Cowboy and former detective Vance Gallagher never thought he’d have a second chance to convince Rachel Henderson they were meant to be together, nor did he think he’d want to. Now, after seven years, thanks to his old police academy friend, Vance is knee deep in numbers and computers, determined to save Rachel’s ranch and his own heart.
Rachel hadn’t expected to see Vance again…ever. In fact, she planned on it. Saying goodbye to him had been the hardest thing she’d ever done, but she couldn’t handle her sister, the ranch, and his job as an undercover detective all at the same time. Now she’s with him every day and buried feelings just won’t go away.
The closer Vance gets to solving the mystery of the missing money, the more convinced he becomes that Rachel is the one for him. But when prize animals start disappearing, he has to choose between revealing the culprit and keeping the woman he’s always loved from harm. He just can’t catch a break.
Rachel Henderson sucked in her breath as the door to the diner opened and a tall cowboy strode in. What the hell was Vance Gallagher doing here?
His chiseled jaw and boyish good looks hid a mature man of strong character and confidence. She knew better than anyone exactly how experienced and loyal he was.
“Rachel? What are you looking at?” Hunter McKade waved his hand in front of her eyes. He was a family friend that went back as far as her first tricycle and he effectively pulled her attention away from the man scanning the crowd.
She turned her head in the futile hope Vance wouldn’t see her. “Nothing. Just people coming and going.”
Her answer wasn’t nearly clever enough for Hunter. The man had been in Afghanistan and a police officer before that. He could tell right away she lied.
Hunter looked over his shoulder and around the wall behind him. “Vance! Over here.”
As he waved, Rachel’s stomach turned over and her mouth went dry. She couldn’t do this. “He’s the friend you said could help me?” Her voice rose to a much higher pitch than normal.
Hunter turned back toward her. “Yes. Vance Gallagher is the best there is when it comes to detective work that involves finances.” He paused. “Are you okay? You’ve lost your tan in three seconds.” He paused again, studying her. “Do you know Vance?”
She grabbed her purse. “I think it’s the creamer. I’m going to the restroom.” She slid out of the booth they occupied and stood. Vance was barely ten feet away and he stopped as recognition dawned.
“Rachel?” His baritone voice sent memories kaliedoscoping through her mind.
She spun around and strode to the ladies room, her heart beating a two-step in her chest as she expected his hand to clamp down on her shoulder at any moment and stop her. Pulling open the bathroom door, she glanced back as it closed.
Vance stood rock still where she’d left him.
She locked the door and walked to the sink, her breathing ragged from her surprise. Running the water, she scooped it up and rinsed her face. As the water dripped off, she looked in the mirror.
“You need to get a hold of yourself, woman.” She snorted. “As if that’s gonna happen.”
Vance Gallagher was the only man she’d ever loved…still loved. And it hadn’t been that superficial love based on his warm brown eyes, dark brown hair and toned physique. She’d broken both their hearts over seven years ago when he’d worked for the Austin police force.
He’d gone into a deep and dangerous undercover operation and after almost three months of worrying and wondering if he was alive, she’d known she couldn’t live like that. She’d embarrassed both of them by repeatedly going to his chief and asking if he’d heard anything.
“You were a weak, pathetic girl, Rachel Henderson.” She grabbed a couple paper towels and wiped her face and hands. While Vance was undercover, her father had died of a heart attack, her mother was diagnosed with stage-four cancer and her sister had become pregnant at the ripe age of seventeen.
When Vance finally emerged from the operation, it had been a full six months. He’d come to her expecting a happy reunion, but she couldn’t do it. He’d wanted to help, but his job came first. He was good at his job and she hadn’t wanted him to have to choose. “Yup, you made the decision for him, didn’t you? That’s what every man wants, a woman who decides for him. He’s got to hate you by now.”
Her heart lurched. She thought she’d buried those feelings six feet under, but obviously there wasn’t enough dirt in all of Daisy Creek to keep them repressed.
She still loved him. He’d accepted her for who she was, a rancher’s daughter, no more, no less.
