The Cowboy and His Baby

The Cowboy and His Baby

by Jessica Clare

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From New York Times bestselling author Jessica Clare comes a contemporary Western romance about a cowboy who is in for the ride of his life…. 

Dustin is a ranch hand with a reputation around town as a ladies’ man. He loves flirting and the thrill of the chase. When he tilts his cowboy hat just so, no one can resist his charms. It’s all fun and games for Dustin until he meets a woman who sparks real feelings in him, and he’s blindsided by love.  

Annie is an animal trainer working on set for a film. Other than her furry, canine coworkers, she hasn’t connected with the rest of the movie’s crew. It’s only when a certain cowboy catches her eye that Wyoming becomes interesting. She intends for their romance to be a fling, but by the time filming wraps up, she’s unexpectedly pregnant.     

While Annie is prepared to walk away and raise her baby by herself, Dustin isn’t so ready to say good-bye. He has to prove to Annie that she has a future in Wyoming and capture her heart before it’s too late....

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984803993
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/07/2019
Series: The Wyoming Cowboys Series , #2
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 105,057
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jessica Clare writes under three pen names. As Jessica Clare, she writes contemporary romance. As Jessica Sims, she writes fun, sexy shifter paranormals. Finally, as Jill Myles, she writes a little bit of everything, from sexy, comedic urban fantasy to zombie fairy tales.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright © 2018 Jessica Clare

Chapter One

Annie Grissom had been in the movie business for six years now, and she’d been asked to train animals to do a lot of things. She’d taught dogs to walk on their hind legs, bark a phrase that almost sounded like talking, play follow-the-leader, and any number of tricks that would look incredible with a bit of movie magic. Tricks that made audiences sit up in their chairs a little straighter and say to each other, “How did they do that?”

But she’d never, ever been asked to teach a dog to race through a grass fire.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Sloane,” she said for what felt like the hundredth time that day. She was always apologizing on this particular movie, especially to the director. Annie paged through the script again. “I’m not sure I see where the whole ‘grass fire’ scene is in the movie.”

“It’s something I brainstormed last night. Since we’re doing a ranching movie, I thought it’d be perfect. Now, can you make Petey do this or do I need to find a new star for my picture?” He glared at her as if her reluctance was a huge annoyance.

“Spidey,” she murmured, trying to think as she pretended to flip through the script again.

“What?” Mr. Sloane yelled at her. Such a yeller. The yellers were always the worst to work for. Ironic because they usually got the job through nepotism or a family friend, not by their own merits, so they tended to scream quite a bit to ensure things were done the way they wanted. She’d signed on to this movie knowing Mr. Sloane wasn’t a well-known director, but she hadn’t thought he’d be this bad.

“My dog is Spidey,” Annie said, doing her best to keep the smile on her face. “And I don’t mean to be a jerk, but he gets nervous when people yell.”

“What?” Mr. Sloane blasted in her face, his nose purpling.

“That’s one of the rules in the animal care contract,” she continued. “No yelling on set, no touching the animal except by the trainer, and no outside food provided to the animal. All of these things can interfere with my work.”

His eyes narrowed at her. “Are you trying to tell me how to do my job, Miss . . .”

“Grissom,” she reminded him smoothly. “And I never would, no. I’m just the dog trainer. But I do know my dog, sir, and he gets very nervous around strong voices.”

Mr. Sloane grunted, crossing his arms over his chest and tucking the well-paged (and mostly ignored) script against his shirt. “So you’re telling me that if I lower my voice, you’ll get him to do the scene?”

She bit her lip. That was also part of the problem. “Complicated stunts can take a while. I need time to run him through the scene, get him comfortable with what’s happening around him. Even if I manage that, I’m not sure how he’s going to react to fire.”

“So you need more time,” he said flatly. “As usual. Why am I not surprised?” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “This is a movie production, Miss Grissom. You know that time is money.”

“I know.” Annie also knew that these sorts of things were supposed to be given to her in advance so she could work on them with Spidey. Throwing them at her—and the dog—last moment wouldn’t be beneficial for anyone. “And I truly do appreciate that time is money. I just don’t think that he’s going to react well to a cold run of a grass fire.”

