Книга - The Cowboy’s Christmas Proposition


The Cowboy's Christmas Proposition
Silver James

Can a country superstar and a dedicated cop strike a Christmas baby bargain? Being a celebrity, Deacon Tate is always careful. So when a baby is left on his tour bus, he's 99 percent certain it isn't his. But he's 100 percent sure that trooper Quin Kincaid, who responds to the call, is the sexiest woman he's ever seen. He has to have her, no matter what.But to Quin, Deacon seems too good to be true. Can she save the baby and herself from Deacon's spell – especially when he makes her an offer she can't refuse?

Can a country superstar and a dedicated cop strike a Christmas baby bargain?

Being a celebrity, Deacon Tate is always careful. So when a baby is left on his tour bus, he’s 99 percent certain it isn’t his. But he’s 100 percent sure that trooper Quin Kincaid, who responds to the call, is the sexiest woman he’s ever seen. He has to have her, no matter what.

But to Quin, Deacon seems too good to be true. Can she save the baby and herself from Deacon’s spell—especially when he makes her an offer she can’t refuse?

She was a professional. On duty.

She didn’t have time to picture running her fingers through that messy hair of his. Or…or… Her gaze rose from his mouth, quirking up at the corners as it was, to meet his eyes. They really were the soft blue of a star sapphire. She curled her fingers against her belt. Would the stubble on his face be rough or as soft as his hair looked?

“Darlin’, you really shouldn’t look at a man that way.” His gruff voice was both a caress and a wake-up call.

Quin barely controlled a full-body shudder. She needed to think of ice baths and blizzards. Snow and ski slopes. High mountain air. Invigorating. Not warm. Not sexy. She took that step back, both physically and mentally. He laughed and the sound was dark and warm like fudge brownies just out of the oven. Her mouth watered.

Coffee. She needed coffee. And fresh air. Like right this minute.

The Cowboy’s Christmas Proposition

Silver James

www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk)

SILVER JAMES likes walks on the wild side and coffee. Okay. She LOVES coffee. A cowgirl at heart, she’s been an army officer’s wife and mum, and worked in the legal field, fire service and law enforcement. Now retired from the real world, she lives in Oklahoma, spending her days writing with the assistance of two Newfoundlands, the cat who rules them all and the characters living in her imagination.

As always, thanks to my family for putting up with the craziness when I’m on deadline—and that includes my wonderful Harlequin Desire team, Charles, Stacy and Tahra, plus all the amazing Harlequin folks. And a special thanks to a special reader, Anita Bartlett, for our discussion of brothers from a sister’s point of view.


Cover (#u66c75ef3-1d95-5d6b-8b53-29ec79cb109e)

Back Cover Text (#u6bc8c01f-0a4d-558d-9e36-f74926b1b50f)

Introduction (#uaebc2296-28b3-572f-a933-4796cf9876e5)

Title Page (#u01b0a6b7-9e13-55bf-a6c4-05c871389bdb)

About the Author (#uac5a3d6e-503a-59a9-9156-524cc882d946)

Dedication (#u2c38de75-4769-521d-bf36-0b363f0e71c0)

One (#uda1505f8-7b69-5818-8ee4-c666bae78a37)

Two (#u4a618f5d-1373-59b6-8d1e-daaff9869729)

Three (#u295ddc10-9b77-511d-bfc0-124e18cb7aa1)

Four (#uce25998c-7a4d-56a7-8d35-605d89b6b41b)

Five (#u526cdc4a-4578-56e8-8ca1-c6d785de13d5)

Six (#u7f7e1daa-1d8f-580c-bf08-f99056b705e0)

Seven (#litres_trial_promo)

Eight (#litres_trial_promo)

Nine (#litres_trial_promo)

Ten (#litres_trial_promo)

Eleven (#litres_trial_promo)

Twelve (#litres_trial_promo)

Thirteen (#litres_trial_promo)

Fourteen (#litres_trial_promo)

Fifteen (#litres_trial_promo)

Sixteen (#litres_trial_promo)

Seventeen (#litres_trial_promo)

Eighteen (#litres_trial_promo)

Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo)

Extract (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

One (#u2b75e558-cbc6-5eb7-8215-ea4157e80927)

Deacon Tate was a country boy at heart. He loved life on his Oklahoma ranch—driving the tractor, singing to the cows, riding his horse and stopping to watch the setting sun wash a blaze of colors across the red dirt of home. He would sit on his front porch as twilight softened the landscape, strumming his guitar while waiting for the fireflies to come out to play. He was also a free spirit. He loved life on the road, living on the tour bus, appearing in a different city every night. He fed off the energy of the crowd, absorbing their excitement through his skin by osmosis.

Performing live was in his blood, but he was ready for some downtime in his Red, White and Cool tour. The Sons of Nashville’s manager had purposely scheduled this leg of the tour close to home. After tonight’s performance at the Thunder River Casino just outside of Oklahoma City, the band would take off the week before Thanksgiving and Deke would be heading home to his ranch. Then the Friday after, they had a concert at the BOK Center in Tulsa. They were done for a month after that. The break couldn’t come soon enough.

He sang into the microphone, but his eyes were on the female fans lining the front of the stage trying to get his attention. He flirted with them with winks, and by appearing to sing directly to one or another. He loved women. All women. And he’d only been exclusive once.

The lights dimmed, a stool appeared on stage and he picked up his acoustic guitar and sat down. One blue spotlight picked him out. Head down, he strummed a few chords. The cheers and whistles slowly faded as he played. The chords gave way to the melody he plucked on the strings. The band remained silent, unsure of where he was going. Performing this song was totally unplanned. He’d written it for his cousin Cash’s wedding but hadn’t recorded it.

Deke’s little brother, who was also the keyboardist for the Sons, was the first to recognize the song. After Dillon’s piano riff, their guitarists, Bryce and Xander, picked up the tune and Kenji, the drummer, found the rhythm. Ozzie picked up the bass line without missing a beat.

“Are you ready to take a walk?” he crooned into the microphone. “Darlin’, are you ready for me?” The crowd started to sway in time to the music and the groupies lining the stage pressed forward. Deke closed his eyes. “Are you counting the minutes? Can you feel my heart race?” He riffed on the guitar. “From this day forward, you’ll never walk alone. I’ll shelter your heart. I’ll be your home. You are my love song, my forever song, the last song that I’ll sing.”

He poured out the rest of the words, his voice growing husky with emotion. Deke had watched each of his cousins find and fall in love with the women who completed them. Something inside him wanted the same thing, in a vague someday way. But none of his brothers had taken the plunge and there was something wrong with that picture. The Barrons were the wild bunch, the Tates the steady gatekeepers. Well, except for him. His mother said often and loudly that he was more Barron than Tate, but her eyes twinkled when she said it.

Deke sang of finding love, of losing it. He sang of getting it back and when he sang the chorus again, the women in the front row had faces slick with tears. His voice broke a little as he finished the last few lines and added, “You’ll be my home, my love song, my forever song and the last song I ever sing.”

The spotlight went out. Stunned silence filled the theater, where 2,500 fans were jammed in wall-to-wall. Then pandemonium erupted. Strobes flashed and spotlights probed the stage, but Deacon had disappeared. People screamed and whistled. They clapped their hands and stomped their feet. When the band launched into the opening strains of “Native Son,” the noise volume doubled. Normally, this song was the finale but tonight, it was the encore.

When it was over, Deke and the band retreated backstage to the dressing rooms. The party had already started. Local radio personalities filtered in, some with contest winners tagging along. A few VIPs—politicians and business leaders—crowded around, congratulating him before moving along to the free bar and buffet. A low-level headache throbbed behind his eyes, and Deke only wanted to get on his bus and go home.

A loud squeal caught his attention and he looked up just in time to catch an armful of curves and red hair. Lips smacked his cheek. “You sang our song!” Roxanne Barron screamed.

Deke winced and was thankful when his cousin Cash peeled his wife away. He was surrounded now by family. His brothers, Cooper and Bridger, were harassing Dillon, the baby Tate. Cash was doing his best to contain Roxie, while his other cousins and their spouses, Chance and Cassidy, along with Cord and Jolie, laughed.

“You totally have to record that song, Deke,” Cassidy said. “And have Jolie and I mentioned that we’re totally PO’d you didn’t write songs for our weddings?”

