Teaser Tuesday: Leaving Liberty

Texas Hearts Book Five

There's been a storm brewing in Liberty Calvert's life.  But she didn't know just how strong it would be until Texas Ranger, Jackson Gentry, came to Liberty, Texas.  Her already fragile life will be changed forever if he learns the truth.  Her head tells her that the best thing for all of them is for Jackson to leave Liberty as soon as his investigation wraps up.  But her heart is telling her this is the one cowboy she wants to spend the rest of her life loving.

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Today was just one more day in a long string of stormy days Liberty Calvert wanted to erase from her memory.  As she sat in the passenger seat of her father’s truck, wiggling her toes in shoes that cramped her feet, she realized any relief she craved was futile.  Her father was dead.  And the expression on the face of the Texas Ranger leaning against his truck in her driveway as they pulled up to the house let her know he wanted to find out why.

She turned to the man driving the pickup truck.  “They didn’t waste any time, did they,” she said with a slight groan.

“Do you really want them to?”  Cole Rivers was more than a ranch hand on the Bucking Hills Ranch.  He’d become family, even if it weren’t legal.

Liberty considered Cole’s words a second.  “I wish they never showed up here at all.  The least this ranger could have done was wait until my dad’s memorial service was over before charging in here with questions.  It would have given us time to …”

“Figure things out?”  Cole shook his head.  “The time for that is long past.  You know all about facing a storm head on, Libby.  This is just one more storm.”

“What I wouldn’t give for some pleasant weather for a little while.”

Cole chuckled, reaching across the seat and squeezing her hand before looking at the man standing in the driveway.  “He’s not going away.”

She stared at Cole for a long minute, weighing the situation back and forth until she made her decision.

“If you want, Lib, I’ll get out of the car first.  Maybe he just wants to talk to me.”

Tears that had eluded her the past few days suddenly weighed heavy in her eyes.  She was Texas stock right down to the bone, and there was no way she was going to let this intruder, even if he was a Texas lawman, get the best of her or take away more than she’d already lost.

“Thanks.  But I can hold my own.”

Cole shrugged.  “I just thought it might be easier.”

The truck pulled to a stop.  Libby waited long enough for the dust from the gravel drive to blow forward and then settle around the Texas Ranger before she stepped out.

The man tilted his tan hat in greeting as she slammed the truck door.  “Good afternoon, ma’am.”

Libby remained silent.  She was already wearing shoes that were cramping her toes and a dress that … well, the last time she’d worn a dress was at her cousin’s wedding.  That was six years ago.  She was going to have to await changing into her comfortable jeans and worn-in boots until she dealt with the man.

Work.  That’s what she needed.  Not questions or probing.  Work kept her grounded.  Work made her forget.  Well …

Despite saying she’d take care of it, Cole stepped out of the car first.  Libby waited.  The tall Texas Ranger who’d come to investigate her father’s death wasn’t a stranger.  She’d seen him a few days after her father’s limp body was found up in the back pasture.  Jackson Gentry was his name.  He was an authentic navy hero, if she were to believe some of the whisperings about him in town, and now he worked as a lawman in Texas.

As she climbed out of the car, she finally had herself a good look at the man. Now that she was standing, she could see just how tall Jackson Gentry really was.  The slight creases along his eyes told her he was a good eight to ten years older than her.  His nose wasn’t exactly straight as if he’d had it broken at least once.  But it didn’t take away from the rugged features that made him look appealing.

He tipped his tan cowboy hat at her once again.  “Good afternoon ma’am.”

Libby laughed bitterly.  “What’s so good about it?”

He gave one long look at the way she was dressed and his expression fell to the ground, his skin as gray as a dry riverbed.

“I … I thought the funeral for your father was weeks ago.”

“It was,” Cole said.  “Today was private, to spread Buck’s ashes.  Just for family.”

Jackson Gentry’s solemn eyes looked down for a brief moment.  “I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Calvert.  If I could, I would have picked a better time to call on you.”

Cole turned toward Libby, taking her by the arm as they started to walk toward the house, passing the Texas Ranger without answering.

“Unfortunately,” Jackson continued, stopping them.  “This is too important for me to wait any longer.  There are some loose ends in your father’s death, and I need to complete my report, ma’am.”

Libby stopped and turned toward Jackson, wishing like hell she could keep the unshed tears that had eluded her all day from flowing now.  She sniffed back a sob.

“If you must, then at least let me get changed out of this dress.”

“It’s a nice dress.  I’m sure you get lots of compliments when you wear it.”

She frowned.  “I wouldn’t know.  Last time I wore it was to my mother’s funeral.  No one was really in the complimenting mood that day.”

He didn’t reply. Instead, he nodded.

“I’ll just be a minute.  Make yourself comfortable in the living room.”

* * *

Jackson followed Libby into the house.  The man she’d been with, Cole Rivers, had disappeared somewhere, and he wanted to know why.  Talk in town was that the ranch hand was quite protective of Buck Calvert’s only daughter.  He couldn’t say he blamed him.  Liberty Calvert was as pretty as a Texas flower.

“It’s cooler in here,” Libby said, extending her hand to invite him into the living room.

Cathedral ceilings planked with natural wood soared above him.  In the center of the room was a seating area in front of a stone fireplace that was big enough to fit him and the leather chair he sat down in.

“Thank you,” he said.  But Libby had already disappeared out of the room.

With nothing better to do than twirl his cowboy hat in his hand, Jackson glanced at his surroundings and saw nothing of the girl he’d met a few short minutes ago.  The great room was furnished with a man in mind, most likely decorated for the very man whose death he’d been sent here to investigate.  Above the mantel hung a painted portrait of who Jackson presumed was Buckland Calvert.  He stared at the picture, at the stern face and stiff posture, and then looked at the chair the man was seated in.  It was identical to the one he was sitting in.  It was almost as if Buck was scolding him from the grave for intruding on his daughter while she was grieving.

“You couldn’t have picked a better time?” he said quietly.

“What was that?”

Jackson turned to find Libby standing at the doorway to the living room.  She had changed out of her black dress and jacket and was now wearing a fresh T-shirt and jeans.  Her feet were bare as she walked into the room and plopped down on the sofa opposite him.  In her hands she had a pair of clean argyle socks and a pair of cowboy boots.  She proceeded to put them on as if he wasn’t even sitting there.  Jackson wondered how many times in her life Libby had repeated this same action sitting in front of her daddy’s portrait.

“Nice socks,” he said.

“First the dress?  Now the socks?  You’re really stretching for conversation, Ranger.”

“You have to admit the socks stand out.”

“Hmm, but not the woman wearing them?”

He’d walked into that … or she’d led him there.  Either way, he couldn’t really say exactly what type of impression the woman had made on him in the short time since they’d met.  Liberty Calvert was not exactly a woman a man wouldn’t notice.  Unlike some women who always checked to see if a man was favoring them, Libby went about her business as if she simply didn’t care.

