"Excuse me, but aren't you supposed to be naked?"
Beauregard Cates pushed up his Stetson and
the middle–aged woman who stood in the pool of
from the street lamp. She wore one of those touristy
t–shirts that vendors hawked on every corner and a
bright orange visor that would work real well on an elk
hunt. She did seem to be hunting for something. Beau
wasn't quite sure for what. He'd been propositioned
before—more times than he could count—just
when the woman's husband stood right next to her. A
who looked as interested in the answer to the question as
his wife seemed to be.
"Maybe you have to pay him to take his clothes
The man held up his digital camera and clicked off a few
pictures, the flash momentarily blinding Beau. "Hell,
had to pay for everything else in this friggin' town."
The woman shot her husband an annoyed look before
holding out her hand. "Give me a twenty, Marty. Joan
picture with The Naked Cowboy, and I'm not leaving New
City until I get one."
It looked as if Marty might argue, but then he
the camera into the bag hooked over his shoulder and
his wallet from the back pocket of his
khaki shorts. "I swear, Laurie," he grumbled. "You'd
dog turd if that crazy neighbor of ours brought one back
Not denying it, his wife snatched the twenty out
hand and waved it at Beau. "And could you hurry? We
to get to the Empire State Building before it closes."
Beau had done a lot of crazy things in his life,
regretted very few, but somehow he couldn't bring himself
stand in his underwear in the middle of Central Park
tourist snapped pictures that would no doubt end up on
Facebook. And after the incident in New Zealand, Beau's
mama had threatened to yank a knot in his tail if he ever
ended up naked on the Internet again. But before he
decline the offer, the woman that he had been following
out of the bathroom.
Except she didn't look like the same woman who'd
in. The ponytailed blond hair had been tucked beneath a
sleek black wig, and her waitressing outfit had been
exchanged for a tiny white top and a skirt that showed
good ninety percent of her mile–long legs. Not
Beau was a leg man. He was breast fed and proud of it.
Still, he couldn't help but enjoy the toned calves and
smooth thighs. But it wasn't her legs that gave the
disguise away. It was the determined tilt of her
chin—and the "Think–Green" tote bag slung
He tried to remember the name he'd been given.
A thump pulled his attention away from his
he turned in time to see Marty rubbing his chest above
thick black strap of his camera bag.
"What?" He glared at his wife. "You're going to
picture with some naked guy, and I can't even sneak a
at a street walker."
"She's not The Naked Cowboy," Laurie huffed.
"About that picture," Beau said as he uncrossed
boots and rolled up from the park bench, "I'm afraid I'm
going to have to give you a rain check." His gaze
to the woman in the black wig who appeared to be having a
hard time walking in her sky–high heels. As she
headed down the path toward Central Park South, she
more than Beau's one–year–old nephew, Bobby.
"A rain check?" Laurie sounded thoroughly
"But we're only here until Monday."
Beau turned to her and pinned on his most
smile. A smile that had gotten him out of more bad
situations than he could count. "I'll tell you what.
you're going to be here this weekend, what about if I
you a couple tickets for the bull–riding
at the ticket window of Madison Square Garden?" He
over at Marty. "Then you can take dozens of pictures of
different cowboys—a few who won't mind at all
naked for you."
"You ride bulls?" Marty asked.
Marty perked up. "No kiddin'? I didn't figure
a real cowboy. I just figured that you ran around naked
a hat and boots for the money."
"All part of the illusion that's New York City."
tipped his hat at them. "Y'all enjoy your vacation now."
It didn't take him long to catch up with the
moved a lot slower in the heels than she had in the black
running shoes she'd worn when she came out of the
restaurant. More than a few times, she stopped to catch
balance and adjust the straps of the shoes.
