Authors: Cathy Gillen Thacker
The heart-stopping attraction’s still there, but today Lily needs only one thing from old flame Gannon Montgomery—the best damn legal counsel ever. The stakes are high—custody of Lily’s son, Lucas. And the rules are clear. Lily’s
giving Gannon the chance to break her heart
. They can be friends. That’s all.
Not enough, thinks Gannon. He’s only in town to sell the family ranch, but Mayor Lily McCabe makes sticking around seem pretty attractive. He can see the desire in her eyes every time they’re thrown together. And with the court case
the Texas chili cook-off he’s been dragged into, that’s a
. As the stress grows, so does the attraction. But Lily won’t compromise, and Gannon can’t let go. Someone’s gotta give!
“What do I owe you?”
He remained maddeningly aloof. “Nothing.”
Trying not to wonder if the rest of him was as big and capable as his hands, she gave him a look. Waited.
He shrugged again. “I’m doing this pro bono.”
Charity? He was doing this as a charity case?
Anger warred with pride. It was true, her salary as mayor wasn’t much, but she didn’t need much since she had accrued some savings before running for public office. “I don’t need your professional largesse, Gannon.”
A contemplative silence fell. He gave her a slow, reckless smile that quickly set her heart to pounding. “You really want to pay me back for my help?”
Talk about a loaded question! She regarded him matter-of-factly, letting him know with a glance she did not want to owe him any other favors, either. “Absolutely,” she snapped. “The sooner the better.”
He edged closer, inundating her with the sandalwood-and-spice scent of his cologne, and the brisk, masculine fragrance unique to him. “Then how about dinner—tonight?”
Lily blinked. “Are you for real?”
Another slow, seductive smile. “Very.”
There’s a part of me that, given a choice, would always do everything my own way, in my own time. However, as a grown-up, I know that’s just not possible if I want to get along with others. So the question I constantly struggle with is how much and what to give way on—and how much to stand firm on.
For Lily McCabe, that’s always been an easy answer. A middle daughter of six, and a triplet to boot, she’s always had to compromise on everything. She’s never been in a position to have anything exactly the way she wants it. And the ferociously independent single mom is okay with that.
Gannon Montgomery grew up watching those around him give way on literally everything and anything, all in the name of the greater good. And while he appreciates the sacrifices made, he also knows it was at the expense of real happiness and lives well-lived. He refuses to make the same mistakes and will not compromise on anything truly important to him.
Lily and Gannon’s different views have split up what might have been a beautiful friendship. Neither expect to ever reconcile, until Lily is forced, by crisis, to turn to the ever-gallant Gannon for help. Then, all bets are off, as both discover they still have much to learn about life...and love.
For more information on this and other books please visit me at
Cathy Gillen Thacker
Cathy Gillen Thacker
Cathy Gillen Thacker
is married and a mother of three. She and her husband spent eighteen years in Texas and now reside in North Carolina. Her mysteries, romantic comedies and heartwarming family stories have made numerous appearances on bestseller lists, but her best reward, she says, is knowing one of her books made someone’s day a little brighter. A popular Harlequin author for many years, she loves telling passionate stories with happy endings, and thinks nothing beats a good romance and a hot cup of tea! You can visit Cathy’s website,
, for more information on her upcoming and previously published books, recipes and a list of her favorite things.
Books by Cathy Gillen Thacker
Harlequin American Romance
Runaway Lone Star Bride
Lone Star Christmas
The Texas Lawman’s Woman
The Long, Hot Texas Summer
The Texas Christmas Gift
The Texas Wildcatter’s Baby
Legends of Laramie County
The Reluctant Texas Rancher
The Texas Rancher’s Vow
The Texas Rancher’s Marriage
The Texas Rancher’s Family
Texas Legacies: The McCabes
A Cowboy Under the Mistletoe
One Wild Cowboy
Her Cowboy Daddy
A Cowboy to Marry
for more titles.
“Rumor has it, you and Lily McCabe have been on the outs with each other for the past eight years.”
