For billionaire horse breeder Drew Farrell, the day starts with the usual argument with ornery neighbor Beth Andrews. But within minutes he and the irritating beauty are huddled together in a storm cellar praying for their lives. They call a truce…and seal it with an unexpected kiss.
They emerge to a scene of utter devastation. Their passion to rebuild is only rivaled by the very personal passion they've just discovered…until Beth's past catches up with her and a very different type of storm erupts…
Be sure to read other scandalous stories from the Texas Cattleman's Club: After the Storm series, only from Harlequin® Desire!
SHELTERED BY THE MILLIONAIRE by USA TODAY bestseller Catherine Mann
PREGNANT BY THE TEXAN by USA TODAY bestseller Sara Orwig
BECAUSE OF THE BABY… by Cat Schield
HIS LOST AND FOUND FAMILY by Sarah M. Anderson
MORE THAN A CONVENIENT BRIDE by USA TODAY bestseller Michelle Celmer
FOR HIS BROTHER'S WIFE by USA TODAY bestseller Kathie DeNosky
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Drew Farrell glanced at the sky. Storm clouds roiled and twisted, setting his mood on edge. He shoved the truck's gearshift into park, jammed his Stetson on his head and strode across the road. Dust billowed with each angry step, coating his hand-tooled cowboy boots.
Deliberately, he crossed the line that separated his property from his neighbor's. Beth Andrews. His beautiful, long-legged, sexy-as-hell neighbor. After two years of butting heads with her at regular intervals, you'd think he would be immune to her considerable physical appeal.
But no. Her naturally curly blond hair and green eyes hit his libido at a weak spot. Sadly, there was no twelve-step program for men wanting women who drove them nuts.
He approached Beth's organic produce stand and ground his teeth when he saw she had multiple customers waiting. Cooling his heels, jaw clenched, he courted patience. But he wanted to lambast her with righteous indignation while his temper was hot.
Like every day recently, at least a dozen cars had parked haphazardly up and down the private lane, causing congestion and spooking Drew's prize-winning thoroughbreds in the adjoining pasture. This morning, his men had been forced to move seven horses to a grassy field on the opposite side of his property, for no other reason than because Beth had started selling pumpkins.
Pumpkins, for God's sake. The traffic she had created during the summerselling squash and tomatoes and a dozen other vegetableshad increased tenfold since she'd put up signs all over Royal advertising fall harvest decorations. At least during the summer months the crowd was spread out. But come October first, it was as if everyone within a fifty-mile radius of Drew's ranch had decided they had to buy one of Beth's fat, healthy pumpkins for their porches.
As Drew waited impatiently, several of the patrons loaded up their purchases and drove away. Finally, only one woman remaineda young blonde. Very pregnant. From what Drew could tell, she had picked out the largest pumpkin she could find. Beth and the customer squatted to lift the pumpkin from its perch on a bale of hay. The big, orange orb slipped out of their hands, nearly rolling onto their feet.
Oh, good grief. Snapping out of his funk, Drew strode forward, determined to stop them before somebody got hurt. The thing must weigh forty pounds.
"Let me do that," he said, elbowing them out of the way. "One of you has a baby to consider and you, Ms. Andrews, ought to know better." The spark of surprise and irritation in Beth's eyes made him want to grin despite his surly mood. The pregnant woman's car sat only a few feet away in the handicapped parking spot. For Halloween, Beth had designated the space beside the shed with a sign and a skeleton holding a crutch. She was creativehe'd give her that.
Hefting the pumpkin with ease, he set it gently in the trunk. Fortunately, the base of the thing was pretty flat.
Given its weight, there was little chance it would roll over unless the driver made a reckless turn.
The customer smiled at him. "Thanks for your help." Unlike Beth's sunshiny curls, this woman's straight blond hair was so fair it was almost white. Her skin was pale as well. Despite her advanced pregnancy, she was thin, almost frail.
He dusted his hands on his pants. "No problem. Get someone to help you lift that thing when you get home."
"I will." She paused, one handing resting protectively on her rounded abdomen. "I always loved Halloween as a kid. I thought it would be fun this year to carve a jack-o'-lantern for my daughter and put pictures of it in her baby book."
Beth glanced at the woman's belly. "Are you due that soon?"
"No. I have another eight or nine weeks to go. But she's already a person to me. I talk to her all the time. I guess that sounds crazy."
"Not at all."
