Excerpt for Touching the Love of a Texas Sunset:
"Llamas! I hate llamas. Who'd ever want to buy a llama farm in the middle of Texas? I mean, it's hot here, and to sell it in August?" Jaimee Sherman wiped her brow, bent down, and hammered the 'for sale' sign into the ground in front of the ranch as she talked to herself. "And where is this place called Deerlick, Texas? I can just see it now, 'Oh, I'd like a ranch, but I can't find the town. I've lived all over Texas, but there is no town called Deerlick.' So, I'd say to them, 'It's near the cosmopolitan city of Three Cross, south of Midland.'" She rolled her eyes. "'It has a church, a grocery store, and a gas station. Oh, and don't forget the four-way stop.' The people would just walk away and laugh at me, making me broke within a week."
She hit the sign again, sinking it well into the ground. At least no one from her past would find her in this town, because no one could find this town. So, she did feel safe, which was a good thing.
If she could just get this ranch to sell, she could return to her life where she felt safe all the time. She'd already legally listed the place when she was in Seattle, and decided it should sell 'as is' so she wouldn't have to put any work into it. Granted, she'd have to stay here until it sold, but it couldn't be that bad, since it'd been her brother's house, right? Yeah. It would sell. Jaimee just hoped it would be fast, because every moment she spent in Texas, she was losing money.
A motor from a car sounded behind her, so she turned to see a dark blue minivan coming toward her from the north. "Great. A soccer mom. A hick soccer mom. That has to be the worst combination there is."
She really had to stop talking to herself or people would think she was crazy.
The car stopped near her driveway, pulling to the side of the road. A tall brown-haired man wearing a Stetson hat got out of the driver's seat first, followed by a pregnant blonde woman from the passenger's seat. The woman helped a young blonde girl from behind the passenger's seat, while a really good-looking man sporting a big smile, stepped out from the seat behind the driver. The smiling man was also wearing a Stetson, but she could see a hint of light brown hair and blue eyes under the hat. She nicknamed him 'Smiley' in her mind.
"Howdy," the tall brown-haired man said in a slight Texas accent. He pulled the pregnant woman to his side while the woman held onto the hand of the little girl. "Are you new in these parts?"
Jaimee pushed back the hair that had fallen from her ponytail. "Sort of. I'm selling this farm. My brother had to 'find' himself and bought all these llamas, then told me to sell it after he eloped and ran off to Maine or some other place I never want to visit." She studied their stunned stares. "I'm rambling, aren't I?"
"No." The woman glanced toward the man. "I'm Niki Cole, this is my husband Austin, and our daughter, Sarah." She turned toward the lighter-haired man. "And this is Mac Cooper."
Jaimee shook Austin's hand and bent to shake Sarah's hand as well. "And how old are you?"
"I'm four. My momma's havin' another baby soon, but it won't be on my birthday." Her accent was adorable and very Texan.
"When's your birthday?"
"The same day as Momma's." She looked up at Niki. "Christmas day."
"That's cool." Jaimee straightened up and addressed Niki. "You gave birth on your birthday?"
"No, I'm really her stepmom. Her real mom died when she was less than a year old. But I've adopted her and now she can call me Mom."
"You're not from Texas," Jaimee said.
"No, I'm originally from Pennsylvania. We're your neighbors." Niki pointed back down the road.
"Well, I won't be living here long—just until I get a buyer. My name's Jaimee Sherman, by the way."
Smiley, also known as Mac, looked confused. "You're Ned Sherman's sister?" His accent was also southern, sounding a lot like Austin.
"Yes, I am." She reached over and shook his hand, feeling the warmth and strength of his grip. From the roughness of his hands, he was a hard worker. She wondered if she could make a sale. "He called me right after he bought this place and told me to get a real estate license in Texas, so I could sell it for him."
"I knew Ned." He looked over at the home. "He's not living here any longer?"
"No, not pathetic Ned." Jaimee rolled her eyes. "He came to visit me in Seattle and met my roommate. That's all it took and they were off in three days, getting married in Vegas. I think he had someone helping him here, but now they're gone. I'm stuck feeding animals I don't trust or like."
Mac chuckled. "That's hilarious. You look nothin' like him. He had dark hair and dark eyes, not like your red hair and green eyes. I never would've guessed you were his sister. Why would he ever ask you to sell the place for him? We have people here who sell ranches."
"I'm a real estate agent in Seattle and he thinks I can find someone to buy this place." She turned toward the huge farmhouse with a sigh. "I don't know why they would, unless they're as stupid as my brother and have a death wish to be eaten by llamas." Jaimee covered her mouth as she spun toward their laughter. "Sorry about that. I have a tendency to speak my mind."
"Don't worry about it," Niki said. "Would you like to come to our house for dinner?"
"Well, I don't know what's in the refrigerator or freezer here. I just got into town, and my first job was to put up this sign. I guess I have to figure out how to feed llamas. What does a llama look like, anyway?"
Mac and Austin both chuckled, biting their lips.
Mac stepped closer, his blue eyes very striking. She was impressed with his appearance, almost looking like a model in a magazine, but very rugged. "Tell you what," he said. "I'll help you then we can go to their ranch for dinner."
"Are you invited, too? Is this some sort of meeting of hot manly men?" Jaimee covered her eyes. "Sorry about that. I'm so embarrassed."
As she uncovered her eyes, she saw Mac shake his head while he laughed, glancing toward Austin.
"Yes, he's invited," Niki said, chuckling. "He works at our place, and all the workers are invited tonight. They're working hard on the ranch and they'll probably be working late, practicing. We were just headed down the street to see Austin's brother, but that can wait."
"Practicing? Practicing what? Feeding animals?" Jaimee laughed at her own joke. Mac finally let out a low laugh, the sound filling her heart.