There was something intriguing about that and made Jackson all the more interested in learning more.  But now wasn’t the time to find out the answers to all those questions about Libby that had nagged at him since he’d first laid eyes on her.  And it wasn’t the right time to flirt with a woman whose eyes were as blue as the Texas sky.  He was here on official business.

Her lips lifted on one side, giving him a half grin that quickly disappeared.  “They were a gag gift from my friend Hannah.  But I like to wear them, especially now that she’s serving overseas.  Makes me think of her.”

“Your friend is in the military?”

“Yes.  I’m hoping she’ll be home soon.”  She slipped her foot into her cowboy boot and dropped it to the floor with a thud.  “I dread telling her about my father.  It’ll devastate her.  She doesn’t need that now.”

“Is she in a dangerous position?”

“She’s in Afghanistan, and she’s in the army.  That’s dangerous enough for my liking.  But she won’t tell me where she is.  Or can’t tell me.  I’m not really sure which.  I wish she were here now.  So, what questions do you have about my father’s death that are so important it couldn’t wait?”

Jackson’s stomach dropped.  He hated this part of his job.  “I think your father’s death wasn’t an accident.”

Her shoulders slumped.  “Of course it was an accident.”

“Did you know that your father’s ranch was in trouble?”

“It’s my ranch now.  And no, the ranch isn’t in trouble.  It won’t be either.  Not if there’s a single breath left in me.”

“It’s mortgaged pretty high.  The note is recent.  Yet your father’s bank account doesn’t seem to have much in it to account for the money he took out.  Do you know why that is?  Or didn’t your father trouble you with ranch business?”

Libby shifted uncomfortably in her seat, yet kept her eyes steady on him.

“This ranch is neither a trouble to me or in trouble, Ranger.  I’d be careful where you take this.”

He twirled his cowboy hat in his hand slowly before he spoke.  “You can call me Jackson.”

“I’d rather keep this professional, Ranger.  Quite frankly, after the investigation last week, I thought you’d be only too happy to finish your paperwork and rid yourself of Liberty, Texas.  Nothing ever happens here.  It’s just a small Texas town where one day looks like the last.  It’s not even a dot on any of the Texas maps.”

“Sounds like you’re eager to get rid of me.”

“Eager?  Don’t flatter yourself.  I simply want to move on and get back to work.  As you can imagine, my father’s death was a devastating blow, especially so soon after my brother’s death.”

“And your mother?”

Her eyes widened and immediately glistened with unshed tears.  “My mom,” she said, softly.  “She died ten years ago.  It’s just me here now, and I have a lot of work to do to keep this place up on my own.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  You have no other relations in town?”

“No.  My father’s family came from Mexico.  Most are still there.”

“And your mother’s family?”

“What does all this have to do with the investigation?”

He looked at her sincerely.  “Nothing.  I just wondered …  It’s tough being alone at a time like this.”

“I’m not alone.  Cole is here.”

He pulled out his notepad and started flipping through it.  “That’s right.  That would be Cole Rivers.”

“You know it is.  You just saw him outside.”

“Yes.  I knew he worked here as a ranch hand.  He lives here?”

“Yes.  We have a small bunkhouse on the other side of the barn.  He stays there.”

“He’s not originally from Liberty, is he?”

“I imagine any questions you have about Cole are best directed to him.”

“You mean you don’t know?”

“I don’t understand why this line of questioning is so urgent for me to answer today of all days.”

“I didn’t know about the private memorial for your father.  I’m sorry.”

Libby stood up and smoothed down the denim of her jeans with both hands.

“No, you’re not.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me.  You’re only sorry that you can’t get the information you want from me.  And you’re not going to.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I don’t have any.  You see, the way I see it is you’re not really here to uncover evidence about the accident that killed my father.  You’re here fishing for information.  Every few years someone from the law comes to Liberty fishing for something.  I haven’t a clue what that is, and I don’t really care.  I do know that I don’t have the time to wonder about it.  In case you haven’t noticed, there is one less person on this ranch to do the work.  So unless you have some direct questions to ask me about what I personally know about my father’s accident, I’d say we’re done.”

Jackson looked up at Libby as she propped her fists on her slender hips and glared down at him as he sat in her father’s chair.  And suddenly Jackson knew who she’d gotten that stern and stubborn glare from.  He wondered, too, if Libby Calvert would have ever had that much fire talking to her ol’ man.

Jackson stood up slowly.  As he did, Libby kept her eyes fixed on his, and it became completely apparent how much taller he was than her.  But she didn’t shrink back as he towered over her, and for that he couldn’t help but feel a little bit of admiration, even though the visit here was a bust.  She was a pistol, for sure.

“I don’t believe your father’s death was an accident.”

She sighed.  “What are you implying?”

“Were you good in math?”


“Yes.  One plus one equals two?”

She folded her arms across her chest, clearly irritated.  “You’ve come here to give me a math lesson?”

“No.  But I can see this is a bad time for us to talk.”

She chuckled without any humor.  “You think?”

He’d overstayed his welcome.  If he’d ever really been welcome at all.  Jackson propped his hat on his head and nodded to her.  He’d give her a few days to work through her feelings and then he’d be back.  There were enough people in town he still needed to talk to before he could wrap up this investigation and be on his way out of Liberty.

“I’ll just see myself out,” he said.  Jackson started to walk toward the foyer, but then turned around.  “I’m not leaving Liberty.  One way or another, I will get the answers I need for my investigation.”

Liberty Calvert lifted her chin with determination and fire.  “I would expect nothing less.”

* * *

Only when Libby heard the front door shut completely did she allow herself to breathe again.  She slumped down into her father’s chair, leaning her head back and smelling the leather fabric that she’d come to recognize as his scent.  But her thoughts were not on her father.  The chair was still warm where Jackson Gentry had made an imprint.  The strong features of his face consumed her mind as she closed her eyes and tried to steady her rampant heartbeat.

“Are you okay?”  Libby opened her eyes to find Cole standing in the doorway.  He was still dressed in the clothes he’d worn to the memorial service where they’d spread her father’s ashes.

“Don’t look so worried.”

“It’s kind of hard not to given all you’ve been through.”

“I’m fine.”

“It’s been a trying day for you.  This visit from the ranger didn’t help.”

Libby heaved a quick sigh.  “I have a feeling this is only the beginning.  He’s asking questions about you, Cole, and that can only mean trouble.”

“For who?  Me or you?”

Libby thought about it for a minute while she rubbed the dull ache at her temple gently.  What started out as a small, throbbing pain was now shaping up to be a full-blown headache.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Cole gave her a half smile. “Okay, fine.  Why don’t you take a nap?  You look wiped out.”

She didn’t need a nap, especially when she knew sleep was the last thing she’d get.  Left alone with her thoughts, she’d think and she didn’t want to think about much of anything lately.

Especially not Ranger Jackson Gentry.

