Authors: Kate Kelly
© 2015 by Kathryn Kelly
Finally free of her cheating husband, Maggie Kennedy is searching for a “real man” to be a sperm donor for the baby she desperately wants, and figures cowboy country is the place to find one. She’s set her sights on JD Cooper, who fits the bill to a T.
A famous architect, JD retreated to his brother’s ranch three years ago when personal tragedy struck. He doesn’t want a child. He doesn’t want to fall in love. And he most definitely doesn’t want to be part of Maggie’s Next Great Idea.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
Published by Kindle Press, Seattle, 2015
Amazon, the Amazon logo, Kindle Scout, and Kindle Press are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
JD Cooper squinted into the sun as he tracked the bubblegum-pink car racing up the long, dusty driveway. God help him, if his brother Ethan had sent another woman to stay at Moondance Ranch, he’d have no choice but to get on a plane to Chicago, drag Ethan out of whatever meeting he was in and pound on him. Like he had when they were kids.
He cringed as the car hit a pothole and hung suspended for a second before crashing down. Didn’t slow the woman down a bit. It had to be a woman. No man in his right mind would drive a car that color.
“Claire,” he called over his shoulder to where his brother’s former office manager was working on he didn’t know what. Creating spreadsheets for every head of cattle or something equally . . . helpful. Ethan had given him some cocked-up story about why he needed Claire out of the office for a while, but JD knew bullshit when he smelled it. He suspected his brother had finally met a woman who could out-maneuver him. Claire had been a good sport about Ethan demoting her from office supervisor to ranch coordinator, whatever that meant, but he could tell she was biding her time. One way or another, Ethan was going to pay.
“Claire,” he called again. When he didn’t get a response from Claire or her friend Sammie, who had turned up on the doorstep three weeks ago, he eyed the horse barn but decided he’d better wait to see if this was another one of Claire’s—what did they call them?—BFFs. He sighed. The house was big, but not big enough for three females and him.
The car zoomed up the last few yards of the driveway and skidded to a halt. JD suppressed a groan of despair. Who in their right mind would paint a classic Porsche coupe that nauseating pink color? Whoever the woman was, he could already tell she was trouble.
A five-inch spike-heeled sandal, the same color as the Porsche, winked sparkles at him as a slender foot emerged from the car, followed by impossibly long, slender legs clad in tight denim. His stomach started buzzing.
Aw, hell. That wasn’t his stomach that was getting all hepped up. How long had it been since he’d looked—really looked—at a woman? This particular woman was all curves and angles, with a face that he knew would haunt his dreams. Her hair, a wild tangle of auburn curls, tugged a smile out of him. He swallowed hard as she stretched cat-like. She finally turned toward him, her smile lit from within.
“I knew I’d find you here,” she said and stepped eagerly toward him.
And fell straight on her face into the only mud puddle in the county, thanks to Claire watering the new flower beds. JD jerked backward, as though yanked out of a dream. He hesitated, admiring how her tight little behind poked up into the air before he leaped off the porch to help the woman.
“Are you okay?” He got his arm around her waist and tipped her into an upright position.
“No, I’m not okay.” She pushed his arm away. “This is exactly how my life has been going the past year. I can’t seem to climb out of the damned mud pit.”
He smothered a smile as she smeared red mud across her face. “Need a hand?”
“Thanks.” She reached for his hand. “Sorry for snapping at you. It’s been a long week.”
Once on her feet, she pulled herself up to her full height. She was almost as tall as he was. The heels added to her height, but even without them, she’d be considered tall for a woman. “I’m Maggie Kennedy. Nice to meet you.”
Maggie Kennedy had a beautiful mouth, especially when she smiled. He’d bet some man back home worked hard to keep that smile on her face. Ignoring the mud, he shook her dirty hand. “JD Cooper.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re Ethan’s brother.”
“He has a lot to answer for, sending Claire way out here.”
He certainly did, and JD planned to take his share out of his brother’s hide for foisting all these women on him. “I couldn’t agree with you more.”
“Inside somewhere. Let me help you. Those shoes aren’t exactly appropriate footwear for a ranch.”
“I knew that. But they match the car beautifully.” She blinded him with another dazzling smile, despite the mud on her face.
He put his arm around her waist, and she leaned into him as she hobbled toward the steps. Of course she smelled good. Delicious. Good enough to eat.
JD scolded himself.
As they approached the bottom step, she put all her weight on one foot and winced. “Damnation. I twisted it. Okay, I can sit on my bum and scoot up the stairs backward. I did that when I was a kid and broke my leg.”
“No need.” He scooped her into his arms and concentrated on not huffing as he carried her up the stairs. Maggie was thin. Too thin, really. He could feel her hipbone jut into his belly. But she was tall. An armful.
One of her curls brushed his cheek as she wrapped her arms around his neck and held on, and he was suddenly aware that he hadn’t shaved today. Make that the last three days. He’d been letting things slip lately, telling himself he was too busy to care. But now he realized not only had he not shaved, he also smelled like horses, because he’d spent the morning riding up to one of the back pastures. Sometimes it paid not to announce his arrival to the ranch hands, and the best way to do that was to go by horse. Still, he should have showered after lunch, but he hadn’t bothered.
