Series: Texas Rascals (A clean and wholesome series) #6
Published by: Epiphany Orchards Press LLC
Release Date: April 30th, 2019
Genre: Featured Book
Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo
With his arrogant, devil-may-care attitude, professional bull rider, Kael Carmody, was for women what honey was to bees--a sweet necessity. But he was after only one woman, the one he hurt years ago. Kael wanted to win Daisy back, but he had to melt her defenses, like honeycombs in the sun.
With Kael Carmody back in town, Daisy Hightower was having a hard time continuing her life, as usual, tending her bee farm and raising her seven-year-old son. That rugged rodeo cowboy who once broke her heart was a man she couldn't ignore. And her son saw Kael as an instant daddy--one he never knew he had.
But can Daisy let go of the past and make room for love with a footloose cowboy?
Also in this series:
Kael Carmody was back and everybody in Rascal, Texas knew the minute he breezed into town. His name set off sparks from Mildred’s Diner to the all-night Laundromat on First Street to Dorothy’s Curl-Up-and-Dye. Nothing in Rascal had changed in the seven years he’d been away. Kael still set matrons’ tongues wagging and young women’s hearts swooning.
Everyone, that is, except Daisy Hightower.
Daisy was twenty-six. She was also independent, hard-working and stubborn as Kurt McNally’s old mule. She could also carry a grudge longer than anyone in the Trans-Pecos.
Kael found that out the hard way.
But he had other things on his mind besides Daisy when he strolled into Kelly’s Bar off Highway 17, looking for liquid refreshment and an order of Kelly’s famed chicken fried steak.
“I don’t believe my eyes,” Joe Kelly exclaimed, resting a bar towel on his shoulder and extending a palm. “Kael Carmody, as I live and breathe.”
Taking care to minimize his limp, Kael hitched himself up to the red vinyl bar stool, doffed his straw Stetson and clasped Joe’s hearty handshake. Back in high school, he and Joe had played on the Rascal baseball team together.
“How’s the leg?” Joe asked, casting a glance downward.
Kael wasn’t ready to talk about the accident or his shaky prognosis. Less said, the better. But avoiding the topic in Rascal posed a real challenge. Thankfully, the tavern was empty at one-thirty in the afternoon except for the two guys shooting pool in the comer, and Kael didn’t know either of them.
“You gonna be able to ride again?” Concern knotted Joe’s mouth.
“Sure.” Kael pulled a confident face that was complete bluster. “Just home recouping for a few of months.”
“Gotta be tough.” Joe nodded.
“Yeah. How ’bout a long-neck and an order of chicken fried steak? I’m starved for your cooking. There’s nothing like it.”
Joe beamed at the compliment and pulled a beer from the ice. Twisting the top, he slid it across the bar to Kael. “I’ll go start your order.”
Kael swiveled on the bar stool, sipping his beer. He swung his gaze around the bar. Not much had changed in seven years. There was still a tear in the screen door. The same posters hung on the rough-hewn, shiplap walls. An oscillating fan rotated at the back of the bar. The windows were open, bringing the scent of high desert, sand and long-buried memories.
Memories he’d rather forget. Memories that had kept him away from Rascal for so long. Memories of Daisy and their lost love.
If he closed his eyes, he could still see her firm, tanned figure in that purple bikini, still smell the coconut aroma of her sunscreen, still taste the frosty Italian ices they’d shared at Balmorhea Springs in the summertime.
Why was he thinking about that hardheaded creature? He’d gotten over her years ago. Just because he’d come back home to recover didn’t mean he was entertaining any ideas about getting together with her for old time’s sake.
Knowing Daisy, if he dared show up on her front porch, she’d tell him to scat before she sicced the cops on him. Who needed that kind of grief?
“Here we go,” Joe said, proudly sliding a plate of chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy in front of Kael. “Bet you haven’t had steak this good these since you left Rascal.”
“You’d bet right.” Kael dug into the food.
