"Care to take those boots for a
spin, Miss O'Keefe?"
Jen O'Keefe will agree to just one dance with coolheaded cowboy
Drew Laramie. But only for old times' sake. She can't risk
losing her heart to him again.
Drew left Larch Valley, promising Jen he'd return. When he
didn't, she moved on.... Now the childhood sweetheart Jen had
stopped waiting for is back!
There were times in life
you either had to go big, or go broke.
Jen's fingers paused on
the pen, the cool tube turning warm and slippery in her hand as
the room suddenly seemed hot and stifling. The loan papers sat
before her and the numbers swirled in front of her eyes.
She looked up from the
papers, her lightweight sweater cloying, the yellow silk scarf
strangling as her breath shallowed. It was such a lot of
money, after all. The new bank manager's face frowned a little
at her continued hesitation.
She took a breath, looked
down, and signed her name - once, twice, three times.
She clicked the pen
closed, feeling at once a euphoric blend of fear and
excitement. Risk taking was not her specialty. But over the
years she'd learned it was a necessary evil at times. She'd run
the numbers until she could cite them by rote. Everything she'd
done told her this was a good move. A necessary move.
But seeing it in black and
white, knowing that what she'd built so far could be swept away
with one failure - it was enough to take a girl's breath away.
She would not
hyperventilate. She would not.
She rose, shook the
manager's hand. Not the same man who'd given her the first loan
for Snickerdoodles; he'd been a friend of her father's and had
retired last year, taking his jar of Tootsie Roll Pops with
him. This man was in his late thirties, still exuding that air
of big city rather than small town. It wasn't the same. It didn't give her that sense of security that she could really use
Snickerdoodles Bakery was
about to transform in Snickerdoodles Cafe and Catering, and if
she'd miscalculated, she'd lose it all.
"Thanks." She smiled
thinly, extricating her hand from his clasp. Watched as he slid
her copy of the papers into a portfolio, handing it to her with
"Let us know if you need
anything at all," he suggested, and she picked up her bag.
Need anything? There were
enough zeroes on the dotted line that she hoped to God she
wouldn't need a single thing more - ever.
She was nearly to the
glass doors when the nerves hit full force.
She'd done it. She'd just
remortgaged everything she had - including her house - to
finance a complete refurbishment of her bakery.
She had to be crazy.
She scrambled to get
outside, into some fresh air that might hold off the rising
panic attack. If she could just get to one of the park benches
lining Main Avenue, she'd sit and put her head between her
She pushed frantically
through the doors, the vision of a bench swimming deliciously
before her eyes. Except that half way there, her shoulder
encountered a solid wall that took every last bit of oxygen from
her lungs. The contact sent her staggering, the portfolio
sliding out of her hands and skidding down the concrete sidewalk
before coming to rest against a half-height barrel newly filled
with petunias, lobelia, and some sort of trailing plant.
Warm, strong hands gripped
her biceps, keeping her from falling on her rump in the middle
of noon foot-traffic. She looked up, opened her mouth to speak,
but instead fought to inhale now that the April wind had been
completely knocked out of her. Her mouth gaped and flapped as
she fought for air to rush back into her lungs. And if the jolt
hadn't stolen her breath, the man attached to the hands
definitely would have.
Finally, blessed oxygen
rushed in and she gasped. Her head was tipped back as she
looked way up into a too-familiar face. She saw the shock and
confusion firing in his hazel eyes for just a moment, wondered
if the same emotions were mirrored from her own. It seemed like
years of memories raced between them, though only a few seconds
passed. His eyes cleared, cooled. Setting her firmly on her
feet, he let her go briefly to retrieve her folder of papers,
and brought them back to her, holding them out as she fought to
calm the hammering of her heart.
Somehow her hand slid out
to take the folder from him, while the warm, slightly rough
sound of his voice sank deep into her consciousness. His hands
were gone from her arms now, and her skin felt cold in their
absence, even though it was the first time he'd touched her in
many, many years.
The moment she said it she
felt the blush creeping up her neck, hoped that her scarf
camouflaged her flushed skin. She'd been the only one to ever
call him Drew. Everyone else had called him by his full
name - Andrew. Not Andy, or any other shortened version. Drew
had been saved just for her. They both knew it. And Jen saying
it had suddenly transported them to a place deep in the past.
Somewhere she hadn't ever wanted to go again. Self-conscious,
she raised one trembling hand to smooth the tendrils of hair
that were escaping what had been her attempt at a sophisticated
twist. When she realized what she was doing, she dropped her
hand abruptly. She didn't need to preen for Andrew Laramie.
"Are you okay?"
She looked up into his
mossy-gold eyes again, tucked the portfolio under an arm and
resisted the urge to straighten her white sweater and matching
skirt. What are you doing here? Why are you back? How long
are you staying? All those questions raced through her mind
but she would not ask any of them, not after the way he'd
treated her the last time he'd been home. The rebuff still
stung. The answers shouldn't matter anyway. It was a public
street. He had as much a right to be in Larch Valley as
anyone. He owned half of the Lazy L Ranch, and everyone knew
it. Just as they knew the place had been abandoned for the
better part of a year.