“You’re an idiot.” She scowled at herself in the mirror. “The most noble, good-hearted cowboy in all of central Texas and you kicked him out of your life. Good job.” And now, that man was here because her childhood friend had called him to help her. Her!
“Nice, this should go well. Hi, Vance. Sorry about breaking your heart. Now could you help me save my ranch?”
She looked at her purse sitting on the sink counter, the insufficient funds notice folded up inside. She’d called Hunter’s mom to find out where he was and had been surprised to discover his wife had died and he was living with a woman and working at a nudist resort in Arizona. She hadn’t seen that coming. But if anyone could help her, she’d known he could.
Hunter arrived and looked over what she had. When he said he had a friend nearby from his police academy days who had specialized in financial investigations, she breathed a lot easier. She couldn’t lose her ranch. It and her sister were all she had left of her family.
Now she could barely get air past her lungs. She didn’t want to face Vance again. Already the feelings she had for him were floating toward the top, cresting over the walls she’d built around her heart.
She had a decision to make. Face him and save her ranch or ditch his help and try to manage on her own. The problem was, if Hunter couldn’t figure it out after looking over everything for the last three days then how could she?
She had to save the ranch. That was her mantra since she called Hunter. It was the only stability she had and she worked hard through everything to hold on to it. Her sister, though not at the ranch every day, called it home. Crystal had helped to keep it from bankruptcy once before because she loved it.
“You told Hunter you’d do anything to keep it.” She frowned at herself. “So are you still the weak pathetic girl from seven years ago?” She nodded at herself. “No, you’re not. Now go out there and face your issues head on.”
Right. She stared hard at herself before noticing she’d plastered tiny strands of her blonde hair across her forehead and she had a piece of hay stuck on her sleeve. Impatiently, she pushed her hair back into place and threw the hay in the trash.
Other than that, she looked pretty much the same as the last time she saw Vance.
She shrugged. “What’s it matter. You’re not going on a date. He already knows you have no waist, too-long legs and an ass that’s bigger than it should be. Stop stalling.”
Giving herself a final scowl in the mirror, she picked up her purse and moved to the door. You can do this. She could accept Vance’s help if he was willing to give it. He would be working with Hunter, after all, and not her.
She opened the door and halted. What if he hated her? She gripped the handle as her stomach roiled. Please don’t hate me.
Maybe he would refuse to help. Or maybe Vance had much better things to do than help an old girlfriend who had dumped him. A man’s ego could only take so much.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. She could play “what if” all day, but all she had to do is walk a hundred feet and get her questions answered. Slowly, she released the door and walked toward the table.
Vance’s heart lurched as he gazed into Rachel’s blue eyes for a second, her face unchanged over the years except for a darker tan, her skin still satiny, and her chin still stubborn.
Then she walked away from him…again. Her hips swaying and her pale blonde braid swishing right and left with her gait.
His gut twisted. Was she married now? Did she have a husband and children who helped her with Yellowwood Ranch? Was the man of her heart easier to “handle” than him? Anger rushed over him and he gritted his teeth.
Finally, he turned to look at Hunter, who stood studying him. Damn, he hoped the investigation wasn’t about Rachel’s husband cheating on her. His hands fisted of their own accord.
“So are you going to give an old friend a welcome or just stand there like a statute all day?” Hunter’s lips quirked up at the corner.
Vance relaxed his hands and gave his friend a one-armed hug. When they parted, he shook his head. “Wow, you are just full of surprises.”
“I hadn’t planned on that. So you know Rachel?” Hunter motioned to the empty seat across from him and sat.
“Yes.” Vance slid into the booth.
Hunter raised his brow. “That’s it?”
“Tell you what, you tell me why you’re dressed like Johnny Cash and I’ll tell you about Rachel.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lexi Post is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of sensuous romance inspired by the classics. She spent years in higher education taking and teaching courses about the literature she loved while reading her favorite romance authors. It wasn’t long before she decided to marry her two first loves. From hot paranormal to sizzling cowboys to hunks from out of this world, Lexi provides a steamy read with a “whole lotta story.”
Lexi is living her own happily ever after with her husband and her cat in Florida. She makes ice cream every weekend, loves bright colors, and you will never see her without a hat.