12 Feb Sneak Peek at The Cowboy’s Unlikely Bride
Laney Swann clutched her designer bag tighter as she weaved in and out of the crowded sidewalk. Why did the crowd have to be so thick today, on the one day she overslept? Normally, she was out the door by six am giving her plenty of time to get uptown, stop at the coffee shop, and make it to work by eight, but sleep had eluded her last night, and she’d slept through her alarm. Now, she was paying the price.
She flipped her delicate silver watch around so she could read the face and quickened her pace. She was going to be so late, and Victoria Bonavich detested tardiness. It was a fireable offense in her book if you stepped in the office even a minute late, and Laney couldn’t afford to lose this job. She’d moved to the city with big dreams but a small savings after college. If she lost this job, there would be no paying her rent, and she’d have to go home.
“Watch it,” a man’s voice cried out as she squeezed between him and another man with a cell phone glued to his ear.
“Sorry,” she called back, but her head never turned. Turning around would cost her precious seconds and she had none to spare.
A tendril of blond hair appeared in her vision and she blew it off her forehead. Great. Now, not only was she late, but her hair was eeking out of its hair sprayed mold, another issue she would have to remedy before seeing Madame Bonavich or The Maneater as they called her in the office.
The woman was fearsome. With short grey hair, hawkish eyes, and thin lips that rarely smiled, she exuded a no-nonsense air whereever she went, but Laney enjoyed working for her. She had learned so much in the six months she had been there even though she was still just an unknown office worker to Madame Bonavich. At least she had gotten promoted to coffee bearer the last month. It gave her a chance to interact with The Maneater if only for a minute.
However, today, it could be her downfalling. She had only fifteen minutes to obtain the coffee and get to the office, and it wasn’t looking good.
“Excuse me,” she said as she pushed through another clump of pedestrians. Why did it seem as if people walked slower and in clumped groups whenever she was in a hurry? The busy city was always like this, she knew that, but her need to move quicker exaggerated the normal bustling bog and edged her anxiety up another notch.
At last the coffee shop came into view. Her feet ached already from the rigorous pace she had set the moment she stepped out of her door. The four inch heels were a requirement in the office, and though Laney agreed they added style to her outfit, her feet were not fans. They screamed for a nightly soak, and she had purchased so much Epsom Salt in the last few months that she really ought to buy stock in the company.
A sigh billowed out of her lips as she pulled open the door. At least four other people stood in line. Laney bit her lip and checked her watch again. Thirteen minutes remained. The impatient tapping of her foot garnered a few irritated stares, but Laney didn’t care.
The man in front of her turned around. “You appear to be in an awful hurry. Would you like to take my spot?”
“Could I? That would be amazing.” Laney stepped in front of the man, but remained facing him. He had the most amazing eyes. “My boss is a little bit of a time manager, if you know what I mean.”
The man said nothing, just raised an eyebrow at her, but Laney couldn’t shut her mouth. Perhaps it was his beautiful blue eyes – she had always been a sucker for blue eyes.
“Normally, it’s not an issue, but I couldn’t sleep last night – just tossed and turned, so when my alarm clock went off, I guess I didn’t hear it. Though I must have turned it off because it wasn’t still going off when I did finally wake up. Sadly, by then, I was running late, and now I’m in danger of incurring her wrath.” Laney paused as the man’s lips pulled into a smirk. “What?”
He pointed behind her toward the register. “I believe it’s your turn to order.”
“Oh, right, thank you.” A heated flush crawled up her face as she turned to face the woman behind the counter. She had made a fool of herself with the handsome man behind her. Why did her mouth always seem to run unchecked whenever she was nervous?
“Can I help you?”
“Yes, just a second.” Laney cleared her throat and forced her mind to focus. She could berate herself later. “I need a tall caramel macchiato and-” she shook her head. Even after a month, she didn’t have Madame Bonavish’s order memorized, but who could blame her? It had to be the longest order she had ever seen. “Sorry, just a second.” Her fingers rifled in her purse until they touched a folded piece of paper. She pulled it out and unfolded it. “A double ristretto venti half soy nonfat organic chocolate brownie iced vanilla double shot gingerbread frappuccino extra hot with foam upside down double blended, one Sweet N Low and one Nutrasweet.”
