One bucking bronco…Oklahoma ranch hand Tyler Jenkins is too young, too sexy, and too damn wild to be tied down by any single woman—for more than a few steamy hours…One hard-working widow…Widowed rancher Janie Smithwick is too busy paying off her debts to play rodeo with a reckless young cowboy like Tyler—no matter how hot he gets her…One midnight ride they’ll never forget…As a rule, Janie should be dating a man her own age, like her handsome neighbor Rohn—not the twenty-four-year old ranch hand he employs. But once Tyler gets Janie alone—held tight in his arms, pressed against his hard muscled body, burning with desire—the widow realizes that some rules, like broncos, are meant to be broken…
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The sun was riding low over the horizon when Janie followed Tyler outside to his truck. “Thank you very much for all your help, but you really didn’t have to wash my dishes.”
“Sure I did.” Tyler grinned, the charm oozing from his every pore.
Janie couldn’t help but smile in response, even as she disagreed. “No, you didn’t.”
He leaned back against the open tailgate and crossed his arms. “I did if I want you to invite me again.”
“Oh, that was your plan, was it?” She laughed as she turned and leaned next to him, hands braced on the metal of his bed.
“Yup.” He shot her a sideways glance. “Did it work?”
“Yeah. I think it did.”
“Good.” He nodded. They both sat and stared toward the brilliant colors lighting the sky while the silence stretched between them, until Tyler broke it. “Do you ever hear from your dad?”
The question surprised her. “Not really. No.”
“Did he come to your husband’s funeral?”
“No. He called, but he was busy with work and couldn’t get away.”
The wound hadn’t quite healed over. She still felt the emotional scars when she talked about her mother’s death or her father’s emotional abandonment.
This conversation brought a little closer to the surface the dull ache she usually kept buried. She didn’t resent Tyler for asking, even if she was shocked he was interested. Most guys his age would be out with their friends, yet here he was, sitting on a tailgate at sunset talking to her about things much too serious for such a pretty evening. He was probably meeting his friends later and had to kill time until then. That scenario made sense.
She wondered where he went with his friends, and how the girls there reacted to the likes of Tyler and Colton walking into a bar. Given how good they both looked, they were probably swarmed the minute they got in the door.
“I’m sorry that all happened to you.” He covered her hand with his and squeezed before letting go.
The touch hadn’t lasted long, but long enough for her to know he meant what he said. That he was sincere in his empathy.
Janie should probably be getting used to Tyler doing the unexpected. She wasn’t. Surprised yet again by this guy, she said, “Thanks.”
The silence descended once more until he turned where he leaned and angled his body toward her. “So why are you only cooking for one?”
At the question, she turned her head to look at him. “Excuse me?”
“You said you don’t like cooking for only yourself. Aren’t you dating?”
That elicited a laugh she couldn’t control. “No.”
Dating. Who would she date? And where the hell would she meet him? Though thanks to Rene, she’d have to sit through church with a stranger her friend seemed intent on setting her up with. Maybe that was why she wasn’t dating. Interfering friends.
“Why not?” he asked.
Her mouth dropped open at his bold question. She expected this kind of prying from Rene, but not Tyler. Still, she felt compelled to answer. “It really hasn’t been that long since Tom . . .”
After a beat, Tyler asked, “How long has it been? I thought it was about a year.”
“So you’re not ready?” His eyes pinned her. He obviously wasn’t letting this go.
“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it. There’s been so much else to think about.”
“Like the hay harvest.”
“Yeah, that, and the broken fence.” And the lessons. And the bills. And the animals. She sighed. “Just everything.”
“So if someone were to, say, take care of that harvest for you, and that fence was fixed so you had time to think about yourself, do you think you would be ready?”
“Yup.” His intense blue eyes never leaving her face, Tyler dipped his head in a nod.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “I guess. Why are you so interested?”
“Because I’d like to ask you out, but only if you’re ready for that.”
Ask her out? She knew he could flirt with the best of them, and suspected he was a ladies’ man, but that Tyler might want to go out with her was so far off her radar, she nearly fell off the truck’s tailgate.
“So, what do you say?”
She didn’t know what to say. Even if she were ready to start dating, which she wasn’t, Janie had a feeling she’d never be prepared to be with a guy like Tyler. Too young. Too wild. Too tempting. “How old are you, Tyler?”
“I’ll be twenty-five next month.”
“So you’re twenty-four.” At least he was a couple of years older than she’d first assumed when she thought he was twenty. Still, he was too young. Or maybe she was just too old.
“Yeah. Technically, I’m twenty-four, for now. Why?” He shrugged. “Does it matter?”
She laughed. “Yes.”
“Why?” His brow creased beneath the brim of his hat. He really didn’t understand.
“Because I’m twelve years older than you.”
“I know, and next month you’ll only be eleven years older than me. You said you were thirty-six the night we met. So?”
She’d forgotten she’d mentioned her age that night. Maybe Rene was right. Maybe Tyler did have a Mrs. Robinson, older-woman sex fantasy. If so, she didn’t think she was the one to fulfill it. “What do you mean, so? That’s more than a decade.”
“And that’s a big difference.”
He blew out an exaggerated breath from between his lips. “No, it isn’t. Janie, it doesn’t matter to me. Why does it matter to you?”
“I don’t know. It just does.” She didn’t want to tell him that being with him made her feel old. That her worst fear would be sitting in a restaurant with him and having the waitress assume she was his mother.
Tyler pushed off the tailgate and took a step so he was standing directly in front of her, so close that she was in the shadow of his hat.
“No. You’re not getting away with that answer. Tell me. What’s really wrong?” His voice had dropped low as he questioned her. It sounded husky, and even more sensual than usual.
With him standing so near, she could see the day’s worth of stubble darkening his cheeks and chin. She might want to think of him as a kid—it would make it a hell of a lot easier to not succumb to him—but Tyler was a grown man. And a hell of a man he was. She couldn’t deny that as she was eye level with the bulging muscles of his chest that stretched the cotton of his T-shirt.
Janie swallowed and tried to regain her focus. “You should be dating girls your own age.”
That was one truth about her avoidance she would tell him. Twentysomething guys should date twentysomething girls.
“I have. I’ve gone out with plenty of them, but not a one of them was anything like you.” His blue gaze pinned her even as she averted her eyes to avoid the intensity she saw in them.
Janie wasn’t used to being the object of a man’s attention anymore. At least, not like this. “So I’d be a novelty?”
“A novelty, no. But you are one of a kind, Janie Smithwick. Don’t you ever forget it.” He raised his hand to capture her chin between his thumb and forefinger before he lowered his head, close enough she could hear him breathing.
The brush of his lips against hers was so brief, so gentle, it was almost as if she’d imagined it. He pulled back, but his gaze grabbed and held hers.
“When you’re ready to take a chance on me, you let me know.” He released his hold on her and turned to walk toward the driver’s door.
She was still speechless, but managed to have the good sense to get off his tailgate before he drove away.
With one hand braced on the top of the door, he glanced back at her. “I’ll be back to hay that field as soon as I can.”
Janie nodded and he climbed inside, slamming the door after him. She realized she’d yet to speak.
What could she have said? Her lips were as numb as the rest of her from the shock of Tyler’s kiss. She watched him pull to the end of the driveway and stop before turning. He waved one arm out the window as he drove away, and only when he was out of sight did she remember to breathe again.
A New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Cat Johnson writes contemporary romance in genres including military and western. Known for her unique marketing and research techniques, she has sponsored pro bull riders, owns a collection of camouflage and western footwear for book signings, and a fair number of her consultants wear combat or cowboy boots for a living.
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