“You’re telling me you can’t get him to do it.” Mr. Sloane scowled at her, shifting on his feet as if he could make himself look more imposing. “I hired a dog trainer. If you’re not going to train the damn dog then what do we have you here for?”

Annie ignored his nasty attitude. He was stuck, and she knew it. They’d already filmed most of the scenes and he couldn’t switch dogs out. He’d insisted on having a nearly white Boston terrier with one black ear, and it had taken her forever to find one with the right coloration that was also a rescue. Spidey actually had no black ear at all, but makeup fixed that. Even now, he was sitting on the grass nearby, his head between his paws, watching her intently.

Such a good boy. He deserved better than this movie and this particular director. She changed her tone to soothing to try and deal with Mr. Sloane. “I know animals can be very difficult and stressful to work with on a film, Mr. Sloane. You’re doing a great job understanding how animals can be tricky.” Didn’t hurt to throw in a compliment or two even if they were lies. “But if we’re changing the scenes, I need to be notified in advance so I can get Spidey ready. This is a big deal.”

The director scowled at her and gave a little shake of his head. “This will be the scene that makes the movie. I need it to happen. If you can’t get it to work, you’re fired.”

Annie bit her lip. She knew what he was saying was hot air—this far into the production he couldn’t replace her or her dog. But it still made her anxious, because the more he yelled, the harder it was going to make it for every future scene. Spidey was already sensitive to raised voices and if he associated fear with Sloane and his set, she wouldn’t be able to get anything out of him, no matter how many treats she encouraged him with.

“Is there a problem?” A woman moved up next to them, her clipboard in hand, a polite smile on her face.

Annie nearly breathed a sigh of relief. The representative for the American Humane Association was on set today to ensure that the animals were being treated fairly, and she’d stepped in just in time. Of course, Annie couldn’t tattletale on the director—that was a sure way to get fired from this picture and every movie in the future forever and ever—but she could emphasize her point.

“Mr. Sloane and I were just discussing an upcoming stunt.” Annie pretended to page through the script, though she already had it memorized. “I have Spidey’s training scheduled down to the hour, Mr. Sloane.” Gosh, she was just full of lies this morning. “So if we’re putting in a wildfire scene, I need to know what stunts we’re removing so I can juggle things appropriately.”

The representative’s eyebrows went up. “Wildfire scene?” At Sloane’s terse nod, she gestured at the rest of the set. “With this many horses on set? Do you really think that’s wise? And the weather’s been so dry lately.”

“It’s all going to be very safe,” Sloane barked at her, and then suddenly there was a new focus for his ire.

Annie murmured something about going to work with Spidey and slipped away from the group, heading over to the covered umbrella set up on set. Wyoming was nothing but rolling plains and endless sunlight. Great for shooting, terrible for short-haired white dogs that sunburned at the drop of a hat.

Like poor Spidey.

Even now, her little buddy was waiting patiently under the umbrella in the shade. He loved basking in the sun but he also turned bright red underneath his white fur, so she’d trained him that he needed to wait for her under the umbrella. She just adored that little guy. Of all the dogs she’d worked with in the past, she had a soft spot for a few, and Spidey was at the top. He was smart, funny, eager to please . . . and had the weirdest little personality. Spidey loved people and horses and being on the movie set. However, he was terrified when people raised their voices, and certain objects set him off into a barking frenzy. Like . . . a ball. If she showed him a ball, he’d lose his mind, barking and snarling, until it was out of sight. It was the weirdest thing.

At least her little guy liked cheese.

She sat down on the grass next to him and petted one soft, un-dyed ear. “Who’s my best boy?”

His tail had been cropped off by his previous owners, so he had nothing to wag, but his hindquarters shook with excitement and he panted happily, his stubby snout turned up toward her with adoration.

Annie loved and snuggled the dog in the shade, trying to undo any anxiety that he might be experiencing due to Sloane’s yelling. Then, she pulled out the doggy sunblock and slathered him with a fresh round of it, trying to figure out how she was going to get Spidey to race through a burning plain when animals instinctively hated fire.

