"Bet you five he also has a wife with blond hair and a killer figure." Rachel's tone turned philosophical. "That's practically a given with guys like him."
Shannon grinned. "Aren't you the cynical one?"
"Realist." Rachel popped a bite of scone into her mouth. "I should have known he was too good to be single."
Shannon rolled her eyes.
"He's coming inside," Rachel hissed.
Shannon turned in her chair just as the automatic doors of the Superette slid open.
Francine, the store's lone cashier, was in the back of the store stocking shelves. Since they were the only customers, Frannie had told them to holler if someone showed and was ready to check out.
The man paused just inside the entrance and removed his sunglasses. He glanced at the empty checkout counter, impatience wrapped around him like a too-tight jacket. Shannon expected any second he'd start tapping his foot.
Shannon pulled to her feet and crossed to him, wishing she was wearing somethinganythingbesides jeans and a faded Texas Tech T-shirt. "May I help you?"
The man was silent for a second, staring at her. His eyes were a cool blue with a darker rim. Shannon forced herself to hold that piercing gaze.
"I find myself in need of some assistance," he said after a couple of seconds, his smile surprisingly warm and charming. "My GPS has gone bonkers. I'm looking for a ranch called the Broken R."
In addition to the killer smile, the man had a totally de-lish British accent. Shannon surreptitiously slanted a glance down but his ring finger was hidden beneath the blankets.
"Are you a relative?" Though Shannon didn't like to pry, Rachel would kill her if she didn't get at least one or two deets.
"I'm Jensen's brother." He adjusted his stance as the child beneath the blanket stirred. "Are you familiar with the location?"
Shannon couldn't tell if the toddler was a boy or girl. The shoes were gray leather sneakers that could belong to either sex. The only thing she could see above the blanket was a thatch of slightly wavy brown hair.
"It's super easy to find." Shannon quickly gave him directions. She offered to write them down, but he told her there was no need.
"Thank you." He smiled again and his whole face relaxed. "You've been very kind."
Though she wanted to volunteer to ride with him and show him the way, Shannon resisted the temptation. Married men were not on her radar.
Still, she remained where she was and watched him stroll to the car. Once he reached the vehicle, she scurried over to where Rachel waited.
"Ohmigod." Rachel's eyes sparkled. "His accent is incredible."
"The rest of him is pretty incredible too." Shannon surreptitiously watched Jensen Fortune Chesterfield's hot brother buckle the child into the seat. The blanket around the toddler fell to the concrete but was quickly scooped up.
"He's definitely a boy," she told her friend.
"You're wrong." Rachel chuckled. "That one is all man."
"Not him. The kid. I couldn't tell initially boy or girl, but he's wearing a Thomas the Tank Engine shirt. Definitely a boy."
"Who cares about the child?" Rachel fluttered her long lashes. "Did you hear that fantabulous British accent?"
"You said that before."
"It bears repeating."
The sleek black sedan backed up and headed out of the lot, careful to avoid the asphalt crater.
"It doesn't matter." Shannon sighed and turned her attention back to her scone. "Like you said, a guy that gorgeous has a beautiful wife somewhere."
Oliver Fortune Hayes once had a beautiful wife. Then he'd had a beautiful ex-wife. Now, the stunningly beautiful blonde was gone.
"Diane was killed in a car accident two months ago," Oliver told his brother Jensen. He kept his tone matter-of-fact, tamping down any emotion. "She was in the car with a man she'd been seeing for quite some time. He also died in the crash."
The two men sat in Jensen's kitchen, having a cup of tea. Thanks to the concise directions from the pretty brunette at the grocery shop, Oliver had easily found the Broken R ranch. Jensen had been surprised to see him a full twenty-four hours earlier than expected and apologetic that Amber was in Lubbock shopping.
Oliver looked forward to meeting his brother's fiancée but appreciated the opportunity to talk privately first.
Jensen hadn't changed much since Oliver had last seen him. His brother's dark hair was perhaps a trifle longer but he was still the very proper British gentleman that Oliver remembered. Though the cowboy boots were a shock, Jensen's gray trousers were perfectly creased, and his white dress shirt startlingly white.
"This is the first I've heard of Diane's death. Why didn't you call?" Jensen was his half brother from the second marriage of Oliver's mother. Though seven years separated them in age, Oliver had always been fond of Jensen.
When Oliver had announced his intention to come to Horseback Hollow after their sister, Amelia, gave birth, Jensen had offered to let him stay at his ranch.
"My life has been topsy-turvy since the moment I found out." He'd discovered Diane had died at a cocktail party when a mutual friend had expressed sympathy.
Oliver continued as if Jensen hadn't spoken. "Diane's parents didn't notify me. They took Ollie into their home even though they knew full custody immediately reverted to me upon her death. They kept my son from me."
Jensen flinched at the underlying anger in his brother's carefully controlled tone. "I'm surprised they didn't put up a fight once you found out and arrived on their doorstep to claim him."
"There would have been no point." Oliver waved a hand.
"I'm the child's father."
"Given your lifestyle, taking on a child had to be difficult."
"Once I established a schedule, it went quite well," Oliver said in a clipped tone, irritated his brother could think him incapable of caring for one small boy. "The nanny I hired is excellent and believes as strongly as I do in the importance of a routine. And she fully understood why I needed to make this trip. Unfortunately she refuses to leave the country."
Jensen obviously had nothing to add. He didn't have children. Not even a wife. Not yet anyway.
Oliver glanced down, noting Barnaby had fallen asleep at his feet. He only hoped his son was sleeping as soundly as the dog. The moment he'd arrived at the ranch, Oliver had put Ollie down for a nap. After a sixteen-hour flight from London to Lubbock the day before, even the brief respite in a hotel overnight hadn't been enough sleep for a toddler.
His son had been fussy after the long flight and had kept Oliver up most of the night. Oliver had dreaded the forty-five-minute car ride from Lubbock to Horseback Hollow, but the child had fallen asleep while Oliver was strapping him into his car seat. He'd slept during the entire trip, not waking even when Oliver brought him inside and laid him on Jensen's bed.
Jensen's gaze dropped to the corgi. "What's his name?"
"Barnaby." Oliver wasn't sure who was more surprised at the fondness in his voice, him or his brother.
"You don't like dogs."
"I've never disliked them," Oliver corrected. "I simply never had time for one. Diane purchased Barnaby for Ollie when she left me. He's quite attached to the animal."
"You're going to keep him?"
"Are you referring to Ollie? Or Barnaby?"
"Both." Jensen grinned. "I've never considered you the kid or dog type."
"Ollie is my son. My responsibility. When Diane and I split up, I thought our child's needs would be better served living with her. That's the only reason I didn't fight for custody. I've already explained about the dog."
Jensen stared contemplatively at the animal that had awakened and now sat, brown eyes scanning the room, ears perked up like two radio antennae.
"Corgis are herding animals."
Oliver nodded. "I observed some of that behavior when he first came to live with me. But that's no longer an issue."
"You have the dog on a schedule, too."
"Is Barnaby a dog that goes in and out?" Jensen asked in a tone that was a little too casual. Oliver cocked his head. "Could he be an outside dog?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved Ollie's story! Yes, I'm talking about the kid, because he definitely gets his happily ever after! This is a sweet book and it stands on it's own and is also the perfect continuation of the Fortunes!!!