The pretty redhead walking toward him had to be a blood
relative to the one currently staring at the third button
down on his worn denim work shirt. He hoped Jolene didn't
look lower and notice the tear he tried to hide by rolling
up the sleeves. The woman was getting under his skin-and
not in a good way.
Tyler finally tore his gaze from Emily's face and noticed
what Jolene had: the huge splat of chocolate dead center
between Emily's breasts. Firm and proud, cupped lovingly
by a form-fitting, cropped T-shirt.
The saliva pooled in his mouth. He swallowed. The urge to
devour the chocolate-covered confection caught him off
guard. Digging deep for control, he realized he'd been too
long without a woman: two months, three weeks, and four
days... if he were counting.
He may be damned for it, but he let his gaze feast on the
bounty before him. The two inches of exposed skin was
tanned and taut. His gaze dipped to the hem of her denim
mini skirt, and he had to swallow again. The woman had
legs-curvaceous and toned, not toothpick thin-and Lord
Almighty, bright green nail polish on her toes.
Emily smiled at Tyler and answered Jolene, "The spoon got
caught in the mixer."
Jolene had a good three inches on Emily and an in-your-
face beauty and sexuality that challenged him on every
level, but there was something about the barefooted
redhead with chocolate smeared across her cheekbone like a
slash of war paint that tugged at his gut.
He had to fight against the urge to smile and
replied, "Looks like the mixer won."
Emily lifted her right hand and the mangled spoon she
clutched. "That's the second spoon today." Her sigh was
long and low.
Jolene patted Emily's shoulder. "Why don't you just quit
while you're ahead?"
"You know I can't until I beat the stress out of myself
and this batter." Emily looked over at Tyler and
asked, "Are you here to fix the sink?"
He shook his head. "Although I have been known to wrastle
an ornery pipe into submission, I'm actually here about
your sister's ad in the paper." For a split second
disappointment clouded her pretty face and had him
offering, "Maybe I could take a look at it before I
Her smile blossomed slowly and was surely like a flower
opening its petals to catch the rain. Before he could
untangle his tongue, she said, "That's right neighborly,
but I'll wait for the plumber. Oh... and she's my cousin."
"Really? You look enough alike to be sisters." Now that
she was close enough to touch, he could see the subtle
differences: the shape of their eyes-Emily's were long-
lashed and almond shaped-and the curve of their lips-
Emily's were fuller, and there was something indefinable
about the barefooted redhead that went a whole lot deeper,
straight to her core, a sweetness he hadn't found in long,
If he were gifted with words like his New York City
cousins, he'd have said there was something special about
Emily and the way she seemed to smile from the inside out.
But Tyler'd probably mess it up and compare her to one of
the Circle G's milk cows.
Neither woman looked like they'd ever set foot on a ranch,
and Emily sure as hell wouldn't believe him if he told her
that certain breeds of milk cows had beautiful eyes and
sweet faces. The steer he and his brothers raised for beef
weren't pretty-well, they probably would be if he were
Shaking his head to clear it, he asked, "So did you save
any of the batter?"
Emily's smile was slow and achingly sweet. "Enough to fill
half the pan."
"Are you really going to bake half a pan's worth, Em?"
Emily grinned at her cousin. "No. That's why I decided to
get another spoon and just eat the batter after I nuke it
for a few seconds. Then I'll start over with another
Tyler could handle cooking meat and potatoes. Baking was a
whole other ballgame, but he was pretty sure it would take
longer than a few seconds to cook brownies in the
microwave. "That wouldn't be long enough to cook them,
Her slow, sweet smile eased under his worry about getting
the job. "Brownies taste better half-cooked," Emily
said. "Imagine how great the batter would taste warm and
Tyler couldn't keep from grinning at the thought. Standing
this close to her, he couldn't help but notice that
without boots, the top of Emily's head would hit him mid-
chest. He'd have to work at it to line up their lips, but
if they were lying down-Whoa! Hold on there. Time enough
to go there later, after he'd landed the job. If he landed
"So, you're here about the position."
The hard edge in Jolene's voice had Tyler looking at her.
Hell, a few positions came to mind and stubbornly got
stuck there, making it hard to focus. Man, if he didn't
need the money, he'd be looking for a nice quiet place to
sample the chocolate-covered redhead. Head to toe and
every luscious inch in between. Had she noticed him
drooling over her cousin?
"I think you should hire him, Jo," Emily said, heading
back the way she'd come. "See y'all later," she called out
over her shoulder. "If you need me, I'll be upstairs
whipping these brownies into submission. Bye, Tyler."
Lord, he'd get arrested if either woman could read his
thoughts right now. One of Grandpa's favorite expressions
came to mind watching the gentle sway of Emily's hips. The
hitch in Emily's git-a-long was as delectable as the front
of her had been, and damned if a line from a Trace Adkins
song didn't start running through his brain, We hate to
see her go, but love to watch her leave.
Damn, get your mind on the job, son.
Jolene asked him a question, but he was too preoccupied to
pay attention. "I'm sorry, ma'am... what did you ask me?"
