TOO CLOSE TO HOME
Cassidy Beckett has a secret she's kept for six years: the identity of her son's father. She can't hide the truth much longer. The Easy Money Arena's new bull manager, Shane Westcott, also happens to be the boy's handsome uncle. But Cassidy will do anything to protect her young son, even if it means steeling her heart against Shane's nearly irresistible charm.
It doesn't take Shane long to figure out two thingsCassidy's son is his nephew, and his feelings for the boy's beautiful mother go way beyond friendship. As a single dad, Shane knows how important a father is to a child. He also knows the men in Cassidy's life have let her down before. Can Shane convince Cassidy to face the truth without losing her trust or his heart?
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Few people receive a second chance in life. Shane West-cott was one of themthree times overand he had no intention of squandering his good fortune. He was lucky to be alive, lucky to be gaining shared custody of his four-year-old daughter and lucky to have landed the job as bull manager at the Easy Money Rodeo Arena.
"Keep him moving," he called to Kenny, the young wrangler in charge of herding Wasabi from the large, open main pen into one of the smaller adjoining holding pens. It was imperative they isolate the bull from the others. "Don't let him dawdle."
The solid black Brahma-longhorn cross had other ideas and stepped slowly, almost daintily, through the gate. His actions were so far removed from his normal fiery temper, Shane hardly recognized the bull.
"He don't want to move," Kenny complained when Wasabi stopped completely.
"Tickle him on the hocks."
Kenny gawked at Shane as if he'd suggested hopping onto the bull's back and taking him for a leisurely spin. "You can't pay me enough to get in there with that monster."
The monster in question bellowed pitifully, sounding more like a calf missing his mama than an eighteen-hundredpound bucking machine capable of launching world champions twelve feet into the air with a mere toss of his head.
"Use the rake over there," Shane instructed.
Kenny turned and, spotting the rake leaning against the back of a chute, gave a comical double take. "Well, lookie there."
Shane resisted rolling his eyes. With help like this, it was no wonder the rodeo arena needed someone competent in charge.
Grabbing hold of the rake, Kenny bent and poked the handle through an opening in the fence then tapped Wa-sabi on his back hocks. The bull promptly grunted with annoyance and banged his huge head into the gate hard enough to rattle the hinges.
"Again," Shane said, and the teenager complied, grimacing as he did.
Bred for bucking, twisting and spinning, Wasabi had the ability to earn money hand over fist for his new owner, but only if his injury was correctly identified, diagnosed and treated. This was Shane's chance to prove his new boss had made the right decision in hiring him.
Not a lot of pressure for his first day on the job.
"He's favoring his left front foot." Mercer Beckett, co-owner of the arena, stood beside Shane at the fence. Resting his boot on the bottom rung, he chewed a large wad of guma habit left over from quitting smoking years ago.
"You're wrong," Shane said. "He's favoring his shoulder."
Mercer squinted skeptically. "You don't say?"
"Watch how he hesitates after taking a step, not before."
Shane climbed the fence for a better view. He knew Wasabi personally. In fact, he'd taken his last competitive ride on the bull. If not for split-second timing and fate stepping in, Shane might have been carried away from that harrowing fall on a stretcher instead of walking away under his own steam. He'd decided then and there to retire a champion and find a new profession. Six months had passed since, and it turned out to be the best decision he could have made.
"Seems Doc Worthington agrees with you," Mercer said. He'd mentioned the arena's regular veterinarian before, on their way over to the bull pen.
Shane frowned. "If he's already figured out what's wrong with Wasabi, why'd you ask me?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
To see if Shane was worth his salt as a bull manager. Understandable. He'd been at it a mere five months. "What's his treatment course?"
"Anti-inflammatory injections. Rest." Mercer shrugged.
"Which you don't have."
"Our next rodeo is three weeks away. Wasabi's our main draw. Going to be a lot of disappointed cowboys if I have to pull him from the lineup."
Not a promising beginning for a rodeo arena with a relatively new bucking bull program.
"Three weeks is cutting it a little close," Shane said. "Injuries don't heal overnight."
