For single mom Bobbie Jo Weston, finding a husband is not on her to-do list. She's focused on turning a run-down chicken farm into a Bed&Breakfast. To help her achieve that goal, she agrees to let a friend’s nephew stay with her in exchange for his handyman skills. But Seth Landry isn’t quite who she pictured. For one, he’s very tall. And broody. And super sexy.
Seth has a special skill-set, all right, but it has nothing to do with hammering nails. As a retired member of The Resistance—an elite group of ex-military soldiers—his dark, unsettling past haunts him. He needs a place to lay low, and an out-of-the-way B&B is nothing short of perfect. The blonde beauty doesn’t trust men, and he doesn't plan on sticking around long enough to change her mind.
The closer they get, though, the more they can't seem to keep their hands off each other. And while Bobbie holds on to her fear of watching another man walk out of their lives, Seth's mere presence has put them all in jeopardy. The only way to ever be free of his dangerous past is for him to accept one last mission...
Each book in the Tangled in Texas series is STANDALONE:
* Rules of Protection
* Playing With Fire
* Law of Attraction
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I grasped the door handle firmly but couldn't bring myself to open it. Not yet, anyway. If I was going to head into this stupid building to do something ... equally stupid, then the least I could do was take a moment to think it through first.
The annual Liberty County Livestock Show and Rodeo had always attracted a large crowd, and judging by the congested parking lot, tonight wouldn't be any different. Even for a small, amateur event that wasn't part of the professional circuit, the cash prizes were large enough to draw in a few big-name headliners ... and plenty of viewers who wanted to watch the rodeo stars get kicked in the face by a bucking bronco or stomped on by a raging bull. The weird things that entertain people.
In the past, I'd always come to the rodeo with a group of friends to cheer on Cowboy, since he was the only one of us who ever entered the events. But after falling off a bucking horse last year and fracturing two ribs, he'd finally decided to hang up his spurs for good. Thank goodness for that. Watching one of my best friends get hurt didn't sound like my idea of a good time.
Neither did sitting at home alone on a Saturday night in a big, empty house. Which was exactly why I was here to begin with. The rodeo had a history of drawing in a lot of fresh man meat from the surrounding tri-county area. Men I hadn't grown up with my whole life. Guys that I wasn't at all related to. And hopefully at least one of them who would be interested in a no strings, no attachment one-night stand ...with me.
I cringed but stopped myself and shrugged it away. There were some times in a lonely woman's life where she wanted to relieve some pent-up sexual frustration without everyone she knew finding out about it.
God, Bobbie, quit stalling and go inside already.
I blew out the deep breath I'd been holding in, planted a fake smile on my face, and swung open the heavy wooden door. The loud, upbeat country music blasted through me at full volume, vibrating into my chest, as cool air washed over my skin and provided me with a relief I hadn't even realized I'd needed until now. It must've been more humid outside than I thought.
I paid my entry fee at the door and made my way through the dense crowd. A few of the locals — people I had grown up with — stopped me several times for a chat, but I ended the conversations as politely and as quickly as I could. I kept going, heading for the area behind the arena where the beer stand was always set up. That was usually where a lot of the single guys lurked. If only I could make it there without running into ... well, everyone I knew.
That was the worst thing about growing up in a small town. Everyone knows everything you've ever done your whole life, and even if you had secrets, they always had a way of coming out. I'd spent the last four years keeping my nose clean, though, in hopes that the town gossips would move on to a new subject, one that hopefully didn't involve me.
Hadn't really worked, though.
Now all the older folks just constantly asked me when I was going to find me a "nice, young man" and settle down. Although I usually bit my tongue, the answer to that question was about as simple as they come. Never. Because that was the other bad part about living in a small town. Slim pickings in the dating pool.
Then again, there was Slick Willy. He was still available. The man might be in his seventies, but the way the bingo ladies primped and patted their hair whenever he was around probably said a hell of a lot about his skills with women. So did the fact that his real name wasn't even Willy.
An abundance of men in cowboy hats surrounded the beer stand, and I stopped over to the side to gaze at all of them before blowing out a hard breath. Maybe it was just a matter of coming to terms with what I planned to do. Or maybe it was just a matter of not thinking about it at all.
I turned toward the sound of the voice and spotted Emily walking toward me with a beer in her hand. Well, there goes my night. I slid a fake-ass grin onto my face and greeted her enthusiastically. "Hey!"
"What are you doing here? Where's Austin?"
"He's spending the weekend at his grandma's house, so I thought I'd come out here for a bit." Not bothering to elaborate, I flagged down one of the workers behind the beer counter and asked him to bring me a water. It was about the only thing I could afford at the moment. "Um, where's your little one?"
"Lily's spending the night with Floss. They're going to watch a Disney movie, make homemade fudge, and paint each other's nails. You know how much she loves her great aunt Floss."
"What about Jake? You didn't come by yourself and leave him at home, did ya? The last time you pulled something like that, he about skinned you alive."
