I’m a soldier.A cattle rancher.A Hayden.My family’s legacy is spread out in front of me, just waiting for me to seize it. If it weren’t for one outdated rule, I’d be the owner of the Hayden Cattle Company and my aging father could retire.When Dakota Wright shows up to buy and develop twenty acres of Hayden land, I see more than a pretty mouth and strawberry blonde hair. I see a way around the decree keeping me from getting what I want.And, as luck would have it, Dakota has a big problem of her own. We strike two deals: one for the land, and a second that’ll make both our problems a distant memory.It isn’t too long before I realize I’m in over my head. I’ve convinced myself the ends should justify the means, but everything begins to fall apart when my birthright is no longer all that I’m after.I never thought there’d be anything I could love more than my ranch and my country. I was wrong.Turns out, I want it all.Including her.
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She’s late. Dakota was supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago and I feel like a dumbass for being so keenly aware of that. Watching the clock like a whipped schoolboy. Pathetic. I walk away from the window that faces the road, and go to the kitchen to rinse out my coffee cup and set it on the drying rack. Somewhere in the distance, a car door slams shut. Before I open the front door, I’m careful to rearrange my features. Cool indifference is what I’m going for, maybe with a side of I forgot you and everything about that night.I pull open the door just in time to watch Dakota falter on the second step. She regains her footing and keeps going. When she notices me standing in the open door, she stops short, her eyes wide, and she sucks her bottom lip between her teeth. Jesus… this girl. How am I going to spend a morning with her in my truck? From three feet away I can smell her sweet, mouthwatering scent, the same one I couldn’t define that night at the lake and don’t have a prayer of defining now. Her jeans are so tight she might as well have them painted on, and they’re tucked into cowboy boots. I draw in a shaky breath, but it doesn’t quite fill my lungs. “You’re late,” I say, and it sounds angry even though I don’t mean it to be. I don’t like the way she puts me off-kilter. “My apologies,” she says tartly, in a way that conveys she isn’t sorry in the least. A throat clears and we both follow the noise with our eyes. Gramps sits in a chair, watching us. I must not have noticed him when I was looking out the window. I was too busy watching for Dakota. He stares at me, waiting for me to introduce him. “Dakota, this is Leroy Hayden, my grandpa. Gramps, this is Dakota.” Dakota walks over and shakes his hand. “It’s nice to meet you,” she tells him, smiling down at him. I can already tell he is dazzled by her. “You can just call me Gramps. Are you a friend of Wes’s?” The excitement in his voice at me possibly having a friend is mortifying. “Uh, no.” Dakota shakes her head. “I’m here on business.” Gramps turns a confused look to me. “We need to get going, Gramps, but Dad is inside. He can explain the business that Dakota is here for.” To Dakota, I say, “Ready?” “It was nice to meet you, Gramps.” She winks at him and turns, going back down the steps. For a moment I’m frozen, struck dumb by the sway of her hips and remembering the night she was swinging them on the dance floor. I hurry after her. “This way,” I tell her, chucking my chin sideways toward the side of the house where I park my truck. She keeps three feet between us as we walk, and I can feel her silent questions coming at me through the separation.
Jennifer Millikin is a contemporary romance and women’s fiction author. She lives in the Arizona desert with her husband, two children, and Liberty, her Lab who thinks she’s human. Jennifer craves vegetables and refuses to apologize for it, can probably beat you in Spot It, and believes chips and salsa should be a food group.