He ducked his head, slightly embarrassed. He’d been on the road and missed both Chance’s and Cord’s weddings though he’d played a cover song at their brother Clay’s. Forcing his headache away, he listened to his cousins and their wives chatter and his brothers tease Dillon. This was family and he loved his.

There was life and love here. Sound and confusion. Friendship and flirting. Deke wasn’t quite so ready to go home now, knowing his house was empty. There’d be no lights on, unless someone had gone by. He had a ranch foreman who lived on the property, keeping an eye on things when Deke was on the road or recording in Nashville, but he doubted the man would think of switching on lights.

The party finally wrapped up and those who lingered spilled into the parking lot. The band would ride the tour bus to Oklahoma City. Those who lived in Nashville had reservations at the Barron Hotel. They’d sleep during what was left of the night and fly home later in the day.

The roadies would break down the sets, instruments and sound systems, and leave the semitrucks and trailers in the secured storage yard where the local guys stored their vehicles during tours. That was where Deacon had left his pickup. He was ready to get home, even if the place would be dark and silent when he arrived.

“Mr. Tate!” The agitated yell disrupted his reverie; he and his three brothers all looked up. “Deacon!” The tour bus driver, Max, clarified. He was all but jumping up and down, alternating between waving and wringing his hands.

“Maxie? What’s going on?”

“I didn’t know what to do, Mr. T. I called the police and I was gettin’ ready to come inside to get you but I couldn’t leave it.”

“Calm down, Max. Police? Why would you—” Deke’s question was interrupted by a loud wail.

The driver pointed at a basket perched on the curving steps leading into the bus. “That’s why, Mr. T. I found a baby.”

* * *

Quincy Kincaid carefully sipped the hot coffee in her to-go cup. Five more hours until her shift change at 7:00 a.m. Her night had been quiet so far. A few speeders. Backing up a Cleveland County deputy on a domestic. She checked the dash clock on her Highway Patrol cruiser. Four hours, fifty-five minutes. And then she was off for three days before her next set of duty days, putting her that much closer to her vacation. Seventeen days, most of them spent far away from everyone. And one more item marked off her bucket list.

Aspen, Colorado, and Rocky Mountain high country, here she came. She’d saved up vacation time and money for this trip since she’d graduated from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol academy five years before. Five-star hotel. Beautiful scenery. Learning to ski. And Christmas far away from her family. She wasn’t a Scrooge. Christmas was okay. It was her family that drove her batty.

Another sip of coffee, and she discovered it was cool enough to drink without caution but still hot enough to be satisfying. Thunder River Truck Stop always had fresh coffee, no matter the time of day or night. She gazed toward the bright splash of LED lights just over a mile down the road. The casino, like the truck stop, was a 24-7-365 operation. She’d set up here earlier and had caught some speeders leaving the concert. Deacon Tate and the Sons of Nashville. The concert had sold out and she’d been lucky not to get roped into extra security duty at the casino. That had gone to the off-duty guys who wanted to pick up extra money for Christmas.

The only present she was buying this Christmas was for herself—the trip to Aspen, to stay in that five-star hotel through the holidays. No family—not that hers really cared. No responsibilities and woo-hoo for that. Just snow and pine trees and mountains and, if she was lucky, a hot guy to share drinks with while sitting in front of a roaring fire. Quin rolled her head on her neck and eased the tightness in her shoulders. Only four hours and forty—

“Adam-109.” The dispatcher’s voice crackled from her radio.


“Respond to Thunder River Casino. In the parking lot. Report of a found infant.”

She opened her mouth to respond when the import of the message filtered through her brain. “Say again, Dispatch.”

“Report of a found infant, Adam-109. Look for the Sons of Nashville tour bus.”


Seriously? A found baby? Who loses their baby? Oh, wait, she thought sarcastically. She was headed to a casino. People addicted to gambling did dumb things. Like losing their kids. Still, what did the band’s bus have to do with the situation? Good thing she was less than five minutes away. She’d be able to satisfy her curiosity quickly. Unable to resist, she hit her overhead emergency lights but without sirens. Traffic stopped on the highway to let her exit the truck stop and she gunned her engine.

The tour bus wasn’t hard to miss. It was one of those custom motor coaches that cost more than most people’s houses. Why people would call such a lavish vehicle a bus was beyond her comprehension. She’d worked event security a few times. Spoiled musicians and Hollywood people just irritated her.

She rolled up on the scene and notified Dispatch. Settling her Smokey Bear hat on her head, she stepped out of her cruiser, adjusted her weapons belt on her hips and strode toward the knot of people gathered around the open door of the motor coach.

A dark-haired woman was arguing with a tall man dressed like a cowboy holding a bundle in his arms. As Quin walked up, she overheard him say, “Forget it, Jolie. You can’t have her.”

Quin sighed. Was she walking into another domestic, only without backup this time?

“I just want to hold her,” the woman pleaded. “You let Cassie hold her. Besides, I’m a nurse. I should check her, make sure she’s okay.” The woman peered down at the bundle and cooed.

Someone dramatically cleared his throat and the entire group turned to look at Quin. She inhaled, set a stern expression on her face and trudged toward them. “I’m Trooper Kincaid,” she announced. “What’s going on here?”

Everyone started talking at once. Quin’s piercing whistle silenced them—all except the baby, who was now crying. The guy holding the infant shifted positions, patting its back as he sort of did this dip-and-sway thing with the kid on his shoulder. The wails turned to little sobs and after a hiccup, the baby cooed, settling its head against the cowboy’s chest.

“I’m Deacon Tate,” the cowboy explained.

Of course he was. Quin would have banged her head against the side of the bus if she’d been standing close enough. “Is that your baby, Mr. Tate?”

“Not exactly.”

“Care to explain?”

“Someone left her on my bus.”

“There was a note,” a beautiful blonde added helpfully.

“And Max found her,” a redhead explained.

An older man wearing a plaid flannel shirt covering a paunch that hung over his belt buckle offered a little wave. “I drive the bus,” he explained.

Quin closed her eyes. She hadn’t had enough caffeine to deal with groupies and good-ol’-boy bus drivers, much less stars too handsome for her taste. When she opened her eyes, no one had moved. She pointed at the driver as she pulled out a notebook and pen. “You. Tell me your full name and what happened?”

“Max, ma’am. Max Padilla. After the concerts, I hang around backstage until the after-party starts to break up. Then I come out and warm up the bus. It’s a diesel so it runs rough on cold nights if I don’t. Plus, I like to get the heat goin’ in the back so the guys are warm, you know?”

Holding on to her patience, Quin prompted, “The baby?”

“Well, yeah. I was gettin’ to that. So anyway, I came out to start the bus and there was the usual stuff stacked up around the door.”

“The usual stuff?”

“Yeah. Flowers and...” The man stared at his boots. Was he blushing? “And stuff that girls—fans—leave for Deacon and the boys.”

“Stuff. What kind of stuff?”

A guy who looked Asian leaned forward. “We get love notes and T-shirts and—”

“Bras and panties,” a younger version of Deacon Tate explained.

Why her? She was so close to end of shift. Quin made a pointed notation in her book: Stuff! She looked up, pretending Deacon didn’t steal her breath. “And?”

When Deacon’s younger clone opened his mouth, Deacon himself cut him off. “Shut up, Dillon. There was a basket tucked in with all the stuff.” He glanced through the bus doors, and Quin noticed a wicker basket for the first time. “Little Noelle here was inside all bundled up in blankets with her diaper bag.”

“You know her name?”

Another man, just as handsome as Deacon but with darker hair and eyes—because she’d just realized Deacon’s were blue—stepped closer, an envelope in his hand, and introduced himself. “I’m Chance Barron.”

That was a name she was familiar with. The Barron family attorney. Just jolly. Her night kept getting better and better. “And you are here why, Mr. Barron?”

“Deacon is my cousin. My wife, Cassie, and I were here for the concert.”

“I’m Jolie Barron,” the brunette added. “I’m an RN and I can check her over if my big goof of a cousin-in-law will give me a chance to hold her.”

So these were not groupies. Quin studied everyone in the group of people standing around. Tates and Barrons were easy to categorize. That left the motley crew likely making up Deacon’s band the Sons of Nashville. Yippee. She wondered if she could call this in and let Cleveland County handle it. As she mulled over that idea, another police vehicle rolled to a stop next to her cruiser. Chickasaw Tribal Police. The casino and surrounding area were technically tribal land. Maybe she’d just let them have it.

“The note that came in the basket states the child’s name is Noelle and that she belongs to Deacon,” Chance continued as the tribal cops approached.