She’d spent more than just these past few minutes thinking about the man.  How could she not?  She’d seen him in town over the last couple of weeks.  Any woman with a pulse would stop dead in her tracks the moment she laid eyes on his baby blues.  Libby was no different.  She may be damaged goods, but she wasn’t dead inside, and she still had stirrings that made her notice a handsome cowboy.

“Lib?”  Cole was staring at her.

“He’s coming back.”

Cole simply nodded and dug his hands in the pockets of his coat.  “Then I suppose I should get out of this suit so I can tend to the animals.  Tomorrow, we should look into getting you some help around here.”

“Why would I need anyone else around here?  We’ve been doing just fine on our own.”

“Lib?”  She heard the same warning in his voice that he’d given her for the past few weeks.  “We talked about this.  And now the ranger is snooping around, wanting to dig deeper.”

“Don’t worry.  He’ll be leaving soon.”

“But what if he doesn’t?”

“Tomorrow,” she said, shaking her head.  She didn’t want to deal with any more today.

She heard the front door close as Cole walked out of the house.  And then she was truly alone in her father’s house for the first time in her life.

If Jackson Gentry got too close to the truth, she’d be alone on this ranch as well.  All the more reason to get him to leave Liberty as soon as possible.  This home had dealt with tragedy before.  Her family had weathered many storms through the years.  She was all that was left.  Just her and this ranch.  But if Libby was anything, she was a survivor.  And she would survive long after Jackson Gentry left Liberty.

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Teaser Tuesday: Gypsy Hearts

Texas Hearts Book Four

After years of recording commercials, Josie Tibbs longs to get back into the music industry. But the sound recording engineer had traveled that road once before and crawled back home with a broken heart. Wary of any man in the music business, she longs for a steady man and a great recording career.

Brock Gentry lived for the music and so became an extraordinarily talented country singer. On the fringes of success, he's ready to take his chance and go on the road to Nashville. But he and the recording company clash over his image among other things.

Hoping to find the right sound mixer he seeks out Josie Tibbs after hearing of her work with another country singer who's hit the big time. Although she wants nothing to do with him romantically, he wins her over professionally and she decides to come on the road with his band.

Together they blaze a trail to Nashville, her cat in tow, in the close quarters of life on the bus with the rest of the band. Despite the obstacles of life on the road, Brock and Josie find they can't keep their feelings from each other. But Josie's been through this before and knows the dogs of the music industry can bite hard. As they make it closer to Nashville, she fears a chance at success could spell the end of their love.

Purchase GYPSY HEARTS now!
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Josie Tibbs sat behind the thick glass wall separating the control room from the studio. She listened to the same voice-over for the umpteenth time in the last hour and watched her client. Victor Clyde, owner of Clyde's Dog Emporium, as his face screwed into a frown.

Darn it, she thought, stifling the groan that was making its way up her throat. She'd rather eat a dog bone than record one more take of this dog food commercial.

"I don't know," Clyde said yet again. "I don't think it is quite there. We're spending a lot of money on this ad campaign and it needs to be perfect."

Well, heck, it was perfect an hour ago. In fact, Josie would have deemed the whole radio ad perfection after the first take. It was dog food, for cripes sake!

"What seems to be the problem with this last take?"

"I sound a little flat." Victor Clyde was a stout man with gray hair thinning at the temples, and a nose that reminded Josie of a dachshund. He stood in the studio with headphones clamped over his ears, listening as the tape played again, and waved his arms theatrically. "I want it to sound exciting."

Exciting dog food. Well, there was something new. It wasn't as if the guy was singing the Star Spangled Banner at the World Series. But hey, to each his own.

"To be perfectly truthful, Mr. Clyde, the sound is coming through crisp and clear in here. Maybe the problem is that you're hearing it through headphones, which is not the way your customers will hear it. Why don't you come into the control room and I'll set it up to go through the small speakers. It will mimic more of what the general public will hear when they're driving down the interstate and hearing it through the car radio."

His face seemed to brighten up with that idea. Josie said a prayer of thanks for small favors.

While she waited for her client to come around into the sound booth, she cued the last master tape to the take they'd just finished. She could have chosen any one of the thirty takes Mr. Clyde had already done and she was sure he wouldn't know the difference. Once she'd set up the sound to play through the small, makeshift car speakers sitting on the panel, she hit play and settled back in the chair.

Watching the look on good of Vic's face, she decided she'd been played and played hard by her manager, Brian. He knew exactly what he was doing by giving her this job.

"I’ve decided to throw you a bone and give you some real exposure, Josie girl," he'd said in that same condescending tone he always used with her. "You've been with us long enough and your work has been good. You can handle this one."

She’d argued it was time for her to move on to some bigger projects, work with musicians again and do some producing, but Brian had always held those coveted sessions close to his chest or given them to one of the other sound engineers. He left the bones for Josie.

The more time that passed, the more she wondered if it was time to get out of this business altogether. She wasn't as cutthroat as were some of the other engineers who did sound. Aside from the politics in the studio, she loved her work.

Glancing at Mr. Clyde and recalling the afternoon she'd just spent, Josie decided to qualify that she loved her work with a big, fat, sometimes behind it.

The tape ended and she quickly recued it to play again. As Mr. Clyde listened to the playback once more on the mini-speakers, she gathered plugs that she'd used during the session and wrapped them neatly around her arm to keep them from tangling. She liked a tidy sound room. There was nothing worse than hunting for what she needed when she was in the middle of a project.

To her relief, Mr. Clyde appeared satisfied with the final take.

"Thanks, little lady. I'll be sure to pass on a good word for you with your boss."

She smiled, glad the day was finally done. "Brian will be in touch."

Mr. Clyde propped his cowboy hat on his head and tipped it once. "It's been a pleasure."

As the door closed behind him. Josie sighed with relief. It would only take her twenty minutes to straighten up the sound room, collect all the cables, mark the master reel and store it. What should have been an easy one-hour job had quadrupled into four hours. Dexter wasn't going to be too happy with her when she got home.

Josie heard the outer door squeak as it opened and then again as it closed. She groaned. Please don't let him have a change of heart.

"Did you leave something behind, Mr. Clyde?" she said, turning around and peeking into the control room.

But it wasn't the owner of Clyde's Dog Food Emporium. Instead, the man in the control room stood tall and lean, just staring at her. Slowly, he pulled off his hat and held it in front of him as he was probably taught to do as a child.

He was a cowboy, through and through, Josie thought. Not just a wannabe like so many she'd seen pass through over the years. And she could tell the difference. This man didn't need dirt under his fingernails or sun-baked skin to tell his story. Although, he had the latter and she was willing to bet if she got up close and personal with this cowboy she'd see the freshly scrubbed dirt and callused hands.

"I'm not Clyde," he said, his voice low.

"I can see that. Can I help you?"

He smiled one of those high voltage smiles she'd seen on men in the business before. It usually meant they were charming the pants off someone for something. She liked to think she'd become immune.

"If your name is Josie Tibbs you can. Is it?"

"Well, that depends."

He gave her a crooked smile. "On?"

"Are you selling something?"