The cashier blinked at her as a momentary shell-shocked expression covered her face. Then composure set in and she rang up the order and picked up two cups. Laney felt sorry for the woman. All she had to do was read off an order, but this woman had to put that nonsense on a cup in a way that the barista making the coffee would understand. Not for the first time, Laney wondered if Madame Bonavich ordered this drink because she enjoyed it or because she relished putting others through the ringer.
When the bill was paid, Laney continued down the line to stand at the other end where drinks were handed out. She kept her eyes on the floor to avoid seeking out the nice man again. He didn’t need another verbal diatribe from her.
Nine more minutes. She was going to be cutting it so close. The office was just around the corner, but her high heels kept her from running, so she’d have to opt for long strides and hope for the best.
“Caramel Macchiato and gingerbread frap,” the barista called as she placed the two drinks down.
“Thank you.” Laney flashed the woman an apologetic smile as she grabbed the drinks.
As she pushed open the door, she realized she should have asked for a tray. A cup in each hand made it nearly impossible to adjust her purse strap which kept threatening to slip off her shoulder with every step. Unable to stop, Laney adjusted her body throwing her right shoulder as high into the air as she could with hopes that gravity would keep it there.
She must look a sight, hunched over to one side, and Madame Bonavich would ream her if she saw her, but it was either this or arrive late with the woman’s coffee. Laney honestly didn’t know which would be worse.
A sigh of relief issued from her mouth as the office came into view. There was no way she could chance looking at her watch, but she figured she had a few minutes to spare. However, she also had a conundrum. How was she going to open the door? She hated taking the chance, but stacking one cup on top of the other appeared to be the quickest option.
Before she could change her mind, she set the venti on top of her cup and secured it with her chin. Then she reached for the door handle, but as her fingertips brushed the cold metal, the door swung open.
The force knocked her backwards. Her chin lifted from the lid of the cup, and without something to secure it, it teetered. Laney watched in slow motion horror as the cup not only fell off its perch but onto her chest. The lid popped off and flew through the air as the contents of the drink spilled down Laney’s front.
Her body finally unfroze when the searing hot liquid broached her skin. Laney jumped even farther back sending the venti cup crashing to the pavement.
“I’m so sorry. Can I help?”
Anger flared in her stomach and Laney flicked her eyes up to take in the perpetrator before she let loose her vitriol on him. However, the flame fizzled at the sight of the young man with glasses who stood gaping at her. His wide eyes held an apology and his baby face placed his age in his early twenties – probably a college intern. She swallowed the harsh words she almost barked at him. If she’d had Madame Bonavich’s coffee order written down anywhere else, she would give him the paper and tell him to go replace the coffee. It would be late, but perhaps late was better than never, but she didn’t.
“No, it’s fine. I’ll take care of it.” She didn’t know how exactly. The only option she had was giving Madame Bonavich her drink which probably wouldn’t sit well with the woman. She could only hope she was in a good mood.
“Again I’m so sorry.” The man ducked his head and scurried away looking very much like a scolded puppy with its tail between its legs.
Laney spared one glance at her formerly white shirt now stained brown and sighed. Now she was late, she didn’t have the woman’s coffee, and she looked like a slob. These were not the makings of a good day.
Tyler Hall stared at the woman across the table from him as if she were a stranger and not the woman he’d been dating for the last six months. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
She let out an exasperated sigh and flicked her hair over her shoulder. “I’m leaving, Tyler. I thought I could handle this, that it might be fun, but there is nothing to do in this town, and I’m bored. You work all day and you don’t even drink-”
Anger flared within Tyler and he interrupted her, “I told you why I don’t drink.”
Amber rolled her eyes. “I know, you don’t drink because you’re a recovering alcoholic, but I’m not. I’m twenty-six years old, and I want to have a little fun.”
“I’m fun.” Tyler couldn’t believe this was happening again. “I have fun.”
“Hanging out with your friend Aaron and his wife is not my idea of fun. I mean it’s fine for them to stay home and play scrabble – they’re married – but I want to do more. I want to go out and not worry if I have a drink.”
Or a few drinks, Tyler thought to himself. He should have known when he met Amber at the social. She’d been tipsy that night but had assured him it was only because it was her friend’s birthday. They’d avoided drinks after that, but lately Amber had insisted they go out to eat instead of eating at his ranch, and she’d ordered a drink every time. “I’ve never stopped you from drinking.”
