Read The Cowgirl's Secret (The Diamondback Ranch Series #) Online
Authors: Anne Marie Novark
The Cowgirl's Secret
Anne Marie Novark
Sign up for Anne Marie's New Releases
Book Five: The Diamondback Ranch Series
Tori and Sam
An Independent Young Woman
Tori McCade is bound and determined to earn her degree and return home to practice veterinary medicine in Salt Fork, Texas. Nothing and no one can stop her, not even the hottest man she's ever met in her life.
A man who knows what he wants
Sam Garza meets the much younger Tori McCade in a dance club in Dallas, Texas, and all bets are off. He wants her, and he's going to have her . . . even if it means following her to Salt Fork. Both agree they need to keep things simple and uncomplicated. And he's okay with that . . . for now.
The Cowgirl's Secret
Copyright © 2013 by Anne Marie Novark
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, businesses, characters and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, actual events or locales is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author or publisher except for the use of brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. Thank you for
respecting the hard work of this author.
Thanks for your help with the story, and thanks for showing Dad and me a good time in New York.
This one's for you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE COWGIRL'S SECRET
by Anne Marie Novark
The woman was driving him crazy
Sam Garza watched Tori McCade greet her guests as she walked the circuit around the big yard at the back of her mother's sprawling old house on the Diamondback Ranch. She'd thrown a huge retirement party for Doc Pritchard, whose veterinary practice Tori had taken over. Seemed like every living soul and his dog, located in and around the small town of Salt Fork, Texas, had come to bid farewell to their beloved veterinarian of forty-some-odd years.
For one split second, Tori glanced over her shoulder and caught Sam's gaze from across the yard. She quickly looked away, but not before he saw a telltale blush stain her smooth satin cheeks. Sam knew first-hand how smooth those cheeks felt beneath his fingers and lips; knew how smooth and silky the rest of Tori's body felt and tasted.
He blew out a pent-up breath and chugged back the last dregs from the longneck beer he'd been nursing for the past hour. How in the world had he fallen in love with a woman ten years his junior? And why in God's name had he waited for her while she'd gone to school to get her degree in veterinary medicine?
Never in his life had he waited for a woman. Then again, he'd never fallen in love before either.
But four years?
He must have been out of his mind. Certifiably insane. Loco. Nuts. There was no other plausible explanation.
"Hey, Garza. Need another beer?" Dallas McCade walked up and thrust an ice-cold longneck at him.
"Thanks." Sam tossed his empty bottle in the trash barrel, then accepted the beer from Tori's oldest brother. Twisting the cap off, he took a long pull of the biting brew, keeping his eye on the man who stood beside him.
No one in town was aware that Sam and Tori shared a past. Hell, everyone in Salt Fork thought he was just an auto mechanic working at Kincaid's Garage. Sometimes, he felt like he was in the witness protection program, keeping secrets and living beneath a cloud of lies.
No one suspected he was anything other than a mechanic, but some folks certainly speculated about him and Tori. Four years was a long time to keep a secret. And no way in hell could he always hide his feelings for her completely.
Tori had wanted to keep their relationship under wraps while she was away at Texas A&M. She'd said it would be simpler that way. She had to focus on her studies and couldn't let anything distract her from getting her degree.
And Sam had been a definite distraction.
He'd moved to Salt Fork, while she'd headed to A&M. He hadn't liked the arrangement, not by a long shot. But living in Tori's hometown had allowed him to be near when she'd visited her family during the holidays. Besides, he'd had his own agenda for uprooting his life and relocating to the sleepy little West Texas town.
Dallas motioned toward his sister who stood across the yard talking to Doc Pritchard. "I bet you're glad Tori has finally finished school and come home where she belongs."
Sam nearly choked on his beer.
"Hey, you okay?" Dallas thumped him on the back a little
"I'm all right. Just went down wrong." Sam stepped away from Dallas. So much for keeping his relationship with Tori under wraps. How many more people had guessed the truth? "Of course, I'm glad Tori's back. Everyone's glad."
"But some more than others," Dallas said softly, staring intently at Sam.
Sam deliberately held the man's gaze for a long moment.
had nothing to hide, nothing at all. His intentions had always been honorable. It was Tori who'd put the brakes on their relationship. He took a sip of beer before replying. "I'd say her family would be the happiest because she's back. Besides Doc. That old man is chomping at the bit to retire. He can't wait to take to the road in that new RV of his."
Dallas cracked a smile. "I have a feeling Mrs. Pritchard will be the one chomping at the bit after spending a few weeks trapped in that bus with a husband, three cats and that big dog of theirs."
Sam lifted his longneck in a toast of agreement. "Don't you know it."
Dallas clinked his bottle against Sam's. "Here's to the lovely ladies in our lives." He took a long pull from his longneck. "I'd watch your back, if I were you, Garza."
Sam's grip on his beer bottle tightened. He didn't like where this conversation was heading, didn't like it one damn bit. "What the
is that supposed to mean?"
Dallas narrowed his eyes. "It means . . . I know what you're up to. Watch your step is all I'm saying."
