Irrepressible tomboy Dory Richards can change a tire faster than any man, yet when it comes to her love life, she's a lost cause. But sexy cowboy Clint Manning has a plan to uncover the woman she really is—and maybe a whole lot more.
Wild at Heart
Ever since she accidentally walked in on rodeo star Ben Anderson in the buff, Jessica Mead can't get the memory of him out of her mind. But is topflight fashion editor Jessica another buckle bunny? Not a chance! Well, maybe just for this weekend…
Big-city reporter Lisa Stevens may have been rejected by hunky rancher Joe Manning five years ago, but she's not about to give up the chase. She's got a point to prove, even if she has to lasso the sexy, stubborn cowboy to the bed to make it happen!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Two days ago Dory Richards had been swatting at mosquitoes in the humid jungles of Cambodia. Today she was in hot, dry West Texas. Good thing she slept well on planes. With all the traveling she'd been doing for the past three years, she'd quickly learned how to cheat jet lag.
Anxious to make the most of her long weekend, she didn't bother unpacking her suitcase. So her clothes would be a bit wrinkled. It wasn't as if she'd stoop to ironing them. Besides, she'd brought only jeans and T-shirts and two denim blouses. This was a ranch, after all, and she couldn't imagine people getting too dressed up for the Fourth of July festivities.
She'd almost made it out of the guest room she'd been assigned when she caught a glimpse of her hair in the dresser mirror. The scary mess stopped her, and she conceded to dragging a brush through the long unruly strands before gathering the whole thing into a sloppy ponytail.
As soon as she stepped into the hall she heard kitchen noises and followed the clang of pots and pans, and a stream of excited Spanish. She found her friend Kate in the middle of the chaos, an apron around her slender waist and a wooden spoon in one hand as she rattled on in Spanish to a young olive-skinned woman kneading dough at the island counter.
Three other women were in the large modern kitchen, one busy at the stainless steel stove, stirring something in a huge pot, and the other two shucking corn. They looked up, smiled at her and kept working.
"Need another pair of hands?" Dory asked.
Kate spun around, her mouth twisting wryly. "I just might have to take you up on that." She set down the spoon on the mauve-and-cream granite countertop and reached around to loosen her apron. "I'd really hoped to be more organized before you and Lisa and Jessica arrived so that we could visit more."
Dory stopped her. "Hey, don't worry about us. I'm ready to roll up my sleeves."
Kate shook her head. "I'm usually so much better at this. I should be. Our family has only hosted the event for fifty years now." She sighed. "I've been too distracted."
"Gee, I can't imagine why." Dory grinned. "I can't believe you're gonna get married in six months."
"Me, neither." The fleeting look of panic on Kate's face startled Dory. Kate slid a glance at the shorter, plump woman standing at the sink, suds up to her elbows and eyeing Kate with troubled black eyes. Kate smiled brightly and shrugged. "I had to do something to get us all together. Dory, this is Maria. She's been with our family forever."
They exchanged pleasantries, and then the woman went back to work and Dory studied Kate, wondering what the heck was going on. A couple of weeks ago Kate had called the gang, excited as all get out over her engagement. But something was wrong. "I can't believe we let five years go by," Dory said, frustrated. With a kitchen full of ears, now wasn't the time for Dory to voice her concern. "Give me something to do," she said. "Maybe later we'll have time to talk."
Kate's eyebrows went up in amusement. "You ever learn how to cook?"
"Ah, well there's gotta be something else I can"
The back door opened and everyone turned to look at the tall, broad-shouldered man who walked in, promptly removed his Stetson and shoved a hand through his longish dark hair. Well over six feet, he wore snug jeans, cowboy boots and a killer smile. "Morning, ladies."
The young woman kneading dough blushed to the roots of her raven hair.
"Clint Manning, you better have wiped off your boots, or so help me"
"Now, Katie, would I mess up your kitchen?" He looked past Kate and winked at Dory. "You must be one of my sister's college friends she's been all fired up to see."
Dory didn't miss the way he'd sized her up. Obviously he didn't remember her. They'd met briefly back East at the graduation ceremony. Though Dory wasn't the type of woman men usually did remember, a fact that didn't bother her any. He, on the other hand, wasn't a man many women forgot, no matter how short the meeting, and she suspected he knew it.
She moved toward him, her hand out. "Dory Richards," she said, pumping his hand with too much enthusiasm, a bad habit that her boss had twice suggested she work on.
