EDITOR’S PICK! Amazon Best Book of the Month!
There’s nothing like a firefighting cowboy to keep you toasty warm this Christmas…
Christmas is coming up, and single mom Sydney Steele is determined to make this a holiday to remember for Wildcat Bluff County. She still has to get those pesky, reluctant—and deliciously attractive—firefighting cowboys to pose for her charity calendar. They claim they’re too busy pursuing an unknown arsonist to take a break.
Dune Barrett has been flirting with Sydney for months, so he jumps at the chance to give her a hand. And when he agrees to pose as Mr. December, she couldn’t be happier. But to really win her over, Dune will have to convince eleven other guys from his crew to exploit their good looks for charity…a task much easier said than done.
What People Are Saying:
“A whole new type of holiday read. A little mystery and a lot of heat.”—Night Owl Reviews
“Redford’s novel is a fun, sexy read, one that is perfect for the upcoming holiday season.” —RT Book Reviews
— Excerpt —
Sydney Steele stood on the side of Wildcat Road with her hands on her hips in frustration. Christmas was almost upon them, and she had a to-do list to check off that kept getting longer by the day. She didn’t need trouble, but it sure had a way of finding her.
She kicked the whitewall front tire of Celeste, her beauty of a vehicle—a powder-pink 1959 Cadillac convertible. Beauty was one thing. Dead beauty was quite another. She needed that gas-hog of a V8 engine to perk up and do its job so she could get to the Sure-Shot Drive-In and scope out the theater for a possible photo shoot. The Wildcat Bluff cowboy firefighters benefit calendar wasn’t going to get done all by its lonesome.
She had about four weeks to get a move on or the season would come and go with no calendar, and they’d lose the much-needed fund-raiser to boost Wildcat Bluff Fire-Rescue’s bottom line. But she had a gigantic problem—namely, she’d been unable to round up local cowboy firefighters to complete a photo shoot.
She couldn’t prove it, but she had a sneaking suspicion those cowboys would do about anything to avoid filling up a calendar with their photographs. Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, but so far, they’d been cagey as mountain lions and found a way to sabotage every photo shoot she’d set up. She’d swear Jim Bob had left the county just so she couldn’t feature him as Mr. December. That left a gaping hole for the twelfth month.
“What a beauty!”
She whipped around to see who’d hollered at her. Of all the people to come along when she needed help, it’d just have to be Dune Barrett. They’d been sparring since the moment they’d met months ago when he’d started work on Cougar Ranch, volunteered as a firefighter, and set her world ablaze. She didn’t need a man-size distraction—not then and not now. She had too much to do during the holidays, and she liked her life the way it was, thank you very much. Too bad her body was at war with her mind.
He gave her a little salute out the open window of his dually with his big, tanned hand before he slowed down, turned around, and headed back.
At least he’d acknowledged her style effort. She’d cleaned up pretty good, getting all gussied up in her new retro outfit to match Celeste. Yet she longed for her comfy jeans, cowgirl boots, and stalwart pickup, even if being called “beauty” fed her ego.
She smoothed down the sides of her long-sleeved forest-green sheath dress that left little room for movement—or imagination. She’d like to see herself try to rope a steer in this tight dress with her legs encased in sheer nylons and her feet tottering in black peep-toe high heels.
Bottom line, she didn’t do half measures. She was going vintage all the way to plan and promote Christmas at the Sure-Shot Drive-In, a first-time community event to be held at their recently restored small-town drive-in. Plans were for the festival to draw visitors from Wildcat Bluff’s popular Christmas in the Country—and vice versa—so folks could celebrate the Saturday before Christmas at the nearby towns with complementing, not competing, events.
When Dune parked his truck behind her convertible, she wished he was Slade. She’d been about to call her brother for help, but Dune had now stopped that idea in its tracks. She couldn’t very well turn down help from another firefighter, particularly one who was always so helpful to others. It’d be insulting besides costing her too much time to get alternate help. She just needed to go with it. If Dune could get her car moving again, she’d be grateful—even if the heat between them caused uncomfortable sparks to fly.
She walked, or rather, carefully picked her way across the loose gravel alongside Celeste so as not to trip and fall at Dune’s feet. No telling how he’d take that bit of horseplay, but she suspected he’d view it as Sydney Steele finally succumbing to Dune Barrett’s bird-dogging persistence.
