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Josie Dawson is new in town, but it doesn't take a local to know that Deke Sullivan is trouble–in a smokin' hot package. He's sweet, sexy, and has charmed just about every woman in Dry Creek, Texas. Well, Josie won't be next. She'll keep her distance, even if he is great with babies and makes a mean cup of homemade hot chocolate.
Deke Sullivan really is a one-woman type of guy. He just had to do a lot of looking to find that one woman. Now he thinks he's found her and he won't let a strong, sassy gal like Josie slip away. Just when he's wondering how to convince her he only has eyes for her, they get stranded in a tiny cabin during a major blizzard. If Deke can melt her heart before they dig out of the snow, he'll be the luckiest cowboy in Texas . . .
Many of you fell in love with Deke in Wild Cowboy Ways and asked when he would get his story told. Then in Hot Cowboy Nights, you asked again, and by Merry Cowboy Christmas, it looked like a family reunion in the backyard as y'all gathered up to tell me that you really needed to read Deke's story. I loved your enthusiasm, and Deke, bless his sexy little heart, had waited long enough.
And then Josie came to Dry Creek, and poor old Deke met his match. Josie and I hit it off right from the first when I found out that she liked red lollipops. Even though I didn't know her very well at that time, she and I became really good friends.
I have to admit I dragged my feet a little when it was time to end this book. Sometimes that happens when I've really gotten to know a family and helped them work their way through several HEAs. But then my fabulous editor said that she'd be interested in a spin-off series with more Dawsons, and it wasn't nearly as difficult to finish the book. So keep your boots on and get your cowboy hat ready, because a new trilogy, the Happy, Texas trilogy, is on the way.
As I've said many times, a book does not appear by magic out of the clouds. It takes a lot of hard work, and not only from my sitting in front of my computer for days. Going from the idea to the finished product in my wonderful readers' hands is a process. So thank you to everyone at Grand Central for all their support and continuing faith in my stories. To Leah Hultenschmidt: When I count my blessings, you are right up there at the top of the list! To the Forever team that does copyediting, marketing, sales, and promotion: Thank you for everything from the depths of my heart. To my agent, Erin Niumata and Folio Management: You are all special to me. To my husband, Mr. B: I'm a lucky woman to have you in my life. To all my readers: Bless you one and all for reading my books, writing reviews, and telling your friends about them.
As I finished this book, spring was just pushing the daffodils up through the ground in southern Oklahoma. Y'all will be reading it in the dead of winter, so make a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate, get your favorite fluffy throw and socks, and settle down in your favorite recliner. And enjoy the journey with Deke and Josie as they figure out what they want out of life.
Josie Dawson loved the smell of feed stores and the taste of red lollipops. The two together brought back memories of when she was a little girl and her father took her with him to get supplies. There was always a jar of free lollipops on the counter, and even if she had to dig to the bottom of the big gallon jar, she'd pick out a red one.
When the cold north wind pushed her inside the Dry Creek Feed Store that morning, she inhaled deeply and smiled when she saw the jar of lollipops sitting on the counter.
"Hey, Josie, what brings you to town this Friday morning?" Lizzy, her new cousin-in-law, asked from behind the counter.
"The Lucky Penny needs about twenty bags of cattle feed. Jud said you'd know what kind he gets."
The red lollipop was right there on the top, begging her to twist the lid off the gallon jar and grab it.
"You came at a good time. Deke Sullivan's in the back getting bags of goat feed, so he can help load it for us," Lizzy said. "Want a lollipop?"
"Aren't they for kids?"
"Some of us never grow up." Lizzy grinned. "I like the yellow ones. What color?"
"I can't let you eat alone." Lizzy handed her a red one and dug down to the bottom for a yellow one.
Josie peeled off the paper and stuck the lollipop in her mouth. "Ahh, it transports me back to when I was a little girl."
Lizzy nodded in agreement.
"Hey, Lizzy, will you open the door for me?" Deke called out.
"Sure thing." She started for the front door.
Nothing that Josie had heard about Deke Sullivan prepared her for the sight of him with a forty-pound bag of feed hoisted over each shoulder. Someone might have mentioned that he was taller than her cousins and her brothers, but with that cowboy hat tilted back on his head with a few strands of light brown hair falling down on his forehead, he looked like a giant.
"Well, hello!" Deke stopped right in front of the counter.
"Hey," she said around the candy in her mouth. "I'm Josie."
