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Marrying footloose cowboy Devlin "Devil" Holmes after their heart-stopping one-night stand was the most reckless thing Dr. Brynna Holmes had ever done. With one rough-and-tumble smile he'd lassoed her heart and promised forever. But Brynna was responsible—for her patients and her family—and trusting her fun-loving husband to take care of her didn't come easily…even after eight months of wedded bliss. Now, with their happily-ever-after jeopardized by painful mistakes and misgivings, could she vow to honor, cherish and love…again?
READ CHAPTER ONE
Eight months ago
"He's still looking this way," Emma Carlisle said from behind her third rum and Coke. The animated woman was married and had three teenaged children, but hearing her talk about the tall sandy-haired cowboy at the bar, anyone would think she was a teen herself. In fact, they'd have thought the entire group of nurses were high school sophomores at the mall.
Rae Ann Benton elbowed Brynna. "He's heading this way. Act like you didn't see him coming."
"I didn't see him coming," Brynna replied, but her heart had leapt into her throat at the news that the six-foot-something hunk in the slim-fitting jeans, worn cowboy boots and faded chambray shirt was walking toward them. He'd been the subject of their lively discussion and avid appreciation for the last half hour.
When he strolled up to their table and gave a disarming grin, Brynna already knew that his name was Devlin Holmes, that he was better known as Devil and that he worked as foreman at his cousin's ranch outside town. What she didn't know—and couldn't have predicted—was that his flirtatious green eyes would take her breath away when he acknowledged the gathering of women with a polite hello and then singled her out with a confident nod.
"Care to dance?" he asked, his voice a stirring deep baritone that reached her toes.
The jukebox had started a lively Dixie Chicks' number that did make a person want to get up and move. Brynna never usually drank. Tonight she'd had two drinks and would probably trip and embarrass herself, but what the heck. She couldn't recall the last time she'd danced. She wanted to dance with him. Her heart-pounding reaction to the guy was crazy.
Rae Ann's elbow dug into her side so sharply, Brynna practically leaped up out of her seat. If she fell and broke something, she was with the best nurses in the state of Montana, she thought giddily, catching her balance. The handsome fellow gestured toward the dance floor and she led the way across the wooden floor littered with peanut shells, conspicuously aware of his presence close behind her.
She'd showered at the hospital after her shift, changed into jeans and a sleeveless cotton top, and her shoulder-length hair had only begun to dry. She wasn't wearing a lick of makeup except lip gloss and a little blush she'd found on the top shelf of her locker. She couldn't imagine why the man of nurse dreams would look twice, let alone ask her to dance.
Dev thought the slender, fresh-faced beauty was the prettiest thing he'd seen in a long time, and she moved with a beguilingly natural sensuality that appealed to him on a purely masculine level. The single young women who normally came into Joe's Bar were made up for a manhunt—makeup, perfume, tiny T-shirts that bared their midriffs, low-slung jeans that usually revealed tattoos. There were also the older manhunters with more skin covered, but with smiles every bit as predatory.
This young woman's smile was a little nervous, a lot embarrassed, and even if he hadn't been coming here and knew she wasn't a regular, he'd have known just by observing her discomfort. "Name's Devlin Holmes," he said, leading her to the small dance floor, where several couples parted to make some space. "Call me Dev."
"Brynna Shaw," she said over the blare of the music.
He took her soft yet sturdy hand and led her through the dance steps, and, after a few minutes, she loosened up and seemed to enjoy herself. Her golden-blond hair bounced on her shoulders under the dim lighting. Her expressive brown eyes did something strange to his insides. She smelled like soap and shampoo, mingled with the faintest hint of almond. The alluring smell enticed his senses. The sight and scent of her hair had him wanting to touch it. It had been a long time since a woman had attracted him the way this one did.
Somehow, as soon as he'd seen her, he'd known she was special. Maybe it was the fact that she seemed out of place here or that she was obviously embarrassed and yet pleased by the fact that he'd singled her out that made him want to know her.
Being this close made him want a lot more.
After a line dance and another fast number, a slow Garth Brooks song played. Tentatively, Dev took her hand and drew her close, pleased that she didn't resist. She rested her other hand on his shoulder and glanced up. Looking into her eyes, his heart increased its speed. He suddenly felt like the luckiest man in Montana. How could he have missed her until now? "You live in town?" he asked.
She nodded. "I have an apartment down the street."
"I haven't seen you here before."
"I usually go straight home after work."
"The hospital in Whitehorn. I'm also on staff at the clinic here in Rumor."
His eyebrows rose. "No wonder you're tired after work. I've seen ER, it looks exhausting."
The warmth of her genuine laugh wound its way around his heart. He definitely liked making her laugh.
"It's not quite that exciting," she denied. "We're a small town, you know."
"Just the same, you see all the interesting cases."
"Well, some." She shrugged. "I'm an OB/ GYN."
Dev laughed aloud. "I'm not going to comment."
"Thank you. I've heard them all."
Her body relaxed even more after their introductions, and within moments, she was leaning into him, her soft curves pressed against the planes of his chest and hips; she fitted there as if she was made for him. He couldn't believe his good fortune. What had he ever done to deserve this?
After another slow dance, he asked, "Would you like to get a fresh drink and talk for a while?"
