Redeeming the CEO Cowboy

By: Charlene Sands

 One

As soon as Susanna Hart spotted the chrome-rimmed Cadillac SUV turning the corner and barreling down the street, her heart fisted deep in her chest. She had known this day would come. Casey Thomas was back in town.

She held her cousin Ally’s small hand and watched as the fairy-tale princess ball rolled to a stop at the front lawn of Casey’s childhood home. Why wasn’t she graced with good luck and timing the way some women were? She darted a glance at her front door thirty feet away. It was too late to make a mad dash. The roar of the engine mellowed. He wasn’t far now. Thorny blades of grass pinched her bare toes where she stood like an immovable statue under the afternoon sun. Her palms began to sweat. She wiped her free hand on her denim jeans. “Oh, no,” she muttered.

Ally’s gaze immediately lifted to hers. Susanna fixed her lips into a pretend smile, scooped up the ball and handed it to the two-year-old. “Here you go, Muffin.”

The worry on Ally’s face crumbled and she giggled. “I’m not a muffin.” She hugged the ball to her chest and announced, “I bakeded muffins, Auntie.”

Susanna tapped a finger to the side of her mouth. “Oh, yeah, that’s right. I forgot. You’re my best helper.”

Ally’s smile widened. Poor kid. Ever since Ally had come to live with her one month ago, she’d tried to find ways to put the child at ease and let her know she was wanted and loved. Little Ally had enough on her plate without worrying about her Aunt Susie’s sudden panic right now.

Even if Susanna hadn’t recognized the blond-haired breaker of her heart, Casey Thomas, commandeering the wheel of the custom-painted glossy black SUV, she would’ve guessed it was him. Flashy cars such as his didn’t belong on Meadow Drive in the Reno suburbs. Neither did he, anymore.

But as he drove his SUV into the driveway of his childhood home and cut the engine, there was no mistaking the man who’d taken her virginity nearly ten years ago.

Susanna stood rooted to the spot spinning thoughts of nonchalance in her head. She’d seen Casey a few times in the last ten years. This shouldn’t be so darned hard. They could simply pretend the whole taking-her-virginity incident never happened, like they did when he’d come to pay his respects at her father’s funeral. Like they did when Casey broke his back riding rodeo and Susanna, being Audrey’s best friend, went with his sister to pay him a visit in the hospital. Like they did when they’d bumped into each other at Sunset Ranch after Audrey had her beautiful baby girl, Ava Kasey Slade.

The driver’s door opened and a beagle-size mutt scurried over Casey’s lap and leapt onto the driveway. Ally’s arms fluttered excitedly. “Doggy!”

The pup raced over to her, his peachy-blond tail wagging like crazy.

“Charger!” Casey’s voice boomed.

Susanna swept Ally off the ground and into her arms. It wasn’t the puppy’s enthusiasm so much as Casey’s tone that lodged a threat in her mind.

“Sorry,” Casey said, lowering his voice. “He’s actually pretty harmless. Just too darn rambunctious.” He hinged his body out of the SUV, his movements fractionally slower than when he was younger, before he’d broken his back in the rodeo ring. As he straightened to his full six-foot-two height, his jaw tightened. Back in the day, he saved that look for his sister Audrey when she’d done something wrong. Susanna wondered what put that look on his face today. Was he annoyed at the dog? Or was it residual pain from his injury causing him to frown? “I didn’t want him to frighten the child. Come here, dog.”

The puppy’s tail nosedived between his legs and he trotted toward Casey.

The pup and Casey had two things in common: lush shaggy blond hair and mischievous eyes. Casey strode to where the grass met the driveway, treating it like a barrier between them. “Hello, Susanna.”

Her toes curled deeper into the prickly grass. From what she could tell, Casey’s former life as a rodeo champion was gone now. Dressed in a russet brown shirt tucked into beige trousers, he was still ruggedly handsome if not a little more refined. Sunlight poured over his tanned face and charming white smile. “Hello.”

He cocked his head to one side. “Guess we’re going to be neighbors again.”

Temporarily. When she’d spoken to Audrey, she hadn’t been sure when Casey would arrive, but that he’d be staying a month, maybe two. On business. Secretly, Susanna had died inside hearing the news, but couldn’t let on to her best friend how much being neighbors again with her super successful, gorgeous brother distressed her.

“I guess so.”

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