She sighed. It was something that could be done, with weeks of prep work . . . weeks that she didn’t have.

Maybe the director would change his mind again. After all, he had several times already. Hopefully she just needed to wait him out.

In the meantime, she stroked Spidey’s short, wiry fur and told him over and over what a good boy he was.

A lot of time on the set of a movie was spent waiting around. There were scenes to be set up, lighting that needed to hit just right, animals to be prepared for their spot on set, and actors, who could be more stubborn than any dog or horse. The lead actor for The Goodest Boy was a nice guy named Chad Weathers. Chad had a string of superhero movies that did well in the late 90s and then everything flopped after that. He’d been forced to take on roles like this one, where he played a cowboy with a talking dog who tries to help him find love. The script was saccharine sweet, and the dog trainer in Annie couldn’t understand why a rough-and-tumble cowboy in the Old West would have a Boston Terrier for a dog instead of something hardy, but hey, she wasn’t paid to think.

The director was in a rotten mood after his conversation with her, and Chad objected to some of the new scenes in his script, which meant everyone was walking around on tiptoes this afternoon. Annie did her best to stay out of all of it, working with Spidey on a few conversation commands. One scene in the movie involved the dog picking up a box with a wedding ring and setting it down carefully at Chad Weathers’s feet, so she’d been teaching Spidey that particular “fetch” trick and showered him with treats every time he did it right.

There was a quick scene with Spidey at Chad’s side as they walked through the Old West set, and then Chad yelled at the director and stormed off to his trailer. Sloane did the same, and that was pretty much the end of filming for the day.

Annie sighed, working another coat of sunblock over her charge. “No wonder we’re over budget,” she muttered to herself. “It’s not your fault, Spidey.”

“Definitely not,” said another voice, and Annie looked up to see Katherine approaching. The other woman waved, sitting cross-legged in the grass across from Annie and carefully away from Annie’s dog. “These two chuckleheads are making us all run over schedule. It ain’t the animals’ fault, that’s for damn sure.”

Katherine was the closest thing Annie had to a friend on the set. She tended to be a bit of a loner. After years of being dragged from movie set to movie set, most Hollywood kids either grew theatrical or grew introverted. Annie was the latter. But Katherine was from Boston, had the accent to boot, and had never met a stranger. She was an assistant to the horse trainers, which meant she spent most of her time picking up droppings or running errands, but she kept a cheery attitude and she loved animals. More than that, she respected the set rules and never tried to pet or feed Spidey, which Annie was grateful for. The big actors always thought the rules didn’t apply to them, and it was hard to argue with an Oscar-winner who was paid millions that he couldn’t pet her cute dog on the head.

Katherine was just as tired of the shenanigans on set as Annie was. She pulled off her heavy gloves and set them in her lap, taking a break under the shade of the umbrella.

“Are they still talking about the wildfire scene?” Annie wanted to know.

Katherine shook her head. “That certification lady talked him out of it. Said it was too dangerous for the horses.”

Annie said nothing, but her mouth twisted a little and she caressed Spidey’s round head again. Dogs never got as much respect on set as horses did.

“Now he’s talking about doing one long running shot of a cattle-roping scene,” Katherine said. “He wants a big payoff for the climax. Lots of horses. Lots of racing over the hills and scenery.”

Annie blanched. “Is Spidey supposed to be in that scene?” At Katherine’s nod, Annie sighed. “He’s brachycephalic. He can’t race for long distances without getting overheated. He’s not made for that sort of thing.” Just like she’d told them and told them a hundred times when they’d insisted on having a Boston terrier instead of a cattle dog, and now, well, here they were.

Katherine shrugged. “Maybe they can get a stunt dog for it if it’s a high overhead shot.”

“Maybe.” It’d be tricky to get the director to understand the need behind it, though.

