Read Goodnight Kisses Online

Authors: Wilhelmina Stolen

Tags: #prequel, #texas cowboys, #sexy contempory, #novella romance, #contemporary cowboy, #teaser for book, #proposal of marriage, #texas ranch, #contemporary romance western, #love and romanve

Goodnight Kisses (5 page)

BOOK: Goodnight Kisses
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“Are you coming back here
after
college?” Wade continued his questions.

“Definitely.” She took a few steps forwards,
allowing McCrea another lengthy glance at her backside. “I’m going
to rebuild Redemption.”

McCrea didn’t have to see her
eyes
to know
they shone with pride. Rebuilding her granddad’s
ranch was her dream. She worked tirelessly
around
the
place,
and had since she came to live with Rose years ago. When she
was old enough, she got a job at
Lomer’s
Hardware stocking
shelves after school, and Old Ed Tubs let her wait tables at his
bar and clean up on weekends. The money she earned wasn’t spent on
frivolous things like makeup and new clothes. Her
worn,
faded
denims
were proof of that. She had spent
her last year of high school saving for a
second-hand
car he
nicknamed Old Blue. The Toyota Corolla came with a busted radiator
and over a hundred thousand miles. It stayed in the shop more than
it stayed on the
road
and was an eyesore with a duct tape
bumper and missing hubcaps.

“I’m glad to hear that.” Wade was pleased by her
plan.

“Those are awfully big dreams for a little girl like
yourself,” McCrea jeered.

“No bigger than finding gold in the ruins of an old
church or landing that twelve-point buck you’re always talking
about.”

He grinned at her comeback. “Hey, the buck is
real.”

“So are my plans for rebuilding Redemption, and I’ll
start with Romeo Baby.”

Placing all her hopes for Redemption on a horse like
Romeo Baby was smart. Charging a premium price for his stud service
would generate money for the breeding program she wanted to start,
and building a reputable name would ensure Redemption a future. The
horse was an untapped goldmine waiting for her return.

Because he was only a couple of
days old when his mother died, she bottle-fed the colt, nurtured
him, babied him and loved him as though he were a child, orphaned
and alone. The colt was a pitiful
thing,
and McCrea hadn’t given
him good odds at survival much less growth. She refused to give up
on him, and in her care, the horse thrived. Eleanor never gave up
on the things she loved.

Romeo Baby was one of the best cutting horses he had
ever worked with. The Quarter horse had a gentle disposition and a
unique aura. An intangible, low current surge of strength and
fluidity which allowed for a distinctive harmony between horse and
rider. But more than that, he was smart. He had a special kind of
cow sense all real cutting horses have. When the reins were
loosened, he could isolate a calf and pull it from the herd like a
gentle guiding mother.

After Charlie’s death, Rose held on to his dream,
but Redemption had been running in the red for years with little
hope of ever making a profit. Eleanor knew that, but she, like
Rose, held on to the dream. With the weight of last year’s taxes
bearing down on her, she was pinching the life out of every penny
she had and was working her ass off.

“You should have named the beast Eleanor’s
Baby.”

“He’s not a
beast
and you’re just
mad because you can’t have him.”

“What’s going to happen to your baby when you
leave?” he asked, knowing she had petitioned Jess to care for the
horse. “I’ll give you a hundred dollars for him right now.” His
insulting offer was for the sole sake of instigation, and she knew
it. That’s what made their flirting quarrels so interesting. He
teased her with a few lighthearted insults, and she retaliated with
witty comebacks and pretended to be angry. It seemed to be the
natural migration of their relationship since he came home from
college. He didn’t have a clue as to where that migration might
lead, and for the moment, he didn’t care. He was content living in
whatever moment they had.

A convincing stare of anger narrowed her eyes. “Your
brother has graciously agreed to take care of him, and it will be a
cold day in hell before I sell Romeo Baby to you.”

He smiled and fought the urge to kiss her, just as
he had earlier in the barnyard. “Colder weather is comin’.” He
tried hard to keep his mind centered on the land, but he found
himself wandering back to a conversation he had with her a couple
of weeks ago.

