“Nope. But there are options when you’re ready to hear them.” Bullard jammed his hat on his head and stood. Pointed at Renner’s drink. “I don’t gotta remind you about finding a DD if you decide to have more of those, do I?”

“No, sir.”

“Good enough. See ya around, Jackson.”

Renner was melancholy after Sheriff Bullard left. Lost in thoughts about destiny. Loneliness. Luck. Signs. Family.

The summer he and his dad moved to Kansas, Renner had started working for his dad’s oldest friend, Bostwick “Boz” Sheffield, as a hired hand in Boz’s livestock business. Renner had been a scrawny twelve-year-old, a wannabe cowboy who’d honed his charm simply because he knew it worked on girls, teachers, coaches, friends.

Charm hadn’t impressed Boz Sheffield. Hard work did. So Renner set out to impress the man. Took nine years, but his dedication to the cattle business paid off when Boz offered to sell it to him after Renner’s divorce financial windfall. Boz claimed he wanted to retire, but Renner suspected the sale was Boz’s way of ensuring Renner didn’t blow the cash and his future. Although Boz had never married, never had a kid, Renner was the closest thing he had to a son and he wanted to pass his legacy on to someone he trusted. In some ways, Boz had been the most influential man in Renner’s life.

Renner couldn’t pinpoint exactly when he figured out that his father and Boz were more than friends. Probably always had been. Tim Jackson joined the service, married, fathered a child, lost his wife, traveled the country and after retiring from the air force, he’d returned to his Kansas hometown to face the man—and the feelings—he’d run from. But both Tim and Boz were old school, firmly in the closet, content to let the world see them only as best buds who did everything together.

Those two strong men had raised him to do the right thing, to be respectable, honest, hardworking. It pained him to watch them maintain the lie. They lived in separate houses. They took hunting trips, sometimes just the two of them, sometimes in a group. Three years after Renner bought Boz’s business, Boz and his father were killed in a plane crash coming back from Alaska. Renner’s only comfort was that they’d been together. With the last of his family gone, he’d thrown himself into work. But no matter how hard he worked, he’d always felt as if something in his life was missing.

Catcalls bounced to him in the lonely corner he’d chosen, and he shook off the memory. The crowd had grown and he was debating on whether to order another drink or leave, when he saw the brunette. A dude in a cheap brown Stetson knockoff stepped aside and Renner’s gaze locked on the woman’s profile. She turned and Renner’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. He recognized that smirk. Although little else was recognizable about her.

Gone was the straightlaced, straight-faced tyrant he dealt with every day. Tierney looked . . . hot as fire. Her hair, a gorgeous mix of mahogany and mink hues, shone even in the dim bar light. She continued to smile, and damn if his breath didn’t catch. Her cheeks were pinkened. Her mouth looked as soft and lush as a rose petal. Her eyes were dancing with delight . . . wait. Where the hell were those maddeningly sexy smart-girl glasses she always wore?

That brought Renner out of his seat. He watched as the happy-handed cowboy’s touches veered dangerously close to inappropriate and Tierney didn’t notice.

He stealthily bellied up to the bar behind her and lifted his hand to Susan, who nodded and slid a Crown and water across the bar top. He said, “Evenin’, Tierney,” and gulped a drink.

She whirled around on her barstool so fast her hair slapped him in the face.

Oh, f**k him. Not only did she sport a fancy-ass new hairdo, but her shiny tresses smelled like flowers. With the musky undertones of sex. And because he hadn’t gotten laid in a coon’s age, that alluring fragrance made his dick stir.

“What are you doing here?” she asked with unrestrained hostility.

“Same thing as you are. Winding down after a rough week.” He toasted her. “You are one ball-bustin’ boss lady, but I’ll admit, you do get the job done.”

The heat from Tierney’s eyes could’ve scorched his eyebrows.

The young bucks glowered, puffing up their scrawny chests. “Who are you?” brown hat demanded.

“Name’s Renner Jackson. I see you’ve already met the woman who cracks the whip on my ass every day.”

“I didn’t crack it hard enough if it didn’t keep you where you belong,” Tierney snapped. “Don’t you have other people to annoy?”

He laughed. “Nope.”

Brown hat said, “Don’t seem like she wants you here annoying her, so why don’t you buzz off?”

“Yeah, we were here first,” his buddy interjected and took a menacing step closer.

Renner’s humor fled. “You punks don’t know anything about handling a woman like her.” Placing his hand on the back of Tierney’s chair, he got right in the kid’s face. “So why don’t you take a hike and stick to the high school girls who prefer ball-less wonders such as yourselves and leave her to a real man.”

The cowboys exchanged a look and backed off. “Uh . . . She’s all yours.”

Goddamn right she is.

Then all five foot five inches of pissed-off Tierney was crowding him. Except her hooker boots added a good four inches to her height, putting her mouth in direct line with . . . holy hell, since when did she have such sweet tits?

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