“No, you haven’t, but it hasn’t made me feel any less guilty, and I don’t want to feel guilty.” She reached across the table and took ahold of his hand. “We’re just not right for each other, Tyler. Surely you know that.”
He glanced down at their hands. Yes, he did know that. He’d noticed her distancing herself in the last month, and it wasn’t like this was new to him. HIs last three relationships had ended similarly. Still, he never seemed to be prepared when the words left their mouths. He eased his hand out of her grip and leaned back. “You’re right, Amber. We aren’t right for each other.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. A twenty should be enough to cover his meal. She could pay for her own. He dropped the twenty on the table and pushed back his chair. “I wish you the best.”
Her eyes widened and her demeanor shifted. “You don’t have to leave right now, Tyler. At least eat.” She glanced around the crowded restaurant, but kept her voice low.
“I’m no longer hungry, Amber, but that should cover my order.”
“Tyler.” Her voice held an angry hiss, but she still didn’t raise her volume. Probably she hoped he would come back and not make a scene, but he was tired of doing what everyone else wanted.
The cool air matched his mood as he stepped out of the restaurant and walked toward his truck. Lights from a nearby bar called to him, but he ignored them. Aaron. He needed to see Aaron. That would calm him down and keep him from drinking. He’d been sober long before Amber, and he was determined to remain that way after her.
“So, what happened?” Aaron asked as he flipped over the ribs he’d been cooking when Tyler arrived.
Tyler pulled his coat tighter and leaned closer to the warmth emanating from the grill. “Amber and I broke up. Or she broke up with me, rather.”
“Man, I’m sorry. You’ve had rough luck with women lately.” Aaron closed the grill lid to give the meat a little more heat.
Tyler scoffed. “Yeah, rough doesn’t really begin to describe it.” His last three girlfriends had all said similar things. They loved him, but they needed excitement or someone with more drive. Tyler had drive, but his drive was focused on his rance – keeping it afloat and obtaining more cattle. They just didn’t understand his drive, and part of that was because two of the last three had been city girls thinking they wanted a change but realizing later the country was not the change the sought. Dierdre had been a country girl, but it turned out she wanted to try the other side as well. She’d left him for a lawyer in a big city.
“Maybe you should go on that reality show that Nancy watches. Marry a Cowboy or something like that.”
A deep chuckle issued from Tyler’s throat. “Yeah, that’s what I need – the whole world knowing I can’t keep a girl around.”
“No, I’m serious. Don’t tell anyone, but Nancy made me watch an episode with her. I think it was the first one. They brought in like thirty beautiful women for this guy to choose from.”
“A beautiful outside isn’t everything.” Tyler hated it when people only focused on outer appearances. Yeah, it was necessary to be attracted to the other person, but beauty faded. Personality was way more important to Tyler.
“But it never hurts. Anyway, they pay for the dates and you get to know the women. Maybe it’s worth a try. Widen the pool as it were.”
“Can you imagine me on television?” The thought sent Tyler laughing and Aaron quickly joined in.
“What’s so funny?” Nancy had snuck up on them and now stood looking from one man to the other.
“Aaron thinks I should try to be a contestant on some reality dating show,” Tyler said as his laugh faded.
Nancy’s eyes widened to the size of half dollars. “Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Aaron said as his own laughter fizzled. “Amber broke up with him.”
Nancy’s smile faded and her forehead wrinkled in a sympathetic expression. “Oh, Tyler, I’m so sorry to hear that, but I think you would be great on the show. From what I understand you fill out a survey and they find women that match what you like. It might be a great opportunity to meet women you wouldn’t normally.”
Tyler chuffed as he looked from Aaron to Nancy. He’d known Aaron since high school and Nancy since just after graduation. There was a time they were clearly separate people but after being married for a decade, it was harder to tell where Nancy ended and Aaron began. “You two sound so alike.” Tyler shook his head. Would he ever find a love like Nancy and Aaron had?
“I’m serious. In fact, I’m going to go look up the requirements right now. I’m sure it’s easy.” Before either man could say a word, Nancy spun and disappeared into the house.
“Why do I have the feeling that I’m going to be auditioning whether I like it or not?” Tyler asked as he leaned back against the porch railing.
“Because you know my wife.” Aaron grinned and opened the grill to check the meat.
That he did. Nancy was a determined woman and she almost always accomplished whatever she set out to do.
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