Series: Texas Knights Series #1
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
Release Date: September 1, 2021
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Ward Ramsey hires female ranch hand Jayme Bonner against his better judgement. Something about the desperation in her eyes and that letter of reference she hands him makes him do it. But when she lets her boy out of her truck, his heart jolts. The woman and her son bring back memories of a tragedy that he’ll never forgive himself for. No way could he have them on his place. But because he’s a man of his word, he’ll give her two weeks to prove herself.
Jayme needs sanctuary for herself and her son Dusty from the dangerous ex-con on her trail. She’d put him in prison nine years ago, and now that the system had let him out early, he’d make good on his threat to kill her. She’s been on the run for weeks and with this job, she can put Dusty in school and remain out of sight, far from south Texas where the treacherous man knows to look.
What Ward doesn’t count on is caring for his very capable ranch hand and her adorable eight-year-old son. The boy’s blonde curls and insatiable curiosity are irresistible though the connection to his own terrible loss tears at Ward’s heart. When dangers draws near, he must decide. Will he set his pain aside and put his life on the line for this mother and son?
With her son, Dusty, asleep in the bedroom, Jayme Bonner picked up the mail and shuffled through it. Her gaze froze on the last, unexpected envelope sporting the logo of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Collapsing on the couch, her mind in lockdown, she feared what this might mean.
Hands shaking, tensing her muscles for impact, she ripped opened the letter, growing instantly lightheaded as blood drained from her face. Dirk Blacke still had six years left on his sentence, but they’d let the man out of prison. When she’d been notified of the hearing, she had been assured there was little chance he would be released because of his list of infractions inside. Unable to face being in the same room with the hateful man, she hadn’t attended. Blacke had attacked her and tried to kill her. Now that he was free, he’d keep his promise to finish her off.
Two weeks later, Jayme opened her grit-filled eyes to the first light of dawn. Dew dappled the windshield, and she rubbed her cold hands together to warm them. Dusty lay across the seat, his mop of golden curls in her lap. Even after sleeping another night in her old truck, her boy never complained. He tried so hard to make things easier on her. At eight years old, he cared more for her needs and feelings than any grown man ever had.
After leaving her last job in the middle of the night, without giving the foreman more notice than a note left in the darkened barn, she’d run fast and hard from the hateful convict on her trail. Dusty was her life; she’d do whatever it took to protect him. Faced with this threat, running was her best—her only—option.
In the rearview mirror, the dark circles visible under her eyes were testament to her exhaustion. She massaged her temples. They’d traipsed from one small North Texas town to another, stopping in at every feed store and gas station asking for leads on work. There were three more months of school left this year, and Dusty was falling behind. Every day lost increased the pressure.
She was a ranch hand, but being a woman looking for a man’s job was no easy thing. A tip the day before had seemed promising, but it turned out to be an offer for more than ranch work after the guy had gotten an eyeful of her. And she damn sure didn’t want a job like that.
Lord, please let me have some luck today. My boy needs to be in school. She was down to her last fifty dollars, and that didn’t go far when you were driving an old Chevy truck. She hated that Dusty had been living on the cheapest food she could buy for the last couple of days. She clenched the steering wheel until her knuckles cracked. Something had to change.
Starting up the truck, the engine loud in the quiet of the sleepy town, she patted Dusty’s soft cheek as he turned over and lay on his side.
She drove out of the little parking lot of the saddle store in Throckmorton and headed down Highway 380. There were some sizeable ranches up in Haskell and Stonewall counties. Surely Howelton, where she was headed, held more promise than the other towns they’d been through recently.
After thirty minutes of driving past green wheat fields running all the way to the flat horizon, she came to the small farming community. The donut shop coming up on her left was more than she could resist. Her son needed a treat, and he loved donuts more than anything in the world.
The truck’s engine stopped, and the constant vibration from the old engine stilled. In the silence Dusty sat up and knuckled his face. He spied the display through the picture window and turned wondering eyes her way.
She nodded her head and grinned.
Throwing his slender arms around her neck, he squealed like a baby pig and jiggled his short golden curls.
She laughed and tickled him. Her son had a way of lifting her heart, even on the toughest days.
He shrieked, “You’re going to make me wet my pants.”
“Come on in, honey. Use the restroom while I get your donut and some coffee.”
“I’ll be quick.”
He hauled his cute little butt into the store and asked where the bathroom was. She shut her door, her own rear end sore from having slept sitting upright night after night, and walked inside.
A plump woman with kind, gray eyes stood behind the ancient wood-and-glass display. “Good morning,” she greeted Jayme. “How can I help you?”
The aroma of coffee and fresh, hot bread filled the warm air. Jayme’s empty belly rumbled loudly, and she crossed her arm over her stomach. Had the store clerk heard?
The woman grinned. “Sounds like you got here just in time, hon.”
She’d eaten very little in the past few days after giving Dusty most of what she could afford. It was no wonder her stomach was complaining. Jayme smiled tentatively and pointed at the fluffy glazed creations. “I’ll have a large black coffee and one of those donuts, please.”
The woman poured her coffee, snapped a tight lid on the tall cup, then slipped a donut into a bag. Dusty skipped back into the room with an excited smile.
Jayme paid for her purchase and gave him his breakfast. “Here you go, buster. Enjoy.”
Dusty peered inside the small brown bag and frowned. “What are you going to eat?”
She swiped his hair out of his eyes. “I’ll have something later.”
He stared at the old hardwood floor, all the joy in his treat gone. “You’re hungry too.”
Her little man, always looking after her, trying to be the man of the house. “Just eat your donut, hon. We’ll find something for me soon. This town has great vibes. There’s bound to be work here.”
He stood still, his face stubborn.
Oh hell. She turned toward the counter to order another donut.
The lady handed her another bag. “No charge. I swear you deserve one for raising such a sweetheart.”
Tears burned Jayme’s eyes, and she lost track of what the woman was saying.
Dusty tugged on Jayme’s sleeve. “Mom, did you hear that?”
“She wants to know what kind of work you’re looking for.”
Jayme quickly wiped at the corners of her eyes. “Thanks for asking, ma’am. I’m a ranch hand, and I’m desperate for a job. We’ve been looking a while, and that old truck drinks gas like a drunk on Saturday night.”
The woman sighed and shook her head. “My name’s Noreen. I’m telling you now so’s you’ll know who to cuss when you leave this job in your rearview mirror. You’ll find work out at Ward Ramsey’s place. That ornery son-of-a-gun can’t keep help for nothing.” She tore off a piece of register receipt and wrote down directions to the ranch.
Jayme thanked her for her kindness as her belly worked its way into a knot. She didn’t have it in her to trust men much, but her managers had never been jerks. No matter what this Ramsey was like, though, she had to try.
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