Ronan Byrne pulled his weather-beaten dark green Chevy pickup into a space in front of Blossom Café, one of the only three restaurants in his small Nevada hometown. Because of his truck’s pitiful excuse for an air conditioner, his entire back was covered in sweat thanks to the late June heat. He had just driven back to Blossom from Reno after another meeting with the chief loan officer at his family’s bank and was desperate for some caffeine.
His scuffed boots landed on the ground with a thud. As he ran his hands through his jet black hair and fanned his shirt to air it out, he noticed the shiny white Range Rover parked across the street.
Damn city people. Probably here to check out another property that’s about to be foreclosed.
He walked in and nodded to the regulars in greeting. Jack Neary, the owner of the ranch that bordered the Byrne property, was sitting at the table nearest to the door.
The grey-haired man gave him a nod. “Oh, hi, Ronan. What’s going on?”
“Not much. Just dying for some coffee.”
He approached the counter where Francesca Davies was standing behind it, flashing him a warm smile. Her family owned the café and had lived in Blossom almost as long as his own.
“Hey, Frankie. Has Declan been in today?”
The young woman gave him a knowing look in return. “Of course. He was his usual chipper self, grunting and moping at 7am for a coffee black as you can make it and an egg, cheese, and bacon sandwich.”
Ronan shook his head at the news. His middle brother was the local deputy sheriff. The entire town knew Frankie had been in love with Declan since they were kids. Everyone knew that, except Declan himself.
“What can I get you?” she asked.
After he paid for his drink, he turned around and looked out at the customers.
That was one of the things he loved about Blossom. Everyone knew each other. These were people he had known for most of his thirty-two years. They may have lived outside of town at some point in their lives, but they always returned. The same applied to him. Ronan had gone to college at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He had studied a little bit of everything, finally settling on English for his major and Spanish as his minor. He thought he would become a professor at some point, but he loved his family’s ranch too much to move away from it. It was in his blood, everything from the smell of fresh hay to the sight of his parents walking together hand in hand to the stables for a morning ride. The ranch was a part of him.
Jack glanced at Ronan as he took a sip of his coffee. “Have a seat, son. Looks like you need the rest.”
Ronan nodded in gratitude, pulling out the chair across from his neighbor. “Guess it shows, huh?”
“What’s going on?”
“Just got back from Reno. I had to go to the bank to ask for an extension,” he sighed. “They said they’d get back to me.”
Jack shook his head. “I’m so sorry. You know if I had the money, I’d lend it to your parents in a second.”
“That’s really nice of you, but you know my parents. They’d turn you down flat. Too much Irish pride for their own good.”
“Yeah, don’t I know it,” Jack smiled.
As he raised the coffee to his mouth for another sip, Ronan noticed a blonde woman in the corner of the restaurant. A laptop and a pile of file folders sat on the table in front of her. A pair of rectangular black-rimmed glasses sat on the bridge of her nose.
Within a split second, he knew she was the owner of the Range Rover.
She was an outsider, either a real estate agent or a prospective buyer. He wanted to know for sure. He was protective of his neighbors, and he would do anything to keep them from losing their homes, even if it meant something as small as gathering information.
But then another thought struck him. His best friend, Sean Flynn, was getting married that weekend at Ronan’s family’s ranch. There was a possibility she could be a member of the wedding party.
Whatever the reason for her sitting in the café, he was determined to find out what it was.
“I’ll be right back,” Ronan said to Jack as he rose to his feet.
He walked up to the counter. Frankie was occupied with putting more coins into the cash register. “Hey, Frankie, could you do me a favor?”
“What?” she asked without looking up.
“Could I borrow a coffee carafe for a few minutes? One that’s full?”
She glanced up, puzzled. “Not that I’m going to say no, Ronan, but why in the hell would you need one?”
He smirked. “Don’t worry. I’ll bring it right back. Let’s just say it’s for the good of the town.”
“Well, since you put it that way…”
She pivoted and pulled a metal carafe from one of the coffee machines that lined the work space behind the counter.
“Have at it,” she said, handing it over to him.
“Thanks,” he said with a wicked smile.
