Authors: Cynthia D'Alba
Real bad boys can grow up to be real good men.
Texas Montgomery Mavericks, Book 4
Hit hard by the death of her parents, Paige Ryan needs to figure out what to do with her life. She moves to Whispering Springs, Texas, to be near her step-brother. But just as she starts to get her life on track, the last man she ever wanted to see again sends it right back off the rails.
Cash Montgomery was on the cusp of having it all. Three bull riding titles, fame, fortune and respect from his family. Until a bad bull leaves him injured, angry and searching for comfort at the bottom of a bottle. With nowhere to go, he moves into his sister-in-law’s old ranch house in Whispering Springs—which he’s surprised to find already occupied.
As Cash rebuilds the dilapidated home and Paige starts out on her medical career, their old friendship begins to reemerge and sparks are ignited. Paige knows that Cash is nothing but a heartache waiting to happen. But maybe this bad boy has grown up to be a real good man?
Warning: Watch out for falling lumber, falling in holes, and falling for the wrong guy…again. You can leave your hard hat on.
With every book, I get the chance to recognize people who have contributed in some way to the book and to my success. I struggle with this because there are usually so many. As always, critique partners Angela Campbell, Sandra Jones and Pamela Hearon provided immeasurable help with their edits and suggestions. Thank you to my parents who always told me that I can do anything and then gave me the support to do just that. Thank you to my nitpicky editor, Heidi Moore. I moan, shriek and brood through my edits, but you never fail to improve my writing and my story. I adore you! And of course my darling husband, Phil, who goes fishing during edits so I can have a quiet house. I love you.
Thank you to Buster Gilliam for the use of your name for Cash’s new dog. You are the world’s best electrician.
And finally, a huge debt of gratitude to D’Alba Diamonds, my street team. These ladies are always ready to give title suggestions, reviews and help with any promotion for my books, not to mention the great jokes, opinions and advice they offer so freely. Life would be harder without them. Lisa Boggs, Laura Mixon Bow, Tanya Brown, Sandra Butler, Nancy Davidson, Paula Farrell, Nita Flannigan, Paige Gregory, Sandy Haber, Kelly Lynders Haddox, Bette Hansen, Shadow Kohler, Sue Lopp, Karen McDonald, Lori Meehan, Dawn Morris, Michelle Oxrider, Melanie Pashon, Maria Proctor, Jill Purinton, Tracey Reid, Tina Reiter, Brenda Rumsey, Jessica Sheehan, Ruth Smithson, Kimberly Stripling, Veronica Vasquez, Susie Wilson Williams and Delene Yochum. And last, but so very important, thank you to Kim Rocha. Without Kim, D’Alba Diamonds would not exist. I love you all. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you do.
“Let me see the ring.”
KC Montgomery held out her left hand. Olivia grabbed KC’s fingers and pulled her closer to examine the three-carat emerald-cut diamond. Under Olivia’s kitchen lights, colors from the stone zinged around the room.
“Wow.” Olivia looked at Caroline, her newest sister-in-law. “I’m impressed.”
“It’s beautiful, KC,” Caroline said and then hugged her friend. “I am so happy for you and Drake. I’m looking forward to the wedding.”
A voice from the front door shouted, “Pizza delivery.”
“Finally,” Olivia said. “I’m starving.”
Jason Montgomery and Lydia Henson, his fiancée, walked in carrying six large pizza boxes.
“Think you got enough pizza there, bro?” Travis asked.
“Maybe,” Jason replied, stacking the boxes on the kitchen island. “I’ve seen you eat. Leave some for the rest of us.”
“Hey, guys. You might want to check the time.” Olivia pointed to the clock. “Cash should be riding soon.”
The group got drinks, plates loaded with pizza and a stack of napkins and headed for the Landrys’ television room, better known as the Man Cave.
“Okay, ladies,” Mitch said as everyone found seats in front of his eighty-inch television. “We men are sharing our space with you tonight, but don’t get any ideas about book clubs or chick flicks in here.”
The four women exchanged eye-rolls and then laughed.
“What time does Cash ride?” Caroline asked.
“Soon,” Travis answered.
Cash Montgomery, the youngest brother of Travis, Jason and Olivia, was on track to win the Professional Bull Riders world championship for a third consecutive time, a feat rarely seen at this level of competition.
