Tempted by a Cowboy
"Raindrops keep fallin' on my head!"
"Oh, enough already!" As she peered through the fogged-over
windshield, Diana Grant jabbed the radio button. The wipers could barely
keep up with the beating rain that had pelted her since she'd left the bank
ten minutes ago, which seemed only fitting. While her previous chats with
the bank president hadn't boded well, this one had sounded the death knell
for Seven Creeks Ranch.
Diana blinked rapidly. While it devastated her to hear those
final pronouncements about the home Garrison had built for them more than
twenty years ago, crashing into another car would only make matters worse.
She just wanted to crawl into a hole and die. be
Vision. It all came down to vision. And Jerry
Pohlsen--Jerry the polecat Pohlsen--had eyes only for his own
interests. Once the bank foreclosed on her ranch, he planned to finance a
community of upscale town homes and condos that would make Wolf Point,
Montana--and his bank--look a helluva lot more progressive. He didn't seem
to care where she would fit in this picture.
Through the loud, constant downpour the sign for the Wel-Come
Inn flashed red and then white. Gossip was the last thing she needed on top
of unpaid medical bills and this foreclosure crap, but she simply couldn't
drive any farther. Diana cranked the wheel in a hard left and took the
cafe's last open parking slot.
She turned off the engine. Sat there, numb, surrounded by the
roar of the rain and a lonely desperation like she'd never known. Where had
she gone wrong? Why had Garrison's liver transplant and medications done
nothing other than drain her and their accounts? Why was her life one huge
pile of shit right now? One huge wet pile of shit.
God, what she wouldn't give for an escape…a good man who
would love her and rescue her and take care of her. All these months of
being the strong woman who solved her world's problems had worn her way too
Diana yanked her old shades from her purse. It felt good to hide
behind dark sunglasses even on a cloudy day, especially when there wasn't a
glimmer of light or hope to be seen anywhere.
She shoved her door open and the cold deluge soaked her. Once
inside the cafe, Diana paused on the soggy doormat. The tables were all full
with the noon rush, as this was the only place north of town to eat. One
empty stool remained at the lunch counter, between a guy absorbed in
his newspaper and another one with a set of shoulders the size of Montana. A
wet, black ponytail clung to the back of his soaked shirt. A guy like
that wouldn't take any crap from Jerry Pohsen. A guy like that would cure
what ailed a needy woman...
he'd even look at you.
shoved her shades back in place and
hurried toward the empty stool without making eye
contact. Everyone knew who she was. No need to rub her nose in what they'd
all heard about the fate of Seven Creeks by now, and about her financial
setback. Pity got her nowhere.
Get a Coke and go. Sit in the car until this storm lets up.
Why open yourself to condolences or speculation?
"What'll it be, hon?" Gladys, the county's oldest and most
cantankerous waitress, gazed across the counter at her. She snapped
her gum, waiting.
"Diet Coke. In a go cup, please."
"Want pie with that? Today we've got cherry cheesecake and peach
"No. Thank you," Diana added with terse politeness. "Just
Gladys rolled her eyes and strode to the fountain spigots,
filing away this little incident for the local litany about how that Grant
woman had no call to be so antisocial or rude.
Diana slumped on the stool. Exhausted as she was, it felt good
to remain invisible--or as anonymous as anyone could be here among the
locals. The man on her left folded his newspaper and nearly dragged it
through the gravy where his meat loaf had been. The guy on her right...
"Is that peach pie you mentioned homemade?" he asked in a low
voice. "Peach is my all-time favorite. If it's fresh."
Gladys set Diana's plastic cup in front of her, raising her
eyebrows flirtatiously. "Don't even think about me passing off
store-bought stuff as real pie!" she teased. "Earl'd shoot me!"
"That's for damn sure! Made that pie myself, just this morning!"
the heavyset fellow at the grill called out.
The guy smiled lazily. "How 'bout you give me the biggest piece
you've got left? Warmed up, with a scoop of ice cream."
"You got it, hon. Comin' right up."
As Gladys bustled away, Diana glanced sideways at the owner of
that velvety voice. He wore a striped western-cut shirt so old it was nearly
transparent, and so wet it clung to his muscles like white glue. His
jaw rippled with an alluring masculine shadow her fingers itched to caress.
Those lips made her hungry--and she suddenly wanted to be the first bite of
the pie, sweet and spicy, that made him smile.
Forget about that! And stop staring!
Diana peeled the wrapper from her straw very slowly. The hands
at the end of those wet shirt sleeves cradled a coffee mug...long, strong
fingers with skin several shades darker than her own. Fingernails clipped
short. No rings.
Enough already! Drink your Coke and go!
Her peripheral gaze traveled upward to take in his long midnight
hair, tied loosely at his nape with a leather thong. Something about the
flex of his neck muscles sent her temperature through the roof...made her
clench where her weight met the stool top.
"Thanks, ma'am," he crooned when Gladys topped off his coffee.