He slowly strode across the wooden floor towards the woman. She was wearing a white t-shirt under a black suede jacket. Her gaze remained fixed on the screen in front of her. Her fingertips flew over the keyboard, the clicking sound of the keys filling the air around her.
Ronan stood in front of her. Her eyes stayed on the laptop.
He cleared his throat. “Would you like a refill?”
She kept on typing.
She’s definitely from the city.
A pair of eyes finally looked up at him. “Yes?”
Suddenly, he lost his train of thought. He instantly knew he’d never seen eyes that shade of green before, shining like emeralds. Her lips were perfect—not too thin, but the bottom one was just full enough to make him wonder how it would taste between his teeth. The creamy texture of her face made him want to run his fingertips along her soft cheeks. Her hair was straight and cut into a sleek bob, the ends of which perfectly framed her heart-shaped face.
“Can I help you?”
Her clipped tone snapped Ronan back to the present as he spoke. “I asked if you wanted a refill.”
“Well, seeing as my cup is still full, I think I’ll say no,” she replied.
Shit. Why didn’t I notice that? Idiot.
“Is there something wrong with the coffee?”
Ronan watched as she took a sip. The woman winced as she swallowed the liquid.
“Are you all right?” he asked, slightly worried.
“I’m fine, thanks,” she nodded as her eyes shifted back to her computer. “I just hate black coffee, that’s all.”
“They do have milk here, you know.”
“That’s reassuring, but I need almond milk because I’m lactose intolerant.”
“What about soy?”
“I prefer the taste of almond.”
“Wow, you’re very particular.”
Her eyes remained focused on the computer. “Is that code for something?”
“No. Just an observation.”
“If you say so.” She took another sip of coffee, wincing again. “Ugh. I really need something for this. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could you watch my things for me?”
“Only if I can join you at the table.”
“Umm…yeah…sure,” she stammered.
Ronan pulled out the chair across from hers, setting down the carafe on the table away from the laptop.
As he settled into his seat, Ronan glanced toward the counter where the woman was headed. His eyes caught something in their sightline, and suddenly, he couldn’t concentrate on anything else except for the beauty of the woman’s round backside in her black boot-cut jeans. She filled them out to perfection. Heightened by the high-heeled boots she was wearing, her ass was lifted into the air, forming the optimal view for his eyes as she continued walking to the counter where she exchanged a few words with Frankie, then over to the side cabinet that held the sugar packets, napkins, and other condiments. He imagined how it would feel to have her ass in his hands, touching her soft flesh, massaging it between his fingers…
When she turned back to the table, Ronan quickly shifted his eyes and pretended the coffee carafe was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen in his life.
She sat back down, shaking the sugar packets, then depositing their contents into her coffee. “Maybe these will help with the taste.”
“Are you here on business?”
She shifted in her seat, as if she was trying to find a comfortable sitting position. “Umm, I’m really sorry. I don’t want to be rude, but I need to get this done before I get to the dude ranch.”
Ronan’s eyebrows rose in curiosity. “The Black Rose Ranch?”
The woman spoke to him without looking up from her computer screen. “Yes, I’m the maid of honor for my best friend who’s getting married this weekend.”
He decided to play along. “A wedding? That sounds like fun.”
She continued to stare at her laptop. “Hopefully, it will be. But I still have to keep in touch with my office, so that’s why I’m here drinking black coffee with two sugars.”
“Because you’re lactose intolerant.”
She smiled slightly. “I’m impressed. You pay attention.”
I love her smile.
“What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I’m a management consultant with Powell & McLean.”
He was about to say something when a tall redhead approached their table. Dressed in a white cotton top that barely grazed her midriff, tight jeans embroidered with rhinestones, and white stiletto leather ankle boots, her entire presence screamed sex.
“Hey, Ronan,” she said with a high-pitched bubbly voice.
He sighed and muttered something incomprehensible under his breath before looking up at the redhead. “Oh, hey, Staci.”
Ronan turned his attention back to the blonde.
Staci didn’t get the hint. “How are you?”
“I haven’t seen you around lately.”
“I’ve been busy.”
Damn it, Staci. Go away. You’re not the one I want to talk to.
Ronan stared across the table at the blonde, hoping like hell she would say something so Staci would get the point and disappear.