She sighed again. She might as well go ahead and acknowledge the fact that there was something about him that resonated with her. Maybe it was the understanding tinged with kindness in his eyes that he usually kept hidden with his teasing ways. She kept a world of hurt hidden behind her own teasing ways, too.
He opened his door, stepped out with one long, muscular, jean-clad leg, and planted a cowboy boot—the color of rich, aged whisky—onto the chrome-edged ranch-hand bumper. When he stepped all the way down, he planted both feet firmly on the ground, adjusted his crimson pearl-snap shirt, tossed his russet felt cowboy hat back inside onto the seat, and stalked toward her Cadillac.
“Even more beautiful up close,” Dune said in a deep, reverential tone.
She nodded politely at his words, feeling a righteous sense of accomplishment. She’d worked hard to achieve this elegant look to complement Celeste’s beauty. Of course, she’d be modest in her response so as not to let him think he had anything to do with her current ultra-feminine appearance. “Thank you.”
And yet he didn’t give her a single glance as he walked right up to the trunk of her convertible, gave a slight growl deep in his throat as he touched the tip of the round red taillight, then reached up and stroked down the long rocket fin with its top line of bright, shiny chrome.
She felt her jaw drop in surprise, then quickly snapped her teeth together. He hadn’t noticed her at all, hot vintage clothes or not. All he had eyes for was her pretty pink Cadillac.
He never broke contact with the lustrous paint that gleamed like satin in the sunlight as he slowly walked down the long length—on par with a prize Texas football field—to the chrome door handle. He stopped to clutch it, looking into the interior of black leather bench seats, chrome steering wheel, black carpet floors, and an AM radio display with a round dial.
She took a deep breath, reevaluating the situation as she caught up to him, almost tripping in the gravel with her high heels.
When he reached the front end, he whistled in appreciation. “What an absolute beauty! I’d heard Mr. Werner gave you his prize Caddy, but I never dreamed you’d actually drive her around the county.”
“I’ll do anything to help launch Christmas at the Sure-Shot Drive-In, and that includes using Celeste to promote the event. She’s perfect, isn’t she?” Sydney tried to keep the irritation out of her voice at his lack of appreciation for her, but doubted if she’d managed it. Not that Dune would notice, seeing as how he was mired in the depths of starstruck infatuation.
“You nailed it perfectly. I didn’t know this legendary Cadillac had a name, but I’m not surprised at the news. I’d heard Mr. Werner doted on her and kept her squirreled away in a temperature-controlled garage. I never thought I’d get a chance to see her, much less touch her.” Dune pointed at the front. “Look, she’s even got longhorns!”
Sydney cocked her head as she examined her handiwork. She had to admit the red and green tinsel looked festive. She’d snaked it around the pale, dark-tipped horns that spanned the width of the hood in front of the shiny chrome snarl of a grill with its impressive dual headlights on each side.
“What year?” He rubbed out a smudge on the hood with the pad of his thumb. “No, wait. Let me guess. Nineteen sixty. Right?”
“Close. Fifty-nine. Series 62 convertible. Eight cylinder. Automatic. I was told this is the most sought after Cadillac.”
“I believe it.” He stroked down one side of the longhorns, but still didn’t toss a single glance her way. “Luxury at its finest—then or now.”
She knew she shouldn’t feel irritated that he was all about Celeste instead of her, but she couldn’t help it. She was stranded on the side of the road, and he was doing nothing but ogling her vehicle. “If you don’t mind, you’re getting my pristine car dirty.”
“Oh no!” He jerked his hand back as if stung. “You’re right. Who knows what kind of dirt and oil I’ve got on my hands.” He quickly popped open his pearl-snap shirt, pulled the tail out from under his wide leather belt with the big gold rodeo buckle, and jerked the fabric off his shoulders.
“What are you doing?” She stared at him in shock, because he was giving her a feast of sun-kissed skin stretched tight across thick muscles with a line of dark-blond hair that ran suggestively from his chest down into his tight jeans. She caught his scent, somewhere between sage and leather and testosterone. All of a sudden, the cool December day felt as hot as the Fourth of July. Talk about cowboy honey.
He quickly bunched his shirt in his right fist and got busy putting elbow grease into rubbing his fingerprints off the pink paint.
She no longer felt irritation. She felt steamy and achy and hungry as she watched the play of his muscles. Arms, shoulders, back were just plain yummy. Soon he added a sheen of sweat to the smooth skin of his rippling muscles. She swallowed hard. When he leaned over farther and gave her a great view of his tight ass, she actually felt weak in the knees—or maybe that was from standing in heels for too long.
