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Authors: Claire McEwen

Tags: #romance, #Contemporary, #Western, #Fiction

Convincing the Rancher

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About that night…

Benson, California, represents all that Tess Cole doesn’t want. So she intends to keep her business trip there brief. Too bad her idea to quickly change the mayor’s mind about some planning issues dissolves the moment she recognizes him! That one night with Slaid Jacobs remains a personal favorite for Tess—and for him, too, it seems.

Even though he’s gorgeous and hot, it’s clear to Tess that the single dad wants a commitment—something she avoids. It’s also clear Slaid is bent on convincing her they
can
build a future out of their passionate past. And that’s a very tempting offer…

The last thing Tess wanted was to work with a man she’d slept with.

“But don’t you ever think about that night?” Slaid asked.

She forced her voice to sound steady, cool. “Just so you know, I don’t mix up my personal and professional lives.”

“After what we shared, you couldn’t at least leave a note? I didn’t even know your name.”

Tess wasn’t used to feeling guilt. She swallowed it. “Well, now you know it. And if you insist I stay, that is still all that you’ll know about me. Clear?”

Mayor Slaid Jacobs laughed, but it was a bleak sound. “Clear as day.”

“Okay,” she agreed. “Tomorrow, then. But I hope by then you’ll have reconsidered your choice.”

“Oh, no.” He sat back down in his chair, crossing his long legs with his boots up on the desk. “I choose you, Tess.”

Dear Reader,

Tess Cole, the heroine of this book, appeared fully formed in my imagination while I was writing my first novel,
A Ranch to Keep
. Unapologetically sexy and completely independent, Tess sat down next to my heroine in a bar and advised her to put on a trench coat and nothing else, and go seduce the man she desired.

I knew immediately that I wanted to write Tess’s story, but I realized it would be challenging. Tess never had relationships, just the occasional one-night stand, and I had to try to understand why. What made her the way she is? And what kind of man could possibly be strong enough to stand up to her, and soulful enough to soften her?

Enter Slaid Jacobs, rancher, single dad and respected small-town mayor. Slaid believes in tradition and family and he takes his personal responsibilities and relationships very seriously. So what happens when he falls in love with Tess, who tries to avoid relationships altogether?

I hope you enjoy their story.

Wishing you joy,

Claire McEwen

Claire McEwen

Convincing the Rancher

Claire McEwen
lives by the ocean in Northern California with her husband, son and a scruffy, mischievous terrier. When not dreaming up new stories, she can be found digging in her garden with a lot of enthusiasm but, unfortunately, no green thumb. She loves discovering flea-market treasures, walking on the beach, dancing, traveling and reading, of course! Visit her online at
clairemcewen.com
.

Books by Claire McEwen

HARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE

A Ranch to Keep
More Than a Rancher

Visit the Author Profile page
at
Harlequin.com
for more titles

This book is dedicated to every reader who has overcome a difficult childhood and found a way to live and love despite the scars.

And to my husband and son, who teach me more about love every day.

Heartfelt thanks to my sister Beth, who works in public relations and generously shared her knowledge and experience while I was writing this book. And thank you to James Allen of Allterra Solar, who kindly answered all my questions about solar power. Any mistakes, detours from fact and embellishments are all mine!

And a special thank-you to Danny Click, for his guest appearance.

Contents

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

AFTERWORD

EXCERPT

CHAPTER ONE

T
HE HIGH DESERT
air nipped her skin with icy teeth. Tess hunched her shoulders and used her free hand to haul her collar up higher, but the frigid wind worked its way between the seams of her coat, stealing her warmth inch by inch. Clutching her phone, she paced the sidewalk, raising her voice as the wind tried to whip it away. “Ed, just because my friend moved out to this backwoods cow town, that doesn’t make me qualified for this!”

“We’ve been over this, Tess. You already know the area.” Ed’s voice was calm, and she pictured her boss, comfortable and snug in his San Francisco office, probably sipping excellent coffee. She’d had to endure vile convenience-store slop on the drive down, and she was pretty sure there wasn’t an espresso to be found in Benson, California.

“I’ve been here
once
.” She could swear the formidable peaks of the Sierra Nevada were glaring at her. She still couldn’t believe her best friend had left San Francisco behind for
this
.

“Come on, where is the Tess Cole I know and love? The one who enjoys a good challenge?”

“You mean the one who doesn’t want to spend the next month in a town whose population wouldn’t even fill our conference room?” Tess looked around at the white clapboard buildings, weathered by the fierce gusts that made this area so perfect for the wind farm she’d been sent here to sell. Down the street she saw a few ancient brick storefronts. It would be picturesque if Tess were a fan of the Wild West. She’d never cared much for history.

“Tess, did you call me just to complain? We’ve been having this same conversation for weeks. It’s not going to be easy convincing that town to accept a wind farm, and you’re the best community-relations person we’ve got. Anyway, don’t you have a meeting with the mayor soon?” Ed didn’t often get angry, but she could tell he was frustrated now.