Emily grinned and gestured to where her handsome dark-haired husband stood chatting with Harry Sikes, the owner of the local meat market. Jake met my gaze headon, gave me a friendly nod, and then took a long pull off his beer.
His wife settled in next to me, leaning on the counter, and glanced around. "So did you come with Brad? Do we finally get to meet him tonight?"
Yeah, about that ... "He's not here," I said nonchalantly. "Actually, we aren't really seeing each other anymore." I could feel her eyes burning holes into me but didn't allow myself to look directly at her to see if I was right.
"What do you mean? I thought things were going well with him."
Though I tried to let go of the anger that had been brewing inside of me all week, I couldn't help but roll my eyes and let it bubble to the surface. "Brad was a joke. A bad one. The moment I told him about Austin, he quit calling. When I finally cornered him and asked what his problem was, he had the nerve to call my son a 'deal-breaker.'" Emily shook her head with disgust. "What a fucking jerk! I hope you gave him a well-deserved kick in the ass on the way out of your bed."
I paused. "Oh. Um, actually, he and I never ... er ..."
Her brows twisted with confusion. "How come? You dated him for almost a month."
Only Emily would think that's a long time. "Not really. We only went out a few times. Junior's Diner has been shorthanded, and I've been picking up extra shifts as often as I can." I waved my hand through the air, as if swatting away a pest. "Doesn't matter, though. I think I was way more into the idea of having a father for my son than dating the actual guy, anyway. It would've never worked out in the end. Better to know that now."
"True. Don't worry about it, Bobbie. Austin doesn't need him. He already has four of the best godfathers a boy could ask for in Jake, Cowboy, Ox, and Judd."
"My boys" as I so lovingly called them. The guys I grew up with and four of the best friends a girl could ask for ... even if they were a little too overprotective at times.
"I know. But it's just that ... well, a father figure isn't quite the same as having a daddy around all the time. You're absolutely right, though. Austin has good men in his life who care about him and that's more than I had growing up. My own dad wasn't there for me, and I turned out just ... just f-fine." My voice cracked unexpectedly on the last word, and my eyes welled up with tears.
"Aw, honey. I'm sorry it didn't work out with Brad."
I reached for a napkin on the counter and dabbed at my eyes, feeling like an idiot for getting emotional all because my son was going to grow up like I had — without a father. Then I thought, Fuck Brad! It wasn't until Emily giggled that I realized I'd said the words out loud. "Oh, sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
Emily smiled. "I don't know why you're apologizing. It's me you're talking to. Besides, you have every right to be upset with that idiot. So yeah, fuck Brad."
I shook my head. "It's not even about that idiot. It's just ... everything. I'm tired of dating random guys in hopes that one day I'll meet one who'll want to be part of my son's life." I sighed heavily and dropped my shoulders into a more relaxed position. "And now I feel terrible that I'm ruining your fun night out by using you as a sounding board. Just forget I said anything."
"Oh please. You didn't ruin anything. In fact ..." Her sly grin told me that she was plotting something. Actually, Emily was always plotting something. The woman never stopped. "Now that you're single, why don't we see if we can't find you a new guy to mingle with?"
It was the whole reason I'd bothered to come out tonight to begin with. But after running into Emily and hearing myself commiserate about Brad and other guys like him, I'd since changed my mind. "Um, no. I don't think so. When it comes to men, my judgment is obviously way off. I'm better off admitting that I don't have a romantic future in store and giving up on men altogether."
"What? You're kidding, right? You're gorgeous, and any guy in this place would be happy to date you."
"Sure. Until I tell them about my little 'deal-breaker.' I still can't believe that insensitive asshole said that about my kid. I came real damn close to punching him in the face."
Emily shook her head. "Don't let what one jerk did ruin you when it comes to men. Not all guys are like that."
Yeah, well, unfortunately those are the only ones I kept meeting. "I just don't think I have it in me anymore to keep trying. I'm burned out. Four years of serial dating and almost five years of no sex does that to a girl. I hesitate to invest too much emotionally, only to have it not work out."
Her eyes widened. "Wait. Say that again."
"I said I hesitate to invest —"
"No, not that. I mean the part where you said you haven't had sex in five years."
"Shhh. Keep your voice down," I whispered, my cheeks warming. I glanced around to see if anyone heard and then leaned toward Emily like we were exchanging secret government information. "It's not a big deal."
"You're right. It's not," Emily said nonchalantly. Then she laughed. "It's a huge freaking deal. Holy shit. Jeremy was the last guy you slept with? Wow. No wonder why your glow is gone and you've got this whole crushed, broken spirit vibe going on."
Emily cringed. "Sorry. That's not what I meant. I was just trying to point out the obvious. Girl, you need to get laid."
Tell me about it. "Well, like you said, I'm back on the single market, so it doesn't look like a remote possibility at this point." Unless I went ahead with my plan to have a one-night stand which sounded less appealing by the second.
