Series: Howelton Texas #2
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
Release Date: June 9, 2020
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Torn between the love of a handsome cowboy and a man-of-the-world wealthy lawyer, single mom Dallas juggles caring for Piper, her three-year-old daughter whom she cherishes, and working two jobs to make ends meet.
Dating two men at the same time complicates Dallas’s life exponentially. Though each man knows he is not her only passion, they both strive to be the best, the only one she will choose.
Pressure mounts as one date follows the next and her love for each man intensifies. Growing up poor entices Dallas to choose the lawyer as he can offer Piper everything she dreams of and an expensive college education. Yet the cowboy gives his heart freely, has a wonderful life on his ranch and loves spending time with her daughter.
Unable to choose and with time running out, will the men lose patience and leave Dallas with no one to love?
Praise of the book:
Janalyn Knight, author of Cowboy Refuge, returns with more hot cowboys in Cowboy Promise. Single mother Dallas Royle goes from being wary of men to being pursued by two hotties. The hard part of her dilemma is discovering whether the lawyer or the cowboy has truly won her heart. Another sweet romance with a bit of after-the-wedding-ceremony spiciness. - Suanne Schafer author of A Different Kind of Fire
Now that was some nice cowboy bootie. Dallas Royle was usually too busy to notice the patrons of The Last Cowboy Standing dancehall unless they were lined up in front of her ordering drinks. The handsome cowboy walking by was a treat for her eyes as she leaned on the bar in an unusual lull.
Ignoring the pounding beat of the crazy-loud Red Dirt country music coming from the stage, her gaze followed him to the small table he shared with two other cowboys. He chose a chair pointing in her direction. His face matched his sexy backside—strong, square jaw, and high cheekbones. He was a handsome devil, that was for sure.
She rubbed the back of her neck and grabbed a wet towel, sweeping it across the slab of polished mesquite that made up the bar top. Her three-year-old daughter needed her mother focused on the right priorities, and a man was definitely not one of them. Piper had run a fever all day, coughing along with swiping at a runny nose. Dallas poured a couple of antacids into her palm and popped them into her mouth. Now she carried the things with her everywhere she went. Pulling her phone out of her back pocket, she checked the time. Forty-five minutes until her break.
Dallas glanced at the dancefloor, its polished wood a perfect surface for the fast-paced boot scootin’ that went along with the rowdy songs the band usually played. A slow tune wafted through the air now, though. Cowboys held their girls close, swaying in a gentle two-step. Remembering what that felt like, she quickly shifted her gaze. Kneeling, she straightened some napkins and boxes under the bar. What was wrong with her tonight? Had she thrown her brain in the blender when she made that last frozen margarita? She had a plan for her life, and she was sticking to it.
The rare respite ended. Three people appeared at the bar at once. Straining to hear their orders over the new, much louder song, Dallas flitted from one to the other, efficiently handing out beers, mixing drinks, and making change. Other customers replaced them until she found herself face-to-face with the handsome cowboy.
He smiled and handed her a five-dollar bill, almost shouting, “Bud light, please, ma’am. Keep the change.”
Dallas pulled his longneck out of the ice, popped the top off, and returned to his place at the bar. As she returned his smile, she took in more details of his appearance. Amber eyes sparked with self-confidence. A sturdy, working-man’s hand received the bottle she offered. His strong arms and broad shoulders stretched the material of his shirt. No doubt he could manhandle a 300-pound calf to the ground.
Raising the beer in salute, he said, “Thank you, ma’am,” and turned away.
She had no time to watch him and his fine rear end walk away. Customers vied for her attention nonstop until a familiar face showed up. This cowboy had his arm slung over a young woman’s shoulder. Dallas frowned in surprise. Nearly every week, the man came up to her bar with someone new, but last time, he’d arrived with a girl wearing his engagement ring. How proud she was, even showing Dallas, saying the guy had just given her the sparkling solitaire. Now the jerk stood here with a different woman. Gut-sick, Dallas scowled at the asshole as the loud pounding music beat at her senses. She spun away, shoving her hair behind her ear. Let him wait for his beer. Moving down to the other end of the bar, she waited on the next customer. Men were such bastards. The words loyal and man should never go in the same sentence.
