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Libby Lowell's mind is made up. The only way for the widow to go forward with her life is to leave Laramie, Texas, behind. She should have known rugged rancher Holden McCabe would try to stop her! Her husband's best friend is Libby's fiercest protector. It's not that she doesn't want or need Holden's broad shoulder to cry on. But it's time to put away the past.
Holden isn't letting Libby get away so easily. He hasn't forgotten how she turned to him in her hour of need?and the painful secret she shared. But his idea to push them both into moving on backfires when passion leads to pregnancy?something Libby's wanted for so long.
Is this their biggest mistake?or the second chance they've both been searching for?
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Cathy Gillen Thacker is a popular Harlequin author of over one hundred novels. Married and a mother of three, she and her husband resided in Texas for eighteen years, and now make their home in North Carolina. Her mysteries, romantic comedies, and family stories have made numerous appearances on bestseller lists, but her best reward is knowing one of her books made someone's day a little brighter.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Libby Lowell had just ducked into a deserted corner of the Laramie Community Center to check her BlackBerry when a shadow loomed over her. It was Holden McCabe, as big and broad-shouldered and chivalrous as ever...
Libby frowned at the good-looking man who had been her late husband's best friend, wishing, as always, that the six-foot-three rancher did not feel so compelled to watch over her.
Ignoring the way his shirt brought out the cobalt-blue depths of his eyes, she smiled tersely. "If you're here for what I think you are, Holden, I have to warn you...I am not in the mood."
His smile full of mischief, Holden inclined his head toward the buffet tables on the other side of the crowded venue. "For pumpkin or pecan pie?"
Libby rolled her eyes and leaned in a tad closer. The truth was, she was stuffed to the gills from the delicious holiday meal. All she really wanted now was a nice long nap. "For any well-meant but totally unsolicited advice," she corrected. The kind that Holden thought Percy would have given her, and hence, intended to deliver in her late husband's stead.
Holden rubbed a hand across his chiseled jaw and continued to play dumb. "Why would you think I want to tell you what to do?" he asked.
"Maybe because just about everyone else has at some point or other today." Libby lifted a lecturing finger before he could interrupt. "And don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about, because I saw you talking to my employees, earlier, as well as at least a half-dozen area ranchers."
He shrugged his shoulders amiably, then folded his arms in front of him. The motion drew her eyes to the solid, muscular contours of his chest.
Swallowing, she turned her attention to his ruggedly attractive face.
Libby didn't know what was wrong with her. She had known this man for years now. And yet.
Holden leaned toward her. "Of course I was chatting with everyone. It's Thanksgiving." And this year, everyone was eschewing private family gatherings to attend a holiday fundraiser for the local children's home, an event Libby had helped organize.
Not about to have her suspicions blown off, Libby lifted an eyebrow in challenge. "Really? Because it didn't look like any of you were discussing the probable outcome of the upcoming University of Texas and A and M football game." Which was what all the men would normally be talking about. She paused again and looked straight into his mesmerizing eyes. "Admit it, Holden. Everyone is coming to you. Trying to enlist your help."
Keeping his gaze locked with hers, the handsome meddler flashed a dimpled smile. "People are concerned."
"Well, they shouldn't be," she snapped.
Holden leaned in even closer and murmured, "The fear is you are acting rashly..."
"And unwisely?" she couldn't help but add. Frown lines bracketed his sensual lips. "Because of the holidays."
Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's had been hard in the two years since Percy had died. Made even worse by the fact she had no other family left, on either side.
It was just her and the ranch-equipment dealership she had inherited from the Lowells. Stuck in a place that reminded her of all she had lost and would never have again. At least if she stayed in the small but thriving West Texas town of Laramie.
Which was why she had finally come to her senses and decided to stop delaying the inevitable and move on with her life, once and for all. No matter how hard it was going to be initially, she had to do it.
Ignoring the softness of Holden's gaze, Libby scrolled through the text messages on her BlackBerry until she found the one she wanted. It was from Jeff Johnston and said, Tomorrow evening at seven-thirty all right?
Libby typed in: Perfect. Meet me at the dealership. We'll go to dinner from there.
Aware of Holden reading over her shoulder, she flashed him another insincere smile, turned off her phone and slipped it back into the pocket of her black cashmere blazer.
"You're really going to pursue this?" His low, sexy voice rang with disbelief.
Was she? When just agreeing to meet with Jeff Johnston made her feel extremely disloyal? Libby pretended a cool she couldn't begin to really feel. "This is my decision, Holden."
