The Maverick

By: Diana Palmer

One


Harley Fowler was staring so hard at his list of chores that he walked right into a young brunette as he headed into the hardware store in Jacobsville, Texas. He looked up, shocked, when she fell back against the open door, glaring at him.

“I’ve heard of men getting buried in their work, but this is too much,” she told him with a speaking look. She smoothed over her short black hair, feeling for a bump where she’d collided with the door. Deep blue eyes glared up into his pale blue ones. She noticed that he had light brown hair and was wearing a baseball cap that seemed to suit him. He was sexy-looking.

“I’m not buried in my work,” he said curtly. “I’m trying to get back to work, and shopping chores are keeping me from it.”

“Which doesn’t explain why you’re assaulting women with doors. Does it?” she mused.

His eyes flared. “I didn’t assault you with a door. You walked into me.”

“I did not. You were staring at that piece of paper so hard that you wouldn’t have seen a freight train coming.” She peered over his arm at the list. “Pruning shears? Two new rakes?” She pursed her lips, but smiling blue eyes stared at him. “You’re obviously somebody’s gardener,” she said, noting his muddy shoes and baseball cap.

His eyebrows met. “I am not a gardener,” he said indignantly. “I’m a cowboy.”

“You are not!”

“Excuse me?”

“You don’t have a horse, you’re not wearing a cowboy hat, and you don’t have on any chaps.” She glanced at his feet. “You aren’t even wearing cowboy boots!”

He gaped at her. “Did you just escape from intense therapy?”

“I have not been in any therapy,” she said haughtily. “My idiosyncrasies are so unique that they couldn’t classify me even with the latest edition of the DSM-IV, much less attempt to pyschoanalize me!”

She was referring to a classic volume of psychology that was used to diagnose those with mental challenges. He obviously had no idea what she was talking about.

“So, can you sing, then?”

He looked hunted. “Why would I want to sing?”

“Cowboys sing. I read it in a book.”

“You can read?” he asked in mock surprise.

“Why would you think I couldn’t?” she asked.

He nodded toward the sign on the hardware store’s door that clearly said, in large letters, PULL. She was trying to push it.

She let go of the door and shifted her feet. “I saw that,” she said defensively. “I just wanted to know if you were paying attention.” She cocked her head at him. “Do you have a rope?”

“Why?” he asked. “You planning to hang yourself?”

She sighed with exaggerated patience. “Cowboys carry ropes.”

“What for?”

“So they can rope cattle!”

“Don’t find many head of cattle wandering around in hardware stores,” he murmured, looking more confident now.

“What if you did?” she persisted. “How would you get a cow out of the store?”

“Bull. We run purebred Santa Gertrudis bulls on Mr. Parks’s ranch,” he corrected.

“And you don’t have any cows?” She made a face. “You don’t raise calves, then.” She nodded.

His face flamed. “We do so raise calves. We do have cows. We just don’t carry them into hardware stores and turn them loose!”

“Well, excuse me!” she said in mock apology. “I never said you did.”

“Cowboy hats and ropes and cows,” he muttered. He opened the door. “You going in or standing out here? I have work to do.”

“Doing what? Knocking unsuspecting women in the head with doors?” she asked pleasantly.

His impatient eyes went over her neat slacks and wool jacket, to the bag she was holding. “I said, are you going into the store?” he asked with forced patience, holding the door open.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am,” she replied, moving closer. “I need some tape measures and Super Glue and matches and chalk and push pins and colored string and sticky tape.”

“Don’t tell me,” he drawled. “You’re a contractor.”

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