HER COWBOY BILLIONAIRE BODYGUARD is coming on Thursday, but you can read the first three chapters right now! You can preorder the book on Amazon right now and have it show up on your Kindle on release day.
Beau Whittaker resisted the urge to reach up and brush the tiny hairs from the back of his neck. Celia always swatted his hand away when he did, and she’d clean him up anyway. But they sure did itch.
He supposed he should be used to all the itching when it came to hair, as he’d grown a full beard over the course of the last ten months, and he only let Celia shave the back and sides of his head to maintain some sort of respect when he went down the canyon to church. Or maybe he did it for his mother, so she wouldn’t reprimand him for letting himself totally turn into a recluse. Or had she said hermit?
It didn’t matter. Beau was tired of defending himself. With Andrew out of the lodge now, and living with his new wife in town, someone needed to live at Whiskey Mountain Lodge and take care of the horses. So what if Beau had let his hair grow out in the process? Didn’t mean he’d cut himself off from society.
Even if he had.
Celia hummed as she kept the clippers running along his scalp. Across the counter, a pot of soup bubbled, giving off the scent of chicken broth and cooked carrots and freshly made pasta. The only thing that could cover the mouth-watering smell of Celia’s town-famous chicken noodle soup was the bread she served with it.
The bowl holding the proofing dough sat beside the stove, and Beau couldn’t wait until his haircut was finished. Then he could get these itchy hairs off his neck, and Celia would start kneading and forming rolls. Once he showered and slicked some gel through his hair, the scent of freshly baked bread would fill this kitchen.
And then, only a bit after that, L. Rhett would arrive. Beau’s muscles bunched at the thought. He knew whoever had been emailing him these past few weeks had been using a pseudonym, as well as a brand new email account. He wasn’t even sure if he was meeting a man or a woman, which was why he’d asked his oldest brother, Graham, to come to the lodge a few minutes before this Rhett person was set to arrive.
Beau hoped the case would be worthwhile, as he hadn’t done much but grow hair and ride horses for a few months now. At the same time, those two things had been exactly what he’d needed in his life, to soothe his ego and to calm his ragged soul. Somehow, sitting in church every week hadn’t done that, as there were so many female eyes watching him. Filled with sympathy at what had happened with his last case—and the woman at the center of it he’d let into his heart.
He exhaled, wishing he could find all the pieces of his most vital organ, and held completely still while Celia finished his haircut.
“There you go,” she finally said, whipping the brush across his neck and ears. She unpinned the drape from around his neck, and he stood to face her.
“Thank you, Celia.”
“Do you want to eat now or after you shower?”
“After.” He clenched his fist so he wouldn’t reach up to touch his neck. “And Graham’s coming over.”
“Don’t I know it? He’s texted me five times about sending soup home for his family.” Celia gave a light laugh and shook her head. “It’s a miracle they all haven’t starved.”
Beau chuckled too and headed down the hall and into the master bedroom. Every one of his brothers had lived in this room at some point over the last few years, but Beau had added the most to the room.
He’d put up pictures of their family, asked Annie to get him some real paintings of the area from local artists, and in the middle of it all, he’d placed a picture of his mom and dad on the day they got married.
He glanced at the photograph now, a twinge of missing racing through him at the familiar face he found on his dad. It was the same one he saw every time he looked into a mirror. Well, before the beard, at least.
Beau paused to look at his mother. Only eighteen when she married his dad, Beau’s mother was the strongest person he knew. She’d raised four boys almost alone as her husband built the largest energy company in Wyoming and ran it for fourteen hours a day, seven days a week.
He was the only brother who’d never left Coral Canyon, except for a few years to finish law school, and he was the only one who was here the day his dad died.
He ran his fingers along the top of the metal picture frame and sighed, wondering if this meeting was a good idea or not. Beau thought himself a good judge of character, even when the only communication he’d had was through email. And whoever had been conversing with him was in a desperate state.
“Desperate people do desperate things,” he muttered to himself as he went to shower. When he returned to the kitchen, complete with his cowboy hat and boots, Graham sat at the counter along with a bowl of soup and three buttered rolls.
“You’re early,” Beau said, settling onto a barstool beside his brother.
“Mm,” Graham said, his mouth full of food and rendering him unable to talk.
