Date Published: Apr 2020
Human beings were a confusing species.
Devlin McMillian had spent most of her life trying to understand why people did what they did, and she was still puzzled. As a geoscientist, she understood how solid, liquid, and gaseous matter worked together in the earth. But she didn’t understand how actions, thoughts, and emotions worked in people.
Especially Holden Lancaster.
When she tripped and stumbled into his arms, the smile he gave her was charming—as was his deep, cultured voice with only a hint of Texas drawl. “Why, Ms. McMillian, what a pleasure to see you again.” But even as he said the words, his light shale-gray eyes held nothing but contempt. Which, of course, made her stutter, something she hadn’t done since high school, when her trigonometry teacher had talked her into tutoring the cutest boy in class.
“I w-w-was w-w-wondering if I could t-t-talk to you for a moment, M-M-Mr. Lancaster.”
He set her back on her turquoise cowboy boots like she was a mannequin that had tipped over in front of him. “I wish you could, but I was just getting ready to ask Ms. Johansen to dance.”
It was an obvious lie. Emma Johansen wasn’t standing anywhere near him. But when he walked over to the attractive blonde, flashed a smile, and held out his arm, Emma quickly took it and allowed him to lead her out to the dance floor. Which left Devlin standing there looking foolish. Something she excelled at.
And she just didn’t get it. He should be thrilled to talk with her. If she were right, he would stand to make millions. But after a good two weeks of trying to chase him down, Devlin was getting the distinct feeling that Holden Lancaster didn’t care about making millions. Or maybe he just didn’t care about making millions with her. She seemed to offend people without meaning to.
Her father said she was a little too blunt for her own good. Her mother said she needed to show a wee bit more emotion. But all her life, her logical brain and lack of emotions had made her a social outcast—even in her own family. Her three big brothers had been the popular kids in school, the kind who were smart, athletic, and witty. They had no problem making friends, getting girlfriends, and succeeding at life. All three were now happily married with precious children.
The McMillian boys weren’t just successful in life. They were also successful in the family business. David was a savvy businessman who understood the ins and outs of running an energy company. Jonathan was a people person and managed the personnel. And Mike was a petroleum geoscientist like Devlin, except he had discovered numerous oil and gas deposits that had made the company millions. Devlin, on the other hand, hadn’t discovered anything but humiliation when time and time again her calculations had been wrong. She had a doctorate in geoscience and yet, she couldn’t find a deposit of oil to save her soul.
Which was why she was here at a wedding in Simple, Texas. She was hoping to prove to her family, and herself, that she wasn’t wrong this time. This time, she had the right piece of land . . . she just had a stubborn landowner.
“Don’t look so upset, honey. More than a few men have run from me in my lifetime.”
Devlin turned to find the woman who worked at the only grocery store in Simple standing there. Raynelle Coffman was middle-aged with short, bright blue hair and glasses that always matched whatever outfit she was wearing. Tonight, her frames were red like the bold poppies on her dress.
She patted Devlin’s arm. “But take my word for it. If you chase after them long enough, sooner or later men get tuckered out and give up. Just look at Cru Cassidy and Logan McCord. Who would’ve thought that those two delinquent kids who showed up at the Double Diamond Boys’ Ranch all those years ago would turn into such good husband material? But they sure did.” She pulled a tissue out of her cleavage and lifted her glasses to dab at her eyes. “It was a beautiful double ceremony, wasn’t it? I bawled my eyes out when Logan and Cru kissed their brides.”
It had been a lovely wedding ceremony. And the first Devlin had been invited to that wasn’t a family member or a friend of her family. She felt honored Penny and Evie Gardener had sent her an invitation. Of course, everyone in Simple seemed to be kind and friendly. Even to a socially awkward outcast.
Raynelle patted her arm. “Don’t you worry, honey. We’ll figure out a way to get you that man.” She glanced at the dance floor that had been set up in the huge barn. “And I must say you’ve made a good choice. The man is hotter than a deep-fried habanero pepper.”