A few minutes later, still ready to chew nails, Dallas nodded to the waitress who came to cover the bar for her break. Grabbing her phone and car keys, Dallas strode out the saloon-style front doors into the parking lot. Like always, her car sat in the back, so she turned the corner into the deepening darkness on the side of the building. She hurried past the trucks parked on her right, focused on her car ahead at the end.
A step from her car door, she heard gravel crunching behind her. She grabbed for the handle as a tall, heavyset cowboy clutched her arm. Yanking back, she hoped to free herself, but he gripped her tightly.
“Hey there, pretty thing.”
His slurred, drunken voice sent chills through her. Far from the front lot where others might hear her yell, she had no hope for help.
“Let go of me!” She jerked hard on her arm again, shouting, “Leave me alone, you creep!” and aimed a kick for his groin.
She hadn’t noticed the good-looking cowboy’s arrival. The drunk’s head smashed sideways into the top of her car. The cowboy’s punch landed perfectly, and he shoved the other man to the ground, saying, “Go sleep it off in your truck before I call the police.”
The drunk got up, staggered to a Ford dually pick-up parked a few vehicles down the lot, and got in.
Dallas rubbed her arm where the man had held her and stared at the cowboy. “Were you following me?” Still angry at the unfaithful cretin at the bar, she didn’t come off as thankful as she should be.
“Nope. I’m parked over there, too. I was out here getting some fresh air when that bozo grabbed you. Figured you needed help.”
“Oh.” What a relief. He didn’t seem like a stalker, either. “Well, thanks. Wish employees didn’t have to park all the way back here.” Reluctantly, she reached out her hand. “My name’s Dallas, by the way.”
“Cash Powers. Pleased to meet you.” His clasp was gentle.
“I need to call my mom. That’s why I came out here. My daughter’s been sick, and I’m worried about her. So…” She glanced at her car door and back. “Thanks again.”
Tipping his hat, he backed up a step, turned around, and walked toward the front of the building.
Dallas narrowed her eyes. He was so darn good to look at, but that didn’t matter. Experience proved her decision to keep men at a long arm’s distance was the right one. Sliding into the seat, she locked all the doors before dialing her mother’s number.
At two-thirty in the morning, Cash drove through the darkness with his totally hammered friends, Jesse and Boone. He knew before they left home that his hands would be at the wheel, making sure they all got back safe to Howelton, so he drank very little at the club.
Boone turned thirty-three that day and figured it was a great idea to get roaring drunk. Obviously, Jesse agreed with him. They’d both given Cash hell all night because he didn’t dance and hunt up women the way they did. That just wasn’t Cash’s style anymore. He learned the hard way that party girls weren’t good wives. Misty, his ex, had made him miserable before they divorced. That was a mistake he wouldn’t make again.
Cash reached over and shoved Jesse, who slumped in the passenger seat. His friends frequented The Cowboy and should know something about the employees. Especially the pretty ones. “Hey, you know anything about that girl bartending tonight over by the front door? Blonde hair and blue eyes?”
Jesse picked his head up and stared blearily at Cash. “Yeah … Dallas. Don’t get your hopes up. She don’t date guys from the club. Word is she’s got a kid. What I hear, she only works weekends.” He leaned his head on the side window and closed his eyes.
Cash pursed his lips. What Jesse said made sense. While she waited on customers, Dallas smiled but didn’t flirt like a lot of bartenders did. It had been a long time since a woman had caught his attention. After his divorce, he’d kind of lost interest in women. He tried so hard to make his marriage work, despite the fact that he knew before their first anniversary that Misty was the wrong woman for him. What first attracted him to her in college turned into major problems as his wife. Accepting full responsibility for his poor choice, he did everything in his power to be a good husband. Her long absences from home and, finally, the knowledge that she was sleeping around had ended their marriage after four long years.
There was something about Dallas, though. It could be her fresh, girl-next-door looks, or her genuine smile, or maybe it was the confidence in the way she moved and talked. He didn’t know what it was exactly, but Dallas was different. He wanted to find out more about her. She didn’t date guys from the club? He smiled. He’d see about that.
Ethan Keys strode toward the break room, eager for his first cup of coffee. His $850 Brunopasso Espresso machine heaved its last splat of coffee this morning. He frowned. Could he stomach break-room coffee now? Women’s voices carried down the hall. One of them sounded like Dallas.
