His Christmas Cowgirl(3)

By: Alissa Callen


Between no hot water and Patience, the noisy possum, her conscience also wouldn’t allow her to ask Garrett to sleep at the foreman’s house. If he hadn’t responded to Hal’s SOS, Peta would have had to cut short the trip that had been far more than a vacation. Their time away seeing the world had been to prove to Brent that a life in Marietta with a rancher was what small town girl Kendall really wanted.

Peta pressed her fingers against her now aching temple. “When did Patience move back in?”

“My first night here. Hal mentioned she’d been removed once before?”

“She was and she’ll again have to be relocated by professionals. It’s illegal to trap wildlife in Montana without a license. I’ll call Simon at the animal control company tomorrow. And if you’re sure you’re all right to stay on, it will be handy to have another set of hands for the roundup.”

Tiredness merged with resignation. She swung away to flick on the electric kettle. She didn’t drink coffee but had acquired a taste for hot tea in England. Instinct told her she’d need caffeine if she was to survive the next few hours, let alone weeks, dealing with her now not-so-temporary foreman.

*

He should learn to read the fine print.

Garrett Ross rubbed the back of his neck as the beautiful woman before him reached into the cupboard for a mug. Not once had Hal indicated Garrett had signed on for a whole lot of trouble when he’d agreed to run Bluebell Falls possibly until after Christmas.

The loose lines of his boss’s floral dress caressed curves that would make any cowboy’s lariat throw wide. Her thick, glossy blonde hair fell half way down her back and as for her mouth… he’d forced himself to focus on the brilliant blue of her eyes and not on how full and soft her lips were.

He’d seen the family photos of a fresh-faced and pretty Peta Dixon on the mantelpiece. But nothing had prepared him for the reality of seeing the Bluebell Falls ranch owner in the flesh. He’d stared into her thick-lashed eyes and had forgotten to draw breath. Then he’d registered her glamour and her long, crimson nails and disappointment had bitten deep.

Peta Dixon was no different to the other women who had shaped his life.

All his life women had let him down. First, his mother had abandoned him at fourteen to run away to Vegas to marry her third husband. Then Jeanie, and every other woman since his ex-fiancé, all confirmed that when the going got tough they didn’t hang around. There’d always been someone who drove a flashier car, someone who showered them with more materialistic appreciation, someone who was prepared to drop everything for them.

He should have read the signs about Peta earlier. She’d extended her trip at a time when it was crucial to get her cattle down from their summer pastures. Neighboring ranches had already completed their fall roundup. And now she’d turned up unannounced, with an attitude, smelling of French perfume and looking like she’d stepped off the pages of a high-end fashion magazine.

The whistle of the kettle masked his sigh and his frustration. He also should have known better than to have high expectations and to indulge the longing that one day he’d meet a down-to-earth and genuine woman. Even if Hal told him he only ever attracted a certain type of woman and that there were women out there who didn’t value money and social connections above home and family. If first impressions were anything to go by, this wasn’t going to be the woman across from him, even if her beauty made his testosterone thrum.

Peta briefly glanced his way, her smooth brow creased and her lips unsmiling. “Coffee?”

“Thanks. I’ll throw on a shirt and we can run through the rest of the things that have happened on the ranch.”

The sooner he got her up to speed the sooner he could get back to running the ranch without interference. He was confident he wouldn’t see much of her in the short term. After being away, even to her mother’s, Jeanie had always needed days to recover and to unpack.

Peta flicked a quick look over his bare chest and reached for a second cup. “Good idea.”

When he returned, the range hood no longer lit the room with a dim and intimate glow. Instead the strong overhead light flooded the kitchen with brilliance.

Peta sat at the table, her crimson-tipped hands curled around a steaming mug of tea and her phone beside her. Across the table, sat his coffee. He slid into his seat, ignoring the way the better light revealed her flawless skin and the curve of her high cheekbones. It didn’t matter that without layers of makeup Peta would still be stunning. Her soft and manicured hands wouldn’t cope with an honest day’s work.