Excerpt – Lori Wilde

Handsome Wrangler

Handsome Devils: Book 6

“You need a man like Brent Stewart,” Leigh Barrett Kendrick said to Caitlin Rogers as she tossed her the football. “He’d be perfect.”

Caitlin threw the football to the closest player, her brother, Rafe, and turned back to look at Leigh. “We can talk about this later. The game isn’t over.”

“No one is near you,” Leigh said. “You have time. Let’s talk about it now.”

Caitlin started to say no, but then she looked at her friend, Brent. Funny how she’d never considered him until this very moment, but he just might be the right choice.

“Maybe,” she said, still not completely convinced.

“No maybes about it,” Leigh insisted. She was sitting in a lawn chair on the sidelines of the friendly flag football game they all played once a month at the newly renovated Honey City Park.

Unable to play herself because she was very pregnant, Leigh was instead offering advice to anyone who came within hearing distance.

At the moment, Caitlin happened to be stranding in the “advice zone.”

“As the saying goes, you need to ‘woman up’ and ask him,” Leigh advised. “You should simply tell him he needs to do this. People like it when you’re direct.”

Caitlin had been friends with Leigh since elementary school, and normally, she’d take her advice without hesitation. Some people might look at it as meddling, but Caitlin knew Leigh’s intentions were good. She just wanted to help. Okay, maybe in a bossy kind of way, but still, she meant well.

Caitlin once more studied Brent. Tall, with deep-brown hair and equally deep-brown eyes, he was a handsome devil. He’d always been popular in town, and not only because of his looks. He was a nice guy, and people just naturally liked him.

Maybe he really would be a good choice. Like Leigh, Caitlin had known Brent since elementary school. Sure, he’d gone away for a few years and just recently returned home to Honey, Texas, but she knew him well enough to know that Brent would do a great job because he was a great guy.

No way would he let her down. Not her buddy. Not reliable Brent.

Take right now. Even though it was going to cost his team the game, Brent was protecting her from the dual mountains she called brothers. She’d heard him tackle her older brother, Rafe, a second ago, right before she would have gotten tackled herself.

Since it was flag football, tackling someone got you eliminated. Not many guys would do something like that—lose a game to protect a lady. But that was the kind of man Brent Stewart was—chivalrous, kind, thoughtful.

Now that she thought about it—he really was perfect.

Of course, she still had to convince him he was perfect for the job. But if she explained her situation carefully, maybe threw in a couple of pretty-pleases, there was a good chance he’d agree.

After all, he’d just moved back to Honey, Texas, so surely he’d want to get involved with the community? What better way to get involved than by taking over her grassroots volunteer organization, The Honey Hive?

She hoped Brent would see it that way. A whisper of doubt entered Caitlin’s mind. Okay, sure, there was a possibility—a remote possibility—that he might say no. She had to be realistic.

Stepping up to run a volunteer organization was a major time commitment. He had just taken the job as the lead wrangler on Jared Kendrick’s horse farm. She knew he was busy, so there was a slight chance Brent really might say no.

Which would be an unbelievable shame. Brent would be terrific as the head of The Honey Hive. He was kind. Smart. Organized.

Plus, really good-looking. Not that it had anything to do with the job, but Caitlin would be lying if she didn’t admit she’d like to spend the next few weeks looking at him.

She was only human, after all.

No two ways about it, since he’d returned to home to work for his buddy Jared, female hearts had been aflutter. Too bad he wanted to settle down in the very town she couldn’t wait to leave.

But that wasn’t going to happen, which was for the best. Caitlin snagged the ball after her younger brother, Logan, tossed it to her.

Since her other brother, Rafe, had been eliminated along with Brent, she made it across the makeshift goal line and whooped her victory.

Logan ran over to the goal line, stopping mere inches from her. As always in the spontaneous football game, Logan was one of her teammates. “Can you believe it?” he asked, slapping Caitlin’s hand. “We won!”

“We are the best!” With another whoop, Caitlin slammed the ball onto the ground and was all set to launch into a victory dance when she caught sight of Rafe standing toe to toe with Brent, reading him the riot act.

“That doesn’t look good,” Logan muttered. “If they don’t break it up, I’ll have to arrest them.” He trotted off toward the fighting men.

With a sigh, Caitlin followed. Since Rafe was the elementary school principal, and Brent was an upstanding citizen of Honey, they knew better than to let their argument get out of hand.

But as Caitlin drew closer, she realized Rafe really was furious with Brent. Her big brother hated losing, so she wasn’t surprised he’d gone ballistic.

Apparently, Logan’s idea of breaking up the fight was standing on the sidelines and laughing. Resigned, Caitlin took things into her own hands. Rushing over, she stepped between her brother and Brent, the top of her head barely reaching each man’s chin.

“Hey, you guys. Enough with the testosterone.” She shoved on Rafe’s chest, moving him only a few inches. “You don’t want to get arrested, do you?”

“He tackled me. I had you. I was all set to get you, and he ruined it,” Rafe hollered. “Dang it all, Brent, we’re on the same team.”

“You were going to ram her, you idiot,” Brent said loudly. “This is flag football. Do you have any idea how big you are? How little she is?” He glanced down at Caitlin, his handsome face tense.

Caitlin met his gaze, but after a few seconds, looked away. Yikes, the man was good-looking with a capital G.

“I’m not exactly little,” she pointed out. “I’m almost five eight.”

“Yeah. She’s almost five eight.” Rafe patted the top of her head. “For a girl, she’s a giant. An Amazon.”

Caitlin frowned at her older brother. “I am not a giant, you nitwit.”

“But you’re not a shrimp, like Brent’s marking you out to be,” Rafe said. He gave her a bear hug, and she forced herself not to wince when his grip became a little too enthusiastic. “She’s a tough girl who can take it.”