"See? That's what I'm talking about. What happened to that fun, fearless female I used to hate so much?" Emily gave me a teasing grin. "That girl would be all over this issue."
I sighed. "That girl had a baby out of wedlock and is now a single mom with responsibilities. I'm working double shifts several days a week and all of my free time goes to Austin and working on the house. I don't have time for a booty call."
"You do right now," Emily said smugly.
"Tonight's different. At the last minute, my mom ended up getting the rest of the weekend off, and she asked if Austin could stay with her tonight."
"Even better. You have the house all to yourself," Emily said, waggling her eyebrows. "You could have a sleepover ... with someone other than Cody."
I couldn't help but laugh. Cody was the little stuffed bull that Cowboy had given Austin last year at the rodeo. "Nope. I can't do it."
I glared at her. "Come on, Emily. You know why. After the crap I've put myself through with the sperm donor —"
"This is different, though."
"How do you figure? Whether it's with Jeremy or someone else, it's still a one-night stand. There are consequences to those things that most people don't think will happen to them. Well, guess what? I'm one of those people it happened to."
"Yeah, but it's not like you weren't trying to protect yourself when that snafu occurred. It was a broken condom, right? It could've happened to any of us."
"Which is exactly why I should avoid repeating the same mistake."
"But didn't you tell me the doctor put you on the pill last month to regulate your cycles?"
"Yeah, but —"
"There you go. Instant backup protection." Emily shrugged. "Besides, there are plenty of other things you can do with a guy that doesn't require you to sleep with him yet can be mutually satisfying. At least consider an extreme make-out session with a handsome stranger. It'll make you feel better."
I shrugged noncommittally. "You're a bad influence."
She nodded. "I know. But stop pretending like you don't love it."
It was my turn to smirk. "Okay, fine. Say I'm game. There's still one big problem," I said seriously. "I don't see a line of hot and ready men fighting each other to get to my lady parts."
Emily gave me a mischievous grin that worried me. "Turn around."
"Look behind you."
Oh God. "Emily, if I turn around and there's a group of guys listening in on this conversation, I'm going to bitch-slap you."
She giggled but didn't seem all that concerned. "Just turn around already."
I spun around slowly but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. "What exactly am I supposed to be looking at?"
"The guy in the black shirt on the other side of the beer stand has been eye-fucking you since you walked in. Perfect prospect, if you ask me."
"No one asked you," I told her absently, peering across the room to check out the guy she was talking about.
As my gaze met his, he leaned back against the wall and kicked one booted foot over his opposite ankle. As if he was making himself more comfortable. Then he gave me one of those sexy as hell, come-hither looks that instantly dampened a woman's panties. Although he was nearly twenty-five feet away, his light eyes stood out in stark contrast against his tanned skin and dark hair. So dark, in fact, that it almost matched the black T-shirt stretching across his broad chest.
For a moment, I found myself caught up in the moment of having a potential lover in my bed for the night. Of course, that was before the bad-mommy guilt set in.
I spun back to Emily and palmed my face. "Oh God. I'm seriously going to hell for even considering this."
"Oh, stop. This is a judgment-free zone. Just go for it, Bobbie. You deserve to have a little fun for one night. Besides, I want to live vicariously through you."
I glanced up long enough to give her an exasperated look. "Give me a break. You have a hot husband over there who can't keep his hands off of you. I've seriously considered ditching our friendship based on how many times you get laid in a week."
She laughed and glanced over at Jake, who was now chatting with another gentleman I didn't know. He caught Emily's gaze and gave her a quick wink, which brought a secretive little smile to her adoring face.
It seemed almost crazy that it had been five years, and the two of them were still very much in love. After everything they'd been through together, I doubted either of them had thought things would work out quite so well. Especially after meeting during such a difficult time in Emily's life. The poor girl had been placed in Witness Protection after witnessing a murder, and Jake had been the FBI agent unofficially in charge of protecting her.
Then there was the strange fact that he was also my ex-boyfriend.
Jake and I had dated in high school and had taken each other's virginity, which definitely made a negative impact on Emily's opinion of me from our first meeting. Can't say I blamed her, though. Lots of people find it hard to believe that a man and a woman can be just friends without carrying some underlying torch, whether they've dated before or not.
But seeing how Jake's face lit up whenever Emily walked into a room made me smile. We may not have been right for each other, but I was happy he found his soul mate in Emily. And even happier that she and I were now great friends.
Still, my heart lurched and my stomach ached as I watched the two of them interact in such an intimate way. So badly, I wanted what they had. Yet my life had taken a drastically different turn in the form of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
Not that I regretted it. I loved my little boy with all my heart and couldn't imagine my life without him in it. I wouldn't even want to. Who cares if all the single guys I met viewed children as men repellent? My four-year-old son was the only male in my life who truly mattered. Even from the moment I found out I was pregnant, I'd wanted the little person growing inside of me. Actually, I had always wanted children. I just never expected to be raising one all by myself.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Law of Attraction"
Copyright © 2018 Alison Bliss.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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