Pointy–heeled shoes that made her legs look twice
As he slowed his pace to keep a few yards behind
Beau had to admit he was a little confused. Why would a
waitress walk to Central Park and change clothes in the
bathroom? If she was meeting friends after work, why
she changed at the restaurant? Or why hadn't she just
home like any normal person would've done after working
day on their feet? It would've made Beau's job a lot
simpler. If she had gone home, he would now have her
address and would be on his way back to his hotel to
up with the sweet little stock contractor he'd met that
afternoon. Not only did Peggy Sue own some damned fine
bulls, she filled out her western shirt to
The thought of Peggy Sue and her abundant twins had
tiring of his detective work. He hadn't minded sitting
the bar across the street from the restaurant, shooting
shit with the bartender and eating a double cheeseburger,
while he waited for "a tall, skinny gal with blond hair
to her butt" to get off work. But he wasn't about to
the rest of the night playing Dick Tracy when he had a
better offer waiting for him back at the hotel. He had
promised that he would get the woman's address, and he
would, just not at the expense of his sex life.
when his sex life wasn't exactly going as well as he
Of course, it was nothing to worry about. Just a
hitch in his giddy–up. A hitch Peggy Sue just
be able to help him with.
On that thought, Beau started to turn around when the
waitress suddenly veered off the main path and headed
the thicker foliage.
Well, damn. He didn't know a lot about Central Park,
he didn't think that any park was safe for a lone woman
be wandering around at night. So he mentally said
to Peggy Sue and headed into the trees. The trail was
narrow and much darker than the paved path. In fact, he
couldn't see more than a few feet in front of him. The
waitress was nowhere in sight. He started to get
when a tree branch popped out and struck him in the
He stumbled back just as something hit him in the calves,
knocking his feet out from under him and sending him to
ground. His shoulder hit first. The same shoulder he'd
dislocated a few months earlier while kite surfing in
Belize. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he rolled
his back and glared up at the woman who stood over him.
From this position, her legs looked like they extended
the way up to the quarter moon that hung in the dark sky.
"Why are you followin' me?" she asked, her Texas
twice as thick as the stick she poked in his chest. No
doubt, the same stick that had his calves throbbing.
Alejandro send you to scare me? Well, it's not going to
work." She pointed the stick at his nose. "Now you
and listen carefully, you go back to your boss and tell
that I'm not going to be intimidated. Especially not by
some old, gray–haired cowboy who can't even fend
Tossing the stick away, she adjusted her tote bag
wobbled back down the trail.
Beau lay there for a few minutes, staring up at
Old, gray–haired cowboy?
He sat up and rubbed his shoulder. It hurt like a
sonofabitch, but it was nothing compared to his wounded
pride. Not that he had anything to be ashamed of. The
woman had caught him off guard, is all. Or not a woman
much as some kind of freakish mutant that was a cross
between Gwyneth Paltrow and Jean–Claude Van Damme.
It took awhile to locate his Stetson. He slapped it
against his leg and placed it back on his head. He
down the trail with every intention of hailing a cab and
heading straight to the hotel and Peggy Sue. As far as
was concerned, his detective days were over. But when he
reached the paved path, he couldn't help glancing in both
He didn't see the waitress, but a group of kids
by, four boys in baggy shorts and flip–flops. One
passed off a handful of firecrackers to the kid who ran
to him. Beau grinned. Having grown up with four
he knew how much fun firecrackers could be. And how much
trouble they could get you into.
Beau's brow knotted. Speaking of trouble, what
trouble was the waitress involved in? Who was this
Alejandro? And why would he send someone to intimidate a
woman? Her aggressive behavior was more than a little
annoying, but that didn't give a man the right to bully
And maybe that was why she'd been so hostile. She was
The thought had Beau turning in the same
waitress had been headed. As he walked, he tried to
remember her name.
Joyce? Jeanette? No, it was two j names. Jilly
Before he could think of her name, he found her.
stood by one of the horse–drawn carriages that were
parked next to the curb, talking with a driver who wore
of those ridiculous top hats. Or not talking as much as
flirting. She was laying it on thick, giggling and
the man's arm.
Maybe Marty was right. Maybe the woman did a
street walking on the side to supplement her waitressing
income. It made sense considering the disguise and
revealing clothing—and who she was related to.
Beau probably should've left her to her business. It
didn't look like the woman was in any kind of imminent
danger. Still, he couldn't bring himself to leave until
was sure. He walked around the back of the line of
carriages and slipped up on the other side. As he drew
closer, he could hear the waitress talking.
" . . . hope you don't mind if I get a picture of
show all my friends back home," she said in a voice with
twang whatsoever, "but you're just so cute. And I bet
have to be strong to handle a horse that big."
