The Cowboy's Texas Twins

By: Tanya Michaels

CHAPTER ONE

When Grayson Cox left town at eighteen, he’d sworn hell would freeze over before he ever moved back. Now, ten years later, his stomach clenched as the truck’s headlights hit the Welcome to Cupid’s Bow sign. Hope the Devil likes ice skating.

Grayson still couldn’t believe he was taking Aunt Vi up on her offer, but he had a damn good reason. His gaze darted to the rearview mirror, and he checked on the passengers behind him. Make that two good reasons. His godsons, twin five-year-olds, were asleep in their booster seats, each leaning toward the other, so close their blond heads were almost touching. The two and a half weeks since their parents’ funeral had been full of upheaval—tears, bad dreams, acting out; this rare moment of peace reminded Grayson of the morning they’d been christened, cherubic infants who hadn’t even cried when the priest poured the water.

Blaine had heckled him before the ceremony for getting the twins confused in their matching christening gowns. “What kind of loser can’t tell his own godsons apart?”

Grayson had responded with the same mock-derision. “What kind of loser picks a bull-riding rodeo bum as a godfather? Don’t you know any respectable people?”

At that, Blaine had squeezed his arm. “A few, but they ain’t family.”

Neither were Blaine and Grayson—not technically. But they’d been as close as brothers, and Grayson had doted on Miranda, his honorary sister-in-law.

I can’t believe they’re gone. He swallowed hard, fingers clenched around the steering wheel. Grayson was no stranger to tragedy—he’d been orphaned at fifteen—but even he had trouble processing a twist of fate this cruel. His own father wrapping a car around a tree in a drunken stupor had probably been inevitable. But Blaine and Miranda Stowe had been big-hearted, wonderful people enjoying their first romantic vacation since the boys were born when their charter plane crashed in Mexico. As a guardian, Grayson would never be able to fill their shoes, but he would try his hardest to do right by the twins.

Which meant finding a better place to live than the one-bedroom trailer he’d used as a home base between rodeo competitions and seasonal ranch jobs. He also needed to find a stable income—and someone to help watch the boys while he was earning said income. Aunt Vi to the rescue. Again.

As he crossed the cattle guard that was a holdover from years past, when his late grandfather kept a few cows on the small farm, déjà vu gripped him. He remembered pulling in to this same yard with Aunt Vi after his father’s funeral, her assurances that he’d get used to his new home. She was younger than I am now. There were only nine years between him and his mother’s younger sister. Violet Duncan must have been terrified at the prospect of taking in an angry teenager, but she’d never shown it. Until he’d met Blaine at a rodeo outside of Waco, Vi had been the only person in his life he’d ever been able to count on.

And how did I thank her?

He tamped down the rush of guilt. He had other things to worry about now besides not coming home for holidays or a truckload of teenage misdeeds he hoped she’d never learned about.

There was a carport to the side of the white one-story house, but the space next to Vi’s car was taken up by a large doghouse. So Grayson parked on the grass. He barely had the key out of the ignition before porch lights came on and the front door swung open. Violet hurried out of the house with a mismatched pack at her heels—three dogs of varying size and color. When he’d lived here, it had been cats—a calico named Xena and a deaf white cat named Baby Blue. Aunt Vi took in strays of all species. When she’d come to cheer him on at a rodeo championship a few years ago, she’d told him about a seventeen-year-old girl who’d stayed for a month while her parents screamed through the worst of their divorce.

Grayson couldn’t predict what the boys would think of Cupid’s Bow or the kindergarten class they’d be attending once he got them enrolled, but they were sure to love the big-hearted redhead who baked some of the best desserts in the state.

He swung open his truck door and hopped down to hug her. “Sorry it’s so late.” He’d decided that the drive would be easier after dinner, when the boys were likely to fall asleep instead of getting bored, fretting about the relocation or bickering with each other. “You didn’t have to wait up for us.”

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