Series: Lassoed Hearts Series #2
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
Release Date: February 1, 2022
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From award-winning author Janalyn Knight comes a sensual romance of unconditional love and acceptance.
Blake Haggerty can’t believe that his best friend Knox has kept his gorgeous cousin a secret. Meeting her at roping practice was one of the most exciting things that’s happened to him in forever.
Jo Young can’t believe that a cowboy like Blake is interested in someone like her. She can’t even think of an intelligent thing to say when he’s around. But after going out for coffee, she knows that he doesn’t just like her because she’s blind, he seems really interested in her as a person. She’s learned the hard way that’s not always the case.
While Jo works on her transcription business during the day, Blake works cattle on his ranch in the neighboring county. When their romance gets serious, Jo asks Blake to take a DNA test for the gene that has caused her blindness. She’s vowed to never have visually impaired children of her own and the only way that can happen is if her partner carries the same recessive gene.
Blake agrees to the test although he says that he’ll love their children whether they’re sighted or visually impaired. Will the DNA results be the end of Jo and Blake’s relationship? Will Jo lose the only man she’s ever loved?
Blake Haggerty dismounted from his sixteen-hand sorrel gelding, a Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred cross that was tall enough to handle Blake’s six-foot-five, broad-shouldered frame.
Knox, his best friend and fellow calf roper, called out, “That calf was a beast.”
Blake grinned. “He was one of yours. Time to turn him out to pasture.”
Professional calf roping rules stated that calves must weigh between 250 and 280 pounds, and that calf was definitely pushing it.
Blake removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. It was late May, near dusk and about time to turn the arena lights on. The temperature was still in the low eighties here in the northern part of the Lone Star State bordering the deserts of West Texas, and Blake, along with his friends Ryder and Josh, got together every Friday night here at Knox’s arena for calf-roping practice.
He glanced over at several tall oak trees at the edge of the arena, then studied the two women seated under them. One of them was Sadie, Knox’s beautiful wife, and she held Sage, their two-month-old daughter, on her lap. She laughed at something the other woman said. He looked closer as he tied his horse to the arena fence, examining the unfamiliar woman, who must be Knox’s cousin. Knox had told him that she was from El Paso and that she would be spending time with his parents this summer. Blake didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this.
The woman was a stunning blonde with an asymmetrical bob. She brushed a lock of hair from her face and smiled at Sadie. The lock curled at her chin, highlighting her perfect jaw. He couldn’t make out the color of her eyes at this distance, but they were beautiful just the same. She was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt—nothing fancy—but man, did she look good. He noted that she wore sandals and wondered at the wisdom of that choice given the rocks and other obstacles between the arena and the ranch house.
Knox walked up and slapped him on the back. “Come on, I’m going to introduce you yahoos.”
Blake’s heart skipped a beat. “Great!”
He grimaced as he saw that Josh and Ryder were already out the gate. Those hound dogs had spotted Knox’s attractive cousin and weren’t letting any grass grow under their feet. He followed Knox, eager to learn more about the intriguing young woman Knox had told him about a few days ago.
Sadie turned to Blake as he walked up. “Hey, how are you? Good to see you again.”
He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Doing great. How’s my favorite little girl tonight?”
Sadie smiled fondly. “She’s happy, as always. And getting hungry. That’s as always too. She’s just like her daddy.”
Blake chuckled and caressed Sage’s tiny head with its little tufts of soft blond hair. He envied Knox his sweet family and hoped that one day he’d be so lucky.
“Blake, I’d like you to meet my cousin, Joanna,” Knox said. “She goes by Jo.”
Jo stood, grasping her white cane in one hand and offering her other. Her smile was shy and sweet, and it took Blake’s breath away.
He stepped forward and took her hand between both of his, shaking it gently. Now he could tell that her eyes were blue, though not crystal blue. They were slightly cloudy—that must be due to her visual impairment. “Pleased to meet you, Jo.”
“Hi, Blake. You and Knox are roping well tonight.” Her voice was quiet and a little tentative.
“Thanks. It’s a work in progress every Friday night.”
Josh, always the outgoing one, stepped forward.
Knox grinned. “And this is Josh. He’s shy, so don’t hurt his feelings.”
Josh cracked up. “Hi, Jo. Listen if you ever want to go riding, just say the word. I’ll be glad to take you.”
“I’ll remember that, Josh. Nice to meet you.”
Josh high-fived Ryder, who rolled his eyes at his friend’s unabashed flirting.
Knox said, “Jo, meet my friend, Ryder.”
Jo offered her hand again, and Ryder shook it gently. “Pleased to meet you, Jo. I’m glad you’re here.”
Knox put his arm around Jason, Blake’s little brother, who was now a senior in high school. “And this is Jason. He runs the chute, and we’ll be losing him soon to college. I don’t know what the heck we’re going to do then.”
“Hi, Jason. You’re an important person around here. I hope they pay you well.”
Jason grimaced. “If only. They’ve promised me beer when I turn twenty-one, though. I’ve been doing this for years, so who knows when I’ll ever find time to drink it all.”
The cowboys cracked up, and Knox said, “Hey, we know a good deal when we see one. Besides, we gave him all the free sodas he could drink.”