“At any rate, Sloane’s cooped up with the writers and with Chad for the rest of the day. We’re free to go back to town.” She beamed at Annie. “A few of us are meeting up at the bar for some drinks. You should come. Celebrate the fact that we’re almost done with this picture and then we can work on a real movie. I hear one of the big studios wants to make a tentpole Western for summer release and they’ll be casting soon. Maybe they’ll need dogs.”

She smiled at Katherine, because it was sweet of her to think of Annie. It reminded her that not every set was full of bad people, and just because the director was difficult didn’t mean this wasn’t a good experience. “I’m not sure if I should go out tonight,” Annie said, hesitating. “I’m not much of a drinker, and Spidey can probably use some attention—”

“We won’t be out long,” Katherine said. “And Chad’s assistant is going. You could always put a bug in his ear about how a long, extended shot from a distance wouldn’t make Chad look nearly as heroic as some close-up cuts.”

“You know just what to say to get a girl to cave in, don’t you?”

“That I do,” Katherine said proudly. “Let’s get on the bus, go home and change, and see what kind of nightlife this tiny town has to offer.”

Annie bit back a sigh and studied Spidey’s little face, tracing a finger along the curve of his skull. His eyes were closed and he did look tired. He wouldn’t mind a few hours alone in his crate. “I guess I can pick him up some cheese while we’re in town.”

“After we get our drink on,” Katherine said firmly.

“After,” Annie agreed.

Chapter Two

“I see movie people,” Jordy joked, lifting his beer to his lips. “They’re everywhere. And they don’t even know they’re obnoxious.”

Dustin just snorted and shook his head. He played with the label on his own bottle of beer, using Jordy’s comment as an excuse to look around the tiny Painted Barrel Saloon. For a town of about two hundred folks, the bar got a surprising amount of activity, and with the outsiders swarming in to have a drink tonight, it was packed. Unlike Eli, who was hiding out back at the ranch with his pretty wife, Dustin enjoyed seeing new faces around town. Painted Barrel felt small enough most days, and new people brought new conversation. New women? Well, he was never averse to seeing a few new faces.

“You should find yourself a nice city girl to flirt with,” Old Clyde told Jordy. “One that’s not smart enough to realize you’re full of crap.”

Jordy just snickered, unoffended. “Wouldn’t mind meeting a girl,” he said, watching the female faces in the bar avidly. “Been a long time since I’ve been on a date. Not a lot of women in town.”

“So what, last week?” Old Clyde joked.

This time Dustin grinned. “Prettiest little thing on four hooves.”

“Ha ha,” Jordy told them and nodded at Dustin. “You’re the ladies’ man around town. You wanna give me a few pointers on how you manage to always win them and I just strike out?”

“I can,” Dustin said, finishing off his beer and then setting the bottle on the table. He gave it a nudge toward Jordy. “But this round’s on you if I do.”

The younger cowboy immediately got to his feet and worked his way through the crowd, holding on to his hat as he headed toward the bar for refills. At Dustin’s side, Old Clyde snorted. “Don’t know what advice you could give him other than ‘stop being such a damned idiot.’”

Dustin just shook his head. “He’s just eager. He’ll work out of being an idiot at some point.” Hopefully. “Kid’s just young. Everything’s new to him.”

“Ain’t that new,” Old Clyde said. “He’s what, all of five years younger than you?”

Huh. Dustin guessed he was, though Jordy acted much younger. “Sheltered,” he suggested. He’d been on his own since the age of sixteen, so he hadn’t had the family to protect him from the harshness of life. In a way, he kind of envied Jordy. It wasn’t that Dustin’s life was hard—it was just that he knew all the things he didn’t want. Jordy was still wide-eyed and eager and almost innocent, and that made him seem a lot younger.

And then he snorted to himself, because Jordy was about as innocent as any other young man with women on his mind. Even now, he was talking to a gorgeous, tall woman with brown skin and a long black braid who clearly wanted nothing to do with the young cowboy.

“He needs to figure out that women don’t want you to slobber all over them,” Dustin commented, peeling the last of the label off his beer. “Surefire way to scare them off.”

“Wouldn’t know. I’m too old for women and their crap,” Old Clyde said. “Just want to relax with my dogs.”

