A year after their family was brutally torn apart, the Graham siblings begin to put their lives back together at their ranch in East Texas. With their parents gone, their bonds will truly be tested. . .
Olivia Graham has worked hard to take care of her younger brothers and sisters at the Circle Eight Ranch. But their family circle was broken when their young brother Benjy disappeared. She can't shake the feeling that he must be out there, somewhere. Brody Armstrong, a handsome but rough-around-the-edges Texas Ranger, has been working on their case for months, and now he has a promising lead. As Liv follows him across the rugged Texas landscape and into Mexico, she'll begin to find the answers she needs--as Brody finds a passion he didn't know he wanted. . .
"A sweet and sensual Western. . .a delightfully sexy hero." --Angela Knight on Restless Heart
"A hot, raw western romance." --New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin
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June 26, 2012
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Excerpt from Brody (The Circle Eight) by Emma Lang
Olivia Graham was about to melt into a puddle in the late summer heat. Bees droned incessantly over the wildflowers nearby, while katydids buzzed from the trees. It was a lazy Tuesday afternoon, which she might have enjoyed if she wasn't yanking up weeds from the garden. Her hands pulsed with blisters, irritated by dirt and stickiness the weeds left behind on her skin.
The garden was small, built beside the ashes of what had been her mother's garden. No matter how uncomfortable she was, Liv would nurture those plants until every last vegetable was harvested. It would help feed the clan for the winter, and with twelve of them living on the ranch, there were many to be kept fed. Her mission didn't make the work any easier though.
If there was any justice in the world, it would rain. She would give up just about anything for relief from the heat. The summer had sunk its claws in deep and refused to let loose. Even now when fall should be in the air, shimmers of heat hung all around her.
She used her sleeve to wipe the sweat from her forehead, dislodging her hat. It fell to the dirt below, allowing the scorching sun to hit her square in the face. She mumbled a curse beneath her breath and snatched it up, succeeding in spraying the loamy earth into her mouth.
Olivia wiped at the dirt, her teeth coated in grit. She reached for the mason jar of water nearby only to discover someone had knocked it over, spilling the precious liquid into the parched ground.
"That's no way for a lady to speak."
The slow drawl instantly put her back up.
"Ranger Brody Armstrong." He was the last person she wanted to see.
She spit as much of the dirt out as she could. Right on his boot. "Oh, I'm sorry about that." Inside she grinned.
The Texas Ranger was supposed to be helping them with their parents' murder investigation, but he'd done nothing as near as she could tell. Nothing except for get their hopes up. Now three months after his big promises, Liv didn't believe a word the man said.
She glanced up at him, dressed in his standard black trousers and a black coat, white shirt with a silver string tie. Did the man own any other clothing?
A flat-brimmed black hat shaded his face, but she didn't need to see his cold blue eyes or the jagged scar on his jaw. She knew exactly what he looked like, even with her eyes closed. To her chagrin, Liv had nurtured an infatuation for the man for at least a month before she'd realized he had lied to her. And in her opinion, he was a poor excuse for a man of the law.
"I think your apology has a few holes in it." He wiped his boot on the tall grass nearby. "But I won't call you on it."
"If you're looking for Matt, he's not here. He and Hannah went to Houston for a couple days." She spat out another mouthful of gritty dirt after explaining the whereabouts of her brother and sister-in-law. "I'm in charge while he's gone. What do you want?"
She could've been nicer about it, but she was feeling gleeful to know she could tell the ranger to get off the Graham ranch. She had no use for him or any man for that matter. Not since her fianc� had talked her into giving up her virtue, then backed out of the wedding after she lost her parents and little brother. Men were fickle and faithless. And occasionally as annoying as Brody Armstrong.
The ranger frowned, as she knew he would. "When will he be back?"
"Thursday, maybe Friday. They left early this morning." She rocked back on her heels, a grin on her face.
"Damn. I needed to talk to him." To her consternation, the ranger turned and walked away.
