The Cowboy Next Door

By: Linda Warren

Tyler Jakes couldn't believe the nerve of Eden March. Since she'd graduated high school, she'd always been after something bigger and brighter. Tyler had never understood what was wrong with the grandparents or the small Texas town she'd left behind. And now that her grandparents had died, she thought she was going to sell their property and use it for her next scheme? Not if Tyler had anything to say about it. And he did. He'd put all his hopes—and his last bit of money—into using her grandfather's land for his crops. Without it, where would he find the money to feed himself and his daughter…and buy her the clothing she always seemed to lose? There had to be a way to convince Eden that the house, the land, the town and even the cowboy next door were worth another look. And maybe worth a lifetime…

Chapter One
She was back. Tyler Jakes reined in his horse and watched Eden March's blue Tahoe stop in her grandfather's driveway. When Ira March had passed away two months ago, Eden had been home just long enough to take care of her grandfather's affairs before she'd left town, much as she was known to do. Staying in their small hometown of High Cotton, Texas, for any length of time wasn't her style. But now she'd returned—and she wasn't alone, he noted as a white Suburban pulled up behind her. He peered closer at the sign on the car: a real estate agent. What the…? If she had plans to sell, he would have a say in that. He'd leased the land from Ira to grow corn and had already plowed and prepared the land for planting. He needed every dime from those crops, and he wasn't about to let Eden cut him out of the deal.

Kneeing his horse, Tyler galloped toward the barbed wire fence that surrounded the fifty-acre property. He dismounted, tied Champ to a post and strolled through the gate toward them. Eden was talking to the lady and didn't spot him until they turned and started walking to the house. Pushing her sunglasses to the top of her head, she frowned. "Why is it when I come home you're always here?" Her blue eyes flashed with anger as they often did when she spoke to him. Ira had called her his beauty, and she was certainly that, with flowing blond hair and features that had to have been created when God was in a good mood. No question she'd been blessed in the looks department, but in others…he'd always thought she was flighty and irresponsible, constantly flitting from one harebrained scheme to another. While he had to pick up the pieces. He cleared his throat. "I take care of the place." "Who gave you permission to do that?" The sun picked out the silver highlights of her hair and he was mesmerized for a second. "Your grandfather did." "Pa isn't here anymore and I'd appreciate it if you'd stay off my property." She marched up to the door, twisted the knob and pushed. The door didn't open. She tried again. No luck. She swung toward him. "It's locked." "Seems like it. Don't you have a key?" The smooth lines of her face crunched into a bigger frown. "I suppose, but I'm not sure where it is. Pa always kept the door open." Her baby blue eyes caught his. "I'm betting you have one." He jammed a hand into his jeans pocket for the key. Strolling to her side, he shoved it into the lock and opened the door. Eden didn't move. She stood right at his shoulder, and a delicate fragrance reached him. For a moment he had difficulty concentrating. She held out a hand, palm up. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what she wanted. He laid the key in her palm. "Thank you. And from now on, please, stay away." But Tyler wasn't leaving it at that. Not when he had so much at stake. He offered his hand to the real estate lady, who seemed to be rendered speechless by the interaction between Eden and Tyler. "I'm Tyler Jakes. I own the property next door." "Mona Parker." The older woman eyed him. "Oh, yes. You're the rodeo guy." "Used to be. I'm a farmer and rancher now." "And he was just leaving," Eden said.

Mona looked around. "How many acres with the house?" "Fifty," Eden replied. "That will be a big draw. People like a country setting where they can have horses and ride fourwheelers." "That is not happening," Tyler interrupted. "I lease those fifty acres and no one is riding ATVs over my crops." Eden stared at him, dumbfounded. "What are you talking about?" "I leased the land from Ira." "But Pa is dead, surely whatever agreements he made aren't still binding." "Ira's word is binding to me." Eden paled. "This is a problem," Mona said, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "Do you have a contract, Mr. Jakes?" Tyler was about to respond and make darned sure that he quashed Eden's attempt to sell—or at least stalled it—when he saw Chance Hardin drive into his yard. Chance was the foreman of the Southern Cross ranch. If he was in Tyler's driveway, it probably meant he had a job for Tyler. The large Southern Cross ranch was located across the road from Tyler's small spread, making it easy for him to pick up extra jobs. And since he needed every spare cent, he had to cut this short. "I…I have to go. But I'd love to tell you all about my long-term agreement with Ira. Do you have a business card?" Mona fished in her purse and handed one to him. "We really should get this straight. Ms. March, didn't you say you were in a rush?" Before Eden could respond, Tyler suggested, "How about if we meet here at nine in the morning?" "That's fine with me," Mona replied. Eden stepped to the side so only he could hear. "If you ruin this for me, I'll never forgive you." "Well, Eden, lucky for me that forgiveness is not something I need from you." He tipped his hat to the ladies and strode over to meet Chance. ***

. made new friends and started a new life. Her grandparents always told her how beautiful she was. She headed for Hollywood to test her skills. Her grandfather doted on him. She took fashion and design classes in Austin. Her grandparents. Without much thought they'd left her with her father's parents. Nothing in High Cotton. Her parents had argued constantly and her life had been in turmoil. but soon found there were thousands of girls more beautiful. wanting to prove to them that she could succeed. She ran across the hardwood floor. Even though Tyler was six years older. She tried not to be jealous. heavenly. "Everything will work out. Tyler's mom had remarried and moved away. and on and on. pesky fly in her happiness—Tyler Jakes. only to be met with the news that Tyler and his wife had had a child. She got a gig modeling for a catalogue and once again called home. After Eden got over the shock of their abandonment. and she could almost feel her grandmother's arms around her. nothing that made her feel special. But two short years later. There was just one problem—what to do with Eden. down the hall to their bedroom and fell into a big feather bed. But finally she landed a bit in a commercial and called home to tell her grandparents. still unsure what she really wanted to do. soaking up Pa's knowledge. so she changed courses and devoted every moment to studying acting and modeling. Eden felt invisible. But there was a big. Her anger at Tyler disappeared as she stood in the living/kitchen area and soaked up the ambience of her grandparents." That's what she'd said when Eden's parents. Two recliners sat facing a huge fireplace and a TV. The scent of Pa's pungent pipe still lingered. But they were more excited that Tyler had gotten married. anyway. Pa had been an agriculture teacher and Tyler was one of his favorite students—which meant Tyler was at their house asking Pa questions about growing coastal and corn. had decided to divorce and go their separate ways. by contrast. A moment of sadness and loneliness hit her. his father having died when he was young. she couldn't wait to get away. and Tyler quit the rodeo circuit to come home and run the ranch—which meant he spent even more time at their house. and what was the best feed his mom should buy for their cattle. When he was around. but there didn't seem to be anything she was good at. blooming in the love and attention that her grandparents showered on her. She'd had a brief moment of happiness when Tyler graduated high school and joined the rodeo circuit. Eden locked the door and flipped on a light. she realized it had been a good decision. He was a child of a single mom. She went to school in High Cotton. more talented and more driven. It was soft. Beauty. after ten years of marriage. had never argued. they always seemed to be competing for her grandparents' attention. They were a stabilizing force for Eden. And by the time she turned eighteen.After Tyler and Mona left.