More like six, Gannon Montgomery corrected silently. Although it
longer since the two of them had shared a laugh. Or even a smile.
The relaxation he’d felt during the rare morning ride fading fast, he led his horse into the barn. “What’s your point?” Gannon demanded.
Rex Carter stepped back. “The last thing Laramie, Texas, needs is a young female mayor.”
Gannon could see how the once-popular good old boy opposite him could think that. He pulled off the saddle and removed the bridle, bit and reins. Hung them on the wall outside the stall. “Lily’s not that young. Just a few years shy of me.”
And, if memory served, incredibly sexy and smart, to boot.
Rex narrowed his gaze. “She’s twenty-nine.”
Gannon rubbed down the gelding, gave the horse plenty of water, then shut the stall door. He walked over to the sink at the rear of the barn to wash his hands. “Which, as it happens, is old enough for a lot of things. Including running for public office in Laramie County.”
Rex slapped his Stetson against the leg of his custom Western suit. “She’s an attorney, not a politician.”
The more things changed in the rural Texas area he’d grown up in, the more they stayed the same. Gannon sure was glad he now resided in Fort Worth. “Well, tell that to all the people who voted for her,” he retorted mildly.
As if recalling he’d been beaten in a landslide by the pretty and personable Lily McCabe, and forced to return to the real estate business his family owned, Rex scowled and ran a hand through his short, graying hair. “The point is, you’re not the kind of ‘celebrity judge’ the committee had in mind for the First Annual Laramie, Texas, Chili Cook-Off and Festival. And Mayor McCabe shouldn’t have asked you to do the honors.”
Gannon strode out into the unseasonably warm February day. He admired the rugged scenery and let the sage-scented breeze roll over him. “Lily didn’t have anything to do with my selection.” The request had come from a friend of his mother’s, who’d
thought dragging Gannon back to join in the festivities would lead him to abandon his high-profile career and return home permanently.
“I agreed to do it because I figured it would be fun.”
And maybe give me a chance to mend fences with Lily, at long last
Assuming I could get her to put our old disagreements aside.
A pretty big if, given her stubbornness and the acrimoniousness of the words that had been exchanged.
Gannon turned his gaze away from the clear blue skies. “And I thought you were here to talk about the sale of my family’s ranch.”
Which was—Gannon admitted guiltily, looking at the neglected grounds around the house and barns—in pretty sad shape. Mostly because neither he nor his mother had had the time or inclination to put any work into the defunct cattle ranch since his dad had died five years prior.
Rex straightened, all savvy go-getter once again. “I’ve definitely developed a plan for the Triple M.” He paused to look at Gannon, long and hard. “But to get you and your family top dollar, I’m going to need your full cooperation on every level.”
* * *
to her assistant, her decision made as soon as the name was uttered. There was no way she wanted this particular Blast From Her Past. Her hand tightened on the telephone receiver that was, like almost everything else in the town hall, many years out of date. “Tell him I’m too busy to see him, but thank him for stopping by.”
“Tell him yourself,” an achingly familiar male voice suggested from the open portal of her private office.
Lily’s gaze lifted, and there he was. Gannon Montgomery. Big as life. Clad not in the elegant suit and tie she would have expected, but in a faded pair of jeans more suitable to his rodeo days, and a navy blue shirt that brought out his midnight eyes. His belt bore a championship buckle, and his brown leather boots were as comfortably worn as the Stetson he held against his thigh.
“Never mind.” Lily set down the phone with a sigh.
Ignoring the sensual tilt to his firm masculine lips, she pushed back her chair and stood. Then, remaining behind her large mahogany desk, she propped her hands on her hips. And tried, without success, not to notice how good he still looked. Even with his thick, short dark brown hair all rumpled, and a sandpapery-rough hint of beard rimming his chiseled face. Realizing she’d been staring, Lily dropped her gaze and found herself in even more tantalizing territory. Shoulders broad enough to lean on. Muscular chest and taut abs, all just begging to be touched. Not that she ever would.