He laughed and even though there was distance between them, she could see the mark that made him truly magnificent. He had a deep dimple creasing just one cheek. His right. And with that lopsided smile, it made his whole face transform into something incredible.

She was in trouble.

"I guess I am at that," he said.

And her stomach fell. Why couldn't he be wearing a blue suit? Why did she have to meet him here instead of as she walked the aisles of the grocery store or something equally boring and coincidental?

"I'm not interested," she said flatly and went back to what she'd been doing.

"You don't even know what I have to offer."

She eyed him again. "Sure I do. It may be wrapped up in a different package, but I've seen it before."


Cocking her head, she said, "What's that for?"

"Nothing. I've just heard that about you is all."

Something prickled the back of her neck. He wasn't some dog food store owner looking for someone to produce an annoying radio commercial. He was a musician. That much she already knew. Josie could smell out a musician a mile away. And she'd sworn off musicians years ago.

"Blue suit," she muttered to herself.

"What's that?"

"Nothing. I suggest you go back to talking to whomever you've been hearing things from. Like I said, I'm not interested in what you're selling."

Brian had to have sent this guy. Another bone, she fumed inwardly. This man wasn't slick, but there was a touch of arrogance about him, wrapped coolly around his charm. He didn't need to have a woman tell him he was handsome with his blue eyes and crooked smile. He had appeal. No doubt about it. And a woman would give herself away easily after just five minutes with him.

Josie turned away and continued her task, reaching for the last cord. "If you're looking for Brian, he'll be back around eight-thirty tomorrow morning."

"I already talked to Brian. That's how I found you."

She snapped her gaze around to him. She searched his clear blue eyes for the teasing, the crooked smile that would give him away, but it wasn't there. He was serious. He'd come looking for her.

She tried not to show her surprise that even after he'd spoken to Brian, he was now standing here talking to her. Brian usually snatched up all the sessions with musicians.

It was just as well, Josie thought. Yeah, she wanted creativity in her work and she longed to produce again, but the work she had was steady and it paid the bills. And although dog food wasn't exciting, it sure didn't break hearts. She wasn't wrong about this guy, was she?

"I need a sound engineer."

No kidding. There had to be a reason Brian passed this guy off on her. Maybe he stunk, both musically and literally. Brian wouldn't spend more than two minutes with the man if that were the case.

"For what?"

"I need to do a demo for a record company."

So he was a musician. And he definitely stunk. Brian didn't waste his time dealing with amateur work and didn't want his name attached to it. She'd been complaining so much lately that he had decided to send the poor guy her way. Take his money, let the kid think he had a chance at the big time and throw Josie another bone all in one shot.

Another banner day at DB Sound.

Josie sighed as she walked over to the control room and joined him inside.

"What's your name?"

"Brock. Brock Gentry."

"Never heard of you. I know most of the bands around. Are you local?" Just because she'd sworn off musicians, it didn't mean she'd tossed her love of music to the wind.

"I've been mostly playing around Steerage Rock."

"Steerage Rock? There's nothing out that way but ranches."

"Don't I know it. But there are a few local spots. Nothing big."

She nodded, folding her arms across her chest.

"I haven't done too many gigs in the city," he continued. "That's what I'm gearing up to do once this demo is complete."

"Is it just you or do you have a band?"

"Just me. But I do have some regular players that I’ve been working with on and off for a while."

He was bigger than he'd seemed when she was standing in the studio looking at him through the glass, Josie thought. He held his cowboy hat in front of him with both hands as comfortably as she imagined he'd hold a guitar. Big hands, she noticed, with long, graceful fingers.

Darn but he was young too. They all were these days. Young and filled with bright ideas and dreams of making it big. He was just one more. He'd soon learn very few ever made it past a quick handshake standing outside the record company doors.

An amused smile lit his face when he caught her staring at him.

"Well," she said, clearing her throat. "Did Brian set you up on the schedule?"

Brock shook his head. "He said I needed to talk to you first. He said if I insisted on working with you, you'd have to fit me in since your schedule is already tight. Said he normally does studio sessions with musicians and your forte is working on commercials and audio books."

I'll just bet. "Did he?" She gave Brock a quick smile.

"But I told him I wanted you or no go. I want you to do sound on this. That's the only reason I came to this studio."

She wished her shock didn't show on her face, but Josie knew it did. And because it did, Brock laughed. There were a hundred studios between Steerage Rock and DB Sound Studio and Brock could have chosen any one of them. Some at half the cost of what he'd be dishing out to record here.

"What’s the deal? Why me?"

"I heard the demo you did for Grant Davies a few years back."

It was Josie’s turn to laugh. "That was about a million years ago. How did you come to hear that demo? I thought all the extra copies Grant didn't bum were taking up space in a landfill somewhere."

Block tossed his hat to the table by the soundboard.

"You must have been fresh out of high school when you worked with Grant Davies on that project."

"Something like that. And you were fresh out of what? Diapers?"

He ignored her slight jab at his age. In reality, he was probably only a few years younger than her. "I've been listening to music a long time. I like your style. It's too bad Davies moved in the direction he went. I'm not a fan of his work these days."

Josie wanted to say she'd stopped being a fan of Grant Davies the day he'd broken her heart. But in truth, it had taken a while to get to that point. Musically, she couldn't agree more with the kid.

"Grant had a lot of potential. He's used it to his advantage."

Brock sputtered. "Well, he's made a name for himself. I'll give you that. But I favor his earlier work. The stuff you worked on."

She quirked a smile of pride and actually used one of the "f words she hated. "I'm flattered. There aren't a whole lot of people who've heard his earlier work. Or care to."

"That's too bad. It's good. So what do you say?"

Josie sized him up. Time-wise, she couldn't have been more ready. In the five years she'd been working at the DB Sound Studio, she'd had plenty of days like today, thinking she couldn’t handle doing one more commercial. It was easy work that didn't require a whole lot of creativity on her part. The hardest part was suffering through take after take while the Clyde's of this world made up their mind that the commercials she recorded on tape would make them millions.

The hours were good and the jobs were steady, but the creativity on her part was zero. She'd missed that. Like so many of the young faces that strode through those studio doors, hoping to make a demo that would shoot them straight to stardom, Josie had her dreams too. But she'd learned all too quickly that dreams had a way of fading when reality came knocking at your door.

"I'm late for an appointment."

It wasn't a total lie, but it did send a prickle of regret picking at Josie. Dex would take major exception to be considered an appointment. But then, her eight-year-old double-pawed tabby took exception to her treating him like the cat he was.

"Good-bye, Brock," she said, and turned to go back to what she was doing.

Brock took in Josie Tibbs and had to keep from acting like a fool. The woman was beautiful with her long brown curls and ocean blue eyes. He hadn't expected that. He'd been all set to come in here and convince her to work with him on this demo.

"Wait. Maybe we can talk about this later, say over dinner?"