“Hmm,” Joe said. “Just you wait. I’m having a blow-out barbecue at my place for the Rodeo Days celebration in June and you’re invited. Not just invited, but as the most famous person from Rascal, you’re the guest of honor.”
“I’m not that famous.”
“The heck you’re not.” Joe snorted. “How many people have made it to the Professional Bull Riders Championship in Las Vegas three straight years in a row?”
And, Kael wondered, how many of those people got so badly wounded doing it, they lost their careers or even their lives?
“Only folks who follow rodeo have ever heard of me,” Kael said. “Besides, that and five dollars will buy you one of those fancy coffees at Starbucks.”
“Like you have to worry about money.” Joe shook his head. “You’re the only child of the wealthiest family in town. You’re destined to inherit a two-thousand-acre cattle ranch. What’s the problem?”
The problem was Kael didn’t know what would happen to him if his leg didn’t heal. Three different specialist had come to the same conclusion. Slim chance he’d ever ride again without agreeing to a radical new surgical procedure. But the surgery was no panacea. Even though his manager, Randy Howard, was pushing for the operation, Kael hesitated.
If something went wrong, he might never walk without a limp.
Kael winced. What was he going to do? Bull riding was his life, his identity since he was twelve years old. Sure, he could follow in his father’s footsteps and become a rancher, but Kael possessed such a strong case of wanderlust he couldn’t envision himself settling down in any one place. Especially in a dried-up, go-nowhere town like Rascal.
His nomadic nature was what a killed things between him and Daisy. Kael winced and ran a palm along his jaw.
One of the men playing pool, sauntered over to the old Wurlitzer, and Dolly Parton’s voice filled the room.
Kael finished his food and pushed the platter across the bar. “So how arethings in Rascal? My folks spend most of their time in San Antonio these days and leave the running of the ranch to the foreman, and they miss out on the local gossip.”
“Well.” Joe steepled his fingers. “The drought’s been rough on everyone.”
On the drive in he’d noticed parched pastures, scrawny cows, and the dried up stock ponds. Rascal was in the high desert of the Davis Mountains, so there wasn’t ever lush greenery, but he couldn’t recall ever seeing the place this barren.
Luckily, his parents divested their holdings and could weather a few lean years, but that wasn’t true of everyone in Presidio County.
“A couple of farmers have gone bankrupt.”
Kael clicked his tongue. “I hate hearing that.”
“Cattle prices are the lowest they’ve been in sixteen years.”
“That’s what my dad’s been telling me.” Kael knew about the drought and the farmers’ problems. What he hungered for were details on the townspeople…and one special
person in particular.
“Guess who I saw yesterday?” Joe asked as if reading his thoughts.
Kael shook his head, took another swallow of beer. The outside of the bottle was sweaty, the coolness already dissipating in the humidity. “Who?”
His heart stilled, but he kept a nonchalant expression on his face. “Yeah?”
“She’s just as fine as she was in high school. Maybe more so.” Joe swiped a damp towel across the counter.
“Good for her. She always was a beautiful woman.”
“Waste if you ask me.”
“What’s a waste?” Kael quirked an eyebrow. Despite his best intentions, he couldn’t deny the curiosity zipping through him. He’d love to see Daisy again. Question was, would she love to see him?
“The girl never dates. Stays home, works those beehives and looks after her sister’s boy. She’s turned into a regular hermit.”
“Rose has a child?” Startled, Kael frowned.
“Rose is no longer with us.”
“You mean Rose is dead?”
Joe nodded solemnly.
Jolted, the news hit Kael like a slap and he almost choked on the swallow of beer he’d just taken. Why didn’t he know this? “What happened?”
Joe made a face. “She abandoned the boy right after he was born. Left him for Daisy to raise. Then, a couple of years Rose overdosed on sleeping pills in some New Orleans flophouse. Real sad.
“No kidding?” An icy blast chased down Kael’s spine and he regretted eating the greasy food. The news left him shaky.
“You remember how wild that girl was, partying nonstop, a different boyfriend for every night of the week. I’ll admit it. I kept company with her a time or two myself. Who didn’t?”