Not after everything they’d once said.
Lily’s eyes shot upward, heat filling her face.
“How did you get past my secretary?” she demanded. Dimples appeared on either side of Gannon’s rakish grin. He lifted a big square palm. “Good looks and charm. Same as always.”
An unwelcome rush of excitement roaring through her veins, Lily watched Gannon shut the door behind him and stride toward her.
Doing her best to project an aura of professional cool, she lifted a chastising brow first at him and then at the closed door. “Is that really necessary?”
He dropped his hat on a chair, every bit as confident—and maddeningly chivalrous—as she recalled. “Given what I have to tell you, yes.”
What was it about Texas men? she wondered. Always thinking the women in their life needed protecting, whether the women wanted that or not! She blew out a gusty breath and waited, with barely contained impatience, as Gannon roamed the Laramie mayor’s office, taking in the photos of her four-year-old son on her desk, the many plaques and awards on the wall. He turned back to her, smelling of fresh air, soap and man. “First off, thanks for selecting me to be on the judges panel for Laramie’s First Annual Chili Cook-Off and Festival.”
Lily grimaced. “I had nothing to do with it. It was your mother and Miss Mim.” The retired town librarian, who had known them all as kids. “She’s chairwoman of the event. Although, for the record, we all knew you’d be in town before then, since your mother’s newest statue is going to be unveiled in the town square day after tomorrow.”
Dark brow furrowing, Gannon paused. “Have you previewed my mom’s new artwork?”
She caught the undertone of worry in his low timbre. “No one in town has.” She paused. “I’m guessing you haven’t, either?”
Gannon shook his head. “My mother is keeping her sculpting studio under lock and key.”
Lily knew the retired art teacher had only been selling her work for a few years now, but was looking to make a splash with the work the town had commissioned for the upcoming festival. “Is that usual?”
Lily told herself not to attach any particular significance to that. “I’m sure it will be amazing.”
He nodded tensely.
Deciding letting the situation get too personal could only lead to trouble, Lily pursed her lips. “Back to your invitation to judge...”
Broad shoulders flexed beneath his blue cotton shirt. “You were out of the loop on that,” he concluded with humor, not nearly as insulted by her derisive remark as she would’ve wished him to be. “So noted.”
As was much else...
Figuring if he was going to give her the lazy once-over, she may as well do the same to him, Lily let her glance admire the strong masculine planes of his handsome face before dropping once again to the sinewy contours of his chest and flat washboard abs. Lower still, the denim cloaked his long masculine legs and...
With effort, she forced her attention back to his taunting gaze and took a deep breath to allay the slight tremble of her knees. Then, in a slightly strained voice, she admitted, “Although if it had been up to me, counselor...” Given their former rancor and how closely the chili cook-off would force them to work together...
“I would not have been your first choice to be the head judge and the grand marshal of the parade?” he concluded softly.
Lily lifted her chin. “Probably not.”
He sauntered nearer, the warmth of his big body radiating outward. “You know, we
just call a truce.”
Surmising he was about to hit on her, Lily rolled her eyes. “Or not.”
He peered at her. “You sure you’re a politician?” Hands flat on the paper-strewn surface of her desk, he leaned toward her. “’Cause most politicians I know are prone to copious displays of kissing up.”
Or, in this case, just kissing.
Trying not to think about how long she had wanted to do that and somehow managed not to, Lily cleared her throat. “So you said there was another reason you were here?” she prodded in a crisp, businesslike tone.
For both their sakes, she wanted to get this tête-à-tête over with as soon as possible.
“Right.” Gannon pivoted away from her and went back to look at the photo of her and the current Texas governor, taken shortly after she had been sworn in.
He bypassed the hat taking up one of the upholstered chairs in front of her desk, and dropped lazily into the other. Then he stretched his long muscular legs out in front of him. “Rex Carter wants to oust you from your position as mayor.”
Lily sent a glance heavenward, cursing all the unnecessary drama. “Tell me something I
know,” she replied, deadpan.
