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CHAPTER ONE

“Don’t you love me anymore?” Stan asked. He ran a hand through his hair, feeling his heart shatter.

 

He turned around and took a few steps away. A breath escaped him as he stared up at the sky with its multitude of colors. It was a beautiful sight and too bad he couldn’t really appreciate it at the moment.

 

The sun would be rising soon, and he just didn’t have it in him to go through this now. He spun around and narrowed his eyes on her.

 

How dare she.

 

Why now?

 

He had to get to work.

 

Not a sound came from her.

 

Stan stood with his hands on his hips and glared at her.

 

He stalked over to her and gave her a solid kick.

 

His truck of ten years was finally dying. They had an attachment. It was the first vehicle he had purchased. Laney, he had nicknamed her, was a used pickup truck he had bought right out of college.

 

She had been with him through thick and thin.

 

Now was not the time for her to die.

 

He had been trying to hold on to her a little longer. He wasn’t ready to buy a new one. Stan couldn’t just go buy a truck. He had to find one that he connected with, could handle him and everything he threw at it.

 

The smoke drifted from under the hood, rising into the atmosphere.

 

No one was on the back country roads at this time of day. All of the sane people were still sleeping.

 

Only ranchers and farmers were up at the crack of dawn.

 

Pulling his phone from his back pocket, he groaned. He didn’t want to make this call right now, but he had no choice. He had to get to work.

 

Rashad, his coworker, lived not too far from him and could scoop him up. He considered Rashad a friend, but the guy had too much energy, and he’d just moved in with his fiancée, Yani. The guy was all smiles all day.

 

It drove Stan crazy.

 

He remembered that feeling of new love and being totally enraptured with a woman. Not too long ago, he had been just like Rashad. Newly married, prepared to spend the rest of his life with one woman.

 

Stan snorted.

 

Well, his bitch of an ex-wife made sure he didn’t ever want to experience love again.

 

“Yo, Stan. What’s up, buddy?” Rashad’s voice came through the line.

 

“Mornin’, Rashad. I need a ride,” Stan admitted. He leaned against his truck and gazed off down the road.

 

“Laney finally gave up on you?” Rashad chuckled. The sounds of the radio were behind him. “Where are you?”

 

Stan told him where he was located. “When you turn the bend, just follow the smoke signal up in the sky.”

 

“I’m not too far from you now.”

 

“Appreciate it, man.”

 

“Did you call a tow yet?” Rashad asked.

 

“Not yet. It’s too early.” Stan was familiar with the local towing company, Roadside Rangers. This was not his first rodeo when it came to his truck breaking down. He, Todd, and Kate Pritchard, the owners of the company, were on first-name basis. They probably even had Stan’s number memorized by now. They didn’t open until around eight. He’d call later and have them tow Laney to his house.

 

“See you when you get here.”

 

“Yup.”

 

Stan slid his phone back in his pocket and opened the driver’s door. He grabbed his duffle bag out the truck and sat it on the hood. He took the truck’s key off of his keyring and left it in the cup holder.

 

There wasn’t a chance in hell that anyone would try to steal Laney.

 

Leaning against his ride again, he pulled his Stetson down farther on his head and prepared to wait.

 

The town of Shady Springs was small community that was safe and secured. People could leave their homes and cars unlocked with no worries anything would be taken. Crime was low, and it was a good community to raise a family.

 

Stan snorted.

 

When he and Victoria had got married, they had chosen the town of Shady Springs because she had grown up there. Stan was originally from Aurora and didn’t have a problem moving down to Shady Springs. Victoria worked from home for an insurance brokerage firm, and he was hired on as a ranch hand for the Blazing Eagle Ranch.

 

Everything was perfect.

 

She was close to family and had a job she loved. He got the opportunity to work on one of the largest steads in the state. The Brooks family were wealthy and ran one of the most successful cattle ranches in the state of Colorado.

 

But then everything came crashing down around them.

 

And now his truck had died.

 

He just couldn’t keep a woman.

 

An engine revving off in the distance brought Stan back to the present. Bright headlights were coming down the road toward him.

 

Rashad guided his truck over to the side of the road. The window rolled down, revealing Rashad grinning like an idiot.

 

“Need a lift?” he called out.

