Authors: Desiree Holt
Tags: #Cyn-Sational;hot sex;naked bodies;sexy tattoo;erotic;small town;texas;cougar;older heroine;younger hero
A little hard wood and a little spice is enough to get this fire smoking.
Naked Cowboys, Book 5
After a shattering divorce, Cynthia Dellinger is left with almost nothing except her most precious possession—her grandfather’s secret barbecue-spice-rub recipe, which made her ex a fortune.
In Saddler’s Wells, she hopes to build a business—and maybe a new life—on the strength of that recipe. But she’s totally unprepared for her sizzling attraction to the artisan carpenter her new friends send her way.
Jesse Orosco is ready to roll up his sleeves to renovate Cyn’s storefront, but it’s the self-doubt lurking in her beautiful eyes he wants to tackle first. The five-foot-nothing red-headed dynamo makes his mouth water, and not just because of the tantalizing aromas drifting from the back of her shop.
The buzz about the rub’s mysterious ingredient has customers lining up for more, and soon everyone who tries it is making beautiful music in the bedroom—including Cyn and Jesse. But her reluctance to go public with their relationship—and someone in town with a jealous bone to pick—could drive a wedge between Cyn and her smoking-hot cowboy.
Warning: Contains a sexy carpenter with calluses in all the right places, a vulnerable woman who’s locked away more than a secret ingredient in her wounded heart, and a town full of matchmakers with an appetite for love.
It takes a lot of people to create a series and put a book together that works. First and always, to Margie Hager, the world’s best beta reader. Where would I be without your insight and feedback. To my daughter, Amy, whose funny little story gave birth to the Naked Cowboys. You just never know where incidents in life will take you. To all my kids, my adult children who are the best promo people in the world. To my readers, without you, where would I be? And finally, to all the cowboys who live around me. You are my inspiration, naked or not.
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
Cynthia “Cyn” Dellinger kept repeating the sentence like a mantra, one she desperately needed. Standing in the middle of the empty retail space, one that appeared would take more work than she wanted to think about at the moment, she tried to slow the rising tide of uncertainty. But the place was perfect. How could she not snap it up?
“I think this will work absolutely fine, don’t you?” Nida Beloit, the real estate agent, gave her a bright smile and waved her arm, gesturing at the emptiness.
“Fine.” Cyn swallowed. “Yes, I think it will do. Absolutely.”
It will. If I can figure out how to get myself unstuck here. I must be crazy. Whatever made me think I could do this, anyway?
She had been in Saddle Wells two weeks, embarking on a new phase in her life with a great deal of anxiety. Until this moment, nothing had seemed quite real. But she would shortly sign her name to a piece of paper and her new life would officially begin.
“When you explained what you were looking for,” Nida went on, “I thought of this spot immediately. You can do all kinds of things with it.”
Again, Cyn thought how lucky for her that Alfredo Hyland, the small manufacturer who would produce her barbecue rub and hopefully her sauce too was located right outside this small Texas town of Saddle Wells. Alone for hours in her Memphis motel room, she had done intensive research looking for a small company to handle her product. How lucky for her that the company she’d settled on was located in a place so welcoming. Where she’d found the first real friends she could recall having in ages. Friends even now waiting for a report on this meeting.
Handing over the recipe to Alfredo and signing the contract with him had been her first really scary moment since leaving Memphis behind. This would be her second.
I can do it. I know I can do it.
Closing her eyes for a moment, Cyn visualized the sign she wanted over the door—
Cyn’s Cyn-Sational Barbecue Rub and Sauce
. It was amazing how that took the edge off her panic.
“I’m so excited about your project.” Nida was gushing now. “I can’t wait to tell all my friends. You should have this place fixed up and ready for business in no time.”
Right. Assuming she could find a carpenter who wouldn’t cost her every bit of her financial reserves. And unexpected problems didn’t crop up. And she didn’t suddenly wilt and lose the backbone she’d forced herself to find sitting in that damn Memphis motel room.
What am I doing? Am I out of my mind?
“Cyn?” Nida’s Texas drawl pierced her mental fog.
“Oh. Sorry.” Cyn gave herself a mental shake. “Yes, I think this place is exactly what I’m looking for. And the rent you quoted is within my budget.”
“I promise you, when word of your product gets out, you’ll be taking money in by the fistful.”
Cyn gave her an unsteady laugh. “From your lips.”
“So shall we go over to my office and get the paperwork signed, give you the keys and you can get started?”
I’m doing it. I can really do this. All I have to do is keep telling myself.
“Yes. I’m ready.”
