His Christmas Cowgirl(11)

By: Alissa Callen

But as Garrett took in the fresh bunch of cheerful flowers and the large gift bag on Hal’s bedside table he knew Peta was the reason behind Hall looking much improved. According to the town chatter, Kendall was yet to make an appearance which left only one traveler who would have given Hal a present in a bag decorated with the British flag.

Garrett pulled up his usual chair and took Hal’s favorite cowboy boot shaped chocolates he’d bought from Sage’s Copper Mountain Chocolate shop, out of his jacket pocket.

“I see you’ve had a visitor?”

Hal’s smile took years off his weathered face. “Sure did. Peta was here before they’d taken away my breakfast tray.”

Garrett nodded. The upstairs floorboards had creaked while he’d eaten a quick breakfast before heading outside. Peta also had been up when the grey of dawn still streaked the sky. Her body clock must have been out of kilter from the change in time zones. He didn’t know of a single woman who’d ever been out of bed before eight o’clock. The truth was he’d counted on their late rising to enjoy some extra hours of peace.

As if sensing his thoughts, Hal’s expression sobered. “I keep telling you that not all women are like the ones who spend your money and pout when you don’t pay them enough attention. You need to meet real girls and not those social butterflies that look pretty on your arm.”

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not. Are you going to Grey’s tonight to welcome Peta and Kendall home?”

“Ivy asked me but I’m new to town, I don’t want to intrude.”

Hal huffed. “More like you want to spend the night on your computer. You know if you invested yourself in a community as much as you did those companies of yours, you’d find a place that felt like home.”

Garrett sighed. They’d covered this ground many times over the years. “I have been meeting the locals. If it was just casual drinks I’d go but I don’t know Kendall and Peta is my boss so it doesn’t seem right.”

Hal wrinkled his nose. “Where have you been? You smell like some fancy flower shop?”

“It’s worse than any flower shop; I’ve been in a bridal store.”

Hal’s eyes brightened and he sat up in bed a little more. “The one on Front Avenue?”

“Yes. I walked past on the way here and Ivy asked if I could try on a suit for someone called Saul.”

“Was Peta there?”

Garrett lost the battle to repress the memory of how well Peta filled out her blue dress. He fought hard to keep his voice normal. “Yes, she was.”

“I bet she looked beautiful. She should wear dresses more often.”

Garrett frowned. He’d only ever seen her in a skirt or a dress. “She did but you know as well as I do that a woman that beautiful is nothing but trouble.”

Hal didn’t immediately reply, just rubbed at the grey whiskers on his chin, his faded blue eyes thoughtful. “So I’m guessing she hasn’t been involved in the ranch work yet?”

“No, she hasn’t been home long enough and today she won’t be home until late. I’ve been thinking I’ll bring the roundup forward. I’m sure she won’t mind as from what I’ve seen so far, she won’t want to be involved.”

A small smile played across Hal’s mouth. “Have you mentioned this to Peta?”

“No, I haven’t had the chance.” Frustration tinged his tone.

“I think it’s best if she hears it from you.” Hal’s eyes brimmed with sudden laughter. “So when she comes this afternoon to show me her photos, I won’t mention it.”

Garrett came to his feet. It was a relief to see Hal’s spark return but there was something going on he didn’t quite understand. “Okay. Well, I’d better get going. My truck should be ready and I need to collect some roundup supplies from the Marietta Feed and Supply store. I hope you get the all clear from Dr. Wyatt this afternoon to come home tomorrow.”

“Me, too. I’m looking forward to hearing how your roundup chat with Peta goes.”

As Garrett retraced his steps to Front Avenue, his suspicions that he’d missed something crucial in his conversation with Hal deepened. But his thoughts refused to answer the puzzle and instead boomeranged back to Peta.

He hadn’t mistaken the vulnerability he’d witnessed when he’d held her. Such fragility didn’t fit with the picture he’d formed of her, just like the more subtle fragrance she wore today seemed out of character. He didn’t normally have his first impressions contradicted. He quickened his stride. Just as well he wasn’t going to Grey’s tonight. Not only was he attracted to Peta, she also intrigued him. And such a combination only meant double-trouble.