His Christmas Cowgirl(6)

By: Alissa Callen

He nodded as Scout nuzzled Peta’s hair. “It will. She has a gentle heart.”

“I think so, too. She just needs to learn to trust again, especially men.”

“She does and one day she will.”

“I hope so.”

A brisk breeze eddied by and Peta turned up the collar of her coat. The crimson polish on her long nails gleamed and reality returned. He was bonding with a woman who tomorrow would be in town at a dress fitting instead of reacquainting herself with the running of her ranch.

He swung away. “Night. I’ll leave you two to catch-up.”

Chest tight, he strode away without waiting for Peta’s reply. What had he been thinking not keeping his wits about him? The moonlight and shared concern for Scout had lulled him into forgetting Peta appeared no different to the other women who’d scarred his life. He’d lowered his guard and risked exposing his emotions.

He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

Chapter Two

“Sorry,” Ivy said with a sweet smile, as she stared at Peta across the small corner table in the Java café. “I can’t stop looking at you. You look so… different.”

Peta broke off a piece of chocolate brownie. “It’s okay. Kendall said the same thing the day I first wore mascara. But I suspect Kendall only stared because I smudged black all over my nose.”

“Even with mascara smudged all over your nose you’d be beautiful.”

Peta gave a self-conscious smile. She might be more comfortable wearing makeup and dresses but she still wasn’t used to being the center of attention. She could rope a rogue stallion and fend off a mountain lion, but when it came to being in the social spotlight, nothing worried her more.

“Thanks but come tomorrow it will be back to no makeup, jeans, and ranch shirts. It’s been fun leaving my comfort zone but the truth is once a no-frills cowgirl, always a no-frills cowgirl.” She examined the crimson nails on her right hand. “These will be the first thing to go. Do you know how impractical it is to have long nails?”

Ivy’s hazel eyes sparkled. “I’m sure they are when you’re lassoing a cow.”

“And typing on a phone. Who knows what messages I sent last night when I got home, all I seemed to do was to hit the wrong keys. And don’t get me started on how hard it is to button up a shirt or to unclip Tank’s chain. The poor dog had no idea why I took so long to let him off for his morning run.”

“Tank would have just been glad to see you and all of your messages to me made sense.” Ivy’s smile widened. “You don’t know how happy I was to see your smiley face and heart emoticons next to Kendall’s name. I had everything crossed all would go well last night when she went to Fire Weed Ranch to see Brent. He’s the only man who’ll ever make her happy.”

“I know.” Peta rubbed her arms through the thin cotton of her white peasant blouse. “It gives me goose bumps just thinking about how happy she must be.”

Ivy blinked more than once and Peta’s own eyes misted.

“And we,” Peta said voice husky, “weren’t the only ones hoping everything went well. You should have seen the messages pour in last night.”

“Considering your phone’s lucky to receive five texts a week I’m amazed it didn’t have a meltdown.”

“Tell me about it and the texts haven’t slowed today. Now everyone wants to know about a potential wedding date.”

Ivy chuckled. “Now why doesn’t that surprise me? I know firsthand how much Marietta loves a wedding.”

Peta sighed. “It sure does.”

She glanced away before perceptive Ivy could see the loneliness she worked so hard to hide. The town would be waiting forever for Peta to walk down the aisle. At the rate she was going to find someone special, it would be Ivy and Rhett’s children who’d be in her bridal party.

An image of Garrett’s handsome, chiseled features and intense grey gaze slid into Peta’s mind. She pushed it away. Her temporary foreman might be one of the few men in town who she hadn’t known since childhood but she had no idea if he was single. Even if he was available, he was the worst possible man for her. Not only did he not approve of her, their power struggles over what needed to be done on her ranch hadn’t even begun.

Five teenage girls entered the café, their voices loud and their smiles wide. Peta glanced at the last available table over near the door. The café had been almost empty when she’d arrived to meet Ivy for a quick coffee before heading to Married in Marietta for her bridesmaid dress fitting.