Park ranger Wade Baker wants nothing to do with the rich city girl, no matter how tempting he finds her lush curves. She's too much like his ex-fiancée, and if he's learned anything, it's that women like Reese don't fit into his world. And he sure as hell wants no part of her big city life.
Reese may not know a hammer from a screwdriver, but she's working hard to prove she's not just some pampered princess to be toyed with. And damn it if Wade doesn't admire her tenacious spirit. If only they got along half as well outside the bedroom as they do in it, there might be a chance for them after all...
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.41(d)|
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Romancing the Ranger
A Cotton Creek Romance
By Jennie Marts, Allison Collins
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Jennie Marts
All rights reserved.
Reese Hudson knew she was driving too fast. She didn't care. She wanted to put as much distance between herself and the smug jerk she'd actually been considering marrying.
What had she been thinking?
The Lexus hugged the Colorado mountain road as it rounded another curve. The scent of pine filled the car as she cracked her window and breathed in the warm summer air.
A cardboard box full of mementos of the life she no longer wanted sat in the passenger seat. A life full of emptiness and control. Destroying the box and its pitifully small contents was the first step to breaking free.
She rounded another curve, and the box slid into the ample rump of the fat pug that shared the seat. The dog grunted his annoyance.
"Sorry, Bagel." She let up on the gas and breathed a sigh of relief as she passed the green sign reading, Cotton Creek Falls — 3 Miles. Her special place. Her grandparents had been bringing her to the waterfall near their small town of Cotton Creek since she was old enough to walk.
Her phone buzzed, and the display on the dashboard read "Robert Hudson — CEO of Hudson Holdings." Releasing a different kind of sigh, she steeled herself for the conversation. "Hi, Dad."
"Reese. Are you okay?" Her father's booming voice filled the car, and Bagel produced a whine followed by exuberant tail-wagging.
"Hello, Bagel." Her father's greeting to the dog held more affection than his greeting to her.
She waited for the scolding to begin.
"What's going on? I heard you left the office early today?"
Of course he did.
She was sure he'd been flooded with reports of her dramatic exit by butt-kissing employees who wanted to get in good with the boss by keeping tabs on his daughter. "Yes, I did."
Short and to the point. Just the kind of answers her dad, and her boss, liked.
"I also heard you and Brock are having a little trouble?"
"Really? A little trouble, Dad? A little trouble is running out of paper towels in the ladies' room. Brock and I are done. We've been dating almost a year, and he still can't spell my name right. He thinks it makes more sense to spell it with a C."
And if it made sense to Brock, then it must be so. He was a man used to getting his own way, controlling everything in his environment. Just like the man she spoke with on the phone.
No wonder they got along so well. Brock was a mini-me of her father.
"Well, I'm sure you two will work it out. Brock seems like too good a catch to throw away over a simple spelling error. You know you're closing in on thirty, and your options may start to diminish before long."
Wow. Her dad always knew what to say to comfort her.
"In the meantime, we've still got a business to run, Reese. I thought you had an appointment with the Donaldsons today."
"I rescheduled. They were fine with it." The older couple were her favorite customers and one of the few things she liked about her job as a financial advisor. She loathed crunching numbers and talking interest rates but she liked helping people. People like the Donaldsons.
"Where are you?"
"I'm going for a drive."
"You're headed up to that damn waterfall, aren't you?"
"Yes, Dad. It makes me happy, and I need a dose of happiness right now."
She heard him sigh and imagined him running his hand through his still dark hair. "Your mother loved it there, too."
The tone of his voice softened her. Just like it always did when he spoke of her mother. She knew losing his wife at such a young age had changed him and made him overprotective of his only child.
Which is why she forgave him. Again. And again.
"Gotta go, Dad. I'll call you later." She disconnected the call as she turned into the overlook.
Scanning the empty parking lot, she pulled into a space near an old picnic table. A dilapidated outhouse sat nearby, the path to the falls overlook on its right.
Rolling down the windows for the dog, she caught the faint sound of rushing water and a feeling of peace washed over her. It lasted about three seconds — replaced with frustration as she opened the door and snagged her hose getting out.
Stupid panty hose. Nobody even wore them anymore.
Nobody except old ladies and apparently Brock's girlfriend. One more example of the ridiculous things she put herself through to please him.
She reached her fingers into the snag and ripped a giant hole in the silky material.
Ha — take that, you panty-hose-loving control freak.
Grabbing the file box, she carried it to the picnic table, heels sinking into the gravel parking lot as she walked. The warm summer air eased her soul, and she unbuttoned her suit jacket and took a deep breath before facing the carton of memories.
What a pathetic collection of keepsakes. The relics of their relationship didn't even fill the box: a few pictures, a book, an expensive desk set, and a bottle of scotch.
Who gives a woman a bottle of scotch as a gift?
She dug through the assorted papers and held up an invitation to the Spring Ball, one they'd attended a few weeks ago.
