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Levi is about to fall in love. He may not want to… but Cupid has other plans!
Fashion model Laura Oakes longs to be taken seriously. When an inheritance brings her to Sweetheart Creek, Texas, she shucks her old life and dives headlong into small town living. Too bad the handsome and serious cowboy Levi Wylder she’s crushing on sees her as nothing more than a princess.
Was it the sparkly cowboy boots? Because it definitely wasn’t because of how she stepped in and calmed that rearing horse outside his stable.
The last thing Levi Wylder needs is a high-maintenance woman interfering with his plans. But that’s exactly what he gets when his family ranch suddenly finds itself without a riding stable manager. And the only person he can find to fill those empty boots is a woman who buys her footwear based on looks alone.
But when Laura steps into the ring, Levi discovers there’s something about this beautiful stranger that he completely underestimated—such as her power to steal his well-protected heart.
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(Paperback available November 12, 2020.)
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SNEAK PEEK from The Cowboy’s Stolen Heart
She would not cry. Not here. Not now.
She had done good things with her fame and generous income. She had helped support animal shelters, built water wells in impoverished areas of the world, and taught inner city adults to read. She was more than the delicate flower Levi Wylder had assumed she was.
Head high. Chin up.
By the time Laura Oakes made it to her car at her blistering pace, she was sweating. The scary armadillo from earlier was nowhere to be seen, and she closed her eyes, still squeezing the key to Luanne’s house in her hand.
Should she rescue her suitcase first, or see if her car would start? She turned to look back into town, past the used car lot she hadn’t even noticed earlier on her run from Bill, the armadillo. A man was standing in front of the small building, the triangular flags above the short row of cars flapping in a gust of wind. He was watching her, hands on his hips. Feeling as though she needed to act as though she knew what she was doing, Laura ducked into her car first to see if it would start.
It wouldn’t. She checked the time. She’d let it rest for far longer than than its usual needed twenty minutes. What was its deal?
Laura stepped out of the Beetle and scanned the dry grass along the road. Where was her suitcase? Hadn’t it slid in just about there?
A truck slowed beside her, and she glanced up, surprised to see Levi driving the faded old pickup she’d seen in front of the Longhorn.
He stopped, windows down, the dark brown hair around his ears fluttering in the breeze as though he’d put off getting a haircut for too long. He adjusted his cowboy hat over his forehead as if he might be thinking before speaking. Not a bad trait. It was unfortunate he hadn’t utilized it earlier.
“I’d like to apologize for back there,” he said with great care. “If you find you want a tour of town, I can do that. I’ll warn you, though, I spend most of my time on the family ranch or at the field watching football.” He looked like he had more to say, but instead closed his mouth. Another good trait. He knew when to stop talking.
He studied her car with interest for another moment. “Won’t start?”
She shook her head. “Usually it only needs twenty minutes.”
“Can I give you a ride somewhere?”
“As a matter of fact, you can.” She marched to the passenger side of his truck, intent on making him do a good deed in order to make amends. Or maybe just to somehow prove she was more than whatever he thought he’d seen in her at the diner. She yanked open the creaky door.
“Sorry, it doesn’t get used much. The dog usually hops in from this side.”
She hoisted herself up onto the springy seat, displacing a layer of dust that made her nose tickle. She sneezed.
He put the truck in gear. “To Luanne’s, I presume?”
“Yes. Do you know the address?” She mentally crossed her fingers, realizing that unless they took her old meandering bike route to her aunt’s she might not be able to find it on the first try.
“I don’t. But I do know how to get there.” His lips quirked as if he was holding back a smile. He was cute when he did that. Too cute. Like when he’d been a teenager.
“Good.” She sat stiffly as he began driving, lifting his fingers off the steering wheel in a casual wave to an oncoming truck pulling a horse trailer. The other driver’s interest was focused on her, Laura noted.
The window was still down and the wind tangled her hair as they picked up speed. She looked for a button, but it was a crank style.
When she reached for it, Levi said in a gentle, yet warning tone, “I leave the windows down as they don’t always go back up. And if they do, they don’t always come down again. No AC.”
“Why don’t you fix them?”
He shrugged. “It’s old. This isn’t the ranch’s going-to-town truck.”
“But you went to town in it.”
The town that was growing smaller behind them.
“Luanne lives in town,” she said sharply, panic setting in. Just because Sweetheart Creek was small, it didn’t mean she should assume it was safe.
“Just going to turn the truck around up here,” he explained, pointing to a pullout that allowed access to a pasture just beyond the sign that said Thank You for Visiting Sweetheart Creek. Below, someone had tacked on another sign that said Go Torpedoes!
When he’d turned the truck around as promised, they headed back in the direction of her car. Near where they’d passed the horse trailer, in the ditch opposite her VW, several boys had parked their bicycles and were standing in a circle. One waved something small and dainty in the air.
Laura sat up, her stomach dropping. “My suitcase.”
There was a flash of red fabric, then a scrap of something lacy as another boy found a trophy. She covered her mouth in horror. They were waving her lingerie around like a prize. Her very sexy, very expensive, very personal lingerie.
Levi pulled over just as Laura sank down in her seat, whispering, “Keep going! Keep going!”
He ignored her, hopping out, his shoulders broad, his stance saying he meant business as he addressed the boys. Laura tentatively opened her door, sliding out onto the soft dirt at the edge of the road. Her heels sank in and she lost her balance, wavering for one brief second before gravity ruthlessly sent her tumbling into the ditch, skinning her knees and palms in the loose gravel and dry grass as she let out an embarrassing squeak of surprise.
