Megan Calhoun doesn't stick with anything long. She's the daughter of a billionaire-why pretend to be somebody else?
Until she finds out her father's will says she has to. She has to last a year in the oil patch, in the dust and heat of West Texas, working for her daddy's company. Otherwise she's cut off without a cent-and no way to earn one.
The only upside is her new pal Rowdy Baker, ex-football star, Calhoun engineer, and grade-A stud. If she has to live in a trailer, his doesn't sound so bad.
Rowdy knows the roughnecks running the rigs won't take kindly to a smartass blonde rookie whose last name matches their paychecks. He can't control his attraction to her. And with everyone from the foremen to the stockholders spitting mad at the Calhouns, he expects trouble ahead.
But Megan has never been scared in her life. And with Rowdy to help her plot, she has the chance of a lifetime: to find her calling, to fix her company, and, if she doesn't screw it up-to capture a heart . . .
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.58(d)|
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By Gerry Bartlett
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Gerry Bartlett
All rights reserved.
Megan Calhoun paid the driver, stepped out of the car, and rolled her suitcase over the gravel parking lot. Her hand slipped on the handle when she hit a pothole. Sweaty palms. Then her stomach rumbled. No, she refused to be nervous. She put on her "I don't give a damn" face, and stared down a man slouched next to a pickup truck who made a comment about her butt in snug jeans. She kept going toward the building that housed the offices of CWC Industries.
This was all her daddy's fault. Conrad Calhoun's will spelled out the terms: she had to work in the oil fields for a year if she wanted her inheritance. It had been her own bright idea to pick the man who'd be stuck with her for the next twelve months. She'd already scanned the parking lot filled with dusty pickup trucks. No sign of him. If he was as thrilled as she was about what was coming, he was probably hiding out.
Who could blame him? Except for one summer when she'd humored her father and gone along for the ride, she had no clue what went on in the oil fields. All she really knew was that those dirty, noisy places had always paid for her cushy lifestyle.
Megan stopped in front of the office. It wasn't much, just a low-slung building that had seen better days. Not like the high-rise where the Calhoun Petroleum Headquarters reigned supreme. This subsidiary of Calhoun obviously didn't rate funding for frills. She wrestled her suitcase up the steps, then pushed open the glass door and cold air hit her face. It was hot outside, typical for Texas in early September. At least air-conditioning was in the budget here.
The man at the counter had those wide shoulders she recognized. Former football player. "Rowdy, I was looking for you outside."
Rowdy Baker turned and looked her over. "I'm signing us in. Why the hell did you do it, Megan? Request me to be your partner for your playtime in the field?" He threw the clipboard he held down on the worn Formica counter. "I'm used to working alone."
"I'm not used to working at all." Megan let go of her suitcase. Of course it flopped over, landing on her foot. "Damn it." She left it there and looked around, making sure no one was close enough to overhear them. A couple of clerks were nearby, but one was on the phone and the other was in an office behind a glass wall.
"I wanted someone I knew. My sister says you're a decent guy. Was she wrong?" She grabbed the clipboard and checked their names.
"Am I supposed to be flattered?" Rowdy looked like he wanted to pound the counter. "'Decent'. Wow, I'm overwhelmed. Thank Cassidy for me. Now, go outside and pick someone else. Anyone else."
"No." Megan breathed a sigh of relief when she saw her fake name on the list. "Listen, we're stuck with each other. You need to adjust your attitude. She's probably going to wind up running Calhoun Petroleum, you know. Cassidy is showing everyone at Headquarters that she's got Daddy's business sense."
"Whoop-de-do. So I could get a promotion out of this?" Rowdy got close to Megan and she almost backed off.
He was big and, at the moment, intimidating. Maybe this had been a mistake. Cass had broken it off with him. Maybe he was mad and would make Megan's life a living hell. But then the devil you know ...