Beau peeked around the side of the carriage at
skinny arms and figured the woman could whip the driver's
ass with one hand tied behind her back.
"Well, draft horses are pretty hard to handle,"
driver's voice beamed with pride. "And Lightning is as
stubborn as they come. If he doesn't watch himself, he
won't be pulling a carriage for much longer."
"Really?" She held the camera higher. If she
taking pictures, she was doing it through video. The
record light was on. "What happens to stubborn horses
they can no longer pull a carriage?"
"They usually find themselves—" The driver
and pointed a finger at the camera. "Hey, don't I know
You're the blonde that was here last week asking
and taking pictures." He stepped closer, his voice
"You almost lost me my job when my boss saw that video on
"I don't know what you're talking about." The
started to back away, but the driver grabbed her arm and
pulled off her wig. The blond ponytail spilled out.
"You don't, huh?" He dropped the wig and made a grab
the phone. "Hand over the phone, blondie."
Beau had seen about as much manhandling as he
take. Opening the door of the carriage, he climbed in
the intent of climbing out the other side and helping to
even the odds. But before he could do more than open the
opposite door, Blondie proved him right. The driver was
match for the skinny girl. She threw an elbow–shot
into the man's stomach that had Beau sucking in his
The driver released her, but before she could make a run
for it, a swarm of other carriage drivers came running.
With all exits blocked, most people would've given up.
Blondie wasn't even fazed. She vaulted up into the
seat of the carriage, took the reins, and shouted a
Beau braced to be thrown on his ass.
Instead, nothing happened.
"Hah!" Blondie continued to slap the reins. But the
movement it generated from Lightning was a flick of his
Her shoulders drooped, and Beau figured she was about
accept defeat when the four boys in baggy shorts raced
The scent of burning fuses warned Beau, but not quick
enough. The staccato pops of firecrackers went off right
next to the horse's front hooves. The draft horse
and Beau was thrown back against the seat. By the time
sat up, the horse was at a full run. Carefully, Beau
his way to the driver's seat. Blondie wasn't quite as
anymore. She had lost the reins and hung on to the side
rail for dear life.
Without any guidance, the horse chose his own
Fortunately for the pedestrians, it was a less populated
route. Unfortunately for Beau and Blondie, it wasn't
Shrubs and low–hanging branches wacked them
faces and scratched their arms as the horse charged down
narrow trail. Figuring that the back was safer than the
front, Beau lifted the woman off the seat and pulled her
down to the cushioned red leather. It didn't surprise
that she wasn't exactly happy about being protected. She
fought worse than a lassoed steer. Still, after being
bested earlier, Beau wasn't about to let her get the
hand again. And since he didn't want to hurt her, it
into something of a wrestling match.
The woman knew her moves. She tried headlocks,
and Half Nelsons. But Beau hadn't wrestled in high
for nothing. After only a few moments, he ended up on
with her legs pinned beneath him and her arms held over
The fight fizzled out of her just as the carriage came
a stop. Beau's hat had come off, and his face was inches
from hers. So close, he could see the freckles that
sprinkled the bridge of her nose. So close, he could see
the starbursts of deep blue in her irises. Her hair had
come out of the ponytail and framed her face in long,
wheat–colored waves. He had always preferred
dark–haired girls, but the cloud of gold looked so
soft that he couldn't help leaning down to rub his cheek
against the silky strands. A scent drifted up. A scent
had no trouble distinguishing.
Homemade cherry pie piping hot from the oven.
Suddenly, Beau was hungry.
And not for food.
Like a lightning bolt straight from heaven,
sizzled through him and settled in a hard knot beneath
fly of his jeans. The unexpected sensation had him
back in surprise, and the spitfire didn't waste any time
taking advantage of the opportunity. She gave him a hard
shove and rolled out from beneath him. Still stunned, he
could only watch as she grabbed her tote bag and jumped
from the carriage.
The slamming door brought Beau out of his daze, and
gaze moved down to the hardened swell beneath his zipper.
smile spread across his face. Not the smile he gave to
folks, but a real smile that came directly from the
that flooded his body.
Up ahead, he could see the woman hobbling down
in only one high heel, her golden hair glistening in the
moonlight. After an entire night's contemplation, a name
popped into his head.