One cowboy. One cowgirl. One ranch.
Who will win the Double Deuce by the Fourth of July?
Adele O’Donnell knew that Double Deuce Ranch had to be hers the second she walked onto the property. Freshly divorced, she sees it as the perfect spot for her and the kids to start a new life. Remington Luckadeau was always a carefree playboy…until his suddenly orphaned nephews became his responsibility. The Double Deuce Ranch would be the perfect place to raise two boys. But some fiery woman is fighting him for it, and Remington is not sharing—no matter how the sparks fly when he and Adele are together.
NY Times and USA Today Bestselling author and RITA Finalist, Carolyn Brown, has published more than seventy books. These days she is concentrating on her two loves: women’s fiction and contemporary cowboy romance. She and her husband, a retired English teacher, make their home in southern Oklahoma.
The gleam in the old cowboy’s blue eyes and the way he rubbed his chin were Adele’s first clues that he definitely had something up the sleeve of his faded, old work shirt. He glanced first at her and then over at Remington Luckadeau.
She bit back a groan. The good old boys’ club was about to rear its head. They’d argue that ranching took brawn and muscle and that a woman couldn’t run the Double Deuce all alone, that women were respected in the ranching business these days, but when it came right down to it, he would feel better selling to a man.
She didn’t hold out any hope that the old toot would sell the ranch to her.
“Well, now.” Walter Jones gave his freshly shaven chin one more rub. “I expect we’ve got us one of them dilemma things, don’t we?”
That sly smile on Remington’s face said he already knew she would be going home empty-handed. With that mop of blond hair that kissed his shirt collar, those steel-blue eyes, and his chiseled face and wide shoulders—Lord have mercy—any woman would roll over and play dead to give him what he wanted.
But not Adele.
She wanted the Double Deuce, and she’d do whatever it took to get it so she could have a place to raise her daughters. Remington Luckadeau could spit on his knuckles and get ready for a fierce battle.
The Double Deuce Ranch was absolutely perfect in every aspect. The two-storied, four-bedroom house couldn’t have been better laid out for Adele and her two daughters, Jett and Bella. The acreage was big enough to make a living but small enough she could manage it on her own, for the most part. And it was close to her family—the O’Donnells over around Ringgold, Texas.
“You both want the ranch, but I can only sell to one of you. I talked to my lady friend, Vivien, about it. I talked to God about it before I went to sleep, and I talked to my old cow dog, Boss, about it this mornin’ before y’all got here.”
“And?” Adele asked.
“And not a one of them was a bit of help, so I don’t know which one of you to sell this place to any more than I did yesterday, after you’d both come and looked over the place and left me to think about it.”
Adele had known there was another person interested in the ranch. Walter had been up-front about that, saying he’d talked with Remington Luckadeau that morning and he was ready to meet Walter’s asking price.
“We can’t both buy it, so I guess you’ll have to make a decision,” Adele said.
Remington slid down in the kitchen chair so he could study the red-haired woman sitting in front of him. The hard Texas sunlight flowing through the kitchen window brought out every cute, little freckle sprinkled across Adele’s nose. Faded jeans, a chambray shirt worn open over a bright-yellow tank top, and cowboy boots worn at the heels said she was a no-nonsense rancher.
Those two feisty girls out there on the porch with his two nephews were dressed pretty much the same way as their mother. Any other time, he might have tipped his hat and given her the option to buy the Double Deuce, but not today. The ranch was the perfect size for what he had in his bank account. The house would be just right for him and his two nephews, Leo and Nick, the boys he’d inherited when his brother and sister-in-law were killed in a car accident several months ago. And besides, it wasn’t far from his Luckadeau relatives in Ringgold and Saint Jo, Texas.
So today, Adele O’Donnell was going to have to walk away disappointed. Too bad, because he’d always been attracted to redheads, and he’d have loved to see how she felt in his arms on the dance floor of the nearest honky-tonk.
“So.” Walter cleared his throat. “I’ve come to a decision.”
Remy straightened up in his chair.
“The Luckadeaus are my friends, but so are the O’Donnells. So I can’t sell this to either of you on the basis of friendship. Vivien and I have planned a monthlong cruise, and we are leaving in one week. We fly out of Dallas on the last day of May and get back home on the last day of June.”
“I’ll beat your asking price,” Remy said quickly.