"At the end of the year, all four of the Calhoun kids could be in a position to help you out. If we get good evaluations and get our inheritances." Megan smiled. Rowdy clearly wasn't impressed.
"I'm sure Cass will do well and end up running things. Wouldn't surprise me at all." He finally backed off. "She called me personally to break the bad news that I'd be dragging you along with me. Begged me to take you on, because you can imagine how I feel about dealing with another Calhoun woman about now." He glanced around the room this time. No one seemed to be listening to them.
"I'm sorry." Megan really was. Rowdy had been with Cass until recently. He was probably still aching over their breakup.
"Sure you are, Ms. Cochran. An assumed name. Really? What's the matter, afraid the roughnecks wouldn't like Daddy's little girl coming by to check on them?" He picked up the clipboard and a pen from the counter.
"It could cause problems. I'm not naïve, Rowdy." Megan ignored his sarcasm. "I've got to succeed this year. A lot's on the line. You get that? You going to help me swim? Or sink me like the Titanic?"
"I don't know." He looked her over, his dark eyes skimming down her body until she wanted to tug at her T-shirt. "You going to work this year or float through it and then expect me to lie so you can get your big payday at the end?"
Megan wondered if a smart woman would leave right now and pick a stranger, someone more intimidated by the Calhoun name — or at least respectful. But Rowdy was still standing there, looking like he expected her to cut and run.
She picked up her suitcase off her foot and raised her chin. "I'll work if you'll give me a chance. Will you? Or am I going to get the fallout because I'm Cassidy's sister and you're mad at her?" Megan saw she'd struck a nerve when he signed the clipboard and threw it down again. Good. Let him prove he wasn't still smarting from Cassidy's rejection. Too bad Megan couldn't help noticing that her sister did have great taste. She'd always been a sucker for big men with dark eyes and washboard abs.
"Cass and I are history. The question now is your attitude. I heard you never stick with anything more than a week or two." Rowdy strode toward the door, then turned to look at her.
"Someone's been talking too much. My sister claimed you were a nice guy. Guess she overstated that." Megan wanted to storm out of there and slam the door in his face. But what choice did she have with a three-hundred-million-dollar inheritance on the line? One year. She had to stick with this and Rowdy for three hundred and sixty-five days.
"I'm nice unless I'm backed into a corner." He glanced at the office staff, which had suddenly taken an interest. "Let's get out of here."
Megan tugged her suitcase outside, grunting at the heft of it as she worked it down the wooden steps. "Come on, Rowdy. See reason. You're the only engineer working for Calhoun that I know. Daddy thought I had what it takes to learn the technical side of the business, and I'm determined to prove I can. Why wouldn't I pick you to work with over some stranger?" And that was the truth. She exclaimed when her damn suitcase fell over again into the dirt. "Are we good to go?"
"I don't know." He frowned at her designer suitcase. "What's in there? More of the stuff like you're wearing now?"
"Why?" Megan tugged at her T-shirt. "I packed light. One suitcase. My sister Shannon would have brought six." When he just grunted and started walking toward a row of pickup trucks, she got the suitcase up again and rolled it awkwardly over the gravel parking lot.
He stopped next to a generic four-door truck and leaned against the tailgate.
"Hey, if there's a dress code, you could have let me know. What the hell's wrong with what I'm wearing? I'm pretty sure Cass sent you an e-mail that included my phone number."
Rowdy looked her over with eyes that were almost black and cold as hell. When he stopped his scrutiny at her shoes, Megan wanted to kick him. No, she'd be damned if she'd let him get to her like that.
"Tennis shoes? For the oil fields? Those will last maybe one day. You need work boots. Heavy-duty. And what's in the suitcase? More jeans and T-shirts?" He picked up the case, making it look easy, and tossed it in the back of the truck.
"Of course. They're comfortable and can wash and wear. Similar to what you're wearing, but from a designer you've probably never heard of." Great. Now she sounded like a snob. "I mean, you have on jeans and a T-shirt right now yourself." And that T-shirt looked painted on. Not that she was going to mention that. The guy must work out hours every day to keep such a great body.
