Meet the Author:
Charlene Sands is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and historical romance. She has been honored with the National Readers Choice Award, the Booksellers Best Award, The Cataromance Reviewers Choice Award and Romantic Times Magazine's Best Harlequin Desire Award of 2014. She is an active member of Romance Writers of America. When not writing, she spends time with her four "princesses", enjoys sunny Pacific beaches and yummy chocolate mocha cappuccinos! Sign up for her newsletter for fun and exclusive prizes at www.charlenesands.com and on FB and Twitter!
About the Book:
There hasn't been a woman who's held Colby Ryan's heart for long, not since his teenage love went awry twelve years ago. Now, all of a sudden, Dakota Jennings, his longtime family friend and trusted wrangler on the Circle R ranch, is catching his eye. For Dakota’s sake, Colby won't ever give in to the temptation she poses.
Dakota has been secretly in love with Colby since the age of ten, but his sense of honor and the Texas code he lives by won’t allow her permanence in his heart. Up until this point, he’d never hinted at romance between them and yet, falling out of love with him just plain isn’t working.
Colby has always protected Dakota, and he isn’t about to stop now. If he gives in to his desire, she stands to lose far too much. Colby doesn’t deserve her love, he's already ruined one life, but the binds that tie them are strong. Can Dakota be the woman to redeem his broken soul?
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As soon as Dakota spotted Colby Ryan waiting for her at the airport terminal, her heartbeats thumped harder than a sledgehammer to concrete. A dark Stetson and snakeskin boots along with a ruggedly chiseled face and a skyscraper frame shouted cowboy from every single solid inch of him. “Cole, you really didn’t have to pick me up today. I could’ve gotten a ride home.”
Geesh, she sure had gotten darn good at lying to Cole ever since she’d started working at the Circle R Ranch. Fact was, she was glad to see him and she wished to high heaven she wasn’t. She’d been gone two weeks, not enough time to fall out of love with him, but surely enough to put some distance to her one-sided infatuation with her boss.
“Just say thank you, Day, and let it go at that.”
He grinned and that sexy dimple came out of hiding near the right corner of his mouth. The dimple she’d fantasized kissing a thousand times.
He’d never say he’d missed her. That would be too much to ask and she really wasn’t expecting it anyway. But the fact that he’d picked her up from the airport meant something, even though her time away from the Circle R, her time away from Cole, had given her a new perspective on the way she would run her life from now on. She wasn’t going to hope any longer or hang on his every word. Years of pining, ever since she was a ten-year-old smitten kid, was more than enough.
The fat lady had sung loud and clear.
Dakota Jennings wasn’t a quitter. That’s what Cole told her he liked best about her a dozen times, but this time she was done. Over. Finished. She’d quit him as a way of self-preservation although she wasn’t quite ready to quit her job on the ranch.
“How’s your mom doing?” Cole asked, taking her luggage out of her hand and leading her to his shiny super-charged special edition Lincoln Navigator.
“She’s doing pretty well considering how active she likes to be. Her ankle is healing up nicely and your mom is there hovering over her BFF, like always.”
“Mom likes to hover. It’s what she does best.”
“You hated it, when she hovered over you.”
“Not denying that.” He stashed her luggage in the back end of his SUV and then opened the passenger door for her. “Now she’s got June to focus on.”
“And Mom’s got Alice to complain to about…” She climbed in and buckled up.
He did the same and started the engine. “About?”
“Nothing, never mind.”
“Tell me, Day.” His hot smoky eyes pinned her down.
“Men, okay? My mom’s been thinking about dating.”
“Good for her,” Cole said, pulling out of the airport parking lot. “It’s about time June Jennings got back out there.”
“Really? You think it’s a good idea?”
“I do. There’s bound to be some nice gentlemen in their retirement community. It’s been what, fifteen years since your father passed?”
“Yeah, fifteen years. Sometimes it feels like yesterday and other times it seems like a lifetime ago. It’s weird though, thinking of my mom having a boyfriend.”
“Doesn’t have to be weird,” Cole said, suddenly an expert on dating. “She should try it and see how it goes. She doesn’t need to be getting serious or anything, but she’s deserving of some fun. With a man,” he added, his eyebrows doing a wicked dance on his forehead.
“Ew, Cole!” She crushed her arms around her middle and fell back against the seat. “I hate the image popping into my head right now.”
“Yeah, mine too. Strike that.”
“It’s stricken. At least our moms have bingo and movie night together.”
“Real Arizona excitement.” Cole laughed.
She smiled, despite the fact that Cole was as unattainable now as he’d always been. But, she couldn’t help smiling with him once in a while. Especially when they were talking about their moms. The two women had been best friends since forever, growing up in Hope Wells and marrying good men who both died before their time. Their mothers’ move to Arizona a few years back was a way for them to start fresh in a new environment. It had been an experiment at first, but both of the ladies decided they liked the change of pace. And it wasn’t as if they were too far away for a quick visit home or anything.
“Maybe now Mom’s ready for something more.”
“Like I said, good for her.”
As Cole drove on, the highway became residential streets and their conversation came to an end. Once her street came into view, she voiced her innermost thoughts. “Maybe, I’ll give it a try too.”
“Give what a try?” Cole asked, matter-of-factly, without giving her so much as a glance.
“Dating?” His voice hitched an octave higher.