“Spoken like a true bachelor.”

Old Clyde shrugged. “Was married once. We’re both happier pretending the other doesn’t exist. When are you going to settle down?” He nudged Dustin. “You’re about hitting that age that a man starts thinking about family.”

Twenty-nine? Was that the age that everything changed, then? “Never settling down,” he told his friend.

“No one ranches forever. Well, except me, but then I get stuck with idiots like Jordy.” Clyde snorted. “Poor kid’s a fool.”

Dustin glanced over at the bar. Sure enough, Jordy had a consternated look on his face as the beauty very carefully steered away from him, rolling her eyes. Ouch. Suitably crushed, Jordy headed back to them, three beer bottles in hand. “Not gonna ranch forever,” Dustin told Clyde idly. “I have plans.”

“Lots of hot women here tonight,” Jordy said as he thumped down at the small table across from Dustin and Clyde. He handed out the beers. “And they don’t seem to be into cowboys.”

“Now, that isn’t true,” Dustin told him. “Every woman alive’s into a cowboy. It’s all in how you play it.”

“Oh, whatever.” Jordy took a swig of his beer and flopped back in his chair, utterly defeated.

Was Dustin ever so young? He felt old even at sixteen, he was pretty sure. With a smile, he took his new beer and began to play with the label. “If you don’t want my advice, just say so.”

Jordy made an impatient sound. “Everyone knows you get any girl you want. So yes, I want your advice.”

He might have gotten every girl he wanted, but maybe that was also why he felt so very bored with everything, too. Nothing held his interest around here any longer, and that was a sure sign that it was about time for him to pack up and leave soon. Find another ranch, find another town, a new adventure. Maybe this time he’d finally cash out his savings and get that boat. He wasn’t sure yet. “All right. First step is figuring out what you want from a girl, Jord, my friend. Are you looking for a long-term relationship or just some fun? You have to choose accordingly.” He gestured at the bar. “You can’t just hone in on any pretty face and fling yourself at her.”

Now Jordy just looked confused. “What the hell do you mean?”

“I mean, if all you want is a good time, you find yourself a good time girl. You can’t fling yourself at a keeper and expect her to just want a quick flirt. And that girl you were hitting on at the bar? She’s a keeper and she knows it. That’s why she doesn’t have time for you.”

Like a puppy, Jordy cocked his head. “How can you tell?”

Dustin shrugged. “I can just tell. I can always tell.” Maybe he recognized Good Time Girls because he was a Good Time Guy—never ready to settle down, not looking for more than a night of easy flirting. Anything other than a Good Time Girl was a keeper and thus off-limits, because he wasn’t that kind of guy.

“Okay, then what about the blonde next to her?” Jordy nudged his chin forward, indicating the women crowding the bar itself.

Dustin glanced over. “Good Time Girl.”

“How’s that?”

Dustin shrugged. “It’s the way she carries herself. I can just tell.” Even as Dustin spoke, the girl reached over and planted a kiss on the man standing next to her, who looked just as surprised as anyone to be the recipient.

“All right, so I need you to scan every potential woman for me and find me a date. What about Nina?” Jordy immediately asked.

“Nina that works at the grocery?” When he nodded, Dustin answered. “Good Time Girl. She likes to go out and have fun.” He’d dated her once. They’d fooled around with some kissing, but never took it any further than that, much to Nina’s dismay. Dustin was more a fan of the thrill of the chase. He loved spending time with girls, loved flirting, but the moment they wanted something more than just flirtation, he backed off. He didn’t want to give the wrong impression. Unfortunately, because he dated a lot, he already had the reputation of being a bit of a ladies’ man, but at least he wasn’t leaving a string of kids (and broken hearts) through the Rocky Mountains. Wasn’t right to lead a girl on if he wasn’t interested in giving her more.

And Dustin already had plans for his future.

Jordy looked a little frustrated. “I’m more interested in finding a keeper, I think.”

“The first girl was a keeper,” Old Clyde pointed out.

