“Tightly plotted, impeccably paced, and rich in detail.”— Fresh Fiction
Two flames burn way hotter than one…
Eden Rafferty has lost it all: big time career, high-profile marriage, and just about everything she owns. Coming back to Wildcat Bluff with her tail between her legs, the only person who can help her heal is cowboy firefighter Shane Taggart. But nothing is simple, and their high-octane past is just the beginning of their current problems…
Praise for Kim Redford:
“Funny, flirtatious and cute…a true standout!” —RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars A Very Cowboy Christmas
“Redford reels you in with this hot-as-hell firefighting cowboy… A sweet, romantic, and enjoyable read.” —Fresh Fiction for Blazing Hot Cowboy
“This tale will melt even the iciest heart.”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review for A Cowboy Firefighter for Christmas
“A Cowboy Firefighter for Christmas will keep you warm and toasty and entertained in a big—and I mean Texas big—way.”—USA Today Happily Ever After for A Cowboy Firefighter for Christmas
— EXCERPT —
“And that oldie but goodie from The Highwaymen, all you cowboys—and the cowgirls who love ’em for whatever wild and crazy reason—is how we celebrate springtime in Wildcat Bluff County. This is Wildcat Jack coming to you from KWCB, the Wildcat Den, serving North Texas and Southern Oklahoma since 1946. Our ranch radio is located on the beauteous Hogtrot Ranch for your listenin’ pleasure.”
Eden Rafferty stopped midstride when she heard the legendary DJ boom loud and clear over the outdoor speakers of the Easy In & Out convenience store, bait shop, and gas station. She chuckled, feeling happiness bubble up. Hogtrot was a local joke. Jack knew good and well that the radio station was on the Rocky T Ranch. He was seventy-nine—and not budging from that number no matter how many years flew by, as he liked to say. Only a disc jockey with Jack’s kind of staying power could keep a joke going for more than half a century.
Everyone knew Wildcat Jack was an institution in the county. He could say whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, however he wanted in that big, deep voice that Texas men grew like muscles, along with their throw-down attitudes. He was also a shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy rooted in the same era as the down-at-the-heels radio station and her held-together-with-baling-wire-and-duct-tape Volkswagen Beetle.
She was grateful for the whole kit and caboodle since they were all she had left in the world.
She stepped off the curb onto the parking lot of the truck stop that was tucked out of sight, on a side street well away from Wildcat Bluff’s popular Old Town, so as not to detract from the Wild West 1800s ambience. She’d have almost preferred a horse and buggy to her current ride, but she couldn’t afford anything that pricey, and she sure couldn’t afford to be picky.
Where had all the huge trucks come from? And why did pickups have to take up more than their fair share of parking spaces? She shook her head. She’d obviously been in the land of sedans and crossovers too long. Maybe living in Hollywood had twisted her view of Texas reality.
She refused to let her past intrude on her beautiful morning, so she adjusted the paper bag on her hip and her purse strap on her shoulder and looked around for Betty. The bug had been named by Uncle Clem for Betty Grable, the number one pinup girl of World War II. At one time, Betty must have been a shiny beauty, but now she’d seen her share of life, sporting four crushed fenders and dull turquoise paint. Beggars couldn’t be choosers. Betty still ran, even if she did backfire at random moments like an old dog expelling gas.
“Gotta get ’cause I’m gosh darn hungry. I know it’s early, but when your belly feels like it’s running on empty, it’s time to fill ’er up,” Wildcat Jack growled over the airways. “I’ve got a hankering for some finger-licking ribs at the Chuckwagon Café. What
about you? You know it, you love it, so you best get right on down there before I scarf up Slade Steele’s latest lip-licking pie.”
She exhaled in relief. At least the station still had local advertising to help keep it afloat. For safety and security reasons, Jack was also cautious never to announce on the air that he was leaving the station untended or to imply that he was the only person there. He’d leave Billy Bob or Rae Dell, his faked voices, on the recording he had running while he was gone, or he might pay a flat fee for a “canned special” of country music with another recorded host.
“Now, guys and gals, I won’t leave you lonely whilst I step out for a bite of the best barbeque in North Texas at the Chuckwagon Café. Billy Bob is here to take over from me and bring you more of your favorites to keep you company while you ride herd on those ornery critters just waiting to give you what for.”
She appreciated Jack’s gift of gab. The former cowboy could talk all day and into the next week about roping and riding or about little to nothing, while making it interesting to boot.
A smile edged past Eden’s mountain of worries. At least something was going right. Jack knew how to name-drop local businesses without making it sound like he was filling an ad space. He was a pro, no doubt about it.
She hoped, with spring in the air, shoppers were ready to come out of their winter dens, taste the air, and decide now was the time to make good on the offerings of advertisers. The spring equinox, usually about March 20, was coming up in a couple of weeks, and folks around here liked to celebrate longer days, birds and bees, and new life in all its forms. She hoped this year was a prosperous one for everyone, because a steady revenue stream meant life or death to local merchants, as well as to the Wildcat Den.
She pulled a key ring with a silver horsehead fob out of the cranberry-tinted designer handbag bought when she had money to burn and people to impress. She crossed the black asphalt at a swift Los Angeles pace, noticing the clear blue Texas sky held not a single fluffy cloud in the still-dry air. A tricked-out ATV zipped past in a blur of blue jeans and cowboy hat. She hadn’t seen that colorful sight in a while, and the sheer novelty lifted her spirits. It was good to be back.
