Spring Texas Bride

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          Men didn’t usually intimidate Spring Hadley. But she had to admit that there was something a little intimidating about Sheriff Waylon Kendall. It was probably due to his size. She wasn’t short, and if you added the height of her trailer, she should be looking down at him. She wasn’t. His tan cowboy hat was eye level, and his broad shoulders filled her entire door. He wore a scowl on his face. A scowl that deepened as he studied her from head to toe and back again. The few times she’d run into him when she’d been visiting Bliss, she’d gotten the distinct impression that he didn’t like her. Now she was pretty positive that he didn’t.

It was puzzling.

People usually loved her.

            The cute hound dog she’d rescued started snoring loudly, and the sheriff’s eyebrows lowered behind the top frame of his aviator sunglasses. “Do you have my dog?” The word dog came out slow, country, and kind of sexy.

She glanced over her shoulder at the dog lying on her bed, then back at the sheriff. “That’s your dog?” She was surprised. He seemed too uptight to own a laid-back hound dog. Even now, his shoulders were all bunched with tension, and the skin around his square jaw looked tight, like he was clenching his teeth. Her sisters Autumn and Summer thought the sheriff of Bliss was hot. And there was something ruggedly attractive about him. But Spring didn’t like uptight guys. She had to deal with an uptight sister and that was more than enough. She liked guys who enjoyed life as much as she did. Guys who knew how to smile . . . and didn’t hate her.

“You want to tell me why you stole my dog?” he asked.

“Oh, I didn’t steal him. I saved him. The temperature inside a car can get twice as hot as the temperature outside. Which is why when I saw your dog looking out the window with his tongue hanging out, I brought him back here for a nice cool bowl of water.” She didn’t mention that the dog had completely ignored the water, and instead helped himself to her ham sandwich when she wasn’t looking.

The scowl lessened, but the sheriff still didn’t look happy. “Both windows were down and it’s only sixty-two degrees outside. He wasn’t going to get overheated.”

She shrugged. “Better safe than sorry.” She plastered on her biggest smile and held out a hand. “I’m Spring Leigh Hadley, by the way. Dirk’s sister. We met at Dirk and Gracie’s wedding.”

His expression didn’t change. “I remember. You own a clothing store in Houston with your two sisters.”

Just the mention of Seasons made Spring’s smile fizzle and brought back the fight she’d had with her sister before she’d left town. One little mistake and Summer had exploded like a Fourth of July firework display. Of course, Summer was always exploding about something. She had a short fuse and the temperament of a rattlesnake. Spring knew that, but had still been hurt when Summer had called her an irresponsible ditz who couldn’t remember to tie her own shoes. Spring wasn’t irresponsible. She’d worked just as hard as her two sisters trying to make Seasons a success. Did she occasionally get distracted and forget things? Yes. But that didn’t mean she was a ditz. And Summer would regret her words when she discovered that Spring had left town.

“I do own a retail clothing store in Houston with my sisters,” she said. “But I decided to take a little time off and do some camping.”

“In a bar parking lot?”

She laughed. “I planned to stop by and see my brother’s family before I went camping. Unfortunately, as soon as I hit town, my engine started smoking. And since the only gas station is closed, I pulled in here and called Dirk.”

She couldn’t see his eyes behind the dark lenses of his sunglasses, but she could feel his gaze boring into her. “And while you waited for your brother, you decided to go into the bar and start a fight?”

Spring was known for her sweet disposition, but the man’s grumpy attitude and his rude insinuation pushed her right over the edge of sweet into pissed. Mainly because he was starting to sound just like Summer—blaming her for something she hadn’t done. At least not intentionally.

She crossed her arms. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t start a fight. I only went into the bar to get some sugar for my iced tea, and the only people I talked to were the bartender and two nice older gentlemen who told me about the love of their lives. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to my lunch.” She started to close the door, but he placed a hand on it and stopped her.

“Are you forgetting about stealing my dog?”

