Chassie West Glanzer squinted at the lone figure ambling up the snow-covered driveway.
Visitors were few and far between at the remote West homestead, especially on foot in the frigid month of February. The mildly warm day and clear skies could change in a helluva hurry on the high plains of Wyoming and she shivered at an odd sense of foreboding.
Each steady clip brought the man closer, but she couldn’t see his face. A long sheepskin coat brushed the thighs of faded Wranglers, drawing attention to the championship belt buckle centered between trim hips. Leather gloves covered fingers curled around the strap of a camouflage duffel bag. This man wasn’t one of those young, green city boys looking for “real” ranch work and a wild Western adventure. This guy was one hundred percent cowboy, from the tips of his scuffed Tony Lamas to the brim of his dusty black Resistol.
Chassie probably looked like a rube, or worse that unkempt woman from American Gothic, standing in front of their old wooden barn holding a pitchfork. She resisted fussing with her hair and called out, “Something I can help you with?”
When he lifted his head, Chassie’s breath caught. Good Lord. He was easily the most dazzling man she’d ever set eyes on. Thick black hair, tawny brown eyes fringed with dark eyelashes, and razor-sharp cheekbones that flared into a blocky jaw. Coppery-colored lips stretched wide and full below a thin blade of a nose. His smooth skin glowed the color of rich coffee liberally laced with cream. At first glance, his body appeared whipcord lean, but she suspected beneath those clothes was a muscular force to be reckoned with.
The duffel bag hit the icy gravel. He pushed his hat back slightly and held out his gloved hand. “Hello. I’m Edgard Mancuso.”
When his voice rumbled out tinged with a foreign drawl, she bit back a feminine sigh. “Howdy, Edgard. I’m Chassie Glanzer. And forgive my bluntness, but what the hell are you doin’ wanderin’ around in the middle of winter? It’s a good way to wind up coyote food.”
He smiled, all brilliant white teeth, and her knees damn near collapsed. “You’re a feisty one, eh? Bet he loves that. I’m looking for Trevor.”
“Why? Does he owe you money?” At the man’s stark expression, Chassie said,
“Kidding. How do you know my husband?”
“We…we’re old friends.”
Huh. If that were true, why wasn’t the man’s name familiar?
Edgard carefully removed his gloves. “I guess he didn’t tell you about me. We used to be ropin’ partners on the Mountains and Plains Circuit.”
“Really? He might’ve mentioned it in passing, but he hasn’t been rodeoin’ professionally for a couple of years. Where are you from?”
“Brazil. This is the first time I’ve been in the U.S. since my run of luck with Trevor ended a few years back.”
Chassie gave him another once-over. “If you were on that circuit, did you know my brother, Dag West?”
“Uh-huh. I roped with him several times. Talented heeler and a good guy. I heard what happened. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks.” Chassie wrapped her fingers around the pitchfork handle and hefted it out of the straw. “You wanna come up to the house?”
“That’d be great.”
“Is Trevor expecting you?”
Edgard released a strangled laugh. “Ah. No.”
“Thought you’d surprise him?”
“Something like that.”
“Come on then. I’m about due for a break anyway.”
The crunch of boots on the ground was the only sound as she and Edgard trekked the long driveway to the old farmhouse.
Was this old friend of Trevor’s comparing the humble West homeplace to the Glanzer showplace she’d heard about but had never seen?
Didn’t matter. The house she’d grown up in looked better now than it had in fifteen years. After Chassie’s mother died, her father wouldn’t “waste” money fixing the problems, preferring to let the place fall into ruin. He hadn’t had the knowledge or the drive to do the basic home maintenance himself. Yet he was too proud to hire his nephews, Chet and Remy West—owners of a construction company—even after they’d offered to do the work at cost.
Between running the ranch and doing all the household chores, Chassie’s exhaustion at the end of the day hadn’t allowed for worries about peeling paint or figuring out what’d caused the leak in the living room ceiling. Or to discover why the front porch sagged in the right corner.
Chassie had refused to squabble with her father about household issues or anything else. She’d suffered enough traumas listening to Dad and Dag snapping and snarling at each other like rabid dogs over the dumbest things. To what end? Bitterness, regret, stupidity, and pride had killed both father and son.
But as soon as Trevor Glanzer hired on for shit wages, things’d begun to change.
