Authors: Calista Fox
Book 4 of the Rugged and Risque
Sky returns to her hometown of
Wilder, Texas to escape a con man trying to get his hands on her money—and her
body. She has sworn off men, but taking a job at the Painted Horse Ranch &
Inn lands her in the middle of a mission to rescue mistreated horses, and a studly
former Marine turned cowboy who’s too mouthwatering to resist.
Sam has his hands full at the ranch
and doesn’t need any distractions. Yet one look at the breathtaking beauty who
wanders into his stable, and he’s hooked. Getting all hot ‘n’ heavy with Sky comes
with a price. The con man’s not willing to give up his target, and Sam will do
to keep Sky safe.
contemporary erotic romance
I’m so happy readers have asked for Sam’s story, following
his introduction in book three of the Rugged and Risque series,
. I’ve received a lot of emails regarding this series, and it has been
great fun to write. This is book four and, yes, I do intend for there to be a
book five as the evolution of Wilder, Texas continues!
I’d like to thank one fan of the series in particular, Linda
B. She was my beta reader for
Stud in Texas
and gave me the title as
well, to tie in the horse aspect of the Painted Horse Ranch & Inn. It was
such a pleasure connecting with her on this story. And, of course, I wouldn’t
enjoy writing this series without my wonderful editor, Bree.
Finally, in this book, I pay respect and homage to some
amazing Texas icons, both living and dead, may the latter rest in peace.
I hope you enjoy Sam and Sky’s story!
“Reese, honey, are you on drugs?” Skylar Travis demanded in
her clipped southern accent. She tore her gaze from the elegant inn and the
lush lawn sprawled before her and pinned her best friend with a hard glare.
“Of course not,” Reese scoffed.
“Well, you’re smokin’
“Come on now. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“Still intact, I assure you.” Sky bristled a moment at the
bizarre predicament she’d suddenly found herself in, then added, “You and
me—we’ve done some crazy shit during our time on this Earth together, but I am
telling you right here and right now that I am
the woman for you.”
Reese Middleton smirked, her tawny eyes sparkling with
mischief. “I’m not askin’ you to marry me, Sky.”
“Oh but you are inviting me into that big ole house to do
something with you that I am just not capable of doing.”
With a dramatic sigh, Reese demanded, “How difficult is it,
really? You know you want this. You’ve fantasized about it since high
school—and kept it a secret from everyone but me. Now’s your big chance to
fulfill the dream.” She winked suggestively. “You, me, an inn with ten rooms
and a walk-in cooler full of whipped cream…”
“You have a twisted little mind.”
“Now dammit, Sky. You’re a gal who’s
been there, done
when it comes to every expectation people have had of you. It’s time
to let the horses run free, sugar. Time to follow your own heart, not someone
else’s idea of who you should be and what you should be doing with your life.”
Sky stared incredulously at her. “When you called, I thought
you were asking me to come to town to bake some cupcakes for your bed-and-breakfast,
or something. This is not at all what I expected—even from you.”
“I sold the B&B a while back, when you were in
Nashville. I live in a cottage down by the lake, on this property. And my
dearest friend, you are so far beyond birthday-party cupcakes, it horrifies me
to even think that’s the notion that ran through your head. This is a shot at
something grandiose—the ovens at the dessert station in the inn’s kitchen are
“I don’t know, Reesie.” Doubt tinged her voice. “I make
wedding cakes for the Luckenbach Dance Hall in a community of, like,
“Let us not forget, that’s a
Brides and grooms come from all around to get hitched there—and to have their
cakes designed by a celebrity.”
“I am not a celebrity.”
“Oh please. When you were just sixteen years old, you won a
statewide singing competition and performed the National Anthem at a Dallas
Cowboys football game—that alone made you a star in everyone’s eyes here in
Wilder. Nobody loves Friday night lights like we Texans, so singing at a
Cowboys game is more exciting than performing at the Grammy’s.”
She had a point.
“That wasn’t all, though,” Reese said. “Waylon Jennings
heard you and introduced you to a record producer. As soon as your CD released,
you opened for him on his last tour, before he passed on. God rest his soul.”
Ritually, both women dropped their heads, closed their eyes
and gave a moment of silence for the dearly departed Texas icon.