"I'm Deke. Right pleased to meet you. I've heard a lot about you, but no one told me you got all the looks in the family."
"Deke, hurry up. The cold air is coming right in," Lizzy yelled from the front of the store. "Oh, and Josie's going to need you to load some feed for her, too, if you don't mind."
"No problem," Deke answered, then strode out the door with his bags.
Josie was right in the middle of trying not to notice what a fine ass he had when Lizzy piped in with, "So are you really leasing the old hotel on Main Street?"
Josie pushed a strand of blond hair away from her face. "Yup, I'll need someplace for my oil crew to live while they're here."
"Oil? Do you really think it's true what Jud says about the Lucky Penny then?"
"Well, we'll find out. But until this rotten paperwork gets done, I feel like I'm twiddling my thumbs."
"Well, I'm sure those Dawson boys will keep you from getting too bored." Lizzy laughed.
"Oh, they've put me right to work," Josie answered. But maybe it's a Sullivan boy I'd rather get busy with.
Deke rubbed his hands together to warm them up as he walked back into the store. He crossed the floor in a few long strides, removed his hat, and hiked a hip on the countertop.
Lizzy handed him an orange lollipop. "Thanks for doing that for us."
"Mmm, my favorite," he said and popped the sucker in his mouth. He could barely take his eyes off Josie's full, red-stained lips. Her blue eyes locked with his for a second before he blinked.
"You comin' to the house tomorrow night for the New Year's Eve supper?" Lizzy asked.
"Wouldn't miss it." He planted both feet on the floor and settled his hat back on his head. "You going to be there, Josie?"
"Since I'm living with Jud and Fiona for the moment, I suppose I will be. Anything special I need to know about?"
"Not a thing. It's just family."
The phone rang and Lizzy reached for it. "Feed Store."
She listened for thirty seconds and then hung up. "That was Jud. Your goats are in my front yard. Guess they decided to come back home."
Deke started for the front door. "Dammit! Crazy critters."
Josie drove past the LUCKY PENNY RANCH sign and turned right into the next lane. Her cousins Blake and Toby and her brother, Jud, had bought the property last year and were determined to make it succeed despite its bad reputation. After all, if anyone knew about bad reputations, it was those three boys. And yet even they had turned around their wild ways and settled down—with the three Logan sisters, no less.
When she got to the barn to unload Toby's feed, she couldn't believe the sight before her eyes. Goats everywhere. Romping around the floor. Climbing bales of hay like they thought they were mountain goats. And her brother in the middle of the ruckus, cursing up a blue streak.
"This looks like it's more fun than herdin' cats." She laughed. "We could practice our ropin' skills."
"Laugh all you want. When Deke gets back, you're going to help us gather them up one at a time and get them in his trailer," Jud said.
"Where are Toby and Blake?" Josie asked.
"One of them is fixing the fence on our ranch. The other one is over there taking care of Deke's fence and shoring up the goat pen so this don't happen again," Jud answered.
It didn't take a genetics professor to see that Josie and Jud were sister and brother. They both had blond hair and blue eyes, but where his face was chiseled, hers was softer and her lips fuller. He was over six feet tall and she was just under that height. They had double degrees in geology and agriculture, and they competed to see who had the best nose for finding oil. Josie usually let Jud win when it came to ranching, but not by much.
The barn doors squeaked, and she looked over her shoulder to see Deke sliding his big frame through just enough space to let him into the barn. Fine-looking cowboy in those tight jeans and denim jacket over a plaid shirt with the tail hanging below it.
"Never pictured you for a goat farmer," Josie teased.
Deke glowered. "Hell, no! I am a cattle rancher. But to get Truman O'Dell's cattle when he gave up the ranchin' business I had to take this miserable herd of goats with them. I may barbecue every one of them."
"Aw, I think they're cute. Look at those two young ones up there butting heads and playing king of the mountain," Josie said.
"You want them? Today I'll sell them to you real cheap." Deke grabbed one by the legs and headed out to the trailer with it.
"No, she does not want them," Jud answered as he wrapped one up in his arms.
"I would if I already had a ranch," Josie said. "I love baby goats. When I get my own place, I'm going to have everything from chickens to cows."