Her even temper snapped. “I did not steal your dog!” She whirled in a huff and took the three steps necessary to reach the bed. The dog was sound asleep amid the clothes she’d been in too much of a hurry to pack, snoring contently. She placed a hand on his soft, velvety head and gave him a gentle shake. “Come on, sweetheart, time to go back to your annoying master.” The animal kept snoring.

“You’ll have to do more than that to wake up Sherlock.”

She whirled to find the sheriff standing in her trailer. She’d thought that he looked big outside. Inside, he seemed to take up the entire space, with his wide shoulders squished between the kitchen cabinets and the door to the bathroom and his head bent to keep from bumping it on the ceiling. He had taken off his cowboy hat and sunglasses, and for the first time she got to see his eyes without the shadow of a hat or the cover of dark lenses.

For a moment, she was dumbstruck by the dew-drenched meadows of those beautiful green eyes. Okay, so the sheriff was hot. He cleared his throat, and she realized she’d been gawking like a crushing teenager. She pulled her gaze away and looked at the dog.

“Sherlock?”

“A miscalculation.” He stepped closer. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll get him.”

She turned sideways and tried to let him pass, but the trailer was much too small. Or Sheriff Kendall was much too big. There was no way for him to get around her without them touching. For one tummy-tingling second, she was trapped against a hard chest that had no give whatsoever. And when she tried to move past that wall of granite, she couldn’t. She glanced down to see the button of his shirt caught in one of the slits of her shirt.

“I think we’re hooked,” she said a little breathlessly.

It took him a moment to answer. When he did, his voice sound as breathless as hers. “Can you get us unhooked?”

She reached between them, extremely conscious of the hard muscles her fingers brushed against. But she was too close to see what direction to untangle her shirt. “Can you move so we have more room?” she asked.

He put an arm around her waist and lifted her completely off her feet and two-stepped around. The manhandling was disconcerting. Once on her feet, she tried to put some space between them. But it seemed that she’d gotten the button even more entangled.

He tossed his hat onto the table. “Here, let me try.” But when his knuckles brushed against the top swell of one breast, he pulled back as if burned and bumped his head on the ceiling.

She couldn’t help it. She giggled.

“You think this is funny, do you?” His features were stern, but there was a sparkle of humor in his eyes.

“Hilarious. It’s like being in a china cabinet with a bear. Or maybe Alice in Wonderland after she takes a bite of the cake.”

One eyebrow quirked. “Eat me.”

The witty reply took her completely by surprise, and she couldn’t help but giggle again. “So the stodgy sheriff does have a sense of humor.”

“Stodgy?”

“How would you describe yourself?” She placed a hand on his shoulder. It was as hard as the rest of him. “Wait, let me guess. You see yourself as the tough, steely-eyed lawman. A true bad ass.”

“I am a bad ass.”

She cocked her head and looked up at him through her lashes. “You don’t look so bad now, Alice.”

He hesitated for just a second before he tipped his head back and laughed. A deep, husky laugh that rumbled through Spring like a late July thunderstorm. An electric tingle of sexual awareness zinged through her. In her early twenties, she would’ve given into that zing and kissed him. But over the years, she’d learned that sexual desire was fleeting. Once the fireworks were over, you were stuck with the person. A person you were either compatible with or you weren’t. And from what she’d seen so far, she was not compatible with the sheriff.

Unfortunately, everything she felt was usually written all over her face. Including sexual desire. This was confirmed when the sheriff finally stopped laughing and looked at her. Humor died from his eyes to be replaced with a sizzling molten green desire that just about melted her panties.

His hands settled on her waist as his head tipped and lips lowered. For a second, she thought about letting him kiss her. Just one little kiss wouldn’t hurt anything. But then she remembered Summer’s hurtful words about her being a ditz who acted before she thought, and a breath before their lips met, she turned her head. She tried to come up with something clever to say to relieve the awkwardness, but she couldn’t come up with a thing. Thankfully, a knock on the door saved her.

Waylon pulled back and bumped his head again as his gaze snapped to the door. His eyes no longer looked molten. They looked panicked. He held a finger to his lips, signaling her to keep quiet. But Spring had always had trouble taking orders . . . and keeping quiet. Besides, it was probably her brother.