When she reached Betty’s back bumper, her smile fell like a rock. Sunlight glinted off the dented chrome. She was sandwiched like a sardine between a six-wheeled dually and a jacked-up pickup. A cowboy had parked his pickup so close to the door that she couldn’t open it. She was up a creek without a paddle. Betty’s driver’s door locked from the outside but not the inside, while the passenger door locked from the inside but not the outside. She could get to the passenger door, but she couldn’t open it. She sighed, figuring that, umpteen years ago, some car designer had decided to add a little challenge to locking and unlocking VW doors.
Normally, she’d laugh at the quirkiness, but today she was on a tight schedule. She needed to return to the radio station while Wildcat Jack was at an appointment on his late lunch break. She’d promised him that she’d just run into town, pick up a few things, and be right back.
She paced a few steps to one side of Betty, then back again, wondering how long she’d have to wait for the pickup driver.
“Got a problem?”
She not only heard but felt the deep male voice roll up her spine like a wave coming to shore on the soft, warm sands of South Padre Island. A voice like that could melt honey on ice and she’d like to market it on the air with a show all its own. But that wasn’t her present concern. She didn’t need to add another iron to her already-raging fire.
She impatiently tapped her toe as she pointed at the narrow space between her VW and the pickup, hoping the stranger would understand without words since she still didn’t have her voice completely back. She didn’t look at him, keeping her head down because she wanted to limit interaction.
He took a step closer, the leather soles of his cowboy boots scuffing against asphalt.
She had to admit he showed good taste in boots—black snake with crimson thread in a classic wing design. High-end and high style. She’d always liked a man who knew his cowboy boots.
“Do you need to leave?”
She nodded in relief that he understood her problem.
“If you’ll step back, I’ll have you out of here in no time.”
She felt his can-do words run up and down her spine again, causing tingles and chills and a sort of remembrance that went way beyond how she should be reacting to a stranger.
“It won’t take me a moment.”
She stepped back from Betty’s bumper to make room and got a good view of the south side of the cowboy. He was tall, with broad shoulders, narrow hips, and long legs. He wore a black felt hat with a rattlesnake band and a starched red shirt tucked under a black snakeskin belt threaded though the loops of faded blue Wranglers. Not only were his boots prime material, but he was right at the top of that category, too.
She’d like to see him on the back of a horse. He’d sit tall and proud and ready for action. She felt her mouth go dry, imagining a different kind of action that might benefit a lonely cowgirl. Just the thought of what he could do with that strong, lithe body set loose a wildfire that warmed her all over.
She was done with men, of course, but this cowboy was so yummy she might be tempted to make an exception. If so, she knew just how she’d like him to put those muscles and that stamina to good use.
He leaned down, flexed his knees, and presented her with a taut butt that strained his jeans in a ridiculously enticing way. He reached under Betty’s bumper with both large hands, lifted the rear end with the heavy engine, and set the bug to one side as if he did it every day, allowing plenty of room for her to reach the driver’s side.
Wildfire raced through her again. He was strong as a bull. Who in their right mind simply went about picking up cars and moving them? Really, who even thought about doing it? A tough cowboy, she supposed, with enough get-up-and-go to do whatever crossed his fertile mind. Now that she thought about it, a cowboy with a creative mind joined to a powerful body might come up with all sorts of ways to work out the kinks in a hard-riding cowgirl.
“There you go.” He turned around to face her.
Oh my, yes, he looked just as good from the front as he did from the back. She let her gaze wander up his long legs, narrow hips, broad shoulders, until finally coming to rest on his tanned face of strong planes and angles with sharp hazel eyes. Wait, hazel eyes? She looked closer, feeling a lurch in the pit of her stomach. She tried to make his eyes blue or brown or gray or anything but the familiar, distinctive brown and green and gold bands that at one time totally captivated her.
Shane Taggart, no doubt about it. She stepped back in shock, cursing her bad luck. No wonder his voice had resonated with her. She was surprised she hadn’t recognized his body, although he’d filled out with even more muscle since she’d last seen him. He’d been Wildcat Bluff County’s bad boy, smart boy, hot boy, and her very first boy before she’d left town eleven years ago. She doubted he’d changed much in that time, but she was nowhere near the same needy girl who’d lusted after him. She was a whole lot stronger and wiser now.
Still, she wasn’t ready for a discussion with the man who held all the aces in his hand. She hadn’t wanted to see him, or vice versa, before she had a chance to get the lay of the land and her feet under her again. Even more, she needed time to come up with a plan to save everything she held dear in life.
“Well, as I live and breathe.” Shane tipped the front of his hat back as he gave her a big white grin that appeared more feral than tame. “Eden Rafferty.”
She clamped her lips together as she tried to think of some way to back out of this encounter, but he was right up in her face.
“I didn’t expect to see you here anytime soon,” he said in a deep, growly tone.
She knew voices. Shane’s was rich with underlying meaning that didn’t bode well for her emotions. Still, she gave him a slight, mollifying smile as she stepped back. She hadn’t expected to see him here, either. And she sure hadn’t expected to feel the old sparks fly.
He looked her over from head to toe while his hazel eyes spoke for him, so much so that she understood everything that simmered unsaid between them. Yes, he knew her in the most intimate sense of the word. Yes, he hadn’t forgotten their fire. Yes, he was stoking old flames. But it’d only been once. That midnight. She’d thought it had been enough for a lifetime, but right here, right now—no matter the big hole in her heart…or maybe because of it—she desperately wanted to make that once a blazing-hot twice.