But when Celia put a steaming bowl of soup and a plate of rolls in front of Beau, he decided talking was quite overrated too. Especially when there was eating to be done.
Graham finished before him, and asked, “So who’s coming over?”
Beau kept chewing as he tried to figure out how to answer his brother. After swallowing, he said, “Hopefully a new client.”
“And you need me here for that?”
“She’s obviously not telling me who she really is.”
“Then how do you know it’s a woman?” The wind rattled the windows behind them in the dining room.
“I don’t. I just have a feeling,” Beau said. “She wouldn’t show me her case, but insisted that we meet to go over things.” He glanced at the blue numbers on the microwave. “She should be here soon.”
Graham shook his head and reached for his fourth roll. “If you think it’s a woman, what am I doing here?”
“Getting dinner for your family.” Beau elbowed him slightly and dunked a piece of his bread in his soup. “And taking Daisy for a couple of days, remember?”
“Oh, right.” He glanced around for Beau’s Rottweiler. She perked up from her dog bed in the corner of the kitchen. “I guess Bailey needs to draw her for art.” He sounded less than thrilled to have a second dog, even for a few days. “I’m not sure why Bear isn’t good enough.”
“Too old,” Beau joked. “How are Laney and the kids?”
“Just fine,” Graham said. Beau saw them all the time anyway, especially now that he lived out at the lodge.
Jealousy touched Beau for just a moment. There, then gone. He wanted a house full of kids, like the one he’d grown up in. His mother kept telling him he had plenty of time, but he was almost twice her age when she’d gotten married, and he couldn’t even entice a scared woman to stay in town and give their relationship a chance.
Oh, no. Deirdre had chosen her old life down in Colorado over Beau.
His chest pinched and he took an enormous bite of his roll, hoping to quell it. He finished eating, and he and Graham put their dishes in the dishwasher. He’d just stepped into the living room and switched on the fireplace when knocking sounded on the front door.
Graham, who’d just sank into the couch, stood again and met Beau’s eyes. “I guess that’s her.”
Beau ran his hands over his beard and straightened his shoulders. He’d met hundreds of clients over the years, but for some reason this one felt different. He didn’t get a lot of anonymity in Coral Canyon, as everyone knew everyone else’s business. But this person wasn’t from Coral Canyon, he knew that much.
After all, Graham was a tech genius, and he’d tracked the email address to an IP server out of Jackson Hole. Only an hour away, Jackson was at least four times as big as Coral Canyon, with plenty of tourists to gossip about.
He strode over to the door and opened it, Graham right beside him. Together, they stood shoulder to shoulder, filling the doorway and creating a very physical barrier to whoever stood on the stoop.
Sure enough, a woman stood there, haloed in the porch light.
Beau stared as he drank in her long, almost white hair, slight frame, and fair features. She sucked in a breath, her blue eyes turning cold at the same time she deftly reached into her purse and pulled out a canister. She expertly positioned her finger on the top and said, “Who are you?”
Beau couldn’t speak, and he wasn’t even sure why. His muscles had cinched at the sight of the pepper spray, but really it was this woman’s beauty that had rendered him mute and still.
“You rang our doorbell,” Graham said easily, leaning his shoulder into the doorframe on his side. Beau still couldn’t so much as move, or even blink.
“Which one of you is Beau Whittaker?”
Graham hooked his thumb at Beau. “That’d be him.”
Beau lifted his arm, but he didn’t have any conscious thought about it. Why couldn’t he get his voice to work? He’d never been tongue-tied in all of his thirty-four years, but this woman had stolen his very words from him.
The woman glanced over her shoulder and apparently decided that nothing was going to jump out and attack her, as her finger slipped off the nozzle of the canister.
Graham elbowed Beau in the ribs, which made him go, “Oof,” and curl into himself protectively. He glared at his brother, and Graham lifted his eyebrows and chin-nodded toward the beautiful woman still standing on their doorstep.
Beau’s face heated, and he managed to take a step backward. “I’m Beau Whittaker,” he said, extending his hand for the woman to shake. His skin tingled in anticipation of touching her, and he promptly commanded himself to calm down. “You must be L. Rhett?”