"Where are you going?"
Without even slowing down, he threw his answer over his shoulder. "Inside out of this heat."
She wanted to be mean to him, but she wanted to know what he had to tell Matt even more. "Wait." He slowed down but didn't stop.
"Please." The word was ripped from her throat. It was the last one she wanted to use in the ranger's company.
This time he swung his head to look at her over his shoulder. "I'll wait for you inside with Eva and Mrs. Dolan." He pointed at her mouth. "You might want to wash the dirt off your teeth before you join us."
Olivia's cheeks heated at his observation. She would have used her sleeve to scrub her teeth but that would have made it worse. She left her garden implements lying on the ground and went over to the well pump. After using the pump handle to get the water flowing, she leaned down and opened her mouth. The water was warm, a testament to the summer heat. However, it was clean and she rinsed her mouth four times before the grit was gone. She cupped her hands and rinsed her face, then finger combed her hair.
Pronouncing herself presentable, Olivia stepped into the shade of the house. The cooler air inside hit her wet skin and she sighed in relief. Goose bumps danced down her skin and she closed her eyes at the welcome sensation.
"Ahem." Eva's amused tone told her she had done something she would be embarrassed about.
Olivia opened one eye and saw the housekeeper, Granny Dolan and the ranger sitting at the large table in the kitchen. The man's gaze was glued to her chest. Mortified, she realized goose bumps were not her only reaction to the cool air.
Olivia crossed her arms and looked for a hole in the floor to fall into. "It feels good in here."
"Apparently." The ranger's drawl made her want to hit him. Brody watched her, his hat lying on the bench beside him. She'd never seen him without it. His hair was straighter than a pin; so thick and black, it probably shone in the sun like a blackbird's wing.
"You've been working hard this afternoon. Why don't you sit down and I'll get you a drink?" Eva shepherded her to the table, pushing her into her sister-in-law Hannah's chair, which was right beside where the ranger sat. What in the world was the housekeeper doing?
"You are a passionate girl, Olivia." Granny Dolan's observations usually brought a smile or a chuckle, but today, her comment just made Olivia's discomfort worse. "No need to be embarrassed by what your body does."
Oh, where, oh, where was that hole in the floor when she needed it?
"Martha, would you go check on the girls? They're supposed to be practicing their reading." Eva came to the rescue, shooing her old friend, and Hannah's unorthodox grandmother, out of the kitchen.
"You have an interesting family." Armstrong's tanned fingers fiddled with the tin cup in front of him. They were slender but strong, with blunt and surprisingly clean nails.
"You've no idea." Olivia put her face in her hands, again wondering how she could still be obsessing about the ranger. He was an obnoxious ass.
"I have some idea, but I'm sure you know better." He tapped the table. "I have news I wanted to tell Matt, but I have to be someplace on Friday so I can't be here when he comes back."
She waited, oh, so impatiently, while Eva set down a cup of buttermilk in front of her.
"Drink, hija, you need to refill your body." The housekeeper retreated to the stove again.
Olivia took a big swallow of the buttermilk, its sweet rich flavor coating her tongue. She swallowed half the glass before she realized she had groaned. Out loud.
His blue eyes didn't look cold anymore. They were warm as his gaze moved over her face. What was it about this man that set her off kilter so easily?
"Good milk, hmm?"
"Uh, yeah, it is good." Olivia licked the milk off her top lip and witnessed his gaze drop straight to the movement. A jolt of something hot flashed through her. She managed to take in enough breath to gather her wits. "What news did you need to tell him?"
"Huh? Tell who?" Brody squinted at her.
"Matt. What news did you need to tell him?" She gripped the cup, its smooth curves keeping her grounded in reality while her traitorous body kept bouncing off into strange, dark pockets of sensation.
He looked down at the cup and took a swig of the coffee before he spoke. She didn't prompt him again, holding onto her patience by a thread.
The next time he looked at her, the ranger's cold gaze had returned. "I found out some information about your brother."