“Glad Mom and Dad got to go out.” Jason wiped his mouth. “Cash says this will be his last year, win or lose, but with the way he’s riding, I’m thinking he’ll go out a winner.”
“I hope so,” Olivia said. “Mom hates these rides. Says she watches like this.” Olivia covered her eyes with her hands and then peeked between her fingers. That got a chuckle from the group.
“Who’d he draw this round?” Drake asked.
The Montgomery clan and Drake moaned.
“What?” Caroline asked.
Travis pulled her onto his lap. “Bad Bob’s earned his name. Ranks up there with some of the greats. Asteroid. Bushwacker. Devil’s Child. He’ll be tough.”
“But Cash can ride him, right?” Caroline asked.
“My little brother can ride anything,” Olivia said.
“Hey. Turn up the volume.” Lydia pointed to the screen. “Isn’t that Cash?”
Eight pairs of eyes focused on the television as the youngest Montgomery strutted down a hallway.
“And this is defending champion, Cash Montgomery,” the first commentator said.
“He’s got a rough ride ahead of him,” the second announcer replied.
“He’s young and he’s tough. I think he’s looking good for another big win, Ty.”
“Tell me about the bull he’s pulled for tonight.”
“Bad Bob is at the top of his game, but he has a couple of signature moves that the cowboys watch for. He always swings to the right. Never to the left so—”
Mitch muted the sound. “Just think. One day the announcers could be talking about one of our bulls.” He and Cash had recently gone into partnership to breed and raise bulls for the professional rodeo.
“Think it’ll be easier to watch one of our bulls instead of my little brother?” Olivia asked with an arched eyebrow.
Mitch snorted. “Probably not.” He glanced at the television. “He’s up.”
Mitch unmuted the sound. The room fell silent as they watched Cash Montgomery climb on the back of a fifteen-hundred-pound bull and begin setting the rope in his hand.
“Your brother is nuts,” Caroline said. “No sane person would do that.”
“Who said anything about Cash being sane?” Olivia replied.
The announcers on television kept up the commentary, talking about Cash’s wins, his previous scores, his outstanding talent and his long-term potential.
As Cash raised his hand to indicate he was ready, the tension in the Landry house rose to palpable levels. Breaths were sucked in as the eight adults got ready to watch.
The gray Brahma bull shot through the gate like a missile. All four feet left the ground when he jumped and tried to dislodge Cash from his back. The bull’s feet barely touched the dirt surface before he was in the air again, swinging to the left. Cash flew off and was trapped between the massive animal and a metal gate. Bad Bob slammed Cash against the gate again before he could get his hand rope released. The bull pummeled Cash again and threw him to the arena floor. Bad Bob leapt one more time, landing on Cash’s legs. Then he ran up Cash’s chest and finished with a kick to the head.
The bullfighters were waving and yelling at Bad Bob, trying to draw his attention away from the unmoving body lying in the arena dirt. Bad Bob saw the open exit gate, raced through it and down the chute away from the crowd and toward his pen.
The stunned silence of the rodeo crowd matched the stunned silence watching at home.
Mitch picked up his phone and made a call. “Carl? Gas up my plane and make sure it’s ready to go. We’ll be at the airport within an hour.”
Travis stood. “I’m going too.”
“So am I.” Jason said, rising from the couch.
“You guys go do what you need to do. I’ll stay here and take care of this end,” Drake said.
“The plane’s only a four-seater,” Olivia said. “I’ll stay here with Adam until we know more. I can take a flight out later. Take Lydia or Caroline with you. You need someone who can understand medically what’s going on.”
“Take Caroline,” Lydia said. “She’s got a lot more experience in trauma than I do.”
“Don’t worry about the office,” KC said to Jason. “Margaret and I can handle anything that comes up.”
“Caroline and I will head to our house to pack a bag. John Webster can handle everything at the ranch.” Travis grabbed Caroline’s hand and headed for the door.
“What about clothes for you?” Lydia asked Jason.
“He can wear mine,” Travis said over his shoulder. “Or hell, he can buy some. Let’s go.”
Tears filled Olivia’s eyes as she hugged her husband. “Call me.”
“I will. The second we know anything.”
“Call me before then. I need to hear even if the news is that we don’t know anything.”
