Twins for the Rancher

By: Trish Milburn

CHAPTER ONE

The floorboards creaked as Lauren Shayne took her first steps into the building that she’d become the owner of only minutes before. Her hands shook from the enormity of what she’d done. The mortgage on what had been a German restaurant called Otto’s years ago wasn’t small, but neither was her dream for the place.

A dream that she would have never guessed would take her so far from home.

Despite her initial “this is perfect” reaction to seeing the inside, the fact it was four hours from her home in North Texas gave her significant pause. Taking the leap had required a week of denial, then pondering and number-crunching after every adult member of her family had told her to go for it. She’d finally reasoned she could get the place opened and leave the day-to-day running to a manager who lived in Blue Falls or nearby. If it did well enough for her to expand in the future, then maybe she could finally find a space closer to home.

But she couldn’t let her imagination run wild. Not when there was still a lot of work and a ton of luck standing between her and making even one restaurant a success. Loyal watchers of The Brazos Baker cooking show, or fans of her cookbooks and magazine alone, weren’t going to be enough to keep the place afloat. And she needed to get the bulk of the work done before her TV show resumed production after the current hiatus—that would require her to be back in her kitchen on a regular basis.

She attempted a deep breath, but it was a bit shaky. She hoped she hadn’t just gambled her daughters’ future security away with a bad business decision.

As her steps echoed in the rafters, where forgotten cloth banners decorated with German coats of arms hung, Lauren saw beyond the dust and detritus to a restaurant filled with people enjoying her grandfather’s prize-winning barbecue, and baked goods made with her recipes, while they took in an unbeatable view of Blue Falls Lake.

She smiled as she imagined the look on Papa Ed’s face when she finally revealed the finished product to match the images that had been in her head for a couple of years. At times, those images and the support of her family had been the only things that got her through one of the toughest periods of her life.

“Now, that looks like the smile of a woman about to do great things.”

Lauren startled at the sound of a guy’s voice and grabbed the back of a dust-covered chair at the sight of a tall man standing between her and the front door. He held up his hands, palms out.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Can I help you?” Miraculously, her voice didn’t reveal the runaway beating of her heart.

“Actually, I’m hoping I can help you.” He didn’t advance any closer, giving Lauren a few moments to take in his appearance, looking for clues to his meaning. Dressed in dark slacks, pressed white shirt and pale blue tie, he didn’t come across as a laborer looking for a job. She guessed he stood a bit over six feet, had sandy brown hair and was attractive in that clean-cut “businessman who used to be the high-school quarterback” sort of way.

“Tim Wainwright with Carrington Beef. We provide top-quality beef products to restaurants all over Texas. And it’s an educated guess that a barbecue restaurant is going to need a lot of ribs and brisket.”

Lauren tilted her head slightly. “How could you possibly know I’d be here or that I planned to open a restaurant? I literally signed the papers fifteen minutes ago.”

Tim smiled. “I’m just that good.”

Lauren made a sound of disbelief. This guy was full of himself.

Tim motioned, as if waving off his previous words. “It’s my job to know when potential new customers come on the scene. I heard from a friend on the local city council about your plans and that you were closing on the property this morning. Took a chance we’d cross paths.”

“You must really need the business if you’re here now.” She indicated their surroundings, covered with enough dust they could probably make dust castles. “As you can see, I’m a long way from opening my doors for business.”

“It’s never too early to make a good decision.”

She lifted an eyebrow. Did he brainstorm these business pickup lines? Her thoughts must have shown on her face because the teasing look on his disappeared. He reached into his pocket and retrieved a business card, which he extended as he walked closer.

“I’d like to sit down with you when it’s convenient and discuss what we can offer you. Dinner tonight, perhaps?”

There was something in the way he looked at her that made her wonder if his invitation was just about business. Or did he use his good looks to his professional advantage? That thought did not sit well with her. And with good reason.

“I’m afraid I won’t have time tonight.” Or any night, she thought as she accepted his card. “But when I’m ready to make those kinds of decisions, I’ll know how to reach you.”

She thought for a moment he might press for the “hard sell” approach, but thankfully he just nodded.

“The dinner invitation is a standing one. I’m through this area quite often.”

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