Surprise flickered in his green eyes, and then his mouth curved in a devilish smile. "I like a woman with a firm grip," he said, and then exaggeratedly flexed his hand.
Kate swatted him with the apron she'd removed from around her waist. "You guys met at graduation, remember?"
"Did we?" Dory smiled innocently.
"Yeah, that's right." Clint nodded, clearly lying. "Nice to see you again." He looked back at Kate as he opened the stainless steel refrigerator door. "What's for lunch? I'm starving."
"Lunch?" Kate glared at him. "Does it look as if we have time to make lunch?"
He frowned at her. "Hey, I'm not asking anyone to wait on me. I just figured this might be my last chance before the boys from the Double R get here with"
"Oh, my God." Kate covered her mouth with her hand and briefly closed her eyes.
Kate squinted bleakly at her brother. "You're going to kill me."
"You did remember to order the lumber, right?" He rubbed his right temple, looking as if he already knew he wouldn't like her answer.
She glanced at the round wall clock over the stove. "You still have time to pick it up. Take the trailer."
Clint groaned. "That's over a two-hour round trip, and that's not counting loading."
"I'm sorry. Dory will go with you." Kate met her eyes, and Dory nodded. "She can help."
"That's a lot of lumber. I'm not taking a girl" Clint pressed his lips together, his gaze fixed on his sister.
Dory grinned. "Yes?"
He slid her a guilty glance, and then grabbed an apple from a fruit bowl on the counter. "I'll rustle up one of the boys from the back pasture to go with me."
Kate sighed. "They're all busy and we really don't have time."
Dory plucked a ripened pear from the bowl. "Come on, cowboy, I'll try not to show you up."
Clint took his own truck, knowing he'd have to use the extended bed. After checking the trailer in the rear-view mirror, he pulled out of the private dirt road that led to the family ranch and onto the highway. Beside him on the bench seat, Dory stretched out her long, jean-clad legs and munched her pear. Above her knee the faded denim was torn, matching another tear he'd noticed below her rear pocket. Nothing to do with making a fashion statement, that was for sure. Even her right hem was frayed where it skimmed a battered tennis shoe.
No, she wasn't afraid of getting her hands dirty, he'd have to admit. She'd jumped right in to help hook up the trailer, and loaded the ramps and straps by herself. She hadn't even waited for him to toss her a pair of gloves. Still, he felt weird letting a woman do physical work beside him. His sister was no flower herself, but even Kate stuck to her duties in the house.
"What's the lumber we're picking up for?" Dory asked, using the back of her wrist to wipe pear juice from the corner of her mouth. Her ponytail had loosened and her hair was all over the place.
Clint smiled at her lack of self-consciousness. "Tomorrow's game booths."
"Game booths? Like what?"
"The usual tic-tac-toe, ring toss, that sort of thing."
"Kind of like a carnival."
"Yeah, I suppose."
"We have a traveling carnival in Hawaii, but I haven't been in years."
Surprised, he looked over at her. "That's where you're from?"
"Yep, born and raised. My parents moved there during the free-love sixties era from Kansas. We lived in a commune until I was about thirteen."
She shrugged. "It's not much different than you and Kate and your brother living here on the ranch all your life."
He saw a major difference but no point in arguing. "How did you end up at a college on the East Coast?"
"A friend from high school talked me into it. I almost transferred out because I hated the snow. How about you?"
"I didn't go far. University of Houston for four years. I liked coming home on weekends and working on the ranch with my brother, Joe."
She shifted, bending one leg so that she faced him. "What did you study?"
"Business, believe it or not."
"That is a surprise."
Clint shrugged. "It's not like I wanted to work in an office. I figured I might learn something that would make the ranch more efficient."
He gritted his teeth, annoyed that she was probing areas better left alone. "Yep."
"So what kind of changes did you make?"
"Why all the questions? You writing a book?"
At his terse tone, she stiffened. "Jeez Louise, I thought we were making small talk, passing the time, being friendly." She sniffed and twisted around to face the road again. "We don't have to talk. We could listen to the radio if you want. Or I could sing to you. But I warn you, I can't carry a tune worth a damn."
He exhaled loudly. "Sorry, it's kind of a touchy subject." He felt the weight of her stare but she didn't comment, which oddly encouraged him to add, "My brother, Joe, he wasn't interested in making any changes."
"Ah. He's the oldest, right?"
