love, and salvation ignite!
“Samantha?” His rough, gravelly voice was familiar, too, and it had the hairs on the back of her arms tingling.
She squinted against the glare of the sun, trying to discern his features. “Yes? Can I help you?”
The stranger bent slightly and set his case on the ground. “Only if you remember how to do senior algebra.”
She stumbled to a stop, sucking in a breath. “Cord?”
“Cord Carter.” Oh my God. Stop saying his name. Now.
He stepped fully into the barn and his lips split into a huge, devastating grin. “The one and only.”
She drank in the sight of him like a woman dying of thirst. His shocking red hair had darkened to a deep auburn and the five o’clock shadow of a beard on his razor-sharp jaw was even darker. He wore a plain gray T-shirt and baggy sweatpants, a simple outfit that somehow managed to show off his impossibly broad chest paired with an equally impressive V-shaped waist.
She swallowed, attempting to get some moisture back into her suddenly dry mouth. “What are you doing here?”
“I work with Fury Security. What are you doing here?” He crossed his arms and arched his eyebrow. “Last I remember, the only thing you wanted to do was bury your nose in a book. You used to hate the outdoors.”
Heat blossomed in her cheeks at the reminder of her less than popular and outgoing personality in high school. “People change.”
His eyes slowly swept her from the top of her head to the toes of her mud-caked boots. “They sure do.”
Her stomach fluttered, her pulse kicking into high gear. She’d been head over heels in love with him in high school, but he’d relegated her to the friend zone. She’d accepted her place like she’d accepted she’d never have a man like him. Still wouldn’t. But damned if her libido didn’t poke its head up out of the sand and take note of his muscles.
Trying to get her frayed nerves under control, she cleared her throat, “When did you get out of the military? I thought Fury Security was a private firm.”
Cord’s cocky grin faded slightly. “Less than a year ago.”
“Oh,” she said in response, feeling completely tongue-tied. He always managed to do this to her.
“How’d you end up buying a ranch in Texas?”
“I didn’t buy it,” she said.
He stood silently, waiting on her to finish her sentence. She managed to shift her gaze from his chiseled body to his eyes, but that was a mistake. There were so many different facets to them. Dark green and light flecks of gold.
The ranch, he asked you about the ranch.
“My grandfather left it to me.”
“I thought your grandfather was an accountant in Maryland?”
“He is,” she answered automatically, reaching up to tuck her wild hair behind her ears. Why did this man have to show up today, when she’d been mucking out stalls and dealing in filth all day?
Her fingers tangled in a clump of hair and she winced. Gently, Cord pulled her hand from her hair, that one touch sending shockwaves of awareness straight to her core. And he didn’t let up there. He continued what she’d started, tucking her hair behind her ear the same way he’d done when they were in high school, leaving her to wonder if he still thought of her as nothing more than a buddy.
“There. You had a burr tangled in your hair.” His green eyes stayed locked on hers, but it was impossible to hold his intense stare, so instead she glanced to the tack room next to them. An old cracked mirror hung on the wall. Sam winced. Dirt smudged her cheeks and her shirt. She looked like she hadn’t washed her hair in days. Meanwhile Cord looked like he’d stepped off the cover of Men’s Health magazine.
“So did your grandfather also own this ranch?” he asked.
Sam forced her gaze from her horrific reflection, trying without much success to get her brain to function at a normal pace. Yeah, Cord Carter was standing right in front of her, even more devastatingly handsome than he had been in high school. And yeah, she’d accidentally hired this man to help her find her stalker. What were the odds?
If she wasn’t careful, she was going to thrust herself right back into the role of lovelorn geek. She drew in a deep, steadying breath, focused on wiggling her toes in her boots and then used that physical action to ground her mind back into her body where it belonged.
“My dad’s dad. I never knew him. I never even knew he existed. Apparently, I was the only living Bishop left after my dad overdosed. My grandfather, Sam Bishop, passed away last year. I never even met him.”
But from what she’d learned of him from Jim Wayne, she sure wished she had. He sounded like the father she’d never had. He’d run this ranch by pure determination, stayed married to his wife for sixty years before losing her to cancer and died in his sleep, in his own bed. He’d taken care of his friends and even better care of his ranch.