He sounded...nice. Like the waitress was his grandmother, even though her
platinum hair and pale skin had nothing in common with his Native American
palette. Gladys must've thought he was nice, too, because after she slid the
slice of steaming pie in front of him, she dipped out two generous
scoops of vanilla ice cream.
God, that looks good. Diana's stomach rumbled as his fork
parted the pastry. Peach goop oozed onto
his plate. She'd been too antsy to eat breakfast, and an hour in the bank
president's office had tied her insides in knots. But now...now she could
use a good, solid--
Diana's eyes widened behind her shades. What she wanted had
nothing to do with food--and you've got no business thinking about sex
The guy's lips quirked as he looked at her straight-on. He was
maybe thirty. Had the same down-and-out air about him she was feeling these
days, yet he exuded a cool, calm control.
Smooth, smooth skin the color of coppery walnut. He held the bite of pie up
for her, awaiting her reply.
Diana sucked hard on her straw and then went into a panic of
strangling. Soda spewed all over the counter and she couldn't stop
coughing--couldn't control the spasms that racked her shoulders--couldn't
get any air past the fizzy clot of liquid in her windpipe.
"Easy now. Just relax. Stop struggling."
His voice was a silken purr, patient enough to gentle the
wildest, most frightened mare. As his ebony eyes drank her in, Diana felt
so, so humiliated and stupid. Another sip from her Coke didn't help, and
when her next round of coughing kicked up, the tall, dark stranger laid a
hand on her back. He placed the other palm lightly against her throat,
gazing directly at her.
"Breathe in through your nose and hold it. Gently."
Diana fought the urge to struggle, or to run. Everyone in the
cafe was surely watching this lunch counter drama, but all she could focus
on was the overtly handsome face in front of her...black eyes that didn't
waver...the lips that parted slightly as he softly massaged her throat. His
palms felt warm and soothing. A strand of wet, black hair fell beside his
eye as he held her loosely--yet with total control--between the flats of his
She did as he said, once her frenetic thoughts allowed his words
to sink in. Diana relaxed...didn't swallow or fight. Just held her breath
and sat very, very still, to allow the stray cola to drain down her throat
on its own.
And then it did.
Diana swallowed tentatively. Opened her mouth to thank him--
"Don't talk yet," he whispered.
If he was some magical, mystical witch doctor, he was very, very
good at it. He knew all the right silences, all the right pauses...the
perfect touch that allowed his pulse to throb lightly against her throat,
where her own pulse answered it and then went into his rhythm.
She let out her breath. "Thank you," she rasped. "I didn't mean
to interrupt your dessert."
"Not to worry. Nothing comes between me and my...pie."
Diana desperately wished she were the ice cream melting on his
plate, being spooned up--
Like he'd want a worn-down woman who resembles a drowned
Exhaling carefully, Diana focused on the white plastic lid of
her cup. Once again she was aware of the clinking of utensils against
plates...the low chatter of voices, mostly male...the hisssss of meat
on the griddle and the heavy scents of hamburger and bacon grease. Her wet
clothes clung to her, yet she felt anything but cold.
The guy beside her might as well have been making love to that
slice of pie. His eyes closed with utter enjoyment as he savored each bite.
Long, dark lashes fluttered on the tops of his high cheekbones. When he
swallowed, his Adam's apple throbbed suggestively, which sent another wave
of heat below Diana's belt.
This was insane, to pay so much attention to some
stranger--especially considering the real issues she was dealing with
today! Yet she squirmed; felt tingly when his elbow brushed hers as he dug
out his billfold. He tossed a couple dollars on the counter and reached
beneath the counter for a black broad-brimmed hat. With a quick nod at her,
he rose from his stool.
Diana tried not to gawk as he sauntered toward the cash register
at the door. His soaked, faded jeans fit his hips like skin...showed off
legs that went on forever, to end in square-toed boots that looked
saturated. His black hair hung in a thick, wet column down his back--far too
blatant to be considered masculine in this town. Yet not a man in the
cafe would've challenged his sexual preference, and none of the women
would've kicked him out of bed, either.
Where are these thoughts coming from? They're going nowhere,
that's for sure! With a sigh, Diana followed his backside out the door,
where the rain still fell in torrents. The bell above the door jingled
cheerfully, and she remembered again why she'd come here...and how hanging
around would only give somebody a chance to pick at her emotional scabs.
They knew her mostly because Garrison had come in for coffee on his way to
the farm supply store or the gas station--but that hadn't happened for
nearly a year. Maybe they'd let her alone. Maybe her mood remained dark
enough to ward off any would-be pity pushers, and that suited her just fine.
She drained her cup and slid off the stool. Dug a wad of bills
from her front pocket as she approached the cash register, but then Gladys
jammed her ticket down the metal spindle without punching any numbers.
"Your boyfriend picked up your tab," the waitress announced.
"Have a nice day now."
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