A love-'em-and-leave-'em cowboy was not what Nina Cakes wanted when she asked for a muscular man to help move her heirloom bed. After all, it was a cowboy who had gotten her sister into trouble, and no handsome ranchernot even a notorious Jefferson brother named Navarrowould make Nina forget why she'd come to Lonely Hearts Station: to save her sister's good name.
Nina was a librarian on a mission, and to win her love Navarro would need to offer more than sweet talk, teasing grins and world-shaking kisses . She'd settle for nothing less than lassoing his untamed heart!
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Actions speak louder than words. So think your actions over many times.Maverick Jefferson when his boys got caught stealing Shoeshine Johnson's bus for a road trip because it was the only vehicle all twelve of them could fit into at once.
"What has to be done," Navarro Jefferson told his twin, Crockett, as they sat in his truck, "is that one of us should go live in Lonely Hearts Station. As a sort-of mole. To keep an eye on Last's pregnancy matter before it gets further out of hand."
Recently, Last, the youngest Jefferson brother and the family philosophe, had managed to get himself into trouble with a gal of questionable reputation from the wrong side of the beautician tracks.
Ever since their elder brother Frisco Joe had courted and married a stylist from the Lonely Hearts Salonand put the Jefferson brothers in the middle of a duel between the Lonely Hearts beauties and their salon rivals, the Never Lonely Cut-n-Gurlslife had not been going well for any of the boys from Union Junction.
Not for Last, nor for the rest of his brothers.
Navarro had sort of expected more trouble, but lacking condom sense was not supposed to be in the cards.
"How would we do that?" Crockett asked. "I think the Never Lonely Cut-n-Gurls would know we were watching their every move."
"The only one we need to watch is Valentine," Navarro told his twin. "You and I could swap out, take turns, and they'd never know the difference. Tag-team girl-watching."
Crockett blinked. "Why do I find that appealing in a warped kind of way?" He considered the notion, peering out the truck window toward the Never Lonely Cut-n-Gurls salon. "Or possibly, I find it depressing. It's been a long time since I've had a woman."
"Whoa," Navarro said. "Too much info."
"Last says he doesn't remember anything about that night except that he was drinking some exceptional firewater."
"Man, I remember every good night I've had with a lady," Navarro bragged. "Even in my dreams."
"More there than not."
Navarro pulled his hat low over his eyes without comment.
"So how do we invade the landscape without raising suspicions? We need to get on the inside of that salon," Crockett said.
"Yeah. But bed maneuvers are out. I think there's enough trouble in the family tree when it comes to the ladies."
"Mmm." Crockett studied the goings-on of an attractive band of giggling Never Lonely girls as they left the salon. They were all dressed provocatively, which he appreciated. He wouldn't date any of the girlsnot his typebut he certainly appreciated the goodness they were lending to the view. "You could dress in drag and become a hairdresser alongside them."
"I think not."
"You could become a client."
"I think they'd suspect my motives." Everyone in town knew that the Jefferson brothers were more likely to be seen at the Lonely Hearts Salon across the street when they needed a trim.
Crockett was silent for a moment. "You could hit on Valentine."
"I'd rather gnaw off my leg. Anyway, that would totally raise suspicions."
"Well, then you'd have to prove that your intentions were honest, in order to get the most info out of her. You'd have to get engaged."
Navarro laughed. "Right."
"We could get engaged. If we tag-team spy, we might as well tag-team engage. No one would notice that we were switching out. And then we'd be on the inside."
"What a novel idea. Why don't we just do something so stupid?"
"I'm serious." Crockett sat up straight. "It's not very heroic, and it's deceitful, but it would get us in a primo position to find out the info we need to save our bro from Valentine's catch-a-cowboy plot."
"We've done a lot worse, but I don't think Fannin would approve, even in the name of family. And when Mason comes home, he'd roast us for sure."
"I say it's easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission."
"I say you've got a point." Navarro drummed the steering wheel. "How are we going to figure out which of those lovelies we want to sucker?"
"I don't know. How about the little plus-size gal over there with the pretty smile?"
"I think you may be looking at her chest when you talk 'plus size.' We could toss her between us like a doll. She's a little bitty thingisn't she?all curves and swerves."
