Excerpt from ONE HOT COWBOY

One Hot CowboyThe cold water of the Blackhawk Ranch’s swimming hole nearly numbed Rose, almost making her forget everything that had gone so wrong. The loss of Auntie Dee was still there, a deep, sore spot in her heart, but maybe now that wound would finally be able to start healing. Coming back here to Lonesome was a good start, she thought, even if it was at Cabe Dawson’s imperious behest. Here she could revisit some of her happiest memories of Auntie Dee.

“Here’s to you, Auntie Dee.” Getting ready to emerge, she lifted the shampoo bottle in a mock toast. Auntie Dee had loved crazy escapades. Even after Rose had left Lonesome, and they had to share their latest adventures by phone, Auntie Dee had sometimes one-upped her. She always wanted to hear all about Rose’s life, but always, always, the older woman had had stories of her own to tell.

Of course, the plain truth was that Rose wasn’t here at the old Blackhawk swimming hole just to swim and remember Auntie Dee. No, she was here to get clean, too, because she’d lost the key to the house she’d inherited from Auntie Dee. Until she was ready to face Cabe Dawson and retrieve a copy, she’d be camping out. Frankly, camping out was easier than facing down his disappointed stare when she confessed her carelessness.

God, she needed that house.

She needed to come home.

The water was a familiar kind of cold. She’d swum her heart out here summer after summer, whooping and jumping every chance she got because she’d loved the adrenaline rush as the swing’s rope curved up through the air, taking her higher and higher until her fingers slipped free and she was falling, flying through the air with the water waiting beneath her. Falling. Flying. She’d gotten those two mixed up back then. Then, when she’d left Lonesome, she’d done more than her share of both.

She knew the difference too well now.

When she heard the soft crunch of gravel, she didn’t think too much of it. This far out on the ranch, there was wildlife. It was part and parcel of the place. Still, the sound had her head turning instinctively, her eyes searching the darker shadows of the trees.

Adrenaline pumped through her in a sickening, dizzying rush of sensation. Oh, God. That wasn’t wildlife. There was someone standing there in the shadows. A large, too-male someone who was watching her. She wasn’t stupid. She was out here alone, and she was giving some stranger one hell of a peep show. And that was the best-case scenario.

No way she would be able to get out of the water, grab her keys, and run past him to her car. She would put herself within arm’s reach in the process, and she could imagine exactly how that scenario might end.

Badly.

Maybe she could wait him out. But when she swam out to the center of the swimming hole, the water suddenly seemed too cold, too dark. God, she had to learn to think first. She shouldn’t have come here, and she definitely shouldn’t have come alone.

Booted feet moved forward, not making any effort to keep quiet. He didn’t care if she knew he was watching; he was warning her of his presence. She froze, her fingers clamping down around the stupid bottle of shampoo. Eight ounces of Suave wouldn’t save her now.

A rough growl of a voice came out of the darkness. “What do you think I should do with a naked trespasser, darlin’?”

The man behind the voice stepped out of the shadows, crouching down by the water’s edge. She knew the legs in those faded jeans and those hand-tooled cowboy boots. Even with his hat pulled down low, she recognized him. Cabe Dawson. He’d been her nemesis from the moment she’d set foot in Lonesome. Eight years in the town had burned that hard-edged, darkly handsome face and big, strong body into her memory. He was authority in these parts, and she’d spent every minute breaking his rules.

So it just figured Cabe Dawson would catch her red-handed in his swimming hole with a shampoo bottle, bare-ass naked.