She took the proffered piece of paper and read it before handing it to the nearest tribal officer. Quin arched a brow at the country music superstar. “How often does your...” She didn’t want to say “baby momma.” Considering who she was dealing with, she had to proceed cautiously. “Has this happened before? Your child being dropped off like this?”

“No.” Deacon’s voice was one step above a growl. The baby fussed and he automatically soothed her. “I’m not irresponsible, Trooper Kincaid. I don’t have any children.” He paused, then added, “That I know of.”

Quin glanced at the Chickasaw officers and one shrugged. “Unless she’s Indian, we don’t have jurisdiction. You’re state. Up to you to place her with DHS.”

The Department of Human Services—the foster care system. Quin knew what that was like. She’d been in the system as a kid. She was reluctant to sentence a baby to Child Protective Services but she didn’t have much choice. She keyed the portable radio mic clipped to her shoulder. “Adam-109, Dispatch. Notify DHS of an emergency pickup notice for an infant, my location.”

Dispatch’s response was drowned out by loud objections from the Tates and Barrons. One voice rose above all the rest.

“DHS can’t have her. According to the note, she’s mine.”

Two (#u2b75e558-cbc6-5eb7-8215-ea4157e80927)

What the heck was he thinking? Deke knew this baby wasn’t his. Or was she? He took precautions, though there was always a chance something might go wrong. Without knowing who the baby’s mother was, he wouldn’t be able to say for sure one way or the other. If he had any sense at all, he would hand her off to the female trooper—and why had he never noticed how sexy a woman in uniform could be? This one nipped at him like one of those yappy little ankle-biter dogs. He glanced at her, assessing the expression on her face. Okay, make that a Doberman.

Noelle cooed and rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. He always had been a sucker for little kids and the idea of this one going to strangers... He halted that thought because, okay, he was a stranger. But he wasn’t. Her mother had claimed he was the father and left the baby’s basket outside his bus for a reason.

Fatherhood. The idea was like that charity ice-bucket challenge—chilling but with warm fuzzies underneath for doing something good.

Hadn’t he spent the last hour contemplating family then going home to an empty house? A baby would complicate things but if Noelle was his, he’d step up and take care of her. Katherine Tate hadn’t raised her boys to shuck their responsibilities. He might be full-grown but his mom would take a strip out of his hide if he didn’t do the right thing.

Noelle cooed and his heart did a funny little lurch in his chest. The idea of being her father didn’t seem quite so alien now. He tested the word dad in his head. It didn’t freak him out—and it probably should have.

He glanced toward Chance, who shifted position so the trooper couldn’t see Deke. His cousin mouthed the words, Are you sure you want the baby? Deke stared into Chance’s eyes and nodded. Chance moved away from the group, phone pressed to his ear. Man, but it was nice to have a hotshot attorney right there. Things settled in his chest and he liked the feeling. He’d always wanted to be a dad, but at some nebulous point in the future. Maybe this was fate’s way of telling him the time was now. Taking on the care and feeding of baby Noelle was the right thing to do. Yeah, this was the right thing for him to do.

“Have you thought this through, Mr. Tate?” The cop was still glaring at him through narrowed eyes.

“I have, Trooper Kincaid.” He offered her the smile where his dimple peeked out. “Do you have a first name?”

“Yes. How are you going to take care of her?”

“What is it?” He’d like to take care of the trooper, for sure. The more he studied her, from her brown felt Smokey Bear hat to her shiny black roper boots, the more he felt that way.

“Are you avoiding my question, Mr. Tate?”

“No. What’s your name?”

“Persistent, aren’t you?”

“I am when I’m after something I want.”

She blinked a few times as she tucked her chin in and leaned away. He’d surprised her. Her light-colored eyes narrowed and her generous mouth thinned out as she pressed her lips together in a disapproving sneer.

“I told you my name. It’s Trooper Kincaid.”

“I’m Deacon, Troop, but my friends call me Deke.”

“I’m not your friend, Mr. Tate.”

“But you could be.”

She glanced around as if suddenly realizing they had an audience. He liked that he’d put her off balance. She hit him with a steely-eyed, no-nonsense glare. Deke was enjoying teasing her far too much.

“Mr. Tate. Please hand over—” Noelle wailed and the trooper looked panicked.

Deke patted the baby’s bottom. Yup. The kid was wet. “I do believe she needs a diaper change.” He turned for the bus.

Jolie stepped forward wearing what he called her stern-mother face. “I’ll take the baby inside to change her.”

As a guy, Deke should have turned over the task automatically, but he suddenly found himself oddly protective and...possessive of the baby. “I’m perfectly capable of changing a wet diaper, Jolie. Not the first time I’ve done it.” He glanced at Cash and Dillon. “You two certainly gave me enough practice when I got stuck with babysitting duty.”

Before Jolie—or anyone else—could argue, Deke snagged the basket, which still held the diaper bag, and climbed the curving stairs into the main living space of the coach. There were two captain chairs—one for the driver, the other for a copilot—just beyond the door.

Inside, leather couches the color of pewter flanked an eating area with a table and two benches next to the kitchenette. The walls were tiger-eye maple. The counters and tables were topped in granite veined with a handful of colors ranging from black to rusty pink to white. Deke dropped the basket and bag on the couch next to the table.

He heard someone clomping up the steps behind him. Without turning around, he knew who had followed him. “Have a seat, Troop. I’ll be right back.” He paused before heading to the back of the bus, again giving her the once-over. Her tan slacks were tailored to fit and not even the bulletproof vest beneath the dark brown uniform shirt could contain her curves. She’d slicked back her hair under the Smokey Bear hat and he couldn’t tell the color, but thought it was blond or light brown. He really wanted to see the color of her eyes but the hat brim kept them shaded.

Trooper Kincaid wasn’t the type of woman who usually caught his attention. Groupies knew the rules, played the game. Maybe he was intrigued because she was something different. Her stern authority didn’t fit in his world, but there was some undefined something that drew him. He’d have to think about why later. First things first.

“Dig around in the bag for wipes, a fresh diaper and something to change her into, will ya? This onesie is wet now.”

* * *

“This onesie is wet now?” Quin muttered as she bent over the couch and opened the diaper bag. “How does the man even know what a onesie is?” By the time he got back with several towels to pad the table, she’d found the items he requested. She noticed the wet spot on his chest. That explained the need for a clothing change but she was still mystified as to how he knew what the garment was called. She watched as he got to work, fascinated despite her best intentions.

This guy had bad boy written all over him. Now that she could see him in decent lighting, his sheer male magnetism hit her like a tackle from a Dallas Cowboys linebacker. He was undeniably handsome, with thick brown hair that fell around his high cheekbones and sculpted jaw. Five-o’clock shadow added a rugged layer to his face. Wide-set blue eyes held a twinkle that reminded her of a star-sapphire ring she once had. His black Western shirt and leather jeans fit him far too thoroughly for the welfare of the general female population. Herself included.

His fingers were long and dexterous, as would befit a guitarist, and he deftly changed the baby’s diaper and clothing. He wore a leather thong around his neck and Noelle snagged it in one chubby hand. Deacon laughed and cooed at her, like he did this all the time. For all Quin knew, he might.

She tried to sift a bio for him out of her crowded brain. Not that she was a big watcher of entertainment gossip shows. Still, Barrons and Tates were often covered in the local news, but she couldn’t recall hearing that he was married—or ever had been.

“Did you find any bottles in the bag? Or a can of formula or something?”

Lost in her musings, she startled at the sound of his voice. Luckily, he was still concentrating on the baby so he hadn’t noticed she’d been staring at his butt this whole time. “Oh, yes. There are a couple of full bottles. Not sure what’s in them.”

He glanced her way, and that killer smile with a side of dimple guaranteed to dampen groupies’ panties appeared. Quin refused to let it work on her. Much. She curled her fingers against her palms because they itched to push his hair back off his face and then tangle in the thick waves. His gaze focused on her mouth and she couldn’t stop her quick inhalation, nor could she keep her chest from swelling and pushing against the rigid bulk of her bulletproof vest. This man was lethal and she needed to remember that.

He held out his hand and she passed one of the bottles to him. Deacon twisted off the lid, sniffed and then dipped his finger in to taste, which was such a guy thing to do. “Formula. I think. Let’s pop it in the microwave for about fifteen seconds. We don’t want it too hot.” He caught her gaze on him, and the stars in his sapphire eyes blazed. “The formula, that is.”