"Joe Blackwood mentioned you worked wonders at the Payson Rodeo Arena, and their bull had a ruptured disc."
The longtime rodeo promoter and friend of the Beck-etts had recommended Shane for this job. Shane didn't want to let either man down.
"Have you heard of Guillermo Herrara?" Shane stepped off the fence and onto the ground.
"Vaguely. He's a rodeo vet out of Dallas."
"Not just a rodeo vet. He's a specialist in bovine sports medicine."
"There's such a thing?"
"There is. And he's had a lot of success in treating chronic joint injuries with massage therapy."
Mercer laughed. "You have got to be kidding."
Shane shrugged. "How important is it to you Wasabi is sound and ready to go in three weeks?"
"You're planning on massaging that bull's shoulder?"
"With a little help from your veterinarian."
Mercer's laugh simmered to a low chuckle. "This I have to see."
They spent another thirty minutes with Wasabi. Unlike Kenny, Shane had no qualms about crawling into the pen. True, the bull was in pain, but Shane didn't consider the threat to be too great. Mercer's only response had been to raise his brows and chew his gum faster.
"Okay," the arena owner hollered when they were done. "You can put him back now."
Kenny didn't appear any happier about returning Wasabi to the main pen than he had been about fetching him.
"Let's head to the office and start on your paperwork." Mercer led the way. "Sunny is a stickler about having all the proper payroll forms filled out."
It was well known among people in the rodeo world that Mercer and Sunny Beckett, divorced for twenty-five years, were in business together. An unusual arrangement, for sure, but a successful one. Sunny oversaw the business side of the arena and Mercer the livestock.
Their three grown children worked alongside them. Ryder, a former ad agency executive, handled the arena's marketing and promotion. Their youngest daughter, Liberty, taught riding and supervised trail rides. Cas-sidy, their oldest daughter and the Beckett family member Shane knew better than the others, was in charge of the bucking jackpots, team penning competitions and roping clinics.
He half hoped to see her in the office. The stab of disappointment he felt when he didn't took him by surprise. He'd always liked Cassidy. In fact, they'd dated briefly in their late teens for about a month.
In those days, both of them were focused on their rodeo careers and the relationship quickly fizzled. Some years later, she and Shane's brother Hoyt began dating. Their relationship had lasted longer and was more serious, though it, too, had ended. Shane remembered being a little jealous and thinking his brother a fool to let her go.
But that had been a long time ago. After Cassidy and Hoyt's breakup, she'd quit barrel racing altogether. Shane crossed paths with her periodically, mostly when he came to the Easy Money for a rodeo. Their chats never lasted long, he assumed because of whatever resentment she still harbored toward his brother.
"Sunny, it's a pleasure to see you again." He flashed the arena's other co-owner his best smile, which she returned along with offering him a firm handshake.
"Welcome, Shane. Come into my office. I have your employment package ready."
Mercer waited in the reception area while Shane accompanied Sunny. He thought about asking after Cassidy, then decided against it.
Once Shane was seated in the visitor's chair, Sunny handed him a slim stack of papers. "There's a lot of reading, I'm afraid. Employee policies and procedures. Withholding tax forms to complete. A noncompete agreement. Take everything home tonight and bring it back in the morning. All I need for now is the I-9 form completed and to see two forms of ID."
Shane fished his driver's license and Social Security card from his wallet.
When they were done, he asked her a few general questions about the arena. Sunny was friendlier than Shane had anticipated. He'd been warned by both Joe Blackwood and Mercer that the matriarch of the Beckett family wasn't in favor of the new bull operation. Shane had more to prove than his ability to manage. He needed to ensure the operation was run safely and profitably.
"About my daughter," he began.
"Mercer mentioned you'd be having her for visits."
"Yeah, alternating weekends."
He didn't add, temporarily. Eventually, Shane was hoping to have Bria for considerably longer visits. He'd need larger, more permanent living quarters than the fifth-wheel trailer that came with this job. Bria's mother had insisted, and he didn't blame her. Rodeo was no lifestyle for a four-year-old girl.