What's up?" . Around the time her grandmother had passed away. And judging from the way he'd seemed intent on torpedoing her appointment with the real estate agent. She ran her hand over the handmade quilt on the bed. He dismounted as he neared Chance and shook his friend's hand. nothing had changed. She could see Tyler talking to Chance Hardin. he thought of the encounter with Eden. She'd gone home for her grandmother's funeral and to grieve with Pa. She'd be a success yet. She supposed he was handsome in a rugged sort of way. Chapter Two Tyler galloped toward his house. She was going to blow a gasket when she found out he had a say in any potential sale. bought supplies and started making her own jewelry pieces. Evidently she hadn't read her grandfather's will. she walked into the kitchen and glanced out the window. Chance. But she had never thought of him in that way. Eden knew as soon as the woman had said it that it would be her break. she'd gone to a craft store on a lark. Only he'd died before she could even get the money together. Tyler had wanted to comfort Eden in some way. "Hey. wanting to have something to show for it first. one of the store owners had urged her to go to New York and sell her designs to the fashion industry. But that's why she was home—the sale of the house would give her enough capital to get started. Could she let it go? Getting up. Tall and lean. Tyler had brown eyes and hair and a swagger that was typical cowboy. When her grandmother had passed on right before Thanksgiving about a year ago. She was so close…and this time she wouldn't fail. She was home to sell the property. He'd always been her archenemy. if only in spirit now. but hadn't said a word to him about her new career. Almost a year to the day. But Eden March was nothing if not determined. Ira had followed his wife. So many memories were in this old house. but getting close to her was similar to getting close to a porcupine. But now she did.Everything she did seemed to pale in comparison to Tyler's life. But this time. At least if she wanted to sell the house. that she could be as big a success as Tyler. Tyler had stayed out of the way. And now she had the ticket to that success. She'd made it very clear with sharp barbs that she didn't need him. People continually stopped her to ask about them and almost overnight she was making and selling her jewelry to craft stores and boutiques. Ever since Eden had left High Cotton seven years ago. her trips home had been sporadic. They would be proud of her. A bit in a commercial and a brief job modeling did not equal success. He smiled. giving them time together. It was her chance to prove to her grandparents. she'd stayed through Christmas to help Ira adjust. Her grandmother had made it. she'd be the one who came out on top. One day about two years ago.

He's limping. ." Tyler waved goodbye and noticed the real estate lady had left." Tyler replied without too much enthusiasm. that we only have a few minutes before the momma breaks loose?" He tipped his hat." "I doubt it. but I need a good roper who can go in quick and get the calf down so I can examine his hoof." "Team roping?" "Yep. See you tomorrow." Chance glanced toward the March house. I'll be the header. they'd be enemies forever. "I can handle it. I'd give you some advice. I did mention this could be dangerous. "What's the problem?" "I got a Brahma bull calf with something in his foot. It's going to take some magic to get the rope around his back feet. Since I don't. but it wouldn't do any good. He could go over and try to talk to Eden. But don't you have your own cowboys who can do that?" "Yeah." "Yeah. so that's your job. but when we try to get close to the calf the momma charges. "Eden's back." "I have to pick Jenny up from school in a few minutes. It's too far away from the corral and a hassle to take portable pens out there. "Wonder if she'll stay this time."Are you in for a little cowboying?" "Always. Will tomorrow work?" "Sure. Once she contacted the lawyer." His friend watched him. I'll keep my mouth shut. Her life is not in this small town. but you'll have to be the heeler. But I got a situation that calls for an expert…so why not ask a national finals champion?" That always made him grin. "If I knew anything about women." he admitted. "Still not getting along?" "Not even close." "And you have a plan?" "The cowboys can cut the calf from the herd for a few minutes.

"You're growing up." . Roping a steer was much easier. but Jenny was his responsibility. Jenny gathered her hair and whipped a band around it in two seconds flat. She'd said small-town life was stifling. Jenny scrunched up her face. God. "Jenny. land and job were here." He handed her the brush. He was betting on the crops on his and Ira's land to get him back on his feet. "It's easy. Daddy. Eventually the marriage ended and Tyler had refused to let Denise take his daughter. period. Things were so much easier when his mom was here. Jenny. "I can do it." He sighed. That is. he'd fight her 'till the bitter end. They'd argued about moving to a big city. "Now for the million-dollar question. he found an old denim jacket. He'd never expected Denise to run out on them. Oblivious to his dark thoughts. Where's your jacket?" She shrugged. *** The next morning Tyler was in a rush getting his six-year-old daughter. Searching through Jenny's closet. He'd been surprised when Denise had caved so easily." "No." But he hoped not too fast. His mother had a right to her own life. She'd spent many years taking care of him. He couldn't seem to hold it long enough before strands slipped out." Big brown eyes stared at him. Daddy. Still. but his roots. he was inept at raising a girl. At the third attempt. being a single father was hell. But it was the most difficult task he'd ever attempted. off to school. "Daddy can't afford another jacket right now. I can do it. He was inept at being a father. "What?" "You're not very good at this." He hugged her." Every time he turned around there was one more bill to pay. if Eden didn't sell Ira's land out from under him. "See." he admitted.Which was fine with him. I'm not. If the choice was between the money to feed his daughter and Eden March's current harebrained scheme. He brushed her hair and gathered it together so he could loop a band around it. "This will have to do.

"Pa took very good care of it. And the conversation centered around Tyler and his accomplishments. Lofton. Tyler had sat across from her. After dropping Jenny at school and watching her run off in her too-small jacket." Every holiday they'd eaten at this table. Maybe you left your jacket in her classroom. Damn him. Eden glared at him. Jakes. Once she'd left for college and Tyler had gotten married. or you're going to be late. and Gran had her place at the end by the kitchen." Mona exclaimed as they walked around. "Let's go." "It's almost a hundred years old. "Don't worry. somehow she'd never been back during the holidays. He had to do better than this. He had it painted five years ago and the roof is new. Pa sat at the head. Tyler headed for Eden's." she replied. which was great for him but Jenny hated it." A broke cowboy who was struggling to raise a little girl. Eden touched the dark oak. "Everybody knows my daddy's a cowboy." "What a beautiful dining room set. I'll check with Mrs." The school had an after school program for kids whose parents worked." She followed him into the kitchen. Once the crops were in from his land and Ira's he'd have more time for Jenny." Jenny smiled. "I was just looking at the house." Mona glanced at the floor." "'Kay. ready for battle. He removed his hat. "Is this the original flooring?" "Yes. pumpkin. "Morning. He seemed to have that effect on women.After she slipped it on. Eden's seat was on the side and unless the planets were out of alignment. His heart sank. Until her grandmother had passed away. It was a little tight in the shoulders and the sleeves were too short. "It belonged to my great-grandparents. ladies." he said. he gave it the once-over." Mona smiled at him. Daddy has to work." "Mr. "Pa said they don't make wood like that anymore. her two front teeth missing. "Do I have to stay 'til six today?" "Yes. *** Eden was showing Mona around when Tyler walked in. .