“It’s not got to do with money. Here’s what I am willin’ to do, though. You both move in here on the morning that me and Vivien leave. Y’all take care of this ranch for me for a month. When I get back, whichever one of you is still here can have it. If you both still want it, we’ll draw straws or play poker for it. If you decide you can’t work together or that the ranch ain’t what you want, you can call Chet to come take over for you. His number is on the front of the refrigerator. Only rule I’ve got is that you’d best take good care of Boss. He’s been a good cow dog, and he likes leftovers from the table, so cook a little extra at each meal. He’s not real picky. He’ll eat most anything a human will, but he doesn’t like pizza. And you have to take real good care of Jerry Lee.”
“Who is Jerry Lee?” Adele asked.
“He’s my rooster. Pretty little thing, but he never has learned to crow in the morning. He’s a late riser, so he crows either in the middle of the day or about dinnertime. I named him Jerry Lee because he’s got swagger and he sings real pretty like Jerry Lee Lewis.”
“I’ll take good care of your dog and your rooster,” Adele said, shooting a defiant look right at Remy.
“So will I.” Remy nodded coolly. “What about the one who doesn’t win the luck of the draw?”
“Then that one gets a decent paycheck,” Walter said.
“I don’t need to think about it,” Adele said quickly. “I’m in.”
Remy nodded. “I don’t have to think about it either.”
Walter pushed back his chair and stood. “Good, then I’ll look for you both to be here a week from today. You’ve seen the place. There’ll be hay to cut and haul, fields to plow, and planting to do, as well as the everyday chores with feeding and taking care of the cattle and ranch. I’ve made a list of what I want done before I get back, and I’ll leave it stuck to the refrigerator door.”
“I’m not afraid of hard work,” Adele said. “One question, though. How does Boss feel about cats?”
“Strange as it seems, he loves them. My wife, God rest her soul”—Walter looked up at the ceiling—“used to have an old barn cat that had kittens real often. Boss thought he was their grandpa.”
“Then you don’t mind if we bring our cat?” she asked.
“Not a bit. You got a problem with that, Remy?” Walter asked.
Remy shook his head.
“Thank you,” Adele said softly.
Crap! Remy didn’t hate cats, and thank God the boys weren’t allergic to them, but that soft, sweet, southern voice could easily distract him from his mission. Remy would have to keep on his toes every day for the entire month of June, and that wouldn’t be easy. For years, every woman had been a potential notch on his bedpost. Six months ago, Remy had been the resident bad boy of the Texas Panhandle. He’d spent his weekends in local bars, dancing and sweet-talking the pretty girls into his bed. Then his whole life turned around when his two nephews were tossed into his life. Since he’d started taking care of them, dating had slowed down. Now, he’d be forced to live with a woman he was clearly attracted to.
Walter started toward the door. The meeting was over. “Just bring your personal things. When I sell this place, it goes lock, stock, and barrel—furniture, equipment, everything but my own keepsakes,” he said. “Vivien and I are leaving at nine o’clock. If one of y’all ain’t here, then the other one will automatically get the place.”
Adele pushed her chair back, and in one fluid motion, she was on her feet. He’d figured she was tall when he sat down across from her and his long legs almost touched hers under the table. But when she stood up, he got the full effect of the way her hips curved out from her small waist, and for a split second, he could feel her in his arms.
Remy shook the image from his head. He had a long, hot month ahead of him, and he needed to think of Adele as an adversary, not a potential date.
“Do we move?” Nick asked when Remy stepped out onto the porch.
“We are moving onto the ranch to take care of it for Mr. Jones for a month. If we do a good job, he might sell to us in time for the Fourth of July party we’re planning.” Remy told his fourteen-year-old nephew.
“Mama?” asked the smaller of the two girls that Adele had brought along with her.
“Same thing here, girls. We’ll be moving here in one week to live for a month. Then Mr. Jones will decide which of us gets to buy the ranch,” Adele answered.
“You”—the girl pointed at Leo and wiggled her head like a bobblehead doll—“are going down. You don’t know jack squat about a ranch, so you might as well give up before you even start.”
“Jett!” Adele chided.
“Well, it’s the truth,” Jett said. “He don’t even want to live on a ranch. He’s a city boy who don’t even know who Billy Currington is. He’d hate living on this ranch.”
“Just because you lived on a ranch don’t mean you’re that smart,” Nick shot back. “Uncle Remy can teach me everything about ranching in one afternoon. I’m a fast learner.”
