When it came to the family company, Lacey Kincaid would prove to her hidebound father that she could play with the big boys. She rode into Northbridge, Montana, to get her way with the mighty Camden conglomerate--and was shocked to find herself up against easygoing rancher Seth Camden. Suddenly she couldn't stay out of flirt mode--how her father would crow if he saw her falling for the opposition!
More cowboy than CEO, Seth Camden was content to tend the farms in his family's corporate empire. The pleasure was all his as he showed workaholic Lacey how to relax...until things began to feel so serious, he couldn't tell if it was alarm bells or wedding bells he heard ringing from his near future....
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
June 01, 2012
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Excerpt from The Camden Cowboy by Victoria Pade
Great--figures this would be a day I'm in a skirt and high heels...
Lacey Kincaid sighed as she pulled her sedan to the side of a dirt road and turned off the car's engine.
She'd been driving down one backcountry Montana road after another in search of Seth Camden for the last hour of her Wednesday afternoon. She'd found his house and was told that he was out fixing fences and how to find him. The man was not easy to get to even with directions.
And now that she'd made it to the part of the Camden ranch where she'd been told she could find him, he still wasn't going to be easy to get to. Particularly not when she was going to have to drop down about two feet from the roadside and cross several yards of field to actually reach him. And she was going to have to do it in a skirt and three-inch heels.
But today was the day Lacey needed to talk to him, and today--right now--was when she was going to talk to him.
This would, however, be the first time she'd met Seth Camden--or any member of the infamous Camden family. With that in mind, she wanted to be certain of her appearance, so she flipped down the visor that was just above her head and peered into it.
For work, she always wore her pale blond, shoulder-length hair swept back. She did it loosely and with a sporty look to it because she didn't want to appear stark or severe, but she was all business and she didn't want anyone thinking differently because of some unconscious hair toss that might give a different impression.
For the meeting to discuss financials that had taken up most of her second day in the small town of North-bridge, Montana, she'd twisted her hair into a knot and let some wispy ends cascade from the top. Checking it out in the visor mirror now she could tell that it was all still the way she'd done it that morning, so she didn't touch it.
She also avoided wearing too much makeup. A dusting of blush along the apples of her high cheekbones, a hint of lip gloss on her already rosy lips and a few swipes of mascara to color her lashes and accentuate her green eyes, and she was out the door in the morning. Dolling herself up--that's what her father would have called it if she did any more than that. And it would defeat her every purpose, because in Morgan Kincaid's view she would be just another ineffective woman more devoted to her vanity and nabbing a husband than to the job she'd been given.
Satisfied with her appearance, Lacey flipped the visor up again and got out of her car. She was wearing business clothes--a cotton blouse underneath a tailored coat that matched her straight, gray, knee-length skirt with its slit in the back to accommodate walking.
At least it accommodated walking anywhere but across the rutted dirt road to the other side, where she awkwardly hopped down the slope from the road to the field.
Teetering, she barely retained her footing as she got down into the gully. But once she was there, she did her best to walk with some semblance of dignity and headed for the man who didn't seem to have noticed he was no longer alone.
It didn't strike her as strange that he hadn't noticed her. He was replacing a section of fence that had collapsed somehow. His back was to her and to the road where she'd parked. Plus he was so far from the road that she doubted he'd even heard her car.
Lacey's right ankle buckled just then and she veered wildly to one side. She didn't fall, but it was close, and she checked to make sure she hadn't broken the heel off of her shoe.
She hadn't, so she continued on, focused on the man who was her goal.
A grayish-white cowboy hat was her only view of him from the neck up, but below that he was dressed in a white crewneck T-shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. Lacey could tell that he was tall even from where she was--over six feet tall, she judged. And he had broad, broad shoulders that she watched expand when his massively muscled arms rose in the air, lifting a posthole digger from out of the hole he was working on.
