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Can true love prevail against prejudice and deceit?After a bitter betrayal, Dawson Blackhorse won't allow anyone to run roughshod over his heart again … especially not the woman he was once foolish enough to trust.The rodeo circuit gave Dawson an escape after his racist boss ran him off. Hank Bartell made it clear no man who was part-Navajo, would buy his ranch or court his daughter. In a single moment, the man destroyed every one of Dawson's dreams. But when the rodeo brings him to the tiny mountain town of Sawyer, Idaho, he comes face to face with everything he lost.For nine years, Chloe Bartell hasn’t been able to forget the man who abandoned her. Especially not when she looks into the eyes of their son.The quiet life Chloe leads in the small town of Sawyer is shattered the day Dawson comes to compete in the rodeo. He's everything she remembers and more. Gorgeous. Muscular. Six foot and change of sexy cowboy. She watches helplessly as he comes face to face with the son he never knew he had. Dawson demands answers but Chloe is determined to keep her distance. When sparks fly, the fire they ignite threatens to burn down the walls she’s built around her broken heart.Will the pain and loss of their past drive them apart for good? Or can they forgive each other and build a new life, a life they always dreamed of…Overdue for Love is the sixth novella in the Long Valley world, although all books in the Long Valley world can be read as standalones. This is the “sweet” version of the book, which means on a heat scale of 1 - 5, it is probably around a 1.5 or so. If you are interested in the “swexy” version (sweet + sexy), please check out the other listing for this book. Either way, enjoy!
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Copyright © 2016 by Erin Wright
Cover Art by Amourisa Designs
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be constructed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotation embodied in critical articles and reviews.
To my fans:
Thanks for helping make my dreams come true
Quick Note: If you enjoy Overdue for Love, be sure to check out my offer of a FREE Long Valley novella at the end.
With that, enjoy!
Nine Years Ago
Dawson Blackhorse watched through narrowed eyes as Chloe Bartell sashayed toward the doors of the stable. He pretended not to notice the way she paused in the open doorway, giving him a deliberate look, and wiggled, a display that was emphasized by the short, tight denim shorts that barely encased her rear end. Dawson was schooled at keeping his expression blank, which came in handy around Chloe. He allowed himself a faint twitch of his lips at her annoyed expression as she flounced off.
As she stormed away, he allowed himself to drink his fill of her lush frame. The sun sparkled off the long fall of blonde hair nearly touching her waist, along with the light copper hue of her skin, burnished to a warm sheen by the Arizona sun in which Chloe had languished all summer. Being the only child of a very rich father meant a whole lot of spare time to spend out in the sun in tiny bikinis and oversized sunglasses. Dawson had been able to spend a…considerable amount of time admiring that particular clothing combination.
With a curse, he turned back to the stall and began mucking it out again. If he dared to touch her, that’d be the end of his job and his chance to own the Bartell Ranch. Dawson paused for a moment and used a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his brow, not sure if it was mucking the stalls or staring at Chloe that had caused him to sweat more.
He had to do something about Chloe before he gave into temptation. That would cost him everything. She was only twenty – a baby, really – and had always been sheltered by her doting and stupidly rich father. She was naïve and just had no idea what the world was really like.
Could she understand how much it meant to him to own the ranch? Could she understand that he might want her but that sure didn’t mean he could act on it? Hank had hired Dawson to work the ranch, and had even allowed him to work toward buying it someday, but he was under no illusion the other man would welcome a part-Navajo ranch hand into the Bartell family tree, anymore than he’d welcome in a one-eyed, snaggletoothed possum.
Nope, Dawson had to keep his hands to himself, no matter how much she flirted with him.
With a curse that’d burn the hair off a hog, he turned back to the stall and began heaving the straw and manure into the wheelbarrow with a little more force than was necessary. If he couldn’t touch the boss’ daughter, well, he could work himself into a stupor. For now, that’d have to do.
The day passed in a blur of heat and manual labor, and it was a relief to finish around dinnertime. The heat of the Sonoran sun beat down on his shoulders as he made his way to the bunkhouse to grab a shower. It felt good to wash the sweat off and put on clean clothes before making his way to the main house, where Martha would have enough food to feed an army, or at least six hungry ranch hands.
