It's a cowboy to the rescue in the latest from New York Times bestselling author Carla Cassidy!
When single mom Trisha Cahill fled her deadly ex, she never expected to feel safe again. Yet Dusty Crawford is the protector she's always yearned for. She can't deny her attraction to the rugged cowboy, but how can she start a new beginning with evil lurking in her past?
Dusty has been intrigued by Trisha since she and her infant son arrived in Bitterroot, Oklahoma. When her life is threatened by a stalker, he won't hesitate to act as guardian. Trisha may be running from more than her bloody past, but Dusty will go to extremes to keep the vulnerable beauty safe.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Carla Cassidy is an award-winning author who has written more than fifty novels for Harlequin Books. In 1995, she won Best Silhouette Romance from RT Book Reviews for Anything for Danny. In 1998, she also won a Career Achievement Award for Best Innovative Series from RT Book Reviews. Carla believes the only thing better than curling up with a good book to read is sitting down at the computer with a good story to write.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Man up, Dusty Crawford commanded himself as he stared at the front door of the Bitterroot Café. It was almost nine o'clock on Friday night and the summer sun just barely skimmed the horizon in its downward descent.
As darkness slowly fell, the interior of the brightly lit café became more visible. He'd waited to arrive until late enough in the day that the dinner hour would be over and the popular eatery would be less crowded.
He'd wrestled stubborn cattle and faced more than one marauding cougar over the years, and yet the thought of the beautiful blonde waitress inside the café had him nearly shaking in his boots.
He turned his head at the sound of several doors slamming nearby. He narrowed his gaze as he watched three cowboys amble from the parking lot toward the café's front door.
Zeke Osmond, Greg Albertson and Shep Harmon all worked on the ranch next to the Holiday spread where Dusty had worked and lived since he was fourteen years old. For the most part all of the men who were part of the Humes ranch were mean and liked nothing more than to stir up trouble wherever they went.
The Humes men were suspected of all kinds of mischief on the Holiday land, including tearing down fencing, setting nuisance fires and the occasional cattle disappearance.
As they went inside the building, Dusty shoved thoughts of them out of his head. He needed to focus on the reason he was here. After a little over six months of small talk whenever he ate at the café, tonight he was here to ask Trisha Cahill out on an official date.
He took off his black cowboy hat and set it on the passenger seat and then raked his hand through his hair. Drawing a deep breath for courage, he finally left his pickup truck and headed for the café door.
When he stepped inside, his nose was immediately assailed by the scents of fried potatoes and onions, a variety of simmering meats and a faint whiff of apples and cinnamon.
Even though it was late for dinner there was still a crowd at the tables and booths. This wasn't just a place to eat in the small town of Bitterroot, Oklahoma; it was also a place where folks came to visit with neighbors and catch up with the local gossip.
His gaze instantly found Trisha, who was taking an order from Steve Kaufman, a widower who lived alone and spent most evenings in the café sipping coffee and reading a book.
Dusty headed toward an empty booth that he knew was in Trisha's area and sat. He grabbed one of the plastic menus propped up between squeeze bottles of mustard and ketchup. He opened it even though he'd long ago memorized everything that the café had to offer.
Nerves jangled in the pit of his stomach. You're being ridiculous, he told himself. The worst thing that could happen was that Trisha would tell him in no uncertain terms that she had no interest in going out with him. He could live with that. He'd certainly survived much worse in his twenty-nine years on earth.
He closed the menu and returned it to its place and then looked up and smiled as Trisha approached his booth. "Hi, Dusty. You're a little later than usual tonight," she said. Her eyes were the color of a clear summer sky and filled with her casual friendliness.
"Yeah, I decided to skip Daisy's Friday night meat-loaf dinner and I ate at the ranch instead," he replied. Her pale blond hair was pulled up into a slightly messy ponytail, and Dusty's fingers itched with the desire to release all of it from its confinement.
"So, what can I get for you?" she asked.
"I'll take one of Daisy's apple dumplings and a cup of coffee."
"I'll have it to you in just a jiffy." She turned and left his booth.
Dusty released a pent-up sigh. He'd ask her out after he'd eaten his dessert. Maybe by then a lot of the people would be gone and she'd be less busy.