Gillian McCade walked up and linked her arm in the crook of her husband's elbow. "Sorry if I'm intruding, but Mama Ruth is looking all over for you, Cowboy. Something about the barbeque pits. I'm sure Sam won't mind if I drag you away."
Dallas draped his arm around his wife and bent to kiss her on the mouth. "Babe, you can drag me anywhere you damn well please. Enjoy the party, Garza."
Sam shook his head as he gazed after the departing couple. Dallas McCade was one lucky son-of-a-bitch. A few years ago, he'd found the perfect woman to settle down with. They already had one little son, and if Sam wasn't mistaken, baby number two would be making an appearance later in the year.
All four of the McCade brothers had found good women to spend their lives with. All four men seemed happy and content. And Gillian McCade wasn't the only one pregnant. Austin's wife was due in the not-so-distant future, considering the large baby bump she sported.
Sam inhaled deeply. He wouldn't mind snagging a little of that happiness and contentment for his own. He glanced over the crowd and lasered in on Tori again.
The lovely lady in his life
For four long years, he'd kept his end of their bargain. He'd kept his word and his distance. At least, he'd kept his distance for the most part. A man was only human after all. He'd managed to steal moments alone with Tori on a semi-regular basis, either by making a fast trip down to College Station or when she'd whisk into town to visit her family. Always on the sly. Always their time together passing too quickly.
Enough was enough. Tori had finally earned her degree. She was back in Salt Fork, and she was taking over Doc Pritchard's practice, just as she'd always dreamed of doing. Just as she'd always planned.
Well, Sam had a few plans of his own. He had patiently bided his time, hadn't he? Now it was
turn to make some dreams come true.
All afternoon, Tori felt Sam's smoldering gaze following her as she mingled with the guests who had come to say good-bye to Doc. Every time she looked Sam's way, his dark brown eyes burned with latent passion that sent tingles of awareness skittering along every nerve ending in her body.
If only she could manage to stay out of his way for a few minutes more. She knew time was running out, and not only here at the party. Time was running out on the bargain she'd made with him on that fateful night so long ago. She'd been fortunate that he'd been patient and had respected her wishes.
Those scorching looks he'd thrown her all afternoon had prickled the fine hairs on the nape of her neck. She'd felt edgy, like she was walking on eggshells. One wrong move and her secret would be blown right here, right now. Then all hell would break loose.
Tori fervently hoped none of the guests had noticed Sam's obvious attention directed her way. She certainly hoped none of her brothers had caught on.
That was one of the main reasons she'd made the bargain with Sam to keep their relationship secret in the first place. Her brothers tended to be overly protective where she was concerned. If they'd known Sam had moved to Salt Fork because of her, she'd never have heard the end of it. And Sam wouldn't have, either.
Tori shook away the disturbing thoughts and looked around the yard with satisfaction. Another successful barbeque at the Diamondback Ranch was well underway. The food had been cooked to perfection; the pies and cakes provided by Sara Sue's cafe sinfully decadent. The low buzz of conversation and the laughter of the guests wafted on the warm June breeze whispering through the mesquite trees.
"Hey, Aunt Tori! Come over here, will you?"
Tori's attention flew to the vintage jukebox that provided the music for all of the Diamondback Ranch's famous get-togethers. Her niece Kelsey stood by the brightly lit jukebox, waving her arm, motioning for Tori to join her.
Tori muttered under her breath as she strode purposefully across the dance platform toward her niece, acutely aware of Sam's eyes following her. "Something wrong, Kels?"
"You said you wanted the dancing to start at seven, and it's ten after. I wasn't sure what songs you wanted to begin with. You choose a couple while I get Doc and his wife to dance the first one."
"Okay. Thanks." Tori smiled and shook her head as her energetic niece whisked away to organize the opening dance. Turning back to the jukebox, she skimmed the lists of songs. Kelsey sure loved to take charge and get things done. The teenager was a natural born leader.
The firm grip of a hand on her shoulder made Tori almost jump out of her skin. She looked up and her smile wobbled when she encountered the brutally handsome face of Sam Garza. He stood so close, she could feel the heat radiating off his hard-muscled body. As always, her knees threatened to buckle whenever he touched her.
She cleared her throat and licked her suddenly dry lips. Sam's brown eyes dilated and his grip tightened on her shoulder. "You're killing me, you know that?" he said.
His deep rough voice washed over her, making her stomach clench with a need so intense, it still caught her by surprise even after all these years. Taking a deep breath, Tori turned completely around to face the man who had stolen her heart. And her virginity.
"It won't be much longer, I promise." Tori bit her lip, hating how her voice sounded so breathless. She tried to move away, but Sam's hand held her in place.
"Damned straight, it won't be much longer," he said. "No more running, babe. No more hiding from me like you did at Austin's wedding and when Tyler got married. This charade has to stop. It's past time."
Would you let me go?
" she said in a fierce whisper. "You're attracting all kinds of attention. This isn't the time or place to discuss our . . . relationship. And yes, I may have avoided you at my brothers' weddings--you know perfectly well what my reasons were--but not before you claimed, no