“Come on in,” she called. “The door’s open.”

Waylon sent her a hard, annoyed look before he reached between them and ripped his shirt free. By the time the little old woman in the big straw hat stepped up into the trailer, he had moved back against the table and was holding his hat over his chest.

“So it is you,” Ms. Marble said when she saw Spring. “I figured as much by the name on the back. Last time I talked with her, your grandmother didn’t mention a word about you buying a cute little trailer.”

Ms. Marble and Spring’s grandmother, Granny Bon, didn’t live in the same town, but they spoke on the phone at least once a week. Ms. Marble had been Lucy Arrington’s best friend. On her deathbed, Lucy had asked Ms. Marble to find her daughter and give her the final Tender Heart book. When Ms. Marble couldn’t track down the daughter, who turned out to be Granny Bon, she’d started hiding the chapters for Lucy’s nephews and nieces to find. Spring didn’t blame Ms. Marble for not looking harder. She believed that all things happened for a reason. If Ms. Marble had found Granny sooner, Spring and her sisters might not have been born. Or Dirk.

She walked over and hugged Ms. Marble, avoiding the wide-brimmed hat. “I haven’t told Granny about my trailer yet.” She knew her grandmother would want to know where she’d gotten it, and Spring didn’t like lying to Granny. She didn’t mind fibbing a little to Ms. Marble. “I’m afraid she’ll think it’s frivolous.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being frivolous. I think it’s adorable. And I love the name.” She pulled back, and her alert blue eyes moved over to the sheriff. “I hope I didn’t interrupt any Spring Flinging.”

Since the sheriff seemed tongue-tied, Spring replied. “Not at all. The sheriff is just here to get his dog.”

“Sherlock?” All Ms. Marble had to do was say the name, and the dog’s head popped up and his tail started thumping the mattress. He jumped off the bed, pushing the sheriff and Spring out of his way to get to Ms. Marble. The older woman smiled and pulled out a bone-shaped biscuit from the tote bag hanging on her shoulder. At one time she’d taught first grade in Bliss. After she retired she became the town baker and made all the desserts for the diner and the townsfolk’s special occasions. Spring just hadn’t known she baked for the animals of Bliss too.

“Now be a gentleman,” Ms. Marble said as she held up the biscuit. The dog immediately sat and waited patiently for the treat to come to him. Once he was chomping away, she looked at Spring. “So you’ve taken up dog sitting?”

The sheriff finally spoke. “She was just watching him for a few minutes while I handled a situation in the bar.” He jockeyed around Spring. “If you ladies will excuse me.” He ushered the dog to the door. “Come on, Sherlock. It’s time to go home.”

Spring should’ve let him go, but there was something about the sheriff that brought out the little devil in her. “Thanks for stopping by, Alice.” He froze for a brief second before he pulled on his hat and followed the dog out the door. When he was gone, Ms. Marble spoke.

“Alice?”

She waved a hand. “Just a silly joke.”

“So is this silly joke why Waylon James was laughing? I heard him clear across the parking lot, and I have to tell you that it did my heart good. I haven’t heard him laugh that hard since he took over the job of sheriff.”

“I don’t think it’s the job as much as his nature.”

Ms. Marble shook her head. “Until he became sheriff, he was always laughing and teasing with the townsfolk. He loved attending functions and being part of the community. Now he rarely smiles and keeps to himself. His mother is convinced he’s lonely and needs a wife.” Her eyes narrowed on Spring. “And after today, I’m thinking she might be onto something.”

Besides being the town baker, Ms. Marble was also the town matchmaker. She’d been instrumental in every one of Spring’s Arrington cousins getting married. Spring quickly put a stop to any ideas that Ms. Marble might be having. “I’m not planning on staying in Bliss. And even if I were, the sheriff’s not my type.”

“Oh, I wasn’t thinking of you and the sheriff. I agree that you and he wouldn’t suit at all.” Ms. Marble reached out a white-gloved hand and removed the button and piece of plaid cotton hanging from Spring’s shirt. “Not at all.”

(Spring Texas Bride by Katie Lane)