She was busy sweet-talking one of the young ones when Deke and Jud returned. They quickly cornered the old ram, but he got away from them and butted Jud in the rear end, pushing him forward into Deke and sending them both falling face forward into the hay. Josie was laughing so hard that she could hardly breathe when the ram circled back around and head butted her forward. Deke had barely gotten back on his feet when Josie came barreling at him, sending both of them into a spiral roll that took hay bales with them.
"That was a wild ride." Deke flashed a brilliant smile at Josie.
"Did I stay on for eight seconds?" she asked.
"Didn't have the clock going, but it felt like it."
Josie sat up and spit hay out of her mouth, wiped the dust from her eyes, and shot a dirty look at the ram. "You sorry devil. You will pay for that."
Please pass the fried chicken. I see a thigh with my name on it," Deke said at the supper table on New Year's Eve.
"Overeating is a sin." Allie poked his shoulder.
"But it's not as bad as the sinnin' I usually do on New Year's Eve, now is it?" He waggled his dark eyebrows.
"Poor baby!" Allie teased. "So will you be going out dancing next weekend?"
Deke shook his head. "Remember that bull I was tellin' you about up in Montana? I'm going up there to look at him and if I like him as well as I think I will, I'm bringing him home."
"Is that your way of asking us to take care of your animals and old Rascal while you are gone?" Blake asked from the far end of the table.
"It is." Deke grinned. "But I'm taking Rascal with me this time, so you don't have to take care of my dog. After that debacle yesterday afternoon, Jud has proven that he's a goat whisperer and Josie is real good at catchin' them, so if they get out again, just call on them to help you."
"Of course, we will. You've taken care of stuff for us so it's time for payback." Allie patted him with one hand and reached over to rewind her daughter, Audrey's, baby swing with the other. "Looks like she's going to sleep right through New Year's Eve."
"They say that whoever you are with on New Year's Eve, you'll be with all year long," Josie said.
Jud leaned over and kissed Fiona, his wife of only a week, on the cheek. "Well, I sure like that idea."
Deke was right at home in the old house where his three best friends, Allie, Lizzy, and Fiona, had grown up. It had started out as a small hotel back in the days when the whole area was an Indian reservation. In those days, the soldiers at the fort needed a place for their families to stay when they came to visit. And then times got tough and Miz Audrey, the proprietor of the hotel, hired six girls, trained them well, and turned the hotel into a brothel. Generations later, it became a home to the Logan family.
As of a week ago, it had lost its name—Audrey's Place—and the property incorporated into Lucky Penny Ranch when Katy Logan deeded it over to Jud and her youngest daughter, Fiona. It might take a long time for folks to stop calling it Audrey's, but in time the only Audrey anyone would remember was that sweet little red-haired baby who had big old Deke Sullivan wrapped around her little finger.
He stared his fill of the little girl and wished that he had one just like her, only maybe with blond hair and big blue eyes like her mama.
Whoa, hoss! You're getting the cart way before the horse.
"Josie is interested in rodeo stock, too," Fiona said.
Deke glanced at Josie. "You plannin' to keep a bull in the backyard of the hotel?"
"Jud said I could keep whatever stock I want here on the Lucky Penny until I scrape up enough money to buy my own ranch. I've got enough put aside to buy a few good head of rodeo stock if I find something I like," Josie answered.
"Breedin' or takin' them to the rodeo rounds?" Deke asked.
"Maybe both. I haven't decided yet."
"You a bull rider?" she asked. A vision of him on the back of a wild bucking bull jacked the room temperature up at least ten degrees.
"Dabbled in it. Riding was a hell of an adrenaline rush, but biting the dirt more times than I want to remember made me realize I wasn't ever going to win a big buckle at the Pro Bull Riding event. So now it's basically an armchair sport. How about you? Did you ever ride?"
"Few times, but it didn't take long for me to figure out that I wasn't coordinated enough to stay on the beast for eight seconds."
"Yeah." He grinned, and her heart kicked in an extra beat. "They say it's eight seconds, but when you're on the back of a bull, it's more like eight seconds past eternity."
"You got that right." She smiled. "I'm flying out of Dallas to go look at several really good animals—also in Montana. Where are you going?" She grabbed another chicken leg as the platter went around the table.
"North of Butte. How about you?"
"Going south so. Guess we won't be outbiddin' each other for the same animals."
Josie's phone rang and she glanced at the picture that came up on the screen. "I need to take this. Won't be but a minute. Excuse me."
"Kasey?" Jud asked.
Josie nodded and stepped away from the table.