She did a double take, her sleepy eyes getting wide so he could see their color fully. They were the color of the sea with gold flecks that reminded him of sunshine glimmering on the water. She was a few years older than him. He knew' that from what little he'd been able to uncover about her background. And there was definitely something captivating about her that caught him off guard.

Brock swallowed. Major fool. He knew better than to look at any woman and see only what was on the surface. His whole fife he'd hated it when people assumed things of him. He wasn't assuming she was beautiful; Josie most definitely was. He just didn't want to have that overshadow his reason for seeking her out in the first place.

Josie Tibbs was a good sound engineer. He wasn't shining sunshine on her when he'd made the compliment. With so many musicians clamoring for their chance to be noticed by studio executives, Brock had heard a lot of knockoff bands trying to imitate the same sound as whatever was the current trend in music, hoping for the same success.

That wasn't the way Brock wanted to go. Based on what he'd heard of her studio work, he knew Josie was the ticket to getting the sound he envisioned for himself.

"Don't you think you’re a bit out of your league, cowboy?" she said, her chin lifting just a fraction of an inch.

He laughed, tipping his hat. Darn if he didn't feel the blush creep up his cheeks. "No."

Cocking her head to one side, she smiled. "You forgot the ma'am."He looked directly into her eyes and said, "No, I didn't. I wouldn't make that mistake."

"I have to go. I'm not sure why you're here and what you want from me, but Grant Davies was a long time ago. Brian should be able to help you out with what you're looking to do." She picked up his cowboy hat from the table and handed it to him.

"I don't think you've heard me right," he said as she started to walk away.

Turning back, she chuckled. "Look. I've seen a lot of guys come into the studio over the last few years. I'm flattered." Good grief, she'd used it twice in one day. "Not many people remember the studio work I did with Grant. Unfortunately, the record company didn't agree with my vision and Grant seemed to share their opinion. If you really want to make something of yourself in the music business, you don't need me. You need someone who can give the record companies what they want."

"Now see, that's the reason I'm here. I don't want what they're looking for. What I want is you."

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Teaser Tuesday: The More I See

Texas Hearts, Book Three

As a top-notch cutting horse trainer, Cody Gentry was riding high until he lost his eyesight after a freak chemical accident. Unable to see the hand in front of his face, never mind the horse or cattle he trained, he knows his life is over and slips deep into depression. His whole future hinges on the success of an eye surgery that could give him his old life back.

When guide dog trainer, Lyssa McElhannon, arrives on his ranch like Florence Nightingale coming to save him, he wants no part of her or her guide dog. But something about Lyssa’s musical laugh coupled with her tenacity digs under his skin and won't let go. Having been blind most of her life, Lyssa understands the paralyzing fear Cody feels after losing his vision. But she refuses to let the stubborn cowboy waste his life away sitting in a chair when she knows first-hand that a good guide dog can change his world. She just needs one month to prove it to him.

Falling in love with Cody was not part of Lyssa’s plan, nor was having him open her eyes to see that there was a whole lot of living she’d been missing out on.

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There was nothing extraordinary about Alyssandra Orchid McElhannon but her name. She was used to being invisible where men were concerned. Men were an unusual breed for sure. This one was no different.
Lowering her sunglasses, she blinked as she peered at the long, lean man stretched out on the lawn chair by the pool. So this was Cody Gentry. The man that insisted she come all the way from the Houston school where she'd worked to personally train him here on the Silverado Ranch.

At least Cody Gentry had a valid excuse not to notice her. He was blind.

He made no move to indicate he'd heard her approach, or the soft sound of dog claws scratching on the concrete as she led her guide dog closer. No tilt of his head, no lift of his long fingers, weaved tightly together on his lap, not even a twitch of his booted feet, crossed and slightly hanging over the end of the lawn chair.

Lyssa slid the sunglasses back up the bridge of her nose. He could be asleep, she decided. By the slump of his shoulders and the angle of his head, cocked to one side, his white straw cowboy hat tilted over his face ever so slightly, it was certainly possible. It would explain why he'd yet to have even a slight reaction to her approach.

She knew how acute the other senses were when one was lost. She'd outfitted herself in her usual garb, a pair of well-worn blue jeans, a cool cotton button-down shirt, and a comfortable pair of sneakers. She could understand how the soft soles of her sneakers would be muffled. Lyssa wasn't the most graceful person, but she wasn't a clod. If Cody hadn't heard the sound of her footsteps, he should have at least noticed the telltale sound of Otis' paws on the walkway.

Maybe he wasn't asleep. Maybe he was just being rude. Mike Gentry, Cody's father, had warned as much.

It had been only a week ago that Mike Gentry first approached the Houston Guide Dog School asking for immediate help, insisting his son needed a one-on-one instructor. If only the school could send someone to the ranch, he said, it might break through the deep, impenetrable depression that had overtaken his son since a freak chemical accident had rendered him blind nearly eight months earlier. It might help him get back among the living again.

Lyssa had been in the office the day Mike Gentry strode in with deep pockets and endless arguments about why he needed someone immediately. The director had been insistent that the school offered only month-long classes to students who stayed on their campus. While what Mike was asking for his son was not unprecedented, it was usually reserved for extreme cases.

The money Mike offered to gift the school spoke of his desperation. Right in front of Lyssa, he'd offered what amounted to enough money to service several dogs to those in need. After a failed corneal transplant, the likelihood that Cody would get his eye-sight back was slim to none. Cody needed to become functional again in his own environment, and without the aid of a guide dog, he wouldn't be able to get around.

Mike had assured the school that Cody was eager to work with a guide dog, but given life on the ranch, he felt that training should be conducted in the environment where the dog and handler would spend the bulk of their time.

Lyssa found she couldn't stay quiet. There was time before the next class started. She had a dog ready and, even with the limited information Mike Gentry had offered about his son, Lyssa felt the match might work.

Peering over at Cody now, she realized the depression Mike Gentry spoke of was much worse than he had let on.

The desperation, the depression. Lyssa had seen it happen before. Although, since she'd lost her own eyesight at such an early age, she didn't remember feeling it herself. When she regained her sight after twenty years of living in darkness it was cause for celebration. New miracle surgery—an option that wasn't open to everyone. Yet. But Lyssa was sure that one day it would be. The advances modern science had made astounded her.

Until that day came, she had the incredible task of trying to pull this six-foot-plus man out of his despair by showing him that life was still worth living without his vision.

She sighed, noticing the heavy slump of his shoulders. She had her work cut out for her.

She commanded Otis to sit and the well-trained dog heeded the command instantly. Lyssa cleared her throat. The man didn't move.

As she suspected, he'd heard her perfectly well. He simply chose to ignore her.

"I was told I could find Cody Gentry out here by the pool," Lyssa finally said.

The muscles on his face twitched slightly. "Who's looking?"

The timbre of his voice was deep, with a faintly ominous edge that reminded Lyssa of the voices she'd heard as a child when she and Kim would sneak downstairs in the middle of the night and watch old horror flicks on cable. She couldn't see the movies, she'd only heard the voices. That added to the mystery, raised the level of anticipation, sending shivers racing up her spine.

