Title: The Cowboy's Choice
Series:
Genre:
Release Date: Fall 2019

Adam’s past walks through the church doors, and he falls in love for the first time all over again. Could it be different now? Could he be? One thing is certain. This time, he will give it all—give anything—to make beautiful Lara his. No one and nothing, will get in his way. Lara Cole has a painful secret, and the last person she can share it with is handsome Adam Govain, the cowboy turned emergency trauma surgeon who was her first love. When he left her for college in Boston, neither knew the pain fate had in store for her. Now, thirteen years later, they're thrown together again. As remembered love blossoms, her long-buried agony comes with it.  Lara can shove the anguish back in its black hole or find the courage to face it at last. The Cowboy's Choice will make you laugh and make you cry and will stay in your heart long after you've turned the last page. Get yours now.

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Chapter One

          Lara Cole's hand trembled. As she slid the back off the stem of her earring, it fell on the floor. If this is what happened when she thought of Adam Govain, how could she handle meeting him face to face?

          His mother, Millie, had contacted Lara's mom and asked if Adam and Caleb could have the honor of being pall bearers for Lara's father, Emmett, who died suddenly four days ago of a brain aneurysm. Her father had been the Govain family attorney for many years, and aside from serving them in his professional capacity, he had been their friend.

          Lara found the small silver back and put her earring on, then tied a scarf over her head, covering her long curls. The wind blew fiercely outside, and a thunderstorm threatened any minute. Grabbing two umbrellas in case her mother didn't have one, she stepped out into the maelstrom of whirling fall leaves and made her way to her car. The early September day should have been warm, but the bite in the air chilled her. As she opened her door, a gust tore it from her grasp. Grabbing the handle with both hands, she pulled the door toward her until she could sit in her seat, closing it with a loud click.

          Shaken and shivering, she sat for a minute. This was a terrible day to say goodbye to her dad, and she had no idea how her mom would face the funeral with the sure-to-be wet and turbulent weather at the cemetery service.

          Losing her husband had devastated Jenna Cole. Emmitt had handled everything in their lives. She never made major decisions or managed the finances. She would be lost without him. Lara would need to step in and provide comfort and support in many areas.

          Thirty minutes later, Lara entered the already filled-to-capacity church, her arm around her mother. Lara glanced around the gathering, looking for familiar faces, and from the second pew, Adam Govain's gaze smacked into hers. Eyes wide, she froze. Her heart thudded, and her pulse raced so fast she was immediately light headed.

          He nodded and the corner of his mouth quirked up.

          With a tight nod in return, she led her mother to the first pew and took her seat.

          Unwelcome thoughts of Adam invaded her mind. His dark hair was the same, as was his tall, broad-shouldered frame. Why did his smile still melt her insides after thirteen long years?

          A baby made a fussy noise, and she glanced back to see a tiny girl trying to get down from Caleb's lap.

          Adam brandished his mirrored sunglasses before the child, and she quieted. Taking the girl in his arms, he bounced her up and down as she put his glasses in her mouth.

          Seeing Adam cuddling the baby sent shockwaves through Lara. Was he married? Was that his child? Oh God, she needed out of this place! Whipping her head back around, she bit down on her lip hard enough for the pain to take her mind off of who sat behind her. Her focus today must be her mother—helping her find the strength to make it through the services without falling apart.

          The pastor stepped up to the lectern and began to speak.

* * *

          Adam cuddled his little niece, Abi, distracting himself from the vision of the older, and even more beautiful, Lara who had just walked down the aisle. Her face had lost the rounded teen-aged look of the past and now showed striking cheekbones, a classic jawline and sensuous lips. Her long slender throat led to the full breasts he remembered so well.

          Abi dove for the floor again, squawking loudly, and Eve reached across Caleb's lap.

          Adam absent mindedly handed the baby to his sister-in-law looking at the fall of glorious dark curls in front of him, wishing he could see those clear grey eyes again that had captured him as Lara entered the church. Damn, she was gorgeous, with her hair curling nearly to her waist. She was slender now—almost too thin—just so different from the shapely, happy teenager he'd loved and left behind.

          His stomach clenched. What had she felt when their gazes met? Did her heart leap as his had? Were thoughts of the two of them swirling in her head as they were in his? Or did she forget all about what they had shared? It was a lifetime ago, but now that she was home again, it seemed like yesterday.

          As the pastor spoke, Adam relived memories of high school and Lara: Family dinners, dark movie theaters and stolen kisses, riding horses on his ranch, and senior prom. God, she was hot in that dress. Deep red with a low cut back, her breasts showing just enough to tantalize him—he'd wanted every guy on the dancefloor to see her and know she was his.

          Afterward, he parked with her out in one of the big pastures and laid a blanket in the back of his truck. Closing his eyes, he could still remember the excitement when he took the dress off Lara and made love to her, naked, with only the moon as witness.

          She gave her all to him—never held back. He knew how much she loved him. That was why, when she begged him for the last time to change his mind and go with her to California for college, he knew he broke her heart. He turned his back on their love, on Lara, to make his dream of becoming a top trauma surgeon come true.

          He and Lara didn't speak again after they parted. Though he called, she had asked her parents not to give him her number at school. Shit, that hurt. He realized then that she wanted him out of her life. It had taken years to forget her.

          Caleb rose. Adam had daydreamed through the entire funeral. Hoping to catch Lara's eyes, he kept his gaze glued to her. She never looked his way as she helped her mother stand and escorted her past the pews toward the back of the church.

          The two women seemed so fragile—so vulnerable. Adam had to restrain himself from rushing to Lara's side, throwing his arm around her shoulders, and lending her his strength. Why was she alone? Had she never married? Did she have children? He needed to know everything about her now that he'd finally seen her again. Joining the throng of people leaving their seats, he made his way to his truck.