Quin just managed to avoid rolling her eyes. She wasn’t some teenage fangirl fawning over the magnificent Deacon Tate. She retrieved the bottle from him and dumped it in the sink. “I’ll make fresh.” She snagged a can with a baby on the label and read the instructions. She pretended the whole time that her fingers hadn’t tingled when they touched his skin. That her nose hadn’t gotten a whiff of clean sweat and a scent deeper and more primal when she handed the bottle back to him. He settled on the couch.

Opting for discretion over valor because her body was fomenting mutiny, she retreated across the bus and sat on the matching couch to watch. She still couldn’t get over how proficiently this guy handled the baby.

“You said you don’t have kids?” she finally asked, removing her hat.

His gaze was sharp as he looked up. “Kinda hard to have kids without a wife.”

That didn’t stop a lot of celebrities but she didn’t point that out. “Then how are you so good with the baby?”

He paused to burp the infant then cuddled her back in one arm with the bottle in her mouth. Quin attempted to read the expression on Deacon’s face. She found a sweetness there that was almost as surprising as his competence.

“Only child?”

“Excuse me?”

“Not a hard question, Troop.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Then tell me your first name.”

Quin refused to throw her hands up in a fit of frustration. “Fine. Not that it’s any of your business, but it’s Quincy.”

“Did you hear that, Noelle? Her name is Quincy.”

The baby cooed, and Quin discovered she was grinning rather stupidly. She wiped that expression off her face and leaned forward so she could breathe a little easier in her vest. “And to answer your question, I’m not an only child. I have four older brothers.”

Deacon peeked up at her from under lashes far too long and lush for a man exuding as much testosterone as this one did. “Ah, the baby in the family. I’m the middle and got stuck with baby duty, especially with Dillon. He was a late surprise for Mom and Dad.”

She glanced out the tinted window behind her. “Dillon is in your band?”


“Was he serious?”

“About what?”

“The...stuff?” She wanted to bite her tongue. She didn’t care if overenthusiastic fans embarrassed themselves by leaving underwear in tribute to the band. Nor did she care if maybe some of the owners of said lingerie ended up in the bedroom or one of the curtained bunks she could see when she glanced toward the back of the bus.

He laughed and set the bottle on the table. Shifting the baby to his shoulder, he patted her back until she burped again. Deacon checked her diaper, settled her back in the crook of his arm and gazed at Quin. “Yeah, he was serious. We get stuff like that thrown on stage sometimes, too. Goes with the gig.”

She couldn’t decide if he was being this nonchalant because he was so egotistical that he figured the thongs and stuff were his due or because he didn’t care. Time was passing and Quin needed to get things wrapped up. “Is she really yours?”


“The baby,” she said pointedly.

He studied her face and she flushed for no reason she understood. He broke their staring match first by peering down at the sleeping infant. That soft expression washed over his features again, and she wondered where the feelings came from. Maybe Noelle really was his. Her chest burned at the thought, and she didn’t quite know how to handle the feeling. To cover it up, she asked again, “Is the baby yours, Mr. Tate?”

Before he answered her question, the sound of booted feet stomping up the steps drew their attention to the front of the bus. Chance Barron’s gaze bounced between her and Deacon before he announced, “She is until you find her mother, Trooper Kincaid, and we clear things up.”

Three (#u2b75e558-cbc6-5eb7-8215-ea4157e80927)

Deke didn’t know whether to high-five his cousin or panic. Was his ego overriding his common sense on the outside chance Noelle was his? Babies were hard. He knew that, but while he didn’t quite understand his attraction to the gruff cop, he was adamant about keeping the baby close until he knew definitively who the father was. Noelle was a cute little thing and deserved something more than becoming a ward of the state.

So yeah, he’d score this one for the good guys. Not that Quincy Kincaid was a bad guy. She wasn’t a guy in any way, shape or form. She’d pushed to her feet when Chance came in. With her back to Deke, he could tell the hair twisted into a tight knot at the base of her neck was blond.

His blood warmed. There was something about the nape of a woman’s neck that really stirred him up. Some men liked breasts, some a sweetly rounded butt. Him? The arch of a woman’s neck and the lines of her back. He loved kissing his way down from the spot where a woman’s hair met skin on her nape, across soft shoulders and down the valley of her spine. Shifting uncomfortably, he jerked his thoughts away from Quincy the woman to focus on Quincy the cop.

“I don’t think you understand the situation, Mr. Barron. A Child Protection worker from DHS will be here shortly. Under the law, Mr. Tate has to relinquish custody. He has no proof the child is his.”

“You’re the one who doesn’t understand, Trooper Kincaid.” Chance stepped toward her, his phone held out. “I’ll have the paper version of this court order here very likely before your DHS representative arrives.”

Deacon exchanged a relieved look with his cousin while Quincy scanned the document on Chance’s phone.

“Who can call a judge at three thirty in the morning and get a custody order signed?” she muttered. Inhaling in an obvious—to him anyway—effort to control her frustration, she passed the phone back to Chance. She added, more loudly, “We’ll all just sit right here until DHS and your paperwork arrive. In the meantime, Mr. Tate—”

“Deke,” he insisted.

“Mr. Tate.” She arched one brow and glowered. “In the meantime, you can explain to me how you, a single man, plan to care for a baby girl. I seriously doubt this bus contains a nursery.”

“Considering I’m headed home as soon as we settle things, it doesn’t matter if it does or not.”

He watched her pull in her chin, crinkle her forehead and scowl at him. Deke was just contrary enough to enjoy the heck out of putting that expression on her face.

“So, you have a nursery set up at your home? Which is where, by the way? You can’t take the baby back to Nashville.”

“Home is a ranch about an hour’s drive from here. And I admit I don’t exactly have a nursery.”

“Yet,” Chance interjected. “Cassie, Jolie and Roxie have gone shopping. You will have everything you need by the time we get this worked out.”

“Wait until Mom hears about this.” Deke all but chortled. His mother was huge on family and none of her wayward sons had provided her with a grandchild. None of them was married. As a result, she doted on Cord and Jolie’s little boy, CJ.

Quin favored Chance and him with her scowl. She’d been outfoxed and her expression indicated she knew it. She stepped back as Chance approached him but he could see the wheels turning. She hadn’t surrendered. Yet. And wouldn’t it be sweet when she did.

Chance murmured in his ear, “Won’t be anything fancy. They went to the all-night supercenter.” He glanced down at the baby and got a goofy look on his face. Deke choked back a laugh. If Noelle stayed in the family for very long, he predicted a Barron baby boom by next autumn.

Pulling back mentally, Deke considered what he’d just thought. He wasn’t as freaked out by the notion of keeping Noelle in the family as he probably should be. That idea was all sorts of wrong. He toured. A lot. Only coming home when he could. He could hire a nanny, keep Noelle on the road with him. Or leave her at home with a nanny... Nope. He didn’t like that idea at all. He did like the idea of having a loving wife and family—no matter where he was. Only that idea was all sorts of wrong, too.

Wow. He knew that the magic baby smell worked on testosterone as easily as it did on estrogen, but it was supposed to have the opposite effect. Women were supposed to go all weird and want babies. Not men. So why was he going all mushy where the kid was concerned? Deke was honest enough to admit his head space had been strange all night long. And then he was hit with the possibility that he had a kid. He’d been blindsided, but he’d also responded viscerally to the idea. It was growing on him.

He barely noticed Chance leave as he stared down at the baby in his arms. The little imp had obviously bewitched him. He’d never lacked for female companionship, and until his rather maudlin reflections of earlier, being tied down with a wife and family was a foreign concept. Maybe his cousins’ happiness was rubbing off on him. Maybe he just needed something more than a one-night stand. Maybe he’d get lucky with the very luscious Trooper Quincy Kincaid. Maybe she’d even wear her Smokey Bear hat.

Noelle whimpered in her sleep, reminding him of what was at stake here. Deep down, he knew that as soon as the baby’s mother was located—and his family had the resources to find her—the situation would be straightened out. When it was, he’d get back to life as normal—a life full of long-legged cowgirls in Daisy Dukes while touring, then going home and sitting on his front porch with a cold beer and his guitar for company.

Quin’s voice interrupted his reverie. “I don’t believe for a minute you are naive enough to believe that baby is yours.”

With one hand, he grabbed the basket and moved it closer. With profound gentleness, he transferred the little girl into it. She stayed asleep. After tucking a crocheted blanket around her, he brushed the tip of his index finger through her wispy gold baby hair.