A few steps from the door, he overheard her say, “One punch, and he knocked him silly. Then he threw him on the ground. Thank God he was there. I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
Mandy, one of the paralegals, nearly swooned as Ethan walked in.
“A handsome cowboy came to your rescue. Wow! It’s like the movies.”
What? A cowboy rescued Dallas? Hold on there. He’d had his eye on Dallas for ages. No way was some cowboy horning in on his turf. “Hi, ladies. What’s up?” He moved over to the coffee pot and sighed sadly as he filled his mug with something very different from what his Brunopasso made him.
Mandy put her arm around Dallas. “The most handsome man in The Last Cowboy Standing rescued this damsel in distress Saturday night.” She went on to give him all the details.
Ethan frowned. “Were you hurt? That sounds awful.”
Dallas shook her head and rubbed her arm. “Just a few bruises. Thank God Cash was outside getting some fresh air, or I don’t know what would have happened.”
Though thankful the cowboy had been there to help Dallas, he didn’t care one bit for the excitement in her eyes when she talked about this Cash fellow. Working so closely with her for the past three years gave Ethan a proprietary feeling about Dallas. Dammit, he needed to do something about this cowboy business.
If the coffee was as bad as he thought, it would need lots of help to be palatable. He took his time adding cream and sugar to it.
Mandy started back to her desk.
When Dallas followed, he called to her. “Dallas, do you have a second?”
She turned around and smiled. “Sure, but just a sec. I need to get to my desk.”
“How about we go out to dinner this week? Maybe make this bad memory go away. Does Wednesday work for you?”
Dallas touched his sleeve. “Oh, thank you for inviting me, Ethan, but Piper was sick all weekend, and she’s still on the mend. I need to stay home.”
Damn and double damn. He forced an understanding smile and nodded. “Children need their moms when they’re not feeling well. Sometime soon, then, okay?” It had been a year since he’d asked her out. Back then, Dallas said that at two years old, her daughter was going through a stage where she got upset when her mother left her. So, he waited all this time to ask her out again. No way would he lose her now to a freaking cowboy.
She nodded. “Sure, Ethan, and thanks again for thinking of me.”
He chewed his lip as she walked out the door. With that handsome cowboy on the horizon, he had to step up his game. He wasn’t sure what it was about Dallas that made him so mad for her. For years, he’d watched her at the firm before deciding to ask her out. At thirty-five, he knew she was younger—in her mid- to late-twenties. It had been a long time since he’d dated anyone that young. In fact, in the past few years, he saw older, wealthy socialites whom he met at the functions he attended through work. Occasionally, his mother introduced him to someone in their social set in Dallas as well.
Though he enjoyed their company, Dallas was different—refreshing. She was honest and open. He loved her laugh and that she’d say just about anything. Dallas was beautiful without using a lot of makeup, and he was sure she was a natural blonde.
She was smart—way too smart to work as an administrative assistant for the rest of her life. One of her team’s paralegals had been out on maternity leave recently, and Dallas had shown herself to be so adept at research that her boss had encouraged her to become a paralegal herself. She should return to school. He didn’t like her working in that honky-tonk, though. She told him that the job funded her school savings. Her work here paid for her living expenses.
As a full partner in the firm, he did very well and couldn’t help but think that if it worked between them, he would make Dallas’s life much easier. She wouldn’t have to worry about money, and he would help with her school. He wondered if she ever thought about him in that way. Maybe it was time to drop some hints—to make sure she did. After all, he would offer her so much more than any cowboy could.
The following Friday night, Cash parked in an empty spot near the back of the lot at The Last Cowboy Standing. He let out a loud gust of air. This was a first for him. Two weekends in a row at a honky-tonk? And by himself?
He took the note out of his shirt pocket, reading it for the tenth time. When he finished, he sighed. It would have to do. Refolding the paper, he shoved it back in his pocket and opened his door. Reaching for his chest, he couldn’t believe the way his heart pounded. How long had it been since he was nervous about a woman? Ages, that was for sure. He clenched his hands to hold them steady. After the huge mistake he made choosing a wife, he had no confidence in his taste in women. I hope I do a better job this time. Beeping the locks on his truck, he squared his shoulders and strode toward the entrance.
