Ten years ago, an oil tycoon’s daughter and a farmer’s son shared a moment neither would ever forget. When she left town in disgrace, a piece of her stayed locked deep within his soul. And like the ground he tended, his emotions lay fallow for years. Cooper Gerhardt’s deeply buried feelings for Jo Ellen Rawlings grew more fertile over time, just waiting for the day she would return to release his deepest desires.
When she strolls back into Tommy Creek, Texas for her ten-year class reunion, Cooper shows her farm boy style exactly what she missed by leaving. Starting a short-term affair is simply unavoidable. But when the week is over, can either of them let go of the responsibilities and apprehensions keeping them apart? Or will their fallow hearts learn to flourish together?
Jo Ellen took a deep breath as she entered the tavern, paying careful attention to dropping her keys into her purse and clicking the latch closed.
She hated entering a social establishment alone. She should’ve just told Emma Leigh she’d meet her at their parents’ house where they were staying the entire week.
Thank God she heard her sister’s voice as soon as she tucked her purse under her arm. “Hey, Joey. Over here.”
She didn’t know what she would’ve done, loitering around the bar and looking pathetic all by her lonesome until Emma Leigh had arrived. Relieved she didn’t have to worry about any of that, she smiled and glanced toward the call to find Alexa and Dexter gathered around Branson and her sister. Her step faltered before she regained her momentum, forcing herself to suck it up. If she was going to be stuck as their fifth wheel for the entire week, she might as well get used to it now.
“I’m sorry I’m late. I ran into a traffic jam on the interstate and—”
“You’re not late.” Em checked the Rolex on her wrist. “You’re ten minutes early.”
“I am?” Jo Ellen frowned and consulted her own slim, silver watch. “Then what’re you doing here?”
Her sister really had changed if she actually ran on time these days.
Emma Leigh tossed back her long, dark hair and laughed before explaining, “Oh no. I haven’t changed that much.” She hooked a loving thumb Branson’s way. “Even Mr. Dependable here can’t keep me on time for anything. This one is all Lexi’s fault. She was starving, which forced us to get here early.”
As they glanced in unison at Dexter’s wife, the bartender served her a plate of steaming barbeque. She grinned and waved before she picked up a sauce-dripping rib with her bare fingers and tore into the juicy meat.
Jo Ellen smiled fondly and neared Alexa to set her hand on the baby bump. “How’s my little goddaughter doing in there?” She stroked once before she felt an answering kick. The sign of growing life caught her in the throat, choking her up. So bittersweet, it had her blinking back tears as she dropped her fingers from Lexi’s abdomen.
Nearby, Dexter corrected her, saying, “Godson.”
She brightened. “Oh, you found out the gender?”
“Oops.” Emma Leigh cringed. “Forgot to tell you. They’re having a boy.”
Jo Ellen rolled her eyes. How typical of her sister to forget something so important. Setting her hand on her hip in a scolding manner, she angled a frown at Emma Leigh’s husband. “I thought we discussed this, Branson. You were supposed to work on her communication skills, remember?” She tried to look stern but was sure he could see the teasing glint in her eyes, not to mention the lips she tightened to keep from grinning.
He lifted his hands in surrender. “Hey, she has no problem communicating to me, telling me whenever I mess something up.” Then he grinned, showing how much he didn’t mind such communication.
Jo Ellen laughed, pleased to see her sister so happily married to a man who adored her. This was exactly the life she’d always dreamed of for her twin…and herself.
As the amused sound chimed from her vocal chords, she heard a sharp intake of breath nearby, from the man seated at the bar next to her group. She could make out a vague, blurry image of him from her peripheral vision. By his jeans, boots, and hat, he screamed local, which was exactly why she refused to glance over and focus on his face. From the instant she’d entered Rio’s, she’d been too nervous to look directly at anyone besides the four she’d come to see, too afraid she might recognize someone from years ago.
Cowardly move, sure, but she didn’t care. Her nerves had wadded themselves into a huge, messy ball and she was performing as well as could be expected, faking all her smiles.
But Emma Leigh just had to go and say, “Oh, hey. Look who we ran into as soon as we got here.”
She grabbed Jo Ellen’s arm and revolved her toward the man, practically shoving her into his lap, right between a pair of spread knees. Eyes widening, Jo Ellen gaped at those thick, masculine knees, covered by thin, fraying denim. Her eyes strayed up of their own will, taking in strong, muscled thighs and somehow landing on his crotch, where the fly of his jeans stretched over an impressive bulge nestled under a big shiny brass belt buckle.
She gulped as the man scooted upright, obviously also alarmed by Emma Leigh thrusting her so close.
“Coop’s here,” her sister announced.
As in Cooper Gerhardt?
Cooper Thaddeus Gerhardt?
Jo Ellen’s eyes widened on that denim-clad bulge, her face draining of color. If Travis Untermeyer was the number one person she didn’t want to run into, Cooper Gerhardt was the second. Didn’t even matter that he’d turned into a delicious hunk of heaven, which from what she’d seen so far, it looked as if he had.
She jerked her face up, her lips instantly parting with surprise as she came face to face with the grown-up version of Cooper Gerhardt.
Oh, Lord have mercy.