Cody wasn't anything out of a horror movie. She ignored the swell of apprehension that had her confidence faltering.

She knew better than to extend her hand in a normal greeting for her introduction. Instead, she drew in a deep breath and hoped her voice sounded pleasant. "I'm Alyssandra McElhannon."

He didn't move. "What do you want?"

"I brought Otis," she said cheerfully.

"What's Otis?"

"Otis is a who, not a what."

His whole body seemed to stiffen. His voice was controlled, but edgy enough to send shivers chasing over her skin. "I'm sorry you came all the way out here like this. Apparently someone failed to give you adequate information. I'm not training cuttin' horses anymore."

"Oh, Otis isn't a horse. He's a dog. Your guide dog. And I'm here to train the two of you to work as a team." She said the words with the pride she couldn't help but feel. Otis, like many dogs trained as seeing aids for the vision-impaired, was a lifeline to independence.

He sat still, unaffected. It wasn't at all the reaction she'd been expecting.

"Not interested."

"And you would be Cody Gentry, I take it?" she asked, already knowing he was.

"I just said I'm not interested."

"And I heard you. My job is to make you interested."

"Says who?"

Confused, she said, "Mike Gentry, for one."

He groaned audibly and straightened up in his chair. "My father sent you, huh?"

"That's right. He didn't tell you I was coming?"

"Did he already pay you for your troubles?"

"Well, yes, a portion is—"

"Then you're fired. I'll make sure you get the rest of the money you're owed by mail. I'm sorry he wasted your time."

Lyssa's huff was slightly exaggerated. Cody was as difficult as Mike Gentry had warned, but in a totally different way than Lyssa had been prepared for.

"In the first place, the school pays my salary and it is run entirely by donations. Second, training my dogs and students is never a waste of my time. Furthermore, you aren't the one who hired me, your father did. In fact, he asked me to stay on at the ranch until you and Otis were working well together. So, you can't fire me, no matter how much you squawk."

He made a face that almost made her laugh. "Squawk?"

Crossing her arms across her chest, she said, "I call it like I see it."

"Listen, Ms. McElfen—er—McEllaf... What's your name again?"

"McElhannon," she said slowly. "Alyssandra Orchid McElhannon. If we're going to be working together, I'd prefer to keep things informal. So you can call me Lyssa, if it's easier."

Easier and infuriating, she knew. Just because he couldn't see her, didn't mean he couldn't hear perfectly well. In fact, she knew his hearing was much better now than it had been before he'd lost his eyesight.

"Okay, Lyssa. I appreciate your crusade here, but you really are wasting your time. And mine, for that matter. I don't need a dog, and I don't need you. I need my eyes back. And if you can't give me that, then get out of my way! I don't want you or your dog here."

Anger flared so strong through her whole being that Lyssa could taste its bitterness. Part of Mike Gentry's argument that Cody needed a one-on-one instructor was because of his environment. He'd warned Cody could be difficult to work with, but explained he was there on Cody's behalf and that Cody was anxious to start training as soon as possible. He had attitude, but a strong desire. The only way to show Cody exactly how infuriating he could be was to throw it back in his face, his father had told her. Fight fire with fire. That seemed to be the only way to break through Cody's despair lately.

Lyssa couldn't argue with that. Cody had plenty of attitude. But Lyssa had underestimated the warning and now regretted it. Fight fire with fire? In her estimation, she was going to need to set off a case of C4 explosives to even make a dent.

"Otis and I aren't going anywhere," she said calmly. "At least not for the next month."

"A month?"

"That's right."

Anger simmered to a boil just beneath the surface of Cody's exterior, it seemed. His movements were quick and deliberate as he sat up straight and dropped his boots to the ground with a thud. She wanted to take a step back to shield herself from the slap of anger she was sure he was about to unleash, but she held her ground.

Lyssa had been too young to feel the anger when she'd lost her eyesight. She learned, just as a child learns to crawl and then walk, how to live in her dark world. Learning to crawl for a child was second nature. Curiosity won over confidence every time, hands down. Get from point A to point B and it didn't matter how you got there as long as you did it.

Learning to crawl as an adult, however, was utterly different.

Lyssa stayed rooted in her place and silently watched Cody stumble, disoriented, trying to rise from the lounge chair. He then felt his way around the table to the back of the chair. He lifted his head and an almost imperceptible sigh of relief escaped his lips. Cody dragged in a breath of air and began walking, his body tall and proud, his hands rooted at his side instead of out in front of him as a guide.

He must have memorized the amount of steps. Even in his stubbornness, his instinct for survival took over. Maybe she could use that to her advantage. Make it his. She wasn't going to give him an inch, though. She suspected a single step back for Cody would feel more like a mile.

Eight steps.

He didn't need her here. Not right at that moment. But she gave it one more try to see if she could make a small crack in his resolve.

"If you'd like, Otis will take you in."

He reached the door and lifted his hands, floating them out in front of him until they made purchase with the outer wall of the house. "I told you I don't need the dog."

"Yeah, I heard you. But counting eight steps only gets you from the chair to the house. What do you do when you're out in the fields? There aren't any chairs out there. Or is that some place you never venture anymore?"

His whole body became rigid. But he said nothing.

Lyssa shifted her weight to one hip and crossed her arms as she looked out into the green and gold pastures that rolled deep into the horizon.

"I suppose you could count the fence posts, or even paces to the fence, but turning around would be a bear. You could end up walking all the way to the county line before you hit the other side of the ranch."

"Your point?" he said haughtily.

"Otis can help you get around. Help you climb out of your eight steps and make it a hundred or more."

He dismissed her easily by turning and carefully walking through the French doors.

She released a slow breath, felt her shoulders sag slightly. Guilt should be gnawing at her insides by now for stripping down his reality, but she had no other choice. In her experience, it was either depression in a comfortable chair for the rest of his days, or it was living again. She was determined to make sure Cody Gentry chose right.

In the meantime, Lyssa had a few strong words for his father.

* * *

Where the hell was his father? And how dare he invite some snotty woman into the house to fix what couldn't be fixed, Cody fumed silently as he moved through the kitchen. A dog? What the hell was he thinking? Anyone with an ounce of sense or optical training knew that life as he knew it was over.

"Isadore, have you seen my father?" He knew the housekeeper was in. Ever since the accident nearly eight months ago, the petite woman, who'd been a regular fixture in the main house for as long as he could remember, had taken to keeping her eyes on him.

"He's not back from Houston yet," she said. He heard the scrape of a pan against the metal stovetop. He was sure the pot was empty and she was just trying to act busy, as she always did when he caught her watching. No doubt she was the one who'd told Lyssa McElfen, or whatever her name was, he was outside by the pool.

"He's with Ms. Waite."

Terrific. Dad's new lady friend. Cody supposed he should be happy for his old man, having been widowed for more than seven years now. His trips to Houston were becoming longer and more frequent.

"Has Beau made himself scarce, too?"