With Hank’s wife long gone, Martha had taken over the duties of feeding the ranch hands and the Bartell family, along with keeping up on the housework in the home. She refused to clean the bunkhouse, though, which Dawson couldn’t blame her for. Going in there on a warm summer’s day when no one had bothered to do laundry for a week…
The smell could get a little on the overwhelming side.
He found three of the other men seated when he entered, and the remaining ranch hands trickled in soon after. Hank and Chloe were last.
That was no surprise. Thank heavens Hank didn’t make them wait for Chloe to show up before he allowed the ranch hands to eat. Either she wanted to make an entrance every night, or she had no idea how to read a watch.
Her hair – curled and hair sprayed within an inch of its life – and makeup so thick astronauts were checking it out, made it real obvious she was no stranger to primping. Dawson was sure she’d look a sight better without all that junk smeared on her face and products plastered in her hair, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. She was too gorgeous by half, and he didn’t want to give her the idea that he was paying attention to her appearance. He wasn’t sure how many more seduction attempts he could survive.
Not that she needed encouragement to keep them going. When she took the seat across from him, she made sure she bent forward enough to guarantee he knew she wasn’t wearing a bra under that skimpy tank top. His eyes cut sharply to the right and he made a point of looking at Martha as she bustled in from the kitchen with a big basket of biscuits. He could not stare at her.
Or her magnificent chest.
As Dawson ate, he pretended to be totally ignorant about Chloe’s stares, or the fact that she was constantly shifting positions to better display her cleavage.
He was mostly successful, even when she slid her bare foot across his leg. His boots barred her from slipping her foot inside his jeans, but she was undeterred. His hand jerked and he focused on not spilling his coffee as her foot crept higher.
He cleared his throat, loudly, and shot her a warning look. Apparently, it was her turn to ignore him, because she looked away, but her foot kept moving upward.
He put a hand under the table to intercept her foot, reaching for it a scant second after her foot reached its goal. He jumped, sloshing coffee everywhere. With a muttered curse, Dawson slid back his chair, using a napkin to mop up the spill.
“Sorry, Martha,” he said as the housekeeper came to his rescue, dishtowel in hand.
She shrugged. “Just step back, son. Let me do my job.” She was gruff but had a soft spot for all her “boys,” as she called the workers. Though Martha looked nothing like his Navajo grandmother, who’d died three years ago, she reminded him of her in personality.
Dawson backed away, his gaze settling on Chloe. She appeared the very picture of innocence. He barely restrained himself from rolling his eyes.
Somehow, he finished dinner, aware of Chloe and Hank both watching him. The homemade strawberry cake stuck in his throat, and he gave up after three bites. “Thanks, Martha. Great dinner.”
She waved off the compliments as the other men echoed Dawson. A scrape of the chairs and then he was falling into step with the others as they headed for the bunkhouse.
His stomach curled with dread when Hank spoke his name. He had no reason to be concerned, but he had a feeling Hank wanted to discuss more than tomorrow’s chores. Pausing, he turned on his heel. “Yeah, Hank?”
“Come into my den, will you?” The invitation was an order, and they both knew it.
Dawson followed his boss into the man’s den, ducking his head when he went through the door to avoid scraping it against the ornate frame. Hank sat down on a chair, indicating Dawson should take the wingback arranged at an angle across from his. He sat, trying to hide his reluctance.
Hank reached for the decanter on the side table, pouring a finger of whiskey into a crystal glass before handing it to Dawson. He took it but didn’t sip the whiskey. Hank knew he didn’t drink, but he persisted in pouring one for Dawson each time they had a serious talk — which had been three times, counting tonight. First, when he’d promoted Dawson to ranch manager; the second time had been when he’d asked Dawson if he wanted to buy the ranch since Hank had no son to take over, and Chloe clearly wasn’t interested.
The third reason? Well, that remained to be seen.
Hank sipped his whiskey before setting the glass on a coaster. Dawson did likewise, leaning forward slightly with his hands on his legs, trying to appear relaxed. “What can I do for you, Hank?”
“It’s about Chloe.”
His stomach churned. So, Hank had noticed Chloe’s behavior. “I would never—”
“I can’t give this ranch to anyone not in the family,” Hank interrupted him abruptly.
“What?” Dawson wasn’t keeping up with the topic shift.
