A dashing cowboy gets his second chance at romance in A Cowboy Kind Of Love, the next book in the Heart of Texas series by New York Times bestselling author Donna Grant.
Who wants to rodeo again?
Jace Wilder has been rebuilding his life since the love of his life, Taryn, up and left town unexpectedly. But when she mysteriously returns, Jace's dependable world comes crashing down. Taryn is hiding a dangerous secret, and no matter how hard he tries, Jace can't stay away—especially when Taryn is at risk. And especially when the attraction he thought he'd buried long ago is back and hotter than ever. Will he be able to trust Taryn again?
Taryn Hillman's world fell apart one horrifying night, and it's never been the same since. When she sees a small chance at untangling herself, she takes it, though it means returning to Clearview—and seeing Jace again. But when he vows to protect her, will Taryn take a chance, and this time, never let him go?
Contains mature themes.
Release date: April 27, 2021
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 320
Reader says this book is...: emotionally riveting (1) entertaining story (2) happily ever after (1) realistic characters (1) rich setting(s) (1) sex scenes (1) strong chemistry (1) suspenseful (1) action-packed (1)
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A Cowboy Kind of Love
“Stay right here,” Police Chief Ryan Wells commanded.
Jace chuckled at his friend.
“I’m not joking, Jace. Stay put. I’m not picking your ass up off the ground, and you can’t walk for shit right now.”
Jace couldn’t keep the smile from his face. It had been quite a while since anyone had spoken to him like he was a five-year- old. He blinked and tilted back his head to look at the stars above him. For a heartbeat, the sky spun out of control, but it eventually righted itself.
He didn’t know what Ryan was doing in the truck. Jace heard the stray cat he’d been feeding for a few months now meow and looked toward the sound. The black and white feline stood by the front door, staring at him. It wasn’t a long walk from where Jace had propped himself against Ryan’s truck. He could make it.
Jace pushed away from the vehicle and took a tentative step. He didn’t fall or even wobble, which meant that Ryan didn’t know what he was talking about. Jace took another few steps while remaining on his feet. With a smile on his face, he proudly walked along the curving path to his door as the cat turned in a circle, waiting for him. Only when Jace decided to bend down to pet the cat did he get dizzy.
“That wasn’t a good idea,” he mumbled to himself.
Jace used the doorframe to straighten and took a couple of deep breaths. He twisted the knob, and the door opened easily. Had Ryan already opened it? Jace decided that he didn’t care. He wanted inside.
It had been a few months since he had gotten this drunk. Sometimes, the only way to dull the pain that the past continued to throw at him was to become so numb that he couldn’t feel anything. Alcohol was just the fix he needed when things got to be too much.
And today had been one of those days.
“Dammit,” Ryan grumbled. “Where are the keys?”
Jace didn’t bother looking behind him. He entered his house, stumbling slightly over the front step. Thankfully, he still had a hand on the door. He released the panel and careened into the table his mother had insisted he needed against the wall. Jace then grabbed hold of the wall and watched the table— as well as the lamp—wobble before settling back in place, thankfully without falling. He was grateful because he didn’t want to explain to anyone why the table was broken.
With that taken care of, Jace tried to swallow, only to find his mouth dry. He wanted water. He turned his head to look across the foyer to where it intersected with the kitchen. It seemed so far away, but he was thirsty. Jace decided to try and make it, but things spun again when he let go of the wall. That’s when he realized that the water wasn’t worth the hassle of falling—and proving Ryan right.
Instead, Jace turned to the living area that was much closer. He frowned, wondering why the kitchen light was on and shining into the room. He must have forgotten to turn it off. Suddenly, his feet were too heavy to lift. And nothing sounded as good as sleep.
He blinked and tried to focus, but everything was blurry and getting worse by the second. Something moved in the shadows, drawing his attention. His dulled senses still warned him to be wary. Jace tried to make his brain sort through what was happening. As if conjured from his mind, Taryn materialized from the shadows. His heart skipped a beat. It always did when she visited him in his dreams. No matter how much she had hurt him, he couldn’t stop loving her.
In an effort to bring her into focus, Jace blinked once more. And just like that, the vision disappeared. The pain that lanced through him made him rub his chest as his heart broke all over again. Would he ever stop pining for her? When would he be able to let go of his love for her and move on? Everyone kept telling him that he’d be over her someday, but it had been years, and he loved her still.
He swallowed past the lump in his throat. Despite the amount of alcohol he had consumed, the pain and emptiness he tried to bury rose to swallow him. He knew firsthand there were no guarantees in life, but he’d thought he had found the love of his life with Taryn.