So many memories. There was so much love in this house. Maybe it had something to do with her parents abandoning her. You never called and only visited ." She'd brought her shoe down hard on his boot. "The fireplace warms the whole house and the window units adequately cool the place. It never has been. Does the furniture go with the house?" "I'm not sure. You waltz in here. The pump has to be primed—a lot. A potential buyer will see that. so." "Yeah. it's obvious the land is plowed and ready for planting. Eden turned on Tyler. is that your motto." Eden denied." His eyes darkened. of course. Take a few days and let me know your decision." "It is not." Tyler knocked on a wall with his fist. You have to keep the pump shed warm or the pump will freeze." His brow knotted in resentment. "Ms." Mona shoved the clipboard into her big purse. but before she could respond. I didn't notice your foot. "Well. "and it's old and tiresome at best." Eden admitted." As soon as the door closed. huh? They mean nothing to you. Tyler spoke up. so there's no insulation anywhere. She'd loved cooking with her grandmother. Eden immediately brought her attention back to the conversation. And she had to wonder why at times she felt so unloved. "Sorry." Mona looked from one to the other. "I'm assuming there's a well for water. From the road. Jakes have to work this out. stopping his unwanted opinion. "How dare you. "you and Mr. It takes—Ouch. March. What about Mavis's quilts and afghans? You gonna sell them in a garage sale? Take the money and run. the fireplace. not double like they are today. And the fact she had to compete with Tyler for her grandparents' affection. but he didn't say anything else. Nothing in this house is of value to you. Eden? How about her china and dishes? Just chuck them." Tyler replied. trying to sell everything Ira and Mavis ever had without a second thought. "How is the house heated and cooled?" Mona was asking.She ran her hand along the surface of the table and could almost smell Gran's chicken and dressing that she'd made in a roaster older than Eden. it seems there's a lot to be decided before we can take this to contract. but the house is very drafty in winter and hot in the summer. and the pipes to the house have to be drained or they'd all bust. "Window units and space heaters and. "These walls are single. "I have all I need. Not even your grandparents. and in the wintertime it's a headache. "And how dare you." Mona scribbled something on her clipboard.

but not quite like that—with so much emotion." "Any luck in selling the place?" Eden sat cross-legged on the feather bed. Heavens." "I'm just tired from driving. she'd slapped him hard across the face. softly this time. Eden had had to take odd jobs to pay her share of the rent. and they'd hit it off as soon as they'd discovered they were from the same state. I'll have to go with the Realtor and that's going to take time. Paige. his eyes darkened even more and he framed her face with his hands. Eden regained her equilibrium and held a hand to her quivering lips. roughened cheek. If he's not. trembling." "I guess you made it home safely then?" "Yeah. I contacted a Realtor. I'm so sorry. She dashed to the bedroom to get it. "Tyler. "Hi. never noticed that his lips were full and oh-sotempting… Suddenly. she'd been kissed before. without a word or a backward glance. too. bringing her closer to him. It would be much faster. He owns a lot of land here and might be interested. In slow motion he brought his lips down on hers in a gentle kiss. Never noticed that he smelled of a tantalizing mix of leather and sunshine. she'd left it in there. you never cared about—" Before she knew what she was doing. almost a caress. They were planning to stay together in New York. He let her go abruptly and. she flipped it open. She'd never done anything like that before in her life. still feeling his touch. but she hoped to remedy her financial situation soon." Her voice sounded raspy. strolled from the room. but I might speak to Judd Calhoun this afternoon.sporadically. She'd never been this aware of him. "Are you okay? You sound funny. After a moment. The skin-on-skin sound seemed to echo between them. Snatching it up. I arrived late yesterday. his masculine scent all around her. but the force of her response made her knees buckle and she went limp against him. She was horrified. Chapter Three The buzz of her phone brought Eden to her senses. "No." She pressed her hand to his warm. It was her roommate in Hollywood. Paige. Since she'd slept in her grandparents' room. Her friend was from Dallas. How do you think that made your grandparents feel? They loved you and wanted you here." .

the armoire Gran had received as a wedding gift from her parents. trying to get a calf away from his mother. At first she thought it was a wreck. Curious."But without that money you're not going to be able to stay in New York long and your business is dead in the water. she saw trucks parked on the side of the road. We can stay with my sister who works at Bloomingdale's until we find a place. the wrought iron bed that had belonged to her grandfather's parents. but first she had to find a buyer for the property. I hope your jewelry starts selling like hotcakes. Thirty minutes later she had her answer—Judd wasn't interested in the place. These things meant something to her. The cowboys worked steadily. Tyler and Chance Hardin." Paige was a computer whiz and also a singer. which. I have your new. They were both eager to try their talents in New York City. expanded website almost ready to upload. looking handsome and rugged. That was not what she wanted to hear As she traveled from the big ranch. Cows threw up their heads in fear and loud bellows echoed. It's going to be so exciting. whose property joined hers and who already had crops planned for her grandfather's fields. the Southern Cross. but then she noticed several men had gotten out of their vehicles to watch a herd of Brahma cows. They talked for a while longer and Eden promised to call as soon as she wrapped up things in High Cotton. Pa's silver dollar collection. Trying to keep her thoughts off Tyler. Tyler and Chance readied their ropes. They were going to rope something. Gran's handmade quilts. . A rush of excitement shot through her. opened her door and got out. seemed to be discussing something. *** Eden spent the morning going through things in the house. She couldn't bear to part with any of those items. Tyler had been wrong. Pa's Purple Heart and the feather bed. In the distance. she grabbed her purse and headed for her vehicle and Judd's ranch. sitting on a chestnut-colored quarter horse with three white stocking feet. she saw a handful of cowboys on horses talking amongst themselves. if she had anything to say about it. The cowboys weaved their horses through the agitated cows. Her eyes zeroed in on Tyler. the foreman. but he suggested she contact Tyler Jakes." "We've already given notice at the apartment and our flight to New York is booked for just weeks from now. Chance motioned to the cowboys and pointed to the herd. Storing them would be the logical decision. would be very soon." "Mmm. she stopped behind one of the trucks. There was so much stuff: the antique dining room set.