It didn't matter what Percy or his family would have wanted, she reminded herself purposefully. None of them were here any longer..
Holden clamped a gentle hand around her elbow, the action sending ribbons of sensation flowing beneath her skin. "No one is saying otherwise."
Libby stepped back, pushing aside the sudden onslaught of sexual feeling. For years, she had been devoid of physical yearning. Only to have it all come rushing back now, with the aching desire to be touched, held.loved.
Which was something else that could not happen in this small town, where everyone still saw her as the late Percy Lowell's wife.
Fighting off her increasing feelings of disloyalty, she said, "They just want me to keep everything status quo."
"They want you to be happy," Holden corrected, looking as if he and he alone had the solution to that, too. "We all do."
Libby looked at him stubbornly, aware of the restlessness inside her. She was thirty-two now, and overwhelmed with the sense that life was passing her by. How would she feel at thirty-four, thirty-five, if she didn't act...?
"Then forget how you and everyone else feels. And give me room to pursue a possible agreement with Jeff Johnston in my own time and in my own way."
"I know what you're thinking, Holden, but Libby is not your responsibility."
He turned to Libby's best friend, Paige. The pediatric surgeon, and wife of his cousin Kurt, had made her way to Holden's side the minute Libby stormed off in a huff.
Not wanting their conversation to be overheard, he ducked into the empty storeroom where the banquet tables were usually stored. "I promised Percy I'd look after her and make sure no one took advantage of her," he reminded Paige.
"And you have—for over two years now. But Libby is a grown woman, fully capable of making her own decisions."
"In certain regards," he conceded. In others, she was still way too giving—and unconsciously sexy—for her own good.
Paige lifted a brow in quiet dissent.
Which prodded Holden to argue, "I don't have to remind you how emotional and overwrought she was after Percy's death." So deliriously "happy" she was practically walking on air one moment then completely devastated the next.
The look on Paige's face told him she recalled the same tumultuous swings in Libby's moods. "That was grief and hormones."
And guilt on his part. Terrible, haunting guilt.
"Beyond all that..." Paige paused. "She made a mistake—an understandable one."
One, Holden acknowledged painfully, that he and Libby had recklessly gone on to make even worse, and were both still trying to get over.
But Paige didn't know about that. And hopefully never would.
He scowled. "The point is, none of it would have happened had Percy been alive."
Libby wouldn't have trusted him with her secrets and thrown herself joyously into his arms...or called him just hours later, sobbing hysterically, begging him to take her to the emergency room. Only to find out that the terrible malady she'd thought she was experiencing didn't exist after all.
It had been a horrible, embarrassing mess. One they still hadn't figured out how to handle.
Oblivious to the complicated nature of his thoughts,
Paige sighed. "You're right. If Percy had been here, she probably wouldn't have gone off the deep end like that."
And, Holden thought, he would not have been the one to take a distraught Libby home from the hospital in the wee hours of the morning, or been pressed into staying until dawn until Paige was finally off duty and could be with her..
Paige continued with the matter-of-factness of a physician. "The point is, that time has passed. Libby's pulled herself together and made a success of the family business she inherited from the Lowells."
"To the point," Kurt McCabe stated as he strolled up to them, "that a rival businessman wants to purchase it."
Not surprisingly, the gravity of the situation had the rest of Holden's family joining them, too.
"And that," his brother Hank interjected with the expertise of a cattle rancher, "could spell trouble for all of us."
"Or not," Holden's other brother, Jeb, concluded, with the ease of a man used to taking life as it came. "From what I understand, there's nothing thus far to indicate Jeff Johnston is a shyster."
"And nothing that tells us he is not," their dad, Shane McCabe, warned in a brisk, businesslike tone. "The only thing we do know for certain is that we all need heavy farm equipment to run our ranches. And if anything happens to the tractor dealership here, we'll have to go a hundred miles to get sales or service."
"That would definitely be a pain," Holden's brother-in-law, Dylan Reeves, said, "but I think we can all agree it's not the main worry for any of us."
Holden's mother nodded emphatically. "Our main concern is Libby," Greta said with feeling. "None of us want to see her hurt. And, sad to say, the sale of the Lowell family business could be a lot more devastating to her than she thinks."
At the behest of his family, Holden decided to give it one more try. Unfortunately, by the time he emerged from the storeroom, Libby had already left for home. Holden stopped by the dessert table, picked up some sweets to go and drove to the Lowell residence on the edge of town.
The magnificent two-story stone-and-cedar farmhouse was located just across the road from the tractor dealership. Surrounded by...
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