“Jace?” Ryan said from behind him.
Jace reached out his hand, wishing and hoping he could touch Taryn. His eyes filled with tears as he realized that he couldn’t will her image to return, just as he hadn’t been able to make her love him. Jace felt himself pitching forward. Ryan called out his name seconds before Jace slammed into the floor.
He groaned, his head pounding from hitting the hard wood. Ryan rushed to him. Jace closed his eyes, seeking the comfort of sleep where he knew he would find her and the love they’d once shared.
Jace tried to hold back the bellow of agony as the guards beat him with their hands and wooden batons. He was strapped to a chair, unable to twist away or defend himself—or land a punch of his own.
Between the beatings and the lack of food and water, Jace knew he would likely die in this godforsaken hellhole. It was one thing to die where his family could learn what’d happened to him and possibly have his body returned. It was an entirely different matter with prisoners of war. His family might never know that he was no longer alive. His mom would hold out hope of his return until the day she died. He didn’t want to hurt his mother like that. She deserved better.
He opened his eyes at the sound of the soft voice he knew all too well and looked past the guards with their gleeful smiles to Taryn’s beautiful form. The prison was dirty and dank, infested with rodents and the stench of death so powerful it was difficult to remember a time when he had inhaled fresh air. Yet Taryn’s skin and clothes were spotless, as if the grime knew better than to get near her.
She wore a cream-colored shirt that made her skin glisten. Her deep brown hair that bordered on black brushed her shoulders in soft waves. A full skirt in the same cream as her shirt swirled around her bare feet. He sighed when he realized that he could see through the thin fabric.
Her lips curled into a soft smile as she held out her hand. “Come with me. You don’t have to stay here.”
He desperately wanted to go, but he was bound. Still, he pulled at the ropes. To his shock, they loosened, and he was able to get to his feet. He waited for the guards to come at him and force him back down, but they let him pass without any struggle.
Jace swung his head back to Taryn to find her waiting for him. He hurried to her, reaching for her hand. Just as he was about to take it, he held back when he saw his fingers. He was filthy. He didn’t want to get any of the grime on her.
She laughed and grabbed his hand. “I’ve been waiting all day to go for a ride. Are you going to make me beg?”
He had never been able to refuse her anything she wanted. “No,” he said, shaking his head.
Jace wrapped his fingers around her hand. The moment he did, the prison and the hell that he had endured as a POW faded away, replaced by the beautiful wide-open spaces of his family’s ranch. When he looked down, he saw he was in clean clothes, his many and various injuries now healed. The sound of Taryn’s laughter brought his head up. She was already on the chestnut mare, looking back at him from beneath the cowboy hat atop her black hair, now in its natural state of curls. She wore jeans and a red plaid shirt that was his favorite.
“I’ll race you!” she shouted before nudging the horse into a run.
There was a smile on his face as he mounted his gelding and raced after her. She stayed ahead of him for some time, but the gelding eventually caught up. They both pulled back on the reins and drew the horses into a canter as they rode side by side to the river. Jace raised his face to the sun, grateful to have clean air in his lungs once more.
The sound of a splash caught his attention. Taryn had shed her clothes and dove into the river. Her inviting smile had him quickly joining her. Once in the water, he pulled her against him and took her lips in a languid kiss. He couldn’t get enough of her.
As the kiss deepened, he could feel Taryn pulling away. He leaned back to see what was wrong. Something had cut a slice in the sky above them, reaching out to wrap a hand around Taryn to yank her out of his arms.
“Jaaaaaaaace!!” she screamed, her face filled with terror.
He tried to hold onto her with everything he had, but she slipped from his fingers. He was instantly plunged into darkness, pulled back into the pit of Hell with his captors. Jace wasn’t prepared for the fist to his ribs that knocked the breath from him.
Jace came awake suddenly from the nightmare. He took a few moments to make sure the dream had faded away enough that he wouldn’t get dragged back into those memories. It had taken him a long time to pull himself from those. Thankfully, they only bothered him occasionally now, which was much better than when he had first been rescued, and the nightmares plagued him every time he closed his eyes.
With his head feeling as if an entire football team took turns kicking him, he saw the bright light from the window from behind his closed lids. His mouth felt like cotton. He tried to swallow and realized that he was lying face down on the sofa. That’s when he heard a jingle on repeat.
He cracked open one eye to find his best friend, Cooper Owens, sitting in a chair opposite him, playing the stupid game on his phone that drove Jace bananas simply because Cooper always had to leave the music on. Because it annoyed Jace.
“Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty,” Cooper said without looking away from the screen.
Jace shut his eye and wished he could go back to sleep. But first, he needed to stop the pounding in his head. He used his arms to push himself up. The effort that took told him that he had imbibed a little too much the night before. The problem was that it took more and more each time he needed to numb himself from the pain.
“What are you doing here?” he asked as he rolled onto his side.
Cooper didn’t immediately answer until he had won his level. Then, he lowered the phone and looked at Jace. “Ryan. He didn’t think you should be left alone. He got called to an emergency, so he phoned me.”
“Stop giving me that holier-than- thou look,” Jace grumbled. “I seem to recall babysitting you when you got drunk.” Cooper scratched his neck. “Yep. You sure have. But this is your second time this week.”
“No, it isn’t,” Jace said. But the minute the words were out of his mouth, he knew that his friend was right.
Cooper leaned forward and put his phone on the coffee table between them. “I’d just crawled into bed with Marlee when Ryan called.”
It went unsaid that both Cooper and Marlee were irritated with Jace. Not that he blamed them. He would feel the same in their shoes. Jace managed to shift so he was sitting on the couch. That’s when he looked down and found himself in nothing but his boxer briefs.
“You can thank Ryan for that,” Cooper said, not bothering to hide his smile. “Apparently, you were adamant about getting naked. He somehow managed to make you keep your briefs on, though I’m not sure I want to know how.” The smile died as he licked his lips. “You’re spiraling out of control.”
Jace ran a hand down his face and closed his eyes. The phrase rode hard and put up wet didn’t even come close to describing how poorly he felt. That in itself should have been enough to make sure he didn’t drink that much again for some time. But he knew it wouldn’t.
“Jace?” Cooper said.
He looked at his best friend, noting the seriousness on Cooper’s face. “I know.”
“Do you? Because you’re worrying the hell out of me. We’ve been down this road before.”
Thankfully, Cooper didn’t say her name. Jace never said it either— except in his dreams. He leaned forward and propped his elbows on his thighs as he dropped his face into his hands. “Fuck.”
The chair creaked as Cooper rose. Jace heard him go into the kitchen. A moment later, Cooper returned and set something on the table. “Hair of the dog.”
Jace immediately reached for the shot of tequila and drank it. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and set the glass back on the coffee table. The shot helped a little, but only time—as well as some water and food—would mend what the alcohol had done. “Thanks.”
Cooper sat back down and released a sigh. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Nope.” The last thing Jace wanted to do was rehash what had happened the day before that’d sent him straight to the bottle. After all these years, he should be over her. Why couldn’t his heart let her go? Why couldn’t he find someone new? His three friends had. Was he destined to spend his life alone?
Maybe that was it. Perhaps he’d had his shot with her and had done something to screw it up, which then caused her to leave. He’d never know since she hadn’t said anything to him. He’d simply gone to her house one morning, and she was gone. No trace left behind. Not even his friends in law enforcement could find her.
“Maybe you need to go back to your therapist,” Cooper offered. “He did wonders to help you get past everything that happened when you were a POW.”
Jace shot him a smile and said, “You sound like my mom.”
Cooper didn’t respond to the jest. “Because we’re worried.”
“I know,” he said and got to his feet. He moved too quickly, and the room spun. Jace fell back onto the sofa and dropped his head onto the cushion. “How many more times do I have to say that I’m all right before y’all start believing me?”
“I think you’ve reached the limit.” Jace twisted his lips as he stared at the ceiling. “Yeah. You’re probably right.”
“You aren’t alone in this.”
But he was. Jace didn’t argue with Cooper because he knew what his friend meant. However, Cooper, Brice, and Caleb all had women of their own now. Brice was a father, as well. Their families came before anything else.
Jace lifted his head and met Cooper’s forest green eyes. “Go home to Marlee and have breakfast with her.”
“It’s nearly one in the afternoon.” Jace shrugged.
“Then have lunch.” “She’s with her parents. You and I are going to grab some food. Take a shower. You need it.”
Jace made a face but got up—slower this time—and headed to his room. Once in the shower, he stood beneath the spray for a long time before starting to wash. As he did, his mind drifted. He recalled coming home the night before and thinking he saw Taryn. She had looked so real, but he knew that wasn’t the case. Jace tried to put it out of his mind as he finished bathing and dried off.