In a split second. Eden noticed the baby limping." She wrapped her arms around her waist. "Didn't I tell ya. He was a good man." . Rufus Johns. She'd acknowledged his talent on her own. Eden held her breath. The Brahma pawed the ground and snorted." "Yes. as did Chance's. He tipped his hat. joined him. leaning on his truck." Finally. but the big cow charged straight for them. It was getting chilly. For a little while. digging in their hooves and galloping toward safety. just daring them to take one step toward her baby. No one did it better than Tyler Jakes. The momma cow had managed to get away from the other cowboys. bellowing. Hopper—one of the men in the crowd she'd joined— said. Johns walked toward his truck and Mr. After a moment. Johns said. Chance jumped into the saddle and he and Tyler simultaneously loosened their ropes and jerked. flinging her head from side to side. Chance's uncle. On cue. They kneed their horses and the animals responded beautifully." Mr. "I'll miss Ira. I taught those boys everything they know. The calf was free. Her grandfather had told her that many times. coordination and horsemanship. the momma and the little one trotted into the woods. There had been something in its hoof. grinning. you're home. "You just watch. Pulling a small pair of pliers from his jeans pocket."They'll never get a rope on that calf. he removed something and held it up to Tyler. Ben. "Miss Eden. but now something was different. She was still reeling from the magnificent show of skill. Should have known better. holding the calf flat and tight. Then someone shouted and all hell broke loose. watching the cow and calf." Mr. Tyler followed. Her knees felt weak. examining the hooves. It didn't take her long to figure out what it was. Chance immediately bolted out and threw his rope around the calf's neck. "Yep. Chance jumped off his horse and straddled the calf. Ben?" Mr. Chance and Tyler pulled up. the cowboys had the calf out in the open and tried to keep the momma in with the herd. Tyler's horse backed up. Hopper noticed her. standing in the stirrups and sailing his rope in a perfect loop under the hind hooves and the calf went down. Out of harm's way.

He had a very big heart. Maybe you should go home. she carried firewood from the back porch and placed it in the fireplace. She loved making a fire and she had enough wood to last while she was here. "Call if you need anything. What's your name?" Who was she? There were no cars in the driveway…. "Hi. she heard a tap at the door. As she stuffed old newspapers beneath the logs to light. It couldn't be Tyler. and she wasn't sure what to do with this one. figuring it was the best way to start the conversation. too." the girl said. "My name is Jenny. "How did you get here?" she asked. This had to be Tyler and Denise's child. kid. Jenny pointed to Tyler's house." Jenny shrugged again." For a moment she was speechless. Her blond hair was in a ponytail. "Can I sit in Pa's chair? He lets me do that. I took him to school for show-and-tell. her heart hammered against her ribs. When she reached home. "Are you Eden?" Eden had never been good with kids. The tops were pink. "Daddy told me that Pa's granddaughter was here and I wanted to meet her 'cause I'm Pa's granddaughter."Thank you. Could it? Against her will. smiling with two front teeth missing." "What?" "I don't have a grandpa and he said he'd be mine." . but it sounded just like Pa. Chapter Four She opened the door and found a little girl—Eden judged her to be about five or six years old— standing there. Eden drew a long breath. Please go away. Big brown eyes stared at Eden." "Thank you." she said again and climbed into her car. "Does your father know you're here?" Jenny shrugged. She would miss that in New York. Everyone here was so friendly." He opened his door. "I'm sure your dad is worried about you. She wore jeans stuffed into cowboy boots.

Maybe because he sensed Eden had conflicting emotions about Tyler. she noticed Jenny had made her way to the table." "Gee." "Are you Beauty? Eden dropped a bead and immediately picked it up. I sell them." She stepped back and closed the door." Jenny tried hard to keep her bottom lip from trembling and Eden felt even worse. How could she be mean to an innocent child? "You can sit in Pa's chair." Eden bent down to her level. Jenny looked lost in the big chair. While she had time." . to wear?" "Yes. "I don't want to now. leaving the door open. Stringing large lime-green and crystal beads with silver spacers onto a flexible professional wire. She must have had a loving relationship with Pa. she left Jenny in the chair and went to the table where she had her jewelry-making supplies laid out. "I'm making a fire in the fireplace. "I'm sorry. she thought she'd make matching sets of bracelets. And yet Pa had only mentioned the little girl in passing. "Why do you ask that?" "'Cause Pa said he called his granddaughter Beauty and I wanted him to call me Beauty but he said there was only one Beauty. "Whatcha doing?" "Making a bracelet. necklaces and earrings to sell on the website." The lip stuck out farther. "Like. but it was obvious she was familiar with the house. Soon the fire roared to life. She reached for Gran's afghan on the arm and curled up. The moment she did all she saw was that hurt little face." "Thank you. She yanked it open. She found matches on the mantel and lit the newspaper." Eden walked inside."I'm very busy." she replied. this isn't a good time. That was rude. without looking up. Want to help?" "No. Where was Tyler? Did he allow his child to run all over the place unsupervised? Not sure what else to do. As she was putting the screen in front of it. It's pretty. Jenny trailed in and then made a dash for Pa's recliner and jumped in.

And the feeling she had to compete for that love. "Uh-oh." Her throat closed for a second. "Where can I hide?" Eden smiled. but she didn't want to be a mommy." Eden stopped stringing beads as she suddenly saw herself clearly in Jenny—the need to be loved." Jenny quickly glanced around. It made him human. Damn. "I think so. recognizing the pain of a nine-year-old whose parents didn't want her. They both heard the pounding of hooves." . and there's only one Cutiepie and that's me. "Don't you have a bigger jacket?" "I lost it and Daddy can't afford to buy me a new one. She realized her grandfather hadn't loved Jenny any more than he'd loved her. "We did good." "Oh. "My mommy left me. either. The land she wanted to sell. She'd always thought Tyler had the Midas touch and it was surreal finding out that he had faults and troubles like everyone else. "Did she love you?" Eden rolled a bead between her fingers. but she knew now that she hadn't." Jenny fiddled with a bead. And neither had Jenny. Pa had told her that Tyler and Denise had divorced. We did good. "So he called me Cutiepie. which was noticeably too small for her. "Daddy says when he sells the calves and the crops come in things will be better."Oh." "And I had my grandparents." Jenny's brown eyes opened big." The crops on her grandfather's land." Jenny blurted out. She stared at the little girl. "He probably already knows you're here. but I got Daddy. so why had Eden felt that need to compete with Tyler? The thought was unsettling. too. but then…then she left me. And appealing." Why hadn't she focused on that all those years ago? Eden had felt as if she'd done something wrong. huh?" "Yes." "Mine didn't. "My daddy says Mommy used to call me angel. Jenny pulled at the sleeves of her denim jacket. Obviously not." Jenny smiled. but Eden assumed Denise still saw her child.

