Release Date: May 3rd, 2016
BIG SKY TROUBLE
Ever since his father’s accident, Caleb Shaw vowed he’d mend his wild ways, and he means to keep his word. He’s a changed man. A better man. And he knows he should want absolutely nothing to do with his crazy old life…or the maddening temptation that is Delia Rogers.
Because Delia? Is nothing but trouble.
Delia’s been stealing her sisters away from their violent father ever since she was old enough to fight back. But now with the police on her trail and all her bridges burned, there’s nowhere left to run but back into the arms of the one cowboy she knows she shouldn’t need. Caleb has always been too good for her, no matter how bad he claimed to be. Yet when close quarters turn into something more, Delia and Caleb are forced to decide what really matters: mending their reputations or healing their wary hearts…
Praise for Outlaw Cowboy:
Caleb Shaw stared at the bottle of Jack Daniel’s. It sat, innocently enough, on the table next to his snoring father.
In his mind’s eye, he unscrewed the black plastic cap and poured himself a double. And then another. The scorching heat of the amber liquid would dull away all the sharp edges inside of him.
Next to the bottle was that damn scrapbook Dad paraded out whenever he was drunk and sad. It was happening with increasing regularity. Unlike the whiskey, Caleb never wanted anything to do with the scrapbook. In fact, for an uncountable amount of time, he thought about tossing the damn thing in the fire.
In fact, he wanted both items gone. Banished forever. Hell, at this point in his life, he’d as soon use the alcohol to amp the blaze than drink it.
Fair enough. His mouth was watering, and the edgy, simmering anger threatened to spill over. No amount of good seemed a match for it. And there had been good the past few months.
But it seemed like with him, bad always lurked in the shadows.
What would be the harm in one drink? His older sister would never know he’d broken his promise. She didn’t live here anymore. She’d left him with all of this for love.
Summer’s hesitant voice was enough for him to close his eyes. Christ, Summer. She was a blessing and some kind of curse, this younger sister he’d found out about only last year. Somehow she was managing to fill some of the holes Mel’s marriage and move had left in his life.
But, damn, he missed Mel. Sure, it wasn’t as if he never saw her. She was only across the valley on her husband’s strange little llama ranch, but he’d never felt responsible for Mel, and rarely felt like he needed to soothe her. Summer was in constant need of both.
It’s in you.
The voice that had haunted him growing up—the voice he thought he’d erased—had returned with Summer’s appearance and Dad’s confession. Honestly, it had resurfaced before that, when Mel had trusted him to be in charge, when it was the last damn thing she should have done. No one should ever trust him. Hadn’t he proven that by now?
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Summer continued, her voice wavering.
Summer was constantly sorry. Sorry to be a burden or distraction. Sorry she didn’t know everything. If she wasn’t sorry, she was delighted: by the horses, by the mountains, by family.
She cooked and kept the house clean, for him and the father she’d only just met—the father who admitted she was his, but refused to have any interaction with her. Though, to be fair, Dad didn’t interact with much of anybody. Not since he’d been paralyzed six years ago.
It’s in you.
Mom’s voice. Mom’s accusation. The evil. It’s in you.
“I’d go away. It’s just…”
“Just what?” Caleb snapped, immediately wincing. Losing his temper with Summer was like losing his temper with a puppy. Puppies and Summer Shaw could not take harsh words. They cowered.
It was hardly her fault she reminded him of…that.
“I think someone’s in the cabin.”
He let out a breath. No Jack for him. Which was good. He hadn’t had any in nine months. Nine long, sober months living with that boiling anger, a constant presence he had to fight back. But he hadn’t broken his promise, so at least there wasn’t new guilt to mix in with the old anger. “Someone?”
“I went back to my caravan for lunch—”
“You can eat here, you know.” Something about the way she acted like a maid in a house that was her family’s always rubbed him the wrong way. Maybe she’d only arrived a year ago, but, regardless, she was a Shaw. She’d come here to be a part of the family, so her refusal to take Mel’s old room and eat lunch at the main house frustrated him. She’d eat dinner with him only if she’d cooked it. She slept in a little caravan parked at the edge of the property.
She was a Shaw, and she acted like an employee inside these four walls.
He hated it, and he had no one to tell. Mel was gone, a new focus in her life. Dad was…gone in his own way. And Summer cowered against his temper.
So, he kept the anger inside. He tried to freeze it out, muscle it away, but it lingered, in him. Always.
“I…” Summer’s mouth curved into a smile. She looked so much like Mel, like his fuzzy memories of Mom. “I kind of like being by myself every once in a while. I wasn’t allowed to be alone much before…I left.”
His estranged mother had disappeared when he was five, pregnant with Summer. Then twenty-some years later, Summer had left Mom to come here and find the rest of her family. And shocked the hell out of them with her appearance, since none of the other Shaws had known about her existence.
Dad had sacrificed Summer to keep Mel, and all because of him. It’s in you.
“Are you all right?” Summer asked in a hushed whisper. She reached out to squeeze his arm. She was always so…touchy. Touchy. Smiley. Sorry. She gave him a headache, a guilt he didn’t understand, which melded with the anger he figured must be in his blood. Bad, bad blood.
