Taken not spurred, p.1
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       Taken, Not Spurred, p.1

         Part #1 of Lone Star Burn series by Ruth Cardello
 
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Taken, Not Spurred


  Also by Ruth Cardello

  The Legacy Collection

  Maid for the Billionaire

  For Love or Legacy

  Bedding the Billionaire

  Saving the Sheikh

  Rise of the Billionaire

  Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea’s Redemption

  The Andrade Series

  Come Away with Me

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  Text copyright © 2013 Ruth Cardello

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

  www.apub.com

  Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.

  ISBN-13: 9781477825129

  ISBN-10: 1477825126

  Cover design by Kerrie Robertson

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2014907478

  This book is dedicated to my husband. Thank you, hon, for supporting my writing from day one. You’re the reason I believe in happily-ever-afters.

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Author’s Note

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Chapter One

  No real adventure ever started by waiting patiently on a doorstep.

  Still, Sarah Dery hesitated before reaching for the handle on the screen door of her friend’s immense white farmhouse. The shelter of the wraparound porch did little to alleviate the heat of the midday Texas sun, but was that a good enough excuse to enter? What if no one is home? Since there was no cell phone service, there wasn’t much else she could do unless she was willing to wait in her SUV.

  Wiping one suddenly cold hand across a jean-clad leg, Sarah straightened her shoulders and opened the door decisively. She hadn’t survived the three-day drive from Rhode Island only to pass out from heat exhaustion on the porch because Lucy was late.

  “Hello?” she called out. “Anyone home?” No answer.

  The interior of the house was similar to the mammoth horse barn she’d searched a few minutes ago: well maintained but lacking any personal touches. She was surprised that her friend lived like this, but perhaps when you worked all day on a ranch, decorating wasn’t a priority.

  Sarah assessed the living room. It looked and smelled clean—the best compliment she could give it. The few pieces of wooden furniture, decorated with outdated, plain blue cushions, had probably never given a person a moment of comfort. She returned to the foyer and appreciated the beauty of the room’s woodwork, even as she noted that the walls lacked photos and artwork.

  The house reminded her of the mansions in her hometown, built by wealthy factory owners who had long since left the area, along with their businesses. Although this house showed no obvious signs of disrepair, it felt cold. Empty. Can a house be sad?

  She wandered through the downstairs rooms and marveled at the absence of electronics—no television, not even a radio. Lucy had hinted that her life in Texas wasn’t happy, but this was Sarah’s first glimpse of how truly barren her life down here was.

  No wonder she invited me.

  Although she hadn’t seen her old roommate since college, they’d kept in touch via email and the occasional uneventful video chat. Until Lucy had asked, “How’s your writing going?”

  What writing?

  “I’ve been busy,” Sarah had said lamely.

  “Didn’t you say that you’d taken the job at your parents’ company so you’d have time to write?”

  Yes.

  Apparently, time was not the issue.

  Can you be a writer if you don’t write? Like a musician who never picks up an instrument? Who are you when the person you are in your heart doesn’t match the life you’re living?

  I always wanted to be a writer—tell stories that would sweep readers away on a journey of laughter, tears, and growth. I dreamed of discovering myself through the characters I crafted.

  So why can’t I write?

  What’s stopping me?

  God, I need this trip.

  Lucy said she was desperate for companionship, and the invitation to spend a summer on a working Texas cattle ranch had been too tempting to pass up. Taking a deep breath, Sarah announced to the empty house, “I’ll admit, so far this isn’t living up to how exciting I thought Texas would be, but it’ll work out.” Maybe I watched too much Dallas, but I’m not ready to give up on my fantasy just yet.

  She could almost hear her brother’s telltale sigh, which was often followed by a lengthy lecture. Charles Dery was a successful Wall Street investor and a self-appointed dictator when it came to his little sister. Moving to New York rather than staying and working for their family’s construction company hadn’t stopped him from getting involved as soon as she’d announced she was taking a leave of absence from her office job at Dery and Son—a company that should have been named Dery and Reluctantly Employed Daughter.

  “Mom and Dad called me,” her brother had said. “They’re upset. There is no way you’re quitting your job to travel cross-country alone.”

  “Yes, I am, Charlie.”

  “Why the hell are you doing this?” he’d stormed.

  “I need this,” Sarah had fired back, knowing that a deeper conversation wasn’t possible between them. I need this.

  Before it’s too late.

  Maybe it already is.

  Twenty-five.

  What is it about a milestone birthday that makes a person reassess her life? She’d graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a bachelor’s degree in English, but she could easily have gotten a degree in basket weaving for all she’d done with it since.