Lord, don't let Jolene wonder if I'll be able to keep my
mind on the job and off her cousin. I need this job!
Jolene was watching him closely. Finally the corner of her
mouth lifted into a smile. "Are you here to apply for the
"Yeah. I mean, yes, ma'am. I'm here about the job."
"You a hard working man, Mr. Garahan?" She reached out and
brushed at the front of his shirt.
He shifted from one foot to the other, uncomfortable now
that she'd touched him. Had she meant to? "Excuse me?"
"The person I need to fill the position has to be willing
to work hard."
He rubbed his fingers along the brim of his hat and
wondered how to convince the woman that he'd work until he
dropped. Doing's smarter than jawing. "I give one hundred
percent to everything I do."
Damned if she didn't reach out and touch him again, this
time he twitched as her nail flicked unerringly over his
left nipple. Holy Hell!
He stepped back. Had she meant to touch him like that, or
did she simply have dead-on aim? Unease roiled in his gut.
He couldn't flat out ask her. If he was wrong he'd look
like a fool, blow the interview, and lose his chance at
the job. "Ma'am?"
"What about your temperament?" she asked, taking a step
closer to him, easily closing the distance.
"I'm easy going most of the time." His eyes narrowed. Was
she coming on to him, or was it some kind of test?
"So far, you have all of the qualifications I need. How's
your back... strong?"
She stepped around behind him, and he wondered why she
couldn't take his word for it that his back was strong and
had to see for herself. The small palm cupping the seat of
his Levis was all it took to answer his unasked question
and end the interview.
He spun around to face her. "I don't know what kind of
game you're playing or what kind of position you're hiring
for, but I don't think I'm the man for the job."
Hell, usually he enjoyed an aggressive female, given the
fact that free time was next to nonexistent and getting
down to the good part right off meant more time in the
saddle, but he'd been attracted to Emily, not Jolene, and
totally missed the fact that Jolene apparently had other
things in mind. At least Emily had been honest in
mistaking him for a plumber. He couldn't imagine what
Jolene had mistaken him for.
"I believe you're just what we're looking for." She
smiled, and he wondered if anyone ever told this woman
flat out no.
"Take off your shirt."
Sheer desperation grabbed a hold of his roiling gut and
twisted it. Self-preservation warred with duty. "Look, I
don't know what you're selling here, lady, but I'm not
buying." He planted his heel, did an about-face, and
strode toward the hallway. He could find another job. Had
"Position pays thirty dollars an hour, plus tips."
That stopped him dead in his tracks. Damn. How could he
walk away from that kind of money? Without turning around
he shot back, "What're the hours?"
She chuckled, and the sound grated on his nerves. "Seven
o'clock to two o'clock, six days a week."
Tyler's hands shook as he did the math. Two hundred ten
dollars a night? That was over a thousand dollars a week!
He clenched them into fists.
"You could start tonight," she added. "And you can cash
your check right here at the bar."
He could have part of the mortgage payment by the end of
They could keep the Circle G.
Garahan men might be ornery when their backs were against
the wall, but no one had ever accused a Garahan of being
stupid. He turned back toward Jolene. "What do I have to
She put her hands on her hips and called out, "Jennifer?
Hell, now what?
The sound of high heels hitting hardwood had him looking
in the direction of the sound. The blue-eyed brunette and
brown-eyed blonde walking toward him had to be blood kin.
Without a word, they looked him over from head to toe and
then began to circle around behind him.
"Lord love ya, Jolene," the blonde sighed. "We got us a
"Are you a real cowboy?" the brunette asked, staring up at
him like he was the embodiment of her childhood heroes all
rolled up into one man.
He closed his eyes repeating his new mantra: I need this
job... I need this job... Once he was calm, he opened them
and answered, "Yes, ma'am."
"Hire him!" the blonde said.
The brunette narrowed her eyes and drew her mouth into a
thin line. "Hold on sister, dear." She turned toward
Jolene and asked, "Has he passed the test yet?"
His gaze shifted from the brunette back to Jolene. "Just
how many kegs of beer will you expect me to move for that
kind of money?" He hoped his back would hold out after
putting in a full day at the ranch.
"Oh, we're not hiring you for that," Jolene said. "If you
want the job, Tyler, take off your shirt."
Want? No. Need? Hell, yeah.
Need overrode want. Hell, he needed the money-fast. With
his hands clenched into tight fists, he silently dug deep
for the grit to do as she asked.
His gaze settled on the stage and suddenly everything
clicked into place like the latch on the gate to the
Circle G. The odd questions, the searching looks, waiting
for his reaction to being touched suddenly made sense. For
the kind of money she was offering, he'd bet every penny
of it he would have to get up on that stage.
Drawing in a deep breath he cursed silently, the air
inside the bar smelled like fresh rain too. They weren't
hiring him to haul kegs; he was about to become their
latest attraction! He lifted his hands and unbuttoned the
top button. His fingers fumbled and beads of sweat formed
at his temples. Better get used to it. Hell, there'd be no
getting used to it.