The blonde woman finally looked up, but she spoke to Staci, not Ronan. She held out her hand to her in greeting. “Staci, I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Blakely.”
Staci gripped Blakely’s hand with great enthusiasm. “Hi. You’re not from around here, are you?”
Ronan was now hanging onto every word from the blonde’s mouth, dying to hear what she would say next, hopefully the city where she had come from.
“No, I’m not. Just visiting.”
Staci’s face lit up at Blakely’s reply. “How’s Amanda doing, Ronan?”
He shut his eyes and gritted his teeth.
Fuck. “Why would you ask me that?” he growled.
“Don’t know. Just curious.”
He glanced across at Blakely to see if she was listening, but she just kept typing away.
“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t spoken to her in a year,” he muttered under his breath.
“Really? Then how about a beer sometime, Ronan? Catch up on old times.”
He shut his eyes in discomfort. “Yeah, sure. I’ll call you.”
Staci immediately perked up. “Awesome. See you soon, Ronan. Nice to meet you, Blakely.”
“You too,” Blakely said.
Ronan hadn’t noticed when Staci walked away. At least he knew the blonde’s name now. Progress.
As she studied something on her laptop, she commented, “Poor thing. She’s going to be waiting a long time.”
Ronan sat back in his chair and sighed. “Christ, she’s probably buying bridal magazines as we speak.”
He looked over at Blakely, her eyes focused on her laptop.
Wait a sec…
“Pump the brakes. What do you mean that she’ll be waiting a long time?”
She shrugged her shoulders as she continued typing. “I got the impression that you weren’t interested and you only said you’d call her to appease her.”
“How did you know?”
She looked away from the screen, leaning back in her chair as she gave Ronan her full attention. “You’re obviously the town catch.”
“Yeah. So I’ve heard.”
“The only eligible bachelor under the age of 35 in a town of 750.”
She began to make notes in her folder. “It says 750 on the sign coming into town.”
She continued writing. “What?”
“Don’t you ever stop?”
“It’s called multi-tasking.”
“Yeah, it’s rude is what it is.”
She shifted back to her computer. “Have I asked you to end our conversation?”
“Have you seen me cease my work at any point during said conversation?”
“Yes, when you went to get the sugar and when you talked to Staci.”
“I meant the conversation you and I were having.”
“Et voila. Multi-tasking.”
Ronan sat back in his chair.
She is hands down the most irritating woman on the planet.
He stared at her as she tucked a strand of stray hair behind her ear.
And I can’t take my damn eyes off her. She’s incredible.
Without warning, the cell phone that sat at her elbow lit up. She checked the caller ID and ignored it. But before she returned to her work, Ronan noticed her shutting her eyes, with her lips pursing almost in pain.
His curiosity was piqued. “You okay?”
The phone vibrated again. Once again, her demeanor shifted.
She glanced once more at the phone and sighed. “Look, I’m so sorry, but…”
Ronan understood. He began to push his chair back. “Yeah, no problem. It was nice talking with you.”
The blonde finally looked at Ronan straight in the eyes and smiled again. “You too.” She gestured at the carafe with her chin. “You’d better go see if anyone else needs a refill.”
Nice one. You’re good.
He smiled slyly, leaning down slightly closer so the woman could hear him clearly over the sound of the phone. “See you soon, City Girl.”
The woman’s eyes froze in shock and confusion at his words as his eyes held hers, her phone still buzzing insistently.
Their eyes bore into each other’s until she snapped, “Oh, crap!” and fumbled for her phone. Ronan smiled and picked up the carafe to return it to Frankie. As he started to walk away, he heard Blakely speak. “Hi, Daddy…I know…I’m sorry…”
He nodded at Jack on his way out. “See ya.”
Jack pointed at Ronan’s coffee. “You forgot this.”
“I had a good reason,” he replied with a glint in his eye.
Once Ronan was back in his truck, he stared at the window of the café. From his vantage point, he couldn’t see Blakely, but knowing that he would be running into her again soon made it easier for him to leave.
Blakely Pierce sat in her rented white Range Rover and took in the landscape of the Black Rose Ranch that was laid out in front of her.
“Oh my God. It’s Tombstone.”