Less than an hour later, three trucks pulled in at the small Whispering Springs Municipal Airport. While Mitch did his pre-flight check, Travis and Jason loaded small suitcases into the plane’s belly. Then Travis, Caroline and Jason climbed on Mitch’s plane and waved goodbye to their family and friends as they flew to Las Vegas.
Six months later
It was nearly midnight when Paige Ryan wheeled into Leo’s Bar and Grill’s almost-empty parking lot. She took the spot by the rear door and climbed out. The night air was a cool respite from the late April day’s heat. She let herself in, and after a quick wave to the night cook finishing the kitchen clean-up, she made her way to the bar.
“Okay, I’m here,” she said and slipped under the counter door. “Would have been here ten minutes ago, but I’m still packing my stuff into moving boxes.” She tied an apron around her waist.
Her brother, Leo Elroy Mabee, the establishment’s owner, finished drawing a beer before turning toward her. “Thanks for coming on short notice. Tonight’s business has died down so you should have an easy close.” He pulled another beer mug from below the bar. “You hear from Uncle James again today?”
She leaned against the counter, crossing one foot over the other. “Yup. He’ll be home in a couple of weeks. I still can’t believe he got married. Can you?”
Her brother shook his head. “Not really. Not after all these years. Have you decided where you’re going to move? You can come stay with me, you know.”
She laughed. “Thanks, but no thanks. I couldn’t take all the revolving women in your life. But not to worry. Found a place. It’ll take me a couple of days to get it in tip-top shape, but I’ll be able to move in pretty fast. Maybe even tomorrow. At the least, I’ll be gone when James and his bride get home. I figure newlyweds need their private space. But damn, I’m going to miss his pool. Oh, and his huge television. And his kitchen.” She sighed. “I’ll really miss his kitchen.”
Leo chuckled. “Living in his house spoiled you, did it?” He pulled another beer and handed it to a waitress.
“You have no idea.” She gave her brother a sideways glance. “Do you still miss Mom and Dad as much as I do?”
Leo’s gaze met hers. “Unbelievably so. What brought this on?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Uncle James finally coming home. Life moving on. I know it’s been ten months since they died, but I still sometimes forget they’re gone. Today, I picked up the phone to call Mom. I wanted to tell her about my new house and ask her advice on what to get Uncle James for a wedding present.” She quirked up the side of her mouth. “He has everything. I kid you not.”
“It was good you came to stay with James when Mom died. I think your being here helped him deal with their deaths.”
“Maybe, but…” she shrugged.
“Where you moving?” he asked, mixing a Tom Collins for a waiting customer.
“Caroline Graham has an old farm house she’s going to let me rent for a while.”
“Oh, you mean the old Fitzgerald place?” He slid the drink into the hands of a young, attractive blonde.
“Yeah. You know it?”
“Not really. I remember old man Fitzgerald. Everybody around here was surprised to find out Dr. Graham was kin. But it’ll be a good place for you to land for a while.” Leo wiped his hands on a towel hanging from his waist. “I’m glad you’re getting out of this bar. You were wasting your education here.”
Paige shoved at his shoulder. “I loved being with you, bro.”
He smiled. “Maybe, but with a bachelor degree in psychology and another in nursing, you should be doing more than slinging drinks.”
“I’ll miss seeing your ugly mug every day.”
He elbowed her ribs, making her giggle. “So, work on Monday at Whispering Springs Medical Clinic. You excited?”
She shrugged. “More nervous, I think. Been a while since I actually used my nursing education.”
“You’ll do fine.” He checked his watch. “I need to get moving.” He pulled a bottled beer from the cooler and used it to point to a booth in the corner. “This is
last one. Keep an eye on him. You’ll need to call a cab or one of his brothers to pick him up.”
He twisted the top off the beer and handed the bottle to Sally, the waitress. She carried the fresh beer to the man in the corner. He took the bottle and downed the beer in a long gulp before resting his head on the table.
Paige studied the drunk in the booth. Her heart cried to see how far he’d fallen. She’d know him anywhere, not that he’d remember her. Andrew Lane Montgomery, aka Cash Montgomery, World Professional Bull Riding Champion two years in a row until his tragic accident last October. She must have seen every one of his rides over the years, including the last one. Her stomach clenched at the memory.
