You know what they say—you can’t go home again—and Brandon Masters doesn’t want to. But when he gets a call that his father is down hard with a broken leg, he puts his thriving real estate business, his fiancé, and his life on hold and returns to his small town roots in Goldview, Texas, temporarily picking up the reins of the world he left behind. A dozen years gone should be long enough to erase the pain and humiliation he suffered when the town’s bad boy broke his naive teenaged heart.
Twelve years ago, Joe Martinez was left standing in the dust, his heart in his hand and his future on the line when the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy from the right side of the tracks left town without a backward glance. Or so he thought. Since then, he’s rebuilt himself from the boots up, to earn the respect of the community his father shamed.
When the now-Sheriff Martinez discovers Brandon has returned long enough to help his father recover, he realizes he’s been handed the perfect opportunity to get the answers he needs to move on—and maybe seek a little payback for pain and suffering. But businessman-Brandon has learned a thing or two about protecting his heart—and breaking down those walls may not be as easy as it appears. Irresistible force—meet immovable object.
Chapter 1 – Coming Home Texas
“Well, dammit all to hell and Goldview, Texas, anyway,” Brandon Masters whispered under his breath. Not that there was anyone around to hear him, even if he’d shouted to the high heavens. He looked up and down the lonely stretch of highway. So close and yet so far, with nothing but his dead cell phone to keep him company. The way he saw the situation…he could suck it up and walk to town—or, he could wait around for the carrion feeders to discover his dried up, shriveled carcass at the side of the road. Ick.
Dead in a place he never thought he’d be visiting again voluntarily.
Other than forgetting his car charger, his other regret at the moment was driving his old pickup back to town instead of his BMW convertible. That had been a stupid, sentimental decision—Old Blue had taken his sorry ass out of town nearly a dozen years ago, and Brandon thought it fitting that she should bring him back. Of course his new Beamer came with roadside assistance, so he’d let his auto club membership expire. That worked out well. Not.
Since he’d gotten the call from Isabella—the closest thing to a mother that he’d known since his own mom died when he was nine—Brandon seemed to be stuck on a never ending sentimental highway. Once he decided he needed to come back, the memories he thought he buried long ago wouldn’t leave him alone.
Thoughts of Joe Martinez won’t leave me alone.
Reliving the humiliation of the night he left didn’t help. Neither did reminding himself that Joe and Sara Lynn had done him a favor.
If he had stayed around Goldview, he’d probably be selling used cars, maybe living in a trailer somewhere. Or stuck living at home on his dad’s ranch. Or dead because he’d been stupid enough to give himself to Joe that summer by the lake, and condoms hadn’t been on their list of priorities in the heat of the moment. Given what he’d learned about Joe later, Brandon had been damned lucky he hadn’t caught anything.
Nowadays, Brandon was thankful for his quiet life in San Diego. He had a successful career and a business, a nice house, and could afford the toys he wanted, like his Beamer and his sailboat. He didn’t have to depend on anyone else for his happiness—and he liked it that way.
Well, there was Ellis, but he tried not to depend on his fiancé, even though they were business partners, too. He’d learned the hard way, depending on other people meant letting down his guard to heartache and disappointment. Brandon hadn’t been disappointed in more than a decade…not since he’d left Goldview.
With a frustrated sigh, Brandon reached behind the seat, opened his toolbox, and pulled out a wrench. He kicked at the dust on the side of the road as he walked to the front and lifted the hood. Hot steam billowed out to dampen his hair, and he swiped his brow. Between the steam and the sun, he felt like he was in hell. He’d forgotten how hot it could be in Texas.
Once the steam cleared, he climbed on the bumper to lean underneath and took a good look. Well, damn…a hose had busted. With the sun baking his back, Brandon twisted and tried to get leverage on the nut of the hose clamp. Shifting his boots on the bumper, he grunted and pushed down on the wrench, but it slipped and he rapped his knuckles. He stopped to breathe a second, getting a nose full of the scent of burnt oil.
