A COWBOY'S KISS
A Tortured cowboy trying to move on.
A city girl stuck in holiday humdrum.
Two competitive, alpha brothers vying for her attention.
Will she kiss one cowboy goodbye?
Jealous and destroyed is a hard way to live; I know it. But my brother betrayed me once, he’d do it again. I can’t trust him with her, and she’s all I want. After the pain of the past, she’s the first to give me hope, give me excitement. But when he moves in, I know one thing: they can all kiss this cowboy goodbye.
Crested Butte, Colorado is the last place I want to be. But, the other choice was worse. Home alone—for the holiday. Suddenly, Thanksgiving just got a lot spicier. Not one but two irresistible and mouthwatering cowboys, with bodies and charm that don’t quit, are battling to get me into the saddle, and into their beds. But these brothers have a secret, a secret that could start a war, tear their family apart. Now, I’m in the middle, torn between passion, desire, and pain. One look, and I’m saying it all over again, "Give me a kiss, cowboy."
Jace Rice was tired of being the nice guy—what in the hell was wrong with him anyway? He’d fallen in love, and instead of fighting for the woman who’d captured his heart, he’d handed her over to another man. And worse? He was about to spend Thanksgiving with her.
Today he’d see Irene Fairchild for the first time since he decided to be noble instead of smart. Later, he and Tucker, his twin, would drive over the pass from Aspen to Crested Butte to spend the holiday with their cousin Ben and his family, which included Ben’s stepdaughter, Irene.
The day he’d met her, he was on his way to the barns at Black Mountain Ranch, hoping to go for a long, quiet ride. Guests would begin arriving at the dude ranch the following week, and employees would no longer have time for afternoon pleasure rides.
When a car came barreling down the dirt road, his first inclination was to tell the driver to slow down, but when it came to a stop and he saw the woman driving, he’d changed his mind.
“What’s your name, cowgirl?” he’d asked when she opened the door and stepped out. He’d tipped his hat, welcomed her to the ranch, and offered to help carry her bags to her cabin.
When she’d told him the number of the cabin she’d been assigned, he’d been as surprised to hear it was one of the few single cabins, as he was by his reaction. If anyone had asked, Jace would’ve said he had no interest in a summer romance with someone he worked with, but knowing Irene would be sleeping in her cabin alone sent his mind racing with thoughts of the two of them together.
Something about her got under his skin the moment he met her. She was beautiful, but there was more to it. Her blue eyes sparkled in the sun, and she had an easy laugh, but something or someone had hurt her, and even then, Jace vowed not to let anything hurt her again.
“Thinking about her isn’t going to help.” Tucker nudged him.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re thinking about her. It’s over. Move on.”
“Not that easy.”
“It is that easy. Quit dwelling on it.”
“Wait until you meet her. You’ll understand.”
“I don’t need to meet her to understand she’s engaged to another man. What else is there?”
* * *
Blythe Cochran hadn’t wanted to spend Thanksgiving in Crested Butte, but since her parents told her they were going with or without her, she gave in, hoping it wouldn’t be as bad as she was afraid it would be. Instead, it was worse.
She’d hoped that things between her and her best friend since kindergarten, Renie Fairchild, would go back to the way they had always been, but after not seeing her for almost a year, it felt more like Blythe didn’t know her friend anymore. Now that she was engaged, all Renie cared about was Billy, her fiancé, and his daughter, Willow.
They’d spent the morning having breakfast and shopping, and now, were headed back to the ranch. Once they got there, Blythe figured Renie would ditch her again.
When they walked in, Liv, Renie’s mom, was sitting at the dining room table, feet up on a chair, with a pillow under them.
“Is everything okay?” Renie asked her.
Liv laughed. “They’re babying me. Because they’ve forgotten I’ve already had one,” she shouted in the direction of the kitchen.
“What is she talking about?” asked Blythe.
“My mom is having a baby.”
She was? Was that even possible? God, she hoped her mom didn’t decide to have another baby too.
“Blythe, be nice,” Renie told her before she even said anything.
Renie put her hand over Blythe’s mouth. “I’ll work on telling you how I’m feeling. You need to work on the opposite. We don’t always want to hear what you’re thinking, Blythe.”
“Bravo!” There were claps and cheers from her mom and Liv.