She nearly faltered in her determination walking the two blocks to the realty office. In the dark of the night, when she’d lain sleepless in that Memphis motel, and then on the long drive from Memphis to Saddle Wells, Texas, and all morning as Nida showed her available places, she’d kept hearing the nasty voice of Frank, her ex-husband, in her head.
“Take your damn recipe. What do you think you can do with it anyway? You’re nothing without me and you never will be. Nothing but a dumb broad who happened to have something I needed.”
That had hurt perhaps more than anything else. More than the neglect. More than the women she learned about. More than his growingly dismissive attitude. Yes, discovering that he had only married her to get his hands on her great-grandfather’s barbecue-rub recipe had made the past fifteen years a huge waste of her life. At first, she’d been proud that the rub had put the restaurant on the map and been responsible for the success of the continued growth and expansion. But to learn that even the best years of their marriage had been nothing more than a sham had almost destroyed her self-esteem.
Almost. But not quite.
She’d walked away from the big house, the fancy cars and clothes, the lavish lifestyle with nothing but a tiny settlement and the recipe in her hot little hands. And a determination to make a success of herself and tell good old Frank Dellinger to stick it up his ass.
So here she was, hoofing it down a typical Texas main street, parking spaces filled with as many pickups as SUVs and other vehicles. Limestone and wood seemed to be the building materials of choice, the design and combination giving the heart of the town its charm. Old-fashioned light posts dotted the streets, sporting signs that said
Historic Saddle Wells.
Benches were placed in front of strategic locations such as Sundaes and Coffee Café and Bit and Bite where people could pause to enjoy their treats and chat with each other. Huge terra-cotta pots sported profusions of colorful flowers, blooms cascading over the sides. People she didn’t even know nodded and smiled at her as if she’d lived there forever.
What’s not to love about this place?
It was as far from her previous life as she could get, which was a big plus as far as she was concerned. In the short time since she arrived, she had completely fallen in love with the place.
The realty office had as much character as every other place. The door was heavy carved wood, the walls inside were hung with Frederick Russell prints and pens and pencils poked out of a leather cup holder on Nida’s desk.
”I can’t wait for you to get going on this,” the woman gushed as they finished the last of the paperwork. “Barbecue rub in Texas? And sauce? Mmm-mmm. A recipe for success.”
“I hope so.” Cyn took her copies of the contract and the ring of keys Nida handed to her. Apprehension and anticipation bubbled inside her in equal amounts. “Now all I need to do is get the place whipped into shape, advertise and get some customers.” The shaky laugh popped out of her mouth again. “Easy peasy, right?”
“This town will give you all the help you need. We like new businesses.”
“Even from outsiders?” Cyn asked.
“You’re only an outsider until you move here.” Nida winked.
“I hope you’re right.” Cyn picked up her purse and stood. “Listen, thank you very much. You’ve been great and you found me the absolutely perfect place.”
“Keep me in the loop. I can pass the word when you’re ready to open.” Nida closed her desk drawer. “You got anyone in mind to do the renovations?”
“No.” Cyn sighed. “But Georgie Hannigan said she might have some names for me. You know I’m staying at the B&B she and her husband own.”
“Yes.” Nida grinned. “I’ll tell you, Cade Hannigan’s story is one to talk about. If people had told me that when he lost everything he’d figure out how to be a human being and end up with a winner like Georgie, I’d have called them a liar to their face. So you see?” She grinned. “Good things do happen.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Well, I’d better get going. I’m meeting some new friends for lunch at the Bit and Bite.”
“Don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything,” Nida called as Cyn headed out the door.
“Thanks. For everything.”
I need someone to tell me I’m not crazy.
“I need someone to tell me I’m not crazy,” she said aloud to her friends when she slid into her chair at their table at the Bit and Bite.
“You’re not crazy.” Amy Montgomery grinned. “And you’re going to do great. I know it.”
“All of a sudden, I’m getting the feeling I’m in over my head.” Cyn rubbed her forehead. “I stood in that store and looked around and thought, am I crazy? I’ve never been in business before.”
“But you’re smart and savvy,” Reenie protested. “Don’t let yourself fall into the trap that douchebag Frank set for you. Don’t let what he did or said make you doubt yourself. Not when you’re on the verge of something so liberating.”
“And successful,” Amy added.
“Take a look at me,” Georgie told her. “I came here out of desperation, bought a rundown old inn and turned it into a successful B&B.” She wrinkled her forehead. “At least I like to think it’s successful.”
“Of course it is. Aren’t you pretty much booked out for weekends the rest of the year?” Reenie Stark, Amy’s sister-in-law, leaned across the table. “Cyn, all of us have had challenges and some of us have had to make new starts here. We’ve all managed to achieve our goals. Or at least the beginning of them.”