Cash had been called invincible. She thought he’d probably believed it too until Bad Bob. That bull hated cowboys and made sure they paid for being on his back. Cash had paid all right. Broken left leg, fractured ribs, punctured lung and spleen, broken arms and a major concussion. He was damn lucky to be alive, but looking at him slumped in the back booth, a healthy collection of beer bottles littering his table, he appeared to be attempting death by alcohol poisoning.
“Why’d you let him drink so much? You should have stopped him hours ago.”
“First—” Leo said, ticking off the points on his fingers, “—I’m not his momma. Second, he’s over twenty-one. And third, I took his truck keys.” He opened the door on a valet cabinet and pointed to a set of keys. “They’re here. He can’t have them back tonight. He knows that.” He slammed the cabinet door. “On second thought, let him sleep it off in the drunk room upstairs. He certainly wouldn’t be the first Montgomery to use that room.”
“And don’t call Travis or Jason?”
He nodded. “Right. If he’s still up there when I get here at noon, I’ll call someone. Okay, I’m gone. Thanks again for closing. I owe you one.”
“Wait. You never told me what the urgent crisis was that dictated my getting out of bed and driving here in the middle of the night.”
He grinned. “Nope. I never did.” And with that, he hurried out the back door.
Smiling and shaking her head, she picked up the bar rag Leo had dropped and folded it. “Has to be a woman,” she muttered. Knowing her brother’s reputation as a love-’em-and-leave-’em guy, she felt a moment of pity for the female entertaining him tonight…and she was sure it was a woman who’d called him away. But then that wasn’t her problem.
“What’d you say?” Donald, the night bartender, asked.
“Nothing.” She let her gaze sweep the room. Not a lot of customers, but not surprising for a late Wednesday night in the Bible belt.
Now tomorrow night? This place will still be hopping at midnight.
For the next couple of hours, Sally circled the floor for the few customers remaining. Paige or Donald pulled beers or made drinks as needed. Since it was slow, she cleaned the liquor shelves all the while watching Cash Montgomery in the mirror. His hair was too long. His body was way too thin, almost emaciated-looking. Oh, the muscles were still there. She could see those when he shifted in the booth. He’d always been bigger than life in her eyes, but right now he looked like he needed a lot more food and a lot less alcohol in his diet.
About ten minutes before closing, she pulled a tray from beneath the bar and headed out to clear the empties off Cash’s table.
“I can do that,” Sally said, hurrying over.
Paige shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. I thought maybe we could get ahead of the closing clean-up.”
“You have his keys, right? Leo said he’d taken them.”
Sally’s cheeks flushed at the mention of Leo’s name. Had Sally been another one of her brother’s hit-and-run affairs? Paige hoped not. She liked the young woman and would hate a love affair gone wrong to run her off. Good waitresses were hard to find, and Sally was one of the best.
“I’ve got them. Leo said to put him upstairs for tonight. Once we clear out the customers, Donald and I can take care of him.”
Whatever Sally was going to say was drowned out by a long gong from the bar. “Last call,” Donald shouted. “Closing in ten minutes.”
“Guess I’d better make one last round.” Sally made her way from table to table, closing bar tabs or delivering one last drink.
Paige picked up five empty beer bottles from Cash’s table and headed back to the bar, pausing to dump them in the trash on her way.
The room’s dim lighting encouraged the bar patrons to hang around and keep drinking. However, as soon as Paige flicked on the overhead lights, customers collected their personal belongings and made for the exit.
Sally and Donald began setting the chairs upside down on the tables to clear the floor for mopping. Paige cleared the cash register and took the cash into Leo’s office to secure tonight’s receipts in his safe.
When she reentered the bar, Cash was snoring, Sally was running a mop around the floor and Donald was loading the last tray of glasses into the washer.
“About done?” Paige asked.
“I am,” Sally said, taking a final swipe with the mop. After returning it to the janitor closet, she yawned and stretched. “I’m sleeping ’til noon tomorrow. I’m out of here.”
“Hold on,” Donald said, tucking a Smith and Wesson forty-five into his pocket. “I’ll walk you out.”
They headed out and Paige made her way over to Cash’s table. She’d been fourteen when she’d first watched him ride a bull and sixteen before she’d gotten the nerve to talk to him. At eighteen, she’d taken him to her bed. Seven years had passed since that night. Looking at him tonight, those must have been seven long and hard years.
He looked tired and damaged. And hell, maybe more than a little dangerous to her heart. His face was grooved with wrinkles, far too many for a man of twenty-nine.
