Look out, ladies: there's another Traub bachelor in town! Jason "Jace" Traub is every bit as gorgeous as his sexy twin brother, but rumor has it he is even more marriage-shy. There's not a woman alive who could make this restless rancher settle down....
Yet insiders whisper that Jace has been talking wedding plans with Jocelyn Bennings, the chestnut-haired beauty who ran out on her own wedding just days ago! Could the confirmed bachelor really be hooking up with heartbroken, headstrong Joss? Stay tuned, loyal readers, to find out if their marriage of convenience runs amuck--or if lasting passion will finally rope in the last single maverick!
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
July 01, 2012
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Excerpt from The Last Single Maverick by Christine Rimmer
Family reunions. Who needs them?
Jason Traub didn't. He realized that now. And yet somehow, a few days ago, he'd decided that a trip to Montana for the annual summertime Traub family get-together would be a good idea.
Or maybe he'd just wanted to escape Midland, Texas, and the constant pressure to return to the family business. He should have realized that in Montana it would only be more of the same. Especially given that the whole family was here--and still putting on the pressure.
And why was it that the reunion seemed to get longer every year? This year, it began on the Saturday before Independence Day and would go straight through the whole week to the Sunday after the Fourth, with some family event or other taking place daily.
That first day, Saturday, June 30, featured a late-afternoon barbecue at DJ's Rib Shack. Jason's cousin DJ had Rib Shacks all over the western states. But this one happened to be at the Thunder Canyon Resort up on Thunder Mountain, which loomed, tall and craggy, above the small and charming mountain town of Thunder Canyon.
"Jace." The deep voice came from behind him. "Glad you could make it."
Jason, seated at one of the Rib Shack's long, rustic, family-style tables, glanced over his shoulder at his older brother Ethan. "Great party," Jason said. And it was. If you didn't mind a whole bunch of family up in your face in a big, big way.
His brother leaned closer. "We need to talk."
Jace pretended he didn't hear and held up a juicy rib dripping Rib Shack secret sauce. "Great ribs, as always." With the constant rumble of voices and laughter that filled the restaurant, how would Ethan know if Jace heard him or not?
Ethan grunted--and bent even closer to speak directly into his ear. "I know Ma and Pete want you back in Midland." Pete Wexler was their stepdad. "But you've got options, and I mean that. There's a place waiting for you right here at TOI Montana."
TOI--for Traub Oil Industries--was the family business. The original office was in Midland, Texas, where Jason and his five siblings had been born and raised. Pete, their stepdad, was chairman of the board. And their mother, Claudia, was CEO. Last year, Ethan had opened a second branch of TOI in Thunder Canyon. Jackson, Jason's fraternal twin, and their only sister, Rose, and her husband, Austin, were all at the new office with Ethan.
"No, thanks," Jace said, and then reminded his brother--as he kept reminding everyone in the family, "I'm out of the oil business."
Now it was Ethan's turn to pretend not to hear. He squeezed Jason's shoulder--a bone-crushing squeeze.
"We'll talk," he said.
"No point," Jace answered wearily. "I've made up my mind."
But Ethan only gave him a wave and started talking to the large elderly woman on Jace's right. Jace didn't hear what they said to each other. He was actively not listening.
A moment later, Ethan moved on. Jace concentrated on his dinner. His plate was piled high with ribs, corn on the cob, coleslaw and steak fries. The food was terrific. Almost worth the constant grief he was getting from his family--about work, about his nonexistent love life, about everything.
Across the table, Shandie Traub, his cousin Dax's wife, said, "Jason, here's someone I want you to meet." The someone in question stood directly behind Shandie. She had baby-fine blond hair and blue eyes and she was smiling at him shyly. Shandie introduced her. "My second cousin, Belinda McKelly. Belinda's from Sioux Falls."
"Hi, Jason." Belinda colored prettily. She had to practically shout to be heard over the din. "I'm so pleased to meet you." She bent closer and stuck her hand out at him.