They paused in their discussion while the waitress took their orders.
Cyn looked around the table at the four women sitting there and thought how very lucky she was that they’d taken her in to their close-knit group. She had Georgie to thank for that. The woman had refused to let Cyn keep hiding in her room when she’d checked in to the B&B and had dragged her to the Lone Star Bar for girls’ night out. Despite the fact they were all younger than her in varying degrees of age, instant bonding had occurred. The situation gave Cyn much needed emotional support.
Since then, the women had functioned as her personal cheering section. She wondered if she’d ever get back to the point where she felt comfortable in her own skin the way they all seemed to be.
Sighing, she picked up the keys to the store and jingled them at everyone. “Well, I signed the contracts for the store, so I guess I’m doing it.”
“Of course you are.” Amy grinned at her. “And we’re all going to help you.”
Cyn accepted her glass of iced tea from the waitress, took a sip and sat back.
“I wish I had half the faith in myself that you gals have in me. I swear, I keep looking over my shoulder expecting Frank to show up and lecture me on what a failure I’m going to be.”
“Cyn.” Jinx Malone, publisher of
The Hill Country Herald
, had a serious look on her face. “I don’t know much about your ex except the little you’ve told us, but if your doubts have anything to do with him—”
“He cheated on me for years,” she blurted out.
Four pairs of eyes stared at her.
Well, when will I learn to keep my mouth shut?
All she had told any of them was her marriage had fallen apart and she’d had no choice but to leave. She’d been stingy with the details, embarrassed at the light they’d put her in. Now she’d gone and done it. They’d want to know everything.
She swallowed a sigh. Well, they had welcomed her on Georgie’s word alone and offered her their support. They might as well know all the gory details. She took a sip of her iced tea while she pulled her thoughts together.
“You don’t have to tell us anything you don’t want to,” Reenie said quickly, brushing a few strands of her sun-streaked-brown hair away from her face. Her dark-green eyes were filled with sympathy. “We’ve all got things we like to keep locked in a drawer.”
“It’s okay. You’ve all been so nice to me. I hate the fact I’m spilling all the ugly details.” She tried to smile but her mouth wouldn’t work properly. “Anyway, it’s been just me for all these past weeks and I guess I really need someone to talk to.”
“You can trust us with anything,” Amy assured her, rich-sable ponytail bouncing as she nodded her head “We like you, Cyn. We want to help you.”
Conversation stopped when the waitress arrived with their meals and distributed their plates. Cyn picked up her fork and then put it down again.
Get it out there, Cyn. Say the words.
“I guess he cheated on me almost from the day we got married,” she said. “I realize now I was too stupid to realize it. I had the recipe for this rub that was handed down in my family. My granddaddy was the last one to use it in a small rib shack he ran. Then it came to me.”
“And you used it for your restaurants,” Jinx commented.
“Yes. That is, Frank convinced me it would put our place on the map because it was so good. And it did. We ended up opening another restaurant, then another, and pretty soon we had this successful chain going. He was always busy going from one spot to the other, meeting with suppliers, whatever. I can’t believe how stupid I was.”
“So how did you find out?” Reenie wanted to know.
“One of my friends took me to lunch and told me I needed to wise up. That Frank ran after anything in a skirt and that he had been sleeping with the same woman for three years.”
“Wow!” Amy frowned. “So what did you do?”
“Hired a private detective, got the goods on him and filed for divorce.”
“He must have been really pissed,” Reenie guessed.
“You don’t know the half of it. With all the yelling and screaming, I discovered the only reason he married me was to get the damn recipe for the rub. He claimed it was community property and he planned to keep it.”
“Holy crap.” Amy fanned herself. “That’s some serious shit.”
Cyn nodded. “I had a great lawyer, but so did Frank. In the end, I gave up a lot financially but held on to the recipe.” She took a healthy swallow of her tea, soothing her suddenly dry throat. “I’ve got my seed money and made arrangements with the company I told you about to produce the rub, but I’ve got to make this work. I have no options. If I fall on my face, I’m afraid Frank will be waiting to scoop up the leftovers.”
Amy reached across the table and covered Cyn’s hand with her own. “We won’t let that happen. We’ve all had demons to fight and we hold each other up. We’ll do the same for you.”
For a moment, Cyn was afraid she’d cry. Her eyes burned with unshed tears and her throat closed up. She’d only known these women for a couple of weeks, yet they were more supportive of her than people she’d thought were her friends for years.
“You don’t know how much I appreciate that.”
“Like I said,” Amy went on, “we’re going to make sure you’re a success.”
“I want to taste that rub as soon as you have a batch ready,” Jinx told her. “I’m going to run a feature on it. Get everyone’s juices flowing.”