She half expected tumbleweeds to come rolling down the hill as she parked in the lot next to the main office. All of the buildings were wooden cabins with long, wide decks. A circle of open space sat in front of the administration building with side paths that broke off to the guest cabins.
Judging by the state of the buildings, the thought of what her cabin would be like frightened her. She could see the roofs of some of the cabins were missing tiles, and all of the wood was in serious need of a fresh coat of paint. None of the paths were paved, which meant her designer clothes, no matter how casual they were, would need to be dry cleaned the minute she got home. But her greatest fear was that she wouldn’t be able to get a Wi-Fi signal anywhere on the ranch.
“I’m definitely not in Manhattan anymore,” she whispered to herself.
A girlish squeal erupted outside. “You’re here!”
Blakely watched as her best friend, Georgina Kingsley, who went by the nickname Gigi, ran to the Range Rover, her long brown hair flying behind her.
She stepped out of the car as Gigi, all five foot four inches of her, grabbed her in a tight hug. Blakely’s curvy form towered over her by three inches, as her blonde hair fell around her face.
Blakely couldn’t help but smile at seeing her best friend. “Hey, bestie! Ready to get married?”
“You bet I am. How was your flight? Wow, that’s a sweet rental.”
“I arranged it through a client. The flight was fine. Just the usual delays out of LaGuardia.” Blakely looked around her. “So, this is the dude ranch, huh?”
“Yup. I can’t wait to show you around. I reserved the best cabin for you. It has a great view from the back deck. I know this isn’t what you’re used to…”
“It’ll be fine. And anyway, this week is about you, not me. It’ll be fun,” she reassured her friend while attempting to convince herself in the process.
Gigi looked at Blakely. “God, you must be exhausted. Let me go get the golf cart and I’ll take you up to your cabin.”
“That would be great, thanks.”
Blakely got her bags from her trunk and loaded them onto the cart when Gigi came back. She sat next to her and watched her drive the cart, smoothly winding along the curved path.
“God, you look like you’re already at home here.”
“The owners have been incredibly sweet,” Gigi said with a smile. “Malachy, that’s Mr. Byrne, showed me how to drive this thing the first day I got here, and he said I could use it whenever I liked. You’ll love them. His wife’s name is Rosaleen, and they have three sons. You’ll meet one of them tomorrow.”
Blakely touched Gigi’s arm. “Listen, I wanted to apologize again for not being able to help as much—”
Gigi shooed Blakely’s hand away. “For the hundredth time, don’t worry about it. Sean’s sister, Fiona, has it all under control. I know how busy you are with work, but you’re still my maid of honor because you’re my best friend. Anyway, you have too much potential blackmail material about me, so I can’t really ditch you now.”
Blakely laughed. “Too right. We’re stuck with each other, like it or not. Otherwise I’d have to tell the Yale Daily News about the time you drunkenly made out with that reporter from the Crimson at our first game against Harvard.”
Gigi’s face turned serious. “I plead the Fifth.”
“Ha! Like I said, stuck with each other.”
Gigi pulled the cart to a stop in front of the last cabin with a sign outside that read “Galway.”
“That’s where Malachy’s family’s from. All of the cabins are named after the counties in Ireland. Rosaleen is from Cork.”
The cabin distinguished itself from the others with lace curtains in the two windows that sat on either side of the door. The women hauled Blakely’s luggage up the wide wooden staircase.
When Gigi opened the door, Blakely was pleasantly surprised. In front of her was a spacious living area, with two couches and a pine coffee table. A stone fireplace took up the entire wall on the left side where, instead of pictures of cowboys and buffalos, was a beautiful painting of the Irish countryside with a whitewashed cottage in the center.
A welcome basket sat on the table. It was filled with Blakely’s favorite bottled water, snacks, and bath oils.
Blakely was genuinely touched. “Oh, Gi, that’s so sweet of you.”
“Hey, I spare no expense for my maid of honor.”
“I forgot to ask. Does this place have Wi-Fi?”
“Yeah. All of the cabins have it, but no televisions.”
“That doesn’t bother me. As long as I can use my laptop, I’m good.”
Gigi checked her watch. “Listen, I have to head back. Sean wants to take me to the lake.”
