Five years ago, Jen woke up with a ring on her finger and her fiancé nowhere to be found. She swore she'd gotten over the betrayal, but when Clay unexpectedly hires on with the rodeo for a week, she finds herself torn between passion and regret.
Clay left intending never to see Jen again. He's been running from his troubled past for far too long, and it's not a life he wants for her. But it's hard to run from the past when the past is your own family, and Clay finds himself thrown back into the chaos he thought he'd finally left behind.
Will the truth drive Jen away, or is there a second chance at happily-ever-after for this runaway cowboy?
“Mind if I get a refill?”
Jennifer rolled her eyes at Clay but slid the pitcher toward him. “Be my guest.” She turned to leave. The less time she spent near him, the easier it would be to get through the next week.
“Do you realize everyone is making bets on how long it will take before you slap me?”
She arched a brow at him and leaned her hip against the table. “Really? Who has five minutes?”
“I think that would be me.” A smile curved his lips. It made him look younger and less cynical. He was always so damn handsome when he smiled.
She forced herself to look away, busying herself with shifting the food on the table and stacking empty bowls. “Then I’ll wait a few more minutes so someone I like wins the money.” She gripped the edge of a half-empty bowl of potato salad.
He tried to hide the frown that furrowed his brow and turned his lips down again. It only lasted a second before he grinned and shot a glance at her brothers, still seated near Mike’s trailer. “Come on, Jen. How can you say you don’t like me?” He moved a step closer to her, his fingers toying at the side of the bowl, over hers.
Her gaze bounced from their hands to his green eyes. “It’s real easy. I. Don’t. Like. You.” She made sure to enunciate every word. Why couldn’t he get the hint? She didn’t want anything to do with him, not now, not ever again.
Jen pulled her hand from under his, but he took a step closer, his gaze holding her own. “You used to be friendlier,” he pointed out.
“And you used to be charming.”
Clay straightened his shoulders and took another step toward her as she backed away. “I’m still charming, with people who aren’t antagonistic.”
How dare he insinuate that she was being antagonistic? Okay, well, maybe she was, but he deserved every bit of resentment she directed at him. The man left her lying in his bed after proposing and never gave her any explanation for his departure. She narrowed her eyes for a moment before she allowed a sweet smile to curve her lips.
“I’m so sorry, Clay. I didn’t mean to be so hostile.” She reached again for the potato salad. “You’re right, I used to be friendlier. Let’s start again. I’m Jen,” she said, thrusting her right hand out.
He eyed her suspiciously but took the bait, curling his fingers around her hand. “I’m Clay. Jen, do you realize you have the most amazing eyes?” He flirted with her.
“Thank you.” She gave him her most engaging smile and leaned toward him. “Tell me, Clay, who had the bet that I’d dump potato salad on your head?”
He barely opened his mouth before she upended the plastic bowl over him. Bits of mayonnaise, carrots, and potatoes dripped down his face, and she couldn’t stop herself from laughing out loud as she quickly moved from his reach. Clay swiped at the mess on his face, flinging it from his hands to the ground. She heard the laughter from her brothers behind her and looked over at them.
“Next time, don’t make bets about me.” She shoved the bowl into Clay’s chest. “And the three of you can clean up this mess. I’m leaving.”
T. J. Kline was raised competing in rodeos and rodeo queen competitions since the age of 14, She has thorough knowledge of the sport as well as the culture involved. She has had several articles about rodeo published in the past in small periodicals as well as a more recent how-to article for RevWriter. She is also an avid reader and book reviewer for both Tyndale and Multnomah.