Brent muttered a curse. “First, she’s not a girl. Tomorrow she’s twenty-six.” He glanced again at Caitlin, and something in his look made her pulse kick up like a rowdy bronc. Before she could think about the sensation, Brent turned away and continued to talk to Rafe.

“Second, she may be five eight, but she’s no match for any of us.” Brent moved closer to her brother. “What are you, Rafe? Six four? Six five? And you outweigh her by about a hundred pounds.”

Logan moved forward to join the other men, and a loud argument broke out, with each man discussing Caitlin’s qualifications to continue participating in these friendly football games. Leigh’s husband, Jared, had wandered over to sit next to his wife. The two of them seemed to be really enjoying the show.

Not that Caitlin could blame them. Her brothers were acting like children, and it didn’t take long for her to snap. With a groan, she once again pushed against Rafe’s huge chest, wanting out of this display of masculine idiocy. When the men finally moved back a few feet, she clenched her fists.

“Stop talking about me like I’m not here,” she said with enough force to make all three men fall silent. “I’m not a child.”

Rafe and Logan had the good sense to look shamefaced, but that didn’t stop them from continuing the argument. She spun to confront Brent, but his direct look sucked some of the fury from her.

Funny how much he’d changed during the five years he’d been on the rodeo circuit. For starters, he was much better-looking than she remembered. He also had matured, something Caitlin figured her brothers should try.

Yep, Brent had changed. In the old days, he’d treated her like a buddy, a pal, the same way he’d treated her since he’d moved in next door to her family twenty years ago. But now, looking at him, she knew he was different. Just as she was different, she supposed.

She realized suddenly that she didn’t really know this man anymore. Maybe that was part of his appeal. She’d noticed the difference in their relationship when he’d first shown up today.

He was no longer just good old Brent. Right now, attraction was zapping and zinging around them like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Almost against her will, Caitlin’s gaze skimmed down Brent’s broad chest, the muscles well defined under his faded Texas A&M T-shirt. Caitlin’s pulse picked up as she studied his large biceps.

The bronzed skin gleamed with a sheen of sweat, and Caitlin felt an unfamiliar sensation in her stomach.

With effort, she pulled her attention away from his glorious body and looked at his face. His amazing mocha-brown eyes suddenly seemed so much more intense, more interesting.

The same with his darker brown hair. Would his hair feel like silk to the touch? And what about the dark stubble on his chiseled jaw? Would it feel sexy if she ran the tips of her fingers across his cheek?

Yikes. Caitlin closed her eyes and turned away from him. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t noticed before how handsome he was. She’d known that since the day she’d hit puberty. But before today, he’d always been, well, just Brent. Good old Brent.

Not hunk-a-hunk Brent. Not break-out-in-a-sweat Brent.

Her thoughts were heading in a dangerous direction. She didn’t have time to stand here going goo-goo over the man. She needed his help, that was all.

This silly chemical reaction happening between them could mess up everything. If she could find an off switch, she’d flip it. Now was not the time to let her hormones run amok.

When she glanced at Brent again, he’d stopped arguing with her brothers. Instead, he met and held her gaze. Another blast of attraction zinged through Caitlin, and she decided she’d better find something else to think about before she embarrassed herself by grabbing Brent and tossing him to the ground.

The image made her smile. Like that could happen. She’d have better luck knocking down a mountain.

No, what she needed to do was focus on the problem at hand—getting Brent to agree to take over The Honey Hive. That was all she should be thinking about, not how great he looked with the afternoon sun highlighting his brown hair.

When her brothers showed no sign of stopping their argument, Caitlin decided to leave the park and head back across the street to her small apartment over her father’s garage. With a quick goodbye to Leigh and Jared, she headed home.

Truthfully, she didn’t think of her garage apartment as home anymore. In four short weeks, she’d start her job with the Henderson Charity in Dallas, and Honey, Texas, would be a memory. Finally, she’d get to start living her life.

She was halfway across the park when a shrill whistle stopped her. Turning, she saw the men had finally stopped trying to out-macho each other and were trotting over to her.

“Hey, where you going?” Logan asked when he reached her side.

“I’m going home,” she said, deliberately not looking at Brent.

Rafe frowned. “What about the game?”

“The game is over,” she said. “Although you and Brent never even noticed, I made the winning touchdown.”

Rafe’s face crumpled in a frown. “Not fair. You two only won because Brent was a jerkface and slammed into—”

“Oh, for crying out loud.” Caitlin held up one hand. “Stop. I don’t want to hear it again. It’s just a game.”

As she spoke, she once again became incredibly aware of Brent standing just a few inches away from her. He was close enough for her to smell a hint of the tangy cologne he always wore. But even knowing he was there, she still jumped when he dropped his arm casually across her shoulders and tugged her close for a swift hug.

“I agree,” he said. “It’s just a friendly game. Let’s congratulate Caitlin on her amazing job.”

His husky voice made her heart do a funny flitter-flutter.

“It wasn’t all that amazing,” she protested, liking the sensation of him being this close way too much.

Drat. Why’d this have to happen now? She hadn’t been attracted to a man in a long time, not since she’d broken things off with her boyfriend four months ago.

Since then, she’d been too busy to fret over her love life. This couldn’t happen now. She couldn’t let this male-female nonsense get in the way of her plans.

She glanced at Brent. Did he have any idea what he was doing to her equilibrium? What about his own equilibrium? Did he feel the pull between them, or did he still see her as little Caitlin, Rafe and Logan’s sister?

“Sure, that touchdown was amazing. You’re an amazing woman.” He grinned down at her, his dark eyes dancing with devilment, his warm, masculine scent surrounding her, tantalizing her, enticing her.

Holy cow.

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