“Me, too.” Leo combed his carrot-red hair with his fingertips and tipped up his chin three notches.
“Okay, boys. It’s one thing to say something; it’s another to do it. Let’s get on home and get our things in order so we’ll be ready to move next week. There’s only four bedrooms, so you’ll have to share.”
Leo, who had already left the porch, kicked at the dirt. “Uncle Remy, Nick gripes if I even leave a wrinkle in the bed. He’s so neat that he shoulda been a girl.” He sighed.
“No!” Nick raised his voice. “Leo never picks up anything and—”
“Enough,” Remy said. “Into the truck. We’ve got a lot to do and a short time to get it done.”
Leo crawled into the big, black, dual-cab truck. Just before he slammed the door, he caught Jett’s eye and stuck out his tongue.
“Young man, you’re going to have to live in the same house and work with those girls,” Remy said sternly.
Leo rolled his eyes upward. “They are so bossy. Living in the country isn’t going to be easy, but living around those two prissy girls…” He sighed. “Do we really have to do this, Uncle Remy?”
“We’ll come out stronger men,” he said.
A picture of Adele’s full, kissable lips flashed through his mind. Prissy wasn’t a word he’d use to describe any of the O’Donnell women.
Nick groaned. “If we live through it.”
“We are Luckadeau men. We’ll take the bull by the horns, look him right in the eye, and dare him to charge at us.” Even as the words came out, Remy wondered if he was talking to his nephews or himself.
“I’d rather fight a bull,” Leo grumbled. “And they ain’t bulls. They’re girls, and we’re Luckadeaus.”
“Daddy used to tell us that when a Luckadeau sets his mind, it’s set forever,” Nick said.
“Your daddy was right.” Remy nodded.
Moving the boys from their house in the middle of Denton, Texas, to a ranch would be tough on them, but Remy could not live in town. He’d been fortunate enough to sell his brother’s house for enough to pay off the existing mortgage and put a little into savings for the boys’ college funds.
Remy had worked for the past fifteen years on a ranch out in the Texas Panhandle. He’d started as a hired hand and worked his way up to foreman. Today, he had enough money in his bank account to buy the Double Deuce, and it was the perfect place for the boys to have a brand-new start. It damn sure wouldn’t be easy to live in the same house with a woman like Adele and not flirt, but it was doable with the ranch as a prize at the end of the road.
“So you boys going to help me make those women see that they don’t really want our ranch? Or are we going to let them win?” Remy asked.
“Ain’t no way I’m going to back down from them two,” Nick declared.
Leo chimed right in. “Me either.”
“Let’s look at another ranch. I don’t want to live in the same house with those two obnoxious boys,” Bella said as they drove away from the Double Deuce.
Adele smiled. “You must really not like those boys to be pulling out your four-dollar words.”
“That tells you how much, Mama,” Bella said.
“We don’t have time to train them,” Jett added.
Adele didn’t think they’d have to do much training. Not with a cowboy like Remy Luckadeau for an uncle. That man was comfortable in his skin, and there wasn’t a doubt in her mind that he’d know the business every bit as well as she did. In any other circumstance, there could be chemistry between them. He was exactly what she’d always been attracted to, with his blond hair, blue eyes, and cowboy swagger, but then he was also what she’d been running away from when she’d married Isaac Levy.
You see how that turned out, the smart-ass voice in her head said.
Yes, she did see how it turned out. Isaac was the only son of a family who had dealt in diamonds right in the middle of Dallas, Texas, for more than fifty years. When they’d married, he’d moved Adele into his penthouse apartment, and she’d lived the life she’d thought she wanted.
Right up until Bella was born two years after the wedding. And then she’d started to yearn for her country roots. A child needed fresh air and sunshine, not parties and nannies. Isaac had loved her enough to buy a two-hundred-acre ranch between McKinney and Blue Ridge. The commute wasn’t bad because he had a driver, but after Jett was born, he spent more and more weeknights at the penthouse.
“Why do we have to move from our ranch anyway?” Jett folded her small arms over her chest.
“The same reason we had to change our last name to O’Donnell,” Bella answered. “Father has a new wife and a son, and we don’t matter anymore.”
Her daughter’s tone created a lump in Adele’s throat that she couldn’t swallow down. Tears welled in her eyes, but she kept them at bay. Bella had put it into the simplest language possible, but the story was far more complex than that.
“Your father will come to his senses someday,” she said softly.
“But it might be too late,” Bella declared. “He’s mean, making us move off the ranch.”
