- Available in: Ebook, Paperback
- Published: February 6, 2013
Circle Eight Book 3
A Texas Ranger, a lady blacksmith, a fierce passion, a dangerous game.
Caleb Graham has spent the last four years in too many dangerous situations to count. As a Texas Ranger, he knows no fear, or at least he never shows it. When he’s sent to force a blacksmith off government seized property, he runs face to face into the woman who will change his life.
Aurora Foster grew up on the very land the obnoxious Ranger is trying to throw her off of. Her parents and her husband died for it and there is no chance she would leave without a fight. A lady blacksmith might be an anomaly but she has the strength of the steel she forges and the courage to fight for what she believes is right.
When Aurora is inadvertently injured by Caleb, he seeks medical help from a neighboring ranch. The sprawling hacienda is full of the finer things in life and the one person Caleb never expected to see again… his youngest brother Benjamin. Forced to flee from a man who has kept the boy captive, the trio become traveling companions in a deadly game where no one wins.
Life turns upside down and sideways for Caleb and Aurora, caught in a game neither of them expected while they desperately try to save the boy who was lost to his family. Pursued and hunted, the three of them ride for the Circle Eight ranch. The unlikely pair of rescuers fight their attraction and for their lives.
“I’ve got work to do.” She walked passed him, ignoring the scent of man that wafted past her nose.
“Work? You’re going to work?” His dark brown eyes widened as though he was surprised. The man had ridiculously long lashes for a man. She wondered if he’d been teased about it.
“Yes, I have orders to fill. I work for a living.” She stirred the embers with a poker.
“What am I supposed to do while you work?” He leaned against the post in the center of the building.
“You can stand there and play with your gun if you like. I don’t give a damn.” The coals sparked and glowed. She added a bit more coal from the bucket on the floor, then stirred them into the forge, like mixing a stew.
“You curse too? Ain’t you a unique woman?” He watched her, which made her itch.
“I’d like to think so.” She worked the bellows, raising the temperature of the forge slowly and steadily. To her consternation, the ranger watched her.
“Nothing you do will change my mind.” He crossed his arms, emphasizing the broadness of his chest and shoulders. Damn the man.
“Nothing you do will change my mind,” she threw back at him. “I was born here, Ranger, and I plan on dying here. How about you? Don’t you have a home you love?”
He seemed startled by her question. Good. She at least put him off center once, which meant she could do it again.
“My home is none of your business, Mrs. Foster.” He got his back up with that question. Curiosity told her to keep poking.
“Sounds like you have your own business to attend to. Why are you bothering me when your own home needs you?” She didn’t even hear him move but suddenly he was beside her, nearly nose to nose.
“I am losing patience with you, ma’am. If you keep pushing, you’re liable to end up belly down on the back of my horse.” He sounded cold and furious, but completely in control. It frightened her, much as she wouldn’t admit it to him.
“Dead or trussed up like a turkey?” she snapped.
“That’s your choice. As long as you leave this property, I don’t rightly care.”
Red rage ripped through her and her temper finally grabbed hold of her.
“You son of a bitch! What right do you have to come in here and intimidate me? None!” She pushed him, catching him off guard so she was able to move him back a few inches. He was built like a brick wall, though, and she wouldn’t be able to do it again. “Does your mother know you ride around pushing women out of their homes and call it your duty?”
He swallowed. “My mother’s dead.”
“Mine is dead too and this is all I have of her and my father. Do you know what it’s like to lose both your parents in an instant? To have nothing but the dirt under your feet to call your own?” Her throat was tight with emotion and she knew her face was redder than a beet.
“Yes, I do,” he said quietly. “I do.”
His honesty deflated her anger in a flash. She hadn’t expected that from him.
“My parents died in a fire.” She could still taste the bile that coated her mouth when she found out they were dead. “I never got to bury anything but ashes. I have nothing but this. And you’re here to take it away from me.”
He looked as though he was going to say something but changed his mind then leaned back against the post, crossing his ankles.
“I won’t leave.” She turned her back on him and focused on her work. The tools wouldn’t make themselves and Pablo Garza didn’t forgive lateness. She’d lost money from him before when Horatio ruined one of the yokes she’d made and the new one was two days late. Garza was a jackass but he had money to spend.
For a few blessed minutes, she forgot about the ranger and focused on her work. The forge heated quickly, calming her frayed nerves a bit. She turned to pick up her tongs when a pair of long legs reminded her she wasn’t alone.
“You know what you’re doing with that thing,” he observed.
“I hope so. I’ve been using it since I was seven.” She picked up the tongs, annoyed to see her hand shaking. It had to be from anger because she sure as hell wasn’t afraid of this man.
“Seven? Isn’t that dangerous for a little girl?”
Rory snapped the tongs together in front of his face. “As opposed to not dangerous for a little boy?”
“That’s not what I said.” He uncrossed his legs, then recrossed them, calm as could be. “It would be dangerous for any child to be around a fire that hot, or all these tools.”
“My father was a master blacksmith. He never put me in danger.” She was annoyed all over again at his insinuation her father was not a good parent. “What he did was teach me a craft, turn me into an artisan by the time I was sixteen.”
“Artisan? Big word.”
She scowled at him. “I’m a big girl. Now if you don’t mind, I have work to do. I gotta get these tools done no matter what orders you have stuffed up your ass.”
To her surprise, he laughed, a gut-buster that echoed through the small building. She frowned. Why would he laugh when she was deliberately disrespectful?
“Are you touched in the head or something?”
He laughed again and smiled. Oh, that was a sight that stopped her cold. The man was perfectly devastating when he grinned. He was a right beautiful specimen of the male creature. She wasn’t immune to a good-looking man but neither should she be noticing the ranger’s handsome visage.
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t laugh at me.” She pumped the bellows and tried not to look at him again.
“I wasn’t laughing at you. You remind me of my sister.”
Rory reared back as if he’d slapped her in the face. His sister? She reminded him of his sister. No need to be acting foolish around him because he was handsome enough to make her eyes hurt. No need at all.
“You’d throw your sister off her land, take away her livelihood?” Might as well throw back his own arrogance at him.
“Yep. I would. She’s a pain-in-the-ass bossy woman who knows everything. Her husband is the only one who can control her.” The ranger shook his head. “Bossy women have always been a problem for me.”
“How sad for you.” She pumped the bellows again, keeping her focus on the fire, watching for the perfect shade of white to put the iron in the forge.
He chuckled. “You know, I thought Rory Foster was a man. Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be a she.”
His story kept getting better. Now she was like a manly, bossy woman who reminded him of his sister. She had no reason to be self-conscious.
“Sorry to disappoint you, Ranger. You can go back to your boss and tell him you couldn’t find the man you were sent for.” She plunged the iron into the forge and concentrated on creating the tool, not on the man standing four feet away.
He watched in silence but he watched. She had an itch she couldn’t scratch because of it. The best thing she could do was show him what this meant to her. So that’s what she did.