I wish I hadn’t,Kael thought, the old self-loathing returning with a vengeance.
“Daisy’s had a hard time of it.”
“I image she has, raising a kid on her own.” Kael mused.
“Uh-huh. She legally adopted Travis.”
“Well, nobody could ever accuse Daisy of shirking her responsibilities.” Kael peeled the label off his beer bottle and avoided Joe’s eye.
“You ain’t got no interest in rekindling old flames?” Joe settled his elbows on the bar and leaned forward to cup his chin in his palms.
“With that fiery redhead? You gotta be kiddin’. I’d just as soon stick my hand in one of her beehives. It’d be a lot less painful.” Kael snorted, but inside himself dormant feelings stirred. Feelings he didn’t care to examine too closely.
“Want another beer?”
“Nah.” Kael shook his head. “I better be getting home. Mom’s cooking up a big dinner tonight and inviting all the relatives over.” The truth was, he’d heard enough gossip for one afternoon.
“Don’t be a stranger,” Joe said, “anytime you wanna talk rodeo you got an audience.”
He didn’t need to be reminded of that, either. Why torture himself? Until he made a decision one way or the other about the surgery, he didn’t want to discuss bull riding. Kael could just see himself whiling away the days, hanging out in Kelly’s Bar and gabbing about what used to be or
what might have been.
Daisy Hightower and bull riding. The two things he’d loved most. The same two things that had caused him the greatest heartache in life.
Snagging his Stetson off the bar, Kael dusted the brim, then settled it on his head. He took money from his pocket, but Joe held up a palm.
“This one’s on me, good buddy.”
“Come on, Joe, take the cash.” Kael pushed the twenty at him.
“You tryin’ to insult me?”
“All right, have it your way.”
Kael folded the twenty and stuck it back in his pocket. He wasn’t about to let Joe get away with this. They’d been friends since high school, and although Joe earned a fair living running the bar, he had a wife and three kids to support. The guy just might wake up one morning to
find a new freezer sitting on his front porch waiting to take the place of the one wheezing in the back room.
“You outta go see her,” Joe said, as Kael reached the door.
Kael turned to look at his friend. “Who?”
“Daisy. You never know. She might have changed her mind about you.”
“Are we talking about the same Daisy?”
“Motherhood has mellowed her.”
“Like it mellows grizzly bears?” Kael lifted his shoulders. “No, thanks.”
“Yeah,” Kael said, and stepped out into the oppressive heat.
Honey bees floated near the horsemint outside the door. Not a single tree stirred and heat mirages shimmered up off the asphalt. Absentmindedly, he rubbed his aching leg and crossed the parking lot to his pickup.
Those danged bees brought back lots of memories. Memories of clear spring mornings and sweet amber honey. Memories of colorful flowers and buzzing hives. Memories
of stealing a honey-sweetened kiss from the regal queen bee of all—Daisy Anne Hightower.
“Forget her,” Kael muttered, slamming his pickup truck into reverse and backing out of Joe’s parking lot. “You got enough problems to contend with. What’s over is over, and Daisy will never be yours again.”
Shifting into drive, he bit down on his lip and reeled from the hardest slap of loneliness he’d felt in seven years.
“Did you see Kael Carmody?”
“Oh my gosh, hasn’t he got a body to die for?”
“And those eyes of his, so blue they’re almost silver.”
“I was too busy scoping out his backside to pay much attention to his eyes.”
Overhearing the checkout girls’ conversation, Daisy hand froze around the jar of pimentos she was about to drop into her shopping cart. Her pulse gathered speed and her legs went wobbly. She took a deep breath to steady herself.
Please, Lord,she prayed. Say it isn’t so. Tell me Kael Carmody isn’t back in Rascal.
“Do you think he’d go out with me?” one girl asked. She was a plump, pretty blonde, who wore her hair pulled back off her face. The girl wasn’t much more than nineteen.
The same age Daisy had been when Kael Carmody had broken her heart and shattered her world.
