Cowboy Fire

This cowboy is more than just a perfect face…

“Maybe I just make it seem possible.”
“You make what seem possible?”

I came to Wildcat Bluff County for one reason only: to convince hunky Mr. July from the Wildcat Bluff Fire Rescue annual calendar to be the face—and body—of my new online dating service. Easy, right? I had no idea he’d be so difficult. Or that he’d end up being my new landlord… He might think he has the upper hand, but I don’t give up so easy.

Kemp Lander, a.k.a. Mr. July, says he wants nothing to do with my app or with me. And he seems particularly annoyed to discover I wasn’t exactly honest in my rental agreement. I’m nowhere near the full-fledged cowgirl I claimed to be. But I can learn, and sometimes a girl has to fudge the rules a little to get what she needs. And I definitely need this cowboy…

This cowboy romance is perfect for readers looking for:

A cowboy firefighter who isn’t afraid of a little heat. A feisty woman who knows what she wants. A sassy small town that feels like home. Opposites-attract romance that can’t be denied.

— Excerpt —

Chapter 1

Violet Ashwood needed a cowboy. She needed single. She needed spicy. She needed stunning, like the hotties in the Wet & Wild Cowboy Firefighters calendar sold to benefit the all-volunteer Wildcat Bluff Fire-Rescue. Her copy of the popular calendar lay open to the photo of Mr. July on the seat beside her. He was enough to inspire someone—like her—to come all the way from San Antonio to Wildcat Bluff County way up by the Red River.

As she drove her bright-white SUV, feeling a little on the sassy side from her plans, she glanced at the full-color, glossy image of Mr. July again. Grrrr…what a hunk. He’d been caught with the hint of a smile—she’d swear naughty—on his too-full, too-sensual lips that went perfectly with a whipcord body that suggested great strength. All muscle. He had a strong face—high cheekbones, wide jaw, straight nose—with dark hair and five-o’clock shadow. Slightly slanted eyes the color of luminous jade wouldn’t miss much. He appeared to be about thirty years old with six feet of broad shoulders, narrow waist, and long legs.

Oh yeah, she wanted Mr. July. She wanted every little bit of him. And she intended to have him.

Once she reached him—her very own personal cowboy firefighter—she planned to persuade him to be the handsome face and hot body of her new online matchmaking website plus dating app. She wanted the real deal, not city gloss, and she’d come to the country to find it. She hoped it’d be the turbo boost she needed to make her site stand out from established dating services when she launched in the next few months.

Of course, she really shouldn’t call Mr. July her cowboy fire­fighter, even though she thought of him that way. Love didn’t come easy…at least not to her. She accepted that as a given fact. Somehow or other, she never found the right guy, or he never found her. She wasn’t the only woman who felt the same way. Maybe it was the day and age they lived in. Maybe it was too many choices but too little commitment. Maybe it was too much work and not enough time for relationship development.

She planned to create a place where people could strike up friendships around mutual interests and develop a meeting of the minds before they ever met in person. Maybe her idea was old-fashioned, but she was a romantic at heart and she believed in long-lived love for everyone. Mr. July ought to get attention for her website, and then love could take its course.

And so she’d come to Wildcat Bluff County on the recommen­dation of a friend who’d told her that the county had an unusually high percentage of love, commitment, engagements, and marriage.

By the time her GPS directed her down a gravel road, she had to wonder if it’d gone haywire, but at least it wasn’t sending her off to some toll road in the far distance. She might have turned back, but she saw black smoke billowing up into the sky, so she knew she must be approaching the blaze she’d been told about at the fire station. And Mr. July…her soon-to-be very own cowboy firefighter.

She saw a red booster up ahead, but she figured she shouldn’t get too close to the fire with her vehicle, so she parked beside a bulldozer. When she opened her door, acrid smoke stung her nose. Something toxic must have been burning down in the county dump.

Three people were clustered near the booster at the edge of the county dump. A cowboy firefighter wore a yellow fire jacket, green fire pants, black leather boots, and a bright-red helmet. He held the nozzle of a long hose stretched out from the rear of the truck. Mr. July!

He looked as good in person, maybe even better, than in his photograph. She felt her heart pick up speed at the sight.

A tall, strawberry-blond cowgirl stood near him dressed in sim­ilar firefighter gear. She’d slung a large fire extinguisher by its strap over one shoulder. On the other side of her, a cowboy stood in a relaxed position as he surveyed what was below. He wore a blue plaid shirt, big rodeo belt buckle, Wranglers, and boots.

As she neared the booster, she accidentally kicked a rock and sent it careening toward them. At the sound, all three swiveled to look at her with the same expression of surprise in their eyes…fol­lowed by suspicion. She couldn’t blame them for not immediately trusting her, because she obviously wasn’t dressed for a dump, and they didn’t know her.

“Hello.” She gave a little wave. “Hope I’m not disturbing your work, but I’m looking for Mr. July.”

The cowgirl laughed so hard she almost dropped her fire extinguisher.

The cowboy grinned with humor alight in his eyes.

Violet couldn’t imagine what was so funny. First, laughter at fire the station. Now, laughter at the dump.

“How’d you find me?” Mr. July gave her a cautious once-over with his jade-green eyes.

She hesitated at his response because he didn’t appear too friendly…at least, not in the usual Texas way.

“Hedy at the station, I bet.” The cowgirl laughed again.

“Yeah,” the cowboy said.

“Am I interrupting your firefighting?” Violet asked. They didn’t actually look all that busy…nothing like in videos and movies. They sure weren’t rolling out the welcome wagon either. But she couldn’t let that deter her. She was on a mission of love. She walked right over to Mr. July, where he stood near the edge of the dump.