Tess took a deep breath of the icy air, then another, calming herself. Silently counting to ten, she watched a semitruck trundle past, headed down Highway 395 toward Los Angeles. For a split second she imagined flagging down the driver and begging a ride to Southern California. She’d readily leave Ed and his windmills far behind for some sunshine, shopping and fine dining. That was her world. Not snow-topped mountains, cattle and a wind farm no one wanted.

But she also didn’t want to get fired. If she ever left Ed’s public relations firm, it would be on her own terms. “You’re right, Ed. I’d better get started.” She made her voice contrite, but in her mind’s eye she gave him a kick in the shin. It felt good.

“You can do this. Sell them on this wind project. The sooner you do, the sooner you can come home.” Ed hung up and Tess listened to the silence a moment, his absence still her closest link to home.

Shoving her phone into her coat pocket, Tess stretched, cramped after the long drive from San Francisco. She looked around, coming to terms with her exile. Benson was located on the edge of a huge flat valley that seemed to come in two forms, brown pasture and brown desert. It would all be incredibly boring except for one thing. Just beyond the town, the abrupt peaks of the Sierra Nevada jutted straight up. Their jagged cliffs seemed to roll on endlessly, one granite slab piled behind another. It was only October, but there was already snow on the mountaintops.

It was pretty if you liked your nature freezing and intimidating. Tess had never given nature much thought, but walking up Main Street, she decided that this was definitely not her kind of nature. If she had to pick a favorite, it would be tropical, with beaches and fruity drinks.

Benson town hall towered over all the other buildings, built of granite cut from the surrounding mountains. Luckily, Tess found a restroom just beyond the creaky double doors. She stood in front of the mirror, inventorying the damage to her carefully assembled look.

The mirror’s vintage glass provided only a wavy reflection, but one thing was clear—she was a mess. Her long blond hair, once slicked into a neat chignon, was now poking out in every direction. Her mascara had fragmented into ebony dust. And her pink cheeks and cold-reddened nose completed the havoc wreaked by the Benson wind.

Tess reached into her leather tote for her voluminous makeup bag. The sight of the colorful tubes and jars lifted her spirits a fraction. The Benson climate might challenge her skills, but she had no doubt she’d soon figure out the right products for the harsh conditions.

Her hair back in place, her face perfected once again, Tess plucked a piece of lint from her suit jacket and pulled the skirt down. It hadn’t looked nearly this short in San Francisco, but something about this historic granite building made her outfit choice seem frivolous. It would have been better, and a whole lot warmer, to wear a pantsuit.
No regrets,
she reminded herself.
No regrets, ever
.

Briefcase in hand, she left the restroom and stepped lightly up the stairs into the marble-floored reception area. A wholesome-looking young woman sat at the desk, and her eyes widened in surprise when she saw Tess.

“I have an appointment with the mayor,” Tess informed her. “Please tell him that Tess Cole is here.” She kept her voice firm and polite, no trailing questions at the end of her sentences. It was best to take charge up front.

“Um...yes, I’ll get him right away.” Her old wooden chair screeched on the marble floor as the young woman stood up. She clumped down a hallway to the right of the desk. Tess watched as the girl poked her head through the third doorway on the left, and then returned, self-consciously straightening the hem of her dress. “Go ahead, Ms. Cole,” she told Tess, and sat down at her desk again to shuffle papers.

Tess walked down the hall toward the open door of the mayor’s office. As she drew closer, she heard a deep, clear voice saying, “Gus, we have always closed down Main Street for the holiday parade.” Tess paused outside the door, annoyance creeping in. If he was expecting her, why was he on the phone? The voice was momentarily silent, as its owner, presumably Benson’s mayor, listened to someone on the other end of the line. “I would disagree,” the masculine voice continued. “I think the parade is good for business, and if I remember correctly, your shop is always packed on parade day. Are you sure this doesn’t have something to do with the fact that we asked Wyatt Silver to be the grand marshal this year?”

Gus?
Wyatt Silver?
These were names straight out of some old Western. What had she gotten herself into? She felt ridiculous standing in the hallway like this. He might be the mayor of the middle of nowhere, but courtesy was courtesy. Tess took a few quiet steps backward, cleared her throat and then stepped heavily, clicking her heels on the floor.

She heard the mayor say, “Gus, I’ll need to call you back,” just as she’d hoped. She knocked lightly and moved into the open doorway, plastering a confident smile on her face. Then she stopped, momentarily stunned.

The man sitting with cowboy-booted feet crossed on the desk was gorgeous. His light brown hair was cut short, almost military in style, and exposed his features, none of them perfect, but all together creating masculine beauty. Below his dark gray eyes was the outline of strong cheekbones, his skin clean-shaven and tanned. His nose was just slightly crooked, as if he’d broken it at some point.

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