He glanced at her over his shoulder. “Like what you see?”
Embarrassed, she tore her gaze away. Wouldn’t you just know it, now he saw her. “I’m only making sure you don’t scratch the paint.”
“Sure you are.” He grinned, revealing bright-white teeth with one front tooth slightly overlapped to mar his perfection. “Just so you know, I’m an appreciative kind of guy with the right kind of gal.”
“I suppose my Caddy is the right kind of gal for you.”
“I’d never turn down taking Celeste for a spin.” He grinned even bigger. “Not too many hot beauties around nowadays. They’re a treasure.”
She tried to shrug, but her body was no longer responding to her brain. She’d taken a dive into the blue depths of his eyes and felt scorched by the steamy heat. With a start, she realized he was no longer talking about her pink Cadillac. And then she had a second revelation. Dune was teasing her about her new clothes, putting a humorous twist on the situation as a clever Texas male would do.
“Treasures, right?” He pushed his point as mischievous light danced in his eyes.
“Put on your shirt, you big goof,” she said with a grin to match his own exposed pearly whites. She was more than the sum of her hormones. Two could play this game. And she intended to win it.
“Big goof?” He laughed, shaking his shaggy head. “That’s how me shirtless affects you?”
“You shirtless affects me not at all.”
“You sure?” He turned toward her, challenging her with his searing blue gaze.
She raised her chin, not about to back down, even if he did resemble a big ole determined bull. “My Cadillac is serious business.”
“You’re too serious by half.”
“Life is serious.”
“That’s why we need to play now and again.”
She held up a hand to stop him coming any closer. She really didn’t trust her body not to betray her once she actually felt the heat he was radiating as if he were his own personal sun. Besides, she needed to get her world back on track. She didn’t have time for play—or temptation. “At the moment, I just need to get Celeste up and running again.”
“Die on you?”
She nodded, trying to focus on his face instead of his washboard abs.
“Bet it’s just a little dirt on your carburetor.”
“Yeah.” He flashed another white-toothed grin, reminding her of a predator on the prowl. “Dirty can be good, but in this case, I’d better knock off the dirt and get you going.”
“Get me going?” She hated to admit it, but he’d already gotten her going, and he hadn’t done a single thing except take off his shirt—well, that and ply her with verbal foreplay.
“I’ll just reach under the hood and toy with her a bit, if that’s okay by you.” He grinned again with eyes alight at his double-meaning tease.
She took a deep breath and actually sighed with the thought of his strong hands doing all sorts of amazing things. And then she got a grip. “If you can fix Celeste, I’ll be grateful.”
“How grateful?” He shook out his crumpled shirt, gave it a baleful look, and slipped his arms into the sleeves, leaving the front flapping open.
“I’ll let you drive her sometime.”
“That’s the best deal I’ve heard in a blue moon. How about you let me hand wash her, too?”
“You want to do that?”
“Sure do.” He glanced at the Caddy, then back at her. “I’ll rub her all over real soft and slow and tender with a leather chamois. She’ll be purring within an inch of her life in no time.”
Sydney swallowed hard, trying not to envision that little scene in relation to anything except cars. “Fine. I’ll let you fix her up just in time for Christmas.”
“You got it.”
She cocked her head as a thought struck her. She knew how to win this game and come out ahead. “Even better, I’d like to see Celeste pristine for a cowboy firefighter photo shoot.”
“Okay by me.”
She stalked toward him, feeling energized with purpose. She could just see Dune sitting on top of the black leather backseat with his legs spread wide and his shirt open exactly as it was now. He’d be hot as a firecracker. Maybe she should even go for a few shots of him washing and polishing her car. He’d be wet all over with nothing but low-slung jeans hugging his hard body. She bet that photo alone would drive sales through the roof. “You never volunteered to be in my calendar, did you?”
He stepped back, shaking his head. “Nope. I’m not the best material for that sort of thing.”
“Of course you are. You’re a cowboy firefighter, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. But I’m no model.”
“I want real rough-and-tumble kind of cowboys.”
“Ask Kent or Trey or Slade.”
“Oh, they’re all on my list, but I’ve got twelve months to fill.” She closed the distance between them.
“Lots of cowboys around here can do it. But you’re prime Grade A material.” She grabbed the ends of his shirttail with both hands and tugged him toward her. “In fact, you’re the perfect Mr. December.”