Jo smiled gently. “Well, then, he didn’t suffer too badly.”
“No, ma’am. I didn’t.”
Blake took a good look at Jo now that the introductions were over. She was quite slender, something that he hadn’t originally picked up on. Her breasts were rounded and full, amazing really for someone so slim. He swiftly moved his gaze to her face.
“Thanks for being our cheering section, ladies,” Knox said, then headed back toward the arena gate. The other cowboys followed him. All except Blake.
“Jo, what time did you get to the ranch today?” Blake stopped himself from rolling his eyes. It had been all he could think of to say on the fly. He wanted to get to know her a little before it was too late. “I’m Blake, by the way.”
“Yes, I recognized your voice.”
He nearly groaned. He was an idiot for not realizing that she could do that.
She crossed her arms in front of her defensively, her cane firmly in her grasp. “My parents dropped me off at around one today. I live in El Paso. Did Knox tell you?”
“He did. He also told me that you and he and Jessica grew up together and were close.”
Jo smiled again. “I used to visit fairly often when I was younger. I’ve always loved the ranch, and Jessica and Knox were so good to me. They’re like my brother and sister.”
Interesting. He shoved his hands in his back pockets and settled in for a chat. “Do you have siblings?”
She frowned slightly. “No, I don’t. I’m an only child. So you see why it was so wonderful having my cousins in my life.”
Sadie settled Sage onto her other arm. “You know Knox thinks the world of you, too, Jo. We wish you’d visit more often. I know you and I are going to be good friends.” She reached over and squeezed Jo’s forearm, and Jo clasped her hand in return.
“I’m looking forward to that.” Jo smiled. “I’ll be working on my business stuff, of course, but I’ll have plenty of time to chat too.”
What was this? “What kind of business?”
Jo reached toward a stemless wineglass, which she must have set on the ground at some point. Her fingers searched slowly in the area beside her chair. At the first touch, she clasped the glass confidently and took a long swallow. “Watching a rodeo is thirsty work.”
Blake laughed. “I guess it is.”
“Anyway,” she said. “I have a translation business. I translate documents from English to Spanish and the other way around. Being near the border, I have plenty of work.”
Blake’s brain whirled, trying to imagine how a visually impaired individual could provide this service. “Wow, that’s really amazing.”
“Hey, chatty, get over here. These calves won’t rope themselves,” Knox called.
Blake chuckled. “I’d love to hear more. Let’s talk later.”
“Okay.” Her smile sent tingles racing up his belly as he strode back to the arena gate.
During the next set, his ears were tuned to the sound of Jo’s clear, sweet voice as she cheered the cowboys on. He was sure that he detected an extra fervor in her yells when Knox called time as Blake finished tying his calves. Well, maybe he was imagining that, but it felt great to think so, anyway.
He made his way over to talk with Jo each time they let their horses blow, and he hung on every word as they got to know more about each other. Jo seemed shy for a beautiful twenty-four-year-old woman, and that endeared her to him. Sadie, as if sensing her shyness, added her two cents’ worth occasionally, making the young woman more comfortable.
At the end of the night, he couldn’t bear to leave things as they stood. He approached Knox before his friend could leave the arena. “Hey, bro, can I ask you something?”
Knox glanced at him and started loosening his horse’s cinch. “Sure.”
“Would it be okay if I asked Jo out? I’d like to take her to lunch tomorrow.”
Knox stopped what he was doing and eyed Blake. “I’ll tell you something. Jo doesn’t date. Not much, anyway. From what my aunt told my mom, she dated a few times in college but nothing serious. And she hasn’t gone out with a man in the two years since she’s been back home.”
Blake nodded. “Okay, I get it.”
Knox gave him a hard stare. “What I’m saying is, she’s inexperienced. She doesn’t know anything you’re used to, all right? You be careful. I don’t want to see her hurt, and I’m talking about feelings here. I know you wouldn’t hurt her any other way. We straight on that?”
Blake reached out his hand. “Perfectly.”
Knox shook it and finished loosening his cinch.
Blake strode toward the oak trees, where the ladies were preparing to leave. He increased his stride as Jo took up her cane and Sadie grabbed a diaper bag and slipped it over her shoulder.
Before they started out, he arrived at their side. “Jo, can I talk to you for a sec?”
“Sure.” She clasped her cane in both hands and clutched it to her chest.
“Would you come out with me for lunch tomorrow?”
Her mouth opened in surprise. “Oh, um, tomorrow? Lunch?” She brushed her hand across her forehead, as if confused, then she stood tall. “Yes, I’d like that very much.”
He let out a breath, one he hadn’t known that he’d been holding. “Great! How about I pick you up at twelve? Will that work?”
“That would be perfect,” she said, in a voice that didn’t sound like hers. He realized she was nervous.
“We’ll go to a little café in Aspermont. It’s not far, okay?”
She nodded. “Thank you for asking me.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” He wanted to pat her arm, to reassure her, but he didn’t know the etiquette when dealing with a person who couldn’t see a touch coming. He stifled a groan of frustration and headed back to the arena for his horse. He had so many questions. Maybe tomorrow, if Jo conquered her nervousness, he’d be able to ask them.
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