He stepped away from her. “Why do you think someone’s in the cabin?”
“There was a light inside last night. Real quick, like a flashlight, but I know I saw it. And I thought I saw someone in the yard this morning. The snow around the place is all weird. It could be an animal, or just how it’s melting, I guess, but—”
Caleb strode past her—out of the living room, through the kitchen, and into the mudroom. He plucked the keys to the gun safe from under a tub of rock salt and shoved it into the lock as Summer caught up with him.
Summer released a shocked exhale. “Oh. I don’t think you’ll need that. I’m pretty sure it’s a woman.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “You think women can’t be dangerous?”
“Well, of course they can. I am very well aware they can be, but…”
He grabbed the shotgun and locked the safe again.
Summer blinked at him as she worried her hands together. “Oh, I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Someone is prowling around that old cabin, only a few hundred yards from where you currently sleep, and you shouldn’t have said anything?”
Summer grabbed her coat from the hook and pulled it around her. “I don’t think she’s—”
“She’s—if it’s a she—trespassing, and needs to be scared off.”
“A gun seems harsh.”
“What, you think this is Goldilocks and she’s lost and looking for some warm porridge?”
Summer stuck her hands in her coat pockets, her eyebrows furrowed and her mouth pressed into a line. He supposed this was Summer angry. It was like a spring shower compared to the raging thunderstorm of the other Shaws’ tempers. Slow and quiet, not one flash of lightning or boom of thunder.
Summer was silent, with none of her normal chatter—nervous or otherwise—as they got in his truck and drove through the slushy spring snow to the other side of the Shaw property where the old cabin was.
The cabin looked the same as it had since Grandpa died over fifteen years ago. The Shaw men had never lived to a ripe old age, and had never been any good at housekeeping. The windows were dusty, everything slumped and old. The rough-hewn logs supposedly chopped down by some ancestor were weathered by age and harsh winters.
But there was a definite disturbance to the snowpack around the cabin, and while any number of wild animals could be walking around the area, infesting the cabin, wild animals didn’t typically attempt to cover their tracks.
And they certainly couldn’t open doors. The sagging lump of snow on the left-hand side of the door was unmistakable.
Someone was in there, and that someone didn’t want anyone to know.
“Go to the caravan,” Caleb ordered, hopping out of the truck. He left the safety on the gun. He doubted whoever was hiding wanted trouble, but he’d been involved in a little too much trouble back in the day to entirely rule it out.
Summer was shadowing him, decidedly not going to her caravan. “You can’t go in there alone.”
“Why not? I’m a man with a gun.”
“You’re the one who said she could be dangerous!”
“I repeat, I am a man with a gun.” He strode toward the cabin door, but Summer kept following him. He was sure he could yell and she’d stay put, but that seemed like an overreaction. This was probably as simple as someone looking for a warm place to stay.
He tried to peer in the window surreptitiously, but both the grime and the tattered curtains blocked any view of the interior.
“I’m going to ease my way in. You stay outside. Got it?”
She clutched her hands together in front of her, eyes wide and worried, but she nodded. He had to resist rolling his eyes. Lord knew he’d faced a lot more potentially dire situations than some random person in this long-vacated cabin.
It’s in you.
Every once in a while that was all right, wasn’t it? Every once in a while, he got it in his fool head to save somebody, and the not-so-nice pieces of himself came in handy.
Of course, his help rarely really solved anything.
He eased the door open, his finger on the gun’s safety, his eyes slowly adjusting to the dim light inside. He noticed a long, denim-clad leg dangling over the back of the couch.
A flash of sunlight hit the bottom metal of a boot, and he saw an inscription on the sole.
He lowered his finger away from the safety. He knew that boot and its inscription: fuck off in flowing script. He considered keeping the gun up, because Lord knew this woman was dangerous. “Damn it, Delia.”
“Hello, handsome,” she drawled, not moving off the musty old couch so he could see the rest of her. “Took you a little longer than I expected.”
* * *
Delia’s heart hammered in her chest. It was a lie. She hadn’t been expecting Caleb at all. She thought she’d been so careful.
Despite the thunderstorm of fear and nerves inside her, she remained still, except for her foot, tapping absently in the air. She had been bred to weather every unexpected confrontation with a mask of calm and poise.
Besides, she’d known this could happen. It wasn’t ideal, but she had a backup plan. She wouldn’t be trespassing if she didn’t have a backup plan. She wouldn’t be Delia Rogers if she didn’t have a backup plan.
“Who is she?” a voice whispered.
A female voice.
That had Delia moving. A woman could put a wrench in her backup plan. She pushed into a sitting position, scooping her hair out of her eyes.
Oh, Caleb. Handsome boys who turned into handsome men simply weren’t fair. His hair was still golden and wavy, whiskers glinting almost red in the sun. His shoulders were broader, but his hips were still narrow. Even under the heavy winter coat, she could tell he packed a lot of strength in that lean frame. Adulthood and bad choices had given his face character. The sharp swoop to his square jaw was covered in appealing stubble, his nose was slightly crooked, and she remembered the day that slash had been put in his eyebrow.
