The Cowboy Takes a Bride

The Cowboy Takes a Bride by Lori Wilde

Book: The Cowboy Takes a Bride by Lori Wilde Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lori Wilde
morning. I’m Mariah Callahan.”
    “I know who you are,” the deputy said, and sat down on the picnic bench beside Joe.
    She made no move to give her name, so Mariah said, “And you are . . .”
    “Ila Brackeen,” she answered in a begrudging tone.
    “Nice to meet you, Ila.”
    The woman just stared at her, then reached into her pocket, pulled out a hundred-dollar bill, and tucked it under Joe’s plate.
    Joe pushed it back to her. “Keep your money.”
    “A bet’s a bet.”
    “It was a silly bet.”
    “I pay my debts.” Ila put an arm around Joe’s shoulder, leaned in, and whispered something.
    “Yeah, okay,” Joe said.
    Mariah squirmed, feeling out of sync with these two and their familiarity. She wondered if they were sleeping together.
    “Will I see you tomorrow night at the billiards tournament?” Ila asked him.
    “Maybe. I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Joe said.
    “C’mon, you’ve got to give me a chance to earn my money back.”
    “I’ll see what I can do.”
    Ila got up, tipped her cowboy hat to Mariah, and strolled away.
    “What was that all about?” Mariah asked.
    Joe shrugged, tucked the hundred-dollar bill into his wallet. “Nothing.”
    Fine. Great. Okay. Be secretive. Have an affair with the Amazon deputy. She didn’t care.
    She might be stuck in Jubilee, but that didn’t mean she had to get sucked into small-town drama, politics, and gossip. She’d view this as simply marking time and keep from getting close to anyone.
    It was safer that way. The few times she’d ignored that policy and let herself get deeply involved with someone, she’d gotten hurt. Keeping an emotional distance had always kept her safe. It was the one truth she’d been able to rely on.
    She wasn’t about to change now.
    I la sat in her cruiser and watched Joe and Mariah leave the Mesquite Spit. They were keeping their distance from each other—Joe on the outside of the sidewalk, Dutch’s daughter nearly hugging the old stone buildings—a good three feet of space between them. Even so, Ila could almost see the sexual chemistry jumping from Joe to Mariah and back again. That’s why they were staying so far apart. The current was too strong to cross.
    She gritted her teeth against the anxiety knotting her stomach, resisted the urge to spring from the car and take Joe’s arm, claim him as her man and make it clear to Mariah that he belonged to her. Ila narrowed her eyes at the interloper—petite, blond, vulnerable. Sweet little waif. She was a damsel in distress, and the last thing Joe needed was to get saddled with some helpless female. Especially a city girl who was bound to break his heart.
    A knock at her window made Ila jump. Irritated, she jerked her head around to see Joe’s foreman, Cordy Whiteside, grinning at her. She rolled down her window. “What?”
    “How you doin’, Ila?” His earnest eyes searched her face.
    But Ila wasn’t looking at Cordy. She was watching Joe hold the door of his truck open for Mariah. “What do you want, Cordy?”
    “You.”
    “What?” That got her attention. Cordy was good-looking. Not Joe handsome, by any means, but certainly attractive. He was an honest guy. She’d never known him to lie. He was a volunteer fireman and ran a side business as a farrier. Too bad he was so short.
    “As my billiards partner,” Cordy said quickly. “For the tournament tomorrow night. You’re the best pool player I know.”
    “Maybe.”
    “Ila? You okay?”
    She shook her head. “Just got a lot on my mind. I haven’t been sleeping well.”
    “It’s Joe, isn’t it?”
    “Joe?” She made a dismissive noise. What did Cordy know? Had he picked up on her feelings for Joe? Was she that transparent? God, she was going to have to be more careful. She couldn’t let her love flag fly. Not until Joe felt the same for her as she did for him. “ ’Course not. We’re just friends.”
    Cordy looked skeptical. “What is it then? You’ve been distracted for the last two

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