How to Catch a Cowboy (Riverrun Ranch #3) - Karen Foley

Chapter One

She spotted him as soon as he walked through the door of Rosa’s Cantina: six-and-a-half feet of deliciously muscled, wide-shouldered, lean-hipped magnificence. He was a hard man to miss and more than one woman’s gaze locked on to him as he strode into the restaurant. He took off his Stetson and dragged a hand through the thick, brown layers of his hair as he scanned the interior. Jessie Montero’s pulse quickened when his blue eyes found her, lingered for a heartbeat, and then moved on.

Jessie had known Holt Claiborne her entire life and had harbored a crush on him for half of it. She only wished he could see her as a desirable woman and not just the girl who served up his favorite carne asada every Thursday night at Rosa’s Cantina, the Mexican restaurant she helped her father run on the outskirts of Last Stand, Texas. Her grandfather had purchased the restaurant just weeks before he married Jessie’s grandmother, Rosa-Maria, and had named the cantina after his bride. More than forty years had passed since then. But there had always been a cantina on this site, even before the skirmish that occurred during the Texas Revolution, when a group of local men had holed themselves up in the saloon and successfully held off a band of Mexican soldiers. The small, brief battle gave the town of Last Stand both an identity and a name. A marker located in town provided the names of the heroes involved, including Sherman “Shotgun” Claiborne, Holt’s great-great-grandfather. Rumor had it that he had abducted the beautiful daughter of a local Mexican rancher and forced her at gunpoint to marry him. Nobody knew for certain if that part of the story was true, but the marriage had apparently been a happy one, producing a half dozen children.

Looking at Holt now, Jessie thought he wouldn’t need to force her to marry him. All he’d need to do is ask and she’d run off with him. Not that that was likely to happen. Holt had been married once, years ago. It had ended badly and some said he’d sworn never to get married again. Not that Jessie was looking for a husband, but she wouldn’t say no to a little romance. Or even better, a torrid love affair. Although that wasn’t likely, either, she thought dismally. She’d been friends with Holt’s two younger sisters since childhood, and her grandmother, Rosa-Maria, had been the Claibornes’ housekeeper and cook at Riverrun Ranch for more than twenty years. If Holt thought of her at all, it was probably as a family friend and nothing more.

She needed to change that.

Tonight, he was with his two younger brothers, Evan and Luke. They were twins, but not identical. Technically, they were Holt’s half brothers. Their father, Gus Claiborne, had been married three times and had children from each marriage, and a fifth child from an affair he’d had during his last marriage. Now the three men sat down at a table near the bar.

“I’ll take this one,” Jessie said to Katie, one of the waitresses.

“But you’re not even a server,” Katie protested. “You’re the manager. You shouldn’t be waiting tables.”

“These guys are . . . special,” she said. Katie was new to the restaurant, so she didn’t yet realize that Jessie waited on the Claiborne brothers whenever they came into Rosa’s Cantina. “My grandmother works for them and we’ve known the family forever. Call it a professional courtesy.”

She loaded a basket filled with warm tortilla chips and a bowl of homemade salsa onto a tray and made her way through the restaurant to their table. The cantina was crowded and noisy, the Mexican guitar music that played through unseen speakers competing with the sounds of people talking and laughing. Overhead, dozens of brightly colored bulbs gave the large room a festive atmosphere, and strings of papel picado banners, cut from colorful tissue paper, crisscrossed the antique-tin ceiling.

“Good evening, boys,” Jessie said cheerfully as she set the food down on the table. She couldn’t help sliding a hopeful glance at Holt, but he was focused on his menu with a single-minded intensity, as if he’d never seen it before and had no idea what to order. That might have worked, if he hadn’t been coming to the cantina every Thursday night for the past eight years.

He was deliberately trying to avoid talking to her.

“Hey, Jessie,” Luke said with a friendly smile.

“Nice to see you, Jess,” Evan added, giving her a cheeky wink. “As always.”