“I’m sorry about your dad. I know he wasn’t around much.”
Sam held up a hand. “He wasn’t around at all, so don’t worry, I didn’t even go to his funeral. To be honest, I’m not sure where he’s buried.” According to her mother, her father had never even laid eyes on her. He’d lost the battle with drug addiction way before she was born, so as far Sam was concerned, she had probably been better off.
Cord shrugged and tucked his hands into his pants pockets. It was a gesture most people did when they were uncomfortable with the subject, so she gave him a bright, brittle smile. “I guess you want to know why I hired you.”
Instead of accepting her hand off like any other normal man would, he continued to hold her gaze hostage. “Doesn’t matter if you never knew him, still hurts.”
Suddenly she remembered how truly awful Cord’s parents had been. One night in high school, he’d broken down in front of her at a party, half drunk and all the way sad. He’d admitted he’d spent many, many nights at his cousin’s house just to get away from his own. That night was also memorable for another reason…she’d made a single desperate attempt to throw herself at him. He’d firmly set her away, insisting he didn’t want to mess up their friendship, and spent the rest of the night hooking up with the co-captain of the cheerleading squad. Even all these years later, the memory made her heart thud with embarrassment and hurt.
“Anyway, I’m just about through with taking care of my horse. Let me finish up and I’ll brief you on the situation.” Forcing herself to be all business, she brushed past him and walked into the darkened tack room, fingers fumbling blindly through the tackle box of medicine propped against the dusty wood wall.
Never in a million years had she dreamed the security company would send this man to protect her. She needed a minute to collect herself.
She felt his presence behind her and spun, knocking over a spray bottle of fly repellent in the process. With lightning reflexes, his arm shot out and caught it before it hit the floor and, just as calmly and carefully, set it back on its table. He took a step closer, closing the gap between them so that all the air seemed to be sucked out of the small closet.
His hand lifted and skimmed across her cheek, tracing the curve of her ear. “I had no idea you were the Sam Bishop I’d been assigned to.”
Her heart kicked into overdrive, bumping against her chest so quickly she couldn’t discern one beat from the next. “Is that a problem?”
Dear Lord, it was a problem for her. The asshole she’d left behind in Atlanta had put a bitter taste in her mouth for men in general. She was woman enough to admit she’d run out to this ranch as an excuse to get out of that town and start over. Ground herself in hard work and achieve her dreams.
And hadn’t she done just that?
“Not at all.” His voice dropped, deep and rough and sexy as hell.
She licked her lips, searching his gaze for any hint as to what he was thinking.
She should say something, break this strange spell that had taken hold of her, but she could no more move than she could force the earth to revolve backward.
“Samantha,” he whispered, lowering his head a fraction.
She just stood there, her core melting, needing him to touch her.
His eyes dipped to her lips and her body thrummed in anticipation. This was the kiss she’d waited for since she was sixteen years old. And they were in a barn. And she was covered in horse manure. And she didn’t care.
He thought he was done. His career as a special forces sniper was over. He’d lost his leg and his dignity in that ambush. Now, after nearly a year of rehab, he was fighting the toughest battle in his life: prove he was still worthy to serve.
Contract with Fury Security to pull protection for a rancher by the name of Sam Bishop. If he succeeded in routing out the bad guy, Cord would be back on the team.
He’d be able to get the hell away from all the counselors and therapists trying to tell him how to come to grips with his PTSD and missing limb. There were no emotions and feelings in west Texas, just rough necks and grit. Exactly what he needed.
Sam’s real name is Samantha and she’s not a codgy old man – she’s the one girl from Cord’s past he never got over. He thought he’d lost his chance with her, and now that he wasn’t a whole man, he didn’t deserve her.
Samantha is determined to show Cord he’s everything she ever wanted. Her biggest battle isn’t the stalker threatening her life: it’s making Cord see he’s worthy of her love and so much more.
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An avid reader since childhood, reading and writing is in her blood. After years of reading, she discovered her true passion – writing. Her alpha military men are damaged, drop-dead gorgeous and determined to win the heart of the woman of their dreams.
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