Jenny wasn't in the kitchen or the living area. "Do you want to get it? Or should I?" Her brown eyes brightened. "Tell Jenny to come out." Sweat stained his shirt and dirt caked his jeans." "Jenny. "You might want to do that yourself. "Yes. Tyler said." Eden opened the door and Tyler came straight to the point." Jenny trudged toward her father in boots that seemed as if they weighed ten pounds each. Don't get involved. "I'm sitting in Pa's chair." "Let's go. but there was another awareness now." "Yes. Eden looked at Jenny. tight jeans. I'll be there in a minute. she looked back at Eden." Tyler knocked on the door. "You stay right here and I'll let your father in. boots and a worn Stetson suddenly made her blood race. Had she escaped? A blonde head popped up over the top of the recliner. "I'm sorry if she bothered you. Daddy. "Bye." Eden's heart ached at the sad face. sir." When Jenny reached the doorway."Gee. Broad shoulders. As soon as the door closed." "Go home and sit in the time-out chair. no. walking inside." She waved a hand toward the kitchen. Don't get involved. "You can and I'll run out the front. His presence seemed to fill up the house and warm it more than the fire ever could." Eden tried not to laugh as she got to her feet." he called." "Bye. sir." "No. I told you not to come over here. She never knew she liked cowboys." . "How old is she?" "Six.

I miss him. He didn't want his kid in the middle of his and Eden's issues." "But I should get Jenny home. And he couldn't believe all the suppressed emotions it had generated. It took a little piece of his heart every time he had to."She's a ball of energy." "And I had no right to slap you. . Jenny?" "I…I…wanted to sit in Pa's chair. He wanted to kiss her again. His blood pressure had spiked when he discovered where she was. He took a deep breath. to be with her. She crawled into a chair. To hold her. facing the wall. "We have to talk. In the living room. But getting involved with Eden was too risky. Daddy. Daddy?" "Yes. And Jenny's. "I'm sorry about earlier. What could she do? Chapter Five Tyler went through his back door feeling lower than a snake. But Eden needed the money from the sale of the land to start her business and her new successful life." He nodded. God. He hated disciplining Jenny." He raised his eyes to hers. he couldn't believe he'd kissed her. I had no right to say those things. Like Denise. She'd never dreamed Tyler depended on the crops he grew on her grandfather's land for his very livelihood. I'll come over later." "Some days she does me in. Eden's life was not in this small town." He walked to the kitchen table and sat down. "Can I get up now. "Why did you disobey me." As the door closed. Eden knew she had a big decision to make. And he and Eden had business to take care of that required cool heads. Why did he have to go to heaven?" Big tears rolled down her cheeks." "Yes. he saw Jenny sitting in her little chair.

too." He poked her chest. Daddy." "But I didn't want him to go. "Does Pa live in Eden." Jenny nodded. Daddy. He held her closer. vegetables and fruit trees. "Eden. "You mean she wears jewelry?" "No." she wailed. "What did Pa tell you?" "Every time I see a flower to think of him. and he was ready." "Yeah." . too?" "Oh. not sure what to say to her or how to make her feel better. Pa taught you about flowers. Yes. "Her mommy left her." Her eyes grew big. Eden was an actress and a model. Why would she be making her own jewelry? To sell? That didn't make sense. Ira had raved constantly about how well she was doing. Jenny must have sensed it because she said. I got you." He had no idea what Jenny was talking about. "Remember you said goodbye to Pa and you gave him a big kiss." "Uh-huh. "He knew all about that stuff." "She told you that?" Jenny bobbed her head.He gathered her into his arms." "Oh. All you have to do is think about him and all the things he taught you. He stroked her hair. Tyler was sure his daughter had that wrong." "Eden makes jewelry. He wanted to be with Mavis. "He was sick. "Pa lives right there in you. Daddy?" For a moment he was thrown off balance. she puts it together with real pretty colors and she sells it." He pulled her chin out from his chest. Parenting a prayer at a time was the best he could do. too. "Yep. and Eden had Pa and Gran. baby. Eden has lots of memories of Pa." Jenny announced. And we decided we did good.

"Pumpkin. I'll call Mrs. Hopper to see if she'll sit with you. I make more selling my original jewelry now. Usually Jenny never discussed Denise. He took a seat. "Listen." She nodded her head. "Come in. How about this spring we plant a garden with flowers and vegetables? We'll call it Ira's Garden. and he decided not to hurt his brain by thinking about it. When she opened the door. "Jenny said you made jewelry. Opening a desk drawer. The idea was jarring. "You sound surprised. Waiting for Eden to talk to the lawyer about the will now seemed like the coward's way. He didn't want to give her the option of saying she didn't want to see him. her sadness forgotten. Black slacks and a white pullover sweater showcased her gorgeous feminine body. he pulled out a large manila envelope. stones and various other things he didn't recognize. he caught his breath. He had to find out on his own. *** Tyler didn't call Eden. Eden had taken the time and bonded with his daughter over a very touchy subject. pumpkin. The table was covered with brightly colored beads." "That's what Ira said. Daddy has to go out for a little while. How would you like that?" "Yeah!" She clapped her hands. as did she." She lifted an eyebrow. He followed her into the kitchen and stopped short. but now she seemed happy that someone understood. Her perfect features were relaxed and not tight as they usually were when she was with him. He just showed up. He wanted to ask more about Eden but didn't. I won't be long. He owed it to Ira to do it himself. A bit in a commercial and a gig modeling for a catalogue is not a big money-paying career." Tyler took a quick shower and changed clothes. She reads good stories. Red socks were on her feet. Her long silver-blond hair tumbled around her.He was stunned. Maybe Eden wasn't so flighty after all." "'Kay. "Oh. He soaked it up like raw cotton absorbs water. You thought I was still acting or modeling." "My grandfather tended to embellish." ." she said in a polite voice he hadn't heard in a long time.

"They loved us both. We lost a lot of time with them because of it."Oh. She wanted to move to Houston. We both love Pa and have mothers who left us. since we're making heartfelt confessions…what happened to you and Denise?" He swallowed. "Thank you for being so nice to Jenny." "Without Jenny?" ." "Mmm. "Yes. I'm sorry for that." "And instead I hogged your grandparents' focus. I have full custody. and then smiled a smile that made his heart beat faster. I could never do anything as good as you. made this lousy day brighter." "Oh. We were the ones that made it a competition. I didn't." "Even at nine you were very self-confident." Tyler was confused." "You should be. Not sure where to begin. The fire crackled in the living room behind him and she curled her feet beneath her." Their eyes locked. I'm sorry." she replied. he said. She liked to party and go to clubs. I needed their love as much as you did. I didn't. too." "It wasn't confidence. She chose to leave. and didn't always have time to bake me cookies like Mavis. not sure how to fit any of this new information in with the image he'd always had of Eden." "It pissed me off…and it hurt me. "Well. It took him a moment to concentrate. It never occurred to me to think of how hard that must have been for you. We came to an impasse and I told her she could either stay or go. I lost a parent. It was self-defense. "Denise's idea of marriage and mine weren't the same." He shifted uncomfortably. just in different ways. My mom was a single mother." "We have a lot in common. and laid the papers on the table. Talking to Jenny earlier made me realize how desperately I wanted love and attention. She cocked her head. or teach me about planting crops like Ira." "And I could never do anything to make them love me more than they loved you. "So Jenny lives with you?" she asked.