It was on him to fix this, he thought, as he leaned back in for another try. Out here in the boonies, help wasn’t likely to come anytime soon. Once he got the busted hose off, the walk back to town for a replacement was five miles. The walk to his dad’s ranch was just about the same distance. Before he got to either location, he’d probably fry like an egg. If he was going to help his dad, he needed to help himself first.
With a growl of determination, Brandon leaned a little deeper into the engine compartment, aligned the wrench again and grunted as he twisted. It budged a little and gave him hope that maybe he could get the darned thing off.
Brandon didn’t want to be in Goldview, Texas. But if Isabella hadn’t waited so damned long to call about his dad’s accident, he could have been here—and possibly gone—sooner. Of course, the old man probably forbade their longtime housekeeper from calling. Carl Masters needed to know that a broken hip and femur weren’t anything to mess around with, and neither was a green horse. Brandon planned on telling him that when he got to the Vida Nueva Ranch.
If he got there, he corrected, as he twisted the wrench again.
No luck. The damned thing was frozen in place by rust.
One thing he wasn’t going to do when he got to the ranch was take over the reins and run the place forever. He could help for a bit while his dad was down, but then he was getting the hell back to San Diego where he belonged. Years ago, he’d shot his dad down when he’d tried to talk Brandon into coming home permanently so he could take over someday—when Carl retired. Brandon had been clear then and he hadn’t changed his mind. Even as much as he missed seeing his family on a daily basis, his life was in San Diego now.
Carl’s accident did drive home a point, though. It was time for his dad to retire. That meant selling the ranch, and having Carl move in with him and Ellis in San Diego. Which Brandon probably should mention to his fiancé before he gave the news to his dad. Well, it was going to take a lot of convincing, anyway. Carl Masters had been riding since before he could walk—but it was time to get out of the saddle when a horse could throw a man like that.
When they’d talked at Christmastime, he’d basically told his dad it was getting close to the time to retire, but Carl was as stubborn as the old mule they’d had when Brandon was a kid. He’d said the only way he was leaving the ranch was feet first, and even then he wasn’t leaving, just waiting to be buried. That meant Carl would balk at the idea of coming to California for rehab. Which might mean Brandon was here for the duration. Because until Carl got back on his feet, Brandon was going to be helping Hep run the ranch.
If there could be a bright side, maybe this accident would teach Carl a lesson and knock some common sense into that hard head—this could be the perfect time to try to get him to at least agree to hang up his spurs and sell the ranch—maybe move to a smaller place in Goldview instead out here in the boonies.
Brandon shook his head as if to clear out the dust. Putting all his weight behind the wrench, he gave it one more forceful twist. The rusty clamp broke, and a burst of hot steam hit him solidly in the face. Brandon jerked back, whacked his head on the hood and cursed. He dropped the wrench, his boot heel slipped on the bumper, and he started waving his arms to regain his balance, even as he felt himself falling backward into empty air.
Given the demands of his job, Joe didn’t really have the time, but he needed to check on Carl Masters. The old man had an accident nearly a month ago, and had been in the hospital—but now he was home and laid up and it was the neighborly thing to do. Carl didn’t have much help at the ranch, and his only child was in San Diego. The only permanent help to run the place was Hep, his ranch manager, who was as old as Carl and twice as stubborn—which said a helluva lot.
They had a few hands at the Vida Nueva, but not nearly enough for the amount of cattle they were running these days. Joe never could figure out why Carl still insisted on keeping the ranch running at near capacity. As far as he knew, Carl wasn’t hurting for money. If he was planning to create a legacy for his son, he was wasting his time. The old man had to realize that Brandon wasn’t coming back.
Not after eleven years, ten months and two days. Joe knew because he would never forget the day Brandon left without so much as a goodbye.
Joe put his foot on the accelerator to speed down Wayfair to Big Sandy Bend Road. The faster he got to the Vida Nueva, the sooner he could get back to town—he was behind on things at the station, too. Halfway down the road, a twenty-year-old pickup with a fresh steel blue paint job caught his attention—the model so much like Brandon’s old truck it was almost like a slap in the face. Joe slowed as he got closer and looked inside the cab for the driver. The hood was up, which usually signaled car trouble, but he didn’t see anyone. He eased back on the gas, and checked in his rearview as he passed by, thinking he’d probably have to stop on his way back if the truck was still there.