She rolled her fingers into her palm to keep from brushing his blond hair off his forehead. He needed a haircut, but then he probably needed a lot of things she couldn’t provide.
“Ready to get our guest in bed?” Donald said as he reentered the bar.
When she nodded, he locked the front door and headed to the booth.
“What do I need to do?” she asked.
“Get his hat. I’ve got him.” He grabbed Cash’s arm and threw him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. “And get the door.”
Paige retrieved Cash’s Stetson and hurried to the back exit. She followed the huge man through the door and locked it behind them. Donald climbed the back steps to a small efficiency apartment. He dropped Cash on the twin bed.
“That it? If so, I’m heading home.”
“Thanks, Donald. Goodnight.”
He closed the door as he exited, leaving her and her emotions in turmoil.
She glanced down. Strands of wavy hair flopped over Cash’s brow. With no one to remind her she was supposed to hate him, she brushed them back, studying the man she’d known so long ago.
In his alcohol-induced sleep, the creases in his brow didn’t seem so deep now. The etched furrows on either side of his lips eased into soft lines. But the dark circles under his eyes remained. Black and foreboding.
She pulled his dirty boots off and set them on the floor. She unbuckled the massive silver belt buckle and left his belt hanging free.
“You’re a son of a bitch, Cash Montgomery,” she whispered. “You destroyed my dreams the way Bad Bob destroyed yours. But seeing you like this kills me. I hope you can find the way back so I can kick your ass without feeling guilty.”
Then she leaned over and kissed his lips.
The woman’s lips wrapped snugly around his rock-hard cock. He groaned and ground his head into his pillow. Her long auburn hair tickled where it flared over his thighs. He jerked his hips up and…
A sudden blast of cold water hit him in the face.
He jackknifed to sitting, sputtering and spitting water. His heart rate jacked up into a full-out gallop.
“What the fuck?” he yelled.
His brothers, Travis and Jason Montgomery, and his brother-in-law and business partner, Mitch Landry, stood at the foot of his bed. He glanced around an unfamiliar room.
“Where the fuck am I?” He shook the cold water from his dripping hair. “Where’s the woman?” His eyes squinted in a harsh glare. “And why the fuck are you here?”
Travis, the oldest, lifted an eyebrow. “Not sure if the order will match the questions but you’re in Leo’s drunk room. Don’t know nothin’ about a woman. And we’re here to drag your ass home.”
Cash shoved the wet hair off his face. “There was a woman. I remember her. Tall. Built like a brick outhouse. Red hair.”
The three men exchanged glances before Jason said, “No woman, man. Just you with your hand wrapped around your cock.”
“Fuck you,” Cash snarled. “Get the—”
He never finished. The sour taste of bile rose in the back of his throat. He swallowed, which did nothing for the nausea now sweeping through him. He slammed his hand over his mouth.
“Bathroom,” he said through his fingers.
Travis pointed to the left over Cash’s shoulder. Staggering from the bed, he just made it to the toilet before leaving the entire contents of his stomach in the bowl. He slid to the cold tile floor and rested his face on the chilly porcelain edge of the tub. His oldest brother’s dusty boots came into view.
“Get out,” Cash groaned. “Leave me alone.”
Travis leaned over, extending a hand. “Let me help you. I’ve been here.”
Cash slapped the hand away. “Get out,” he shouted and then winced at the pain his voice inflicted on his brain.
“Fine, we’ll go, but it’s been six months, Cash. It’s time.”
Cash threw a pointed glare in Travis’s direction.
“We’re leaving, but you need to get up and go home. Leo wants his drunk room back.”
“What time is it?” Cash choked out.
Travis turned back to him. “After noon.”
“Not for you,” Travis said.
“The parents are expecting you at home today,” Jason said from behind Travis. “I don’t know that I’d want you in my house. You’ve drunk yourself from Nevada to Texas. You smell like an outhouse and look even worse.”
“And fuck you too,” Cash replied.
“Enough, Jason,” Travis said, pushing his brother back into the small apartment. He squatted next to Cash. “I’m here when you need me. Just call.”
“Unless you give a better blow job than that redhead, I won’t be needin’ nothin’ from you.”
“See you soon,” Travis said with a smile, which just pissed Cash off even more.
“No, you won’t,” he shouted at the three men’s backs as they walked away.