and his heart twisted." "Eden. But it's too late… They're gone." she breathed against his lips as he pulled away gently. Somehow I have to do this—I have to prove the time and the care my grandparents gave to me was worthwhile and that I can succeed at something. she signed over her parental rights." "So they'll be proud of you?" She lifted her eyes to his." She moved aside a plastic container of turquoise stones. Of course. I'm going to make it okay." She glanced at her hands. the manila envelope clutched in his hand. I design and craft the pieces. anyway."I wouldn't let her take the baby and she eventually left without her. then another. My mother advised me to tell her the truth and I did. in awe of the softness of her skin. so they'll…love me. Only it takes money to start a business. "But if I don't. I'm not sure how to part with any of my grandparents' treasures. it'll be one more failure. "I'm moving to New York in less than a month to get the business going in a big way." "Wise decision. "Yes. I glossed over a lot of it and emphasized how much Denise loved her. but everything feminine in her lit a fuse deep in him. "Tyler. He cupped her face for a moment. You had it every day of your life. Chapter Six . "So your new line of work is creating jewelry?" "Yes." He stared at all the beads and stones on the table. but they do. He'd only meant to give her comfort." He forced himself to get up and walk out the door. before his lips touched hers." "Yes…and no. I thought inheriting this house was the answer to my prayers. We went back and forth over custody until she met an older guy with money who didn't want kids." "I know…now." She brushed away an errant tear. "Shh…Eden. you never had to succeed to gain their love. As silly as that sounds. I have full and permanent custody. "Jenny was barely a year old and I didn't know how I was going to explain what had happened when she got older. and he tasted her sweetness and her pain. Everything's going to be okay. but… You said the things in the house didn't have any sentimental value for me." "That must have been a relief." He rubbed his hands together. After a few months. Clunky and bold is in these days. His were grown. She moaned and he took the kiss to another level. The world rolled away.

She had to know he wouldn't stand in her way. Ira had wanted her to be happy." she grumbled. she curled up in Pa's chair and wrapped Gran's afghan around her. He tore up the legal document and threw it into the fireplace." "'Kay. Then he'd work his own ranch and plant crops after he signed off there. as they walked out the door. He'd talk to her as soon as he dropped Jenny at school. Lofton?" "Yeah. Eden wasn't happy in small-town Texas. He had to find a way to make ends meet without the crops he'd planned to harvest on the March property. she was agonizing about what had happened last night. It was in darkness—she must be still asleep. he thought of the new feelings they'd shared lately—the intimate confessions…the romantic. but it was morning. He'd always admired her bravery. she should be packing and cleaning and getting things together. Quickly she placed the logs on the burning ashes and stoked it. Before he crawled into bed. After replacing the screen. He would recoup his losses somehow and move on. With a cup in hand. He had no right to it. He'd realized that when she'd talked of her dream in New York. Tyler wanted her to be happy. He steered Jenny in another direction. She had big-city dreams. Last night was still fresh in his mind. *** Eden woke up to warmth. She should be making jewelry. The temperature was low and she shivered. It wouldn't be easy. So he had to step back and let it happen. And her dreams. "Can I go to Eden's this afternoon?" Tyler forced himself not to show any emotion. "Don't you have a project to finish for Mrs. but he wasn't taking anything from Eden that rightly belonged to her. . It was Eden's land. she went to make coffee. grabbed two logs and hurried inside. Chance would give him all the work he could at the Southern Cross. But he still had to make time for Jenny. The feather bed was so cozy and she didn't want to move. she padded into the living room and saw the fire was almost out. passionate kisses. too.Tyler stayed up late going over his books. She dashed to the porch. Instead. her courage to stretch her wings as far as they would go. Eden had a zest for life unmatched by anyone he'd ever met. It burst to life. But like Denise. In pajama bottoms. T-shirt and socks. Was he destined to always fall for the wrong woman? The next morning. And she had tons to do. He glanced at the March house. Jenny asked. For a moment he wished it could lead to a lot more. but—" "Work on it first.

to feel his arms around her. "It's nice and warm in here. At twenty-five. She didn't move a muscle. Ira March. "Could we talk?" He walked into the kitchen. It was from her grandfather's lawyer. he'd assume she was still asleep. "Why are you here?" she asked. He was awesome in boots." he said. For his dedication to me and my welfare. he'd pulled away. Complete silence filled the room. She should be able to figure it out. but reading her grandfather's words made everything clear—he'd loved Tyler more. Pa had practically given him her inheritance. Pa had left everything to her so she couldn't imagine what it could be. Tyler. But just when she'd thought they'd go further. Her eyes froze on the page. She actually wanted to hit him again. Her stomach fluttered in excitement. are you awake?" Darn! She'd forgotten to lock the door. his hands on her skin. It was a codicil to her grandfather's will. The fire crackled and suddenly Eden was hot—hot all over— with renewed resentment. A large manila envelope addressed to her caught her eye. exhilarating and passionate. She'd wanted to lose herself in him. saying everything was going to be okay. she stared into the glowing embers. Ripping it open. she sat down to read. She fingered the document.She'd wanted Tyler to kiss her and it was everything she'd wanted it to be—exciting. "Have you spoken to Ira's lawyer?" . She could feel Tyler's lips on hers and she hated that she'd been fooled so easily. trying to keep the anger out of her voice. She'd thought she'd gotten beyond the competition between them. holding his hands to the fire. bringing the cool January temperature with him. even though she didn't want it to. A legal description followed. I. She pulled out a legal document. hereby grant Tyler Jakes first choice to purchase said property. What did he mean by that? Taking a sip of coffee. Her stomach growled so she went into the kitchen to make toast. She just wanted to be with him again. It was probably junk. For the said price. An amount was listed that blew her mind. but she was clueless. He walked in. She failed. "Eden. she'd been kissed before. A knock sounded at the door. Maybe if she didn't open the door. She couldn't deal with him right now. tight jeans and a Stetson. but she took a moment to flip through it. Yesterday she'd picked up Pa's mail and it was lying on the counter.

Mr. I'd planned to do that Monday. when he opened the door. Is that what you planned all along? Kiss up to Eden and she'll go along with anything?" "I didn't plan what happened with us." "Why not? Pa wanted you to have this place. Tyler was gone when she went through the kitchen to the door. where Mr. "But I guess it's a whole lot more than that. intending to be in Giddings. That was honest and real. Leave me with some dignity. don't touch me. I received a copy about two weeks ago. You were the son he always wanted." "Eden. and she followed him into his office." She held up the envelope. I was just the flighty granddaughter." She ran from the room. I'm sorry." She got up and placed her cup in the sink. She had to have answers. "Please. "You do realize the price is staggeringly low?" "I had no idea Ira had this in mind. If her jewelry didn't sell. She grabbed her purse. Chapter Seven In her grandparents' room. He said it was just a formality. As she neared the town. please. It's a done deal. Spencer was waiting for her. You're getting the property at a steal. tears streaming down her face. Eden quickly dressed and called her grandfather's attorney. But then there's not much to think about. Spencer's office was located. Spencer's assistant answered." "I came over to tell you I'm not invoking the codicil." "I bet you didn't. she wouldn't be able to stay in New York." "That's not true…Eden." "Oh. she phoned again and Mr." She stared at him. Then where would she go? Tyler would have the only place she'd ever thought of as home. . Texas."He asked me to stop by his office when I was in High Cotton. Eden informed her she'd be there in five minutes. "Eden…" "I'd appreciate it if you'd stay away until I get my mind sorted out." He moved close to her and his masculine scent did a number on her resolve. A machine came on.