He raked his hands through his hair and opted not to shave since the last thing he needed was to put a razor in a hand that still shook from the effects of the alcohol. He found some clothes and dressed before walking from his room to find Cooper returning from feeding the cat on the back porch.
“You look better,” Cooper said.
Jace shrugged. “Showers can do wonders.”
“How’s the head?”
“Your truck is at the bar. I’ll drop you by after you’ve gotten some food. You always feel better after you eat,” Cooper said.
Jace couldn’t argue with him. After putting on his cowboy hat and grabbing some sunglasses, the two of them walked from the house and were immediately blasted by the Texas heat.
“It’s going to be a scorcher of a summer,” Cooper said when Jace made a sound. “Especially if it’s this hot in June.”
Jace put on his sunglasses as he hurried to the truck. Cooper’s chuckle didn’t help matters. The bright sun after a night of hard drinking was always difficult to bear. A comfortable silence fell between them as Cooper drove to one of their favorite places to eat. They didn’t speak until they were inside the restaurant and greeted by the employees who knew them both by name.
In minutes, they were in their preferred booth at the back, their hats hanging on hooks on the wall. After they ordered, Cooper put his arms on the table. He looked Jace square in the eyes and said, “What happened yesterday?”
He shot Jace a dry look. “I know it wasn’t the date she left.”
Jace sighed loudly. “If you must know, it was the anniversary of the first time I saw her.”
“You keep up with that?” Cooper asked incredulously. “I can’t remember when I first met Marlee.”
“Bullshit. You can try that on anyone else. Not me.”
Cooper’s face broke into a grin. “All right. You’ve got me. I do know. But only because it wasn’t that long ago.”
“Trust me. If Marlee left, you’d remember all sorts of dates. The day you first saw her, the day you asked her out, the day you first kissed, the day you first told her you loved her.”
“And the day she left,” Cooper replied in a soft voice.
Without bothering to answer, Jace looked out the window to the parking lot. The pain had been unbearable yesterday, and it wasn’t much better today. Especially not after the dream he’d had about her. That day with the ride out to the river had been a perfect one. The weather had been temperate, the sky the brightest blue he’d ever seen, and the river slow. They had made love in the water before basking beneath the sun on a blanket. Then they had ridden around the property, stopping to walk, talk, kiss and make love again.
Every day with Taryn had been special.
“It’s been almost five years. We may not be blood, but you’re my brother in any way I look at it. I know you loved her, but it’s time to let her go. It’s time to move on.”
Jace jerked his head back to Cooper. “Don’t you think I’ve tried?”
“I don’t think you’ve tried hard enough,” Cooper replied, though there was no heat in his words. “I think you’re holding on because you believe she was your one and only chance.”
“Maybe she was.”
Cooper rolled his eyes and sat back. “Now I’m the one calling bullshit. If you really wanted to move on, you could.”
“Some people don’t.”
“After everything you survived while in the military—”
Jace glared at him. “Don’t finish that sentence.”
“Fair enough,” Cooper said as he raised his hands in defeat.
Jace shook his head, angry at himself for getting so riled up at his friend voicing the very things he told himself. “I’m sorry.”
“No, you’re right. I shouldn’t have gone there,” Cooper said.
“You’re my friend, my brother. You’ve never hesitated to tell me the harsh reality, just as I never spared you. I shouldn’t ask you to do it now.”
Cooper put his hands in his lap. “You’re one of the best men I know. You’ve been through hell and back. And despite it all, you smile. If anyone deserves to find happiness, it’s you. I want you to know that. Just because she gave up on you doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out there who won’t. Someone whose family accepts you and welcomes you into their lives. Someone who won’t keep things from you or run off in the middle of the night.”
“There are things we probably don’t know.”
Jace narrowed his eyes at Cooper. Something in his friend’s voice caused Jace to be wary. “What does that mean?”
“Nothing,” Cooper said with a shrug. “I’m agreeing with you.”
“No, you know something.” Cooper spread his arms. “I don’t.”
“You contacted Cash, didn’t you?” Jace stated.
Cooper dropped his chin to his chest and blew out a breath. After a moment, he looked at Jace. “I did.”
Cooper briefly lowered his gaze to the table. “A couple of months ago.”
“Cash was having problems locating her. And when Marlee found out that I hired Cash, she chewed my ass real good for butting my nose into your business. She said that if you wanted to hire someone, you could have. I realized she was right, and I told Cash to stop looking for her.”
“Good.” But the more Jace thought about it, the more he considered hiring Cash himself. He needed answers about why Taryn had left. Cash could give that to him.
If he dared to look.
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