His Christmas Cowgirl(10)

By: Alissa Callen

“Hold still, Peta,” Lisa’s voice seemed to come from a long distance away. “Your heel’s caught in the hem.”

“I won’t move. I don’t want to rip the dress.” Peta’s mouth barely moved as she spoke.

Her brow furrowed as she concentrated on staying still and away from his chest. Surprise again filtered through him. Now was the perfect opportunity for her to collapse against him. He’d once had a rodeo queen land in his lap convinced her ankle was broken even after a nurse confirmed it was a mild sprain. But instead of taking advantage of the situation, Peta maintained as much distance as she could between them.

“There you go.” Lisa’s voice sounded. “No harm done. Your heel’s free.”

Peta’s sigh of relief was only matched by the speed with which she pulled away and headed for the dressing room.

“This dress is coming off before anything else can happen to it,” she said, voice strained before whisking the curtain shut.

Ivy turned to him. “Thanks again for being a Saul fill-in.”

Garrett cleared his throat and diverted his imagination away from what was happening behind the dressing room curtain. “No problem.”

“We’re all going to Grey’s tonight to celebrate Peta and Kendall being home. It would be great if you could come, too? Rhett’s busting to finish the talk you were having about cattle genetics.”

Garrett didn’t know if the smile in Ivy’s eyes was a result of the topic of his and Rhett’s discussion or because he snuck another look toward the dressing room.

“Thanks, but I’ll have a quiet night in.”

The fabric rustled behind him as Peta emerged from the dressing room. He heard Lisa’s words of thanks as Peta handed her the blue dress before the cowgirl appeared by Ivy’s side.

Peta’s cheeks were still a faint pink but the steadiness of her gaze told him she’d put the heel-in-her-hem moment behind her. The wide neckline of her white blouse revealed the tanned curve of a bare shoulder. Her long blonde hair now hung loose and he slid his hands into the suit trouser pockets to stop himself from brushing stray strands from off her cheek. Never before had he found it so difficult to remember that a woman was off-limits.

“Okay.” Ivy’s attention never left him. “But if you change your mind, you’re more than welcome to come to Grey’s tonight.”


She smiled before heading over to where Lisa had laid a selection of hair clips on the counter.

He tugged at his tie to loosen the silken knot. Hal would be waiting for him. It was time to get out of Saul’s suit and walk over the railway line to the hospital. With any luck, the two new front tires on his truck would be ready by the time he’d seen Hal.

“You didn’t mention you were coming to town this morning, too?” Peta’s words were low and quiet.

“No, I didn’t. It wasn’t important. I needed new truck tires and I come in every day to see Hal.” Garrett slid the tie from around his neck and unfastened the top shirt button. “I always meet with the boys before I go and everyone knows what chores they need to have done before I’m back. Speaking of which, we can run through a ranch update after lunch.”

“In the future, I’d appreciate you letting me know when you leave the ranch. As for the update… it will have to wait. I have other things to do in town and won’t be home until late.”

Garrett only nodded. If he’d spoken he couldn’t guarantee frustration wouldn’t have clipped his words. He might not be used to being accountable for his actions, or to receiving orders but, for Hal’s sake, he had to cop Peta’s stern words on the chin. He also had to let his disappointment go, knowing she wasn’t a woman who put her ranch first.

“No problem. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He swung away and shrugged off the suit jacket.

Once again dressed in his Wranglers, faded green western shirt, and denim jacket he made his way to the hospital and to Hal’s room. As he always did, he took a moment at the doorway to settle his emotions and to make sure he remained in control. He couldn’t have Hal sense how seeing him bruised and broken upset him. Complications after Hal’s hip surgery had kept him in hospital longer than either of them had expected. Once back at Bluebell Falls he’d have at least six weeks of rehabilitation and Garrett wasn’t going anywhere until the man he loved like a father had fully healed.

An easy smile on his face, he pushed open the door. His smile grew when he saw Hal propped up in bed, his eyes clear. Today was the first day he didn’t appear pale beneath his tan. He must have had a good night and managed to get some sleep.