The sexy cop standing a few feet away kept pinging his radar. She’d been gruff and in-your-face about Noelle, and he wanted to know what made her tick. They had some time to kill. He’d watched out the window as his brothers and Cash Barron organized rides and shipped almost everyone off.

Deke wanted to satisfy his curiosity about Trooper Kincaid and whether she was as aloof—and as immune to him—as she pretended to be. He watched her from under half-lidded eyes, not missing a detail. Shoulders back, feet apart, knees slightly bent, hand on the butt of her pistol. She looked like she was getting ready for a fight.

“Do I make you nervous?” he drawled.

* * *

Quin refused to retreat a step, though her common sense insisted it was the smart thing to do. Instead, she stood her ground. She was the trained law-enforcement officer here. She was in charge. Keeping her stance aggressive but controlled, she jutted her chin toward him and leaned ever so slightly in his direction.

“Absolutely not.” Then she realized her hand was on the butt of her sidearm. Oops. With conscious effort, she loosened her grip and hooked her thumb in her belt. She’d be cool, calm, efficient, with a detached sense of control. She could send out those vibes. Absolutely. Because this man did not make her think of kissing those full lips of his even if she was wondering whether they were soft or firm. No. She would not go there.

She was a professional. On duty. She didn’t have time to picture running her fingers through that messy hair of his. Or—or... Her gaze rose from his mouth, quirking up at the corners as it was, to meet his eyes. They really were the soft blue of a star sapphire. She curled her fingers against her belt. Would the stubble on his face be rough, or as soft as his hair looked?

“Darlin’, you really shouldn’t look at a man that way.” His gruff voice was both a caress and a wake-up call.

Quin barely controlled a full-body shudder. She needed to think of ice baths and blizzards. Snow and ski slopes. Invigorating high mountain air. Not warm. Not sexy. She took that step back, both physically and mentally. He laughed, and the sound was dark and warm like fudge brownies just out of the oven. Her mouth watered.

Coffee. She needed coffee. And fresh air. Like right this minute. She squared her shoulders and glanced at her watch: 4:18 a.m. Despite Quin’s hoping otherwise, the DHS worker likely wouldn’t arrive until after sunup.

“It appears we will be here a while, Mr.—”


“Tate. Is there any chance you have coffee hiding somewhere in this place?”

He chuckled, and she didn’t like the way his eyes crinkled at the corners. No. She didn’t like that at all.

“I’ll see what I can scare up.” He turned away from her and she realized she needed what cops laughingly called a 10-100.

“I also...” She did not want to ask, especially when he turned around, leaned up against the counter by bracing his hips against it and looked at her.

“You also...?” He did that smile-and-dimple thing again.

“May I use your facilities?”

“My...” His eyes twinkled and she could tell he was fighting laughter. The big jerk. “Bathroom is that way.”

“Thank you,” she acknowledged stiffly. Marching past him, she made note of the six curtained bunks lining the hall between the living space and the bedroom she could see at the rear.

Just past the bunk area, through a wooden door, she walked into a bathroom that made the one in her condo look like it belonged in a cheap motel. There was a huge glassed-in shower, a marble countertop with sink and full-sized commode. It was luxurious. She closed the door for privacy.

When she was done, she washed her hands and let her curiosity get the best of her. She poked her head into the bedroom. The queen-size bed appeared to be on a platform. It was higher off the floor than she’d first thought. A pewter-colored comforter looked warm and inviting. Then she stopped to wonder how many women had been in that bed. Time to make a right turn into the sanity lane.

A chair sat in one corner. A guitar occupied a metal stand and there was a microphone in its own stand on the opposite side of the chair. Did he record back here? There was a computer setup on the nearby desk.

Quin heard a throat clearing behind her and she whirled. Her face flaming, she met Deacon’s amused gaze without blinking.

“See anything you like, darlin’?”

“Uh...no. Not at all. I was curious to see how the other half lives. That’s all.”

“Sure.” That twinkle in Deacon’s eyes had turned to a hard glitter. He stalked toward her.

Self-preservation made her back up, taking one step for each of his. The backs of her legs smacked into the bed and she almost went down—would have hit the mattress if Deacon hadn’t reached out and grabbed her arm.

All but panting, Quin forced herself to calm down. She was embarrassed at being caught. She truly hadn’t meant to snoop. Much. And then there was the proximity of Deacon—with his dark good looks, the smoldering gleam in his eyes and that mouth. She couldn’t help staring at it.

“You’re starin’ again.”

She gulped. Jerking her eyes upward, she attempted to inhale around the catch in her chest. It just wasn’t fair to women that one man could be this...everything a man was supposed to be. “Oh. Uh...the coffee?”

“It’s ready.”

“Oh, good. Great. Yes, thanks. Thank you. Very much.” She eased past him and fled toward the living area. She almost stumbled when Deacon called after her, his voice gruff, which invited all sorts of sexy thoughts.

“We’re not done, Trooper Kincaid. Not by a long shot.”

Four (#u2b75e558-cbc6-5eb7-8215-ea4157e80927)

Deacon fell into bed just before 7:00 a.m. While he appreciated all the help from the Barron wives—or the Bee Dubyas as his brothers called them—they’d exhausted him and Noelle. The baby had been passed around so much she was wailing before he could convince them to go home. It helped that he’d sent out a group text to their husbands to come get them.

But they’d worked some serious magic on short notice. He’d come home to a functional nursery, courtesy of the chain store that was open 24/7. His home was now filled with bottles, diapers, formulas and more clothes than a kid needed in the short term. The crib and playpen thingy were up and ready—not that any of the women put Noelle down long enough for the baby to use them. They’d also set up a baby monitor. As tired as he was, that was a good thing.

Noelle took thirty minutes to calm down. He’d put her in the crib then sat next to it, stroking her gently and singing to her until she fell asleep. Deke had fond memories of singing Dillon to sleep and he sometimes wondered if that was why they both ended up in the music business. In the end, Noelle had been clutching his finger as her eyes drifted shut and her breathing turned into little puffs. He was in desperate need of at least a couple of hours of sleep. Then he’d deal with the curveball life had thrown him—and the intriguing Highway Patrol trooper he’d left in the Thunder River Casino parking lot as she attempted to placate the DHS caseworker.

* * *

Bacon. Deacon inhaled deeply. That was bacon he was smelling. And biscuits. What the...? He jumped out of bed and stumbled toward the kitchen. He was halfway down the hallway when his brain caught up with his body. The baby-monitor receiver on his bedside table had been turned off. He backtracked to the baby’s room and looked in. Noelle was sleeping soundly.

By the time he reached the kitchen, he’d corralled the panic and was mostly coherent. Until he recognized the woman standing at his stove. He should have known she’d come as soon as word leaked out.

“Mom, why are you in my kitchen?”

She leveled him with a look insinuating he was both not too bright and maybe not her son as a result of that fact.

“Beyond the obvious, Mom.”

She poured him a cup of coffee and placed it on the island. He hitched his butt onto one of the bar stools and gratefully accepted her peace offering.

“Your brothers and cousins are in quite the tizzy, son.”

Okay. Son was better than his full name, but not by much. “It was a crazy night, Mom.”

“Uh-huh.” She flipped the strips of bacon in the cast-iron frying pan.

“It was late, Mom. Or early, depending on which side of dawn you went to bed.”


“Cut me some slack here.”

“Don’t get snippy, Deacon. Is she yours?”

He studied the steam rising from his mug. “You’ve seen her.”


“What do you think?”

“I think she’s a darlin’ little girl that somebody—preferably her parents—should love beyond all things.”

“We’re doing the swabs for the test this afternoon. Chance says it’ll take about three weeks. While it’s possible, I’m not sure she’s mine.”

“I figured, sugar. She could be, but I don’t think she is, either. As disappointing as that is.”

“Mo-o-o-o-m,” he warned by stretching out the word.

“None of you are married, Deke, so I am not advocating any of you rush out and find...what’s the term you young people use? Baby momma? No baby mommas. Your daddy and I raised you boys to be honorable men, to do the right thing. You’ll find the right girl, marry her and then have babies. Until we get the paternity-test results, the baby needs looking after. We’ll hope her momma decides to come back. ’Course, if she’s yours, she’s ours. But that’s a whole different situation. On the chance she is yours, we’ll look after her.”