Eden. Spencer waved a hand for her to take a seat. "Ira had two heart attacks. And he took care of Ira in the last days of his life." Eden brushed away a tear. He wanted to give Mr. Ira had this idea that you were a lot like your father. Mr. Jakes found him in the yard. they only gave him a fifty-fifty chance. only that he was okay and I wasn't to worry. and he followed suit. and he said he had. I was at the hospital when Mr. called 911 and Ira was life-flighted to Scott & White Hospital in Temple. She crossed her legs." Mr. Ira wanted you to have the best and for all your dreams to come true. mowed the grass. After your parents deserted you." The lump dissolved into tears." Mr. He felt that would never happen here. the granddaughter he loved. Jakes was always there when Ira needed anything. Spencer looked uncomfortable. Jakes asked Ira if he had called you. The doctors wanted to operate but. My grandfather was healthy until the heart attack." "He wasn't." Mr. "I guess we didn't really know each other. Jakes the property outright." . fixed whatever was broken." "What?" "Didn't Ira tell you?" "About six weeks before his major heart attack he phoned and said he had a spell with his heart. He wrapped the pipes in winter." A lump formed in her throat. "Mr. he knew you would never live in the house."My assistant said you sounded upset. "Why did no one call me?" "Ira and I have been friends for a long time. kept the well pump from freezing. but he insisted he was fine. I offered to come home." "Why did he want to give it to Tyler?" Mr. always needing to be free. Spencer's brow knotted in confusion. Since you were out in California. because of his age. "How did the codicil to my grandfather's will happen?" "It was Ira's wish. "I don't understand. always with a big dream." "But he didn't tell me what happened. cut wood for the fireplace. Ira decided to leave this world just as he came into it. "I'm at a loss at what to say. but felt it would be a disservice to you. Geoffrey. Spencer crossed his hands over the file on his desk. and he wanted someone who cared about the place to own it.

" But I wasn't." She rose to her feet. It's the right thing to do. Ira loved her." "What about his little girl?" "Mr. a trivial thing compared to what Tyler had done for her grandfather. but Jenny was there a lot." "Please." "How long did this go on?" "About six weeks. Draw up the papers to give Tyler Jakes the property as my grandfather wanted. "So Tyler looked out for Pa?" "Yes. to make him proud—a stupid competition. do you want to contest the codicil?" "No. She couldn't be angry because he loved her. I was so alone. "But I'd like to do something else. When Mr. He wanted you to be happy. Mr. "Eden. He moved in and took care of Ira. I got to say goodbye. Spencer got up and handed her a tissue. even if it meant she was far away from them. "Call me when the papers are ready to sign. Ira was stubborn and didn't want his beauty saddled with a sick grandfather." . "I have. Mr. Jakes saw the end was near." "Take a few days. Pa had done so right to the end. Spencer leaned against his desk. encouraging her to be whatever she wanted to be."I think you did. All these years she and Tyler had warred for her grandfather's attention. Jakes didn't think Ira should be left alone. against Ira's wishes. In her heart she knew her grandparents had protected her from the moment she'd come into their lives." More tears flowed." "What?" "Ira was very weak and Mr." he advised. She brushed away another tear. Jakes' mother came and took care of her. he loaded Ira into his truck and carried him to the hospital. think about this." "I did. calling you on the way. She blew her nose." She reached for her purse. He felt you should be given the opportunity to see your grandfather before he passed. He loved me.

"I like to do that. We can miss him together. but you didn't hear me." Eden tucked the afghan around the little girl and they sat." "Oh. She'd always known Tyler was special. "I knocked. She had to have the courage to do something as meaningful. "Where's your jacket?" She shrugged." Her thoughts had been inward. too. Not many men would make such a sacrifice. How she wished she had the chance to tell him his wish would come true—his house and land would belong to Tyler and he would cherish it the same way Pa had. she replied. only in different ways because they'd needed different things—Tyler had needed a father. love wasn't measured. And she would move on to accomplish all the dreams he had wanted for her. "My teacher found it on the playground and I brought it home." Jenny giggled. then she didn't need to be there. In reality. . Except for the one that could never be. "He's funny. But after that… I guess I left it in my room. "Eden?" She turned to see Jenny standing a few feet from her. *** Late that afternoon." Jenny's face and hands were cold. Pa said Daddy should tie it around my neck. watching the fire and missing a man they both loved. she just never knew how special until she heard of his devotion to her grandfather. So many wasted years misguidedly thinking her grandparents had loved Tyler more. she felt better than she had in a long time. The truth had opened up the dark corners of her heart. Pa couldn't have loved Tyler more.Walking out of the office. but if she couldn't make it in New York on her own. "Sitting in Pa's chair and remembering him. her grandparents had loved them both. The money from the sale of the property would be a loss. Eden curled up in her grandfather's chair. It was freely given. soaking up his presence by touching the things he'd loved. sorry. "Whatcha doing?" Without thinking." Jenny jumped in beside her. The one that was right here in High Cotton. and she'd needed a home.

Eden made a big O in the center and several stars along the sides. letting her choose the colors." Eden wasn't sure she'd be here then. What would she miss when she left? Would she miss this house and the memories? Would she miss the cowboy next door? Chapter Eight Eden smiled at the little girl on her lap. "This is gonna be so beau-ti-ful. "What's that?" "I have to make something for school. The girl painstakingly followed the lines. Jenny sat close beside her." The future lay before her and she wondered how it would all go. You make pretty things." "That's real sweet." Eden took the pink construction paper from her. It was so cute. You can help us. intently describing how the crown should look." She made a face. I want to be a princess Barbie. She noticed a piece of tattered paper in Jenny's hand. "What is this supposed to be?" "A crown. we do. And Daddy's hopeless. but she should. Since Jenny's two front teeth were missing. "But it's ugly." Jenny followed her to the table. I don't know how to make anything. He can't even get my hair into a ponytail. huh. Eden drew the shape on the construction paper and handed Jenny the scissors." "Does your teacher give prizes?" "No. I'm gonna win a prize. Jenny said. Can you make my crown pretty?" "Let's go see what's in my bag of tricks. Eden had bought some rhinestones so she could glue them on a belt she'd worn for a party. . Jenny said. "We do missing good. She searched for them. Eden?" "Yes. She stapled it at the back and placed it on Jenny's head." Eden smiled and watched Jenny work until the crown was almost covered. her words came out with a "th" sound. "Daddy and me are going to plant a garden and call it Ira's Garden. She glued on two rhinestones and then handed the glue stick to Jenny. After that. Chewing on her tongue. red and purple. but there was no need to tell Jenny that. her tongue sticking out. which turned out to be pink. finally finding the right tray and pulling it out.After a second. But I'm six years old.

