Buying up her company hadn’t been his original plan. But when Texas businessman Ford Langley researched his mystery lover, he discovered Kitty Biedermann was heiress to a jewelry empire ripe for the picking.
It was the perfect opportunity for Ford to move boardroom discussions into the bedroom.
There was just one issue: Kitty wasn’t about to fall into his arms and thank him. She was determined to fight tooth and nail for her company—but would she be prepared for his takeover tactics?
Kitty Biedermann hated Texas.
That single thought had echoed through her mind from the time the flight attendant had said the words “unscheduled landing in Midland, Texas,” until this moment, five hours later, when she found herself sitting in the bar adjacent the seedy motel in which she would be forced to spend the night.
The last time she’d been in Texas, she’d been dumped by her fiancé. Of course, he hadn’t been just any old fiancé. He’d been the man she’d handpicked to save Biedermann Jewelry from financial ruin. So being dumped hadn’t resulted in mere public humiliation or simple heartbreak. It meant the end of Biedermann Jewelry. So it was understandable that Kitty held a bit of grudge, not just against Derek Messina, but against the whole damn state.
Since being dumped by Derek, her situation had gone from bad to worse to desperate. She had needed Derek.
From the time she was a child, she’d been raised with one purpose—to land a husband with the smarts and business savvy to run Biedermann’s. When Derek hadn’t wanted her, she’d remained undaunted. But now, after six months of working her way through every single, eligible straight man she knew, she was beginning to feel… well, daunted.
With this latest trip to Palm Beach, she’d been scraping the bottom of the barrel. Geoffrey barely had two functioning synapses to rub together, but at least he could read, write and looked damn good in a suit. But even as meager as his qualifications had been, he hadn’t wanted her.
Biedermann’s meant everything to her. It was slipping through her fingers and there didn’t seem to be anything she could do to catch it.
Now, with her elbows propped on the suspiciously sticky bar top and her chin propped in her palms, she stared at the murky green depths of her salt-rimmed margarita glass. She gave the glass a little shake, watching as the ice cubes within tumbled to the bottom of the glass. A lifetime of planning had fallen apart just as quickly. Was this rock bottom?
Her throat tightened against despair. Immediately she straightened, blinking in surprise. She was not given to fits of self-pity. Certainly not in public.
She shook her glass again, studying the contents. Exactly what was in this margarita? After a mere two drinks she should not be succumbing to such maudlin emotions.
Maybe this was what she got for giving the bartender a hard time. When she’d ordered a Pinot Grigio, he’d asked, “Is that like a wine cooler?” Apparently she shouldn’t have doubted him when he said he’d make her a drink strong enough to knock her on her pampered, scrawny butt.
She was still contemplating the contents of her drink when she happened to glance toward the door and saw him striding in.
It was as if someone tossed a bucket of icy water on her. Every cell in her body snapped to life in pure visceral response. The stranger was tall and lean, somehow managing to look lanky but well-built all at the same time. He was dressed simply in well-worn jeans and a T-shirt that stretched taut across his shoulders, but hung loose over his abdomen. No beer belly on this guy. A cowboy hat sat cockeyed on his head, but he wore scuffed work boots instead of the cowboy boots she expected.
Her first thought—when she was capable of thought again—was, Now this is a cowboy. This was what women the world over romanticized. This was a man at his most basic. Most masculine.
Even from across the room, her body responded to him instantly, pumping endorphins down to the tips of her curling toes. Funny, because she’d always preferred her men sophisticated and suave. As well-groomed as they were well-educated.
She was, in fact, so distracted by this mystery cowboy who’d just sauntered in that she didn’t see the other guy sidling up to her. The rough hand on her arm was her first clue someone had claimed the stool beside hers. Swiveling around, she realized that hand belonged to a guy who could not have been more different than the cowboy who’d snagged her attention. This man was short and, um… plump. He was bald except for a few wisps of hair grown long, combed over and plastered down with what she could only hope was some sort of styling product. His cheeks were rosy, his nose bulbous. He looked vaguely familiar, though she couldn’t possibly have met him before.
“Well, hello there, little lady.” He stroked a hand up her arm. “Whadda say we getcha some’tem cold to drink and we scoot on out to that there dance floor?”
“Pardon?” She—barely—suppressed a shiver of disgust at his touch. She tried to wiggle free from his grasp, but he had boxed her in between the bar and the woman on the stool beside her.
Why was he rubbing her arm like that? Did she know this man? After all, he did look familiar.