"I like blondes," Crockett mused. "And she's not dressed fakey. She's kind of cute. Personality-wise, of course. Is there any chance we could reconsider sleeping with our girlfriend?"
"Absolutely not!" Navarro exclaimed.
"Rats. I do tend to fall easily to temptation. I really like a nice ripe bottom on a woman. She looks like she's all peach and no pit."
"She's definitely ripe. Hey, she's coming over! Turn your head and act like you're lost!"
"Hey, guys," the blonde said. "Lost?"
"Yes," Crockett said, because Navarro had pulled his hat over his face. "But we want to figure it out ourselves, if you know what I mean."
"Oh. You're adventurous types," she said.
"You could say that," Crockett agreed.
Nina Cakes smiled at the cowboy, realizing at once that here was the answer to her prayers.
"I need a man," she said.
"We've heard that before, sister," the cowboy told her. "And we're always ready to heed the call."
Nina took a step back from his leer. "Uh, cool your jets, cowboy. I said I need a man, not a mistake."
The man under the hat snickered. Nina went around to the driver's side to talk through the window. "Look, it's actually quite simple. I just need help lifting some boards up the stairs."
She frowned when he didn't answer.
"Navarro's resting. My brother tires out easily. By the way, I'm Crockett."
He stretched a hand across his brother for her to shake, which Nina did, reluctantly, trying to overlook the coughing fit that seemed to have possessed Hat Man. "He doesn't look like he's resting," she said. "Maybe when he gets up from his nap, I could offer him a job."
Crockett stretched his muscles for her. "'Course, I'm alive and kicking and ready to do your bidding. I can move a few pieces of woodfor free. I'd be happy to do it for such a pretty girl."
Nina tried not to roll her eyes. What a come-on! Did she look like the kind of girl who fell for an easy line? Librarians were far smarter than that, and she prided herself on being one of the most qualified, sharpest librarians in Dannon, Delaware.
Of course, today she was in a place called Lonely Hearts Station, Texas, with an heirloom bed her sister Valentine claimed had been broken accidentally. Nina pursed her lips and considered Crockett. He didn't exactly seem wholesome. What were the odds she could trust him to help her without trying to paw her? Far too sure of himself, he was quite different from the bookish, studious types who came into her library: some students, some older supporters of the library, an occasional mom or dadbut nothing like this man or his mysterious brother.
More wolf than sheep, for certain.
She'd bet these two were probably a lot like the man who'd gotten her sister into trouble. Valentine was in the family way by a nefarious, no-good, irresponsible cowboy. If he was anything like these men, no wonder Valentine had been lured astray. Poor Valentine!
But first things firstthe heirloom bed was the matter at hand. Now that Nina had come to Lonely Hearts Station to help her sister, she needed a place to sleep. More importantly, Nina would never be at ease until the heirloom bed that had been in their family for generations was repaired.
The bed was charmed. Nina stared at the hat-covered face next to her, thinking about the importance of the charm. What would this man know about a woman's secret desires? Every single member of their female family had been conceived or born in that bed. The antique was simply magical in some way no one could really understand. Perhaps it was the delicate latticework headboard. Maybe the fine linens, which were more than a hundred years old, and the hand-crocheted lace edgings worked by Great-grandmother Eugenia from England.
Or the charm could simply rest in the bed's beauty and simple elegance. It invited a couple to share their dreams and joys while on its frame.
More than anything, Nina wanted that charm to work for her. One day, in the future. Certainly not in the way poor Valentine had chosen. Clearly the charm was still in serious good form because Valentine was due in about six months, give or take a week or two.
She sighed. "This is really important. I can't trust my bed to just anyone."
It seemed the cowboy under the hat got very still, his muscles bunching under his T-shirt. That man was no more resting than she was, Nina realized. He was awake and listening to every word she said.
The word "bed" really seemed to get his attention, she noticed.
Cowboys! Apparently they were only interested in boots, babes and beds.
Well, life just wasn't as carefree for her. "I'm going inside now," Nina said. "My room is upstairs. Number five. The wood for the slats is by the front door where the delivery company left it. I am in a desperate position, I will admit, so." She looked at Crockett uncertainly. "Can you lift heavy things?"