"No," Austin said with a grin. "We have a band and we're practicing tonight. Want to listen to the band, too?"
Confusion filled her thoughts. "A band? What type of band?"
Mac's hands flew to his hips as if he was ready for a fight. "Christian band."
"Cool," Jaimee said. "What's the name of the band?"
"Three Cross Faith," Austin said. "We're known nationwide, and they can't keep up with sales. They've had to keep making the CDs because they're flying off the shelves." He chuckled and glanced toward his wife. "Our manager, here, is doin' a great job."
"Three Cross Faith," Jaimee said. "Wait. I know that group. I've heard of you guys. You're the Stetson guys, with the hot smiling guitarist." She spun toward Mac. "You! You're the good-looking guitarist with the big smile. I've seen your CD cover."
Mac laughed, shaking his head. "Yeah, I'm the only one who was smiling on that cover. We're practicin' tonight at Austin's house."
Jaimee lowered her eyes and kicked at a pebble, putting her hands behind her back. "Um, I have a confession. I've never actually heard your group, but I've seen the cover." She looked up again. "Does that count?"
"Honesty gets you everywhere," Mac said. "Where did you see the cover?'
"This guy I know has it, and we were sort of dating and he still thinks we're dating, but I'm not sure any more. He got it for a gag gift." She covered her face with her hand. "I tell too much all the time."
All three of the adults laughed as Jaimee removed her hand. She'd never been more embarrassed, but they didn't seem to mind at all.
"Well, you'll hear it and I promise it's no gag," Austin said. "I think you'll like it."
"I did go to church, sort of." Jaimee winced and watched their expressions. "I'm rambling again, aren't I?"
Niki nodded. "I'll help you, because I understand it." She glanced toward Mac. "Just come on over when you're done. Want us to bring you a car?"
"Uh…" He looked over at Jaimee. "Want to walk less than a mile to their house?"
"No way. I have a rental and I can drive."
"Nope," Mac said. "I'll be back as soon as we get to their home. I can't let a woman drive me around." He tipped his Stetson with a grin. "Ma'am, I'll be back in a jiffy to help with your llamas."
Niki reached out and shook Jaimee's hand. "Welcome to Deerlick, even if it's just temporary."
Austin lifted Sarah into his arms and she shook Jaimee's hand, too. "Nice to meet ya, ma'am," the young girl said in a sweet southern drawl.
After Austin shook her hand, they all got back into the van, made a U-turn, and drove off.
Jaimee straightened her ponytail and headed into the house, the August heat making the sweat roll down her skin.
As soon as she opened the door, she wrinkled her nose, grimacing at all the weird new-age furniture inside. She really had to get everything out of the place. Her brother had issues and she couldn't wait to get back to her life in Seattle.
At least the original house had character, with a beautiful big stone fireplace in the living room and a potbelly stove in the dining room. But the downstairs was very cut up and dark because of all the walls.
The sound of the doorbell made her run toward the door. As soon as she opened it, her eyebrows flew upward when she saw Mac standing in front of her. "You came back?"
"Of course. I can't let you deal with the llamas alone." He stepped inside, staring into the living room on the left and the dining room on the right. "What interesting furniture."
She shook her head. "Lime green and pink plastic is interesting? It's downright ugly. I think my brother's insane or brain damaged. Want something to drink?"
"Sure. Do you have any soda? Austin doesn't like us drinkin' soda during the day, because it makes us thirstier."
"I honestly don't know what's here, but let's find out." She headed into the kitchen as he followed behind. But when she opened the refrigerator door, it was completely empty. "Well, it's not there." She tried the freezer, which was also empty, then opened the pantry. Six cases of cola sat on the floor with nothing else inside.
"I think this is a magic door." She moved the door and studied it from top to bottom. "I wonder if there would be ice inside if I'd close it and open it again."
Mac chuckled and picked up two colas from the floor. "These are really hot. Do you have air conditioning in this place? It's hot in here."
She shrugged. "Beats me. I'll find out some day, probably in the winter."
He walked around the corner and she followed. "Here's the thermostat," he said. "It's set to seventy-five and heat. No wonder it's hot in here." He reset the thermostat, headed back to the kitchen, and put the drinks in the freezer.
"I'm not very good at domestic things," she said. "I think I might need to do some work on this house to make it sell."
"If you don't have buyers who like lime or pink, then yes, you're right." He touched the wall. "This Chinese-looking wallpaper won't make it down here."
"You're hired." Jaimee headed toward the back door. "I need someone to tell me about the local culture."
"I don't know if I'm good at that, either. You need to talk to Niki. She's good at everything."
"Everything?" Jaimee spun toward him in surprise. "What does that mean?"
"She cooks, she cleans, she plays with Sarah, and she helps with the band. She even helped on the farm when she could. Austin's a lucky man, because she loves him and loves her life. She keeps a smile on her face all day long."
"Do you want her?"
He seemed appalled. "No. I don't want any married women. I only date single women, if I decide to ever date again."
"Oh, so you want someone just like her. I get it." That made more sense. He didn't seem to be the type to take other men's wives.
"Nope, not at all. I think any man would want a woman who can be independent and take care of herself, yet has a fun personality." His eyebrows lowered. "Why are you askin' me this?"
"I'm curious. I'm doing research for local culture." She spun around and opened the back door with a chuckle.
He followed, shutting the door behind him.
"He has four llamas, I think." She turned toward him. "Do you know what a llama is? Is it like an alpaca?"
He nodded and pointed. "I think you have more than four."
Once she turned, her mouth fell open at the sight. "That looks like at least 20 or 30 of those monsters. What now?"
"Pray," Mac said, chuckling. "I think that's your only option."
Even though she didn't know how to pray, he was so right.
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