His for the Taking - By Ann Major
The last thing John Coleman had planned to do when he woke up to the stench of petroleum and the roar of his oil rig was to go chasing after Maddie Gray.
Jamming the phone against his ear, Cole—as everybody from Yella, Texas, called him—leaned back in his leather office chair and rubbed his throbbing temple. “What do you mean Maddie’s come back to Yella and she’s nursin’ Miss Jennie?”
Miss Jennie had been their beloved high school English teacher.
Cole knew his soft drawl sounded mild, even disinterested, as he spoke to Adam, his older half brother, yet Cole was anything but calm.
During his marriage to Lizzie, which had ended when she’d died almost a year ago, he’d dreaded the thought of his childhood sweetheart coming back to town. Because he’d feared how he might react. But he was a widower now, and he’d been thinking about Maddie of late, thinking he might just drive to Austin and look her up. So far he’d always managed to talk himself out of it.
What kind of sap carries on a secret teenage affair with the town’s bad girl and then can’t move on after she treats him like dirt?
Hell, six long years had come and gone. And still his mind burned with memories of Maddie’s fine-boned face, her heart-shaped lips, her violet eyes and ebony hair, and ample breasts. Why couldn’t he forget how radiant her face had been every time she’d lain beneath him? Because she’d been more than beautiful. She’d been smart and gifted, especially with contrary horses.
But she had bad genes. Maddie’s mother had stolen husbands, fathers—indeed any man who would have her. And in the end, her own daughter had turned the tables on her by stealing her boyfriend and running off with him, leaving Cole behind.
“Miss Jennie fell over a garden hose and cracked her pelvic bone,” Adam said, interrupting Cole’s thoughts. “Maddie’s here to take care of her until Miss Jennie’s niece from up in Canada can get down here. Nobody in town can stop talking about Maddie. About how well educated and classy she is now. About how’s she’s got herself a college degree and all. Cole, she’s so damn beautiful she takes your breath away.”
“You’ve seen her?”
His half brother hadn’t moved to Yella until after their dad’s death, which had occurred shortly after Maddie had run off, so Adam hadn’t known Maddie when she and Cole had been together.
“I dropped by first thing this mornin’! All the guys have been stopping by Miss Jennie’s place to check on her, so I figured I’d better check on her myself.”
“Just to make sure she’s gettin’ proper care and all. Oh, is Maddie ever beautiful. All curves and creamy skin. She has the softest voice and the sweetest smile—one that lights everything up.”
“Enough!” Cole growled.
The brothers’ telephone call had centered on ranch business until this last bit of local gossip. When Cole was away from Yella, Adam usually ended their calls about the family business by filling him in on the latest scuttlebutt.
“Well, don’t you be going back there just to see Maddie, you hear.” It was strange how much more annoyed than usual Cole suddenly was with his older brother. “You’re to steer clear of Maddie Gray. I don’t care how polished she is now, she’s no good. Never was. And never will be.”
“Something’s sure got you riled this morning.” There was an edge in Adam’s voice now, too.
“Pressure here on the rig. You know how I was telling you this damn drought has shale frac water in short supply? Well, I’m facing the possibility of having to drill a deepwater well. All the drillers are overbooked except for one bandit who says he’ll put me first, but only if I make it worth his time by paying him triple. And now you’re distracting me with idle gossip about a no-good woman like Maddie.”
“She’s the interim CEO of some nonprofit in Austin called My Sister’s House. She’s worrying herself to death over some fundraiser she’s in charge of in a couple of weeks. Sounds like she’s trying to do some good, at least, doesn’t it?”
“Camouflage! It’s an ancient trick.”
“Well, I liked her. Oh, and she’s got a little boy she left back in Austin at camp. He’s six years old. Noah. Miss Jennie’s got loads of pictures of him. He’s cuter than a bug. Black hair…green eyes. He reminds me of someone.” There was an odd note in his brother’s voice. “All in all, Maddie didn’t seem the least