To his delight, she agreed. Her friends smiled and waved with waggling eyebrows when he led her to a booth along the back, where the music wasn't so loud and the lighting was more intimate.
Ignoring them, Brynna tasted the drink the waitress sat on a napkin before her. She'd worked up a thirst. If someone had told her this morning that she'd be dancing with a handsome cowboy, let alone letting him buy her drinks, she'd have ordered them a psych exam. She was the most sensible, least impulsive person on the planet. She never did anything like this.
But it had been a harrowing day at the hospital. She'd lost a mother with leukemia she'd been trying desperately to save. In order to protect her unborn child, the young woman had refused the chemotherapy she needed, so there had been little Brynna could do, except turn her over to the oncology team once the baby was safely delivered.
Even now, thinking about Heidi Price, regret washed over her. The sound of pool balls clacking together and muted cheers came from a side room, and she couldn't help thinking how odd it always seemed that lives went on unaffected when others were experiencing tragedies.
As though sensing the shift in her mood, Dev asked softly, "Something wrong?"
She drew a circle in the condensation her glass had left on the table and spoke the difficult words. "I lost a patient today."
"That must be tough."
Brynna agreed. "She was twenty-four. Had leukemia, but refused treatment because of her baby."
"I guess there wasn't much you could do."
"It was frustrating."
"What about the baby?"
Gauging his sincerity, she gazed into his eyes. His earnest tone and concerned expression showed he really cared. "She's four weeks early, but doing just fine."
His compassion touched her, and Brynna nodded. "I had to tell her husband that his wife didn't make it."
He studied her for a moment. "How do you do that?"
"Well…I've never had to do it before. I was taught to explain the facts. Answer the questions. But then you see the pain…the grief…and…." Brynna's throat tightened with the words and the remembrance. She had felt like crying all afternoon, but she hadn't allowed herself to let go. She was a professional.
"And what?" Dev asked, urging her to go on.
This man not only had her examining her inner feelings, but sharing them. She found herself saying things she didn't share with anyone else. "I don't know how to detach and be merely the doctor and not a caring person," she admitted.
"You are a caring person, or you probably wouldn't be a doctor. The two aren't separate, are they?"
With a lump in her throat, she shook her head.
His hand covered hers then, warm tactile comfort that sent an enticing shiver up her arm. Without conscious thought, Brynna turned over her hand and laced her fingers through his, their palms touching. His tanned hand was large, with long fingers and calluses she felt against her palm—so different from her own—so entirely masculine. It was an intimate touch. A sexy, familiar touch that set off a battery of butterflies in her chest and made her wonder how his hand would feel on other parts of her body.
She should have been ashamed of her thoughts, but the sensual contact released a deeply buried longing—a longing for something more than years of school and work and self-denial. His touch brought her single status sharply into focus.
Face warming uncomfortably, she glanced up to notice his thick blond hair with a ridge where his hat had been and his crescent-shaped eyebrows. Both hair and brows were bleached from the sun. He was strikingly handsome, but there was something even more attractive about him than those intriguing eyes and sexy mouth. The way he looked at her made her think of wet lingering kisses and the slide of bare skin.
The words to a song about slow hands registered in the background. A burning warmth that had begun in her chest flowed through her abdomen and pooled at the center of her femininity. This man's touch melted her insides. The way he gazed at her had her hot enough to combust. She swallowed and met his sparkling green gaze. Could he tell the effect he had on her?
He smiled, one side of his full lips drawn up in a secret grin that created a sexy dimple in his cheek. Surprising herself, she studied his mouth and wondered what it would feel like to kiss him. Would he be an aggressive kisser? Would his lips taste like the beer in the glass on the table? Would his tongue?
If she didn't know it was physically impossible, Brynna would have sworn her heart turned completely over in her chest at the thought. The temperature in the room seemed to double. She found it difficult to breathe and inhaled quickly through parted lips.
Dev obviously noted her sharp intake of breath, the parting of her lips, the rise of her chest, and his gaze, glittering with masculine interest, dropped to her breasts before he dragged it back to her mouth. The smile had disappeared from his lips, and his perusal was now surprisingly serious. Had he been imagining kissing her, too?
She didn't want to let go of his hand, and he didn't seem inclined to break the contact either. She felt like clinging to him, and it was a good thing the table was between them or she'd have embarrassed herself by pressing against his body and melding into him. Remembering the solid strength of his arms and chest as they'd danced that last dance made her head a little dizzy.
The waitress set down a full glass and a fresh pitcher of beer. Reluctantly, they broke the contact of their entwined fingers, and Dev placed money on the tray. The girl thanked him and picked up Brynna's empty glass.
Brynna glanced at the gimlet, a lime twist perched on the rim. No wonder she was feeling light-headed. She'd had too many drinks. Obviously the liquor had gone straight to her head for her to be having the dangerous and uncharacteristically erotic thoughts she'd been having about the man sitting across from her.
"I think I've had enough," she said.
When she looked up again, Dev's brows were drawn together in a question—or was that disappointment?
"Drinks," she clarified.
His expression smoothed into a lazy smile. "We could order coffee," he suggested. When she didn't readily agree, he added, "Or go outside for air."
As if only just noticing where they were, she glanced around.