Keeping his eyes on the road, Clint nodded. "He pretty much took over the ranch after our parents died. Kate was only fourteen and I was going into my senior year in high school."
"He couldn't have been much older himself."
"He'd just finished his sophomore year at UCLA."
That was all Clint had to say on the subject. He knew he owed Joe a lot. It hadn't been easy for him to drop out of school, take on the ranch and two resentful teenagers. Neither Kate nor Clint would've made it to college if it weren't for Joe. But sometimes it was hard for Clint to keep his mouth shut when it came to the old-school way the ranch was still run. "So what do you do?"
"I'm a forensic anthropologist."
He waited until he'd safely passed a horse trailer parked on the shoulder of the highway and then glanced her way. She was tightening her ponytail and with her arms raised, her T-shirt clung to her breasts. Odd he hadn't noticed before how full and round they were. "I'm not sure what that means."
"I study remains mostly."
She chuckled. "Yeah, like bones."
"Man, that would creep me out."
He grunted but ignored her teasing. Figured she had a job like that. "So what? You work with law enforcement?"
"Actually, I've spent the last six months in Vietnam and Cambodia, identifying remains of missing soldiers." The teasing tone was gone. Her voice had softened. "It's so sad that families have had to wait this long to find out what happened to their missing loved ones from the war."
"That's true, all right," he agreed quietly. "They're lucky they have people like you to finally give them some closure."
"Yeah, well, the findings are always kind of bittersweet, you know?"
"I can imagine." His gaze went to her hands. Her nails were uneven but clean, the skin badly scraped on two of her knuckles. He understood now why she wasn't like Kate's other two friends. They seemed like nice enough women, pretty, well put together, his type actually. Stupid when he stopped to think about it, but the high maintenance ones were the kind that attracted him. Maybe that's why he'd never entertained the thought of marriage. Too damn much work.
"Hey, look." She straightened and pointed to an eagle soaring low against the cloudless blue sky. "Beautiful, isn't he?"
Clint slowed down so he could appreciate the grace of the bird, and grinned. "How do you know it's a he?"
"Guys have to try harder to attract a mate. That's why males in most species have all the stunning feathers and bright colors," she said matter-of-factly. "When it's time to mate, girls just have to show up."
He chuckled. She did have a point.
Dory was surprised when they turned down a dirt road under an arching sign that announced the Double R Ranch. It had seemed more like twenty minutes instead of an hour since they'd left the Manning's place, which was quite a spread as it turned out about two thousand acres. Mostly flat pastureland, much of it fenced off for grazing cattle. For the entire ride, that pretty much had been all there was to see, more grazing land. Although she hadn't focused on the scenery half as much as she had the man sitting beside her.
She liked watching his hands as they confidently gripped the wheel. They were large and tanned, the back of his fingers sprinkled sparingly with crisp dark hair. Rolled-back sleeves exposed broad, big-boned wrists and muscled forearms, and his blue cotton shirt did nothing to hide his well-formed biceps.
He obviously hadn't shaved in a couple of days, and she wondered if that omission had been deliberate. Had he tried for that perfect, rugged, cowboy look? No, he seemed like a man who enjoyed the outdoors and wasn't afraid to sweat. Sure, she worked with a lot of big, muscular guys like that on digs, but unlike them, Clint had a lithe grace that had caught her attention earlier when he hooked up the trailer.
Weird, because she wasn't normally attracted to a man based on physical attributes, even one as good-looking as Clint. In fact, she tended to ignore the head-turners. She figured they got enough female attention.
The road to the Double R had obviously once been graveled and graded but not well maintained, and the truck dipped and bounced for nearly a mile before a large white house and outbuildings came into view. Good thing. Her fanny had had enough, and that was saying something since she seemed to spend half her life in a Jeep lately.
"I hope some of the hands are close by to help load the lumber." Clint pulled the truck up to the front of the barn. "Kate was supposed to have called ahead."
"I don't see anybody."
"The Reynoldses own this place, but times have been kind of tough for them lately," he said grimly. "They lost a good deal of their herd to cattle rustlers last year and had to lay off half their men."
"Rustlers? You're kidding."
"Wish I was."
"That sounds like something out of the old west."
"Darlin', out here, it still is the old west at times." He opened his door. "That's why I told Joe that we've got to start looking at" He cut himself off, shaking his head, and then slid out from behind the wheel.
Dory scrambled out on her side. "What did you tell him?"