“’Bout time you stood up for something, Renie,” said her mom. “I’ll enjoy finding out how you feel about things.”
Renie rolled her eyes. “It hasn’t been that bad.”
“Don’t pout, sweetheart,” her mother said when Renie left the room to talk to Billy.
“Seriously? You’re siding with Renie on this?”
“She’s right,” her mom said quietly while Renie bickered with Billy about something Blythe didn’t care about. “We don’t always want to hear what you’re thinking. Just because your dad gets away with it doesn’t mean it’s okay, or that you should do the same.”
Blythe was fuming. First Renie lectured her, and now her mom was adding to it. Blythe hadn’t been in Crested Butte twenty-four hours, but she already wanted to go home.
“Maybe I should leave. Would that make everyone happy?”
Liv walked over and hugged her. “No, it wouldn’t make everyone happy, least of all me. I’m sorry, Blythe. We’re encouraging Renie to be less of a doormat, but it shouldn’t be at your expense.”
“What time is dinner?” Renie asked, coming back into the kitchen. “I’m thinking about going for a ride. Blythe, are you up for it?”
“I will be if you let me ride Pooh.”
“Of course I will.”
Blythe wasn’t as comfortable around horses as Renie. In fact, they usually scared her, but Pooh was different. She was easy and gentle.
“Which horse are you riding?” Blythe asked while they put on their jackets and boots.
“Micah needs some exercise. I’ll take him.”
Micah was the horse Liv rode as a competitive barrel racer, something she’d taken up last year. Blythe thought she was crazy and said so after Liv was badly injured but started competing again soon after she’d recovered.
“Liv would be miserable if she’d quit,” her mother had explained at the time. “It’s been her lifelong dream to compete.”
Blythe understood what that meant on a philosophical level, but there wasn’t anything she’d personally felt strongly enough about to call a dream. She’d been in nursing school, but quit, saying she hadn’t liked it as much as she expected. Truthfully, she hated it.
“I’m thinking about going back to school,” Renie told her on their way to the barn.
Right around the same time Blythe quit the nursing program, Renie transferred from Dartmouth, where she was studying biomedicine, to the Colorado State University in Fort Collins. She’d planned to become a large animal vet but had dropped out of that program too last year.
“After Billy and I get married.”
Renie and Billy were getting married. It would take some time for that to sink in. Especially since Billy, eleven years older than they were, discovered he had a daughter he hadn’t known about, and the baby’s mother had passed away.
Renie broke up with Billy over it, and for a long while, Blythe didn’t think they’d ever speak again. Not that Blythe had heard any of this first hand.
“It’s so pretty here, don’t you think?” Renie asked, motioning toward the wide-open vistas of the ranch.
Blythe nodded. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and maybe, if she got lucky, she’d meet one of the many cowboys who worked the Flying R Ranch when they rode out.
They were almost inside the barn when someone drove up in a truck and honked the horn. It came to a stop, and Blythe watched as two crazily good-looking men climb out of it.
“Hey, there,” one of them shouted to Renie.
“Who. Is. That?” Blythe asked.
“Jace and his brother. I’ll introduce you,” she said over her shoulder.
“There are two of them? Oh, my God, I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
One of the two men raced over, picked Renie up, and swung her around in a circle. The other frowned.
“Who’s this?” the sullen one asked.
“This is Irene,” the other said. “Irene, meet Tucker. And this is…I don’t know who this is.”
“This is Blythe,” answered Renie. “Her mom and my mom are best friends. We are, too. Have been since we were five years old. Blythe, this is Jace Rice.”
Blythe hoped her palms weren’t as sweaty as she was afraid they were when Jace shook her hand and held on a little longer than necessary. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said softly, making her blush.
“I’m Tucker,” said his twin, who walked forward and took her hand in his. She couldn’t explain the tremor she felt at his touch, or the heat that spread throughout her body when she met his penetrating gaze.
Renie cleared her throat. “We were headed out for a ride.”
“We’ll let you be on your way, then.” Tucker slowly let go of Blythe’s hand, breaking the spell he had her under.
When she turned around to follow Renie back to the barn, she caught a glimpse of the scowl Jace was leveling at his brother.
When he saw she was watching, Jace smiled at her. “I’ll look forward to seeing you when you get back.”