Deke frowned. Did Josie have a boyfriend named Kasey?
Blake nudged him. "Kasey's our cousin. She was recently widowed and now she's on her own with three kids. She and Josie have always been thick as thieves."
"She and her brother are arguing and she wanted my input," Josie explained as she returned to the table.
"I'm sorry about her husband," Deke said. "How old are her kids? That must be really tough on them. I lost my parents when I was young and my grandparents raised me."
"Rustin is five. He'll be in kindergarten this fall," Josie said. "Emma is three and Silas is six months. And I'm real sorry to hear that about your folks, too, Deke."
"Six months!" Deke gasped.
"She was three months pregnant when her husband was killed overseas," Jud said.
Deke frowned. "That's terrible. She's lucky to have a big family to help her out."
"She's a great girl," Jud said. "She and Josie have been more like sisters than cousins."
"Y'all see each other very often?" Deke asked.
"Used to more than we will be now. I was working not far from Amarillo, so I could drive down to see her fairly often," Josie said.
"Well, I'm glad that you started off the New Year here because that means you'll still be here next year when Fiona has her first baby," Deke said.
"What?" Josie whipped around to stare at her brother. "You are going to be a father and you didn't tell me?"
All the color left Jud's face as he whipped around to look at Fiona, who was just as shocked. Finally, Deke threw back his head and guffawed.
"It was a joke. We needed to lighten the mood." He swiped the sleeve of his shirt across his eyes and hiccupped. "That was amazing."
"And paybacks are hell," Josie said.
Fiona pinched him on the forearm. "Yes, they are!"
"Ouch!" Deke yelled. "You've always been the mean one and I was just getting you back for the last joke you played on me."
Josie had missed her brother when his contract was up with the job and now here she was in the middle of a big family on New Year's Eve. Maybe by this time next year Fiona and Jud really would be expecting their first child and Josie would have her new house built. And she'd be the favorite aunt.
She glanced across the table to find Deke staring right at her and be damned if he didn't wink. She wasn't naive. She'd been in love—twice, actually. She'd even considering moving in with her boyfriend the last time. But she wanted wild fizz and all those things that romance writers talked about in their books. She'd wanted that glow after sex and surges of desire when her man walked in the room. And until she got that, she'd focus on her work.
Her phone rang and she fished it out of her hip pocket. "Excuse me, again."
Deke pushed back his chair.
"You don't have to stand up. We're family." She smiled.
"Not me and you, darlin'. I'm barely considered shirttail kin," Deke said. "But I'm not being a gentleman. I'm going for the chocolate cake. You'd better not talk too long or there won't even be icing stuck around the edges of the pan. I don't waste anything when it comes to a sheet cake."
Josie walked up the stairs to her bedroom as she answered the phone. "That was fast. Did Brody come to his senses?"
"No, I haven't talked to him. I forgot to ask if you'd met Deke yet? Jud's talked so much about him that I wanted to hear your thoughts on him and on your new sister-in-law?"
"Jud is so in love with Fiona that if I found a fault in her, I'd never say a word about it or he'd shoot me on the spot. Deke is…well, think Blake, Toby, and Jud all rolled into one when it comes to flirting," Josie said.
"Holy smoke! I can't wait to meet him." Kasey sighed. "And now Rustin and Emma are fighting over the remote. Got to run. Talk to you tomorrow."
She hit the END button and went back to the dining room, leaving her phone behind. She really wanted that last chicken leg and then a piece of cake and she didn't want to talk on the phone anymore that evening. The rest of the family was all having dessert when she returned and settled back into her chair.
"Anything drastic?" Jud asked.
"Rustin and Emma were fighting over the remote, so if there was anything, we didn't discuss it," Josie answered.
They pushed back their chairs and talked about everything from food to goats for the next hour as they had after-supper coffee. When Josie was ready for dessert, Deke cut off another slab and poured a second cup of coffee.
"I'm not sure if a person can go to heaven if they let anyone eat alone. It's got to be a sin," he said.
"Deke has a sweet tooth that a truckload of chocolate couldn't satisfy." Jud chuckled.
"I wouldn't mind trying to see if that was the truth." Deke's one eyelid slid slyly shut when he glanced over at Josie. "My granny was a great one to keep baked goods ready and I learned to love all things that are sweet. When she passed on I was already hanging out over here a lot of the time, and Miz Irene made sure my sweet tooth didn't get to hurtin' too bad."