“He’s serious about proving you unfit for office.”
Trying not to think how much she loved Gannon’s ruggedly chiseled features, as he stared at her with that look of worry on his handsome face, she sat down behind her desk and folded her hands in front of her. “And I’m serious about proving that I’m more than capable.”
A note of disbelief crept into his voice. “You really don’t care what Rex’s plans are?”
Lily hesitated. She did and she didn’t. “I can’t govern effectively if I spend all my time worrying about what everyone else is doing.”
“Even if the plan is to wreak as much havoc as possible on your weekend-long Valentine’s Day fund-raiser?”
“Rex loves Laramie,” she replied. “I think when it comes right down to it, he won’t want to see the town embarrassed. Especially since his family still has a business here, and could very well stand to profit if the chili cook-off is a success.”
Gannon paused. “I think you may be naive about him.”
Anger stabbed her heart, quick and brutal.
“And I think,” Lily responded just as candidly, rising yet again, “that is something you have said to me before.”
* * *
, it was something he had said. And Lily had resented it so much she had ended their friendship. Although in that instance, too, he had turned out to be right.
A fact that had made her begrudge his innate protectiveness even more...
As she came around the desk toward him and then moved past him toward the door, he could see not much had changed.
Lily was still as gorgeous as ever, he noted, as he, too, got to his feet. Still liked to wear heels that made the most of her incredible showgirl legs. Her honey-blond waves tumbled just past her shoulders, with a swoop of long sexy bangs across her forehead. Standing half a foot shorter than him, at five foot nine, she was lithe and graceful, curvy in all the right places. A fact illustrated by the trim navy suit skirt and silky white shirt that adorned her delectable body.
“I said that with good reason, as it turned out,” Gannon shot back before he could stop himself. Her ex had treated her—and the son she’d eventually had with him—like dirt.
“That’s a matter of opinion,” she reiterated tightly.
The phone on her desk buzzed. Once, then again.
Looking grateful for the interruption, Lily strode back to answer it. “Yes?” She listened, then cast a look at Gannon over her shoulder. Harrumphed loudly. “Did Mr. Montgomery pay you to say that?”
? Gannon wondered.
“No, I guess not,” Lily continued, miserably. She rubbed her temples. “And there are
Then she muttered something beneath her breath he couldn’t quite catch but sensed was very unladylike. “No. For heaven’s sake, don’t have them wait in the lobby! Show them to the conference room down the hall from my office. Yes.
. Tell them I’ll be right in. Yes. Yes!”
Lily hung up the phone.
Her hand was shaking.
Her face pale.
Then pale again.
Seeing her so distressed, it was all Gannon could do not to wrap his arms around her and make everything okay. “Rex Carter?” he guessed.
Lily scoffed and ran a hand through her bangs, pushing them off her forehead. “Worse,” she moaned. “My son’s father.”
“Bode Daniels.” The star quarterback for the Dallas Gladiators football team.
Lily’s shoulders sagged as she nodded miserably. “And his sports agent, PR rep, publicist and two lawyers.”
That was quite an entourage. Gannon studied the expression on her face. “And you had no idea they were coming?”
“None.” Lily paled again as outside in the corridor a collection of convivial voices rose and fell. Their footsteps faded.
“Do you need a lawyer?” Gannon asked, only half joking.
“I already have one. Liz Cartwright-Anderson.”
Who was, Gannon reflected, also a mutual friend.
Lily reached for her suit jacket and slipped it on. “But Liz is on vacation with her family right now, at Padre Island.” And she was the best Laramie County had to offer.
Desperation mingled with the worry in her long-lashed turquoise eyes.
It got to him—big-time.
With effort, he once again resisted the impulse to take her in his arms and smooth a hand through her hair. Anything to comfort her. “Want me to fill in for her? I’m a family-law attorney, too.”
Lily looked tempted for a nanosecond, but then she shook her head. “No. I’ve got it.” She paused, as if steeling herself emotionally for the battle ahead. “I trust you can see yourself out...?”