“Likewise,” she answered but then looked at Tucker. “I guess I’ll see you too.”
Tucker didn’t respond, but the smoldering look he gave her said everything.
“Are you ready?” Renie snapped, startling her with both the tone she used and the daggers she shot in her direction.
What had she done wrong now? This nonsense was quickly getting old. Once they were out on the trail, Blythe intended to give Renie a piece of her mind. Just because Renie had decided to alter her personality did not mean she had carte blanche to suggest Blythe do the same.
“What the hell is your problem?” Blythe said when they were far enough away from the barn that no one could hear them.
“Seriously? That’s it? What happened to your promise to be more forthright with how you feel about things?”
“That’s Jace,” she murmured.
“Yes, I know. You introduced me to him.”
“I spent the summer with Jace while Billy and I were apart.”
Interesting. So, was his flirtation only intended to make Renie jealous? “Well, all-righty then. Scratch another one off the eligible-bachelor list. How about Tucker? You haven’t had a fling with him too, have you?”
Renie rolled her eyes. “No, Blythe. I haven’t.”
“Maybe it would be easier for both of us if you gave me a list of the men you’d like me to stay away from.”
“It isn’t like that.”
“Billy is hands off, now Jace is too.”
“That’s it. Those two make up my entire list of male conquests.” Renie laughed, and when she did, Blythe was relieved. She had begun to doubt Renie still possessed a sense of humor.
“So, tell me,” Blythe said, changing the subject. “How is it being the wicked stepmother?”
“Are you really interested, or is it a show to get back at the ex-girlfriend?” Tucker asked his brother.
“Her name is Irene. And yes, I’m interested.”
“Did you see her? She’s magnificent.”
Tucker agreed. She was magnificent. Her violet-hued eyes had sparkled when she met his gaze, stirring something in him that he hadn’t felt in a long while. He’d almost reached forward to run his fingers through her silky dark hair.
“Can’t you feel it?” Tucker asked, but his brother turned away without answering.
Sometimes he wondered if he could feel Jace more than his twin could feel him. Even if they were a thousand miles apart, Tucker felt his twin’s turmoil.
Tucker hadn’t wanted to spend Thanksgiving in Crested Butte, but Jace insisted. When their parents agreed and his father told him how much he was looking forward to reconnecting with his cousin, Tucker succumbed.
“We were close once,” his father had said. “But we drifted apart after your grandfather died. We used to come to Crested Butte for Thanksgiving every year, but when you boys were born, I knew it would be easier on your mom if we stayed home.”
His father’s words were the only reason Tucker had agreed to come along on a day he normally kept to himself.
Until last week, Tucker had been in Spain, where he spent as much time as he could. Since he’d gotten back to the States, he’d been adrift. At first he thought it was jet lag, but when he wasn’t feeling better after a week, he knew the only thing that would assuage his angst, was letting the artist in him get back to work.
Most recently he’d completed several sculptures done in bronze. He’d sold them all, even the one he’d intended to keep for himself. He considered block prints next, but painting was beckoning him.
It had been three years since he’d painted. Watercolor was his favorite medium in two-dimensional work. He could paint quickly—a sense of accomplishment came immediately. There were days he could do three or four full-sheet paintings before noon. He longed for that kind of release.
There was more to his bad mood than lack of a project, though. He was beginning to feel as though his life was aimless. When he was younger he’d believed he’d have love, a family, everything his parents had, but that dream had died, only to come alive again today, when something in Blythe’s dark-haired beauty spoke to him.
If he pursued her, would his interest in her last? Or, as it had with so many other women, would he tire of her quickly? There’d only been one woman in his life who’d been able to hold his attention. When he lost her, he lost hope that anyone ever would again.
“I’m attracted to her,” he finally said.
“I know,” Jace answered.
“So you felt it.”
“I was ignoring you.”
“What should we do?” Tucker asked.
“Let her choose.”
“This could get ugly, Jace.”
“Maybe she won’t choose either of us.”
Tucker shook his head and laughed. “Right.”
It wouldn’t be the first time he and his brother vied for a woman’s affections, both knowing it was more about the thrill of the chase than the catch. This time, though, Tucker doubted Jace had any idea that, to him, it wasn’t a game.