Trey March never wanted to see Daisy Barton again. But there she is, in over her pretty little head running the JDB Ranch--and standing between him and the small fortune he's owed. Now if he wants to get his due, he'll have to save the ranch first...working side-by-side with the only woman he's ever loved.
Without her overprotective father to guide her, Daisy's trying to stand on her own at last. But a sinister foreman with a grudge seems determined to cut her down at every turn. And Trey, the one man she can count on, is the same man she could never trust herself to resist...not even now, when her heart--and her life--are at stake.
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November 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Cowboy Come Home by Janette Kenny
Trey March had done the one thing that most cowpokes in West Texas had the good sense to avoid. He'd gotten on the wrong side of Jared Barton. It hadn't been intentional, and he surely wasn't wholly to blame, but the end result had been the same. He had the scars, lingering pain, and burning anger from that lesson to remind him how badly he'd screwed up. All because he'd thought with his dick. All because he'd stupidly trusted a woman to tell the truth.
Not just any woman.
Nope, he'd surrendered to the temptation that glistened in the big, innocent eyes of Barton's daughter. How damn dumb could a man get? The reality that she'd played him for a fool was never far from his mind. It'd festered in his gut month after month while he was laid up hurting so damned bad he wanted to die.
Only one thing kept him going. Revenge.
But he wasn't about to waste any more time on the female object of his scorn, which was why he'd waited to come back until now. He didn't want to see her or hear her name mentioned.
He just wanted what he'd worked hard to achieve. He damned sure wasn't leaving until Barton squared with him. Trey swung off the gray gelding he'd finagled in El Paso and looped the line through the fancy hitching post set in front of the big sprawling hacienda. It was as impressive as the hundreds of acres of land where Barton raised prime Herefords, but right now it looked as desolate as the West Texas soil.
Droughts had a way of reducing grandeur to nothing, just like this one was drying up creeks and wells and men's dreams. Good thing for him he'd given up on wishful think�ing six months back.
His personal deadline to claim his shares of the only home he'd known was long past. Instead of going back to Wyoming, all he could do now was claim his money, his horses, and start over again. Forget the woman and remember the lesson.
He rolled his shoulders to ease the tension cobbling him. Dun grit covered everything, even the scrubby rose strug�gling to survive in soil that had baked adobe hard. Her yellow rosebush.
His gut twisted a bit tighter as memories of Daisy laugh�ing and smiling and moving under him galloped through his mind, a torment that he couldn't forget. He cursed his own weakness for her still. Not that it mattered.
She'd done her slumming with him last fall. By now she'd be married as her daddy had planned and living two counties away from here in another fine, big ranch house. A rich rancher's wife.
Yep, he'd timed his visit to the JDB just right. Wasn't it damned odd that these inhospitable conditions were a fitting welcome for him as he dared to brave Jared Barton's ire?
Trey strode through the white picket gate liberally cov�ered with dust and up the walk to the front door, his spurs chinking in time to the steady clang of metal on metal echo�ing from the blacksmith's shack. This time of day the hands would be busy doing chores, though with the drought that equated to hauling water. Barton would be alone in his office hunched over his books, likely trying to find a way to hold on to what he had until the drought broke.
If Ned Durant was with him . . .
His fingers grazed the sidearm resting easy on his left hip. That sonofabitch wouldn't catch Trey off guard a second time.
He gave the brass knocker three hard raps then waited. When a good minute passed and Ramona failed to answer, he smacked the knocker harder, letting off some of the old steam that continued to boil in him whenever he thought of how he'd let a woman play him for a damned fool.
He heard the housekeeper muttering a litany in Spanish long before she opened the big carved door. Ramona's soft brown eyes rounded and her mouth dropped open, clear signs that he was the last person she expected to come calling.
"Se�or March! Where have you been?" Her black eye�brows snapped together as she looked him up and down. "You are too thin!"
Rangy, claimed one of the gals who worked at La Valera's Cantina where he'd been laid up. Like a wolf too long on the range hunting for easy prey. But that predator would tell you there was no such thing in nature or life.
He managed a smile for Ramona's sake, not the least bit surprised nobody had told the housekeeper what had hap�pened to him. That kind of justice tended to be swept under the rug or buried six�feet deep. He'd come uncomfortably close to the latter.
"Spent the winter in El Paso." He had no time to waste on idle talk, even though he'd have enjoyed visiting with Ramona. "I need to see Barton." She clapped both hands over her mouth. "Ai, yi, yi, you don't know?" "Know what?" he asked.
Hell, had Barton packed up and moved to his other ranch? No, he wouldn't have left Ramona here. So why did the older woman look distressed? "Ramona, who's there?" came a sweetly feminine voice from deep in the house, a voice that haunted his nightmares.
The hair on his nape lifted and the skin burned. What the hell was Daisy doing here?
He heard her heels strike the tiled floor in that slow Southern cadence that set a man's thoughts to lustier images. Any second she'd step into the hall, the gentle sway of her hips in contrast with the quickened beat of his pulse.