He still had a mouth made for sin and muscles made for work. Too bad she knew the history underneath.
And she would use it if it came to that. Use all those feelings she’d denied herself since…well, since.
The silence hung between them, glittering with ghosts and secrets, and Caleb made no bones about scowling his distaste.
She’d heard it through the grapevine: Caleb Shaw had gone straight. She hadn’t thought much of it at first. The people in their old ne’er-do-well clan ended up one of three ways: getting their act together, dead in a ditch, or where she very well might be headed if she couldn’t figure her way out of this mess.
Panic welled up in her chest, making it hard to pretend, but panic had been a constant companion since she could remember, so it didn’t show. It was her little secret.
“Who’s she?” Delia jutted her chin toward the brunette standing halfway behind Caleb, like he was protecting her.
Something uncomfortable twisted in Delia’s stomach, but she wouldn’t let it lodge there. If Caleb had a woman, that might complicate things, but it certainly wouldn’t stand in her way. She wasn’t going to jail for what Eddie had done, and she’d use whatever and whomever she had in her arsenal to make sure of it. That’s what had kept her from being dead in a ditch for twenty-some years.
That and Caleb’s fists one particularly unpleasant night, but that had also caused half of the trouble she was in right now, so it seemed to even itself out.
“She’s none of your business,” Caleb replied, standing even more in front of the woman. Delia wanted to sneer. She looked more girl than woman. In fact, she looked like…
Delia couldn’t put her finger on it, but it didn’t matter. As far as Delia was concerned, the girl was a speed bump, and speed bumps were meant to be flown over.
Caleb turned his head to the girl, still keeping her out of Delia’s gaze, as though just glancing at Delia would be trouble. His voice was low, nothing more than a rumbled whisper, though Delia could make out the words go home. Good. Send the little girl away so they could have an adult conversation.
Now Delia had to figure out what to say. She hadn’t expected to have to use the backup plan so quickly, but it was there, fuzzy in her brain. Luckily, she was used to thinking on the fly.
After a few hushed exchanges, the girl finally exited the cabin and Delia was left with Caleb. Alone. She forced her mouth to curl in a languid smile, the kind meant to allure, entice, remind.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded in a gravelly voice. That was new. She remembered the barely banked anger in his eyes, but not that steely note to his voice.
“How long’s it been, honey? Four years?”
“Not long enough, sweets.”
He’d never liked pet names, which was why she’d always used them with him. He’d respond sarcastically, but when a woman lived with a dearth of pet names, she didn’t care how the men around her said them.
Sweets was like a little bright pop of sugary candy. Delia could pretend for weeks on that sweets.
“Who’s the girl?”
Caleb brought the door shut with a loud snap. “She’s none of your business.”
“A little young for you.”
“Jealous?” He flashed a grin that held no happiness behind it, only a grave kind of malice. “How unlike you.”
It was the kind of exchange they’d had a million times. Poking at each other, over and over again. She’d always believed there was a magnetic force between them—drawing them together but sparking if they got too close.
Secrets always kept them from acknowledging what hummed in all these exchanges.
She was no idiot when it came to those things, but she didn’t trust them when it came to Caleb and never had. But she’d use them if she had to. Caleb had gone straight, but he was still a man. He was still the man who’d almost killed her father—a fact only the two of them knew. That may have saved her life, but it had also made it far more complicated than it had been before. And it had been plenty complicated before.
Still, she had the upper hand.
“Why are you here?” he demanded.
If she hadn’t known him for almost her whole life, she might have been offended by his tone. It was harsh, but that was Caleb. When he wanted something, his temper frayed, and she knew he wanted her far away, not tiptoeing on his new straight-and-narrow life.
“I need your…” Help wasn’t the right word. She didn’t need his help. She had this covered—she only needed him to look the other way for a while. “All I need you to do is pretend I’m not here.”
His grip on the gun didn’t loosen, but she couldn’t say she was scared. She’d spent her life at the mercy of a man who used his fists or worse to get what he wanted, or to beat out a bad mood, or simply to lay blame. She’d had guns pointed at her, held to her head. So Caleb didn’t scare her in the least.
But jail for a crime she didn’t commit? Yeah, she wasn’t going down like that. She still had one sister to get out of the hellhole the Rogers called home, and she couldn’t do that locked up.
Caleb didn’t say anything for long, stretching minutes of silence. He glared at her, and she imagined the wheels inside his head were turning on overdrive.
“Fine,” he finally said. “I’ll pretend you aren’t here…on one condition.”
She’d spent too many years living in so many people’s conditions. It was foolish that her breath had caught in that pause. Foolish she’d thought he wouldn’t have one. Whatever glimmer of connection between them, it had never been particularly nice.
But there was a connection, which made her next move harder. Any stranger, any other man, and the overt flirtation would have been easy, welcome, practiced. But under Caleb’s steady blue gaze, she wilted halfway through licking her lips.
She had no power over Caleb, and hadn’t since elementary school when he’d caught her Dumpster diving.
Caleb Shaw knew all her secrets, but there was one positive to that.
She knew all his too.