"I don't have breasts that will make the roughnecks fall off the rigs trying to get a look." He pulled car keys out of his pocket and walked around to the driver's side door. "Is there a coat in there? We'll be going to West Texas, where it gets damn cold at night."
"No, I thought I could buy something later." Megan realized he wasn't going to open the passenger door for her and rushed around to get in the truck. He'd already started the engine and drove out of the lot with gravel flying out from behind them before she even had a chance to get her seat belt buckled.
"Where we're going you won't have a chance to buy anything. There's nothing out there. It's a wasteland except for oil wells, bars, a few motels, and, if we're lucky, a café where we won't get ptomaine." Rowdy turned onto the highway. "I'm taking you to get work boots. I hope you have money. They're not cheap. But if you did happen to find a store that sold such things out where we're going, they'd cost triple what you'd pay here."
"Fine. Bring it on." Megan frowned. She didn't have much money. Her old credit cards had been cut off when Daddy died. Her mother had given her a gift card. But that had been before they'd found out Missy had been terrorizing Cassidy because she didn't like the fact that Daddy had included her half sister in the will. Meg felt funny using the card, but it seemed like she had no choice. "When do we get paid?"
Rowdy laughed and slapped the steering wheel. "Have you done a lick of work yet? And you seriously want to know when you get paid?" He kept chuckling as he drove, reaching for the radio controls.
"Yes, it's important." Megan looked around the interior of the truck. It wasn't fancy. Simple AM/FM radio, no satellite. Vinyl seats, but it was a four-door truck. The thing wasn't even very clean, and this was the start of their trip. A Coke can rolled around on the floorboard, and she stomped it with her foot.
"We're paid every two weeks, on Fridays. I have my check sent straight to the bank, because the check-cashing places the guys on the rigs use keep a hefty cut. I use a debit card when I need cash on the road. I have a company credit card for our gas, propane, and groceries." Rowdy looked over at her. "It's too late for you to arrange direct deposit. You'd have to give your real name and information back at the office for it anyway, and that would blow your cover. Now that we're on the road, they'll mail the check to your home address." He grinned. "That'll be a problem, won't it? How are you going to get cash, Megan? For personal items."
Megan glared at him. Could he quit enjoying this so much? "I don't suppose you'd let me slip tampons and shampoo into the grocery cart on the company dime." She loved the way his cheeks flushed. Got him. "Then I guess I'll have to ask my sister for help." She was getting tired of his attitude already, and they had a long way to go. "Oh, did you hear? Cassidy and Mason are engaged." Well, that certainly wiped the smile off Rowdy's face.
"You're shittin' me." He wheeled into a parking lot and cut the engine. "They've known each other less than a month."
"Sometimes that's all it takes." Megan saw they were at a shoe store. "Do I have to get steel-toed boots?"
"Yeah. Go on in. I'll wait here." He stared at his hands on the wheel.
Megan realized he was truly devastated. He and Cassidy had been high school sweethearts and had been together off and on for years. Cass had broken it off for good as soon as she'd met Mason MacKenzie, a wealthy oilman and family friend of the Calhouns. Rowdy probably still loved Cassidy. She touched his arm.
"I'm sorry, Rowdy. It was mean of me to just blurt it out like that. Sometimes —" She sighed. "Sometimes things happen. It's not your fault. Cass and Mason fell hard for each other."
"Yeah, I know. And it all happened as soon as money fell into Cassidy's lap, didn't it?" Rowdy's fingers tightened on the steering wheel. "Go on in, Megan. You're another spoiled rich girl, and I really don't feel like dealing with you right now." He looked at her, his eyes dull. "You hear me?"