Deke slid off the stool, walked around the island to his mom and kissed her on the cheek. “Yeah, we will. So...is that why you decided to come over and fix breakfast for me?” He noted the pile of bacon and sausage patties, the cartons of eggs and the huge pan of homemade biscuits baking in the oven.

“I suspect the locusts will descend soon enough. You know how crazy the family went over Cord’s little CJ. Noelle is a baby. That just trips switches like you wouldn’t believe.”

Except he would, because seeing the baby, hearing her cry and holding her? Yup, every last one of his switches had been tripped. “She might not be mine, Mom.”

“If she isn’t, what happens if her momma doesn’t come back?”

And that was the elephant in the room, wasn’t it? “I truly don’t know.”

“What’s your gut say?”

“I brought her home, Mom. No way was I letting her go into the system. But to make a commitment lasting the rest of my life?” He stared out the window over the sink. The note claimed he was Noelle’s father. Why didn’t the mother confront him? Ask for support? Why hadn’t she contacted him before the baby was born? So many questions and no answers. At least not until the DNA test. If the baby wasn’t his and they didn’t locate her mother, he had no clue what he’d do. “I just don’t know, Mom.”

“You were always my homebody, Deke. At least until you picked up a guitar. If you weren’t out there singin’ for your supper every night, you’d be right here with a sweet woman making babies for me to spoil.”

He splorted coffee through his nose. She clapped him on the back, pounding a little harder than necessary, and passed him a dish towel to wipe up the mess he’d made.

“Mom, you do remember that I’m the one who took three different girls to prom. The same prom.”

She scowled at him. “I’m not likely to forget. You were a sophomore and they were seniors.”

Deacon coughed behind the towel. He’d also escorted two seniors his junior year, and another three his senior year. Going steady was a foreign concept to him. Heck, the likelihood of his dating a woman more than a couple of times in a row ranked right up there with the Cubs winning the World Series. He’d had one relationship with another country singer that was sort of exclusive and it had ended amicably with both parties going their separate ways. One gossip columnist had labeled him a serial dater. He enjoyed all sorts of women and sex was just gravy.

His mom pointed her finger at him. If there was one deadly thing about Katherine Barron Tate, it was when she brought her “mother finger” to bear on her unruly sons.

Luckily, her lecture was interrupted by a perfunctory knock on the front door followed by the entrance of his older brother, Cooper.

“I smell food!” His brother paused at the door to kick off his muddy boots. “Sorry I missed the concert, little bro. We had a situation on one of the wells last night.” Cooper worked with Cord Barron at BarEx, the oil-and-gas exploration-and-energy corporation controlled by the Barrons.

Coop padded into the kitchen and kissed their mother on the cheek. “Mornin’, Momma. Sure could use a cup of coffee.”

“Is your arm broken? You know where the mugs are kept and the pot is right there staring you in the face.”

Laughing, Cooper made himself at home. This was the way of the Tates. There were times Deke wished for boundaries but his big, boisterous family refused to acknowledge them. Before his mother finished the bacon and started a batch of scrambled eggs with onions and peppers, along with home fries, his younger brothers, Bridger and Dillon, had tromped in. The rest of his brothers were likely out of town—Hunter and Boone working with Senator Clay Barron in Washington, DC, and Tucker out in Las Vegas with Chase Barron.

Dillon set the big farm-style table without being asked while Bridger stirred the gravy. Cooper had ducked out to grab a shower, seeing as he was covered in dirt and grease. When he returned, he was wearing a pair of Deacon’s jeans and a Sons of Nashville concert sweatshirt.

Noelle’s whimper echoed from the baby monitor on the counter, and Deke led the charge. Halfway down the hallway, he turned to glower, noting how his mother and Dillon hadn’t followed. He grinned evilly. “Coop, you and Bridge go grab her. I’ll get her bottle ready.” At their eager nods of agreement, he began to head back to the kitchen, then added, “Oh, she’ll need a fresh diaper.”

Then he ran, laughing. But between the two of them, they got Noelle sorted out and appeared with her several minutes later in the kitchen. His mother took over the care and feeding of the baby while her “boys” ate their breakfast.

* * *

Quin was supposed to be starting her days off. She’d hit Troop A’s headquarters building an hour after her shift change. She’d spent another hour filling out her report and filing it so the information would go up the chain. Whatever was to be done about baby Noelle “Doe” and Deacon Tate was above her pay grade.

Sneaking out the back door after stuffing the report in her supervisor’s in-box, she wanted only home, a hot shower, a protein shake and bed. In that order. And when she woke up, she’d have shopping to do. Housecleaning. Laundry. All the mundane things that normal people did on their days off.

Two hours after she’d arrived home, her supervisor called, jerking her from a sound sleep. She was to report for duty as soon as she could get to Troop A headquarters.


Here she was, rapping her knuckles on the lieutenant’s office door and peeking in through the glass window. He was on the phone but he crooked two fingers and gestured for her to enter. Quin slipped inside and sank onto a chair.

Lieutenant Charles had one of the best poker faces in the Department of Public Safety. As hard as she tried, Quin couldn’t get a read on the conversation or who he was talking to, until he ended the call. “Of course, Governor. Whatever we can do to assist.”

Her brain went down all sorts of rabbit holes. The governor had lots of reasons to be calling the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, but direct contact with her supervisor at Troop A? It wasn’t like he was in the chain of command at the state level. Not that she was paranoid or anything, but after last night, the idea of a political target located between her shoulder blades didn’t seem all that far-fetched.

The lieutenant’s opening salvo just confirmed her suspicions. “So, you had quite the Friday night.”

“You have my report, sir.”

“Ease down, Kincaid. Yes. I have your report. And multiple calls from the governor on down.” His dry chuckle did little to settle her nerves. “The decision has been made to take you off regular patrol—” He held up his hand, palm facing her to stay the retort she’d opened her mouth to make. “Priorities, Kincaid. And this case is now yours. You’ll be the DPS liaison with all the other law-enforcement entities involved. Basically, you’re heading up a task force to locate the baby’s biological mother, to expedite the investigation and to act as the bridge between law enforcement and Deacon Tate.”

“Bridge? What does that mean?”

“That means you are to stay on top of him—”

Quin all but sputtered as her mind went places it had no business going, and all her feminine parts perked right up at the thought.

“And this investigation. You’ll work in conjunction with Child Protective Services from the Department of Human Services. The assigned CPS social worker will contact you. There is to be no direct contact with Mr. Tate unless you are present.”

The cop side of her brain finally overrode the rest. “Wait. What does that mean, exactly?”

“What it means—exactly—is that you need to work closely with Mr. Tate. He is not to be disturbed by CPS or any law-enforcement agency involved in this investigation. You’re point, Kincaid. You take any questions directly to him.”

Quin stared, working hard to keep her mouth from gaping. She finally uttered, “Are you kidding me?”

“This is not something to kid about.”


“No buts.”

“Yes, there is a but, sir. I’m scheduled for vacation time next month.”

“Then you better get busy and find the mother, determine if Mr. Tate is the biological father and round up any other pertinent information.”

She sat there, staring, her brain emitting nothing but white noise as it tried to wrap itself around the situation.

“Dismissed, Kincaid.”

Quin rose, pivoted and headed for the door. The lieutenant’s voice stopped her just as her hand touched the knob.

“FYI, Kincaid. No leaks. If any information beyond what DPS releases about this investigation gets out, it’s all on your head.”

Her mouth felt numb, just like her semicoherent brain, but she muttered, “Yes, sir,” then exited. But the lieutenant still wasn’t done.

“You need to get out to Mr. Tate’s ranch and talk to him, Kincaid. Welfare check on the baby and all that. ASAP.”

Oh, whoop-de-do. She had plans for today and none of them included driving to Timbuktu to deal with a spoiled star. Except there was a baby involved and seriously, what single guy was truly capable of 24/7 child care?

First, she had to locate directions. Then she’d just drop in on the man himself. And give him a piece of her mind.

Five (#u2b75e558-cbc6-5eb7-8215-ea4157e80927)

When Quin pulled up in front of Deacon Tate’s gorgeous log home, she found a driveway full of vehicles. She parked at the end of the line and trudged past a dark-colored Dodge Challenger. She noted the manufacturer’s badges. It was an SRT Hellcat HEMI muscle car—a model that cost almost as much as she made in a year.

