Heating Up in Texas!
When Justin McCabe hires a master carpenter to help build his ranch for troubled teens, tall, gorgeous blonde Amanda Johnson isn’t quite what he’d imagined. But not only can she do the job, she has a thing or two to teach him about judging by appearances. And, more important, she has a knack for reaching the kind of kid Justin wants to help.
Amanda hadn’t counted on her new boss—all strapping six foot five of him—being so utterly irresistible. Working side by side under the scorching Texas sun, the two of them make a great team—in every way possible. The heat of summer is no match for the sizzle they generate whenever they’re together. But when a crisis forces Amanda to face her past, she’ll need to make a heart-wrenching decision about her future…whether Justin is in it or not.
Cathy Gillen Thacker is a popular Harlequin author of over one hundred novels. Married and a mother of three, she and her husband resided in Texas for eighteen years, and now make their home in North Carolina. Her mysteries, romantic comedies, and family stories have made numerous appearances on bestseller lists, but her best reward is knowing one of her books made someone’s day a little brighter.
There were times for doing things yourself and times for not. This, Justin McCabe thought grimly, surveying the damage he had just inflicted on a brand-new utility cabinet and the drywall behind it, was definitely one of the latter.
Frustrated, because there was little he couldn’t do well, Justin shook his head in disgust. Then he swore heatedly at the blunder that further derailed his tight schedule and made it even harder to prove the skeptics wrong.
It was possible, of course, that this could be fixed without buying a whole new cabinet. If he knew what he was doing. Which he clearly did not—a fact that the five beloved ranch mutts, sitting quietly and cautiously watching his every move, seemed to realize, too.
A motor sounded in the lane, and he hoped it was the carpenter who’d been scheduled to arrive that morning and had yet to actually make an appearance. Justin set his hammer down. He stalked to the door of Bunkhouse One just as a fancy red Silverado pickup truck stopped in front of the lodge. It had an elaborate silver Airstream trailer attached to the back and a lone woman at the wheel.
“Great.” Justin sighed as all the dogs darted out the open door of the partially finished bunkhouse and raced, barking their heads off, toward the vehicle.
The obviously lost tourist eased the window down and stuck her head out into the sweltering Texas heat. A straw hat with a sassy rolled brim was perched on her head. Sunglasses shaded her eyes. But there was no disguising her beautiful face and shapely bare arms. The young interloper was, without a doubt, the most exquisite female Justin had ever seen.
She smiled at the dogs, despite the fact that they were making a racket. “Hey, poochies,” she said in a soft, melodic voice.
As entranced as he was, the dogs seemed more so. They’d stopped barking and had all sat down to stare at the stranger.
She opened her door and stepped out. All six feet of her.
Layered red and white tank tops showcased her nice, full breasts and slender waist. A short denim skirt clung to her hips and emphasized a pair of really fine legs.
She took off her hat and shook out a mane of butterscotch-blond hair that fell in soft waves past her shoulders. After tossing the hat on the seat behind her, she reached down to pet the dogs. The pack was thoroughly besotted.
Justin completely understood.
If there was such a thing as love at first sight—which he knew there wasn’t—he’d have been a goner.
The woman straightened and removed her sunglasses. “I’m Amanda,” she said in the same voice that had magically quieted his dogs.
Justin stared into long-lashed, wide-set amber eyes that were every bit as mesmerizing as the rest of her. His brain seemed to have stopped working altogether. His body, on the other hand, was at full alert. “I’m Justin McCabe.”
“This the Lost Pines?” Amanda asked, taking a moment to scan their surroundings.
Working to get the blood back in his brain where it belonged, Justin merely nodded.
“So,” she said, still admiring the acres of unfenced grassland peppered with cedar and live oak, as well as the endless blue horizon and rolling hills in the distance. “Where do you want me to park my trailer?”
And then, all of a sudden, the fantasy ended. This gorgeous woman had not been dropped into his life like a karmic reward for all his hard work. Brought swiftly back to reality, he stopped her with a regretful lift of his palm. “You can’t.”
She pivoted back to him in a drift of citrusy perfume. Her eyes sparked with indignation and her delicate but surprisingly capable-looking hands landed on her hips. “I made it very clear to whomever I spoke. My camping out here is part of the deal.”
What deal? “It can’t be.”
She came closer, her soft lips pursed in an unhappy frown. “Why not?”
Embarrassed that it had taken him this long to correct her misconception, Justin explained without rancor. “Because this isn’t the Lost Pines you’re looking for.”
A flicker of indecipherable emotion flashed in those beautiful eyes. She regarded him skeptically, seeming to think he was trying to pull something over on her. “But how can that be? The sign above the gate said this is the Lost Pines Ranch.”
“The sign’s on the long list of things waiting to be changed.” A new one had been ordered but wasn’t coming in for another month. Which meant he would continue to have these mix-ups with nonlocals.