 

Stan shook his head and tried not to smile. His friend had entirely too much energy for it being this early. Stan tapped the hood of Laney before making his way over to Rashad’s truck. It was a new model and was nice-looking.

 

Stan hated buying cars.

 

That’s why he’d held on to Laney for so long.

 

“Morning.” He crawled into the vehicle.

 

“You look like shit,” Rashad remarked.

 

“Yeah, nice seeing you, too,” Stan grumbled, slamming the door shut.

 

Rashad chuckled, guiding the truck back onto the road. The two of them were the lead hands on the Blazing Eagle Ranch. The Brooks brothers and their father, Jonah, had hired Stan and Rashad around the same time.

 

They had got along immediately, and Stan knew he could always count on Rashad to pull his weight around the ranch or even listen when Stan needed to get shit off his chest.

 

They rode in a comfortable silence, the radio playing good ol’ country music.

 

“Parker is going be gone for about a week,” Stan said. Parker, the eldest of the Brooks brothers, had recently married his fiancée, and they were taking a short honeymoon. With him gone, Stan and Rashad would have to step it up to help Wade and Carson.

 

“I know. This is why we’re about to make a pit stop into town before heading out to the ranch,” Rashad said. He turned down the road that led to town.

 

“For what?” Stan shifted in his seat. He wasn’t in the mood for anything but hard, back-breaking labor that would leave him wanting to do nothing but shower, eat, and go to bed.

 

“You appear to be in a mood, so if I’m going to have to deal with your grumpy ass today, I will need a good strong cup of coffee.” Rashad smirked.

 

“Whatever.” Stan rolled his eyes. He could go for some coffee as well.

 

“Have you thought about dating again?” Rashad asked quietly.

 

“Nope.”

 

“Look, maybe it would do you some good.”

 

“I really don’t want to talk about it.”

 

“I thought I would make a suggestion. Every woman isn’t like her.”

 

Stan could feel his friend’s eyes on him, but he refused to meet his gaze. Rashad knew about his failed marriage and had been supportive, but this was something his friend wasn’t qualified in giving advice on. At the moment he was head over heels in love and figured everyone should be as happy as him and Yani.

 

There had been a time when Stan had believed in love, but thanks to Victoria, he no longer did.

 

He was going to have to stop thinking of her.

 

She’d apparently forgotten all about him before their marriage was even over.

 

Stan settled back and took in the scenery of downtown. Their little town had everything that was needed. Many people had settled in Shady Springs and opened businesses where mostly everything could be found.

 

Rashad parked the truck in a spot in front of the Shady Beans Café’. It had opened a few months ago, but Stan had yet to visit it. He usually got coffee at one of the other diners in town.

 

“Coffee any good here?” he asked, exiting the truck. He shut the door and met Rashad on the sidewalk. He wasn’t really in the mood to try something new, but he wasn’t going to be ungrateful to Rashad since he was giving him a ride.

 

“Best in town. Yani comes here. The owner is a friend of hers.” Rashad led the way, opening the door to the café.

 

The heavy scent of freshly baked goods greeted him. His stomach gave a little rumble. He hadn’t had a chance to grab food, thinking he would have snagged something when he bought coffee.

 

The café was homey, with wooden tables placed around for patrons to sit and enjoy their food and drink. It reminded him of a log cabin. There was even a large fireplace on one of the main walls. It would be perfect in here in the wintertime if they lit a fire in it.

 

There were a few people ahead of them, giving Stan time to study the menu.

 

There were two baristas working behind the counter. Soft music played in the background, giving the place a light atmosphere.

 

Stan relaxed seeing a few things on the menu overhead. His stomach growled. Laughter filtered through the air. Stan’s gaze landed on the woman whose infectious giggles captured his attention.

 

His heart skipped a beat.

 

She was drop-dead gorgeous. Her smooth brown skin was flawless, her dark hair in a ponytail cascading down the middle of her back. Her eyes were almond-shaped, and her lips were painted a bright red, making him want to taste them and see if they were as sweet as strawberries.

 

She had an apron on that was tied at the small of her back and did nothing but highlight her hourglass frame. Her waist was tapered in, but her wide hips flared out. His hands itched to rest on them.