The next vehicle was far less flashy—a black Ford Expedition, platinum edition. A white four-wheel-drive Ford F-250 pickup with the emblem for Barron Exploration plastered on the door was parked close to the walkway leading to the front door. Next to it was a Lexus LX 570, its metallic pearl-white paint almost blinding in the bright winter sun.

So much for confronting Tate alone. Quin marched up the fieldstone walkway and stopped at the double-wide wooden doors. She looked but couldn’t find a doorbell, nor was there a door knocker—just a numeric keypad. Using the heel of her fist, she banged on the door.

A muffled voice called from inside. She pounded the door again. And waited. She had her hand on the handle when the door was jerked open. Off balance, she fell into a hard body. Muscular arms gripped Quin’s waist, steadying her. Heat spread from strong fingers, radiating through her Kevlar vest to tease her skin.

She looked up into a pair of star-sapphire eyes and got a little lost in their mysterious depths.

“Don’t just stand there, Deacon,” a woman’s voice ordered. “Let the poor girl in.”

“Certainly.” A boyish grin teased his mouth, and Quin’s heart did a funny little flutter kick. “Please come in, Trooper Kincaid. We were just having breakfast. Are you hungry?”

She was so focused on his mouth that her brain went to the one place she didn’t want it to go. She blinked to break the spell he’d cast. Quin once again considered the effect this man had on his female fans, and she frowned at the thought of the lingerie collection he and his bandmates probably laughed about.


“I’m not hungry.”

“Of course you are, hon. Come on in and sit. I’ll get you a plate.” The feminine voice came from inside the house and wasn’t asking.

Quin watched Deacon walk through the large open living area toward a fabulous kitchen. Like the rest of the house, it looked as if it should be the centerfold in a decorating magazine.

“Don’t dawdle, hon. Food’s gettin’ cold.”

As Quin trailed in Deacon’s wake, she studied the other people gathered around a granite island that looked big enough to land a small plane on. There were three men, two of whom she recognized from the previous night, and an older woman. The family resemblance was strong.

Deacon stopped at one of the bar stools and pulled it out for her. She settled on it and a plate heaped with bacon, sausages and eggs appeared in front of her. Deacon snagged flatware and a napkin—cloth—for her use.

“Share the biscuits and gravy, Cooper,” the woman said. “I’m Katherine Tate. I take it you’ve met my sons Deacon and Dillon. These are two of my other sons, Cooper and Bridger. Coffee or something else t’drink?”

Her head was spinning a little. “Oh, coffee, please.”

“Cream or sugar?”

She glanced at the oldest of the men present, though he wasn’t old. Quin guessed him to be in his midthirties. “A little sugar, please, and vanilla creamer if you have it.” She offered a tight smile to the men’s mother. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Tate. I’m Quincy Kincaid. I’ve been assigned by OHP as liaison on this case.”

Katherine’s eyes narrowed. “Case? This isn’t a case, Miz Kincaid. This is a little girl. Who has a name.” At that moment, a soft mewl issued from a soft-sided criblike thing Quin hadn’t noticed upon her arrival. “I’ll get the baby, Deacon. Finish your breakfast before it gets cold. And take your hat off, Miz Kincaid.”

Quin removed her hat and set it on the stool next to her. Ignoring the stares from Deacon’s brothers, she concentrated on the food in front of her. She forked eggs into her mouth and chewed carefully. The silence filling the room was so thick she could have been wearing earplugs. She couldn’t even hear the four men breathing and that was saying something.

The stalemate broke when Katherine Tate returned, the baby slung easily on one hip. Quin supposed that after seven sons, Mrs. Tate would have had lots of practice with infants. Transfixed, she watched as Deacon’s mother did a sort of slinking, rocking walk toward them. The woman was suddenly right there standing between her and Deacon.

“Here.” Mrs. Tate thrust the baby forward and Quin braced for it, figuring she was meant to be the recipient. But Deacon’s mom passed Noelle to him. Feeling idiotic, Quin let her arms fall to her sides and swiveled to stare at her plate.

“She’s clean. I’ll fix her another bottle but you feed her this time. Eat fast.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Deke muttered around a mouthful of biscuit.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

“Yes, ma’am.” This time his voice was clear, his mouth empty.

Quin was fascinated. These men were all adults—well, all but Dillon maybe. He looked like a big man-child and she suspected that since he was the baby, he got away with everything. But it didn’t matter that they were grown and held impressive jobs; this woman owned them. Then again, it was rather cute the way they got all goofy and treated her with respect. They weren’t like Quin’s brothers in any way, shape or form. Then again, she and her siblings hadn’t grown up in the lap of luxury like the Tates.

Deacon scraped the last bite of eggs and potatoes off his plate, chewed vigorously and swallowed. She couldn’t take her eyes off his mouth or his throat. And she was impressed by the way he had the baby propped up on his lap and was holding her so confidently in the crook of his left arm.

Mrs. Tate handed the bottle and a clean dish towel to Deacon. “I’ll clear your plate. Go feed our little girl.”

“You sure you don’t wanna feed her, Mom?”

The woman looked aghast and wagged her index finger in his direction. “I only fed her this mornin’ because you hadn’t had your coffee, Deacon. I did my time with the seven of you. You’re on your own now.”

Quin stiffened when she realized Mrs. Tate was staring at her, the look in the older woman’s eyes speculative. She slid off the stool and picked up her plate to carry it...somewhere. The sink?

“Just leave it, hon. Coop and Bridge are on dish duty.”

The two brothers groaned but it was a good-natured sound, and Dillon gloated. His mother pointed at him. “You need to go get the trash in the nursery and take it out.”

“Aw, Mom,” Dillon protested.

She leveled a look at him that made Quin straighten her spine and bite her tongue to keep from offering to do it just so the woman would stop glaring.

“Quin?” Deacon called to her.

Whew. A reprieve. She hurried into the great room and stood near the large leather chair Deacon occupied. Noelle was draining her bottle with vigorous sucking noises. This was Quin’s chance to tell him what was going to happen and then leave. “Do you have a moment to talk? We have to get some things straight.”

He arched a brow and nodded toward the end of the couch nearest his chair. “So talk.”

Quin settled herself on the couch, cognizant of being the focus of attention—everyone’s attention. “As I mentioned when I arrived, I’m the law-enforcement liaison in this case. We’ve started the investigation into the baby’s circumstances. Once we locate the mother—”

“Do you think you will?”

“Will what?”

Deacon glanced down to hide his grin. He enjoyed knocking the stodgy trooper off balance. She had a script and every time he threw her off, she got flustered. He liked the color in her cheeks and the snap of blue fire in her eyes when she got angry.

“Find Noelle’s mother.”

“Of course we will. It’s just a matter of time. Then DHS will do an evaluation and a determination will be made taking into account the results of the paternity test.”

“You think she’s unfit because she left Noelle with me.” Okay, maybe he shouldn’t have sounded so accusatory but something in Quin’s tone rankled.

“That’s not up to me to decide.”

“But you have.”

“Look, Mr. Tate—”


“Mr. Tate.” She glowered. “The woman left her baby out in the cold next to your tour bus claiming you are the father.” She studied him through narrow eyes. “Though there might be a possibility you’re the father, pending the test results, we just don’t know. What I don’t understand is why a single man, and a—a...” She waved one hand and bit out the next words like they tasted bitter. “A rich superstar would insist on accepting custody of a baby that might not be his.”

Noelle started sucking air. Deke pulled the empty bottle away, settled her on his shoulder and patted her back until she burped loudly. He pushed out of the chair and stared down at Quin. “It appears that Noelle’s mother knows me better than you do.”

Cuddling the infant against his shoulder, Deke walked to the kitchen and settled on the bar stool he’d vacated earlier. Noelle was cooing and nuzzling against his neck. He was ticked off at Quin and her preconceived notions. What she thought she knew about him was obviously gleaned from scandal rags and cheesy entertainment shows on TV. He should just ignore the irritation but something inside him really wanted this woman to like him.

Yeah, fat chance of that.

His mother brushed past him, pausing a moment to whisk hair out of his eyes, the gesture both oddly endearing and annoying. He watched her roost on the couch next to Quin, looking every inch a Southern matriarch. His mom wore jeans, Western boots and a turtleneck sweater, but from her demeanor, she might as well have been wearing a designer dress and pearls.

The two women began to converse in low voices and Deke couldn’t make out what they were saying over the noise his brothers made cleaning up. His mother’s gaze danced between him and Quin, which made him a little nervous. Okay, it made him a lot nervous. Katherine Tate was a plotter, especially where her boys were concerned.