Reese added, “After that, you made a movie. And not just any
ole movie, you played Silver Monroe’s best friend—she’s won as many Oscars as
also won an award for your role. Not to mention, you
were wanted for a movie starring Patrick Swayze before
Another moment of silence, this time for their favorite
“You’re actually depressing me,” Sky said. “I sound like a
black widow. Well, except that Silver’s happy and healthy. About to marry some
gorgeous world-champion surfer named Kolby Marx. She’s invited me to the wedding
“And you’ll be there with lots of other famous people, I
bet.” Reese continued recapping Sky’s career for her with bright-eyed
enthusiasm. “You also lived in New York for a while and danced in the chorus
line for a Broadway show. Then, to top it all off, you became a Las Vegas
showgirl. People around these parts were so thrilled to know you, the
put your picture on the front page—sparkly costume, full headdress and
all. Why, you’re the most glamorous person we know.”
Sky rolled her eyes. “Hardly.”
“You’re just too modest for words. And what about touring
with that super-hottie Casey James?”
“I was just a backup singer, for Pete’s sake.” She crossed
her arms over her chest. “Least he’s still alive.”
“You think you’re some sort of bad curse?”
“The thought has crossed my mind.” For good reason, of late.
“Let it continue right on out of your head, Skylar Travis.
Good Lord, if I had half your singing, acting and dancing talent… Well.”
Reese’s brow furrowed. Her mouth turned down at the corners. “I still would’ve
stayed in Wilder and bought the B&B.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Guess
I’m the type who needs roots. But you.” She picked up momentum again. “You were
meant to roam for a while. Then come back home, where you belong.”
“I don’t really belong anywhere,” Sky lamented with a stab
of loneliness. “And I haven’t got the faintest idea what to do with the rest of
my life now that I’ve allegedly
been there, done that.
“You were offered another recording contract.”
“By a snake in the grass who’s just after my money,” she
reminded her friend.
“Well, there are some seedy characters out there.”
A violent shudder chased down Sky’s spine. “More than you
“Anyway, my whole point is that you are a nationally
recognized name and most definitely a Lone Star State celebrity.”
“Whatever. Can we get back to the issue at hand?”
“And you’re the preferred baker for the dance hall.”
Sky groaned. “Stop shinin’ me on.”
Reese didn’t appear the tiniest bit contrite.
“Look,” Sky said, “much as I love Luckenbach, it’s a ghost
town. It’s like,
acres, with just a few old Wild West-type
buildings for some light commerce. It doesn’t even have a ZIP code anymore,
because the Post Office shut down in the ’70s—supposedly because the owner
collected the few pieces of mail as they came in and saved up for one full mail
run, which occurred so infrequently, it wasn’t worth sending mail there in the
first place. It ended up outdated by the time it was delivered to the intended
Sky had heard all the stories the first few weeks she’d
moved there—most of them tall tales, all of them extraordinarily entertaining.
She’d had to weed out the actual truths from the colorful yarns the locals
liked to spin. The small community was filled with more interesting characters
than you could shake a stick at, and Sky had enjoyed getting to know them.
In turn, they’d
all of a day. Then they’d all but forgotten her wee bit of fame. Most of them
had met Waylon and Willie and the boys during various Luckenbach engagements
back in the day, so she’d become more shiny new penny than local celeb, since
she was nowhere near on par with the legends that made the town notorious.
Continuing, Sky said, “Since the damn tourists have stolen
most of the road signs to keep as souvenirs, people get lost in Hill Country
because none of their ‘sophisticated’ GPS what’s-a-ma-who’s-its can compute
farm-to-market routes. Yes, the place does pack in a nice crowd with the
weekend concerts, but still. It’s just a tiny dot on our state map. Nothing
extravagant about it.” Her gaze slid to the grand building before them. “And
you want me to be a pastry chef at
Reese rocked back on the heels of her boots. “Yes, I do.
We’ll be partners. You’ll handle the fancy goodies I haven’t the slightest idea
how to create, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“Not a chance in hell.”
“Come on. You’ve always wanted to move back to Wilder.
Here’s a prime opportunity!”
“Or excuse?” She eyed the other woman speculatively. “Let’s
be honest, Reese, I am not the be-all-end-all everyone thought I’d become.”
“That’s your own personal opinion.”
She snickered. “You are so biased. I haven’t done anything
to warrant the star treatment I receive when I come back to town. Especially
lately. Face it, Reese, my star has burned out. I’m in Luckenbach for a reason.