"Your brother is out with the horses, I think. He's been out a long while and should probably be in soon. Do you need me to get him?"

Cody sighed, a fingernail of irritation scratching its way to the surface of his composure. But he didn't bark out at Isadore. He knew better.

"No, don't bother. I'll find him."

The last thing he wanted was for Isadore to rush right out to find Beau. His relationship with his brother had been tenuous at best since Beau went on the road. He'd left home nine years ago to pursue fame on the rodeo circuit as a bronc bareback rider, leaving Cody a pile of ranch work and his dad's bad moods to deal with because of it. The World Championship title would have been his had he not come back to Texas and married the daughter of their father's biggest rival, opening up a rodeo school on the ranch his dad had always wanted for himself.

Thanks to the accident that took Cody's eyesight, his dear brother was now doing double duty back at the Silverado Ranch, stepping into Cody's boots as easily as if he'd never been gone.

"What do you know about our new guest?"

He sensed Isadore's hesitation in her hitch of breath. "Mr. Gentry asked me to get the guest bedroom ready. She is staying in the room next to yours."

"Ain't that convenient," he groaned, nearly under his breath.

Not quiet enough, however. Isadore's glare penetrated him, as harsh as the hot Texas sun. He didn't have to see the scowl on Isadore's face or the fist planted firmly on her aproned hip to know that was the picture in front of him now.

"You be polite to her. Ms. McElhannon seems like a very nice young girl."

"I'll be my usual charming self."

"Hmm, that's what I'm afraid of."

He fought the smile that pulled at his cheeks as he felt along the wall of the kitchen and down the hallway.

He had a good idea where Beau was at, but the arena was not a place he wanted to be right now. Not when his nerves were frazzled as if he'd been running a caffeine IV into his veins all day.

Twelve steps. He pushed through the front door. Three steps. He gripped the rail and eased himself down to the walkway. This was his ranch. He knew every inch of it, had committed it to memory long ago and could call up any image at will. He didn't need a stupid dog to help him get around.

The walkway led to the gravel driveway and beyond that, the field of high grass. He could almost see the tall blades bending against the light breeze, creating a ripple of green and gold in the sun. In the distance, he could hear a tractor, most likely mowing and scoring the piles of clippings to bake in the sun before being tied into bales.

Cody walked toward the sound, slowly, deliberately, noting the sudden change beneath his boots as he moved from gravel to grass.

"Where are you heading?" Beau called out from his left. His brother was still a good distance away.

"For a walk. You got a problem with that?"

"No, but you might when you end up in the pond you're heading towards."

Cody groaned as heat crept up his neck and seared his cheeks. "At least by then I'll know what direction I'm heading in."

"That's for sure. Do you—"

Beau was about to ask him if he needed anything. A simple question, Cody knew. He just hated hearing it from his big brother.

New wife, new baby, Beau seemed to have it all. And now he was here working Cody's horses and filling his size 12 boots with ease.

Cody supposed he should feel grateful. Although they never seemed to see eye to eye on just about anything, he trusted Beau like no one else. And yeah, his love for his brother ran deeper than the earth he was standing on, despite the bad feelings that had worked their way between them over the years. That was never going to change.

But right now, Beau's very presence on the ranch nagged at Cody like an annoying insect. He didn't want Beau's help. Didn't want anyone's help. He wanted to be able to get up in the morning and work like he'd done his whole life.

He couldn't see how his hands had changed over these last eight months, but he knew they had. He could feel it. The calluses, buried deep in every inch of his palms, had been there his whole life. A working man's hands. Now they'd grown soft from a lack of the physical labor that had dug those marks in deep. He fisted his hand and squeezed, trying to feel what was no longer there.

In the distance, Cody could hear an unfamiliar dog barking and the musical laugh of a woman. Not just any woman. Alyssandra Orchid McElfen or whatever.

The woman had a mouthful of a name to go with that sharp-edged attitude.

Still, as much as Cody wanted her gone, he couldn't help but wonder what the woman was like. How that sass in her voice translated to the way she walked or her looks. When she was angry, did she stand rigid, balling her fists at her hips?

Unlike the softness his hands had developed, a woman's touch was a softness he'd missed sorely these past months. And for all the steam Lyssa had spewed at him by the pool, Cody found himself wondering about the woman whose carefree laughter was floating to him from the distance.

There hadn't been an ounce of pity in Lyssa's voice, which to Cody was a welcome relief. If he heard one more worried syllable asking how he was getting along, he didn't think he could stand it.

He sighed as he sat on a section of freshly mowed grass and absentmindedly sifted through the stray clippings that were now baked bone-dry from the hot sun. It didn't matter what Lyssa and his father had cooked up for him. He didn't need a dog.

And he didn't want anyone's pity because his life was now dug deep in a hole. In a matter of weeks his eyes should be healed enough to try for another transplant. Despite what his old man thought, Cody hadn't given up. He was dealing with what life dealt him. His own way.

Lyssa was right about one thing, he realized as he sat there in the hot sun. Something as simple as walking across the yard, the same yard that had been his playground as a child, had become a dangerous affair.

Early on, when Cody had refused to believe the doctor's assessment that his eyes were shot, Cody had surged on. He was a worker from the cradle. Hands in dirt, feet in muck, and he didn't care. Nothing was ever going to keep him down, never mind a simple chemical accident.

It was just stupid drain cleaner that had landed him where he was. It wasn't as if the ranch hadn't had other young hands that were wet behind the ears and stupid in the ways of basic safety. It had been sheer bad luck that had him in the crossfire when the chem-ical cocktail the impatient ranch hand had mixed exploded. It was also Cody's fast action that had prevented that young hand from getting killed.

Tossing a handful of blades to the ground, he chuckled wryly at the irony. At one time Isadore had said he had eyes like a hawk, seeing every little detail that happened on this ranch no matter where he was standing. Every acre was etched in his memory. He knew every swell of green pasture, every upturned stone that built the natural fences along the property, as if Mother Nature herself had laid them that way on purpose. He closed his eyes and imagined it as it had been the last time he'd sat by the pond and looked out at the ranch he knew so well.

The Silverado Ranch had always been his home, and his childhood memories, plentiful and lush, only dug his roots in deeper, and made the love for this land that much stronger. It was lost to him now. But the memories were there.

They'd been a trio as kids, him, Beau and Jackson, running through the fields when their old man had relieved them of their daily chores. Brock was too young to keep up with them, the gap in years too wide from the older three boys. Too young to share in the trouble young boys usually met up with when exploring. And they hadn't really wanted him tagging along. Not then, anyway.

It was one of Cody's deepest regrets now. In times of crisis, he could count on his brothers. But the space in age between Brock and the rest of the Gentry boys had left the youngest boy on his own more times than not.

In the beginning, it was always the three of them, tamping down hay fields, running tracks in the high grass as they played cowboys and Indians. It had been a daily event, dashing through the vast playground that was theirs. Something as simple as finding the skeleton of a cow was like the biggest archeological find to three young boys out on an exploration. Bringing that find home to show their dad had their chests puffed out with pride.