Jace swiped a wet wipe over his fingers, reached across the table and gave her offered hand a shake. She seemed sweet actually. But one look in those baby blues of hers told him way more than he needed to know: Belinda wanted a husband. As soon as she let go, he grabbed an ear of corn and started gnawing on it, his gaze focused hard on his plate. When he dared to glance up again, she was gone.
Shandie gave him a look that skimmed real close to pissed off. "Honestly, Jace, you could make a little effort. It's not like it would kill you."
"Sorry," he said, even though he didn't feel sorry in the least. He only felt relieved not to have to make small talk with sweet Belinda McKelly.
To his right, the large elderly woman Ethan had spoken to a few moments before said warmly, "Such a lovely young girl." The old lady's warm tone turned cool as she spoke directly to Jason. "But I can see you 're not interested." He kept working away at his ear of corn in hopes that the large old lady would turn and talk to the smaller old lady on her other side. No such luck. "I'm Melba Landry," she said, "Lizzie's great-aunt." Lizzie was Ethan's wife.
Resigned, Jason gave the woman a nod. "Pleased to meet you, ma'am. I'm Jason Traub, Lizzie's brother-in-law."
"I know very well who you are, young man." Aunt Melba looked down her imposing nose at him. "I was married to Lizzie's great-uncle Oliver for more than fifty years. Oliver, rest his soul, passed on last October. The Lord never saw fit to bless us with children of our own. I moved to Thunder Canyon just this past April. It's so nice to be near Lizzie. Family is everything, don't you think, Jason?"
"Yes, ma'am. Everything." To his left, he was vaguely aware that the second cousin sitting there had risen. Someone else slipped into the empty spot.
And Aunt Melba wasn't through with him yet. "Jason, you know that we're all concerned about you."
"Kind of seems that way, yes." He got busy on his second ear of corn, still hoping that putting all his attention on the food would get rid of her. It had worked with Belinda.
But Aunt Melba was not about to give up. "I understand you're having some kind of life crisis."
He swallowed. The wad of corn went down hard. He grabbed his water glass and knocked back a giant gulp. "Life crisis? No, ma'am. I'm not."
"Please call me Melba--and there's no point in lying about it. I'm seventy-six years old, young man. I know a man in crisis when I see one."
"No, ma'am," he said again. "I mean that. There's no crisis." By then, he was starting to feel a little like Judas at the last supper. If he just kept denying, maybe she would go away.
"I asked you to call me Melba," she corrected a second time, more sternly.
"Sorry, Melba. But I mean it. I'm not having a crisis. I am doing just fine. And really, I--"
"There's a lovely church here in town that I've been attending. Everyone is so friendly. I felt at home there from the first. And so will you, Jason."
"Tomorrow. Join us. The Thunder Canyon Community Church. North Main at Cedar Street. Come to the service at ten. I'll be watching for you. There is no problem in this wide world that a little time with the Lord can't resolve."
"Well, Melba, thank you for the invitation. I'll, um, try to be there."
"Get involved, young man," Melba instructed with an enthusiastic nod of her imposing double chin. "That's the first step. Stop sitting on the sidelines of life." She opened her mouth to say more, but the white-haired lady on her other side touched her arm and spoke to her. Melba turned to answer.
Jace held his breath. And luck was with him. Melba and the other old lady had struck up a conversation.
He was just starting to feel relieved when a hand closed on his left thigh and a sultry voice spoke in his ear. "Jace, aren't you even going to say hi?"
He smelled musky perfume and turned his head slowly to meet a pair of glittering green eyes. "Hi."
The woman was not any member of his extended family that he knew of. She had jet-black hair and wore a painted-on red tank top. "Oh, you're kidding me." She laughed. "You don't remember? Last summer? Your brother Corey's bachelor party at the Hitching Post?" The Hitching Post was a landmark restaurant and bar in town.