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Denise Hunter, romance author Denise Hunter, romance author
The Trouble With Cowboys
A Big Sky Romance
Releasing October 2012
From Thomas Nelson

Chapter One

The Trouble With CowboysAnnie Wilkerson was sitting in the Chuckwagon, minding her own business, when he mosied in. He was with a crowd, of course. He always traveled in a pack—him and his handful of ardent admirers.

Annie opened the menu, propped it on the table, and slouched behind it. The Silver Spurs belted out some country-and-western tune her sister probably knew by heart. The clamor in the crowded restaurant seemed to have increased twice over since Dylan and company walked in. But maybe that was her imagination.

The chair across from her screeched against the plank floor. Finally. John was already ten minutes late. She lowered her menu, smiling anyway.

An instant later the smile tumbled from her lips.

Dylan Taylor plopped his hat down and sprawled in the chair like he owned the table, the restaurant, and half of Park County besides. His impertinent grin slanted sideways, calling his dimple into action—a fact of which he was no doubt aware.

“Annie Wilkerson. Why’s the prettiest filly in Moose Creek sitting all by her lonesome on a Saturday night?” Dylan’s Texan drawl had followed him north, sticking with him like a stray dog.

Ignoring the heavy thumps of her heart, Annie tilted her head and deadpanned, “Well, Dylan, I was just sitting here waiting with bated breath for you to come rescue me.”

He put his hand to his heart, his blue eyes twinkling. “Aw, Annie, don’t tease me like that. It smarts.”

She scowled at him and settled back in her chair, propping the menu between them. “What do you want, Dylan?”

“Maybe just the pleasure of your company.”

“Maybe you should find another table.”

He tsk-tsked. “So cruel. You wound me with your hurtful words.”

If Dylan had a heart, she was sure it was un-woundable. Made of something springy and elastic that sent oncoming darts bouncing off. Typical cowboy.

She skimmed the menu, unseeing. “That seat’s taken.”

“Your sister joining you?”

Like she couldn’t possibly have a date? “What’s that supposed to mean?”

His hands went up in surrender. “I was hoping to join you.”

“I have a date.”

His head tipped back slowly, his eyes never leaving hers. “Ah . . . who’s the lucky guy?”

“What do you want, Dylan?”

He tilted the chair onto its back legs, and she found herself wishing it would fall. But that kind of thing never happened to men like Dylan.

“I have a proposition,” he said, his eyes roaming her face.

Her cheeks grew warm, and she hated that. Cursed Irish blood and fair skin. She swore he said things like that on purpose. She focused on the menu. On the photo of barbecue ribs that were actually better than they looked.

“Not interested.”

“Now, come on, give me a chance to explain. It’s business—not that I’d have any problem picking up socially where we left off last time . . .”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “There was no last time.”

“Whatever you say, sugar.”

She gritted her teeth and slumped until she could no longer see him over the menu.

“In all seriousness,” he said, his voice dropping the teasing tone, “I got a horse that needs help. Wondered if you’d drop by next week and take a look at him.”

Oh, no. She wasn’t stepping foot on Dylan’s property again. Not after last time. “I’m busy next week.”

“It’s my best horse—Braveheart. He’s got moon blindness.”

“I’m not a vet—have Merle look him over.”

“He did.”

There was something in his voice she couldn’t define and didn’t care to try.

“He thinks I ought to put him down.”

Annie lowered her menu. Dylan’s dimple was long gone. “Is he blind?”

“Not completely. But he will be. Started bumping into things in the spring, and by the time it was diagnosed, it was too late. He’s not himself now. Spooks easy, won’t let anyone near, not even me.”

His eyes pulled her in. She’d never seen him without that cocksure grin, much less with that sober look in his eyes.

Careful, Annie.

She looked away, toward the dance floor where her best friend, Shay, was dancing with her husband. They moved like two pieces of the same puzzle. She wondered how long it would take that cowboy to erase the pretty smile from her friend’s face. In her experience, it wouldn’t be long.

“Annie . . . ?”

She pulled her eyes from the couple. “There’s a trainer over in Sweet Grass County, Roy Flint. He’s supposed to be really good. I’ll get his number for you.”

“I don’t want him. I want the best. I read your column; you know what you’re doing.”

Brenda Peterson appeared tableside, flashing a bright smile. “You two ready to order?”

“We’re not together.”

“Large Coke, please.”

They spoke simultaneously, and Annie glared at Dylan as Brenda walked away with her menu—never mind that she hadn’t ordered yet.

Dylan propped his elbows on the table. “I can’t put Braveheart down, but he needs a lot of work, and I don’t have the time or expertise.”

Annie leaned back, putting space between her and those puppy dog eyes. She was a sucker for a horse in distress, but if she was at Dylan’s place for days on end, she’d be the one in distress. Besides, getting him to pay up last time had been like collecting pollen from the wind.

“You’re right,” Annie said. “It is going to take a lot of time—time I don’t have right now.”

He leaned in, trained those laser-precision eyes right at her. Heaven have mercy, it was easy to see why he made women lose their wits. What was God thinking, combining all those rugged good looks with cowboy charm and tossing in a dimples for good measure?

“I want you,” he said.

The double meaning—intended or not—was a needed reminder. She pulled the napkin from the table and spread it across her lap. “Roy can help him, I’m sure of it. I’ll get his number for you Monday.”

Someone nearby cleared his throat. John Oakley had somehow arrived unnoticed, thanks to Dylan’s annoying habit of usurping her every thought.

“Hello, Annie.” John bent and placed a kiss on her cheek.

“Hi, John.” Annie couldn’t tear her eyes from Dylan, whose left brow had shot up.

“Oakley.” Dylan nodded, coming slowly to his feet. He towered over John, who looked out of place at the Chuckwagon in his banker clothes.

“Dylan. Thanks for keeping my date company.” His flat smile and flaring nostrils said otherwise.

“Anytime, Oakley, anytime.” Dylan’s gaze held hers for a beat too long, the corners of his lips twitching in a way she was sure annoyed John. “Annie, talk to you Monday.” He pointed at her, winking. “And don’t think I’ve given up.”

Warmth flooded her face as John sank into the chair and jabbed his glasses into place with his index finger. She watched Dylan amble away and told herself the feeling spreading through her limbs was relief.

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