The fall from Wasabi had prompted Shane to leave the only career he'd ever known. Discovering he was a fathersomething Bria's mother had revealed after Shane quitrequired him to settle down and find a new occupation. The Easy Money Rodeo Arena, the heart and soul of Reckless, Arizona, and the small town's most popular Wild West attraction, could be the place where Shane carved out his future.
"Is it against policy for me to take my daughter riding on arena horses?" he asked.
"Of course not." Sunny's expression warmed. "We have plenty of kid-friendly mounts. But you'll be required to sign a waiver. And provide proof of health insurance."
"No problem." He'd remind Judy to bring the card with her when she dropped off Bria next weekend.
Judy was usually very accommodating, and he couldn't be more grateful. It might be guilt motivating her since she had kept Bria a secret from him all those years. Or it could be she was about to get married to a guy with children of his own. Shane didn't care. All that mattered was they were working together for Bria's best interests.
"Speaking of your daughter " Sunny rose from her chair. "I'll let Mercer show you the trailer now."
Shane shook her hand. "Thank you again for the opportunity."
"All set?" Mercer waited by the door leading to the barn, a look of expectation on his weathered and whiskered face.
Expectation, Shane noted, directed at Sunny. Not him. It was obvious Mercer cared deeply for his ex-wife. She, on the other hand, was not as easy to read.
Mercer led Shane behind the main barn to where an older-model trailer was parked in the shade. A green garden hose ran from a spigot to the hookup beside the trailer's door. A heavy-duty orange cord connected the trailer to an electrical outlet. The door stood slightly ajar and the folding metal steps were lowered.
Shane didn't need to go inside to know he'd hung his hat in far worse places than this. In fact, it was a step up from many.
Mercer handed him a key on a ring. "Make yourself at home."
"Mind if I park my truck here?" Once Shane had a look around the trailer, he'd unload his belongings and unpack.
Before Mercer could answer, his cell phone jangled. Listening in silence to the caller for several seconds, he barked, "Be right there," and disconnected. "Sorry, I have an emergency. One of the calves got tangled in some wire."
"Anything I can help with?"
"Naw." He dismissed Shane with a wave of his hand. "Get yourself settled."
Shane watched a moment as Mercer jogged in the direction of the livestock pens located on the other side of the arena. When his new boss was out of sight, Shane climbed the trailer's two steps, opened the door wide and entered his new home. His first sight was of the small but comfortable living room-dining room combo. His second sight was of the tiny kitchen.
His third sight, and the one cementing his boots to the carpeted floor, was of Cassidy Beckett, pushing aside the accordion divider separating the sleeping area from the rest of the trailer.
She swallowed a small, startled gasp, and her hand fluttered to her throat where it rested. "Sorry. I wasn't expecting you yet. Mom asked me to put fresh towels in the bathroom and change the sheets on the bed."
"You don't have to go to any trouble." The words caught in his throat before he choked them out.
Shane had always thought of Cassidy as pretty. Sometime during the intervening years she'd grown into a striking beauty with large dark eyes and shoulder-length hair the same chocolate brown shade as a wild mink.
He stopped thinking about why his brother let her go and began wondering why he shouldn't ask Cassidy out himself. No reason not to. She was exactly the kind of woman he fancied. More importantly, she had no lingering attachments to his brotherwho'd married someone else shortly after he and Cassidy split. She also had a son close in age to Bria and would probably be understanding of his single-dad responsibilities.
"It's good to see you again," he said and strode forward to greet her with a hug.
Suddenly, Shane's new job had an altogether different perk. One which quite appealed to him.
The initial alarm Cassidy experienced upon seeing Shane tripled when he swept her up in an enthusiastic embrace. It was bad enough her father had hired him. Worse that her mother insisted she stock the trailer with fresh linens. Disastrous that he'd caught her here. With him blocking the narrow passageway to the door, escape was impossible. She had no choice but to surrender to his powerful hold on her.
"Good to see you, too," she managed to reply.
He didn't immediately release her. Cassidy worried he'd sense the tension coursing through her and attempted to extract herself. He let her go long enough to take in the length of her from head to toe before hauling her against him a second time.
"You look great."
