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This Kiss
 

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This Kiss


  “Help me out here, Hannah. Kiss me, and help me show my son that it’s not enough to make you stay in Destiny.”

  The sheer masculinity of Dev stole the breath from her lungs.

  Part of her wanted to know what it would feel like to kiss the guy all the girls had wanted. If the experience was horrible, she could stop wondering about it. But if, as she suspected, the sensation was akin to a religious experience, the memory might be worthwhile. On some dark, cold, lonely night, she could pull out the recollection and wrap it warmly around herself….

  by Teresa Southwick

  Crazy for Lovin’ You

  This Kiss

  If You Don’t Know by Now

  What If We Fall in Love

  This Kiss

  TERESA SOUTHWICK

  To Sandra Ferguson, Sherry Davis, Judi McCoy and Mary Karlik. I’m thankful that y’all kept my “Texas voice” under control. And my profound gratitude for taking this Southern California refugee (I’m still not sure if we decided that makes me a Yankee carpetbagger) under your wing.

  Books by Teresa Southwick

  Silhouette Romance

  Wedding Rings and Baby Things #1209

  The Bachelor’s Baby #1233

  *A Vow, a Ring, a Baby Swing #1349

  The Way to a Cowboy’s Heart #1383

  *And Then He Kissed Me #1405

  *With a Little T.L.C. #1421

  The Acquired Bride #1474

  *Secret Ingredient: Love #1495

  *The Last Marchetti Bachelor #1513

  **Crazy for Lovin’ You #1529

  **This Kiss #1541

  Silhouette Books

  The Fortunes of Texas

  Shotgun Vows

  TERESA SOUTHWICK

  is a native Californian who has moved to Texas. Living with her husband of twenty-five years and two handsome sons, she is surrounded by heroes. Reading has been her passion since she was a girl. She couldn’t be more delighted that her dream of writing full-time has come true. Her favorite things include: holding a baby, the fragrance of jasmine, walks on the beach, the patter of rain on the roof and, above all, happy endings.

  Teresa has also written historical romance novels under the same name.

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter One

  She’d forgotten how good trouble looked in worn denim, scuffed boots and a black Stetson.

  Hannah Morgan stood on the bottom slat of the white, split-rail fence and watched Dev Hart’s tall imposing presence dominate the corral where he supervised cutting horse training. With his back to her, she was still safe from his notice. Yet she had an unobstructed view of his assets—muscles, wide shoulders and a spectacular cowboy butt.

  She hadn’t seen him since high school. So why would she think of him as trouble?

  Maybe it had something to do with the way those soft jeans clung to his lean hips and muscular thighs. Or that intriguing indentation in his chin. She couldn’t see it from where she stood, but ten years worth of remembering produced an instant visual. His brown eyes, too. She recalled they were dark and smoldering. A woman was at risk of going up in flames from just a single glance.

  Not her, of course. She was a doctor now, and practically the same skinny blonde he had never acknowledged outside of their physics tutoring sessions.

  He turned around and she knew the moment he spotted her. His laserlike gaze scanned the enclosure, passed her by for just an instant, then swung back, settling the full force of his male observation on her. A small smile turned up the corners of his mouth, sending a shiver from the base of her neck to the tips of her toes.

  Over his shoulder he said to the other cowboy, “That’s enough for today, Wade. Feed and water him, then turn him into the corral.”

  Hannah’s heart beat a little faster as Dev ambled toward her. Was there a sexier, more masculine sight than a Texas cowboy ambling? If so, she’d never seen it. He let himself out of the fenced enclosure and came to stand in front of her. Quickly she updated her decade-old memory. He was taller, broader, filled out—and most important—not that teenage boy any longer.

  Dev Hart was a man.

  If the butterflies in her stomach were anything to go by, she was still the same awkward sixteen-year-old girl she’d been the last time she’d seen him. But she held her ground, or rather her rung on the fence. She might have grown up in a trailer and worn cast-off clothes from the thrift store, but she wouldn’t give him any reason to look down on her. Even though his six-foot-two-inch height would allow him to stare his fill at the top of her head.

  “Hannah?” His tone held surprise that was just this side of shock. “If I hadn’t known you were coming, I don’t think I would have recognized you.”

  “Hi, Dev. Have I changed that much?”

  “Yeah. How long has it been?”

  “I haven’t been back in about six years,” she said. “But I think it’s been longer since we last saw each other.”

  She knew for a fact she hadn’t seen him since high school graduation ten years before.

  “The blond hair and blue eyes are the same, but everything else is a whole lot more grown up,” he said, touching the brim of his hat politely. “Polly said you wouldn’t be here until tonight.”

  Her mother managed his household. After her father had walked out on them, Polly Morgan had cleaned houses, including Dev’s parents’, to support herself and six-year-old Hannah. A year before, Dev had hired her as a full-time housekeeper.