He’d cajoled Harland into springing for new paint and spruced up the crappy siding. He’d harassed the old man into buying shingles so Trevor could put on a new roof. Trevor resealed windows, fixed the furnace and installed a new water heater. Chassie helped him restore the house and often wondered if that’s why she’d fallen for him.
Right. His work ethic coupled with his smokin’ hot physique…she hadn’t stood a chance. Her immediate lust upon seeing golden-haired, golden-skinned Trevor whip off his shirt and climb on the roof half-naked had been an epiphany of sorts. Watching his tanned muscles straining, his buff body dripping with sweat as he hammered shingles, Chassie fantasized about having Trevor hammering into her.
Because of Trevor’s reputation with the ladies and purported outrageous sexual appetites, she’d figured he wouldn’t look at her twice—a petite, flat-chested, poor ethnic cowgirl was not the type of woman bad boy rodeo stud Trevor Glanzer pursued. Even if he’d overlooked those details, she was his friend’s little sister and sort of his boss.
But Trevor had noticed her. Even…wooed her, country style with every ounce of his cowboy charm. Accompanying her on horseback as they’d checked cattle. Picking wildflowers and winding the colorful blossoms through her braided hair. Taking her dancing at local honky-tonks. Stealing kisses while washing dishes after supper.
Eventually sneaking into her room and loving her in the creaky, antique iron-framed bed. Rolling around with her in the warm sunshine in the hayloft for a steamy bout of fun sex. Staking his claim by fucking her mindless over a sawhorse in the machine shed. His secret sweetness was as much a part of him as his unmistakable sexual fire. Lust bloomed into love for both of them pretty damn fast.
Trevor stayed rock solid through the unexpected deaths of her brother and father.
Their mutual love of the land, the Western lifestyle and determination to rebuild the ranch, despite the odds, strengthened their bond. The day Trevor climbed up on the roof, shouted his love for her and asked her to marry him, she’d never been so sure of anything in her life.
So a year after they’d repeated those solemn vows in front of a judge, Chassie’s heart still skipped a beat when she saw her hunky husband. Trevor was crouched over a makeshift plywood table in front of the porch, wrenching on the motor for the backup generator. He muttered to himself and swore, so he hadn’t heard their approach.
“Hang on.” Metal grinding on metal screeched in the cold air. Then, “Motherfuckin’ piece of shit.”
Chassie glanced at Edgard who’d gone completely still.
“That’s not the way to talk in front of company, hon.”
“Who’s here?” Trevor spun around and froze.
A beat passed. Then Edgard said softly, “Hello, Trevor.”
No one spoke; no one moved.
Trevor roared, “You motherfuckin’ piece of shit.” He threw the wrench and bulled toward Edgard.
Crap. Maybe they weren’t friends after all.
Instead of tackling the man and pounding him into the ground, Trevor slapped Edgard on the back. Clasping him in a bear hug, lifting him in the air, practically swinging him in a circle.
Whoa. She’d never seen her husband so…exuberant. From seeing an old friend she’d never even heard of? Chassie’s eyes met Trevor’s in confusion and he hastily set Edgard down.
“Ah. Sorry, man. It’s just…” Trevor turned away.
As he composed himself, Chassie fired a sardonic look at Edgard. “Well, I reckon he’s happy to see you after all.”
For Christsake, Edgard was here. Standing in his goddamn front yard.
Next to his wife.
How was he supposed to deal with this situation? At least he’d stopped himself from laying a big, wet kiss on him.
Kissing another man. In front of his wife.
Chassie wasn’t aware of his relationship with Edgard. Hell, he’d barely mentioned the years they’d team roped and traveled together because he didn’t know if he could keep the truth about that intimate relationship hidden from her—the woman had an uncanny emotional sense. So Chassie must be wondering about the male stranger her husband hugged like a long lost love.
Not a long lost love. Just a former rodeo pal. Keep it light. Friendly.
Trevor spun back around and grinned. “Shocked the shit out of me, Ed, to see you on American soil again. What’re you doin’ here?”
The tensed lines around Edgard’s mouth diminished. “Just passing through.”
“Where’s your vehicle?” Chassie asked.
“It broke down outside of Sundance. The mechanic said it’d be a week before they can get the parts to fix it.”
“Which repair shop?”
“They’ll treat you right. My dad used to work there. I’ll warn ya. They are slow as molasses in February. If they say a week it’ll be at least two.”
“Meantime, where are you stayin’?”
“I haven’t decided.”