Back then, their dad was just their dad. A cowboy from the cradle like his old man, and his before him. He used to say the land owned him, not the other way around.

But that had changed when Hank Promise moved in and bought the property now known as the Double T Ranch. The father Cody had known and loved had changed. And it had changed them all. Nothing ever felt the same again.

But what used to be was now all stored in his mind in a vivid spectrum of color. Now all he saw when he opened his eyes was a cold blackness.

The dog was getting closer, Cody realized with uneasiness. The prance of running paws on the ground grew louder and louder still until he could hear the dog panting. What was the dog's name again?

Before he could gather himself up and stand, the dog was by his side, licking his face.

"Knock it off," he groused, pushing the dog away with one hand while trying to stand. Despite his attempt to keep it back, a smile tugged at his lips.

"Otis, heel," Lyssa commanded, still from a comfortable distance. That little bit of time allowed Cody to stand up on his own without having to deal with the awkwardness of declining help.

The dog was still by his side, panting.

"Your name is Otis, huh?" He reached out and immediately the dog nuzzled his face to Cody's palm, allowing him to scratch behind his ears. He bent his head to get closer to the dog and whispered, "Don't get too used to this. I'm really a mean old bugger," he said with a slight chuckle.

Otis barked and Cody laughed.

In truth, he'd always loved dogs, all animals really. Something about what this dog represented gnawed at him though. It wasn't the dog's fault.

"Score one for Otis. You two look like best buddies already."

He heard the smile of satisfaction in Lyssa's voice and he snatched his hand away.

"Don't you keep your dog on a leash?"

She was out of breath, Cody realized, as if she'd run a mile. And with that image, he pictured the rise and fall of her chest as she took in air.

It wasn't good for him to think about Alyssandra McElfen, or whatever her name was, as a woman. The scent of her drifted to him on a slight gust of wind. A hint of vanilla mixed in with the sun-baked grass and dirt and gave Cody a heady feeling he wanted to shake off.

"Actually, I only keep him on his leash when he's in training, so he knows he's working. When he can

roam free and exercise I let him. He's a working dog, but he's still a dog."

Otis was back for more affection and Cody obliged before he could think otherwise.

"He's tall. What breed is he?"

"German Shepherd. Most guide dogs are retrievers because their temperament is good and consistent. But we use shepherds, too. He's beautiful, not just his color and stand, but his personality. He's such a sweet thing."

"Now where have I heard that before?"

She chuckled and Cody had the amazing image of Lyssa's nose crinkling just slightly, the mental image of it making his head swim. He wondered how true that was.

"Don't let him scare you off," Beau called out. This time the sound of his voice was closer than it had been before he'd sat down. Terrific. Now he had to deal with his brother too.

"She's the one that brought the beast," Cody said sarcastically.

"I was talking about you and you know it." He could tell Beau had turned toward Lyssa by the change in his voice.

"Cody's been an ornery old goat since the day he was born. Never forgave Doc Masterson for swatting his behind. But we keep him around for laughs."

"At least I'm not ugly."

"Says you," Beau shot back.

"Did you have anything to do with this?"

"Lyssa? Hell no, that was all Dad's doing, but I'm glad he did. It'll be nice having some female company on the ranch again."

The smile in Beau's voice was like fingernails to a chalkboard.

"Mandy ought to appreciate that."

"Mandy is the one who introduced us. She picked Lyssa up from the airport."

"Your wife is very nice," she said, the smile in her voice so obvious that it had Cody gritting his teeth. She hadn't talked to him that way.

"Great, so everyone knows everyone now. Everyone likes everyone. Now I can leave."

Beau's sigh was more of a grunt. "Well, if it were my choice I'd haul you out to the back of the barn and beat you with a board like an old rug just for your rudeness. We were raised better than to treat our guest with so little hospitality."

"I learned from you."

"Hey, you were still getting your dirty diaper changed when I was standing up by the—"

"Enough already!"

No one answered and Cody took the few seconds of silence to calm himself.

"Sorry about that, ma'am," Beau finally said, quietly.

"Lyssa," she corrected, her voice soft and sweet as summer rain. It irked Cody to no end how the smoothness of her voice changed when talking to Beau. With him, she'd been sharp, her voice holding little of the warmth he heard now.

He supposed he deserved it. No, he had deserved it. He'd been a horse's behind earlier. Had he been this ill-mannered with company as a child he probably would have been hauled out behind the barn for a whippin' by his old man.

Cody turned to leave, and a wave of panic smacked him square in the chest. His head began to swim when he realized he had nothing to hold on to, nothing to ground him but the vast earth beneath his feet. Somehow in the commotion of the dog, the conversation, he'd gotten himself turned around and now had no idea which direction to take back to the house.

He hated it. Hated the helplessness consuming him. Hated even more that now he was forced to swallow a baseball-sized lump of pride and ask for help.

"I need to finish up with Sweet Sassy's Smile before I can get back to the Double T. Maybe you can talk this old bag into showing you around, Lyssa. It was nice meeting you."


To Cody, Beau said, "Sassy's coming along real nice. You ought to think about coming out to see her. I can't imagine why but I think she misses you."

Cody's heart squeezed. Sweet Sassy's Smile, his four-year-old cutting horse, was his pride and joy. For two years he'd been training her every day. That is, until the accident. He'd never felt more connected to any living creature as he did when he was riding her, whether in the arena or out in the fields. It had been a long time. Too long. It hurt too much.

"You think about it." Cody could hear Beau's wide strides move along the grass, then hit the dry dirt as he walked away.

A cold ache settled inside him. He shouldn't be at war with his brother. The things they'd argued about as kids didn't matter now, and maybe they never had. But to hear Beau talking about Sassy, knowing he was enjoying the very thing that had driven Cody his whole life, tore into his soul.

Now Beau was gone and he was alone with Lyssa, the savior his father brought to the ranch to exorcise the demons from his son's soul. Or at least get him a little further than from the house to the pool.

A gust of breeze kicked up some dust and blew it his way. He had no choice, Cody realized. Asking Lyssa for help now would be like saying yes to this ridiculous plan they all had to bring him out into the world again.

Just get it over with, he told himself sharply. He could lock himself in his room later if he wanted. Until then he could handle this much humiliation.

Before he could push the words past the prideful lump in his throat, Lyssa said, "I need to unpack my things and put out a bowl of water for Otis. If you don't mind, I would appreciate you showing me to my room."

He would have sighed with relief if he didn't catch himself. "Showing" Lyssa to her room would be easy as long as he kept up conversation and followed her to the house.

Maybe she knew that or sensed his panic. If his father had hired her, she must have been working with the blind for some time and knew he was standing there practically wetting his pants with fear. She was a smart woman for handling him when he didn't want to be handled at all and for that, a smile crept up inside him.

"After you," he said smoothly. And thank God, he couldn't see her smug smile.

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