Hank shifted his lanky frame, suddenly uncomfortable. “Bartell Ranch has been in my family since 1859, and it’s going to stay with us.”
“I’m not sure what you’re trying to say to me,” Dawson said slowly.
“The man who gets my ranch will be Chloe’s husband.”
He blinked, certain he had misunderstood. “What are you saying? You want me to marry Chloe?” The idea made his pulse quicken. He’d been turning Chloe down for the last two years only because he didn’t think Hank would okay a relationship between them. But if Hank wanted it, Dawson was all over that.
Hank laughed heartily. “Oh no, Dawson. You ain’t the right…man for her.”
His eyes narrowed at Hank’s hesitation, sure the other man had been about to say something besides “man.” And then it hit him – the bigger implication. The more important implication than the fact that his boss was a racist.
“You aren’t selling me the ranch, are you?”
Hank shook his head. “I’m sorry, son. I tried to get used to the idea, but I just couldn’t. The ranch has to stay in the family.”
Dawson absorbed the news with outward equanimity, though his insides twisted in anguish. He’d invested so much of his blood, sweat, and time into the Bartell Ranch that it was almost like someone had physically removed a part of his body. “What about our agreement?”
Hank shrugged. “I’ll cut you a check for the money I’ve credited out of your salary. You should have enough to put a down on a nice little place.”
Through gritted teeth, Dawson said, “I don’t want some random little place, Hank. Bartell Ranch is my home. I wouldn’t have worked so hard to get it back to its full potential if this wasn’t supposed to be myranch.”
With a nod, Hank tipped back his glass, taking another drink before responding. “I know that. I’m not proud of it, but that’s part of the reason I didn’t tell you this before.”
He’d hidden this from Dawson in order to keep Dawson working hard, stupidly believing…
Dawson pushed that thought away. He couldn’t deal with it head on, not now. Not yet. Later, when he could breathe properly.
“So, why now?” His voice sounded unfamiliar, cold and hoarse.
Hank contemplated his whiskey in his hand before finally answering. “Chloe’ll be marrying King soon, and I won’t need you anymore.”
It was like a fist to the solar plexus. “She’s getting married? To King Stedman?”
First off, who names their son King?? It was one of those white-boy things that Dawson would just never understand. Unfortunately, King didn’t take the name as being an ironic choice, but rather as his parents bestowing a birthright upon him. He was the King of Cactus County, and didn’t bother trying to hide that belief.
Hank nodded. “It’s been in the works for a while now. The planning is over and all that’s left is the wedding. I hope you didn’t take her flirting seriously, son.”
He closed his eyes, squeezing his fists to keep from lashing out at Hank. Chloe had spent the last two years trying to seduce him every time she was home from college.
Despite his best efforts, he’d started to think about her in a way…a way that he shouldn’t have. And yet, she’d known that she was going to marry their closest neighbor? Dawson had thought Chloe was immature, sometimes shallow and spoiled, but he hadn’t taken her for a liar or a cheat. Finding out what she was really like was almost as devastating as losing Bartell Ranch.
Dawson opened his eyes when he heard Hank stirring. Through shuttered lids, he watched the other man walk to the sideboard and open a drawer. When Hank came back, he was carrying a check he’d clearly prepared in advance. He took it without a word, knowing he would not be able to leave without an ugly confrontation if he started in on Hank’s lies.
Well, it was easy to tell where Chloe had gotten her deceptive streak from. What was the saying – the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree? Rotten apples, the lot of ‘em.
“You’re welcome to stay a few days longer.”
“I’ll be leaving tonight,” Dawson bit out, somehow holding himself in check. With reckless abandon, he lifted his whiskey glass and drained it in one swallow. “Give my congratulations to the happy couple.” He stalked from the room, carrying a load of anger inside that felt like it would consume him.
Chloe heard Dawson leaving her father’s den and positioned herself carefully in front of the opened door, making sure her butt was tipped high enough to give him a view of her…lack of underwear under her short denim skirt. If this didn’t get his attention, she was giving up.
Of course, she’d made that same vow, and broken it, at least six times in the past two years, but she was going to ignore that fact. Right now, she needed him to pay attention to her. She’d wanted him for so long…
She stretched forward across the pool table, holding the pool stick to line up a shot. His footsteps outside the door made her stomach churn with nervous excitement, and she forgot how to breathe for a moment when he paused in the doorway. Knowing he was watching her sent a shiver through her, and the cue stick went wide, totally missing the shot she’d lined up.
