His Christmas Cowgirl(12)

By: Alissa Callen

Chapter Three

“These nails are going to be the death of me.”

Peta frowned at her reflection as she struggled to slip the gold loop earring through the tiny hole in her ear lobe. If she hadn’t promised Kendall to keep her nails long until after their welcome home get-together at Grey’s, they would have been cut as soon as she’d woken up that morning.

After another try the first earring slid in, and then the second. She stepped back from the dressing table mirror and leaned forward to check she didn’t have black mascara smudged across her nose.

Tonight was the last night of being Peta the carefree traveler, looking for love. Tomorrow she’d again be a boring and frayed-around-the edges cowgirl. She couldn’t wait. Her ranch was where she belonged even if she hadn’t found someone to share forever with.

She smoothed her freshly washed hair off her face and pulled it into a high ponytail. Her teeth ground together as her long nails again interfered with her dexterity.

The doorbell of her father’s Bramble Lane house rang. Kendall and Brent had arrived. She scooped up the ankle-high, black boots she’d bought in a designer outlet in Paris and tugged them on. She’d figured the high heels would give her good practice for when she walked down the aisle at Ivy’s and Rhett’s wedding. She refused to be the only bridesmaid who didn’t appear to glide along the carpet. Even working cowgirl, Payton, had mastered the art of walking in killer heels.

Peta tucked her red sleeveless, knitted top into her slim-legged, black jeans thankful she’d never have to ride in them. Their fit was so snug she could barely lift her leg to put her boots on. She blew out a nervous breath as she reached for her lipstick. She hoped she didn’t look as awkward as she felt. Her eyebrows rose as she applied a matte layer of red. Surely the color wasn’t meant to be so bold or so bright?

Her hand lowered as uncertainty hit her. She couldn’t pull this off, even if it was just a visit to Grey’s with old friends. She wanted to show everyone she’d had fun while away but she didn’t want to be the center of attention in the saloon. Her flirting skills were still a work-in-progress.

She’d be fine. She applied a second lipstick coat. She’d handled throwing herself at Garrett earlier that day even if her cheeks had burned hotter than a Christmas bonfire. She’d never thought a man could smell so good, that a touch could leave her so breathless or that muscles could feel so firm beneath the fine wool of a suit jacket.

When Garrett had entered the bridal store she’d braced herself for more disapproval. She’d also expected his attention to hone in to where her breasts did their best to escape her dress bodice. But his attention hadn’t strayed below her collarbones. And then when he’d held her, his touch had remained respectful. Unlike the Italian man she’d gone to dinner with whose octopus hands had earned him a strongly worded dressing down.

She slid the lipstick cap into place. Garrett might be arrogant and used to getting his own way but he was surprisingly a gentleman. He also was capable of patience and empathy if the progress he’d made with Scout was any indication.

Voices sounded in the hallway and she grabbed a black jacket from off the bed.

Next time she visited Hal she had some questions about the man he’d arranged to replace him. Garrett Ross was also no ordinary cowboy. He’d strolled out of the bridal store dressing room like he was on a catwalk in Milan and then adjusted his shirt cuff as though it was second nature. Even Cordell, who’d spent time in the city, still shifted in his boots when he wore a suit. She headed for the door. There was far more to Garrett Ross than he let on.

Peta slipped on her jacket as she made her way to the kitchen. Her lips curved as she heard the happiness in Kendall’s laughter. Peta walked through the doorway and all merriment ceased. Her father stopped mid-sentence as he stared at her.

Raw emotion softened Stewart Dixon’s eyes before he glowered. “You look like your mother.”

Peta ignored his gravelly tone and kissed his cheek. A gesture she would never have done until a year ago. “Which is a good thing because you loved her.”

Kendall enveloped her in a tight hug, which caused Peta’s eyes to prickle. In her sister’s embrace was all the thanks and gratitude for her support over the past long month that had ended with Kendall’s dreams coming true. As Kendall pulled away, a spark of light on her ring finger matched the radiance of her blue eyes.

Heart full, Peta caught her sister’s hand. “I don’t remember seeing a certain diamond ring there last night.”