“What does JD stand for?”
He glanced at her face so close to his and noticed a sprinkle of cinnamon freckles on her nose. Her hazel eyes had a luminous quality to them. Just looking at her made him want to smile. He’d bet she had that effect on everyone.
“That’s top-secret information.” He shouldered his way past the screen door and set her on the couch in the living room, then squatted in front of her and took her injured foot in his hand. Her toenails were the same shocking pink as her shoes and car. His fingers itched to trace the delicate contours of her ankle, which was beginning to puff up. He snatched his hand away and stood. “You better take that shoe off before your foot swells up too much. I’ll find Claire.”
He escaped from the living room, trying to push the image of her pink toenails out of his head. Better to concentrate on where he was going to live if Maggie Kennedy decided to visit for a while. Because he knew, without even thinking about it, staying in the same house with her would drive him crazy.
And what had she meant when she’d said she knew she’d find him here? Had she confused him with someone else?
He could call Ethan and complain about the ranch being taken over by women, but Ethan would laugh and tell him to suck it up. Anything that kept Claire happy and here on his ranch while he took care of business back in Chicago was a bonus from his brother’s point of view. So, sucking it up was exactly what he was going to have to do. For now.
He found Claire in the kitchen messing with something. Sammie was at her side, as usual. He’d never gotten the full story on what had happened to Sammie, but anyone could see that her spirit was broken. She was the little sister he’d never had, and now he was thankful he didn’t have a sister, because if he ever met the bastard who’d put that wounded look in Sammie’s eyes, JD would settle the scales.
He endured the girls’ squeals when they heard Maggie was here and watched them race to the front room. Apparently, the three of them had been best friends since childhood. Realizing he’d forgotten to tell them about Maggie’s ankle, he went into the kitchen for some ice.
He’d have to move out, of course. JD had known this day was coming, but he’d ignored the signs. The ranch belonged to Ethan, and he’d been acting as the temporary caretaker until his brother could close up a chapter of his life in Chicago and move here.
JD didn’t have much of a sentimental attachment to the log house or the ranch. For two weeks every summer their parents had dumped Ethan and him here, at Uncle Charlie’s ranch. His uncle had been a crusty old man, but he had been able to hold the boys’ attention with a story better than any TV show could. When Charlie died, he’d had no one to leave his ranch to except Ethan and JD. The place had sat partially neglected for five years or so after Charlie’s death, the boys having been too busy with their lives to bother with it. They’d sold off the cattle and hired a caretaker until they could decide what they were going to do with the ranch. Neither he nor Ethan were ready to sell.
While in Jackson Hole to discuss the design for a home for which his architectural firm had won the contract, JD had driven out to Cooper Creek to check on the spread. With one of the insights for which he was renowned, JD decided to build his dream house halfway up a mountain, two miles east of the ranch. His wife had not been happy about moving from Salt Lake City, but the house was going to be a JD Cooper design and, everyone knew, worth millions.
A few months later, when Ethan had dropped in for a weekend visit to see what JD was up to, he’d asked if he could buy JD’s share of the ranch and suggested JD section off the piece of land he wanted. JD liked the idea of living close to his brother.
It wasn’t so much moving out of the ranch house that unsettled him now, but where he had to move to.
He put a handful of ice cubes in a plastic baggie and went down the hall to his bedroom. His was the only bedroom on the ground floor, so obviously Maggie would have to stay there, at least until her ankle got better. It would probably take only a few days for the swelling to go down. Her injury didn’t look too serious. He packed what he thought he’d need for the next few days and continued on to the living room, where he could hear all three women talking at once.
He halted in the doorway of the spacious living room and watched as Claire and Sammie fussed over Maggie’s injuries, which consisted of, as far as he could tell, a twisted ankle and a broken fingernail. They’d brought a cloth for her to wash her face, and she’d wiped away most of the mud. Somehow, she’d gotten hardly any dirt on her clothes. Probably because she’d kept her cute little butt stuck up in the air. His mouth twitched. She’d been a good sport about falling flat on her face. He liked when people didn’t make a fuss about things.
“Here’s some ice.” He held out the bag, but didn’t budge from the doorway.
Maggie’s face lit up. “Thank you,” she beamed at JD. “He carried me inside,” she said to her friends. “Me! And you know how much I weigh.”
Heat stung the back of his neck. Claire took the ice from him and raised her eyebrows when she noticed his leather bag. “Going somewhere?”
The blush climbed into his cheeks. “I thought I’d give you girls some space for a few days. She can’t sleep on the couch.” He tilted his head toward Maggie. “She can have my bedroom until . . .” He let the sentence die off. It was hardly polite talking about her leaving when she’d just arrived. He wouldn’t mind if she left, though, so he could go back to thinking things were okay for a while longer.