Excerpt: A Real Cowboy Loves Forever

Excerpt: A Real Cowboy Loves Forever

Book 5: Wyoming Rebels

Something deep inside Hannah tugged at her, a yearning to accept Lissa’s offer to crash at her house for the night. The thought of being surrounded by people who would protect her, whose natural instinct was to offer help, was almost too much to even imagine. But as strong as the yearning was to accept it, Hannah knew she never would.

She had learned too long ago that the only person she could count on was herself. Well, also Katie, but her beloved sister was no longer around, and their mother had long ago passed away.

It was up to Hannah to take care of herself and her daughter, and she wouldn’t know how to put their well-being in the hands of others, even if she had to. So she managed a smile and shook her head. “Thank you so much for the offer, Lissa, but we’ll be fine. If you could just write down directions to my new rental place, I’ll be all set.”

Lissa folded her arms across her chest, her forehead furrowing into a frown. “I really don’t think you should go up there tonight, with the approaching blizzard. You don’t even know if the electricity will be turned on! Plus, I don’t know how to give directions. It’s a bunch of back roads with no street signs. You’ll never find it.”

Hannah’s resolution flickered. “You can’t tell me how to get there?”

Lissa shook her head. “I’d have to drive you there. It’s impossible to describe.”

Hannah thought of the storm outside, and knew she would never ask Lissa to drive in it just for her. What was she going to do? She couldn’t go home with this stranger who’d so kindly opened her house to her and Ava, but there was no way she was going to risk getting lost in an approaching blizzard with a four-year-old in the back seat. Desperation rushed through Hannah as she frantically tried to think of another solution, something other than imposing upon Lissa. “What if—”

Lissa’s gaze suddenly flicked behind Hannah, and a smile lit up her face. It was a smile of such joy that Hannah knew Lissa had just seen someone she loved, someone who mattered to her. For a split second, envy flooded Hannah, a deep, almost unbearable sense of longing to have someone look at her like that, or to feel that way about anyone…but as soon as she thought it, she sat up taller on the stool.

No. There was no room in her life to put her self-worth into the hands of someone else’s approval. She would provide all the love that she and Ava needed. Her heart had already been broken by the passing of her mom and Katie, and she had no more heart left to risk by turning it over to anyone else.

Lissa beamed at Hannah. “Perfect timing, it seems to me, don’t you think?”

“Perfect timing?” At Lissa’s delighted nod, Hannah swiveled on her stool to see who was coming in. She turned just as a shadow passed by the front window, and the door opened. There was a jingle of the bells, and then a man in a cowboy hat stepped inside.

No. She was wrong. He wasn’t simply a man. He was a rough and rugged cowboy, a dark, brooding loner with insanely broad shoulders, dark blond hair curling under his snow-covered cowboy hat, and blue jeans that hung low and loose over his hips. His jaw was angular, accented by a day’s whiskers, and he was at least six feet tall. He was pure male and testosterone, dangerous and devastatingly handsome, in a stay-away tormented-male kind of way. He was scowling, looking so irritated with the world that her heart turned over, because she knew the world that he was seeing. That was what she saw as well, when she looked around: darkness, danger, and isolation.

“Maddox!” Lissa called out his name, the happiness evident in her voice.

Maddox flashed her smile, the kind of smile that made Hannah’s heart tighten, because it was the kind of smile she also gave most of the world. A smile that was in name only, hiding all the weight inside her soul. It was a smile that said his heart had long ago forgotten how to smile. “Hey, Lissa,” he said. “How’s my favorite future sister-in-law?”

Hannah didn’t even hear Lissa’s response. She was too consumed by Maddox and the sheer power that seemed to be emanating from him. His voice was deep and rough, rolling through Hannah like a warm caress designed to smooth all the rough edges of her heart, and lighten the deepest shadows of her soul. Even Ava shifted in Hannah’s arms, lifting her head to look at him.

As if sensing their perusal, Maddox slowly turned his head to look at them. The moment his emerald green eyes settled on her, Hannah’s stomach shivered, not with fear, but with something else. Awareness? A spark of life? A sudden desire to take a deep breath and step out into the sunshine?

She didn’t want this. She didn’t want to notice him, or any other man. She just wanted to get to her new home and start her life over, a life where there was no more pain.

But, as Maddox stared at her, something inside her shifted. Unbidden, almost against her will, she smiled at him. She didn’t mean to. She didn’t want to. But there was something about the heavy burdens in his green eyes that made her want to reach out to him, to offer him the kind of light that Katie used to give anyone she met.

For a long moment, he simply stared at her. Not smiling back. Not giving any kind of indication hat he’d even noticed her overture.

As he stared at her, Hannah’s smile began to fade. Who was she kidding? It was Katie who had always known how to help people, not her. And why would she think she could offer relief to this tall, broad-shouldered man who could clearly take care of himself?

But just as she began to lower her eyes and turn away, he nodded at her. A single nod, so slight it was barely discernible, but she saw it. Instinctively, she knew that that little nod had been far more significant than any smile he would have given her.

A smile would have been fake.

The nod?

It had been real.

She smiled then, a real smile, her first real smile in months.

 

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