“But she wasn’t interested in keeping me,” Jordy admitted with a sheepish grin. “I want a girl that’ll like me for who I am. Someone I can settle in with. Someone that lets me hold their hand through church service.”

Yeah, Dustin was pretty sure he was never as young as Jordy. “I see. Well, you might not find the right girl in a bar. Doubt she’s gonna be one of the movie people, too.” He was seeing a lot of Good Time Girls in the crowd.

“What about the redhead in the corner?” Jordy said. “The small one.”

Dustin glanced around and didn’t see a redhead. Of course, the place was hopping with people. On a good day, Painted Barrel Saloon had five, six tables and they were almost always full. Tonight, the place was standing room only, and the bartender was racing back and forth trying to keep up with demand. “What redhead?”

“There’s one at the bar, in the corner. Lots of freckles.” Jordy grinned. “Kind of cute but she’s not much of a smiler.”

“Didn’t see her. I’d have to watch her for a few to be able to tell.” It was never in a girl’s appearance or what she wore. He’d learned long ago that girls wore clothing to impress other girls, not him. It was in how a girl acted, how she laughed. It was her outlook on life.

“She’s at the bar, like I said.” Jordy pulled out his wallet, slapped a ten down on the surface, and shoved it toward Dustin. “Go talk to her and find out if she’s my type.”

He groaned inwardly. Wanted to tell Jordy that this was all stupid talk that came over beers, that if he wanted a keeper, he needed to go talk to her himself. That Dustin knew how to spot them only because he’d flirted with and dated so many that he could recognize a restless soul, but he was terrible about keeping them and couldn’t offer any advice on that matter.

Old Clyde kicked Dustin’s leg under the table. Damn it. With a glare at Clyde’s weathered face, Dustin got to his feet, snagged the ten, and then moved his way through the crowd toward the bar. It was packed, so he took his cowboy hat off so the brim wouldn’t smack any unsuspecting patrons in the face, and held it against his chest protectively. As he did, he scanned the crowd. Fair amount of both men and women, all sorts of ages. Most of the faces he didn’t recognize, which meant that they were the out-of-towners, the movie people. Some were clearly married and only out drinking because there wasn’t much else to do in Painted Barrel. They sat at one of the tables and looked bored, checking their watches. Others were clearly here to party, evidenced by the crowd around the bar and the way they sandwiched in close together, laughing and talking over one another. People always piled up like sardines near the alcohol, as if they weren’t gonna get the same drink sitting down at a table somewhere. Ah well. He looked around at the women, trying to find one that would be Jordy’s type. He was a good kid. Well, okay, not exactly a kid. A few years younger than Dustin, but with a far more innocent heart. Sure. A young, innocent thing would be perfect for a guy as idealistic as Jordy.

And she had to like ranching, Dustin supposed, since Jordy wasn’t good for much else. Heck, for his first year on the ranch, he wasn’t much good at ranching, either. He scanned the people crowded at the bar, looking for red hair and a shorter stature. Sure enough, there was a woman hiding at the very far end of the bar, practically pressed against the wall in order to avoid the wildly gesturing man next to her who was absorbed in talking with another woman, his back to the redhead. All right, then. He supposed he could rescue her from her current situation and suss her out for Jordy at the same time.

He took a few steps forward and then managed to wedge himself in at the bar next to her, setting his hat on the counter. “Ma’am.”

She gave him a polite little smile and then broke eye contact, scanning the bar as if looking for a familiar face to come rescue her.

“Not here to harass you. Just thought I’d say hello and let you know that my friend wanted to buy you a beer.” It didn’t hurt to talk Jordy up while he was here, he supposed. He liked the look of her, though. Like the other cowboy had mentioned, she was rather wholesome-looking for this crew. The movie people were a melting pot of cultures and races, which was a breath of fresh air in this town, but most of them also tended toward a wilder lifestyle. He was pretty sure the woman on the other side of him was wearing leather in inappropriate places. There was a lot of cleavage in the bar tonight, a lot of short skirts and tight pants—both male and female. Wasn’t anything wrong with that, but it just made this woman stand out all the more.