It was nine o’clock, and the place was just beginning to roll. The band hammered out the tune of a rowdy North Texas Red Dirt country song, and dancers twirled around the floor. Dallas’s bar was busy. Standing back, he waited his turn.
As he stepped up to order his beer, Dallas looked at him, eyes wide with surprise. “Cash, you’re back.”
He smiled. “Yep, I am. How are you?”
“Fine. Um, thanks again about last Saturday night. I really appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome. Glad I was there to help.” He nodded. “Bud Light, please.”
When she brought his beer, he handed her a five, along with his note folded inside it. “Keep the change.”
She took the bill and note, a crease between her brows. “Thanks, Cash.”
Finding a seat not far from the bar, he was able to keep an eye on Dallas. Without knowing where she lived or worked, he didn’t know what else he could do. The woman was busy as hell in here. Her break was the only time she could talk to him, but he wondered if she called in about her daughter during that time. He didn’t want to interfere with that. So, the note was his best idea. It had to work.
The firm edges of the folded paper poked through Dallas’s pocket, reminding her that she couldn’t just forget that handsome Cash had come back to the club again tonight. What could he want? The bar had been too busy for her to take the time to read it yet. She glanced over to his table. He was still there, watching the dancers out on the floor. Before she could turn away, his gaze swung to her and he grinned. Pressing her lips together, she smiled uneasily, though her heart thudded in response.
A short time later, a pause between customers allowed her to pull the paper out of her pocket and scan it. She felt dizzy as the blood left her face. With trembling fingers, she refolded the note and slipped it back into her pocket. Looking up, and without meaning to, her eyes met Cash’s steady gaze. God, he’d watched her read it.
Heat rushed back to her cheeks and she spun around, grabbing a towel and drying the glasses the bar-back had washed earlier. Cash had asked her out to dinner. The worst thing about it? That flash of joy she felt before the stab of fear that had her hands shaking. He was the first man to truly tempt her in the past three years.
Thank God she could practically tend bar with her eyes closed. Dazed, her mind flew back to Saturday morning when she took Piper to the grocery store. She’d paused as she noticed a man and woman shopping together, each knowing their role, reading the list or taking items from the shelves, and calling the other honey. She’d blinked back tears as she passed their cart.
Dallas laid down the towel and opened a bottle of cold water, remembering Tuesday night when, after she put Piper to sleep, she’d caught an old rerun of Pretty Woman. She sobbed out loud at the sappy ending. That night, as late as it was, she’d called Sarah, hoping for a clue to her craziness.
Sarah’s answer had been as disturbing as Dallas’s behavior. Sarah said that Dallas should find a man who would give her unconditional love. She’d been scared ever since. Open her heart? Trust a man? Sarah was the crazy one. Yet, a tiny voice inside Dallas had agreed.
While the bar got busy again, Dallas searched her heart for an answer. Letting go of her fear of being hurt didn’t feel possible. How did a person just stop being afraid? Start trusting? The only trustworthy man she could think of was her father. He was old school. Young men didn’t seem to have the same capacity. She glanced over at Cash as she handed a woman her beer. Damn. He was looking her way again. Smiling tentatively, she turned to the next person at the bar.
Later, she pulled her phone from her pocket and checked the time. It was getting late, and she was no closer to making a decision than she had been when she first read his note.
The pace slowed around one-thirty. She had to decide. Cash didn’t dance and, throughout the evening, he bought his beer at the other bar, as though giving her time to think. She appreciated the consideration, another clue that he was a gentleman. Admittedly, something had been missing in her life for a while. As much as she hated it, Sarah may have hit it on the head. Maybe that tiny part of her that liked Cash’s smile wanted to say yes to the dinner invitation. But, hell, what if this went wrong? Could she handle it? She’d thought the pain from Piper’s father’s rejection would never go away. Some days it still stabbed at her. She couldn’t go through that again.
She looked at Cash’s table. He was draining his beer. It was last call, and her time had run out. Ripping a piece of paper from the register, she scribbled quickly as customers headed to the bar.
The Highliner bar was packed, per usual, as Dallas arrived during happy hour on Wednesday. She spotted her best friends Sarah and Kate sitting, like always, near the middle of the room where they could keep an eye on everyone coming and going. Dallas sat down and caught the busy waitress’s eye. She swung by the table to take Dallas’s drink order.