"You'll get to meet her and Katy tomorrow. They'll be here for Sunday dinner, and if Granny is up to it, they'll spend the night," Fiona said. "While Deke finishes up, you guys can take Audrey to the living room and we'll get the dishwasher loaded."
"All done." Deke pushed back his plate. "And I get to hold the baby first."
"I'll get the music ready," Blake said. "Got any requests?"
"Whatever you pick out will be fine, darlin'," Allie said as she picked Audrey up from the swing and handed her to Deke.
Shania Twain was singing "From This Moment On" when the four women finished in the kitchen and made it to the living room. Josie let the three sisters go on ahead and stood in the doorway, watching as they claimed their husbands and started dancing to the music.
Deke was sitting in a rocking chair and held Audrey in his arms. Looking at him with a baby in his arms, it was hard to believe all the stories she'd heard about him. The expression on his face as he looked at the little girl was a mixture of love, joy, and pure yearning to hold her forever. It was evident that Deke had been born to be a father, so why in the hell hadn't he settled down and started a family?
He looked up and she quickly looked across the room at Jud and Fiona, gracefully moving around the room in a country waltz. Blake held Allie so close that air couldn't find a way between them. Toby's eyes never left Lizzy's face as he whispered things that made her blush.
She wove her way through the couples and sat down on the end of the sofa next to where Deke was rocking the baby. "They look good together."
"We always dance on New Year's Eve. It's part of the tradition around here."
"Give me that baby girl." Blake took Audrey from Deke. "And go dance one with my wife. She don't wear out as fast as I do."
"I'll put her in the swing. You dance with your wife." Deke situated Audrey in the swing and crossed the room as the next song on the CD started. Chris Stapleton's "Tennessee Whiskey" was a slow, two-stepping song. He held out his hand toward Josie. "May I have this dance, ma'am?"
She put her hand in his and he pulled her up and then wrapped his arms around her waist, bringing her close to his body as they moved slowly around the room.
"Are you as sweet as Tennessee whiskey like the song says?" he whispered.
Lord, have mercy! His warm breath on her neck and the lyrics of the song in her head, plus his body pressed against hers sent sparks all over the room.
"Honey, I'm not a bit sweet, and you'll find that out pretty quick if you come around here very often," she answered.
When the song ended, a faster tune by Hunter Hayes titled "Everybody's Got Somebody But Me" started.
"You have to dance this one with me because it's the story of my life today," Deke said as he swung her out to the upbeat music and sang along with the lyrics that said the whole place looked like a casting call for Romeo and Juliet.
"They are all so much in love that it would make even your sweet tooth ache," Josie said and laughed when he brought her back to his chest. "Poor old Deke. Do you want somebody to settle down with?"
"Are you proposing?"
"Not me. I don't have time for romance," she said.
"The New Year's Eve party starts on television in five minutes," Toby broke in before Deke could comment. "This is the last dance."
"Oooh, I like this song," Deke said as the music came on. "I can't believe that Jud said you were clumsy. Dancing with you is awesome."
"Blake Shelton. 'Sangria' is one of my favorites by him."
"You like sangria?" Deke asked as they moved around the floor.
"Sometimes. And sometimes I like that whiskey we heard about and sometimes I like beer," she said.
When the song ended, Deke bowed low and kissed her fingertips. "Thank you for the dance, sugar."
"Sugar? Ha!" Jud broke in. "She might know how to dance and come off as sweet, but don't let her fool you, Deke. That one can be mean as hell if she doesn't get her way, and she cusses like a sailor."
"Hey, now!" Josie protested. "And what're you tellin' Deke about me being clumsy?"
- 4 stars! "A nice blend of warmth, down-home goodness, humor and romance. Lively, flirty banter and genuine, down-to-earth characters are the highlights of this engaging story....The flirty banter between Deke and Josie is amusing and heart-warming, and the chemistry between them sizzles."—RT Book Reviews
- "With an irresistibly charismatic cowboy at the center of this story, Brown's latest is a sexy, fun read. ...The genuine, electric chemistry between Allie and Blake jumps off the page."—RT Book Reviews on Wild Cowboy Ways
- "Like a good piece of chocolate there's nothing more delicious, memorable and addictive than a Carolyn Brown story, and you can now add WICKED COWBOY CHARM to the must-read list."—Fresh Fiction
- On Sale
- Jan 31, 2017
- Page Count
- 336 pages