He's been in Horseback Hollow for only a couple of months, but sexy Cisco Mendoza has already made quite an impression! Little does anyone know his real reason for being herea top secret deal that could shake the foundations of the small Texas town and one important family
When Delaney Fortune Jones agrees to help Cisco win some hearts and minds, suddenly the tables turnand the permanent playboy finds himself pining for the innocent cowgirl and her heart of gold. As business veers dangerously close to pleasure, Mr. Mendoza better hang on to his hatthe pint-size Delaney might just teach him a lesson in the art of falling in love Fortune-style!
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A warm breeze blew across the Texas plains as Cisco Mendoza adjusted his cowboy hat. A thin bead of sweat trailed its way down his back. The temperature remained pleasant so early on this April morning, which meant the sweat was from nerves instead. He rolled his shoulders to force himself to relax. Cisco didn't do nerves.
Back in Miami, he was known for his ability to manage even the most contentious real estate deals with his signature mix of coolness and charm. But Horseback Hollow, Texas, was a far piece from South Florida. Still, a deal was a deal and if Cisco was good at one thing in his life, it was closing the deal.
"This project takes vision," he said to the man standing next to him. "And we both know Alden Moore has vision. It's one of the ways he's built Moore Entertainment to be the success it is now."
Kent Stephens, the regional VP of Marketing and Development for Moore Entertainment, not to mention Cisco's new boss, nodded. "Mr. Moore has vision, all right, and these condos are a big part of it. He has high expectations for Cowboy Country, but the pushback from the locals in town has become a thorn in all of our sides." He flipped a rock off to the side with the toe of his expensive loafer. "Those Fortunes won't give us a chance and their influence seems to run all the way to Lubbock." He pointed at Cisco. "Which, as we discussed, is where you come in. You've got pull with them and we need you to use it."
"Right." Cisco gave Kent a reassuring smile. "My sister is married to Jude Fortune Jones and you know that branch of the family wields a lot of power around town." Before Kent could respond, Cisco walked back toward his truck, across the open land he planned to help develop into luxury condos. It was true his younger sister, Gabi, had married Jude a couple of months ago right here in town, but as far as the Fortune influence in Horseback Hollow, that was pure guesswork. Jude had a bunch of brothers and sisters plus a horde of Fortune cousins in the area, so Cisco figured he couldn't be too far off the mark.
He'd originally come to Horseback Hollow just for Gabi's wedding, but when he'd heard about Moore's plans to develop the Western-themed amusement park and related real estate, Cisco had decided to stick around. He was busy and successful with his real estate projects in Miami. But recently he'd begun feeling restless and a little bored with the endless stream of business lunches, rounds of golf and nights spent with the who's who of South Beach. He loved his life but attributed his change in attitude to a childhood spent moving from place to place as his family followed his father's career in the air force. Cisco wasn't the type of guy to put down roots, and he always enjoyed the thrill of a new challenge.
Too bad his expertise in Miami didn't mean much to his new bosses in Horseback Hollow. What had been more important to them was his connection to the influential Fortune familya connection that was tenuous at best. Gabi loved her new in-laws, and his father, Orlando, seemed a bit smitten with Josephine Fortune Chesterfield, the matriarch of the British branch of the clan. Cisco hadn't gotten close to any of the Fortunes personally, something he knew was going to need to change quickly.
"When can we get a meeting on the books with your Fortune friends?" Kent followed him across the empty field. "Cowboy Country is scheduled to open next month, and Mr. Moore wants to break ground on the condos by the end of the summer. The condos are new territory for Moore Entertainment, so we want outside investors to support this project. They need to be lined up in short order and catching a Fortune will go a long way toward attracting other important players around this part of Texas."
Cisco glanced over his shoulder at the other man. Moore Entertainment had bought this huge tract of land near the planned amusement park for the express purpose of developing condos to expand the Cowboy Country brand. From what Cisco could tell, Kent was a decent guy, in his late fifties and totally devoted to his job. He'd relocated to Horseback Hollow from Chicago to dedicate his time exclusively to Cowboy Country. Cisco knew Kent had a lot riding on the success of this venture. Everyone at Moore Entertainment did.
"I'll bring you the investors." Cisco kept his answer purposefully vague. "Closing the deal is my specialty."