Thinking to tell his brothers to keep it down, he glanced around just in time to see Bridger nudge Cooper’s shoulder.

“If I ever catch Mom lookin’ at me the way she’s lookin’ at Deke, especially with a pretty woman in the room, I’m headin’ for the hills.”

Cooper grinned. “Smart man. I’d be right behind you.”

“So what are we gonna do?” Bridger glanced at Coop.

“Sit back and enjoy the show.” Cooper tossed his dish towel over his shoulder and leaned against the counter, crossing his ankles and arms.

“Y’all know I can hear you, right?” Deke scowled at them.

His brothers burst out laughing. Dillon, approaching the back door and holding a plastic bag at arm’s length, jerked his head around. “What’s so funny? What’d I miss?”

“You’re too young to understand,” Cooper teased.

“Seriously? You’re going to pull that crap on me now?” Dillon waved the sack to emphasize his point then gave Deke a sideways glance. “They’re right about one thing. She is pretty. Think she’d go out with me?”

Bridger smirked. “Naw. You’re too young for her.”

“Hey, I’m twenty-two. I’m right at the peak of my sex—”

“You boys do know that Trooper Kincaid and I can hear you, yes?” Katherine didn’t need to raise her voice to be heard.

“Yes, ma’am,” four voices replied in unison, with Dillon adding, “Well, do you? Because she’s really hot.”

Bridger rolled his eyes. “Dude, we can’t take you anywhere. You do realize that you’re bird-dogging the woman our big brother is interested in, right?”

“Not to mention you’re a baby,” Cooper added. “She wants a real man, not a pimply-faced—”

Dillon shoved Coop. “I don’t have pimples!”

Deke wanted to bash all three of his brothers. This was normal behavior anytime two or more Tates shared the same space, but today he needed a huge helping of regular normal to deal with the trooper. He couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking. She looked stern in her dark brown uniform and black leather Sam Browne belt, but he caught a hint of humor around her eyes. At least he hoped it was humor. Did she have a boisterous family like his? That would be a good thing. She’d understand the ribbing and his frustration.

“I still think she should go out with me.” Dillon was a persistent little bugger.

“Then you think wrong. She thinks you’re too young,” Quin called out. She didn’t even look their way but her voice carried.

Was she teasing Dillon? That made Deke feel like a fool because he was suddenly jealous of his little brother. He needed to get some space and think through this situation—and this woman. She was not his type, not in any way, shape or form. Except it was turning out that she was exactly his type in every way, shape and form. He was so screwed.

Six (#u2b75e558-cbc6-5eb7-8215-ea4157e80927)

“Pay no mind to the boys, Quincy.” Katherine Tate gave her an inquisitive look. “I may call you Quincy, yes? Trooper Kincaid is so...harsh.”

Quin nodded out of habit. Mrs. Tate was one of those women so used to getting her own way she’d likely steamroll over any protestations Quin might make.

“Do you have family, Quincy?”

Mrs. Tate was getting personal now. Quin would have to walk this minefield with care—at least until she figured out the woman’s angle.

“Yes, ma’am.”


“Yes, ma’am.”

Mrs. Tate laughed, a rich laugh much like her son’s that reminded Quin of hot fudge on ice cream. She wondered what it had been like having this woman as a mother, especially since her own was 180 degrees opposite in personality.

“I shall remind the boys not to play poker with you. Tell me about your brothers. Are you close?”



Quin squirmed. That one syllable spoke volumes and what it said made her bristle. All teasing aside, she had the distinct impression that she was interviewing for a job.

“My brothers and I weren’t particularly close, either. Of course, I often thought Daddy should have drowned Cyrus at birth but then I wouldn’t have my nephews so I suppose it all worked out. Families are odd microcosms, don’t you think?”

Quin wasn’t sure what to say. Cyrus Barron had been a powerful man, not just in Oklahoma, but pretty much in the entire world. His six sons—one only recently acknowledged—were following in his footsteps. The family had fingers in every important pie and then some. She wasn’t as familiar with the Tate brothers but knew several of them worked side-by-side with their Barron cousins.

“Yes,” Quin finally answered. “They can be.” Which was true enough. Odd and dysfunctional described her family rather well.

“How closely do you plan to...supervise my son, Trooper Kincaid?”

The abrupt change of subject caught Quin off guard. “Technically, I’m only here as a liaison, ma’am. A...facilitator, so to speak.”

“In other words, the governor called your big boss, who called your immediate boss, who stuck you with this because no one wants to upset the governor. I still want to know your intentions, Quincy. You aren’t comfortable with this situation. And you especially don’t like the idea of my son taking care of a baby.”

Yeah. She’d sure enough poked the momma bear. With a sharp stick. “I admit to reservations, Mrs. Tate, especially given the fact that your son is uncertain whether he’s the father.”

The only reaction she got was the quirk of a well-shaped brow and silence.

“Look, I’m going to be blunt here. Why would your son take in a child he probably has no ties to? Aren’t you worried this is a scam? Some sort of shakedown for money?”

Quin didn’t understand why Deacon and his family were making such a big deal over this. Didn’t it make more sense to just turn over the kid? She breathed through her irritation and continued. “While we are making every attempt to keep the situation low-key, your son is a celebrity. It’s just a matter of time before the story leaks to the media. What happens then? I’m a trained investigator, Mrs. Tate. As such, I have to question your son’s motive.”

That earned Quin another pointed look. “That explains quite a bit, young lady.”

Well, crud. She was losing ground fast and she really needed Mrs. Tate on her side. Quin figured Deacon’s mother might be the only person who could make him see reason.

Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Получить полную версию книги.

Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес».

Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/silver-james/the-cowboy-s-christmas-proposition/) на ЛитРес.

Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.

Can a country superstar and a dedicated cop strike a Christmas baby bargain? Being a celebrity, Deacon Tate is always careful. So when a baby is left on his tour bus, he's 99 percent certain it isn't his. But he's 100 percent sure that trooper Quin Kincaid, who responds to the call, is the sexiest woman he's ever seen. He has to have her, no matter what.But to Quin, Deacon seems too good to be true. Can she save the baby and herself from Deacon's spell – especially when he makes her an offer she can't refuse?

Как скачать книгу - "The Cowboy’s Christmas Proposition" в fb2, ePub, txt и других форматах?

  1. Нажмите на кнопку "полная версия" справа от обложки книги на версии сайта для ПК или под обложкой на мобюильной версии сайта
    Полная версия книги
  2. Купите книгу на литресе по кнопке со скриншота
    Пример кнопки для покупки книги
    Если книга "The Cowboy’s Christmas Proposition" доступна в бесплатно то будет вот такая кнопка
    Пример кнопки, если книга бесплатная
  3. Выполните вход в личный кабинет на сайте ЛитРес с вашим логином и паролем.
  4. В правом верхнем углу сайта нажмите «Мои книги» и перейдите в подраздел «Мои».
  5. Нажмите на обложку книги -"The Cowboy’s Christmas Proposition", чтобы скачать книгу для телефона или на ПК.
    Аудиокнига - «The Cowboy’s Christmas Proposition»
  6. В разделе «Скачать в виде файла» нажмите на нужный вам формат файла:

    Для чтения на телефоне подойдут следующие форматы (при клике на формат вы можете сразу скачать бесплатно фрагмент книги "The Cowboy’s Christmas Proposition" для ознакомления):

    • FB2 - Для телефонов, планшетов на Android, электронных книг (кроме Kindle) и других программ
    • EPUB - подходит для устройств на ios (iPhone, iPad, Mac) и большинства приложений для чтения

    Для чтения на компьютере подходят форматы:

    • TXT - можно открыть на любом компьютере в текстовом редакторе
    • RTF - также можно открыть на любом ПК
    • A4 PDF - открывается в программе Adobe Reader

    Другие форматы:

    • MOBI - подходит для электронных книг Kindle и Android-приложений
    • IOS.EPUB - идеально подойдет для iPhone и iPad
    • A6 PDF - оптимизирован и подойдет для смартфонов
    • FB3 - более развитый формат FB2

  7. Сохраните файл на свой компьютер или телефоне.

Книги автора


Последние отзывы
Оставьте отзыв к любой книге и его увидят десятки тысяч людей!
  • константин александрович обрезанов:
  • константин александрович обрезанов:
  • Добавить комментарий

    Ваш e-mail не будет опубликован. Обязательные поля помечены *