Within minutes Dusty had his dumpling and coffee and Trisha had hurried to another table after serving him. As he ate he watched her taking care of her customers. She had a cheerful smile for everyone and she looked totally hot in her slim-fitting blue jeans and the red T-shirt with gold lettering advertising the café.
Despite the fact that he'd been interested in her for months, he really knew very little about her other than she lived in the Bitterroot Motel and had a young son and she was one of the most popular, well-liked waitresses at the café.
By the time he'd finished his dumpling and was nursing a second cup of coffee, the crowd had finally begun to thin out. He motioned to Trisha and she hurried over to his booth. "Ready for your check?" she asked.
"Actually, I was wondering if you had a minute to sit with me," he replied.
She looked around at the diners remaining in her area and then nodded. "Sure, I can take a few minutes."
It wasn't uncommon for her to occasionally sit and visit with Dusty when things were slow in the café. She slid into the opposite side of the booth and smiled at him once again. "It feels good to take a little break and get off my feet. We've been fairly swamped since about five o'clock. It seemed like everyone in the entire town decided to eat out tonight. Speaking of people in town, I heard through the grapevine that Forest Stevens moved away."
"Yeah, he found true love with Dr. Patience Forbes, the forensic anthropologist who was at the ranch examining the bones in the pit that were found. He moved with her to Oklahoma City a week ago." And every day of the past week, Dusty had missed the big cowboy who had been his best friend since he was a scrawny, homeless thirteen-year-old.
"Good for him," Trisha replied. "I hope they both get their happily-ever-after."
Ask her, a little voice niggled in the back of his brain. For the first time in your life, step up and go after what you really want. "Trisha, I was wondering if maybe tonight after your shift you'd like to go to the Watering Hole and have a drink with me?"
Her eyes widened and darkened and she quickly looked down at the tabletop. Dusty's heart sank into his boots. He should have known better. Why would a gorgeous woman like her be interested in a cowboy like him? Besides, he knew that plenty of other men had asked her out and she'd rejected all of them. Why would he be any different?
She was silent for a long moment and just when Dusty was about to tell her never mind, to forget that he'd even asked, she looked up at him. "I'm sorry, Dusty. I couldn't possibly go tonight. My son is with his babysitter and she's expecting me home right after work."
"No problem," he replied hurriedly. He was just grateful that he'd already eaten his dumpling and could now make a quick escape.
"Maybe I could work something out with her for tomorrow night after work." Her cheeks flushed a charming pink. "I mean, if you'd still want to."
"Sure, I'd love to," he said as his heart once again lifted buoyantly in his chest.
"I work until ten tomorrow night. I could meet you at the Watering Hole around ten thirty or so."
He sat up straighter and smiled at her. "That sounds perfect. Why don't I give you my cell phone number in case it doesn't work out with your babysitter?" He grabbed a napkin and then used her pen to write down his number, and she wrote hers down for him, as well.
She scooted out of the booth, took the napkin with his number from him and stuffed it into her back pocket. "Then I guess I'll see you tomorrow night." She tore his tab off her ordering pad, slid it onto the table and then scurried away from the booth.
A wave of excitement swept through him. He'd done it. He'd not only gotten up the nerve to finally ask her out, but she'd actually accepted. He got up and walked to the cash register, where the owner of the café, Daisy Martin, greeted him with a wide grin.
"I saw you passing notes with Trisha. Are you trying to make time with one of my best waitresses?" she asked.
"Definitely trying to," he replied. He handed her a twenty-dollar bill.
Daisy's smile fell and she glanced over to Trisha, who was pouring coffee for the three men from the Humes ranch. She looked back at Dusty. "I hope you have the right intentions where she's concerned. She's a good woman and she deserves only the very best."
"Daisy, I didn't know you were such a protective mama bear," he said teasingly as he tucked his change into his back pocket.
Daisy swept a strand of her flaming red hair behind an ear. "I am when it comes to the girls who work for me. They're closer to me than most of my family."
"You don't have to worry about me, Daisy. Besides, I didn't ask her to jump into my bed or anything like that. I just asked her to have drinks at the Watering Hole with me," Dusty replied.