"I'm fine, thank you."
She brushed a hand down her skirt simply to be doing something
other than gawping at his too-handsome face.
"You're pale. Are you
feeling all right?" He peered closer, his eyes clouded with
The question erased the panicky
thoughts about the bakery and a flash of annoyance flickered
through her. What right did he have to worry about her now?
"I'm not one of your
horses you can doctor, Andrew." This time she made sure she used
his full first name. She adopted the most aloof expression she
could and stepped back, adjusting the strap of her bag on her
shoulder. "What are you doing here, anyway? Shouldn't you be
getting ready for the Derby or something? I'd think the racing
season'd be keeping you mighty busy."
She knew she sounded
obnoxious and wished she could take back the words. It was
petty and not her style. After all this time, she shouldn't let
him rattle her.
It was no secret in Larch
Valley that Andrew Laramie had gone on to a sparkling career in
veterinary medicine, working in the racing industry south of the
border. His dad, for all their falling out, had been proud of
it. He'd said so every time she'd gone to visit him. It was a
low blow to throw it back at Andrew, but she couldn't seem to
help it now that she was face to face with him. Just seeing
him, in the middle of town on a busy Monday afternoon put her on
Maybe when he'd been home for
the funeral they might have talked, put things to rest. But
he'd spurned any sort of conversation, deliberately ignoring her
when she'd reached out to him, put her hand on his arm in
sympathy. She had only wanted to help, but he'd barely
acknowledged her presence, brushing by her after the final
prayer with only a sidelong glance. It had only confirmed the
fact that she needed to stop making herself available for him to
hurt her. Once had been more than enough. She tended to learn
"I'm not working in
Virginia any more."
That wasn't current news
and she struggled to hide her surprise. "Greener pastures?"
His gaze landed on her,
the censure in them heavy and she lifted her chin in response.
"The Jen I remember never
copped an attitude."
"The Jen you remember was
a long time ago." She said it quickly, doubting he knew how
much she'd truly loved him back then.
His eyes softened, almost
resigned, as he agreed. "Yes, she was. I'm sorry for that."
It was like he knew
exactly what she was thinking - he'd always had an uncanny knack
for it, and the last thing she wanted from him was
understanding. Not now. What was he sorry for? His remark, or
a whole lot more? The fact that she wanted to know was
frightening enough and sent up a warning siren. No, she had to
get out of here. Whatever had brought him to Larch Valley, she
was sure something more important would take him right back out
again. He was probably out to sell the ranch. Goodness knows
he didn't need it, or want it. He never had. She'd seen how
his determination to stay away had hurt his father; it had hurt
her knowing he had turned his back on all of them. Now he could
pocket all his lovely money and keep on with his oh-so-important
"I should get back, I have
work to do," she said, aiming for polite civility. She should
just go her own way and get on with things, like she'd been
doing for several years now.
"Me too," he replied, but
his gaze still held hers trapped within it. He lifted his hand
and she froze as one long finger tucked a stray strand of hair
behind her ear. Goosebumps erupted down her arms, shivering
against the cool, early spring air.
Then he stood back,
tucking his hands into his jeans pockets. "I'll see you around,
He went past her,
continuing west on Main Avenue, while she was left standing in
the middle of the concrete sidewalk. She highly doubted she'd
see him again, when all was said and done.
She straightened her
sweater and squared her shoulders. Today was one of those freak
encounters, nothing more. Tomorrow she'd still be here, and
he'd be gone.
As she pointed her white
pumps towards her Bakery a block away, she reminded herself that
leaving was what Andrew did best.
This time wouldn't be any
"An intense, emotional story with
well-defined characters, this one has a really strong core
Romantic Times Book
handles all of the emotions, the questions, the hurts and
the passion with finesse in this well written cowboy story."
"...so realistic and refreshing...to read her books brings
pure joy." Pink Heart Society Reviews
"This is a terrific category romance
filled with relationship angst, sweet attraction, and a
strong dose of small town ethics. Jen and Drew are
characters I wanted to root for and readers will not be
disappointed in this well-written book about the first of
the Laramie brothers and the Lazy L ranch." Romance
"Even a friendship between these
one-time lovers would be complicated, and adding the
feelings that they still have for one another makes ONE
DANCE WITH THE COWBOY an emotional and poignant tale."
Romance Reviews Today
"Deftly written, powerfully
emotional and resplendent with realistic and believable
characters, tear-jerking drama, heartfelt conflict and
breathtaking romance, One Dance with the Cowboy is a moving
and tender tale about second chances and new beginnings that
is simply perfect for losing yourself into on a cold January
From One Dance With The Cowboy by Donna Alward
Harlequin Romance, January 2010
Copyright 2010 by Donna Alward
Cover art used with permission
This edition published by arrangement with
Harlequin Books S.A.
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