She was standing on the sidewalk
outside of a little boutique on Main Street when he drove by. He
slowed the truck, mesmerized by her simple beauty. Without
knowing
why,
he parked and made his way over to where she stood
admiring a peach dress. He looped both thumbs in the front pocket
of his Wranglers as he gave the dress a keen look of interest. “Do
you think they have it in a thirty-six?”

She fought a grin. “Maybe, but I think the color is
wrong for your eyes.”

“Really?”

She bit her bottom lip. “Yeah, red is your
color.”

With a finger and thumb to his
chin, he considered her suggestion then heaved his size thirteen
boot outward and twisted his leg in a feminine fashion. “I don’t
know. With that split, I’d have to get my legs
waxed,
and it
hardly seems worth the effort.”

A
spew
of giggles erupted from
her. “Thank you, for that mental picture of you in
drag.”

“You’re welcome.” Her laughter was like sunshine. He
could never get enough of it, and right now, the only thing better
than making her laugh at his own expense was seeing her in that
sexy peach dress he knew she wanted. “Are you going to try it
on?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“This is a dream dress, McCrea. Something I would
have to save months for.” One arm shrugged. “Besides, spending that
much money for something I’ll only wear once seems like a
waste.”

“But it’s the prom.” He snatched her hand and with a
light tug, jerked her towards the shop’s double doors. “It’s like
your wedding dress. It’s special.”

Instead of following along, she pulled her hand from
his. “I’m late for work.”

Her sudden withdrawal changed the air around them
and the light in her eyes. “But what about the prom? The
dress?”

“I have one. It’s light blue with
sequins down the front. I bought it last month at the
second-hand
store down the block.”

He knew the shop and anything she
bought there could never compare to the gown in the window. “If
it’s the money, I’ll pay
─.”

“No, thanks,” she said, cutting him off.

Her downcast eyes made him regret his offer. “I
didn’t mean to insult you.”

“You didn’t.” She twisted her lips and kicked her
boot against the concrete. “The truth is, I have enough money in my
savings account to buy the dress, but Romeo Baby needs─”

“That horse is a burden you should rid yourself of.
I’ll give you twenty-five thousand for him.”

Her retort was slow, deferred by temptation, he was
sure. “Twenty-five, huh?”

“Yep. Say the word and I’ll pull out my
checkbook.”

Her answer was plain and simple. “But he’s more than
a horse to me. He’s the future of Redemption.”

Damn, Redemption. Couldn’t she see what she was
giving up? “We could make it a partnership.”

She raised an eyebrow in
question
. “A partnership? With you?”

“I buy him, keep him while you’re gone and when you
get back from college, we’ll start breeding.”

“And what do you want in return for your
investment?”

A smart man would have spewed out a bullshit figure,
and let it go at that. Something to cure her curiosity, but he
couldn’t do that with Eleanor. She was too smart for bullshit.
“Nothing.”

She crammed a hand into the back
pocket of her
jeans
and tilted her head to one side.
“Then why would you do it?”

“For the same
reason
I offered
to buy you the dress.” He felt something inside him give way.
Something his pride couldn’t hold back. “Because it would make you
happy.”

His words touched her. He could see it in the
changing color of her eyes, the nervous flex of her creamy throat,
and the inward twist of her knees. She was the perfect mix of
vulnerability and innocence, and an enticement that ignited a fire
deep inside him. “Peach is your color,” he lured.

Her playfulness returned. “So is blue. No deal.” She
pointed to the boutique door. “But I think you should definitely
try the red one on.”

He watched her firm ass bounce from
side to side as she retreated down the street. “I will. If you help
me wax my legs!” His shout caused a passing group of teenage girls
to giggle. Pride intact, he adjusted the waist of his
Wranglers
and pushed his chest out before entering the shop.