“Whoa.” Levi was there in a flash, holding her elbow as he helped her up.
Laura dusted herself off, wishing she had superpowers. Namely ones that would make her invisible. She caught sight of what Levi was holding in his free hand. It was a week’s worth of delicate lace, and she debated whether fainting would save her from experiencing the full brunt of this mortifying moment. Her favorite suitcase, one that had traveled the world with her, was split at the seams, spilling her personal items for all to see.
Levi gave her elbow a small squeeze. “You doing all right there?”
She forced her head to move up and down, when all she wanted to do was shake it and sit down and cry at how everything felt as though it was piling up on her today.
The boys had cycled a short way down the road, stopping at a safe distance to call out something she couldn’t hear. Levi, jaw set, collected her clothing with efficient moves, cradling the split case, then placing it in the back of his pickup. If he drove fast enough into town she was pretty sure all her newly retrieved undergarments would be blown out, strewn about like freebies in a small town parade sponsored by La Perla.
Laura hadn’t moved from her spot at the bottom of the ditch, and from behind her, Levi asked, “Got yourself stuck down there?”
She looked down at her feet, at her fitted dress, then turned to survey the unforgiving incline. She was everything he’d judged her to be earlier, and it was beyond humbling.
Levi began moving toward her again, and she pointed a finger at him. “Don’t you dare pick me up and carry me like a useless female.”
There must’ve been something in her tone because he halted abruptly, hands raised in surrender.
She eyed the slope to the truck. There was only one way to make it up with any dignity and grace. She was going to have to go barefoot. She bent to undo the straps of her shoes, ignoring how torn up her knees were. The grass in the ditch was prickly, dry and similar to fierce little swords. Walking over it would surely hurt worse than having the more tender areas of her body waxed for a bikini shoot. But she was not going to flail about in these heels, and she was not going to accept being helpless.
She glanced at the sky while trying to slip off one dusty red Jimmy Choo. Cloudless. No chance of a freak lightning strike. She wobbled dangerously.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a smooth voice, reaching out and indicating she’d like to use Levi to support her. “Would you be able to assist me?”
He came down the embankment once more, angling his feet so the heels of his boots dug into the ground, then tilted his shoulder her way. The man was tall, even taller than she was. “You sure I can’t just hoist you into the truck like a sack of potatoes?”
She had been avoiding looking at him as she placed a hand on his warm shoulder, but now snapped a glance at him, finding amusement twinkling in his cloudless blue eyes.
“You think this is funny?”
“I hate feeling helpless.”
Anger tore through her like a windstorm at how she’d allowed her life to veer off the tracks. She was a washed up model with no solid new career ideas, despite having known this day was coming. She’d recently dumped a man she should have released into the dating wilds years ago, and was currently stuck in a ditch because she had chosen to wear heels that were way out of place in this town. She’d dressed like this to show off, but all she’d done was reveal what a princess she’d become.
Her frustration bubbled over and she grumbled, “I hate these shoes. I hate my nails. I hate my eyelashes. I hate my highlights. I hate this dress and I hate my fake tan. And I could really use a second milkshake right now.”
Levi studied her for a moment, then said, “I like your dress.”
She gave him a pitiful look and they burst out laughing.
“Looks like you may have hit rock bottom there.” He was cuter when he smiled, and his drawl was dead to rights the sexiest thing she’d heard in eons. Maybe his good looks weren’t a complete and utter waste, after all.
“This isn’t rock bottom,” she whispered, her lip trembling dangerously. “Trust me.” But it felt pretty darn close.
“I know.” There was nothing but kindness and understanding in his tired eyes. How did a man this young seem so old in this moment, as if the world was weighing on him like it was on her?
She let out a long sigh of defeat. It was difficult to fight the truth sometimes. But that was why she was here, right?
Figure things out. Decide what she did and didn’t want in her life moving forward.
Laura gasped as Levi lifted her into the air, one arm behind her legs and the other around her waist, in a quick move she didn’t have time to protest. In seconds he had her up the hill and into the passenger seat, her loosened shoe slipping off her foot in the process. His arms felt strong, his body capable. Before she could say thank-you, he had turned away to retrieve her shoe.
He handed it to her. “Cinderella.”
“I’m not a princess,” she muttered.
“You said that years ago, with that same jut of your chin.” His smile was kind and caused a swarm of butterflies to flutter in her stomach.
“In the hardware store.”
“Why were you working there? Aren’t you a cowboy with a ranch or something?” She’d always wondered that. He had obviously been a cowboy, and still was.
“I am,” he admitted. “My dad insisted we all experience life off of the ranch, as well as learn to work for someone who wasn’t family. I think it was meant to make us appreciate the ranch more.”
“Did it work?”
“He scored forty.”
“What does that mean?”
“Forty percent. Two of his five sons stayed on the ranch.”
The skin around his mouth pinched. There was a story there, and a part of her hoped she stayed in Sweetheart Creek long enough to find out what it was.
* * *
Will Laura discover Levi’s secrets, and will they help each other find their way into a brighter future… one with love? Click your favourite store below to read THE COWBOY’S STOLEN HEART now!
ebook price $3.99
(Links coming soon for B&N and Google!)
paperback price $10.99
(Paperback available November 12, 2020.)
Copyright 2020 Jean Oram