"Whatever—you just make sure you treat her right. Like I said before, she deserves only the best."
Minutes later Dusty was in his truck and headed back to the Holiday ranch. There was no question that he was eager to spend some time with Trisha away from her work. He'd been drawn to her for a long time. But he couldn't help thinking about what Daisy had said, that Trisha was a good woman who deserved only the best.
You're nothing but a sniveling punk.
The very sight of you makes me sick to my stomach.
You'll never amount to anything.
The hurtful words exploded in Dusty's head and he gripped the steering wheel more tightly as he battled to shove the deep, gravelly voice back into his past where it belonged.
It's just drinks, he reminded himself. He certainly hadn't proclaimed his undying love for Trisha. He didn't know what his intentions were toward the attractive woman. He didn't know her well enough yet.
The truth of the matter was that he didn't know if he was strong enough, smart enough or good enough to be with a woman like Trisha.
He reached up and touched his left ear, where he hadn't heard a sound since he was thirteen and had climbed out of a bedroom window to escape the man he'd feared would eventually kill him.
Nobody, not even his best friend, Forest, knew that Dusty was deaf in one ear.
He knew with confidence that he was a good cowboy. Cass Holiday had seen to that. But Cass was dead now, and Dusty was left with the sinking feeling that he really wasn't good enough for any woman.
It was just after ten o'clock when Trisha got into her car and headed to the Bitterroot Motel, where she and her son had been living for a little over two and a half years.
As she drove the short distance, her thoughts were filled with the cowboy who had asked her to have drinks with him.
There was no question that she was physically attracted to Dusty Crawford. He had hair the color of sun-kissed wheat and eyes the hue of a cobalt bottle.
Deep dimples flashed charmingly with his smiles that warmed her as no other man's had in a very long time.
They'd chatted often enough at the café that she knew she also liked his sunny disposition and easygoing attitude. Despite their interactions at her workplace, she only knew him superficially, and an excitement she hadn't felt in a very long time fluttered inside her at the thought of finally getting to know him better.
Is it safe?
Has enough time passed?
The troubling questions flew into her head unbidden and sent a new tension churning in the pit of her stomach. Surely after a little over three long years she was finally safe here and didn't have to worry about her past reaching out to torture her or anyone else ever again. Surely it was finally safe for her to believe that a happy future was possible for her and her son.
Any disturbing thoughts she might have momentarily entertained disappeared as she pulled up in front of unit 4 at the motel. The units were small but also had full kitchenettes, and the weekly rent was low enough that between her wages and her tips she'd been able to sock away some savings.
Still, she knew it was past time to make a move. It wasn't right to be raising a three-year-old little boy in the confines of a motel room. She was hoping that in the next couple of weeks or so she would find a small house to rent, a house where Cooper could play in the yard and have his very own room.
With thoughts of her son filling her heart, she left her car and hurried toward the motel room door. She unlocked and opened it to see Juanita in the chair next to the bed where Cooper slept soundly. Juanita closed the tabloid she'd been reading and got out of the chair.
She joined Trisha at the door. "As usual he was a good boy today," she said softly. "We played outside on the swing set and then spent the hot hours of the afternoon playing games and watching movies inside. He ate a good dinner and then took a bath before he went to bed."
"Thanks, Juanita. I was wondering if maybe tomorrow night you could stay a little later than usual. Maybe until around midnight?"
Juanita's broad face wreathed in a smile and one of her thick dark eyebrows danced upward. "Does Cinderella have a ball to attend?"
Trisha bit back a laugh. "No, nothing quite as elegant as that...just drinks with a cowboy."
"And who is this lucky cowboy?"
"Dusty Crawford from the Holiday ranch."
Juanita quickly made the sign of the cross over her chest. "Something evil walked on that land."
Trisha knew she was referring to the seven skeletons that had been found on the property...skeletons who had once been young men who had been murdered over a decade ago.
"Hopefully, Chief of Police Bowie will find out who was responsible for that evil," Trisha replied.
Juanita nodded soberly and then smiled once again. "Staying late tomorrow night is no problem. It's about time you did something for yourself."
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Book Description HARPER COLLINS, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110263919315