The raptor-like gaze of the three women unnerved him, but
hell, for the salary Jolene was promising him, he'd sell
his soul to the devil if it'd save Grandpa's legacy...
their ranch. Her amber gaze collided with his, and he
wondered if his soul was already lost.
As the last button slid free, he couldn't bring himself to
shrug out of the shirt. He felt so exposed standing there
while the women in front of him watched him as if he was a
prime cut of beef on today's blue plate special. It sure
as hell wasn't the same as stripping down for one woman at
Jolene's gaze met his. "Thirty dollars an hour, plus tips,
Damn. His Celtic pride kicked in and their ancient family
motto filled him: Aut Vincam, Aut Periam: I will either
conquer or perish! He lifted one shoulder and let the
shirt slide off. The collective gasp had him wondering if
it was the thick ridge of scar tissue running along the
line of his lower ribs or something else.
Then damn if the blonde didn't lick her lips like she was
a cat and he was a bowl of fresh cream. "You'd better see
if he passes the last test," she said with a glance at the
bar. "Heck, even if he doesn't, I'd snap him up, Jolene."
The blonde walked around the bar to a door in the back,
opened it, and yelled, "Gwen!"
A muffled reply sounded from below them. Just how many
females worked at this bar?
"Are you ready for the last test?" Jolene asked.
Tyler's gut told him to pick up his shirt and hightail it
over to one of the fast food joints. They only paid one-
third of Jolene's offer, but at least he knew he could
handle flipping burgers and the deep fryer. Well... maybe
not the fryer, but he'd flipped burgers plenty of times
for his brothers.
Indecision caught him off guard; it wasn't part of his
makeup. He'd never been in this kind of tight spot before,
but Dylan and Jesse were counting on him and he wasn't a
coward. It wasn't in the Garahan blood. Three generations
of Texas Garahans had faced Indian attacks, droughts, more
than one deluge, and a handful of range wars. He would
stick it out... no matter what she wanted.
A six-foot tall blonde appeared in the doorway and
sauntered toward him.
Jolene smiled. "Gwen," she said slowly. "I'd like you to
meet Tyler." Turning toward Tyler, Jolene smiled and
nodded to the blonde giant. With a sly smile, she
purred, "Pick her up."
A thousand questions raced through Tyler's head, but not
one of them had included picking up the Amazon standing in
front of him. "Now?"
Everyone but Gwen nodded.
He sighed and moved to scoop her up off her feet, but the
woman backed away from him, hands raised up to stop
him. "Not like that."
He stepped back and rubbed his now damp palms on his jean-
clad legs. Were they making fun of him?
"I'm afraid I don't understand."
Jolene's laugh was as light as the afternoon breeze off
the pond at the Circle G. "If you just stand still, Tyler,
Gwen knows what I mean."
With a gleam in her eye, Gwen took a giant step forward
and jumped. She reached for his neck with open arms and
wrapped her legs around his waist, clinging like a burr to
a horse's hide.
He had just enough time to blink, brace himself, and pray
his back would hold out. He'd unloaded a truckload of hay
before cleaning up to drive out here.
She settled against him. Hoping he wouldn't lose his grip,
he slid his hands beneath her muscled backside.
Gwen leaned close and whispered in his ear, "Nice catch,
He was too stunned to speak.
"One more thing." Jolene walked toward where he stood,
legs braced apart, holding on for dear life, muscles
screaming, tendons straining.
He hoped to hell he didn't have to go haul in any full
kegs of beer for his next test. Poke him with a fork; he
"You can set Gwen down now."
When he did as she asked, Gwen touched his cheek, smiled,
and walked back toward the still open door. Distracted and
disturbed by what he'd just had to do, not quite sure what
it proved, he didn't see Jolene move until she was
crowding him so close he could feel her breath on his chin
and feel the tip of her fingernail as it tapped in the
hollow of his throat.
He sucked in a breath and held it, waiting to see what
else she'd ask him to do. He hated being at this woman's
mercy. Suck it up, boy. Garahans go down fighting!
Gee thanks, Grandpa!
Her gaze met his, and he sensed she knew he was fighting
the urge to either step back or step forward. Holding
himself as still as the scarecrow in the Circle G's
cornfield, Tyler waited.
She let her fingernail slide down his breastbone all the
way toward his-Aw hell, she wouldn't.
She laughed-a sexy, sultry sound-as if daring him to
move. "Thirty dollars, plus tips."
Thinking of the ranch and the sweat, blood, and tears
three generations of Garahans had infused into the land,
and not what he'd have to do to earn those tips, he froze.
The sweat gathered at his temples began to trickle down
the sides of his face, but he held his ground. He pictured
his brothers as they rode hell-bent for leather toward the
barn at the end of the day, arguing over whose turn it was
to rustle up supper. He savored the memory of his mother
pulling a huge turkey out of the oven during the holidays
and his grandpa giving them all hell while smiling at the
brothers with a gleam of pride in his eyes.
She dipped the tip of her nail in his navel and he jolted.
But he kept his hands at his sides and his face devoid of
expression, even when she shocked the shit out of him,
tucked her finger inside the waistband of his jeans, and
yanked him flush against her saying the words he'd been
both dreading and hoping to hear.