Craving the Cowboy

By: Liz Isaacson

Grape Seed Falls Romance Book 2

Chapter One

Dwayne Carver sat in the cab of his truck, taking an extra moment to prepare to get out for two reasons. One, it was mighty hot in Texas Hill Country this afternoon. Two, he’d have to smile and laugh and converse with people for the next few hours. For a man who spent most of his time with horses, dogs, and his parents, what he was about to do definitely required a second or two to gather his internal strength.

He exhaled and reached for the door handle. The heat hit him square in the chest, making his breath stick in his lungs. He’d been coming to the Peach Jamboree and the rodeo in Crawford for as long as he could remember. Born and raised in Grape Seed Falls, just a short fifteen minute drive from the county seat, Dwayne wouldn’t be Texan without attending at least one rodeo every summer.

As it was only June, Dwayne was getting his quota filled early. If only Mother Nature had gotten the memo that it was still early in the summer. He couldn’t even imagine what August would be like this year.

He pushed the weather from his mind as his boots drank up the dust during the long walk toward the festivities already in full swing. He usually stuffed himself full of biscuits and peach preserves, fried chicken and waffles, and more sweet tea than a person should be allowed to drink.

But not today.

Oh, no. Today, he was sitting in the dunk tank, determined to hold down his record of staying dry for the third summer in a row. A bit of pride swelled his chest, and he worked to squash it. His dad always said pride didn’t wear well on a man, and Dwayne couldn’t rid himself of the life lessons his parents had instilled in him.

“There you are.” Amelia Hardy approached, a round woman just a few years older than Dwayne.

“I’m not late, am I?” He didn’t wear a watch, but glanced up at the sky like the sun would confirm that he’d arrived on time.

“Our last participant went under so many times, he left early.” Amelia smoothed back her hair, the curly wisps of it making her seem a bit crazed.

“Well, I’m ready.” Dwayne glanced over her head to find the area in front of the dunk tank empty. No wonder Amelia was frazzled. Each throw cost a dollar and the church used the money they earned from the Jamboree to fund their music programs.

“You’re going in like that?” She scanned him from the tips of his cowboy boots to the silver cowboy hat on his head.

He grinned at her and pressed his right arm to his side as the tremors started to shake his fingers. “I’m not goin’ in.” He stepped past her, hoping his neurological disorder would quiet down. He prayed for it.

Just four a few hours, he thought. No tremors for a few hours, okay, Lord?

Dwayne climbed the ladder on the side of the dunk tank and balanced his boots on the narrow rail before sitting on the platform above the water. For a moment, he thought maybe he should pray someone would hit the button dead-on so he could cool off.

He swiped off his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Ready,” he called to Amelia.

She picked up a megaphone and started calling for people to come “dunk the man who hasn’t gotten wet in three years!”

Only a few minutes passed before people started gathering around, their curious eyes all lasered on him. Dwayne worked to keep himself still. It wouldn’t do to show the crowd that he was nervous.

A boy no older than twelve paid for five baseballs, and Dwayne relaxed. He didn’t have anything to worry about with a kid. The boy threw the first ball and it didn’t even reach the dunk tank.

“C’mon!” Dwayne called good-naturedly. “You can get it here!”

Out of the five balls, only two made it anywhere near the tank, and that was only to bounce off the front of it.

A pack of cowboys came into view, and Dwayne’s chest seized. His cowboys hadn’t come. They hadn’t. Kurt had promised he’d—

The man leading them turned, and his trademark white cowboy hat testified that Kurt had fibbed. Because not only had he come, he’d brought all sixteen cowboys from the ranch with him. And they were all holding cash.

Dwayne called, “Nice try, boys. I’ve seen y’all throw ropes, and I’ve got nothing to worry about.”