When a pair of illegally long legs in skintight designer jeans appeared in the rearview mirror, Joe jerked the wheel to the right and looked again. Someone was bent under the hood of the old truck—nothing but legs and ass on display to the world as she appeared to be struggling with something under the hood. Joe made a quick U-turn and pulled in front of the truck.
Just as he exited the police SUV, steam billowed from under the truck’s hood and the woman reared back and hit her head on the hood with a thunk. Her well-worn boots skidded on the bumper, and Joe took off running. Shoulder-length blond hair swirling and arms flailing as she went backward, Joe dove forward and caught her back against his chest. He teetered for half a breath before momentum and gravity combined forces to knock him flat on his ass, the squirming motorist in his arms. Oh shit—not a woman.
Joe immediately knew why that truck on this road was familiar. His pulse thumped in his throat as the still-so-familiar body pressed against his. Joe pushed himself backward to clamber out from underneath the unwelcome shock, rose to his full height, squinting through his dark glasses as if this might be some kind of heat-induced hallucination.
Still looking down as he dusted off his clothes, Brandon hadn’t realized what happened. “Thanks, I owe you—”
“Brandon Masters,” Joe said.
The other man’s head jerked up, and for a moment, Brandon looked as shocked as Joe felt, but he recovered quicker. His mouth quirked up in a smug smile as he brazenly raked him with those indigo blue eyes. “Well, well, Joe Martinez. The last person I wanted to see my first day back in town.” He looked him over once more then said, “Huh. Nice uniform.” With a roll of his eyes, he turned back to his truck, climbed up on the bumper again then leaned under the hood.
In those rhinestone studded jeans and skin-tight blue silk shirt, Brandon Masters was dressed more for a nightclub than a dirt road in the middle of Bumfuck, Texas. He was sweaty, dirty, and grease-streaked—and still sexy as hell. Good enough to eat. Even better than he had looked at eighteen when he left town. Joe shifted his stance as his khaki pants got a little tighter. It seemed this particular man would always have that effect on him, and it irritated the hell out of him.
Even the grunts he made as he struggled under the hood were sexy. After a minute, Brandon jumped down off the bumper, holding the hose up like a prize. His wide smile didn’t help the situation. Joe let his gaze take a journey down his slim, sweat-slick throat, across surprisingly defined chest, then down to his narrow hips and the long legs before he stopped at the scuffed up cowboy boots. He took his time on the visual field trip until he met the cool blue eyes and he swallowed hard.
“I thought you were a woman.” Joe’s voice came out an accusation.
Something Joe couldn’t identify sparked in Brandon’s eyes. Hatred? Regret? He couldn’t tell. “You wish, asshole,” he clipped.
Brandon spun on his heel and stomped to the cab of the truck, his hips swinging in a way that made all the spit in Joe’s mouth dry up. Reaching inside, Brandon jerked out a large backpack and slung it over his shoulder. Without another glance at Joe, he headed up the road toward Goldview, his hips swinging, taunting Joe, with each long, loose stride.
I live on waterfront property in Arizona because I’ve always wanted to be an oxymoron. I once enjoyed hobbies such as gardening and travel–now the characters my head compel me to tell their stories, so I write. (It doesn’t actually help quiet the voices–but it keeps the folks in the white jackets at bay.)
I love to tell stories of people who find themselves in unusual situations (attracted to a best friend, in a haunted house, kidnapped for his own good, etc.) and then have to find way to push through whatever it is holding them back from finding love. I’m a big believer that love comes in many flavors, so among my titles you’ll find MF, MM, and multiple partners of various combinations. In other words, love outside the lines. Suspense included, no extra charge.
My home is filled with an ever-revolving cast of characters–some of whom are actually real–and outside of writing and watching my Diamondbacks baseball, I am building my own version of the Willow Springs Ranch to turn into a writer’s retreat.
With over fifty published novels and novellas, I’m rapidly approaching a half million books sold! I want to thank each and every reader who’s taken a chance on one of my books–that makes you family.