Home > Captivated by the Cowgirl(2)

Captivated by the Cowgirl(2)
Author: Jody Hedlund

She could feel a smile of her own fighting for release, and she shifted so that he wouldn’t be able to see it. “Good day, Mr. Berg. I wish you much luck finding employment where all you’re required to do is play.”

“I do like to play.” He pushed up from the counter until he was standing at least a head taller than her petite frame. His black coat stretched across his shoulders, hugging his upper body way too closely. “But it’s much more pleasurable when I have someone to join in my escapades.” His voice dropped low and took on the rumbly quality that never failed to suck the air from the room and make it harder for her to breathe.

No. She dragged in a breath and tried not to let it quiver. Philip Berg was arrogant, impulsive, spoiled, a womanizer . . . She had to keep adding to the list of all the things she didn’t like about him to prevent herself from giving in to his charm.

She forced her feet to start across the room, tossing him a parting comment. “Check with the circus. You might find some monkeys willing to play with you.”

His laughter burst out, loud and boisterous.

She resisted the urge to turn around and watch him. She knew that with his head thrown back and his face alight with humor, his appeal would be too strong to ignore.

Only after she stepped outside into the chilly October morning did she let her smile break free, and then only briefly. She gathered her cloak tighter as she stopped at the billboard beside the door, where people posted community events and advertisements like hers. Carefully, she extracted two pins from her reticule and began to tack up her help-wanted notice.

She also planned to visit several other stores and hotels to ensure that the word spread. Surely there was a nice fellow, perhaps a miner, who had a little bit of time that he could devote to assisting her every day.

“Felicity,” called a man’s voice from down the boardwalk behind her.

She didn’t have to turn to know who it was. Weston Oakley. He was the latest in a string of suitors who’d pursued her since she and her sisters had moved to Fairplay the previous year. Weston had been trying to convince her to marry him all autumn, especially when she and Patience had almost lost the homestead.

She’d tried to dissuade him. But he hadn’t stopped asking.

She ought to give him some credit for his persistence, and yet she didn’t want to encourage him. If only she could be as rude to him and make the same cutting comments that she did with Philip. But Weston was too nice for that.

Instead, she fidgeted with the pins in the advertisement, even as the wind fluttered the paper and threatened to wrest it loose. Though the day was sunny, a hint of winter was most definitely in the air.

She cast a glance to the mountain peaks to the west of Fairplay. None of the rocky tops had snow yet. Neither did the range that ran along the other side of the South Park basin to the east. But it wouldn’t be long before a dusting covered the mountains with the first pristine layer. The snow would make the passes difficult to traverse and would eventually trap them in the high country until spring.

Perhaps trap was a harsh way to describe the feeling that had come over Felicity last winter—one that she was dreading again. But she didn’t like the idea that she was stuck in Fairplay. She didn’t want to be stuck anywhere.

“Blast it all, Felicity.” Weston had stopped beside her, pushed up the brim of his black Stetson, and was staring at the advertisement with all the handsomeness a woman could ever ask for, with his strong features and dark hair and eyes.

She moved the pin again, but the wind flapped at the opposite corner of the advertisement.

“If you needed help, you should’ve just told me.” Weston towered above her, all brawn and muscles not only from ranching his small spread to the north of town but also because of the heavy lifting he did at his mills. With the length of the South Platte River running through his land, he’d done well for himself by building a water-generated sawmill and gristmill. His profits had allowed him to buy up land around town and develop it by constructing both homes and businesses.

For a man of not more than twenty-seven years of age, he’d done well for himself over the past eight years of living in Fairplay. The only thing he hadn’t accomplished was finding himself a wife. And not for want of effort. The poor fellow had tried the matrimonial catalogs and had placed advertisements in newspapers with the hope of getting a wife. But none of his relationships had blossomed into marriage.

And now he had his heart set on her.

She stared straight ahead, unable to meet Weston’s gaze and the hurt sure to be in his eyes. “You’re so busy, Weston. I didn’t want to trouble you.” Her excuse was only part of the truth.

“I ain’t never too busy for you, sweetheart.”

The other truth was that she didn’t want to let him do anything for her that might make her feel obligated to marry him. “I’m hiring someone for a couple hours a day. That’s all.”

“Whoa, now. You’ve got to be careful and can’t be hiring any lone dog. No telling if it’ll bite.”

At just that moment—of course—Philip sauntered outside, tugging his bowler over his unruly blond locks. At the sight of Weston standing beside her, he stopped and his brows rose. “Miss Courtney, I didn’t realize you were hiring a dog. If so, then I’m afraid I’m most definitely off your list of possibilities.”

“Are you sure about that?” The words were out before she could stop them.

Philip shrugged nonchalantly, but his eyes were alight again. “I do share many similarities to a dog. I am loyal and loving and friendly. I enjoy lots of affection, especially giving kisses.”

Kisses? Was he insinuating that he wanted to kiss her?

He couldn’t be.

His attention flitted to her mouth and then away.

Oh, he most certainly was. Her stomach took a jump off a cliff, falling in a dizzying spin, a sensation she didn’t understand or want to feel.

When his grin kicked up, as though he knew exactly his effect upon her, she braced her shoulders. “From what I remember, dog kisses are slobbery and smelly.”

Weston’s gaze shot back and forth between her and Philip, his brows furrowing as they always did whenever she interacted with Philip. Weston was too kind and straightforward to delve into the word games she played with Philip. But he’d remarked in private that he didn’t trust Philip and didn’t like it when she talked to him.

Fortunately for Weston, she didn’t like talking with Philip either and tried to keep the conversations to rare occasions.

“Are you hiring this fella?” Weston started to reach for her hand, likely to slip it into the crook of his arm as he’d done in the past.

But today, with Philip watching her, she edged past Weston so that she was facing both men. Both made imposing figures—one dark-haired and tough, the other fair-haired and refined. “I don’t need you to question my hiring practices.”

“Then you are hiring him?” Weston’s jaw hardened.

“Yes, I do believe she is.” Philip’s jaw seemed to flex too, and he held Weston’s gaze in a bold, almost authoritative manner, one that proved Philip had a much stronger temperament than he allowed people to see.

“I’ll go over each day to help her,” Weston insisted.

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