Wasn’t that what they were just talking about? Sometimes, Colby Ryan was as thick as a sycamore tree. “Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“What the heck does that mean?” Her mind went to a thousand different places. Didn’t he think she could date? She wasn’t feminine enough? Her tomboy ways turned men off? It was clear he wasn’t attracted to her, but that wasn’t true of all men. Why, just a month ago she’d been propositioned by the owner of Hope Wells’ premiere ice cream shop, Giggles and Cream. Of course, Ed Nelson had been married and divorced twice by the age of thirty, not exactly prime boyfriend material, and the thought of going out with him gave her hives. But he wasn’t the only one to ask her out. There’d been a few others that she’d tactfully declined.
“You have no time as it is, Day. With you working that second job and all. I told you, if you need more than I’m paying you, I’ll give you a raise.”
Small relief brought her raised shoulders down. At least he hadn’t voiced what she’d feared most—that he thought her undesirable as a woman. “I’ll take that raise, Cole. Because I’ve earned it. But I’m not quitting my job at Barely There. It’s a fun place and the women I work with are nice.” And mostly, it gave her a little time away from him. She was determined to get a grip on her life. The change was good for her. “And some of that frilly lingerie Jillian designs, well it’s enough to crank any man’s—”
“We’re here,” Cole interrupted, jerking the car to a stop in front of her small house. He swiveled his head around to pummel her with his gaze. What was wrong with him? She hadn’t asked for a raise in the three years since she’d worked for him. He’d always been fair and generous with her. Was that it? Maybe all this talk about money didn’t set right with him?
“Thanks for the ride, boss.”
Cole’s mouth twisted. He hated when she called him that. To his credit, he wasn’t one to pull rank on his employees. He was simply Cole to everyone. Not Mr. Ryan. Not boss. But yanking his chain every so often gave her a bit of pleasure, because, well, it was all the pleasure she’d ever gotten out of her relationship with him.
She stared at the paneled front door of her two-bedroom house. It was good to be home. Even though the place had shortcomings, she still liked living here for the time being. Her real dream was to raise horses on her own land. That was her goal in life: to be her own boss. But she’d been hindered by her love for Cole. Being his horse wrangler and fill-in foreman when he needed her to be ensured she’d see him almost every day. How pathetic was that? Well, that wasn’t happening anymore. No, sir.
They’d been forced friends growing up, having no choice but to spend a lot of time together as children, due to their mothers’ close bond. But Cole was older by five years, making him seem like her babysitter at times. That five-year difference had given him the upper hand in all things.
He gave a nod. “Welcome, Dakota.”
So formal and his way of getting back at her.
“I’ll get your bags.” He hit the button to release the trunk.
“I can get them,” she said, climbing out of the SUV and winding around to the back end. She pulled the big suitcase out with ease and slung the big tote bag over her shoulder. She worked hard on the ranch and lifted weights by way of hay bales and lumber, to keep her muscles toned. It paid off with firm limbs and a sturdy constitution, but a big ole frown on Cole’s face told her he didn’t approve. He was born a gentleman, and sometimes she wished he’d just enter into the twenty-first century and loosen up a bit.
“Well, look who decided to come home.” Brett Collier’s voice boomed from across the yard. Her neighbor lived next door in a big four-bedroom he was remodeling in between carpentry jobs.
“Hey, yourself. Howdy, Cole,” he said as he approached.
“Brett.” The two men shook hands.
“How was your trip?” he asked her pleasantly. Brett had charm to spare, was twenty-six—her own age—and had all the single girls in town drooling at his good looks and muscular physique. Brett wearing his tool belt was a sight to behold.
“Good. My mom’s healing, but she hates the crutches.”
“I can relate,” Brett said. “I broke my leg once as a kid and it wasn’t fun. Well, don’t want to interrupt, but I saw you out here and wanted to give you back your key.”
“You have her key?” Cole asked, a hint of sharpness to his tone.
“Yeah, you know, to water plants and delete her programs on the DVR,” Brett said. “She’s quite the fan of romantic movies.”
“You are?” Cole pinned her with a look.
She cringed. There were some things Colby Ryan didn’t know about her.
She shrugged. “I forgot to stop them from recording, is all. And they’re comedies—you know something to make me smile after a long day.”
“Nearly blew up all your recording space,” Brett added.
“Thanks, Brett, you saved me,” she said and pursed her lips tight. He’d just given up something to Cole she’d rather him not know about her—under her tomboy demeanor lived a hopeless romantic. “I appreciate you helping out.”
“No problem. Here, let me take those,” he said, and before she could protest, Brett had her bags in his hands. She didn’t dare glance at Cole. She could only imagine his head exploding. “I’ll bring them inside for you. Oh and if you’re not too tired, I have an idea to expand your small pantry space with very little work involved.”
“Really? Sure, that’d be great. I’ll be in, in a second.”
“See you tomorrow night, Cole,” Brett said.
She turned to face Cole and just as she suspected, he was a sour-puss. “Tomorrow?”
“Poker game,” he grumbled.
She nodded. “I guess, I’ll see you tomorrow too, bright and shiny. Thanks again for the ride.”
Cole ran a hand down his face and didn’t say a single word. He climbed into his SUV, revved the engine and pulled away, leaving her standing on the porch next to Brett Collier.