  Lucy’s question had haunted her, especially during her last birthday party when the forest of candles on her cake had hit Sarah like a flaming dose of reality. How did I lose myself?

  She wished there had been one grand event she could blame, but the truth was discontent had arrived much less dramatically than that—more like a flower wilting in the sun until the life she thought she was meant for was nothing more than a pile of dried-out, brittle regret.

  Charlie said I should think of how this is affecting others and not be so selfish. Easy for him to say from New York.

  I tried to be the one who stayed behind to make everything okay, but the price was too high. Be good. Follow the rules. Avoid all unpleasant topics. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be the perfect daughter in the perfect family. I’m an adventurer. A pioneer.
Texans hadn’t stayed where the Mayflower dropped their parents. They’d boldly left for parts unknown.

  Like I did.

  Life in Rhode Island wasn’t awful. Her office position at her parents’ company paid enough for her to live in her own apartment and afford Scooter, the horse she rode four nights a week at an exclusive equestrian facility.

  I didn’t have anything to complain about.

  Or anything to look forward to.

  Until Lucy called.

  “Hello . . . anybody here?” The silence was eerie, but this wasn’t the movies—nothing extraordinary was going to happen.

  Sarah grimaced. Nothing ever did.

  Lucy had probably just run to the store for some last-minute supplies. Isn’t that how it always works? You step away for a few minutes and your company arrives.

  A bead of sweat trickled down Sarah’s neck. The light cotton shirt she had chosen so carefully that morning was now plastered against her back. Sarah plucked at it while renewing her resolve. She’d adjust to the heat. Comfort didn’t matter. This was about finding herself, finding her voice.

  She returned to the living room, plopped on the unforgiving couch, and flung out her arms in victory. I did it! The drive may have taken her three days, giving her trailered horse time to rest along the way, but even that part of the journey had been amazing. Each bed-and-breakfast she’d stayed at on her way down had intensified her anticipation. Each time she’d told the other guests where she was going, she’d felt even more alive.

  This is what life is about: seeing new places, meeting new people, grabbing life by the balls and squeezing until it coughs up a story worth telling.

  I should write that down.

  She whipped out the purple spiral notebook she’d purchased specifically for this trip and stopped halfway through recording her thoughts, hesitating before writing a word she normally avoided: balls.

  I’m twenty-five, not five. Writers are not afraid of words. On the very first page of her notebook, she wrote:

  Balls. Balls. Balls.

  And smiled with pride. With renewed enthusiasm, she wrote:

  Big balls. Hairy balls. Bald balls?

  Chewing on the end of her pen thoughtfully, Sarah decided to designate a section of her notebook to research topics. She drew a margin on the right side of the paper. In her finest penmanship she wrote:

  Do some men shave their balls?

  I should write: What woman my age doesn’t know that? But this is not about passing judgment. Positive energy brings positive results. Accepting yourself is the first step toward improvement.

  God, I’ve been reading too many self-help books.

  It’s time to stop thinking about why I’m not living the life I want and just live it.

  Which was why she’d chosen to bring a notebook instead of her laptop. Real change sometimes requires a clean sweep. No more wasting time searching the Internet hoping a topic would end her writer’s block. No more reading countless articles on how to write. Just a pen, a notebook, and Texas. If I don’t write something this summer, I deserve to work for my parents for the rest of my life.

  Time to color outside the lines.

  No more settling for good enough.

  Like Doug.

  Her recent breakup with the man she’d dated chastely in high school, then slept with through college, had been as unexciting as any of the sex they’d ever had. Not that they’d had sex at all in months. Which should have mattered, but it hadn’t. Because I didn’t love him. Just like every other choice I’ve made up until now, he was safe, the type of man everyone expected me to be with. Smart, successful, and someone who fit into her parents’ social circle. He’d never said a single thing anyone objected to. Tapioca in a suit. Bland in and out of bed.

  Why was I with him for so long?

  The wrong-size shoe doesn’t fit just because you want it to.

  She slammed her notebook shut and hugged it to her chest. She took another look around the room, then whispered, “The only one who can give me the life I want is me. Right now. Right here.”

  Returning to her more immediate concerns, Sarah looked down at the damp cotton material of her shirt. Who knew how long Lucy would be gone? What if she comes home and she’s not alone? I can’t meet people looking like this.

  Coming to a quick decision, Sarah rushed back to her SUV and hauled her luggage into the foyer. She rummaged for a change of clothes and, taking just her small bag with her, headed off in search of a place where she could freshen up.

  The bleached-white downstairs bathroom was as Spartan as the rest of the house, but it revealed a beautiful . . . no, a heaven-sent shower. She closed her eyes for a moment and imagined washing off the dirt and sweat under the cool spray.

  Would it be so wrong?