Waylon had it right in his song—it’s a laid-back state of mind I currently
embrace. Just me and my cakes. You really think anyone in Wilder is going to
“They’ll appreciate the fact that you’re actually doing what
want.” Reese studied her a moment, then asked, “You ever gonna tell
me what happened in Nashville when you were recently offered that second
She sighed. “The recording deal was as shady as the people
offering it. They are the very reason I hightailed it to Luckenbach. I’m not
interested in rolling in the muck with a bunch of con men.”
“Couldn’t Casey help you out? Or even Waylon’s widow, Jessi
Colter? You two hit it off when you toured with her husband. Surely they know
the difference between legitimate producers and shifty ones.”
“Let sleeping dogs lie, Reesie. I’m not even interested in
making another CD right now, anyway. I only agreed to meet with the supposed up
’n coming ‘label’—
ha, ha, joke’s on me
—because of that good-lookin’ son
of a bitch Mac Willett. Some manager he turned out to be.” And an even worse
boyfriend. Hell, the latter wasn’t even a word she could bring herself to
associate with him anymore.
was about the only description that fit him.
Well, that and
By a lot.
It pricked her nerves to have been blindsided by his bright
white smile and clean-cut, all-American looks. Actually, the mere thought of
him did more than prick her nerves. Anger flashed through her, but she kept
herself in check, saying, “Bottom line is, I’m happy in Luckenbach. So thanks
for the offer, but…no thanks.”
Reese made a soft
noise. “Oh, Sky. You know
better than to say no to me. Just makes me more determined to cajole you until
you start singing my tune.” She took Sky’s hand and tugged on it.
is not the word I’d use when it comes to you.
me to death.”
“Whatever it takes,” Reese said with a wicked grin. She
tugged harder. “I’m the only one who knows what you really want—and it involves
more than cake baking. This is the perfect place to master your desserts and
write that recipe book you’ve always wanted to. So let me give you the grand
Sky dug in her boot heels. They’d been friends since early
childhood and Reese truly did know Sky better than anyone. But how on Earth had
she come to the conclusion that Sky would know what to do in a kitchen that
likely served hoity-toity desserts a novice such as herself knew very little
Like petit fours
What the hell were they, anyway? A
miniature confection or an appetizer? The French had complicated the fuck out
of that one with the different varieties and numerous serving possibilities.
“Reese,” she said, “this appears to be a very regal-looking,
fine-dining type establishment. I make cakes that are shaped like armadillos,
wagon wheels and stagecoaches.”
Her friend laughed. “You’re the one who taught me how to
bake. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t know the egg white from the yolk. So
Reese pouted and batted her lashes. “Just try it for a
couple of months, until I find someone who would actually enjoy working with
“Low blow, Reese.”
“Hey,” she said, the pout vanishing. “I’ll resort to the
lowest of lows to talk you into this. Stoop so far down, I have to stare up at
“Better get on your knees, honey. We’re the same damn
“You’re really not helping your plight any,” Reese said in a
droll tone. “Aren’t you listening to me? I am willing to do
just have a look around. Meet the staff. Let me introduce you to the owner of
the newly opened Painted Horse Ranch & Inn—not to mention the love of my
life. His name is Caleb Bennett. I did show you the ring, right?”
“Nearly blinded me when the sun hit it. I am too envious to
even ask how many carats that sucker is. It’s a wonder you can even lift your
Reese beamed. “He does spoil me. And boy-howdy, I forgot to
mention the best part about this gig I’m offering—Caleb has a brother.” She
wagged her chestnut-colored brows. “Former Marine and just about the sexiest
damn thing in Wilder, Texas. My fiancé excluded, of course.”
“Now you’re just plain pushing my buttons.” She tore her
hand from Reese’s vise grip and added, “In fact, I’m getting back in my car.”
“Skylar Travis,” Reese said as she stomped her foot on the
gravel drive. She always used Sky’s full name when she had a serious point to
make. “There is nothing wrong with letting your friends help to better your
situation. I know this personally. If it weren’t for Nadine Sadler, Jess and
George Mills, Ryan and Ginger Bain, and Jack and Liza Wade, I never would have
given Caleb the time of day, ended up madly in love,
lying, cheating ex-husband of mine—Tommy—and now the manager of this beautiful
Sky tried to keep up. “Ryan, the reverend’s nephew, married
Ginger, Wilder’s lingerie princess? And perpetually single Jack tied the knot?
“A crazy New Yorker who actually threw a dart at a map of
Texas and impulsively moved here. And guess what? She ended up one hellaciously
happy woman because of it.”
Sky’s eyes narrowed on Reese.