Taming the Texan

By: Jules Bennett

CHAPTER ONE



“What are you doing here, Ma’am?”

Alexa Rodriguez spun around, her hand to her heart. The low, gravelly voice had shocked her, but not as much as seeing the man strut toward her.

Well, he had a cowboy swagger with a slight limp, so she wouldn’t quite call it a strut. Regardless of the label, the man held her attention and there was nowhere to go…not when she was pinned in place by that dark-as-night stare.

When she first stepped into the impressive stables on Pebblebrook Ranch, she hadn’t seen a soul. And now this sexy cowboy stood only feet away, staring at her from beneath the wide brim of his black hat. Her heart shouldn’t be beating so fast, so hard. But…yeah, he was one sexy stable hand.

Was she trespassing? The owner of the bed-and-breakfast next door had told Alexa the stables were open to B and B guests, but maybe there was some disconnect because this man did not look happy to have a visitor.

“I’m a guest next door,” she explained as she tried to keep eye contact and not fidget. “I was told I could come ride and that someone would be here to assist me.”

The stable hand grunted, but never took his eyes off her. Well, this was awkward.

Stepping out of her comfort zone was the theme of the weekend. Her meddling yet well-meaning best friend had bought Alexa a package for a three-night stay at the B and B, stating Alexa was an overworked single mom who deserved some alone time.

Alexa had just registered next door and put her bag in her room when she decided to check out the outdoor amenities before the predicted storm moved in. She hadn’t been on a horse since she was five. Yeah, she was so far outside her comfort zone she didn’t even know where comfort was anymore.

But if the horse came equipped with a captivating cowboy, maybe doing something different wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Her best friend would definitely be thrilled Alexa was showing signs of life in the lust department, that was for sure.

This stable hand had sultry written all over him, from the dusty boots to the fitted denim over narrow hips to the black hat. And the way he drawled out the word ma’am had her stomach tingling.

Clearly, it had been too long since she’d had interaction with someone outside her preschool special education classroom and her fourteen-month-old son.

“You ever ridden before?” he finally asked.

“Once,” she admitted, shoving her hands into the pockets of her jeans. “I was five and at a cousin’s birthday party.”

He took a step closer, minimizing the gap between them, and all the breath in Alexa’s lungs seemed to vanish. How could one man be so striking, so bold? The deep eyes with long, dark lashes and a stubbled jaw outlining the most perfectly shaped lips…and that was all just his face.

Broad shoulders stretched his button-up black shirt in the most glorious way, one that had her imagining what excellent muscle tone he must have beneath the fabric. Those lean hips covered with well-worn denim could make any woman beg…but not her. She’d sworn off men who made her tingle—they were nothing but a hindrance in the life she’d carved out for her and her son.

And this man? He looked like pure trouble. The kind of trouble that could make a woman forget all common sense, the kind that would have a woman crying out his name over and over, the kind—

No. Her days of flirting or dating or anything else with a man were over—at least until her son got older and she could focus on her own life. For now, Mason was her everything and all that mattered.

Still, that didn’t mean she couldn’t look and appreciate…and there was so much to appreciate with this cowboy.

“Do you work here?” She had to assume so, but now she wondered if he was a guest, too.

He held out his hand. “Hayes Elliott.”

Elliott. She wasn’t just ogling any stable hand or random guest. Hayes was the elusive, mysterious war-veteran Elliott brother. Living in Stone River, she’d heard rumors about how he never left the ranch and the term PTSD had circulated nearly every time she’d heard his name.

Also what had cropped up along with his name was how he’d saved several children in a small village overseas and then been left severely injured, and how some of his friends had died in the same battle.

Something like that alone would make waves across a small town like Stone River, but couple the rumors with the fact that Hayes was a member of the prestigious Elliott family, well…it was difficult not to have gossip.

So where were his employees? A spread this large surely had several workers so the owners didn’t have to lift a finger. She knew the Elliott brothers were gearing up to open a dude ranch on their five-thousand-acre spread. What she didn’t know was why this brother, the sibling scarcely seen since he’d returned home, was the only one around.

“Alexa Rodriguez.”

She gripped his hand and, though it was cliché, she felt… Well, she felt legitimate sparks. Sparks she hadn’t experienced for years, and never at just the simple touch of a man’s hand. How did that even happen?

“You’re staying at my sister-in-law’s bed-and-breakfast?” he asked, still holding on to her hand and looking her over.

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