Beth's smile struck Drew as wistful. Maybe if her biological clock ticked loud enough, she'd meet some guy and move away. Then Drew could buy the land she had stolen from him. Oddly, that notion was not as appealing as it should have been.
Beth spoke up again. "Who's your master carver? The baby's dad?"
A flash of anguish darkened the woman's eyes, but it was gone so quickly Drew thought he might have imagined it. "I'm going to do it. I'm trained in graphic design, so this is right up my alley. I should go," she said, as if suddenly realizing that the weather was going downhill fast. "Don't want to get caught in the rain."
Drew stood shoulder to shoulder with Beth as they watched the car disappear into the distance. "Did she look familiar to you?" he asked, frowning.
"I don't know. Just an odd feeling that I might have seen her before."
At that moment, a strong gust of wind snatched the plastic banner and ripped it off the top of Beth's produce stand. The bright green lettering spelled out GREEN ACRES. Drew seldom had time to watch TV, but even he got the reference to the old sitcom where the wealthy Manhattan couple moved to the country and bought a farm. It was easy to imagine Beth wearing an evening gown and heels. She was tall for a woman, at least five seven. But Drew had half a dozen inches or more on her.
He helped her capture the surprisingly heavy sign and roll it up. "You might as well put it away for now," he said. "The wind is not going to die down anytime soon."
When they had stashed the sign beneath a plywood counter, Beth shook her head and stared at him. "I'd be happy to sell you a pumpkin, Drew, but somehow, I don't think that's why you're here."
The derision in her voice made it sound as if he were the most boring guy on the planet. "I decorate the ranch for fall," he said, wincing inwardly when he heard the defensive note in his voice.
"Correction. You have people who do that for you. It's not the same thing at all, Drew."
He'd grown accustomed to her barbs. In fact, if he were honest, he occasionally enjoyed their heated spats. Beth gave as good as she got. He liked that in a woman. Now, when he didn't shoot back immediately with a retort, she watched him with a wary gaze, her arms wrapped around her waist in a cautious posture.
The tint of her green eyes was nothing as simple as grass or emerald. They were an unusual mix of shades, shot through with tinges of amber and gold. The color reminded him of a prize marble he'd had as a kid. He still kept the little ball of glass as a good luck charm in his dresser. Perhaps that was why he had so much trouble getting Beth out of his head. Every day when he reached in the drawer to grab a pair of socks, he saw that beautiful marble.
"Earth to Drew. If you're not buying anything, please leave."
Every time she pursed her lips in that disapproving schoolmarm fashion, he wanted to kiss her. Even when he was mad as hell. Today was no different. But today he was determined to get a few things ironed out.
Glaring at her with his best intimidating frown, he spoke firmly. "You have to relocate your produce stand. The traffic jams spook my horses, block the road and besides ." He pulled up short, about to voice something best left unsaid.
Beth's shoulder-length hair danced in the breeze, the curls swirling and tangling. It gave her a just-out-of-bed look that was not helping him in his determination to be businesslike and resolute.
"Besides what?" she asked sharply. "Spit it out."
He hesitated. But what the hell He and Beth shared the road. She might as well know where he was coming from. "My clientele is highend. When they come to Wil-lowbrook Farms to drop several million dollars on a thoroughbred that might have a shot at the Triple Crown, your little set-up here gives the wrong impression. It's like having a lemonade stand on the steps of a major banking institution. Your business is frivolous, mine is not."
Beth absorbed his words with a pang of regret. Virtually everybody in town liked Drew Farrell and thought of him as a decent down-to-earth guy. He was an important member of the Texas Cattleman's Club. Membership in the TCCan elite enclave where the wealthy ranchers of Royal met to broker deals, kick back, relax and count their millionswas a privilege and a lifelong commitment. Not that Beth really knew what went on behind those hallowed doors, but she could imagine. Which meant that Beth, who saw Drew as arrogant and self-important, was out of step with the rest of the county. For whatever reason, she and Drew were the proverbial oil and water.
But he'd just exposed the root of the matter. His lineage was impeccable. He was blue-blooded old money, while she came from near-poverty, part of a family line that was crooked on its best days.
"If the traffic is such a big deal to you, put a road in somewhere else."
"There is nowhere else," he said, his jaw carved in stone. "My plan two years ago was to buy this land we're standing on and put a beautiful white fence along both sides of the road. A Kentucky horse farm look, minus the bluegrass. But you stole it out from under me."
"I didn't steal anything," she said patiently, hiding her glee that for once in her life she had staged a coup. "You lowballed the guy because you thought nobody else wanted it. I merely had the good sense to make a reasonable offer. He accepted. End of story. I might point out that you're trespassing."