Even though she was a Texan born and raised, Devlin had never eaten a habanero pepper—deep fried or otherwise—but she figured the pepper’s measured heat units must be off the charts. While she never paid much attention to physical appearance, she had to acknowledge that Holden was an extremely attractive man. He had the type of lean physique well suited for a tuxedo. He had taken off his jacket and bowtie earlier and unbuttoned the pleated shirt just enough to see the center bones of his tanned clavicle and a very small amount of chest hair. There was something very sensual about the tiny patch of wheat-colored hair.
Strangely, every time Devlin looked at it, her stomach felt fluttery and she had the strong desire to run a finger along the vee of his open shirt to see if the hair was as silky as it looked. She shook her head to clear the foolish notion. But when he waltzed Emma closer, Devlin couldn’t keep her gaze from following him.
The hair on his head was much blonder than the hair on his chest and reflected the string of lights that hung from the barn rafters like a rich vein of gold. It was long enough to reach the crisp collar of his shirt. Tucked behind his ears, it perfectly framed his facial features.
By themselves, his features wouldn’t be considered anything out of the ordinary. But when put together, they created something uniquely special. The thick slash of eyebrows kept his forehead from looking too high. The wide set of his eyes balanced his strong nose. His five-o’clock shadow worked well with the prominent angle of his jawline. And then there was his mouth. A full bottom lip sat below a top lip with uneven peaks that made his smile a little off-kilter. There was something about his mouth that made Devlin’s lips tingle, and she had to bite her bottom lip to alleviate the feeling.
Raynelle patted her arm again, pulling her attention away from Holden. “No need to worry, honey. Just because he’s dancing with Emma doesn’t mean he’s going home with her. Believe me, she’s all wrong for him. Now you and Holden, on the other hand, would make a perfect couple. You, tall with dark hair, and Holden, tall and blond.”
“Oh, I’m not wanting to be a perfect couple with Holden. I just want to . . .” She let the sentence drift off. After being in Simple for the last few months, she’d learned that Raynelle enjoyed gossiping. Whenever Devlin went into the Simple Market, Raynelle talked nonstop about what was going on with one person or another in the small town. And Devlin didn’t want news getting out on why she was there. The oil business was cutthroat. She was already worried that another company had contacted Holden. Which could explain why he’d been avoiding her.
Raynelle completely misunderstood Devlin’s hesitation and laughed. “So you aren’t interested in marrying the man as much sampling his goods. Well, I can’t blame you there.” Her eyes narrowed behind the lenses of her glasses. “But if you’re going to get him away from Emma, we need to move fast and figure out how to bait the hook.”
“Bait the hook?” Since Devlin was still getting used to the way the people of the town talked, it took her a moment to understand the analogy. “Oh. You mean dangle something in front of Holden that he wants in order to get his attention.”
Devlin knew what she wanted. The problem was that she didn’t know what Holden Lancaster wanted. She thought he must want what most people wanted—money and power—but he’d flat refused her offer to lease his land so she could do a test drill. Since Raynelle seemed to have a better understanding of people than Devlin did, she decided it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
“What do you think Holden Lancaster wants?”
“What every man wants. A good woman to warm his bed, fix his supper, and let him go drinking with his buddies without nagging.”
Holden didn’t seem like a big drinker. And for some reason, Devlin couldn’t see him letting a desire for food or sex get him to do something he didn’t want to do. Of course, what did she know? She’d only been in one serious relationship, and Alfred wasn’t what you would call a typical male. He was an astrophysicist who was on his way to winning the Nobel Prize for his discovery of a new cosmic gas. She had thought they had a lot in common, but Alfred had broken it off, stating she was a little too cold and uncaring. Seeing how Devlin hadn’t been upset by their break up, she figured he was probably right.
“So you think that sex would—” Before she could finish the question, a woman who wore as much makeup as a cosmetic saleswoman came hustling up.
“Lord have mercy. I don’t know why I brought the kids. Keeping three teenagers away from the alcohol is like keeping greased pigs away from a field of corn.” She held out a hand to Devlin, her numerous beaded bracelets rattling. “Hey. I’m Luanne Riddell. You’re that gal who works for the oil company who keeps thinking you found oil and haven’t found a drop.”