It wasn’t the time or the place to tell the girls that part of the marriage problems had been her fault. Isaac thought he was getting a socialite who loved the fast lane, and he never would have asked her to marry him if he’d realized she wasn’t ready to break all ties with her country roots.
“We are going to love this new ranch so much that we’ll never look back at the old one. Even though they don’t have any ranching experience, I just wonder if you two are big and mean enough to show those two boys that nobody can outwork three tough O’Donnell women.”
Jett unfolded her arms, leaned up from the backseat of the bright-red, dual-cab truck, and patted her mother on the shoulder. “They ain’t got a chance in hell.”
“Jett!” Bella scolded.
“Well, Uncle Cash says that, and nobody fusses at him. Besides, I believe it. We’re tough and mean, and we can out-ranch any old boy in the state of Texas,” Jett said.
“We’ve got a week to pack all our things, put them in storage, and load up the truck with just what we need for a month,” Adele said as she turned east toward Gainesville.
Adele’s cell phone rang. She saw a picture of her sister, Cassie, smiling at her. She answered it on the fourth ring and hit the Speaker button.
“We have not bought the ranch yet,” she said and went on to tell her sister the deal that Walter had come up with.
Cassie giggled the whole way through the story.
“What’s so funny about that?” Adele asked.
“Those boys don’t stand a chance. Not any one of them—the grown one or the two kids,” Cassie said. “I’ll put my money on my sister and my nieces any day of the week.”
“Yes!” Bella and Jett squealed at the same time.
“Thank you, Aunt Cassie. We won’t let you down,” Jett said.
“What are you doing today?” Adele asked her sister.
“Haulin’ hay, but I’d rather be doing something else in the hayloft with my boyfriend,” Cassie said.
“Cassandra Grace O’Donnell!” Adele raised her voice.
“Don’t you double name me. Only Mama gets to do that, and I was talking about kissing my boyfriend. He’s really good at kissing.” Cassie laughed.
“I miss y’all,” Adele said wistfully. “If I get to buy this ranch, I’m having a big Fourth of July party to celebrate. Y’all had better be there.”
“Wild horses couldn’t keep me away. Is this new cowboy sexy? Maybe I’ll visit for a weekend between now and then,” Cassie said.
“No!” The girls’ loud voices bounced around in the truck cab.
“Why? Don’t you want to see me?” Cassie asked.
“We love you,” Bella said. “But we don’t want Remy Luckadeau in the family at all, and if he sees you, then he’ll fall in love with you. Besides, we like Clinton just fine. Go kiss on him in the hayloft, and stay away until the ranch belongs to us.”
“If you promise to work hard and show Mr. Jones that you are the right people to sell his ranch to, then I’ll stay away until you’ve run those old boys off your land. But, girls, Clinton and I broke up a while ago,” Cassie said seriously. “The new man in my life is Dusty Dillard. We’ve only been on two dates, but I like him a lot.”
“Is he as pretty as Clinton?” Bella asked.
“No, but he’s a lot nicer,” Cassie said.
“I thought Clinton was nice, and I like his name better than Dusty,” Jett said.
“Wait until you meet him. Are you taking Blanche?” Cassie asked.
“Of course,” Jett answered quickly. “We wouldn’t leave her behind. Mama, please tell me that man didn’t say we couldn’t bring Blanche.”
“I asked about bringing a cat and he said it was fine,” Adele said.
Cassie laughed again. “The old hussy would die if you left her. Besides, isn’t she about ready to pop out another litter in the next couple of weeks?”
“Yes, she is,” Bella said. “And I hope both of them boys hate cats.”
“And you, Sister Adele? How do you feel about living with a cowboy?”
“I’m not living with him. I’m sharing a house with him for a month. And don’t call me Sister Adele. I’m not a nun,” Adele said curtly.
“These past two years you have been. Promise you’ll call me often,” she said. “Got to go. The hay wagon is here, and it’s time to stack bales.”
Adele hit the End button, and the screen on the phone went dark. She caught a movement in her peripheral vision and glanced over to see two little boys glaring at her from the windows of a black truck. A whole month with those two smart-ass kids just might make her move all the way to Wyoming or Montana.
She looked in the rearview mirror, and there was Jett, giving the boys the old stink eye. In seconds, they sped on past her, whipped over in front of her truck, and moved on ahead pretty quickly. No doubt about it—this was going to be a long month!