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Chapter One

“Sweet darlin’, what did you say you did for a living?”

Sweet darlin’. Did this dude really think she’d buy into his fake cowboy shtick because he’d shown up at a Western bar wearing alligator boots and a Stetson? Please. She was a Texas girl, born and bred. And if there was one thing Tanna Barker knew, it was cowboys—real cowboys.

She smiled coyly. “I didn’t say. But a shot of Patrón would loosen my tongue a whole lot.”

Mr. Alligator Boots flagged down the bartender.

Sucker.

Tanna would’ve almost felt bad for this guy, except he’d approached her. Buying her a shot was the least he could do after he’d laid on the bullshit so thick she felt it seeping into her boots.

After knocking back the tequila, she confessed, “I don’t normally share my occupation because it tends to be viewed as . . . a bit raunchy. But I’ll make an exception for you, puddin’ pop.”

She saw his gears spinning as he pondered her raunchy occupation. Paid escort? Hooker? Exotic dancer? His eyes roamed over her skintight Miss Me jeans, her pink rhinestone b.b.simon belt and her shimmery ruffled blouse cut low enough to garner interest in her abundant cle**age.

Then Mr. Alligator Boots frowned at the bandage on her forehead. “What happened to you?”

“Hazard of my job.” She confided, “I’m a professional Roller Derby girl. I’m the pivot for the Lonestar Ladies. I hit the cement in the ring last night after some bitch hooked me and I ended up with a skate to the head. It bled like a mother, I guess. I didn’t notice, ’cause I play to win. Only took ten stitches this time. Last month I ripped the shit outta my calf and ended up with twenty-five stitches.”

Silence.

“I can show you the scar. Bet a tough cowboy like you is into scars, ain’t ya?” she taunted.

Mr. Alligator Boots backed away and waved at someone across the room. “Would you look at the time? I gotta go. I see my friends are here.”

Tanna held in her laughter until he disappeared.

Within five minutes another friendly guy sidled up. Younger than Mr. Alligator Boots. But he still wore the Hey, baby, I’m all that and a real cowboy look of a smarmy douche bag. She smiled and waited for him to strike up a conversation.

Hello, free shot number two.

Talk about shooting fish in a barrel. Over the next two hours, and after multiple complimentary shots of tequila, her injury had been the result of a bow hunting accident, from getting clipped by her gear after jumping from an airplane, from a drunken brawl with her fellow missionaries, from hitting the roll bar during the demolition derby finals and her personal favorite—the whip she’d used on her lover recoiled and sliced her in the face. Truly a classic. As the queen of tall tales, she couldn’t wait to share these fun little fibs with her buddy Celia Lawson Gilchrist.

Hopefully pregnancy hadn’t affected Celia’s sense of humor.

Tanna ordered a Corona, lamenting the lack of Lone Star beer this far north. Still, she was grateful for her friends who’d offered her a place to live in Wyoming while she got her head on straight. Her life had been in turmoil these past two years, more than she’d let on. She just wanted a place to hole up, lick her wounds and figure out what the hell to do with herself.

Rather than imposing on Celia and Kyle Gilchrist or Lainie and Hank Lawson, even for one night, Tanna had checked into a dive motel in Rawlins within stumbling distance of Cactus Jack’s Bar. This wouldn’t be her last night of freedom, but it’d be her last chance to be anonymously wild for a while.

Right. Tell yourself that. You can’t go more than two weeks without getting into trouble.

Another guy, this one with too many tats and too few teeth, slunk up next to her. “What’s a looker like you doin’ drinking alone?”

“Celebrating that I just got out of jail last week.”

His bleary eyes lit up. “What a coincidence. I just got outta jail too. What were you in for?”

A real jailbird was hitting on her? Awesome. That’d teach her to lie. “Arson. I allegedly”—she made quotes in the air when she said allegedly—“set fire to my ex’s trailer and blew up his truck with a couple of incendiary rounds. The man has no sense of humor and if I ever see that lyin’ bastard again . . .” Tanna squinted at him suspiciously. “Hey. Come to think of it, you look an awful lot like him. An awful lot.” She sneered and poked him in the chest. “LeRoy, I swear to God, if you think you can pull some kind of lame disguise with me—”

“I ain’t LeRoy, and lady, you’re plumb crazy.” He backed away. Ran away was more like it.

She couldn’t help but snicker before she upended her beer.

“Word of advice, sugar twang? Bein’s the town of Rawlins hosts the Wyoming state penitentiary, there’s a higher than average population of ex-cons around. And they’re not all so easily conned as him.”

Tanna glanced up at the man.

Oh, hello, sweet darlin’.

How hadn’t she noticed this giant? At least six feet five, he easily cast her five feet three inches in shadow. And holy frijoles was this guy hot. Like, really hot. After being approached by wannabe cowboys all night, there was no doubt this guy was the real deal. So she shamelessly took in his banging body, from his summer-weight cowboy hat to the tips of his dusty boots—and every inch in between.

His age looked to be mid-thirties. In this part of the country his reddish gold complexion had to be from Native American ancestry. Her avid gaze took in his angular features. A high forehead not marred by a single wrinkle. A slash of dark eyebrows arched over eyes the color of warm topaz. His cheekbones were prominent in a wide-set face. A thin blade of nose. The corners of his lips turned up in an indulgent smile. And check out that ridiculously strong-looking, chiseled jawline. His thick neck tapered into shoulders so wide it appeared he wore football pads, until she realized this hunky man couldn’t hide bulky equipment under his skintight T-shirt.

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