  All through college and medical school, Hannah had dreamed of giving her mother a better life. She blamed herself for the fact that Polly had had to work so hard and vowed to make her mother a lady of leisure. She was on the brink of doing it, too, if she got the job in Los Angeles that she wanted, with the prestigious pediatric group.

  “I got an earlier flight and rented a car at the airport. Where’s Mom? There wasn’t anyone up at the house.”

  “She took Ben to story hour at the library in town.” He shifted his boots in the red dirt, then folded his arms over his chest.

  Her mind raced, searching for something to say to fill the silence. This was her first trip home since her mom had taken over his household. Hannah had known she would see Dev, but she hadn’t expected to have to make conversation with him, alone, right off the bat. Polly was supposed to be here to run interference.

  “How old is your son now?” she finally asked.

  “Almost four. Next week as a matter of fact.” His wonderfully shaped mouth turned up at the corners. “He’s an active little son of a gun. I don’t know what I’d do without your mother. She’s pretty special.”

  “You won’t get any argument about that from me,” Hannah agreed.

  She knew he and his wife had split up, but not the details. When she’d heard, her first thought had been that golden boys have problems just like scholastically gifted geeky girls who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Her second, that it would be hard on his little boy. She knew from firsthand experience what it was like when a parent turned their back on a child.

  He shoved his hat up with a knuckle and she noticed that the glow of fatherly pride lingered in his eyes. She couldn’t help wondering what kind of parent he was. Memories of her own father were memories she tried to forget.

  “How are you?” she asked.

  “Fine. And you?”

  “Good. Although I’ll be better when I get an offer from one of the medical groups tha
t I interviewed with. I’m just waiting to see which one wants me.”

  “Who wouldn’t want you—the smartest girl who ever graduated from Destiny High,” he added, his eyes sparkling with surprising interest.

  “I don’t know about smartest, but skipping a couple grades was probably noteworthy,” she agreed.

  “Are you going to be here long enough for the high school rodeo championships?”

  “To be honest, I’d forgotten about that. When are they?”

  “Four weeks away. And if I were you, I’d watch my step after a remark like that. In this neck of the woods, forgetting rodeo is practically a hanging offense.” There was a smile in his eyes.

  She laughed. “Yeah, Destiny is nothing if not rodeo country. How is the stock business?” she asked.

  Ten years ago, it had been profitable and she assumed that hadn’t changed. Dev’s family made a better-than-good living supplying stock to rodeos all across the country as well as breeding and training cutting horses, and raising cattle. He was the guy all the high school girls wanted, as much for his money as his looks. If he hadn’t needed her to tutor him, they probably never would have crossed paths, let alone spoken. Of course, after each session, he’d never looked at her or claimed any association at all when they passed in the school hallways.

  He folded his arms over a pretty impressive chest. “Business is better than ever. Keeps me busy. Which is why I’m so grateful to Polly. If I didn’t have her to watch over Ben, the home part of this homestead would have come apart faster than a fat man’s britches.”

  Hannah laughed. “She adores your son.”

  He angled a hip toward the fence and rested his elbow on top. “She did say you’re unattached and it doesn’t look like you’re going to have kids any time soon. She claimed she needed to flex her grandmothering muscles while she’s still young enough.”

  Annoyance cut through Hannah, and she wasn’t sure what bothered her more. That her mother had talked to Dev about her, or that he knew she had no one special.

  “How are your folks?” she asked, changing the subject with what she hoped was scalpel-like precision. Her personal life, or lack thereof, was not something she wanted to discuss with Destiny High’s infamous chick magnet.

  “They’re traveling from coast to coast in a motor home. It’s what they always dreamed of doing and hadn’t made time for. After Dad’s heart attack last year, they decided not to put it off. He retired and turned the business over to me.”

  “Good for him.” In all of her medical training rotations, she’d seen patients forced back to work by economic circumstances when they should have taken off more time for their health. She looked beyond the corral at the red Texas dirt covered by scrub and mesquite as far as the eye could see. “But of course he could afford to. Everyone says that this is the biggest spread in Destiny.”

  “Everyone says?” He frowned. “You’ve seen the place.” It wasn’t a question.

  “Nope.” She shook her head. Her mother worked for his family, but always during Hannah’s school hours. And she hadn’t been back for several years. Polly had visited her in L.A. “You must be thinking of one of the other girls who followed you around adoringly.”

  That had popped out more bitterly than she intended. Funny how coming home brought these feelings to the surface.

  “Times have sure changed,” he said, shaking his head. “And I mean that in a good way.”

  “Are you trying to tell me you didn’t like all that female attention?”

  “Do I have stupid written on my forehead?” he asked, grinning. “I liked it a lot. But that was a long time ago. I’ve got better things to do now. Running the place and being a father doesn’t leave time for a whole lot else.”

  “Is that so?” Why should that surprise her? Still, it wasn’t fair to peg him as the same selfish teenage guy she’d known. She had grown up. He must have too. After all, he’d married, become a father and divorced. And he’d had the good sense to hire her mother.