The one where Brock had coolly informed the waiter that she would pass on dessert then informed her that he'd noticed her dress was a little snug in the hips and suggested she up her cardio time at the gym.
She looked around for a trash can, ready to dispose of not just the man, but every memory she had of him. When she'd first met him, he'd won her over with his good looks and charm. They seemed a perfect fit.
Goes to show you can't judge a book by its cover. His gorgeous cover hid the fact that his book was full of conceit and smug vanity and titled 101 Ways to Be an Asshole.
Reese vowed that her days of dating country club jackasses were over. The next man she went out with would be the opposite of Brock.
He wouldn't care about what kind of car he drove and wouldn't have to match his sock color to his tie. A man who wouldn't worry about dog hair on his suit pants.
Hell, he was out if he even wore a suit.
She wanted a guy who wore jeans and knew how to relax. Who could enjoy a slice of pizza without figuring out the nutritional value and calculating the number of squats he would need to do to burn off that bite's calories.
So basically someone she could like. And her dad would hate.
She tore the invitation in half.
It wasn't enough.
She needed to purge herself of this man's energy. She spied a lighter lying in the box, part of the desk set Brock had given her for her birthday this year. The lavish and expensive desk set was probably the nicest one his secretary could find.
Who needed jewelry or flowers when she could have a gold-plated letter opener with a matching notepad?
She picked up the lighter and flicked the handle, the gold flame licking the corner of the invitation, until the heavy paper finally caught fire.
The flame quickly flared and burned the tips of her fingers.
"Holy shit — ouch!"
Dropping the note, she pulled the scorched tips to her mouth. The box sat on the edge of the table, and her arm bumped the corner and knocked it to the ground.
The sound of glass shattering told her the bottle of scotch had broken in the fall.
* * *
Ranger Wade Baker took the familiar turns of the mountain road with ease. His phone was tucked between his ear and his shoulder as he listened to his grandmother's request.
"I just need one thing from the store, honey," Miss Abigail was saying, "I went grocery shopping yesterday but forgot to get a pair of panty hose, and I need them for the church supper tonight."
He rolled his eyes. "All right Gram, I guess I can buy you a pair of panty hose. Can you give me one other thing we need so it's not my only purchase?"
"Oh sure, why don't you grab me a bottle of clear nail polish, in case I get a run."
He laughed. "Yeah, panty hose and nail polish. That'll make my holdings in man-stock go right up."
"All right, I don't want anyone revoking your man-card. We can always use another loaf of bread. Is that a more macho purchase? Just make sure the panty hose are suntan-colored and size queen in a tall."
"Nice. You know, if I walk into the grocery asking for tall-sized pantyhose, the clerk is going to think I've started dressing in drag."
Wade considered his petite five-foot-nothing grandmother. "Besides that Gram, why in the world would you need queen-size or tall anything?"
"The queen-size ones are so much easier to put on, and I can pull up the talls so the crotch doesn't stop at my knees. The ones they make for my size are so small and tight that they take a forklift and a bottle of lube to squeeze into." She giggled at her own joke.
Wade chuckled at the sound of his grandmother's laughter. She'd raised him for most of his life, and he was used to her somewhat off-color humor. "Gram, I'll get the panty hose, just please don't ever say 'lube' to me again. In any capacity."
She giggled harder, let out a tiny snort, and he was afraid she was going to choke. "I'm driving up to the falls to eat my lunch. Text me if you think of anything else you might need."
His grandmother caught her breath. "That should be it. Did you see I packed you a sandwich with that good meatloaf from last night?"
Even though he was a full-grown man, Miss Abigail still considered it her duty to pack his lunch every day. "I'm looking forward to it. You know how I love your meatloaf, Gram."
Her laughter died as she brought up the next topic. "I got the mail today, and there was another bill from the credit card company. Just gets my dander up every time I see those. I'm sorry, honey, but that woman should be in jail. She was a real piece of work. I know you cared about her, but you really dodged a bullet getting away from that one."
He may have dodged the bullet, but just barely. He'd had the gun cocked and loaded, given her the engagement ring and set the date.
He'd spent the last year of his life in a roller coaster of emotions and ended up being swindled by a gorgeous woman who made him feel both as big as life and as poor as a church mouse.
He'd thought he loved her, but Tawnya Rollins had played him like a fine-tuned fiddle.
She'd sucked him in, made him believe she loved him. But as soon as she got the engagement ring on her finger, she'd started to change.
For every word she used to build his confidence, she had another to tear him down. One minute he was the master of the universe, the next an inconvenient pebble in her shoe.
Nothing he did seemed to ever be enough.
He didn't take her out enough, he didn't compliment her enough, and he didn't make enough money to buy her the kinds of gifts she thought she deserved. She took his self-esteem everywhere except in the bedroom, where she lavished on the attention and made him feel like a king.
She had his heart so twisted and his mind so muddled, he didn't know which way was up.
