UPDATE: The winners are Roxie, Jackie Wisherd, and Joye!
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What a treat to wake up this morning without wondering where I need to be or which kid I need to watch. Not that I don’t love them all, but it’s nice to be back in the saddle (er, in my padded executive chair in front of my desk). October will be busy, busy, busy! I hope I can keep up with the pace I’ve set for myself. If you see me out there tweeting or posting on Facebook, don’t be shy about nagging me to get my stories done! If you checked out yesterday’s post, you know what I’ll be working on. I shared covers for three different stories. Which story are you interested in reading the most?
Comment for a chance to win. There will be three winners!
One will win her choice of a Cowboys on the Edge story!
The other two will get their choice of a short story.
And if you haven’t read my shorties, check out the full list here!
This flame doesn’t need a match…
One high school prank gone wrong shouldn’t define the rest of Carly Lohan’s life. But setting fire to Caldera Canyon isn’t something townsfolk will ever forget. As the last part of her final act of restitution, she’s among the group of volunteers assigned to keep a prescribed burn of underbrush and grass from “running over the rim” into the ranches ringing the park.
Local rancher and volunteer firefighter Jeremiah McCord doesn’t trust the reformed firebug anywhere near the canyon’s controlled burn. Determined to keep her on a short rein, he’s everywhere she is, watching her. His distrust and determination sparks a plan for some sexy revenge—one that will get them both too close to the flames.
Carly wasn’t unaccustomed to hard work, but she’d never before used a pitchfork. The cowboy who’d set her on her task had called it a “shit fork”—before clearing his throat and explaining the implement was smaller than a regular pitchfork so that the balls of horse dung didn’t fall between the tines.
After mucking out the stalls, she’d forked a mini-mountain of horse manure and straw into the center of the barn. Now she was pitching load after load into the wheelbarrow so she could wheel it out and add it the larger mountain of dung behind the barn. Dung that was used in Mayra’s garden.
Before today, she’d never given much thought to horses, and she’d never had an aversion to the smell, but a day of forking poop had altered her view forever. Or so she told herself. She knew she must be a sight in her dirty jeans and tee. She’d forgotten to take off her gloves a time or two and used them wipe sweat from her face. Meaning she had to have some smeared on her cheek.
But she didn’t dare stop. Not and have the high-and-mighty Jeremiah shaking his head. The night before, he’d been so sure she’d balk at his list of chores. Little did he know, but she was used to hard work. Her foster families had made sure of it.
Still, she’d never mucked stalls, and the repetitive motions had tightened the muscles at the small of her back, and her upper arms until they felt bruised. Pausing to stretch, she reached high, letting the hem of her shirt rise. The slight breeze blowing through the open barn doors wafted against her belly and felt almost luxurious.
“Looks like we’ll make a cowboy out of you yet.”
Carly dropped her arms and glanced over her shoulder. She’d missed Jeremiah at breakfast. Mayra told her he’d been up before dawn, as was his custom, to check on the herd. Carly hadn’t seen him since dinner the night before and dreaded their next encounter.
While her mind was made up to detest the man, her fickle body responded with a wave of heat that swept her cheeks and prickled her nipples. No man had a right to look that good when he was that dirty. “The cowboy who showed me how to muck out a stall asked me what I’d done to piss you off.”
“Oh?” His eyebrows rose. “And what did you say?”
“That I’d burned three hundred acres of hay and an expensive bailer. He said that’d do it.”
He gave his signature grunt.
Even though she’d told herself that morning she must have imagined its appeal, she still felt the pull deep in her core.
“You should take a break,” he said, his voice sounding gruff.
“Why? I’m not done.” Did he think she’d jump at the chance to not finish?
“The sun’s out, and the air’s warm in here, Carly. And it’s time for lunch. Someone else can finish up.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I’ll have to bathe again.”
He came closer and picked a piece of straw from her hair. Then he rubbed her cheek.
An action that shocked her to her toes.
“I think you’ve picked up more than a little dirt,” he murmured.
Because she was nervous with him standing so close, she laughed. “I have shit on my face. You can say it.” She swept a hand toward his own dirty clothing. “I’ve been mucking stalls, what’s your excuse?”
A smile stretched across his face.
The first she’d ever seen. Her stomach flipped.
“I chased a calf into an arroyo. He got separated from his mama. Took some doing to get him up on the horse with me.”
“I’d have loved seeing that.” And she meant it. The thought of him chasing a calf on horseback—well hell, now she was romanticizing the surly cowboy.
One dark brow arched. “You would have loved seeing a calf getting the better of me?”
“Yeah.” Feeling breathless because he was still standing close, she had to remind herself he was only being polite. That he’d likely come to see whether she was still hard at work. She moved away to lean her fork against the barn wall. “I better go shower, or Mayra will light into me.”
“I better hit the shower, too.”
Walking away, Carly pursed her lips and blew out a hot stream of air. Him being civil was tough enough on her libido. Now she had the picture of a naked, wet Jeremiah in her head.
Not wanting to track manure through the house, she took off her boots at the door before entering and making her way up the stairs. She headed straight to the shower with its lovely shower head that poured water like a soft rain over her head and never grew cold no matter how long she stood beneath it.
But eventually, she acknowledged her hunger, turned off the water, and then reached for a big fluffy towel. At that moment, she realized she’d forgotten to bring along clean clothing.
No worries, Jeremiah had likely finished his shower long ago and was already digging into his meal. She opened the door and padded toward her bedroom.
Just as she was reaching for the knob, she saw another door open, just past the staircase.
Jeremiah stepped out into the hallway, his hair wet and looking cool and clean in his chambray shirt and Wranglers.
Before she could push open the door and jump inside, she watched his head turn.
His gaze trailed from her sodden hair, dripping on her shoulders to the towel she’d knotted between her breasts. “See you downstairs,” he said, his voice thick, and then he strode quickly to the staircase and out of her sight.
She opened her door, entered, and then sagged against the cool wood. Would she ever catch a break with the man? First, he’d rubbed horseshit off her face, and then he’d caught her looking like a drowned rat.
She must be the most unappealing woman he’d ever had the misfortune to have under his roof—even if only for a few days. For once, she wished she had something stylish in the closet to pull out and wow him with. Then maybe he’d see her as something other than some white-trash nuisance.
Although she wasn’t entirely sure how she’d deal with anything other than his annoyance and mistrust. Just the thought of him ever showing any masculine interest made her heart stutter and her palms sweat.
No, she was better off to never entertain those thoughts. Jeremiah was way out of her league, and too much history existed between them—all of it bad—to think that a little spark of attraction might catch fire.