He gripped the handles of the X-shaped tool in his leather-work-gloved hands and he pivoted slightly to his left with it. He pressed the handles together to open the blue steel head at the opposite end, releasing the dirt he'd taken from the hole. Then he drew the handles apart, pivoted to his original stance and stabbed the closed head into the hole once more.
As she approached, he stood with his legs apart. Long legs that were thick enough to test the denim of his jeans. Even from a distance she could tell that the twin pockets of those jeans cupped a rear end that rivaled the best she'd ever seen. And being in contact with the players on her father's new football team--the Montana Monarchs--Lacey had seen some great ones.
Another near tumble almost landed her on her own rear end but she managed to keep herself upright, returning her gaze to Seth Camden as she continued on.
His back was straight and strong, and while the white T-shirt he was wearing wasn't tight, it was damp with the sweat of working in the sun on an August day and it clung to him like a second skin. It clung to back muscles that any athlete she knew would have envied. Well-honed muscles that narrowed gracefully to a taut waist. And that rear end again...
Okay, enough of that! she told herself, as she began to draw nearer. Near enough, she thought, to shout, "Excuse me..."
But either she wasn't near enough or her timing was bad because rather than respond, he again jabbed the posthole digger into the ground.
Feeling the August heat herself, Lacey paused long enough to remove her suit jacket, fold it neatly in half and place it over her arm. Thank goodness her cotton blouse was sleeveless because it was blazing hot out there.
Despite the heat and the terrain, when the daughter of football legend Morgan Kincaid set her mind to something, she followed through. So once she'd taken off her jacket, she forged ahead--this time keeping her gaze high enough to take in the man's substantial neck peeking from beneath the brim of the cowboy hat.
A Camden who was a cowboy--that seemed like a contradiction when the Camden family was renowned in the business world.
Lacey's own father had parlayed his professional football fame and fortune into an impressive empire that encompassed retail, rental and hotel properties, car dealerships and various other businesses along with his newest venture--owning an NFL expansion franchise.
But Camden Incorporated? If Camden was like a giant, lush bowl of fruit, the Kincaid Corporation would equal one small stem of grapes on a single cluster in the Camden bowl.
The stores that bore the Camden name were the superstores of all superstores. With multiple locations in every state and in several other countries, they had no equals. The Camden stores put under one roof almost every item and service the consumer wanted or needed at the lowest prices that could be had. They advertised that an entire house could be built, finished, furnished, landscaped and lived in for a lifetime without the owner ever needing to step foot in another store. Even banking, legal and health needs could be seen to there.
But behind the stores themselves, the Camdens owned much of what supplied the products they sold--factories, manufacturers, farms, ranches, dairies, timberland, lumber mills, bottling plants, and numerous other production-level businesses and industries that facilitated their low prices. They also had a hand in distribution centers and had now added a network of medical, dental and vision clinics to each store to go along with pharmacies that offered low-cost prescriptions--because they even owned pharmaceutical companies and research facilities.
There just wasn't much the Camdens didn't have a hand in, so it was surprising to find one of the ten grandchildren who now ran Camden Incorporated acting like a small-town cowboy.
Not that she knew the intricacies of the family, because she didn't. An entire section of a course she'd taken in college had been devoted to studying the business model of Camden Incorporated, but when it came to the Camdens themselves, only H. J. Camden--Seth Camden's great-grandfather and the founder of the business--and H.J.'s son, Hank, who would have been Seth Camden's grandfather, had been discussed.
The present-day Camdens tended to crop up occasionally in the news in conjunction with charities they sponsored. But beyond that they kept a very low profile, and Lacey couldn't name them or what any of them did.
Still, it seemed strange that a member of a family like that would be out here working in the hot sun digging postholes.
"Excuse me.. " she tried again.
But no sooner had the words come out of her mouth than she raised one foot to take another step and lost her shoe completely, costing her precious balance.
In fact this time she pitched forward, her jacket went flying and only at the last second did she catch herself and somehow manage to keep from landing face-first in the dirt.