"Yeah, I'm out of here." Megan opened the truck door and jumped out. She wanted to argue with him about the money. She knew it hadn't had a thing to do with how Cass felt about Mason. Love at first sight. Like something out of a romance novel. Rowdy would hoot at the notion. Most men would.
Well, he was hurt and needed space. She got it. So she took a good long while to pick out some of the ugliest boots she'd ever owned. There wasn't even a color choice. It was either light tan or dark tan. Jeez. After clomping around the store in them and deciding to buy heavy-duty socks when they immediately started making a blister, she noticed that this working man's place had a small section in the back corner that also catered to women. She hit the shelves to add thermal underwear and a pair of shapeless khaki pants with a matching shirt, and baggy jeans, too. A denim shirt came next. Did she really need a coat? It was a sweltering ninety degrees outside but she forced herself to add a down jacket and gloves to her growing pile. It would make serious inroads on her gift card, but she wasn't going to suffer later because of the weather. A heavy-duty duffel bag finished her purchases and she was good to go.
Rowdy was still where she'd left him when she lugged the duffel out to the truck. He actually got out and heaved it into the back.
"This is more than a pair of work boots." He looked at his watch. "We need to get going."
"I listened to you and bought weather-appropriate gear." Megan gestured at her work shirt. "And I'm covering my tempting tits. What do you think?"
"I'm thinking it's a start." He nodded, then started the engine. "Did anyone tell you about our living arrangements for the next year?"
"What's to tell? I know we're moving from site to site. I figured we'd stay in motels or hotels as we went." Megan threw open the shirt and aimed an air-conditioning vent at herself. It was too hot for the stupid cover-up. Was she seriously going to have to shield herself like a damn nun every time she was around the oil workers?
Rowdy laughed. "Motels? Hotels?" He turned into a large lot crammed with travel trailers. "Look around, Megan. We carry our home with us for the next year. I told you I usually do this alone. I wasn't kidding. It's tight with one person. With two?" He stopped next to a silver and white trailer that couldn't possibly sleep both of them. "Well, let's just say it'll be interesting."
* * *
Rowdy stayed busy getting the paperwork straight and supervising the hitching of their home for the next year. Yes, they'd come back to base every six weeks for a break. But the grueling schedule of six weeks on, two weeks off, was something he'd lived with for the past two years. He blamed it for the deterioration of his relationship with Cassidy. No wonder she'd fallen hard for Mason MacKenzie. The guy had a good line and plenty of money, not to mention time to give her.
He watched Megan stuffing her clothes into the storage areas of the trailer, cursing under her breath at the lack of space. He figured she wouldn't last on the road. The life wore on him, and he was used to it. The long hours, isolation, and rough conditions were just part of it. His job had changed since the oil bust, and now he was charged with figuring out which wells needed to be shut down. Layoffs, termination decisions, and hard feelings were the rule, not the exception. He had to fight the urge to drown his sorrows every night at the bars that were way too common near the sites.
But he'd seen too many of the men with his job wreck their lives because of addiction and affairs with the women who hung around the camps near the rigs. He had always kept a tight rein on his self-control. How would it work with a hot woman in the trailer during those long nights and lonely rides? He couldn't imagine it.
Of course, as far as he knew Megan was a free agent, too. He needed to check into that. Because he sure as hell was. Wait a minute. It would be stupid to get involved with another Calhoun. Megan might enjoy a little sack time with him, but he would just be convenient. A way to ease some tension. Then she'd walk away, back to one of her rich boyfriends. No, he'd do well to remember he wasn't in her league.
"You can't put your things in there. We have to load the groceries. We'll be going places where we'll need to cook for ourselves." Rowdy stepped next to Megan and pulled her pile of T-shirts out of the cabinet above the microwave.
"Cook? You're kidding." She tossed the shirts on the small dinette table. "And where the hell am I supposed to sleep? I only see one bed."
Excerpted from Texas Fire by Gerry Bartlett. Copyright © 2017 Gerry Bartlett. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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