Eleanor got her expensive peach
dress, delivered anonymously to her mailbox the next day with a red
bow he tied himself. From a bush behind the fence, he watched for
the Conner kid’s
arrival
and reminded himself that acne
and braces were safe, even if raging hormones were on the loose.
Sure enough, at seven o’clock on the dot, the little yellow
Volkswagen jolted to a stop outside Rose’s house, backfired once,
and produced a very nervous saxophone player. McCrea relaxed
knowing her virginity was safe.

“McCrea, did you hear what I said?” His granddad’s
voice jolted him out of the memory.

“Ah-no. Sorry.” He shifted in his seat. “I was
thinking.”

Hardin cleared his throat. “Redemption’s heyday was
before my time, but I’ve heard the stories about how it was one
hell of a horse ranch.”

“Oh, it was,” Wade said. “Your
granddad was about the best bronc rider in the
state
and one hell
of a horseman. You may have trouble finding someone as good as he
was.”

It was true, Charlie Mackenna had
been the best in the
state,
and he dominated the sport in the
1960’s until a broken back retired him. The old man was just as
tough as
Wade
and one hundred percent cowboy. “Jess offered to
pitch in help me with the horses when I get back.”

It was only natural she would enlist Jess’ help. He
had been one hell of a bronc buster before his accident, and a
lesser man would have given up. But not Jess. Months of rehab and
three surgeries later, his brother was still a lady’s man. McCrea
couldn’t help the jealousy that tightened inside his stomach when
he thought about Jess helping her with anything.

“We’ll help too, in any way we can, money, people,
connections. Anything at all,” Wade assured her. “And if your plans
for rebuilding Redemption don’t work out, you come and see me. I
have just the job for you.”

“You would give me a job?”

“Sure we would,” Hardin answered for him. “We would
be crazy not to.”

“Oh, well, thank you.”

“And don’t worry about Rose. We’ll take good care of
her while you’re gone.”

“I would appreciate that. I worry about leaving
her.” With no more said about dreams or degrees, she nervously
glanced at McCrea. “Well, I better get going.”

“Make sure you shut the door behind you,” he
ordered.

She saluted him with a “Yes, sir,” before shutting
the door behind her.

Wade waited until he heard the front door shut.
“Eleanor’s a sweet girl.”

“And pretty too,” Hardin threw in. “You should be
nicer to her.”

“She gives me a headache.” McCrea scooted to the
edge of his seat. “Back to the land.”

“Hell boy, you better not drag your feet with that
one,” Wade laughed. “If I were younger, I’d steal her right out
from under you.”

McCrea’s mouth dropped open. “What?”

“There’s no use in trying to hide it,” Hardin said.
“We both saw the way you were gawkin’ at her.”

Damn. He pushed his Stetson up high on his forehead,
a little embarrassed he’d been caught. “So I was admiring her
ass.”

Wade leaned back in his chair. “You do know she’s
head over heels in love with you, don’t you?”

Christ, was he serious? “She’s a kid with a crush.
She’ll get over it.”

“But will you?” Hardin threw in.

“There’s nothing to get over!”

“You sure about that?” Wade pushed. “Why did you
punch Willard?”

“Because he slapped Eleanor on the ass and offered
up a raw suggestion as to how she could deliver the next round of
beers.” He dragged his hat off and slung it to the desk, irritated
they were talking him into a corner. “But you two already knew
that, didn’t you? What the hell is going on here?”

“You tell us,” Wade said.

How could he justify kickin’ Willard’s ass without
coming across as being jealous or protective of Eleanor? The two of
them would love that.

“Willard has a big mouth, and he needed to know he
was out of line.”

“So you broke his nose?” Hardin questioned with a
smirk.

“He threw the first punch.” He did feel a little
guilty for breaking Willard’s nose. He was a decent guy, just rowdy
when he was drunk.

“Love provokes all sorts of emotions and jealousy is
one of the strongest.”

What the hell? Love? “Whoa! I was just looking out
for her!” He raked a hand through his hair, then pointed to Wade.
“You would have done the same thing.”

Wade’s smile was wide. “Damn right, I would have. I
once knocked out a guy’s front teeth for asking your grandma to
dance.”

BOOK: Goodnight Kisses
4.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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