The Maverick's Thanksgiving Baby

By: Brenda Harlen

Chapter One


Jesse Crawford was an idiot. A completely smitten and tongue-tied idiot.

But far worse than that indisputable fact was that Maggie Roarke now knew it, too.

What had ever possessed him to approach her? What had made him think he could introduce himself and have an actual conversation with a woman like her?

While he’d never been as smooth with women as any of his three brothers, he’d never been so embarrassingly inept, either. But being in close proximity to Maggie seemed to rattle his brain as completely as if he’d been thrown from the back of a horse—and that hadn’t happened to him in more than fifteen years.

The first time he saw her, even before he knew her name, he’d been mesmerized. She was tall and willowy with subtle but distinctly feminine curves. Her blond hair spilled onto her shoulders like golden silk and her deep brown eyes could shine with humor or warm with compassion. And her smile—there was just something about her smile that seemed to reach right inside his chest and wrap around his heart. A ridiculously fanciful and foolish idea, of course, and one that he wouldn’t dare acknowledge to anyone else.

It was no mystery to Jesse why a man would be attracted to her, but he was still a little mystified by the intensity of his reaction to her—especially when he didn’t know the first thing about her. The discovery that she was a successful attorney in Los Angeles should have put an end to his ridiculous crush. Experience had proven to him that city girls didn’t adapt well to the country, and there was no way a lawyer—from Hollywood of all places—would be interested in a small-town rancher. But still his long-guarded heart refused to be dissuaded.

He’d come to the official opening of the Grace Traub Community Center today because he knew she would be there, because he couldn’t resist the opportunity to see her again, even from a distance. It had taken the better part of an hour for him to finally summon the courage to introduce himself. And when he did, without muttering or stumbling over words, he felt reassured that things weren’t going too badly.

She offered her hand and, in that brief moment of contact, he’d been certain that he felt a real connection with her. And then she smiled at him, and all his carefully rehearsed words slid back down his throat, leaving him awestruck and tongue-tied and destroying any hope he had of making a good first impression.

He’d almost been grateful that Arthur Swinton intruded on the moment, whisking her away for a private word. Jesse had stood there for another minute, watching her with the older man and wondering if she might come back to finish the conversation they hadn’t even started. But Arthur had no sooner turned away when another man stepped into her path: Jared Winfree—also known as the Romeo of Rust Creek Falls.

The cowboy tipped his head down to talk to her. Maggie smiled at him, though Jesse noticed that her smile didn’t seem to have the same debilitating effect on the other man, who leaned closer for a more intimate discussion. Jesse finally unglued his feet from the floor and walked out of the community center, berating himself for his awkwardness.

His cell phone started ringing before he’d hit the bottom step, and he pulled it out to answer the call. At this point, he didn’t even care who was on the other end of the line—he was grateful for any distraction.

After a brief conversation with Brett Gable, he was feeling marginally better. The local rancher was having trouble with an ornery stallion and wondered if Jesse could take a look at him and let the owner know if he was wasting his time trying to tame the animal or if he just needed to adjust his tactics. Jesse promised that he’d go out to the Gable ranch the next day.

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