For one, she was wearing a sweater so ugly that his granny would have turned her nose up at it. Orange and brown with a checkerboard pattern on the sleeves and a chevron across the shoulders, it looked like something someone would wear if they lost a bet. “I, ah, like your sweater.”

She gave him a withering look.

Now that made Dustin grin. For such a wholesome-looking thing, she could cut with a glance. She was incredibly innocent-looking, just as Jordy had suggested. Her carrot-orange hair was parted down the middle and hung below her shoulders in thick, unruly waves. Her eyebrows were just as orange, her lashes pale, and every inch of her pale skin seemed to be covered in freckles. She was fascinating-looking, and with only a hint of lip gloss on her pink mouth, it was clear she wasn’t dolling up to impress anyone.

He liked that.

She also seemed pretty uninterested in him, which meant she was definitely a keeper. He attracted the party girls; they were drawn to his hat, his rugged good looks, his easy smile. A challenge wasn’t something he came across often, and even though he was supposed to be talking Jordy up to her, he couldn’t resist a little flirtation, just to see how she handled it. “Name’s Dustin. You’re not from around here, are you?”

“Nope.” She looked over at the bartender desperately, but he was at the far end of the bar, talking to a pretty blonde.

“You got a name, sweater girl?”


Dustin laughed, because she was so clearly making it difficult for him. And when her mouth curled in the barest of reluctant smiles at his amusement, he had to keep trying. He leaned in and caught a whiff of a sharp, odd smell that he didn’t recognize. What on earth was she drinking? Didn’t matter, he decided to turn on the charm. He knew how to flirt with the best of them, and women usually responded to a ready smile and a guy that could make them laugh. “If I guess it, you gonna give me more than one-word answers?”

“Unlikely.” And her mouth twitched, as if she was trying to hold back her own laughter.

“Mmm. Guess I’ll take that risk.” He tilted his head, studying her. “I could go for a corny line and say your name is Angel, because you are one that came down to Earth, but then I think you’d shove my hat down my throat. You don’t seem the fussy type, so I’m guessing it’s not something ridiculous like Chandelier.”

She only narrowed her eyes at him.

He put his hands up. “I can sense defeat. I only wanted to come over and say hello and tell you that my friend was admiring you from afar.”

“Your friend,” she repeated. “Which friend?” When he gestured at Jordy, she gave him a pointed look. “He was hitting on my friend Michele when he came to the bar last time. Then he hit on Katherine. And Mandy. Now he’s decided I’m his next target?” She caught the eye of the bartender and put her money down on the table, closing out her tab. “No thank you.”

As she left, the sweater stretched tight over her chest and he saw the outline of something square and blocky and got another whiff of that strange sharp scent. Strange. He felt a little guilty for chasing her off. He’d have liked to talk to her without the bar scene. She seemed like a sharp, wry wit and that appealed to him. Ah well. Dustin gestured at the waiting bartender. “Three more longnecks.”

The redhead’s seat hadn’t been empty for longer than a flash when a new person slid into it. A woman, this one with short brown hair and a killer smile. She cast him a flirty look. “Hello there, stranger.”

Dustin grinned back, because it was the polite thing to do. Normally he’d pick up what she was throwing down. She wanted to have fun tonight, another Good Time Girl looking to spend her evening with someone else who wanted to party. This was a dance he knew well. They’d talk for a bit. He’d buy her a drink or two. The flirting would get hot and heavy. They’d move to the dance floor and things would go up a notch. They’d drive around town until dawn, having a good time and end up somewhere they could watch the sun rise over the mountains. Maybe she’d want to go back to his place—he always said no. Maybe she’d drag it out a date or two more. Never more than that. Then she’d show she wanted more than just a good time and he . . . well, all he wanted was the thrill of pursuit.

It suddenly made him tired, how predictable all of it was. The redhead had been interesting in her complete and utter distaste for his flirty ways. That was new, at least.

“Can I buy you a drink, cowboy?” the beautiful woman at the bar asked, arching an eyebrow at him.

When had having a good time suddenly gotten . . . dull?

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