"As long as the Fortunes are part of the deal, we're all good." Kent opened the trunk of his expensive BMW and pulled out a roll of paper. He closed the trunk, then spread the sheets across the gleaming black surface. Cisco had to give the guy creditit was no easy feat to keep a car so clean with all the dust out on the plains of Texas. For the next twenty minutes, they discussed the plans for the Cowboy Condos, including a marketing strategy and target market. Cisco had his first niggling of doubt as he looked at drawings of stucco buildings with windows shaped like boots. He was used to dealing with extremely upscale developments and while Moore was certainly sinking a bunch of money into this project, the designs didn't yet have the spark Cisco knew they would need to appeal to highend investors. Right now, the Cowboy Condos reminded him of a kitschy motel off the highway. He wanted to turn them into a Western-themed Ritz.
Kent seemed willing to take his advice and input. The Mendozas had roots in Texas, so Cisco capitalized on his family history to encourage some authentic Western additions to the project. By the time the other man rolled up the plans, Cisco felt more confident things would work out in this deal. He would make sure they did, no matter what he had to do to get the end result he needed.
He watched Kent drive away, then turned to climb in the truck he'd leased from a dealership in nearby Vicker's Corners. As he did, he noticed a lone horseback rider in the distance, tearing across the land, horse and rider clearly in sync as the horse's hooves thundered over the ground. He felt his mouth go dry and had to remind himself to take a breath. That was a real cowboy, or maybe a cowboy kid, by the size of the rider. Cisco knew enough about horses and the West to pass himself off as a cowboy to his coworkers at Moore Entertainment, but this rider was the real deal from the tip of his cowboy hat to the glint of the metal on his saddle. Talk about a thrill. He was too far away to be noticed, but he stood and watched until the horse disappeared behind an outcropping of rocks, leaving a trail of dust in its wake.
That was the kind of adrenaline rush Cisco had been missing in his life, and he hoped pushing through this deal on the Cowboy Condos would reignite the fire that he'd been seeking.
Climbing into a booth across from his sister, Gabi, at the Horseback Hollow Grill an hour later, Cisco decided there was no time like the present to start making his future dream a reality.
"How's it going, Mrs. Fortune Jones?" he asked with a wink. "I hope that husband of yours knows how lucky he is to have you and treats you accordingly. He'll have big brother to answer to if not."
Gabi rolled her eyes, but Cisco saw her mouth curve into a reluctant smile. "Jude and I keep each other happy," she said. "I'm really glad you came in for the wedding and that you've stayed, Cisco."
For a moment he forgot his reason for wanting to speak with his sister and took the time to enjoy the pleasure of her company. As the only girl in a family of four boisterous boys, Gabriella was always special, but her big heart and sweet soul made her even more so. It was good to reconnect with her now that he was in Horseback Hollow.
"It's a cool town," he answered. "For now, anyway."
"Speaking of, what are your plans? The Cisco I know is always moving, working an angle or the next big deal. Do you plan to stay long enough to find a job here?"
He made the conscious effort not to cringe at her question. He hadn't actually told anyone in his family that he was working for Moore Entertainment on the Cowboy Condos. It had quickly become clear his sister and father weren't overly thrilled about the amusement park's presence in town. He didn't want to open himself up to their comments just yet.
"I've got some irons in the fire," he said, avoiding a direct answer. "I also have loose ends to wrap up on a couple of Miami projects." He paused as a waitress stopped by the table, giving him a friendly smile as she took their orders. He wiggled his eyebrows at Gabi as the young woman walked away. "Either way, I bet I can keep myself busy."
Gabi blew out a frustrated breath. "Someday you're going to find the right woman, Cisco."
"I've found a lot of right women, Gabriella. Why limit it to one?"
"Because you have a huge heart under all that macho bravado." She wagged a finger at him. "You're more than a skirt chaser. Mama would have wanted you to find someone special."
A place in his chest ached at the mention of their mother. Luz Mendoza had died three years ago. She'd been the heart and soul of their family and Cisco knew Gabrielle and their brothers still felt the loss of her as much as he did.
"Dad seems happy in Horseback Hollow," he said, trying to subtly change the subject.
He figured Gabi was wise to his tactic, but she played along. "He fits here. It's given him a way to feel a part of the community and taken away some of his loneliness."
"He seems to be pretty close to some of the Fortunes, as well."