“You wanna take a turn around the room?”
“A turn at what?” she asked, genuinely not understanding him. She spoke four languages, for goodness’ sake, but Texan was not one of them.
The man frowned. “Are you makin’ fun a me?”
“No,” she protested. Unfortunately, it was then that she figured out where she knew him from. “Elmer Fudd!” she blurted out. “You look like Elmer Fudd!”
Normally, she would not have said anything, but she’d already gulped down two of those wicked margaritas. And all she’d eaten since lunch was a packet of airline peanuts. So her tongue was looser than normal.
Indignation settled over his pudgy features. He leaned toward her, scowling. “Whadja call me?”
“I… I didn’t mean it as an insult.”
“You are makin’ fun a me.” The man’s face flushed red, only increasing his resemblance to the cartoon hunter.
And there it was. She, who almost always knew exactly what to say and who could talk herself into and out of almost any situation, for better or for worse, was speechless. Horribly so.
She’d unintentionally insulted and offended a man who was probably armed right now. This was it. She was going to die. Alone. Miserable. In Texas. Murdered in a fit of rage. By a man who looked like Elmer Fudd.
Ford Langley could see trouble coming the second he stepped into The Dry Well, his favorite bar in Midland.
The Well was the kind of seedy dive that rednecks and oil rig workers had been coming to, through boom and bust, for sixty years or so. Since the Green Energy branch of FMJ, Ford’s company, leased land for their wind turbines from a lot of the people in here, he figured they all knew who he was and how much he was worth. They just didn’t care. Frankly, it was a relief places like this still existed in the world.
It was not, however, the kind of place women wore couture suits and designer shoes. Ford had three sisters with expensive taste. He knew a five-hundred-dollar pair of shoes when he saw them.
The woman sitting at the bar looked startlingly out of place. He’d never seen her there before. He came to The Well almost every time he visited Midland, and he definitely would have remembered this broad.
The word broad filtered through and stuck in his mind, because that’s exactly what she looked like. The sexy broad who ambles into the PI’s office in an old film noir movie. Lustrous flowing hair, long silk-clad legs, bright red lipstick, gut-wrenching sex appeal. With just enough wide-eyed innocence thrown in to make a man want to be the one to save her. Even though he knew instinctively that he would get kicked in the teeth for his trouble.
To make matters worse, she was talking to Dale Martin, who, Ford knew, had been going through arough divorce. Dale had undoubtedly come in looking for what The Well provided best: booze, brawls and one-night stands. Given how completely out of his league the woman was, Ford could already guess which Dale was going to get.
When Ford heard Dale’s distinctive drawl rising above the blare of the jukebox, Ford moved through the crowd, closing in on the brewing conflict, hoping he could cut trouble off at the pass.
He approached just in time to hear Dale accuse her of making fun of him. Hiding his cringe, Ford slung an arm around the woman’s shoulders.
The stubborn woman tried to pull out of his grasp, but he held her firm. “I will—”
“Dale, buddy,” he continued before she could ruin his efforts. “I see you met my date.” He sent the woman a pointed look, hoping she’d take the hint and stop trying to squirm away. “Sugar, did you introduce yourself to my buddy, Dale?”
“It’s Kitty,” she snapped.
Dale was looking from him to her with a baffled expression. Which was fine, because Ford figured confused was better than furious.
“Right, sugar.” Ford gave her shoulder an obvious squeeze. Winking at Dale, he added, “Kitty here’s one of those feminist types.”
She blinked, as if having trouble keeping up with the conversation. “Insisting that I be called by my given name and not some generic endearment does not make me—”
“She’s a bit prickly, too.” Based on her accent, he made a guess. “You know how Yankees are, Dale.”
“I am not prickly,” she protested.
But with Ford’s last comment, a smile spread across Dale’s face and at her protest, he burst out laughing, having forgotten or excused whatever she’d said to offend him. After all, she was a Yankee and obviously couldn’t be expected to know better.
With Dale sufficiently distracted, Ford tugged the delectable Kitty off her stool and nudged her toward The Well’s crowded dance floor. “Come on. Why don’t you show me what you can do in those fancy shoes of yours, sugar?”
At “sugar” he gave Dale another exaggerated wink. She, of course, squeaked an indignant protest, which only made Dale laugh harder.
When they were out of Dale’s hearing range, she once again tried to pull away from him. “Thank you, I’m sure. But I could have handled him myself. So you can’t seriously expect me to dance with you.”
“‘Course I do. Dale’s watching.”