“Don’t be silly, Deedee. You’re way too young for him. Besides, Kael could have his pick of any woman in Rascal,” the other young woman, a willowy brunette replied.
Not me!Daisy thought, straining to eavesdrop. Not if he were the last man on earth.
She’d learned the hard way there should be much more to a man than good looks and
a penchant for having fun. And if her own lessons hadn’t been enough, all she needed to do was remember Rose and her mistakes.
“Still.” The one named Deedee sighed. “He’s too fine for words. Sorta puts me in mind of a Scott Eastwood.”
“Everybody puts you in mind of Scott Eastwood,” her friend teased.
“You can hardly tell he limps.”
“They say his bull riding career is over.”
“Guess that’s why he’s back home.”
“I hope he pops in here often. It’ll certainly make coming to work a lot more exciting.”
Kael’s career at an end? Daisy’s mouth twitched as mixed emotion rocketed through her. She would love to be able to say she was totally and completely over Kael, but she couldn’t lie to herself. She did still harbor tender feelings for the man, despite what had happened between them, and she cursed herself for that weakness.
She knew how upset he’d be if he could never rodeo again. Daisy had heard about Kael’s accident, of course. Even someone as much of a recluse as she could not have missed hearing about that.
Kael ’s tragic spill at the PRC in Las Vegas had been big news, overshadowed only by the Dallas Cowboys making it to the Super Bowl. But Daisy had no idea Kael’s injury had been so serious, and that news grieved her.
Worry knots formed in her stomach. How many times had she experienced the same roller-coaster sensation while watching Kael tear out of the chute on the back of some wild Brahma? She’d washed her hands of him seven years ago and good riddance. Nevertheless, she couldn’t stop the ache that gnawed her.
Angry with herself, Daisy tossed her head and maneuvered her grocery cart down the produce aisle, safely distancing herself from the checkers and their discussion
of the man who’d been a thorn in her side for far too long. Why did she care if he’d gotten hurt? If he was still dumb enough at his age to keep climbing up on those bulls, then Kael deserved everything he got.
That irritating thought echoed in her mind, refusing to leave no matter how hard Daisy willed it away.
Why couldn’t she stop wondering what he looked like no and how well he’d weathered the years? Those same seven years that had been the most trying years of Daisy’s life.
Years spent struggling to raise Travis, dealing with the aftermath of her identical twin sister’s death and trying desperately to forget that Kael ever existed.
Get your head back on your business, and finish your errands, she scolded herself. Hurriedly, she completed her shopping and stood in line for Deedee to check her groceries.
She paged through social media on her phone while she waited, trying hard to find something that would distract her from thoughts of Kael. She wondered how come he hadn’t returned
to Rascal before now and what brought him back home this time.
After paying for her purchases, Daisy wheeled her cart to the parking lot and loaded the groceries into Aunt Peavy’s Jeep Wagoneer.
Her aunt Peavy had come to live at Hightower Honey Farm after her parents had been killed in a car accident when she and Rose were sixteen. Her sister had never accepted their deaths. Daisy firmly believed that Rose’s inability to move forward with her life had been the cause of
her wild, reckless behavior and ultimately her tragic suicide.
Daisy sighed. No point fretting about something she couldn’t change. The past was past, and she had to keep looking to the future, for Travis’s sake if not her own.
At the thought of her adopted son, Daisy’s heart swelled with love. He’d be getting out of school any minute, and Daisy was never late picking him up. Her only regret in taking care of her nephew was that she had no time for dating.
And if she couldn’t date, how could she be expected to find a husband? And if she couldn’t find a husband, how could she hope to have more children?
Wistfulness filled her. How badly she wanted a baby of her own! She couldn’t love Travis any more if he’d come from her womb, but Daisy longed for the experience herself. She wanted to be pregnant, to live through the joys and challenges of bringing a child into the world.
But she didn’t want to do it without the right man by her side. A man of good moral character. A man who would be there when she needed him. A responsible man who would put his family first.
A man the exact opposite of Kael Carmody.