"Thanks," she mumbled, refusing to return the compliment by admitting how incredible he looked. And smelled.
Good heavens, the man had been out with the bulls for at least an hour by her estimation. He should reek to high heaven. Instead, with her face firmly planted in the crook of his shoulder, she inhaled the spicy and appealing scent of whatever aftershave he'd used this morning.
With their broad shoulders, lean, muscular builds and ruggedly chiseled profiles, both Westcott brothers were head-turning handsome. Back when the three of them were competing on the rodeo circuit, Cassidy had considered Hoyt to be the more attractive of the pair. No longer. Shane not only held his own in the looks department, he'd surpassed his older brother.
Finally, thank goodness, his grip slackened and he freed her. "How have you been, girl?"
Girl? To her horror and chagrin, her heart gave a small flutter at the endearment he'd used during their short-lived romance. She dismissed it. Being attracted to Shane was impossible. For too many reasons to list.
"Sorry I interrupted you." She attempted to pass him. "Let me get out of your way. I'm sure you want to unpack."
"Stay a while." He didn't budge. "We can catch up."
"I promised Liberty I'd help with her riding class this afternoon." Surely her sister would forgive this one small fib, considering the circumstances.
It was then Cassidy remembered her sister didn't know the circumstances. No one did for certain except their mother, and Cassidy had sworn her to secrecy.
"That's not for another hour." Shane smiled sheepishly anddang it allappealingly. "Your dad mentioned the schedule earlier."
Her father. Of course, Cassidy thought with a groan. He alone was responsible for hiring Shane and throwing her life into utter turmoil.
"We have a new student signing up."
"Come on." Shane gestured to the dining table. "It's been years since we had a real talk."
It was true. Cassidy had avoided him and Hoyt like the plague, determined not to let either of them near her son, Benjie. It hadn't been easy. Shane had competed regularly until recently and often visited the Easy Money.
"Five minutes." Shane removed his cowboy hat and tossed it onto the table.
She hesitated. The one thing more dangerous than being alone with Shane was being alone with his brother. To refuse, however, might raise Shane's suspicions. She couldn't chance it.
"Okay." She slid slowly onto the bench seat, the faded upholstery on the cushions pulling at her jeans, and repeated "Five minutes" for good measure.
He plunked down across from her, a pleased grin on his face.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Once again McDavid has created a wonderfully detailed and very entertaining tale full of romance and family. Heartaches were compounded with the different events of the story. I felt myself pulled into the lives that she created throughout. It was a fantastic feeling. Cassidy was a bit over the top at times. She kept putting what she wants ahead of what’s right and what’s for the best in the long run. Her uber pessimism throughout the bulk of the novel made it hard for me to connect with her. That said, it was also very well explained and easy to understand. I couldn’t help but feel for her, especially when Hoyt was on the scene. It was all heightened by Shane’s very understanding nature. He was so strong and compassionate yet also fun and caring. These two combined with their adorable children were a fantastic cast to carry this story forward. This novel was cute & sweet with a fantastic storybook ending. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
A heartwarming story about love, trust, and what a mess a family relations can sometimes be. The story gives great examples about the difficulties families and couples have these days, things that are good and things that can go wrong, when mom and dad's are trying to establish the boundaries around their kids, after the relationships are over. It was a mess for a while, lots of understanding, patience, honesty, and compromises, work to be done to make it all work out. The relationship between Cassidy and Shane is fragile and sweet. They have past history, and the attraction is strong and charming, but they have many obstacles on the way for their future. Shane is easy to like, he is honest, solid, fair, and supportive. He has a big heart, he is considered and caring, an amazing dad and uncle. Cassidy is not an easy person, she is headstrong, has a great temper, and so scared to lose her son. But her heart is in a right place, and she is willing to do the work that needs to be done, both in parenthood and in a relationship. I really enjoyed the story, it made me think and see the many difficulties in today's parenthood, it was realistic and real, the romance captivating and alluring. ~ Four Spoons with a teaspoon on the side
When you have a secret. Then the secret will eventally will come out. Then cassidy has to tell her sons the guy was her son uncle. And then they fell in fall.