They'd decided on a Christmas wedding, and she loved making all the plans. She was never happier than when she was buying things or reserving stuff for the big day.
She'd convinced him to open a joint credit card "just for wedding stuff" and then another at a department store where she "just had to get a few things for the honeymoon."
Unfortunately he hadn't paid as much attention as he should have, until he came home early one day and picked up the mail before she did.
Amongst the normal junk and advertising flyers, he found statements for the credit cards and realized they'd both been maxed out. He'd scanned the statements and couldn't believe the sheer number of purchases Tawnya had made.
He was stunned at the thousands of dollars tallied up for designer clothes, shoes, expensive purses and jewelry. Who knew you could spend that much on cosmetics and underwear?
He'd broken it off that night, and she'd left him with a colossal pile of debt and the parting words that if only he had a real job that made decent money, he would have been able to provide for her, and this never would have happened.
Nursing a wounded heart and a damaged ego, he researched his options and realized there was nothing he could do. The cards were in his name as well, so he was equally responsible for the debt.
His life was now a constant battle fighting the credit bureaus and department stores, and trying to salvage his pride and his credit by keeping up on the monthly payments and slowly paying off the debt. Because that's what Baker men did, they took care of their obligations, whether they'd created them or not.
Thoughts of interest rates and debt consolidation filled his head as he pulled into the parking lot of the falls and spied the Lexus.
On a normal day, he would have been happy to share his lunch break with an attractive curvy blonde, but today all he noticed were her nice clothes and expensive haircut, and he saw red.
It took him a minute to realize she was burning something. "I gotta go, Gram, I've got a situation." He hung up the phone and gawked at the woman.
What the hell did she think she was doing? Fires weren't allowed here. There was a fire ban in place.
* * *
The sound of an engine startled Reese, and she looked up as a green Park Service truck pulled into the parking lot.
"What the hell are you doing?" the park ranger asked, stepping out of the truck.
Reese registered blue jeans and cowboy boots on a tall, muscular frame. The man's sandy blond hair held the natural highlights she paid dearly to achieve every month at the salon.
He wore a brown uniform shirt and a scowl on his otherwise handsome face.
A whoosh of flames burst at her feet. She jumped back as the fire spread to the tall dry grass in front of the outhouse.
Oh no! What have I done?
Panic welled in her chest as she pulled off her suit jacket and whacked the ground, trying to stamp out the fire.
As if it had a mind of its own, the flames headed straight for the dry timber of the outhouse, searching for more fuel to sate its fiery hunger.
Focused on the fire, she didn't look up, but heard the ranger swear and radio for help. Then he ran up beside her, a fire extinguisher in his hands as she vehemently tried to put out the flames.
"Get back," he yelled.
Her dog barked feverishly in the car. She wasn't sure if it was at the fire or the man wielding the big red canister.
A glance at the car showed the dog scrambling out the open window, his yapping replaced with a painful yelp as he fell to the ground.
"Bagel!" she cried as the injured dog limped toward her.
She ran for the dog, oblivious of the ranger wielding the extinguisher. Intent on getting to Bagel, she ran right in front of him.
"Aahh!" she cried as a shot of white foam hit her in the chest. Shocked, she stumbled, her heel broke, and she fell to the ground. The little dog whined as it limped to her.
"Come here, baby." She pulled it into her arms, cradling its hurt leg while trying to keep it from licking the white foam from her bare arms.
"Are you okay?" the ranger called to her as he continued to fight the flames that now engulfed half of the park's outhouse.
The sound of a siren filled the air, and another Park Service vehicle arrived, equipped with a water tank and hose. Two men jumped from the truck and had the fire extinguished within a few minutes.
One of the men patted the ranger on the back. "You all right, Wade? Lucky for you, we were already coming up the pass when we heard your call."
Wade ignored the fireman and turned to her, his face full of anger. "What the hell were you thinking? You could have set the whole forest on fire. This is a state park, and we're under a fire ban."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to." She awkwardly tried to stand, wobbling on one foot with the hurt dog in her arms, her broken shoe lost somewhere in the chaos of the fire.
A low chuckle sounded from one of the firefighting rangers as he glanced at her chest.
She looked down to see the liquid from the extinguisher had turned her ivory camisole see-through. The white lace bra she wore was no help in concealing her assets, and her headlights took advantage of that moment to shine.
That's just great.
She lifted the dog higher as Wade stripped off his shirt and held it out to her. Distracted by his broad shoulders and seriously muscled chest, she clumsily handed him the dog and took the shirt. Tearing her eyes from his slim tapered waist and tanned bare skin, she pulled the warm shirt around her. It smelled like aftershave and campfire smoke. "Thanks. Look, I really am sorry. I'm happy to pay for the damages."
She felt horrible for starting the fire. Her stomach ached at the thought of what could have happened.
Excerpted from Romancing the Ranger by Jennie Marts, Allison Collins. Copyright © 2016 Jennie Marts. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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