“Hi,” she said casually over her shoulder, ignoring her complete inability to play pool while he was in the room. She’d ignore it if he would. “You up for a game?” She was pleased by how nonchalant her voice sounded. She almost didn’t sound like she was choking on her own heart from nerves.
He hesitated a moment longer before stepping over the threshold. The click of the door closing made her heart jump. “I’ve had more than enough of games today, Chloe.”
His strange words and distant tone caught her attention. She set aside the pool stick and turned to face him. “Is something wrong?” She nibbled on her lower lip nervously. There was something wrong…
“I’m a fool.”
“No,” she said quickly and then stopped when he stepped closer, looming over her. Excitement warred with anxiety. There was something different about Dawson tonight. He wasn’t aloof, and he certainly wasn’t the indulgent, amused guy he occasionally allowed himself to be around her.
“Yeah, I was a fool to wait so long for this.”
She gasped when he jerked her against him. Her body fit against his like she was made for the embrace. A colony of butterflies took flight in her stomach as she pressed her palms to his broad chest, feeling his steady heartbeat through the plaid fabric. “I agree,” she said in a throaty purr.
Dawson’s mouth covered hers, and she felt drawn into his heat. He consumed her, his presence overwhelming and absorbing her. Chloe’s head spun as his tongue pushed its way through her lips, sweeping through the moist depths to conquer her. His lips seared, branding her as his, and she gladly surrendered, wanting nothing more than to belong to Dawson. Finally, she was getting what she’d wanted for the past two years.
And oh, how it was worth it.
She tangled her hands in his dark hair, stroking the locks that were as silky as she’d imagined they would be. Dawson moved his mouth lower, nibbling along her jawline and down her neck. She whimpered when he breathed against the hollow of her throat, arching against him.
Chloe gasped when Dawson cupped her bottom and placed her onto the pool table. She tugged at the buttons on his shirt, eager to feel his bare skin against hers. Somehow, finally, her clumsy fingers managed to work the buttons loose so she could push the shirt off his shoulders, losing only one button in the process. She figured it was worth the sacrifice. She’d sew the darn thing back on for him later. Right now, she just had to feel his skin under her fingers.
She raked her nails through the crisp, black hair adorning his bronzed chest. “You feel so good,” she murmured against his neck as she buried her face there.
Chloe bit her bottom lip as he slid inside her folds. Her body seemed to shrink in front of him. She hesitated, but he plunged deep inside her before she could say anything. Warn him. She should’ve told him back when they’d started this…this messing around, but she couldn’t. She’d been so afraid he’d stop, and she’d waited so long…
And now she wished he would stop. She stiffened, surprised by how much it hurt. She’d expected some pain, but not this sharp. It ached and she bit down on her lower lip, trying to breathe through the pain. She would be fine. In just a moment, she’d be fine.
He frowned, staring down at her. “Are you—?” He broke off, just staring at her. She felt like a butterfly specimen, pinned to a felt board.
Embarrassed, she sat up and embraced him, burying her face against his chest. If she just didn’t look him in the eye for a minute, maybe she wouldn’t actually die of embarrassment. She had expected surprise, not…whatever it was he was feeling as he stared at her. Inscrutable – that was him.
She wiggled her hips against him and focused on relaxing her hips and stomach. She noticed the pain faded almost immediately. That’s better. After an endless pause where Chloe tried to come up with the right words (you can keep going now! was all that came to mind, as tactless as that seemed), Dawson read her mind, withdrawing and thrusting back into her.
She winced at the flash of pain that, thank heavens, was at least a little milder than the first. By his third thrust, the ache had faded to a minor annoyance.
The cords in his neck were tight when she lifted her head from his chest. Enthralled by his expression, a mix of pleasure and anguish, she touched his cheek. He looked down at her, their gazes locking. His black eyes, normally hard and hooded, were softer, shining. Her lips trembled at the hint of vulnerability he showed, and she stroked his face, moaning when he pressed his mouth to the palm of her hand to kiss it.
An orgasm washed over her; her release seemingly triggering his, and he convulsed inside her. He thrust as deeply as he could, resting his chin on her head as the last waves of ecstasy shook both of them.
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