          Thirty minutes later, Adam drove into the cemetery where trees thrashed and rain had started to pelt the blacktop. Quite a few people had already arrived. Black umbrellas blew crazily in the wind and coats unworn for months whipped open exposing their owners to the wrath of the oncoming storm.

          He got out and leaned into the wind, forging his way to the lines of chairs at the gravesite. Caleb had saved him a seat beside him. Lara and her mother were seated in the front row—Lara with her arm around her mother's shoulders. Moving to his seat, Adam’s gaze was drawn to Lara's hair as it waved behind her like a flag. Adam couldn't take his eyes off of her.

          Just then the hearse arrived. Caleb nudged him, and they headed that way as wayward leaves from the oaks overhead blew this way and that in the air. The attendant rolled the casket out, and Adam and Caleb took the first two handles. Other friends stepped up and slipped their hands through the remaining grips. Rain came down harder now. It was difficult to keep his eyes clear. Caleb started them out. They pressed forward into the wind, making their way to the burial site and placing Lara's father on the lowering device set across the grave.

          Adam stood and turned toward the crowd of mourners, ready to return to his seat, and stopped. As soon as he saw Lara, she saw him, and her eyes widened. He tried to hold her gaze but she whipped her head to the side.

          Dammit. Now that she was in town, she was all he could think about. He wanted to talk to her—wanted to know all about her life. In fact, it was more than want, he needed to know these things.

          As he sat next to his brother, he grabbed his umbrella and opened it. In a whisper loud enough to be heard over the storm, he asked, "Is Lara Cole married?"

          Caleb, under his own umbrella, shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't heard anything about her."

          The pastor, promising to keep his words short, began the service but Adam tuned him out. Having Lara so close drove everything else from his mind. She looked pale, didn't she? Was she sick? He didn't remember her being so fair. Of course, they spent a lot of time in the sun back in high school. Maybe she didn't get outside much anymore. What was her life like now? What was she like?

          Caleb and Eve stood, rain streaming from their umbrellas, and Adam realized the graveside service was over. He had a vague recollection that he made some response, but he couldn’t recall any of it. He followed his brother away from the uncomfortable metal chairs.

          A few people walked over to Lara and her mother, but most ran for their cars.

          When Adam started in Lara's direction, Caleb caught his arm. "There's a reception at their house. Let them get in out of this downpour, and speak to them there, brother."

           Adam nodded and jogged toward his truck.

           Vehicles were lined up and down the residential street where Lara's mother lived and were even parked on the next street over. Adam gave up trying to find a parking spot, ending up a block away. Walking in the rain meant his pant legs were soaked by the time he arrived at the house that had been a part of his high school years. It hadn't really changed much since then. He stepped up on the porch and shook his umbrella, then went through the front door that had been left open to welcome guests. The house was packed with bodies, most with plates in their hands, and his eyes searched for Lara among them.

          Her mother, Jenna, sat on the couch with friends sitting beside her, a plate of untouched food on her lap. She appeared dazed and frail, and his heart went out to her. Changing direction, he went over and knelt in front of her, taking her hand. "I'm so sorry for your loss. Emmett was a wonderful man and a good friend to us. If you need anything, I'm here for you." He pulled two cards from his wallet and wrote his cell number on the back of them, handing one to her. "I mean it. Call me if I can help." He held her hand again.

          She smiled and gripped his fingers. "Adam, you were always a good boy, and now you're a sweet man, just like your daddy. Thank you, honey."

          He spied Lara as she entered the room, and with a smile, stood and headed toward her. Before he reached her, however, a woman snagged Lara's attention and drew her away. Still soaking wet, he went to find the coffee.

          When he came back into the living room, he spotted Lara saying goodbye to a guest and walked over to stand behind her.

          With a last farewell, she turned around. Stepping back quickly, her mouth ajar, she said, "Adam, you startled me."

          "Lara, I need to talk to you." Damn, he’d just blurted that out. "I mean, I'd love to catch up with you—find out how you are."

          She took another step back. "I'm fine." Squaring her shoulders, she said, "I have to take care of my guests and help my mother get through today. I can't."

          He let out the breath he was holding. Shit. Was she still mad at him after all these years? He was a good guy back then and had treated her right. He just couldn't, wouldn't, give up the college opportunity he dreamed of. He'd trained under and worked with some of the best trauma doctors in the country at Boston Medical, and the facility was state of the art. His career couldn't have had a better start.

          But she was right. Today, this setting, wasn't the time to talk to her. "I understand. And, Lara? I'm so sorry about your dad. He was a great guy. I'm here for you if you need me." Pressing his card into her hand, he walked out the open door.

          On his way home, his phone rang. "Adam Govain."

          A voice he recognized said, "How's it going?"

          He smiled. "Gerry, what's up, man?" Gerry was a friend from college who ended up moving to Texas and working in Dallas. They'd stayed in touch through the years.

          Gerry said, "I'm wondering if you ever followed through on that job I told you about. Opportunities at a Level I Trauma Center don't come along very often. Especially where one of their leadership team is old as dirt and you'd have a leg up on the position when it comes available."

          "Yeah, I sent my CV in a couple of weeks ago." He'd met every challenge at Ft. Stockton's small hospital with ease. It would be nice to work in a fast-paced, stimulating trauma environment again.

           "Awesome. It would be cool to have you close, bro'. Keep me posted if you hear anything, okay?" Gerry said.

          "I will."

           Back at home, he kicked his shoes off at the door and laid on the couch. Arms behind his head, his thoughts returned to Lara. He had to talk with her. There must be a way to break through the barrier she held between them. He wouldn't give up on her now that he'd found her again.