"Of course," he said, sitting straight up. "Wood is my specialty. Lift, saw, nail, glue, hammer"
"All right," Nina said. "Tell the woman at the desk that it's all right for you to go upstairs. Her name is Valentine."
"Valentine?" Crockett repeated, his tone surprised.
"I admit it's an unusual name, but then, one might say Crockett and Navarro are unusual, as well," Nina said. "My name is Nina Cakes. Nina is short for Eugenia. I'm named after my great-grandmother whose heirloom bed I am trying to repair. Valentine is my sister."
She noticed Navarro's posture became even more rigid. The stillest she'd ever seen in a human body. His fingers were clamped around the steering wheel bottom, just over his lap and right next to a large belt buckle. All cowboy. He smelled wonderful, she noticed on the sudden breeze that blew through the open windows of the truck. She stopped herself from giving an automatic "mmm" reaction and backed away. "Tell Valentine. I'll be upstairs," she said. "And please observe the house rules."
"Which would be?" Crockett called after her as she walked toward the salon.
"No talking to the women without an appointment," Nina said, and went inside, wondering what the man behind the hat had been hiding.
Poor Valentine. "You should have stayed up north," she told her sister grumpily as she walked past the reception area. "Clearly cowboys are just out for one thing."
"That's what we like about them," another hairstylist called. "Didn't you read the motto?"
Nina glanced at the glittery sign for the hundredth time, high on the wall, with big letters. "'Save a horse, ride a cowboy,'" she muttered. "I can read, thanks." She could also heed a warning.
"Dude! This is too easy!" Crockett said, poking Navarro in the arm. "Drag those boards upstairs!"
"Slow down," Navarro said, the voice of caution. "We need to think this through."
"Think! Whatever happened to the man of action?"
Navarro pulled his hat off his face to look at his twin. "The man of action was the one not wearing a condom, drinking suspicious firewater and having a real good time. Which is why we're sitting here, instead of back in Union Junction at the ranch, where we belong. So, let's take a deep breath and consider the angles."
Crockett thumped his head back against the headrest. "Angle on."
"She scares me, for starters."
Crockett glanced over at him. "Scares you?"
"Yeah." Navarro shifted uncomfortably. "She's cute. She's got a sexy voice. It's kind of prim-and-proper don't-mess-with-me. I think my call of the wild found that to be an invitation."
Crockett laughed. "She had the hots for me, in case you didn't notice."
"I did not notice that." Navarro stared down the old road that was the center of Lonely Hearts Station. It separated one side of town from the otherand effectively separated the two battling beauty salons: Lonely Hearts Salon and the Never Lonely Cut-n-Gurls.
The Jefferson brothers owed a lot to Delilah, the owner of the Lonely Hearts Salon. She and her employees had chipped in to save Union Junction during the last big freeze. Delilah's sister, Marvella, was her arch nemesis, and was trying to put her out of business by selling, if rumor was to believed, something more than garden-variety mow-n-go haircuts at the Never Lonely Cut-n-Gurls salon. "Why did you tell her our real names?"
Crockett shrugged. "I didn't tell her our last names. Besides, she won't know who we are. You carry the boards up"
"Because you're the one sitting over there twitching for some action. You're the man with the call of the wild going on. Besides, you're more cautious than me. We both know I'd do something wrong."
"And rightfully so," Crockett said. "Come on, we haven't busted up a joint in months. We've had to mind our p's and q's with Mason taking off. Fannin running the joint. Mimi in the family way. The housekeeper taking over our house." Crockett blew out a breath. "Last going insane. I mean, I'm about tired of my p's and q's being so minded. I want our old life back. Before it got so reputation-conscious."
Navarro shook his head. "Valentine's sitting at the desk. She's going to recognize that we look an awful lot like the rest of the family."
Crockett shrugged. "Keep your hat low. Dump the lumber and go. But see if Valentine's really got a belly on her, or if that's just a bunch of bull to rope Last. I bet she's not even pregnant. And how do we know Last is the father? I mean, this blows" Crockett pulled his hat down over his face. "When this is all over, I'm going to go find Mason and tell him he's never gonna learn what happened to our father, and that he needs to deal with the fact that his true-love Mimi got married on him because he dragged his own dang boots, and that he needs to get his butt home."
"Good luck," Navarro said. "But first things first."