 

What the hell was wrong with him?

 

Shaking his head, he moved up in line.

 

“What food have you had from here?” Stan asked Rashad. He cleared his throat, feeling it constrict.

For a brief moment his gaze met that of the beauty. His breath caught in his chest, and it was as if he had forgotten to breathe. Her warm brown eyes held a mischievous twinkle in them.

 

“You can’t go wrong with anything. The bacon, egg, and cheese croissant are good.” Rashad pointed to a picture next to the menu.

 

Stan jerked his gaze away from the woman and turned his attention back to Rashad. He pushed his Stetson farther down on his head.

 

He was trying to not stare at her while she worked.

 

A few minutes later, they stepped up to the counter.

 

“Hey, Rashad.” The beauty waved to him.

 

“Nasia, how are you?” Rashad jerked his head in a nod.

 

She walked over to them, switching spots with the young man who had been taking orders.

 

“I’ll take their order, Tarek,” she said. “Go make the other drinks for me, please.”

 

“Sure thing, boss.” The kid moved over and began working on the orders.

 

“I got the tab.” Stan slapped Rashad on the back.

 

“You don’t—”

 

“I do.” Stan held a hand up, not going to take no for an answer. It was the least he could do for his friend.

 

Rashad ordered his coffee and a sandwich. Stan’s heart was racing. He glanced back at the menu, finally deciding on what he would order.

 

“What can I get you, handsome?” Nasia’s smile was wide and genuine.

 

“Nasia, do you know my buddy, Stan?” Rashad asked.

 

“No, I don’t believe so,” Nasia admitted. She tilted her head to the side as if to study him.

Stan had to fight to not fidget in place, her big brown eyes taking him in. Rashad made official introductions.

 

“How are you, ma’am?” Stan nodded to her.

 

“I bet you I can tell you what you are going to order.” She grinned. She leaned against the counter and folded her arms in front of her.

 

“Really?” Stan’s eyebrows rose high. This was going to be interesting.

 

“Yup, one look and I can tell what you will order.” She tapped her finger on her chin and studied him. Her teeth nibbled on her lower hip, and she stood tall. She was a little thing, much shorter than his six-two frame.

 

“Have at it.” He folded his arms in front of him, too, and met her stare.

 

“Grumpy. A cowboy. Jeans, no creases…I’d say large coffee, black.” She slapped the counter, giggling.

 

Rashad barked a laugh.

 

Stan fought the grin threatening to burst out. It had been a while since he’d had a woman flirt with him, much less made him smile.

 

Divorce had left him bitter. He removed his hat and ran his fingers through his thick hair, then replaced it.

 

He was rusty when it came to flirting; hell, he was probably making a fool of himself.

 

But one look in her eyes and at her smile, Stan couldn’t care less. She didn’t have any rings on her fingers.

 

“Almost,” he drawled. His lips lifted into a lopsided smile. “I do like to put some cream in my coffee.”

Nasia’s eyes grew round, and her grin widened.

 

“Okay, cowboy.” She chuckled. “Anything else?”

 

He added a sandwich to their order. He took out his wallet and pulled a credit card out to pay.

She took the card and completed the transaction.

 

“I’ll be right back.” She handed the card back to him, then tossed a wink his way and spun around to get their order.

 

“Smooth, man.” Rashad nudged him with his elbow.

 

“What?” Stand asked, trying to appear innocent. He cleared his throat and put his card back.

 

“Nothing. It’s good to see you smile,” Rashad stated.

Stan shrugged and followed Rashad over to pick-up area. He peeked a glance back over to Nasia.

 

She flew around getting their order prepared.

 

“She is single,” Rashad said.

 

“Good for her.” Stan tried to keep his face neutral. He didn’t want to give away that the tiny bit of information Rashad had given him had his heart skipping a beat.

 

Maybe Rashad was right.

 

He couldn’t let the divorce consume his life. Maybe it was time to take a chance and live a little.

 

“Here you fellas go,” Nasia announced. She set their two coffees on the counter and reached for their sandwiches.

 

“Thanks.” Stan handed Rashad his order. He turned back for his and found Nasia watching him. He picked up his items, and this time it was his turn to toss her a wink. “Have a nice day, beautiful.”