  Tony considered taking the shotgun from the back of his truck when he saw the vehicle parked in his driveway, but quickly decided to toss this intruder off his land with his bare hands. Hell, it might even make my day.

  A Rhode Island license plate? Someone had traveled a long way for a good old-fashioned Texas beating.

  ’Course, there was a slim chance that his ranch manager, David, had invited a buyer to pick up his horse directly from the ranch. No, David’s smarter than that.

  Tony opened the door of his truck with more force than was necessary and took stock of the scene in his driveway. No one he knew would have driven this flashy gray two-horse trailer or matching silver Lexus SUV—both of which looked spanking new.

  Upon closer inspection, the trailer looked more like a delivery truck than a pickup. The rear-loading ramp was still down. Clearly, someone had unloaded a horse and led it into the barn.

  He checked the barn’s interior first. Nothing out of place. The stalls were secure. He scanned the paddocks. All his horses were accounted for.

  What the hell? Whoever had driven that trailer had had the gall to put their small horse in one of his paddocks, smack-dab in the middle of his prized quarter horses.

  A delicately boned bay horse, Paso Fino by breed. Tony’s eyes narrowed. Pampered, by the looks of it. Definitely not used to working. The sparkling painted black hooves and pink halter stopped him in his tracks.

  The intruder is a woman. Cursing, Tony strode toward the house, the pace of his footsteps picking up speed as his anger grew.

  He considered each of his past female companions, although none were recent. He chose partners with care—experienced women who understood that he had nothing more than a few hours of mutual pleasuring to offer them. He didn’t promise them anything, and they were too smart to think they could come to his ranch uninvited and receive anything but a cold escort back to the road. The only people who were welcome on his ranch were the ones who worked there, and even they knew to stay out of his way.

  The pink-and-green checkered luggage that greeted him as he entered the house brought a rush of heat up his neck. He heard the downstairs shower running and a female voice mixed with the sound of the spray. Almost positive he must be hallucinating from the heat of the day, he walked toward the bathroom. With a bang he opened the door, stepped inside, and stopped dead when he saw the outline of a small woman dancing behind the fogged glass.

  She must not have heard him, because she kept singing—some pop song, he figured. Not a tune he knew. The tone he chose was one that had caused many grown men to cower over the years. “What the hell are you doing in my shower?”

  The water cut off and a hand shot out, grabbed a towel, and snatched it back behind the glass door. A second later, a wet blonde head poked out. “Hi, I’m Sarah,” she stated, as if that explained everything. “I didn’t think you’d mind if I took a quick shower while waiting for you. Sorry if I surprised you.”

  Her face wore a warm, sheepish smile even while water dripped down from her hair across her forehead. He caught a glimpse of a bare a
rm as her hand came out to wipe the water away. His gut tightened in response.

  Gorgeous.

  Long, wet eyelashes framed two unguarded brown eyes. Small dimples made her classically beautiful features less intimidating. Here was a woman who seemed unaware that a man could have the air sucked right out of his lungs and be rendered speechless by just one look at her.

  The crotch of his jeans became uncomfortably tight as his body came alive with the desire to strip and join her in the shower. He could see the outline of her towel-clad body and the expanse of exposed legs behind the lightly fogged glass. In her rush to cover herself, she hadn’t taken the time to dry off. He imagined sinking to his knees and burying his face in her damp pussy. Would it taste as sweet and fresh as her lips looked? Would she throw her head back and to the side when he lifted her naked against the shower wall and suckled the full breasts he could now only see the rounded tops of? Would her smiling mouth round in a gasp of pleasure as he drove his cock into her for the first time?

  He wasn’t an impulsive man when it came to women, but the throbbing need that swept through him made him want to be.

  Easy, cowboy. A man can’t be blamed for where his thoughts go when he finds a beautiful, naked woman in his shower, but thinking and acting are two different things. She could be anyone, with God only knows what sort of intentions. Something that appears too good to be true almost always is. “I don’t know what made you think—”

  Securing the towel chastely around herself, she stepped out of the shower. With shocking audacity, she smiled and put her hand out to shake his. “I admit I wasn’t sure if it was okay to take a shower before you came home, but I figured since I’m staying here for the summer you wouldn’t mind.”

  Oh, hell no. “You’re what?”

  Her extended hand wavered, then fell to her side. She took a quick step back, eyes darting past him to a pile of clothes she had stacked on the counter near the sink. “I thought you knew.”

  He towered over her, more out of habit than a desire to intimidate her. Members of the press had become more creative recently in their attempts to interview him, but would they go this far? Her pale, creamy skin and pink manicured toenails warned him she’d be trouble. But damned if he didn’t care. “I’m listening.”

 
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