Marriage at the Cowboy's Command(3)

By: Ann Major

Lisa, her best friend and owner of the neighboring ranch, had sounded so desperate. “You know bees stung Ramblin’ Man in his trailer last week, and he hasn’t been himself. I have to move him to Mom’s stud barn to cover a couple of mares, but he simply will not load. I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?”

“Only if you can ride him over here, and get someone to drive the trailer to my round pen,” Caitlyn had said. “Daniel’s ridden off somewhere with Manuel, and I’ve got an important business meeting in a couple of hours with Mr. Bin Najjar’s son.”

“Oh, right—about your mortgage.”

“Bin Najjar’s driver just phoned and said they’re on their way from the airport. So, I’m stuck here.”

“Oh. Okay. I guess I can make that work.”

So now, instead of going over her accounts, preparing for her meeting or bothering with lipstick, Caitlyn was standing in Ramblin’ Man’s shadowy horse trailer, holding a lead rope attached to the stallion’s halter. Wild-eyed Ramblin’ Man had only put a single hoof in the trailer and was staring at her as if she were a giant.

“It’s okay, baby. Nothing to be scared of,” Caitlyn said gently. Snapping the lead line, she backed Ramblin’ Man out of the trailer before he grew more alarmed. “You were so brave to put a foot into the trailer.”

When she gave the command to retreat, a relieved Ramblin’ Man jerked backward and raced away. Caitlyn jumped out of the trailer and watched him run. She’d bring him back in a minute or two. He needed to build up his courage to work on what they’d already accomplished.

“Caitlyn!” Lisa squealed from the far side of the round pen. “Why didn’t you tell me Luke Kilgore was your mysterious appointment?”

Caitlyn recoiled, the name of her former lover slicing her heart like a knife.

Luke? Luke, who’d left her pregnant at twenty-one?

No… Why would he show up today, of all days?

She jerked her head around and saw the tall, dark man in the flawlessly cut business suit lounging against the rail beside Lisa. The sight of him looking so virile and smolderingly masculine made her mouth go dry. Once, she had longed for Luke’s return, dreamed of it. But now her dream felt like a nightmare!

Those gorgeous green eyes, the high forehead, the chiseled cheek and jaw, that classically straight nose and those mocking, sensual lips that had once kissed every inch of her body—they could belong to no one but Luke. The shock of recognition made her shiver with torrid memories.

He was as handsome as ever, but this elegantly dressed man couldn’t possibly be the same bitterly ambitious cowboy she’d loved. “What are you doing here?” she demanded.

“My driver said he called and confirmed. You and I have an appointment.”

“You’re Raffi Bin Najjar?”

He nodded. “I’ve been known to answer to that.”

“What kind of man changes his name?”

“I have two names. The one I was born with and the one Hassan gave me when he asked me to be his honorary son. Hassan prefers to call me Raffi. So I let him. One of my weaknesses is indulging those I love.”

“You’re too old to be adopted,” she said, lashing out with her words.

“Who said anything about adoption?” His lips smiled, but his eyes didn’t. Obviously, he was a man of the world now.

“What exactly does it mean, then, to be an honorary son?”

“Ask Hassan. He probably made it up. Hell, for all I know I’m the only honorary son in the world.” He moved away from the rail. “Sorry my showing up here is such a shock,” he said.

“No, you aren’t. You deliberately tricked me!”

“Think what you like.”

“I don’t like anything about this situation!”

“Maybe neither the hell do I.”

Still, despite her fear and the nameless dark emotions engulfing her, his taunting, all-too-familiar, husky voice drew her, just like it had that first day when he’d stood on her porch asking if he could see her daddy because he’d needed a job and nobody else in the county would even talk to Bubba Kilgore’s son. She’d been a teenager and highly susceptible to the lure of the forbidden. Her crush had lasted several years—right up until he’d gotten her pregnant and left the county for good.

Well, at twenty-six, knowing what he was and what he’d done, she should be immune to his charms.

Right. If she was so grown-up and mature, why had the pace of her heart accelerated?

Her gaze darted past him to the house. Where was Daniel? She hoped, prayed he’d stay out of sight until she got rid of Luke.