From This Moment On - By Debbi Rawlins



Trace McAllister didn’t wait to watch the six ball sink into the corner pocket. He stepped back from the pool table, and with a bad feeling he knew who Sam meant, turned to follow his gaze.

Of course it was Nikki.

After delivering a pitcher of beer to the men waiting their turn to play, she was walking toward the bar. The close-fitting pink T-shirt tucked into her tight worn jeans showed off her small waist and curvy hips. She’d left her shiny dark hair loose tonight, falling halfway down her back. Hard for a man not to take a second, even a third look. Trace understood, but making a remark like that...

Nope. No way he’d let it slide.

The Watering Hole was crowded for a Thursday, though it was warm even for June, and every cowboy in the place had either a frosty mug of beer or a bottle in his hand. Two of the handful of Sundance guests, a pair of blondes whose names Trace couldn’t recall, hovered near the end of the bar talking to a wrangler from the Double R. A tall brunette in a short skirt leaned over the jukebox, studying the selections.

So just to make sure he wasn’t getting worked up for nothing, Trace asked, “You don’t mean Nikki...”

“Hell, yeah. Look at her.” Sam tipped back his beer bottle, draining it while his eyes stayed on Nikki’s rear end. He wiped the back of his arm across his mouth. “That’s what you call U.S.A. prime. Give it to me straight, McAllister. You do her yet, or what?”

“Are you serious?” Another remark and Trace wouldn’t be able to hang on to his temper. He didn’t know Sam all that well. He worked as a hired hand at the Circle K and had a reputation for being popular with the ladies, not so much their fathers. Trace had done his share of getting around, but he knew how to be respectful and discreet. “You know she’s Matt Gunderson’s sister.”


“So lay off.” Instead of lining up his next shot, Trace looked Sam dead in the eye. “That’s not a suggestion.”

Sam leaned against the wall, chalking the tip of his pool cue, and giving Trace an amused look that aggravated him further. “Must be nice to have a rich family and the second biggest ranch around. Guess you figure that entitles you to speak down to the rest of us.”

If he wasn’t so pissed, Trace would’ve laughed. Man, Sam had it wrong. The Sundance had once been a nice spread, still was, with over three-thousand acres of choice land and a nice healthy herd. But they hadn’t escaped fallout from the economic downturn. Most folks around Blackfoot Falls knew the McAllisters had converted part of the Sundance to a dude ranch in order to weather the storm. But then Sam wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.

“Look, Sam, I’ve enjoyed shooting pool with you this week. And I don’t wanna have to butt heads with you, but if you make another remark about Nikki, you and I are gonna have a big problem.”

A short stocky kid who worked at the Lone Wolf moved closer to the far wall. Another guy left the back room. Trace had to motion for Lucas and Josh, two Sundance hands who looked as if they were itching to jump in, to stay out of it. Sadie owned the bar, and she had zero tolerance for fighting and foolish men in general.

“I knew you had it bad for her.” Sam abruptly moved his hand. Trace tensed, ready to block a punch, but Sam only shoved his fingers through his long blond hair and grinned. “I wondered why you been coming to town to play when I heard you got a real nice table out at the Sundance.”

Trace kept his face blank. Nikki had returned to Montana three weeks ago and had started at the bar a week later. He knew people were bound to put two and two together but most of the guys wouldn’t say anything. Except for Sam, the pain in the ass.

“Admit it, McAllister, and I’ll back off. Let you have her all to yourself.”

That made Trace smile. The guy was dreaming if he thought he could get anywhere near her. Maybe he should let Sam find out what Nikki would do to a hound dog like him. The woman was small and beautiful, but she was tough. Get her mad enough and she had a mouth that could make a sailor