  That was the good news. The bad—her mom was a live-in housekeeper and had sold her own home. She’d said it cut down expenses. More bad news—on this visit to her mother, Hannah had to stay on the Hart ranch, under Dev’s roof.

  But when she’d arrived, she glimpsed the house from the outside. It was a really big roof and her mother had said there was a separate wing for the hired help. Still Hannah knew she would have to see Dev. For the life of her, she didn’t know what she would find to talk with him about. They had nearly exhausted all topics of conversation in the last few minutes, and her crack about adoring girls had no doubt put her on the verge of wearing out her welcome already. She’d taken classes in medical school dealing with bedside manner, but they didn’t include polite interaction with the opposite sex. Her training had taught her to be assertive, but had been sadly lacking in diplomacy. In other words—she was socially backward. Which could be why she was still unattached.

  “Look, Dev, I don’t want to take you away from your work. I’ll walk back to the house and wait for Mom there.”

  “You’re not keeping me. I’ve got time to show you around the ranch now if you’d like to see it. I can have Wade saddle up a couple of horses.”

  “No thanks,” she said, a little too quickly. “But if you’re sure it’s not an imposition, I wouldn’t mind the walking tour.”

  “You have something against riding?”

  “Not in a plane, train or automobile.”

  “You’re afraid of horses?” he guessed.

  She nodded. “I fell off when I was a kid.”

  In addition to being a brainer geek, her subsequent apprehension around horses had always made her feel like a fish out of water in ranch country. Just one more thing to prove that she didn’t quite belong anywhere. If there was anyone else who’d grown up in Destiny and was scared of horses, she would like to meet them. All two of them could form a support group.

  “In spite of that, I don’t freely admit to being afraid of anything.” She met his amused gaze. “I prefer to think of it as a failure to overcome a high IQ. It’s not especially smart to voluntarily climb up on top of an animal who could squash me like a grape.”

  He nodded, but there was a twinkle in his eyes. “It’s because of the whole physics thing, right?”

  “What does physics have to do with it?”

  “A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.”

  “Yes, but—”

  “Or a body accelerates at thirty-two feet per second per second.”

  “You remembered. And here I thought I was wasting my breath all that time.” She couldn’t help smiling. “Except I believe I said objects—because the principle holds true for a feather or a bowling ball.”

  He’d had the oddest, sort of intense look in his eyes both times he’d said “body.” And she saw his gaze slip from her face to the chest of her white T-shirt which now felt transparent, then lower still to her khaki pants and white tennis shoes. When he looked her in the eyes again, his held a gleam that she didn’t understand.

  Oh, she hadn’t just crawled out from under a rock. She’d been around the block and guys had come on to her. But this was Dev Hart. If their past history was anything to go by, he barely knew she was alive. So how could she trust a look like that coming from him?

  He rested his hands on lean hips. “You’re not my tutor anymore. You’re a doctor now. Don’t you think bodies are more interesting than bowling balls?”

  His look amped up a notch. She hadn’t expected it from him, or her response—a sort of quiver that started in her abdomen and spread outward generating heat as it went. He’d never looked at her that way in high school. But then, other than their tutoring sessions, he hadn’t looked at her at all.

  When Dev Hart was involved, she was much more comfortable discussing physics than bodies and searched for a way to go back there.

  “The fact remains, I prefer to have both feet planted firmly on the ground. That
way a horse can’t put me in motion for the hard ground to finish me off.”

  “That’s true,” he agreed. “But it’s a real shame to let one fall stop you. Nothing compares to the exhilaration of riding.”

  This was just dandy. After ten years she’d finally gotten his attention and they were talking—about her deficiencies. “Surely you have better things to do than baby-sit me.”

  “Actually turnabout is fair play. Thanks to you I managed to get through high school physics and into college. The least I can do is teach you how to ride.”

  “Believe it or not, I’ve gotten by quite nicely without knowing. There isn’t a lot of opportunity to climb on a horse in Los Angeles. Not to mention that there are safer ways to get where you’re going.”

  While they’d been bantering, another cowboy had entered the corral leading a saddled horse. From the corner of her eye, Hannah had noticed him climb up on the animal’s back and registered the clip-clop of hooves as he walked him around. Suddenly, the horse reared, startling the rider who lost his grip and fell with a grunt into the dust.

  When the cowboy grabbed his shoulder with a groan and didn’t get up, Dev’s relaxed posture disappeared as he instantly went into action. He quickly opened the corral gate and Hannah followed right behind. They ran to the man’s side and knelt down beside him in the dust.

  “What happened, Newy?”

  “Something spooked him. Caught me off guard—” He stopped and sucked in a breath as his leathery face tensed with pain. “Mean, ornery, lazy cuss. That dang horse just trotted easy as you please right back in the barn,” the man said through gritted teeth. His sweat-stained hat lay beside him and his thin brown hair stood up in tufts on his head.

  “Is it the same shoulder? Dislocated?” Dev asked. The man’s pale blue eyes met his boss’s as he nodded then groaned.

 
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