My Cowboy Valentine - Page 36

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She resisted the urge to bang her head repeatedly on the cabinet. “You know, there are stalking laws...” She turned, freezing when she came face-to-face with a dozen red roses. “What are those?”

“Flowers,” Nick said. “For you.”

“Have you lost your mind?” Aware that her studio was full of parents who wouldn’t want their daughters taught by a shrieking psychopath, she lowered her voice to an angry hiss. “I told you I wasn’t interested! And you know darn well that Bailey is already emotionally attached to me. This isn’t fair to her. Did she see those? She’ll misunderstand.”

“Or she’ll understand perfectly. I want to be with you, Tess.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, unprepared to deal with this full-court press. Why was it that hearing something part of her so desperately wanted made her want to cry? “You’ve obviously forgotten what I’m looking for in a guy. I need to be with someone who listens, remember? Someone who takes what I’m saying seriously?”

“You also want to be with someone who thinks you’re ‘worth the trouble of pursuing.’” He gave her a wolfish grin. “See? I listen.”

* * *

NICK SAT THROUGH DINNER at The Twisted Jalapeño distracted, only half hearing his brother lean out of his side of the booth to flirt with owner Grace Torres when she walked by.

“When are you going to realize you’re crazy about me,” Kevin drawled, “and leave that pretty-boy chef?”

The beautiful brunette shot him a look so disdainful it could wither crops. “I think the phrase you were looking for is ‘Greek god.’ And, FYI, not only does my husband have a possessive streak, I’m pretty sure he could come up with twenty different ways to poison you and make it look like an accident.” Then she gave the four of them the gracious smile she was known for. “Y’all enjoy your meal now.”

Tim laughed out loud while Kevin eyed his burrito plate suspiciously.

“Miss Grace wouldn’t really let her husband poison us, would she?” Bailey asked, sounding more excited than alarmed by the idea.

“Definitely not,” Nick said. “Miss Grace worked too hard to keep this restaurant open to risk it being investigated by the police or closed by the Health Department. So, no worries. Eat up.”

“Eat what? I’m all done,” Bailey said.

“Already?” To cover the fact that he hadn’t been paying attention, he added, “That was fast.”

From across the table, Kevin stared at him as if he were crazy. “We’ve been here forty-five minutes. How long do you think it should take her to eat a taco?”

“Daddy, can I be ’scused to say hi to my friend Ashlee?”

Two tables away, a little girl from Bailey’s kindergarten class sat with her parents.

“Sure.” Nick rose from the bench seat to allow her to pass. “Tell her folks I said hi. And ask her mom if she’d like to help on a PTA committee,” he said as an afterthought. When he sat back down, he noticed that Tim and Kevin were both giving him speculative looks.

“What?” he asked defensively.

“You tell us,” Tim said. “Your mind’s been elsewhere since you and Bailey met us here after her dance class. But you were focused when we were working with that new horse this afternoon. What happened between now and then?”

Kevin smirked. “I’m betting he ran into a certain blonde.”

No, a redhead, you know-it-all.

“That’s right!” Tim snapped his fingers. “Doesn’t Farrah have a little ballerina, too?”

“What the hell is everyone’s preoccupation with Farrah Landon?”

Kevin and Tim exchanged glances. For a moment, neither spoke, then Kevin ventured, “I can’t speak for ‘everyone,’ but I can tell you what stays on my mind. Her—”

“Oh, stop being an ass for ten seconds,” Nick interrupted. “What are you going to do when you’ve annoyed all the females in a hundred-mile radius and none of them will date you?”

“Grow old alone,” Tim said at the exact same time Kevin answered, “Relocate.”

“It is a woman who’s got you this riled,” Tim clarified. “Right?”

“Yes. But it’s not Farrah Landon. I barely remember what I liked about her.”

“Well,” Kevin began. “She’s got—”

Nick brandished his fork menacingly. “Don’t make me stab you.” Vowing to ignore his brother, he looked back at Tim. “I think I liked the idea of Farrah. I had a crush on her as a teenager, and it resurfaced now that we’re both divorced single parents. But I don’t really know her, Farrah the adult. Tess, on the other hand—”

“Tess Fitzpatrick? The curvy redhead?” Kevin asked with interest. At Nick’s glare, Kevin stood suddenly. “Service is a little slow tonight. Think I’ll mosey over to the bar to get my beer refilled.”

“Tess, huh?” Tim gave his boss an assessing look. “Good choice. I like her.”

“Yeah. Me, too.” Understatement of the year. The question now was, how did he get her to accept his feelings? To admit that she returned them? He didn’t want to come on too strong—the world had Kevin for that—but he didn’t want to give up easily on something his gut told him could be so perfect. Even Bailey saw how good he and Tess could be together and she was only six!

Staring into space as he pondered his next move, his gaze caught on Sam Travis and Lorelei Keller. There were two people who understood what it took to make a relationship work. Would they be willing to give him advice? He remembered that not so long ago, he wouldn’t have wanted to discuss his emotions for a woman or admit that he could use a hand. But everything was different now. Tess had changed his outlook.

She’d changed him.

“Be right back, Tim.” He walked over to Sam and Lorelei’s table, surprised when Lorelei smiled brightly.

“Is it my turn?” she asked.

“What?” His step faltered.

“Well, you’ve already accosted Heather. I’m the next logical choice.”

Sam’s eyebrows rose. “You’ve been accosting married women?”

“He’s trying to enlist allies,” Lorelei said, seeming very cheerful about his predicament. “To woo Tess.”

“Ah.” Sam shook his head in sympathy. “Good luck. It’s a joy to have a woman in your life, but they can be hell to figure out.”

“Hey!” Lorelei objected, looking not at all annoyed.

Sam grinned at her. “Whatever hell you might’ve caused me, you were worth it, darlin’.”

“I know your loyalties are to Tess,” Nick said, “but I’m striking out here.”

“What is it you want from me, to put in a good word? Because I’ve already done that,” Lorelei assured him. “Personally, I think she’s crazy about you.”

The surge of pure joy was staggering. It was an unimaginable relief to hear the words, even if they weren’t from Tess herself. “I’m crazy about her, too.”

“So what’s the problem?” Sam asked. “Why aren’t you off somewhere with Tess telling her how you feel, instead of interrupting date night?”

“I’ve tried. She doesn’t want to listen.” His gaze narrowed on Lorelei. “Do you know why? Is it really the Farrah thing? My crush on her dates back to adolescence. I’m sure Tess had plenty of crushes, too.”

Lorelei squirmed under the invisible weight of confidences she felt bound to keep. Loyalty and discretion were admirable traits, but, oh, what Nick wouldn’t give right now for loose-lipped women eager to spill secre

Tags: Jane Porter Romance