Gabi nodded. "They're a wonderful family. In fact, Jude's parents, Jeanne Marie and Deke, are having a barbecue out at their ranch this weekend. I'm sure they'd love for you to join the fun. It would mean a lot to me for you to get to know Jude and his family."
Cisco did an internal fist pump. He'd meet more of the Fortunes and make his sister happy in the process. Nothing like multitasking. "That sounds great. Text me their address and the details on when to be there."
"I've been hearing a lot about the new amusement park in the works. They call it Cowboy Country, right?"
Gabi's smile dimmed. "I wouldn't bring that up at the barbecue. Most of the Fortunes aren't too pleased about it."
Cisco took a casual sip of coffee. "Really? Why?"
"A lot of locals like Horseback Hollow just the way it is," Gabi told him. "Besides, from everything I hear, the company in charge doesn't care about the history of the area. The place is hokey and utterly lacking any authenticity. People around here take the cowboy lifestyle seriously. It's not just a carnival show to be exploited."
"But won't it mean more jobs?"
His sister shrugged. "True, but the cost of that sort of progress may be more than Horseback Hollow wants to pay."
"So are all the Fortunes against it?" Cisco's gut felt as if it had taken a direct hit with a sledgehammer.
"Jude thinks it's an awful idea and so do his parents.
In fact, I'd say the only member of the family who's the least bit excited about it is Delaney, Jude's baby sister."
"Delaney," Cisco repeated quietly, trying to picture her from the wedding. "Tiny thing, lots of blond hair?"
"That's her, but add in a thousand-watt smile and the energy to match. The topic of Cowboy Country came up at dinner a couple of weeks ago, and Delaney mentioned she thinks the park might be fun. She's a total sweetheart, but Horseback Hollow is all she knows. I think she wants a little adventure in her life." Gabi cocked her head, looking at her brother. "And why are you interested in Cowboy Country, anyway?"
He busied himself with adding cream to his coffee, avoiding his sister's shrewd gaze. "Just want to keep up on the local business news. And if Delaney Fortune is looking for adventure "
"No way, Cisco. She's not your type of girl."
"What's my type?"
"Brainless and shallow," Gabi snapped.
He'd made the comment to sidetrack her but had to admit his sister's assessment of his taste in women stung.
Gabriella's smile turned sympathetic. "Speaking of women, Matteo and Rachel will probably stop by the barbecue for a bit. Are you okay with that?"
Before Cisco could answer, the waitress brought their food. As she put the plate down in front of him, she also slipped a piece of paper under the edge. "You're new to town, right?"
"All the way from Miami," he said with a practiced smile.
"Give me a call sometime," she answered. "I can show you the sights."
Gabi let out a delicate snort. "Horseback Hollow doesn't have 'sights.'"
The waitress ignored her. "Call me," she whispered to Cisco, then turned on her heel, her hips swaying gently as she headed back toward the restaurant's kitchen.
Cisco's smile widened as he gave his sister a quick wink. "I'm happy for Matteo. He and Rachel are great together." Before his younger brother had claimed Rachel Robinson, Cisco had gone on a date with her, more to spark Matteo into action than because of any deep feelings between Cisco and Rachel. "You know I'm not going to settle down anytime soon, Gabi. It's not who I am."
His sister only studied him, a knowing smile playing at the corner of her mouth. "Famous last words, Cisco. Famous last words."
"I'm here, Mom." Delaney Fortune Jones rushed into the kitchen of the house she'd been born and raised in, snagging a chocolate-chip cookie from the counter as she did. Her parents were hosting one of their big family barbecues tonight, so there would be plenty to be done to get ready.
"Put the cookie down and wash your hands, young lady." Her mother, Jeanne Marie Fortune Jones, had her back turned toward Delaney as she reached in the pantry. Delaney was pretty sure her mother had eyes in the back of her head, not to mention some psychic ability. She seemed to always know exactly what was going on with each of her children no matter where they were.
At twenty-four, Delaney was the youngest and the only one still living with her parents, but she was in no hurry to move into a place of her own. She loved her childhood home and the hustle and bustle that went with living on a working ranch.
"Sorry I'm late." She set the cookie on a paper towel and turned to the sink. "I went for a ride after I helped the guys secure the fencing near the west border and lost track of time. But I'm here to help with whatever you need."