The wind had really kicked up now. Even so, the heat was oppressive. The sky changed colors in rapid succession one moment angry gray, the next a sickly green.
Beth glanced toward Drew's property, feeling her skin tighten with unease. "Have you listened to a weather forecast?" she asked. It wasn't a deliberate attempt to change the subject. She was concerned. Normally, she would keep the shed open until four-thirty at least, but today she wanted to batten down the hatches and be tucked up in her cozy two-bedroom bungalow before the first raindrop fell.
In the time since she purchased the farm, she had updated the inside of the cute little house and made it her own. If Drew had bought the property, he probably would have bulldozed the place. The farmhouse was old, but Beth loved it. Not only was it a wonderful home, it was concrete proof that she had made something of her life.
She had a knack for growing things. The Texas soil was rich and fertile. She wasn't going to let a self-important billionaire push her around. Drew had been born into money, but his horse breeding enterprise had added to the coffers substantially.
Now Drew's gaze scanned the sky as well. "The radio said we have a tornado watch, but I doubt it will be too bad. We're a little bit out of the usual path for storms like that. Haven't had one in years. Even when we do, the ones that do the damage tend to happen in the spring, not the fall. I don't think you have anything to worry about."
"I hope not."
"So back to my original point," he said. "Your little enterprise here is adversely affecting my business. If we can't come to some kind of amicable solution, I'll have to involve the county planning board."
"Are you actually threatening me?" She looked at him askance.
His wording made her heart race. In some perverse way, she got a charge out of their frequent heated arguments. Despite his suborn refusal to acknowledge her right to operate her produce stand as she saw fit, she was secretly attracted to him, much against her better judgment.
Although most days she would be more than happy to wring Drew Farrell's wealthy, entitled neck, she couldn't discount the fact that he was 100 percent grade A prime beef. That probably wasn't a politically correct description, but seriously, the man was incredibly handsome. He wore his dark brown hair a little on the shaggy side. The untamed look suited him, though. And his bright blue eyes had probably been getting females into trouble since he graduated from kindergarten.
She knew he had been engaged once in his mid-twenties. Something happened to break it off, so Drew had been a free agent for the last six or seven years. He was a mover and shaker in Royal, Texas. In short, everything Beth was not.
She didn't have a chip on her shoulder about her upbringing. More like a large splinter, really. But it didn't take a genius to see that she and Drew were not at all suited. Still, it was difficult to ignore his physical appeal.
His eyes narrowed. "It's not a threat, Beth. But I'll do whatever I have to in order to protect my investments. It's worth it to me to restore peace and quiet to this road, to my life for that matter."
"So mature and staid," she mocked.
"I'm only four years older than you," he snapped.
His knowledge surprised her. "Be reasonable, Drew. I have as much right to be here as you do. True, I may be David to your Goliath. But if you remember your Sunday school lessons, that didn't end well for the giant."
"Now who's threatening whom?"
For the first time, a nuance of humor lightened his expression. But it was gone so quickly it was possible she imagined it. He was definitely spoiling for a fight. If it weren't for her splitting headache caused by the change in weather, she would be more inclined to oblige him.
She really did understand his frustration. As a horse breeder, Drew's reputation was world-renowned. He sold beautiful, competitive animals to movie stars, sheikhs, and many other eccentric wealthy patrons. Her modest organic farming operation must drive him berserk.
But why should she have to suffer? Her small house and a few acres of land were all she had in the world. She'd worked hard to get them.
"Plant some trees," she said. "Fast-growing ones. You really should quit harassing me. I might have to get a restraining order or something."
She was kidding, of course. But her humor fell flat. Drew was not amused. "I don't think you understand how serious I am about this. There's a road on the far side of your place. Why can't customers come to the produce stand that way?"
Hands on hips, she glared at him. "It's a cattle path, not a road. It would take thousands of dollars to improve it, and in case you haven't noticed, I'm not the one with the silver spoon in my mouth."
His gaze was stormy. "Why did you want this particular piece of land anyway?"
She shrugged, unable to fully explain the emotions that had overtaken her when she realized she could finally afford a place of her own. "It was the right size and the right price. And I fell in love with it."
"You can't run a serious business based on feelings."
"Wanna bet?" His patronizing attitude began to get on her nerves. "Why don't you tell your elite clients that I'm a sharecropper, and you're doing your good deed for the year?"
"That's not funny."