“There’s a lake?”
“Oh yeah. It’s beautiful there. Everything you want to know about the ranch is in the directory in the desk drawer. You go ahead and settle in, and I’ll come by at five o’clock and take you to dinner in town.”
Once she unpacked, Blakely went into the bathroom and changed into the robe that hung on the back of the door. She went back into the bedroom, stretching out on the bed for a bit before heading back to the bathroom to take a hot shower.
She thought about why she had come to Blossom. At thirty-four, she and Gigi had been best friends for sixteen years, ever since they were freshman roommates together at Yale. Blakely went on to Yale’s School of Management for her MBA. Gigi debated going to law school, but decided against it and was now a French teacher at a girls’ prep school on East 90th Street in Manhattan. She was not as ambitious as Blakely, but that didn’t bother Blakely, because Gigi was the only person in the world who knew her best and kept all her secrets.
Gigi had called her six months ago while Blakely was at work to share her news. Her boyfriend, Sean Flynn, had proposed to her during a romantic carriage ride in Central Park.
But the biggest shock for Blakely hadn’t been the news of the engagement itself; it was the location of the wedding.
‘So, when’s the big day? What are you thinking? St. Patrick’s? St. John the Divine?’
Blakely thought her hearing was giving out. ‘I’m sorry?’
‘Now, don’t freak out, B. There’s this dude ranch…’
‘…in Blossom, Nevada, just outside Reno…’
Kill me now.
‘where Sean and his family used to go on vacations when he was a kid. I’ve seen pictures, and it looks beautiful.’
But she was here for Gigi, and that’s all that mattered.
As she stared up at the wooden ceiling, Blakely couldn’t stop thinking about the guy in the café. Ronan. She had noticed him the second he walked into the café. The manner in which he carried himself, confident without being cocky, nodding in greeting to the customers, looking at ease—she was in awe of it all. Forgetting the work that was sitting on her table, Blakely had stared at him the entire time he was at the counter. He was tall and lean with broad shoulders. She couldn’t help looking at how his tight ass filled out the rough fabric of his jeans.
Once he sat down at the other table, Blakely returned to her work, only because he was now sitting in her line of sight, and she was afraid of him catching her as she stared at him. Then, when he approached her at the table with that carafe, her knees started to shake, so she locked her legs at the ankles. She had felt his sapphire blue eyes searing into her the entire time at the table, and she never dared to look at him for long, afraid she wouldn’t have been able to return the focus back to her work. The rumble of his deep voice made her instantly wet. She snapped her thighs together, squirming in her chair to adjust herself while attempting to look as graceful as possible when she did it. Her thoughts of how his silky dark hair would feel between her fingers made her determined to focus on her laptop.
She couldn’t understand why he sat down with her. Granted, she felt incredibly at ease with him. Their conversation was smooth. She figured he had pretended to ask if she wanted a refill just so he could have an excuse to talk to her. Could he have honestly been interested in her?
Oh, please. First, that girl Staci came up to him, then she mentioned someone named Amanda. He’s obviously a player. And perfection belongs with perfection, not with someone like her.
Blakely rose from the bed, passing the cheval mirror that stood in the corner of the bedroom. She stopped in front of it, hesitating for a moment. Slowly, she unknotted the belt around her waist and let the robe fall open. She studied her naked body in the reflection.
Yeah, right. Keep dreaming, girl. A guy that smoking hot would never flirt with you.
She was so out of practice with the concept of flirting that she couldn’t even recognize it anymore.
It didn’t matter anyway since she was never going to see him again.
At least this morning’s events will keep me going for a while.
After her shower, Blakely walked into the living room and connected her iPod to her portable speakers, scrolling until she found her favorite Diana Krall album. With her tote bag in hand, she stepped onto the back deck of the cabin, settling onto one of the chaises. After inhaling a few breaths of the fresh mountain air, she pulled a brown leather writing journal from her bag, along with a small plastic sandwich bag that contained a roll of tape and a small pair of scissors and a collection of magazines. As she hummed along with the jazzy notes of “Fly Me to the Moon,” she began to skim the pages, cutting and taping as she went along. She was in her happy place.