“Are you sure I’m not in the right place?” she asked with a frown. “Because…”
Justin shook his head, a little disappointed that this beautiful amazon would not be settling in for a long stay. He turned and pointed in the opposite direction. “What you want is the Lost Pines Campground, which is another three miles down the road, next to the Lake Laramie State Park. But…” What the heck, why not? Just this once he was going to go for what he wanted. Which was a little more—make that a lotmore—time with this sun-kissed beauty. “Once you get set up there, Amanda, I’d be happy to take you to dinner.”
This was, Amanda Bliss Johnson thought, the most bizarre encounter she’d ever had. Even if the tall rancher with the shaggy chestnut-brown hair and gorgeous blue eyes was the hottest guy she had ever come across in her life. From the massive shoulders and chest beneath that chambray shirt, to his long muscular legs, custom-bootencased feet—and ringless left hand—everything about him broadcast Single and Available.
Which meant Strictly Off-Limits to her.
She wished she’d left her sunglasses on so he wouldn’t see her dazzled expression. “First off,” she told him crisply, “I don’t date customers.”
Now it was his turn to look shocked. “Customers! What are you talking about?”
Amanda pushed on. “You called for a carpenter, right? At least, Libby Lowell-McCabe, the CEO of the Lowell Foundation and chairwoman of the board for the Laramie Boys Ranch, did. She said it was an emergency. That your previous carpenter quit with no notice and you only have four weeks to get the bunkhouse ready for occupancy.” She paused to draw a breath. “I emailed her back that I’d be willing to help y’all out, but only if I could keep my travel trailer on the property so I wouldn’t have to waste time commuting back and forth to San Angelo.”
Amanda fought her racing pulse and tried to stay calm. “But if that’s not going to work, I guess I could park my Silversteam at the campground. Assuming, of course, they have a space available. Since it’s the busy summer season, they may not.”
He lifted a hand. “You don’t have to do that.”
Amanda folded her arms in front of her. “Sure about that? Because just now you seemed dead set against me camping here.”
He flashed a slow, disarming smile. “That’s because I thought you were a tourist, not an apprentice.”
Apprentice? Strike two for the handsome Texan! “I’m not the apprentice,” Amanda said tightly, her temper rising. “I’m the master carpenter.”
He pulled the paper out of his pocket and squinted at it as if he couldn’t believe the words in front of him. Then his head lifted and he speared her with an incredulous gaze. “You’re A. B. Johnson Jr.?”
Amanda wondered if it took him this long to process everything. “Amanda Bliss Johnson. Junior’s the nickname I got at work.”
“You want me to call you Junior?” he asked, with a hint of humor in his low baritone.
“Or Amanda.” She waved a hand. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter to me.” What did was getting this gig. It would allow her to settle in this ruggedly beautiful place for an entire month before moving on to her next rural job.
Justin McCabe continued to contemplate her as if he either didn’t believe she could really be an ace carpenter or wasn’t going to be comfortable having a woman undertake such a large job.
Great, just great. She’d gotten up at the crack of dawn to put the finishing touches on a built-in bookcase for a very fussy client, then spent hours getting all her stuff packed up and driving all the way out here. Now, the deceptively laid-back McCabe was acting like he wanted to fire her on the spot.
Deciding it was his turn to be put in the hot seat, Amanda stepped closer. “Do you have a problem with the fact I’m a woman?”
“No.” He was clearly fibbing. “Not at all.”
Then why couldn’t he stop looking at her like he was going to need a protective force field just to be anywhere near her? “I come highly recommended.” The defensive words were out before she could stop them.
“I know.” He exhaled, beginning to look as off-kilter as she felt. “I just expected a guy. That’s all.”
A common mistake, given that most of her competitors were male. Still, Amanda refused to let Justin McCabe off the hook. Sensing there was more to whatever it was going on with him, she arched a brow.
There was a beat of complete and utter silence.
He scrubbed a hand across his face. “I did a Google search on your company after Libby told me she had arranged for A. B. Johnson Carpentry to come out and finish the work on an emergency basis. The website said the company was founded in San Angelo, Texas, by Angus ‘Buddy’ Johnson thirty-eight years ago.”
Proudly, Amanda relayed, “That’s my grandfather. He still runs the business—although he’s supposed to be phasing out of that, too—but he stopped doing the rural gigs a year ago.” After much persuading on her part.
The minute you open the book, you know why it’s going to be a LONG HOT TEXAS SUMMER. You can feel the sweltering heat between the two main characters.
The writing is good. The story is enjoyable, and the characters good looking and lovable – everything a Harlequin romance should be.
I’m giving the book five stars.
My Life. One Story at a Time. is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small fee is earned when purchases are made at Amazon through the link above. A free book may have been provided by the source in exchange for an honest review. Views expressed by authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of My Life. One Story at a Time. My opinions are my own. This provided in accordance with the FTC 16 CFR, Part 55.