Every nerve in his body tensed, the muscles bunching of their own accord. There was no avoiding it. No way to temper the fact he was a heartbeat away from laying eyes on the woman with an angel's smile and the cold calculat�ing heart of a she�devil.
"Ramona, what's wrong?" Daisy Barton stepped into the hall, looked his way, and came to a dead stop.
He had the satisfaction of seeing her face leach of color. She even took one shaky step back. If she was smart she'd hightail it until he was gone, then he'd ride out of her life for good this time.
"Ai, yi, yi." The housekeeper shook her head, clearly distressed over the tension that was cracking in the air like sheet lightning between him and Daisy.
Hell's fire! She shouldn't be here. He shouldn't still feel that pull toward her like a bee to Texas bluebonnets.
She was married now. Not his. Never his.
Ramona mumbled a string of Holy Mothers. A waste of time. No amount of prayers would douse the rage blazing in his gut. Daisy had lied to him and betrayed him and damned near got him killed. Now she was looking at him as if he were the one who'd hurt her.
"Is Barton here or not?" he asked.
"Por favor, you must speak with Se�orita Barton," Ramona said, and then she scurried off with a kerchief pressed to her mouth. Se�orita Barton? Daisy hadn't married.
He could lie and say he didn't give a damn, but he couldn't deny he was curious to know what had happened after he'd been dragged off. But the last person he aimed to talk to was Daisy.
By the way she was eyeing him from across the room, she was none too pleased to see or talk to him either. Well too damned bad.
He had no desire to tramp around the ranch to find a hand who'd tell him what the hell was going on with Barton or Daisy. He just wanted his due, and then he'd be gone.
"I don't know why you decided to come back now, but you can just turn around and take yourself off again," Daisy said, chin high and voice catching with that soft Southern pride that she wore like battle armor. Despite her full skirt and the oversized puff on her sleeves, she looked no more than skin and bones. Hag�gard even. But then she was dressed in drab gray--a color he'd never seen her wear before.
From this distance he could see that dark crescents streaked under her big eyes. What the hell had happened to put her in this state? Had Kurt Leonard learned she was a lying bit of muslin who was loose with her wares? Had he broken off their engagement and sent Daisy back here in shame?
Served her right if the rancher had dumped her. If her pa had to suffer the shame of her actions along with her. He could care less. She was nothing to him now. Nothing but a bad memory.
He aimed to say his piece to Barton, collect his due, and vamoose. Whatever problems father and daughter were having here was none of his concern.
"I need to talk with Barton right now," he said.
"Don't try stopping me, ma'am," he interrupted, putting undue emphasis on Daisy's address. "If he isn't here, I'll wait for him to come back." She pushed back a strand of golden hair with a hand that trembled--a left hand that was missing her betrothal ring. "All right. Come back to Daddy's office."
She disappeared through the doorway like a thief, likely anxious to tell the old man that Trey had dared to come calling at the front door. He was tempted to wait here until she left Barton's office for he wasn't in any mood to dis�cuss his business while she was in the room.
But maybe it was for the best that she was on hand. Maybe she should hear what he'd come back to retrieve, for then she'd see he hadn't been a drifter. He'd had plans for a better life for himself. For them once he felt worthy of her.
Maybe she'd feel a smidgeon of remorse once she learned that she'd killed every bit of respect he'd had for her.
If only he could've done the same about this intense desire for her, but it was still there. Another thorn in his side to bear. Reminding him how good it had felt to hold her, love her, make her his in the most elemental way.
He wasn't about to give her the satisfaction of knowing how badly he hurt--how much he still hurt--how much she crossed his mind when he least expected it.
Trey ambled down the hall, his spurs chinking on the tiles to beat out the annoyance that hammered in his blood. He'd never come in the front door before. He'd been one of the hands, and when he had business to discuss with Barton he'd used the back door.
A far cry from his life on the Crown Seven, but he'd learned that too was just another bump in the road for him. A home and family given to him only to be snatched away just when he was starting to let down his guard--just when he was starting to trust.
He'd been born unwanted, and nothing much had changed of late. No sense dwelling on that simple fact.
Trey pushed into the office and came up short. Instead of Barton presiding over the room from his big leather chair, Daisy perched on it like a nervous bird about to take flight.
The man in question was nowhere to be seen.
"What the hell are you trying to pull?" he asked.
Her spine went stiff at that. "I am trying to manage this ranch in my daddy's stead, which isn't easy to do when his trusted hands take off without a by�your�leave and then return half a year later and act like the world owes them a living."
The realization that something was dead wrong here slipped past his anger. He took in the pile of papers on the desk, the tray holding a teapot and uneaten wedges of toast. Somebody had spent a considerable amount of time right here, and he knew it had to have been Daisy. But why?
"Where is Barton?"
She stared at him straight on with the same delicate strength as a bluebonnet defying the punishing West Texas sun. "Daddy's dead." Her lips trembled, and she worried her hands again, a tell that told him she wasn't as strong as she was putting on. But somehow she surprised him and fought back the tears that were threatening to fall.
Damn, he hadn't expected that news. It was clear she was in dire straights here holding the ranch together. He wasn't going to feel a smidgeon of pity for her. Not one damned bit.