"I left him a note." "Yes. "Look. I'll go sit in the time-out chair. Jenny proudly displaying the crown." They walked along a well-worn trail to the Jakeses' house." "'Kay. The old farmhouse with a wraparound porch was timeless. "We'll let the glue dry for a bit. Jenny certainly kept him on his toes." "A note? Can you write?" "Yep." "Does your dad know you're here?" Jenny bobbed her head. And a cutiepie. Jenny's bike lay on the plank floor. yes. Daddy. But she wasn't going to analyze that thought any further. "Where is your Daddy?" "He went to check on a cow." Evidently Tyler hadn't come back or he would be looking for his daughter." . anyway. "Daddy isn't happy. either. "Eden helped me with my school project. I can write my name and Pa's. She couldn't help loving them. you're a beautiful princess." Jenny pointed to her head." Jenny said. I'm supposed to be doing my homework."Do I look like a princess?" "Oh. "I'll walk you home." Eden could see why Pa had loved Jenny and Tyler so much." "I see. his handsome face etched into a scowl. At that moment Tyler rode up to the barn on his chestnut mare. "Uh-oh." Tyler's job was to decipher the rest. "'Kay. Can I wear my crown?" "Sure. Two wood rockers and a sturdy swing decorated the front side. sir. As he dismounted." "You weren't supposed to leave the house for any reason." Within a few seconds he was in front of them. so that's what I put on the note. he noticed them standing in the yard and strode toward them." She had to talk to Tyler.

She wasn't a bother. he sounded weak. Spencer and he told me the whole story. I'll be there in a minute. and that delicate fragrance he associated with her relaxed him." "I'm at my wit's end on how to discipline her. They had to talk about the codicil. "Eden…" "I'm glad he had you to take care of him and I'm so grateful. That's why I brought her home. He didn't want the land." "I spoke with Mr." Jenny stomped inside and Eden could see the pain it caused him to discipline his daughter. You're going to bed an hour early and no TV." Damn! Why had Spencer done that? It accomplished nothing now but to upset her. She could tell he was a great father. I had no idea he was so ill. *** Tyler took a breath and turned to face Eden." "So it's just you and Jenny?" "Yeah." The sun was sinking in the west and the temperature was dropping. I can't afford it. which my grandfather neglected to do." "Dad-dy. When I'd called. She sat on the stoop and he joined her." . The house and the land are yours totally. But for some reason he didn't feel cold. She worries about me and Jenny and comes about every six weeks to make sure I'm not starving her grandchild. But he always said he was just tired. and I believed him. "But I agree she shouldn't leave the house alone. "Eden." Tyler pointed to the door." "Where's your mother?" "In Abilene with her husband. Besides." she said. "Go read one of your books. I'm sorry about the codicil. "Don't worry about Jenny coming over. She wished she'd stop discovering all his good qualities. I'm not exercising that right. It was hers."That doesn't seem to be working.

" The night wrapped around them and a million stars lit their path. Against every sane thought in his head. or hours. gently…until stronger emotions took control." "You did not. I'll let you know before I go. he cupped her face and kissed her softly. He'd kissed her before." She turned and looked at him and he lost himself in the glistening blue of her eyes. aware of exactly what they wanted. "I'm sorry I was jealous of you over the years." "I already did. *** Tyler caught up with her." He drew back. I'm meeting a friend in New York to peddle my jewelry to designers. I just want some items from the inside. "Just a little. "What?" "Pa wanted you to have the house and land. "No. ." "Tyler. Tyler. no! You can't do that. I'll never forget the cowboy next door. "Goodbye. but not like this." she murmured. I'll sign the papers before I leave town." He put his arm around her and she nestled into him. "Eden. this is what Pa wanted. Her hands slipped beneath his Carhartt jacket and he weaved his fingers through the thickness of her hair as the kiss deepened. He only cared about the woman in his arms." "Really? I rather enjoyed going head-to-head with you. please. he couldn't gauge—he rested his forehead against hers and his hat fell off. "Then what was that kiss about?" She touched his face."Are you crying?" He couldn't see clearly as the darkness crowded in on them." She stood and walked into the darkness. "I have to tell you something. so I'm giving it to you." He frowned." "You're still leaving?" "Yes. He didn't care about that. After seconds—or minutes. I refuse to accept the property. This time they kissed as equals.

" She stood on tiptoes and met his lips with a fire that left no doubt about their true feelings. She buried her face in the warmth of his neck."I believe what Ira really wanted was for us to spend time together so that we could get to know each other and stop competing." "What about your plans?" "I'll just reinvent myself again." Eden threw herself into his arms and he held her tight. I'm so afraid. I really don't need the hectic lifestyle of New York. I can ship items from the local post office. They weren't so appealing anymore. She's spunky. "I was so sure I wouldn't fall in love again. but I do need you and Jenny. brave and reinvents herself when life doesn't go according to plan." "What are you saying?" She heard a heavy sigh." "And achievement doesn't create love. I got a glimpse of the real Eden and I like her—a lot. Paige will understand. In the past few days. After a moment. You have troubles. Can you settle for a small-town life?" Eden thought about her plans in New York. "I'm asking you to consider staying. I know you have plans…and this is sudden but… You don't have to be alone anymore. A need for family. Love doesn't come from doing what's expected of you. And you're so compassionate. And we have. I used to think you were flighty. either. heartache and pain just like everyone else. It comes from the heart. but I'm nuts about you. I know now that's not true." He cupped her face. I never saw that side of you. her desperate need to succeed had been replaced by a need for someone else. That takes courage. This is where I belong—with you and Jenny. caring for Pa and Jenny. "Is it possible to fall in love this quickly?" "We've been falling for a long time. he cupped her face once more. We just didn't realize it. "We've both learned something in the past few days. "I always thought you were the golden boy with the Midas touch who could do anything. Everything she wanted was right here." . irresponsible. standing next to her. Since she's doing a new website for me. I can make Pa's house into a workshop and create my jewelry here." "Mmm. though." He kissed the side of her face and she trembled. but I don't anymore. "Are you sure?" "I've never been more sure of anything." "No.

THE END . your bravery has inspired me." She snuggled into him. I don't want to go back there.He kissed her briefly. Maybe I'll reinvent myself and do something I've always dreamed of doing. but maybe…I might start a rodeo roping camp. "I love you." he whispered against her lips. Boys are always asking me to teach them to rope." They'd both found what they'd been searching for—love. "A great idea. right next door." He kissed her long and deep and the January wind blew against them. "I love you. "You know. too. and I'll be here to help." "What would that be?" "I gave up the rodeo when my mom remarried.

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