Devlin’s cheeks heated. Obviously, gossip had already spread about what she was doing there. It was embarrassing to think that the entire town knew about her miscalculations. At first, she thought the oil was on the Gardener Ranch. But the property lines turned out to be wrong and the area she believed had oil was really on a piece of Double Diamond Ranch owned by Logan McCord. Which had caused problems between Evie Gardener and Logan. Thankfully, they had fallen in love, so who owned the land was no longer an issue. And everything would’ve worked out great if there had been oil there. But a test well had proven that wasn’t the case. Once again, Devlin had failed.
“Don’t listen to Lulu,” Raynelle said. “She’s just jealous she don’t have oil on her land.”
“I don’t need oil when I’m on my way to making my first million with Lulu’s Creations.” Luanne lifted her arm and jangled her beaded bracelets. “My new Ten Commandments bracelets are selling like hotcakes on Etsy.” She took a bracelet off and pointed to the letters on some of the beads. “There wasn’t room to spell out ‘Thou shall not kill’ so I just put a capital X and KILL. Which I think gets the point across just as well. You want to buy this one?” She exchanged the one bracelet for another. “Or do you want my bestseller X SEX? I had to shorten the adultery commandment too. There’s only so much room on a wrist. Unless you’re Violet Melbourne, who has extremely large bones. So do you want one? They’re only nine ninety-nine plus shipping and handling.”
Raynelle frowned at her friend. “If she buys one straight from you, why would she have to pay shipping and handling?”
“Because that’s what big businesses do. Don’t you know anything, Ray?” Luanne looked back at Devlin. “But since you’re a friend of Penny and Evie’s, I’ll only charge you the handling. And look, this goes perfect with your cowboy boots.”
Devlin didn’t really wear jewelry, especially with the word sex on it. But the woman was so nice she couldn’t decline. “I’d love one. But I’m afraid I don’t have any cash on me.”
“No worries.” Luanne slipped the bracelet over Devlin’s hand. “You can pay me later. So what were you girls talking about when I got here? You looked pretty intense. Was it Maureen getting pregnant again or Josie picking that nonfiction book for book club? I mean, who wants to read boring textbooks?“
“It’s not a textbook. It’s an autobiography,” Raynelle said. “And we weren’t talking about either.” She leaned closer and spoke in a voice that was still loud enough to be heard over the country and western song being played by the band. “We were just coming up with ways to get Devlin here into Holden Lancaster’s bed.”
“I can’t blame her there. Who wouldn’t want to jump in bed with that man? He looks like a young Alan Jackson.” Luanne glanced at the dance floor. “Of course, it looks like Emma’s called first dibs.”
Raynelle swatted her arm. “Now, you know we can’t let Emma get with him. Everyone in town knows she’s going to marry Boone Murphy.”
Luanne rolled her eyes. “Everyone but Emma and Boone.”
“Well, they’ll figure it out eventually. Right now, we need to help Devlin here get what she wants, and at the same time, keep Emma from making a mistake she’ll regret later.”
Devlin was about to say that she didn’t want to get in Holden’s bed, but then she hesitated. Maybe sex was the answer. Not that she intended to have sex with him. But if she’d learned anything growing up with three brothers, it was that men were sexual creatures. She didn’t know how many times she’d watched her brothers make fools of themselves over women they were sexually attracted to. If she could get Holden interested in her, maybe he would relent and let her survey his land.
There was just one problem.
“I don’t think Holden finds me attractive.”
Raynelle gave her a sympathetic look. “I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, honey, but you’re not exactly accentuating what God gave you.”
“She’s right.” Luanne took Devlin’s chin in her hand and tipped her head first one way and then the other. “But lucky for you, I happen to be a professional at accentuating people’s best features. Not only do I make my own jewelry, but I’m also the only Mary Kay beauty consultant in the entire county.” She released Devlin’s chin and patted the huge purse slung over her shoulder. “And I just happened to have a few samples.” She winked. “You ready for a Lulu makeover?”
Devlin didn’t know what a Lulu makeover entailed, but she was ready for anything that would change Holden Lancaster’s mind. (Taming a Texas Charmer by Katie Lane)