Kate leaned in. “Sarah and I had time to catch up while we were waiting for you to get here. Tell us what’s going on with you. All of a sudden you’re leading an exciting life.”
Dallas grinned. “Am not. One rescue from the clutches of death, and you think my life is exciting? Phooey.”
The girls rolled their eyes and waited for her to continue.
“Well, Ethan asked me out.”
Kate clapped her hands. “Yay! I was hoping he would. He’s a wonderful catch for you, Dallas. He moves in all the right circles, makes great money at the firm, and you said he’s really nice to you.”
“He is. I had to turn him down, though. Piper’s little tail was still dragging when he asked.”
Kate leaned in and covered Dallas’s hand with her own. “Listen, girlfriend, chances like this don’t come along every day. Let me remind you how you grew up. No new shoes ’til your old ones rubbed blisters on your toes. You never had nice clothes like the other kids. Hardly even had enough to eat. Do you want Piper growing up like that? You’re putting all your eggs in one basket, counting on finishing your legal degree. Wouldn’t it be awesome to just want a degree, instead of desperately needing one? Promise me you’re going to accept next time he asks.”
Dallas swallowed and looked down at her glass of wine, turning it in circles. She still remembered her first day of third grade. One of the bigger boys, who’d always been a bully, pointed at her old, beat-up tennis shoes with a separated sole. “You wore those things last year, loser. You’re poor.” Her heart still hurt for the sad little girl she was. She couldn’t let her daughter go through that. “I know. You’re right. Ethan really is a sweet guy. Monday he even asked how Piper was feeling.”
Sarah held her wine up and they all tapped their glasses. “We’re way too serious. I want to hear me some more about that good-looking cowboy.”
Dallas smiled and reached into her purse. “You won’t believe this, but he came back to the club Friday night. When he paid for his beer, he handed me this note.” Unfolding the half-page piece of paper, she held it up.
Sarah gawked at it. “Well, go ahead, crazy woman, read it.”
Dallas smoothed it a little more, and then read:
I’m here tonight to change your mind. Word is you don’t date men you meet at the bar, and I sure don’t blame you. Fact is, I wouldn’t date girls if I met them there, either.
But I think you and I are exceptions. I was there the night we met for my friend’s birthday. I don’t normally go to clubs.
I enjoyed meeting you though I wish it had been under better circumstances.
I’d like to spend a quiet evening together somewhere, get some dinner, and learn more about you. If you’re interested, just tell me.
Sarah and Kate both whooshed out, “Wow.”
Sarah stared at Dallas and slapped her hand on the table. “Well?”
Dallas fidgeted in her chair. “I didn’t know what to do. He seemed so kind, but I never, ever see anyone from the club. You know I don’t date, either. But I knew he wouldn’t leave until I answered. He came up for his last beer, and I slipped him a note.” She took a sip of her wine.
Sarah shook her head, her lips jammed together. “Girl, speak now or I swear—”
Dallas giggled. “I gave him my cell number and thanked him for asking me out.”
Sarah threw her arms wide. “Finally, I can’t believe it. The girl makes some sense.”
“So, when are you having dinner?” Kate asked.
“Tomorrow night, since Piper’s feeling okay now. Speaking of my daughter, I gotta scoot. I have so little time with her, what with working and tending bar. Oh, you girls know how I feel guilty, even when I’m in the best of company.”
Leaving money for her tab on the table, she kissed each of her friends.
Sarah called, “Get a picture of that cowboy,” before Dallas got to the door.
Driving home, she considered Kate’s advice. Should she go out with Ethan? It felt weird even considering it. After being a loner for so long, it was hard to imagine that she could be the kind of woman who dressed up and went out on dates. Yet, Ethan had always been sweet to her. And he had a way of making the staff laugh when he dropped by the break room. Though he was hyper-focused with his clients, when he stopped at her desk for a chat, he was easygoing and made Dallas feel like she was the only person in the world. Perhaps if she got through the date with Cash without having a heart attack, she might accept an invitation from Ethan, if he asked again.
The only thing she hadn’t figured out with this whole dating thing was Piper. She had so little time with her daughter. How would she fit dating into her already hectic schedule?
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