“Don’t fall over,” he said. “You’re not dressed to be sashaying around a dump or a fire.”

She didn’t respond because he was right and she had no comeback except she hadn’t planned to meet him at a dump. She glanced down. Piles of black tires in all shapes and sizes burned like crazy with red flames leaping up and down and around as black smoke billowed upward before being caught by a breeze and tossed higher into the air.

“We’re not fighting a fire,” Mr. July said.

She looked up into his eyes and felt the ground shift a little under her feet, most likely from loose dirt and high heels. Still, if she’d thought he was hot before, now he rivaled the blaze.

“As you can see, we’re burning old tires,” the cowboy said. “I’m in charge of the dump today, so if you haven’t got business here—”

“Now, Cole, you’re still just a little touchy ever since that van­load of ladies tried to kidnap you from the station and take you back to Dallas.”

“You know good and well they didn’t try to kidnap me. You’ve always got to dramatize every last thing.” Cole narrowed his brown eyes. “Although…I have to admit, they were pretty persistent about taking me home.”

“It’s those crazy calendars you spearhead every year.” Mr. July shook his head. “We’ve had more women running loose in Wildcat Bluff hunting cowboy firefighters than the law ought to allow.”

The cowgirl laughed even harder. “I’m doing every one of you single guys a favor…if you’d just admit it.”

Violet felt her heart sink. This was not the reaction she’d expected when she’d come up with her plan in San Antonio.

“Who are you anyway?” The cowgirl held out her hand. “I’m Sydney Steele.”

Violet appreciated the gesture and shook Sydney’s hand. “Good to meet you. I’m Violet Ashwood.”

“We’re mostly a friendly bunch around here, but our cowboy firefighters have turned out to be a little more popular than any­body expected,” Sydney said.

Violet reassessed her situation. She’d never dreamed the cal­endars had inspired lots and lots of women to come here looking for cowboy firefighters. For these folks, she was just one more in a long line of hungry females.

Sydney winked at Violet. “They won’t let me put their real names in the calendars, but I’m happy to introduce you to Kemp Lander…Mr. July.”

“Thanks,” Kemp said. “I won’t forget that when it’s time for the next calendar.”

Sydney simply chuckled. “That other big lug is Cole Murphy. He’s our current dump manager.”

“He’s doing a good job of getting things cleaned up around here,” Kemp said. “That’s why he’s burning all those old tires.”

“And we’re making sure the fire doesn’t get out of hand.” Sydney gestured toward Violet. “Now you know who we are and why we’re here. What’s your story…if there is one beyond Mr. July?”

“I’m from San Antone.” She gave them a bright, positive smile, determined to turn the situation in her favor. “I’m here because I have a proposition for Mr. July—I mean, Kemp Lander.”

Sydney gave a big sigh. “You’d better get in line. He has more offers from out-of-town ladies than he can shake a stick at. Don’t you, Kemp?”

“Cole’s right. Drama is your middle name,” Kemp said.

“You’ve got to admit those calendars help keep our fire station afloat,” Sydney said.

“Yeah.” Kemp just shook his head as he looked at Violet. “So what do you want with me?”

Sydney laughed at his words.

“I mean, why are you here?” Kemp asked in his deep, melodic Texas drawl as he gauged Violet’s mettle with his sharp eyes.

“It’s just that…” Now that she was in Mr. July’s presence, she felt a little starstruck. It’d been easier to talk to his photo.

“Just spit it out,” Sydney said. “I doubt it’s anything we haven’t heard before this very day.”

“And most likely about two dozen or more times.” Cole gave Violet an encouraging smile. “Still, it’s always good to hear again.”

“Lonely hearts.” Violet focused on Kemp. “How do you feel about them?”

Kemp narrowed his eyes, causing a few fine lines to fan out­ward from the corners. “I don’t feel anyway about them.”

“What about a lonely hearts club?”

“What in tarnation is that?” Kemp leaned toward her. “Is this a joke? I can guarantee you I get enough of that from my cousin. Did Hedy put you up to it?”

Violet straightened her back, getting all five feet five inches to work to her advantage. She hadn’t expected him to be so…well, defensive. “This is no joke. I’m asking you—”

“You got to admit, this is a new angle,” Cole said.

“I like it.” Sydney stepped up beside Kemp. “Like an online blog or something?”

“Sort of.” Even as she answered Sydney, she kept her gaze on Kemp. “Have you ever used a dating service?”

“No. Do I look desperate?”

“You’ve come to the wrong county if you think guys around here need a dating service,” Cole said. “We’re knee deep in honeys.”

Violet ignored the other two and maintained eye contact with Kemp. He was the one she had to persuade. She’d invested too much hope in his image for too long. “You don’t need to be des­perate to want to find your perfect mate…and that means love.”

“Mate? Love?” He looked away from her and toward the burn­ing tires.

“Yes, love. And whatever you want to call a solid relationship. Husband. Wife. Partner.”

“What makes you think there is such a perfect thing?” Kemp glanced back at her with hooded eyes that seemed to help him keep his secrets buried deep.

Maybe she’d made a huge mistake. Maybe Mr. July was a lost cause. Maybe…but no, she wouldn’t give up so easily. She’d come too far to back down at the first challenge. Anyway, what was that old saying? Love conquers all.

“They’re popular,” Sydney said. “I hear dating sites have helped a lot of lonely people find love, although you have to be careful about posers. But why do you think Kemp needs to register with a dating service?”

“And why would you come all the way from San Antone to tell him?” Cole asked.

Violet took a deep breath…now or never. “Cowboy Heart-to-Heart Corral.”