"Whoa! Nice save!"
Oh, sure, now he noticed her.
Lacey stood straight again, brushing her hands together to get the dirt off of them and retrieving her shoe with a yank to get the heel unstuck. Then she brushed the dirt off her bare foot, replaced her shoe and rubbed her hands together again.
When she was finally put back together she looked up to find that Seth Camden--if that was who he was--had abandoned his hole digger and gloves, and was picking up her jacket. It had flown off her arm and landed on the ground a few feet away.
He grabbed her jacket, shook the soil from it and then stood up to look in her direction.
The Camden blue eyes--Lacey did recall mention of those somewhere. Now she knew why they were noteworthy; when her gaze met his, the sight of bright, brilliant cobalt eyes staring quizzically back at her was something to see.
And since they went with a face that was drop-dead gorgeous enough to steal her breath, for a moment all Lacey could do was stare.
With his sharply drawn, chiseled features, the man before her couldn't have been more handsome if he'd tried. He had a squarish jaw and chin, a perfectly shaped mouth with lips that were full but not too full, a just-longenough nose. And those eyes peering at her from beneath a straight, strong brow.
"Are you all right?" he asked in a deep voice that was so masculine it made very girly goose bumps erupt along the surface of her skin, even in the summer heat.
"Oh. Fine. I'm fine," Lacey said, coming to her senses. "Are you Seth Camden?"
"In the flesh."
Don't get me started thinking about that!
"Did you come all the way out here looking for me?" he asked, that brow furrowing from beneath his hat.
He took his hat off and ran the back of his hand across his forehead. There was an inexplicable sexiness to that gesture. His hair was the dark, rich color of espresso coffee beans, and was cropped short and close to his head on the sides, with the top left just long enough to be swept back in a careless mass of waves and spikes. And he didn't have hat-hair.
Then the Stetson went on again, and the blue eyes were once more leveled at her.
Just then she realized that he'd asked her a question and was probably waiting for an answer. She'd been so lost in gawking at him.
"I went to your house first. I found someone at one of your barns to tell me where you were and how to get to you. I needed to speak with you, so--"
"Here you are," he finished for her. "What can I do for you...? Or maybe you can tell me who you are first.?"
Another bit of negligence. Lacey wasn't ordinarily so flustered, and she didn't understand why she was now. She just hoped it would stop.
"I'm sorry. I'm Lacey Kincaid--"
"I've met Morgan Kincaid--he and I did the closing on the property he just bought from us. And Ian and Hutch Kincaid--they've been around town--"
"Morgan is my father. Ian and Hutch are my older brothers. I don't know if my father told you or not, but the property he bought from you is to be used as the new training center for the Monarchs--"
"Right, your father's football team."
"And the project has been given to me to manage." Lacey hadn't intended to sound so proud of that fact, but it was such a big deal to her she couldn't ever seem to say it without sounding pleased with herself.
"And that's what you want to talk to me about?" he asked, handing her her jacket as he did.
Lacey accepted it and went on. "There are three things I wanted to talk to you about," she said in her best I'm-the-boss-and-this-isall-business tone. "I just got into town yesterday and I'm staying in an apartment Hutch owns. But it's in Northbridge and it takes me fifteen minutes to get from there to the site--"
"Fifteen minutes is an eternity to you?"
That was the way she'd said it. "It would just be better if I could be closer, and I've been told that the nearest thing to the site is your place, and that you have a guesthouse. I was wondering if you might be interested in renting it?"
"To you? For you to live in?"
"It would just be me, yes. And I would hardly be there except to sleep because this project is going to keep me on-site the rest of the time. You probably wouldn't even know I was there."
"Oh, I think I would..."
Lacey had no idea what that meant but it had come with a hint of a smile that curled only the left side of his mouth. A smile that was even sexier than the brow wipe had been.
But why things like that were even occurring to her, she had no idea. She opted to ignore the phenomena and go on as if she hadn't heard his comment.