Her eyes flew to his, and he realized in that moment that she’d forgotten the fake name she’d used in her correspondence with him.
Didn’t matter. Beau would be getting this woman’s real name and phone number, and his prayers that he’d get this new case shifted to an entirely different level, for an entirely different reason.
Lily Everett had taken her finger off the nozzle of her pepper spray, but she hadn’t committed to putting it fully away. Unsure as to why, she reached out with her other hand and shook Beau’s.
He was a big bear of a man, just like his email had said. If bears wore big, black cowboy hats, that was. Which he did, and he looked pretty amazing doing it.
Problem was, the other man standing next to him also wore a cowboy hat and stood easily as wide, equally as bear-like. She pumped Beau’s hand a couple of times, glad her father had taught her how to give a proper handshake before flying across the ocean to the Middle East, where he conducted business with his oil company.
“This is my brother, Graham,” Beau said. “He just came up for a quick bite to eat.” Beau turned to Graham. “I’m sure Celia has your food ready to take down to your family.”
Lily didn’t miss the hidden message beneath Beau’s words, and she released his hand and looked at his brother simultaneously.
“Nice to meet you,” Graham said as if he hadn’t gotten the hint that Beau wanted him to leave. “And you are…?”
Both brothers stood there, watching her, but Lily really didn’t want to give her name. They’ve already stared you down, she thought, and they hadn’t exclaimed or sucked in their breath as they recognized her. Nothing.
“Lily Everett,” she finally said, shifting her feet back as if expecting to be hit with their realizations.
“Well, c’mon in,” Beau said, stepping back. “We’re not going to talk on the porch.”
Lily had no sooner stepped into the huge lodge before a woman appeared in the doorway. “I’m headed out, boys. Graham, your food is on the counter.” Her eyes landed on Lily, and she smiled for two moments before recognition lit her eyes. “Oh, hello. Sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
Lily’s heart thumped in her chest, sounding like a bass drum in her ears, while she waited for the woman to exclaim over who she was, and which song was her favorite. Then the questions came—how do you come up with the lyrics for the songs? Are your sisters as beautiful as you? Who taught you to play the piano?
But the woman just smiled and said, “I’m Celia, but I’m also leaving,” as she slipped past the two brothers and past Lily before pulling the front door closed behind her.
“You can put that pepper spray away,” Beau said. “I’m not going to bite, and my brother is leaving.”
“Oh, right.” Graham sprang toward the doorway Celia had come through, leaving Lily alone with Beau. She’d met thousands of people in her life, and she couldn’t sense a single ounce of danger surrounding him. So he was a great big teddy bear of a man, and Lily couldn’t help the way her heart started thumping again.
This time, it wasn’t over fear of being discovered for who she was. It was because he stirred something in her that had been dormant for many years. Something Lily had never expected to be so much as disturbed again.
And it’s not now, she told herself. Don’t be ridiculous. She needed Beau’s help to get Kent off her back once and for all. She was not interested in the man for much more than his legal skills—and he was the best in the surrounding five states, if her research was correct.
“Would you like to sit?” He chose a chair near the fireplace, which flickered with false flames.
She perched on the edge of the couch across from him, a large, square coffee table between them. Slipping the pepper spray back into her purse, she crossed her legs and peered at Beau. “Thank you for meeting with me.”
“Oh, the only things keepin’ me busy around here are a few horses.” He smiled at her, a warm, made-of-honey smile that helped her relax another notch. He looked like the type of man who could break a horse in a single afternoon.
He startled just a bit, a little flinch, and cleared his throat. “Did you bring your case files?” Beau glanced to her purse, which certainly wasn’t large enough for the files he needed. All at once, Lily remembered why she was there and it wasn’t to meet a man or get a date.
It was to get her dirty, no-good, cheating ex-husband out of her life for good.
“I just wanted to meet,” she said, finding her voice. “If I decide to hire you, then you’ll have full access to my files.”
“All right,” he said easily as if he had conversations like this every evening. Maybe he did, but Lily certainly didn’t, and though this was probably one of the most expensive couches she’d ever sat on, she shifted and couldn’t find a comfortable spot.
Clearly this Beau Whittaker had some money of his own. The thought actually appealed to Lily quite a lot, as she’d had her fair share of “suitors” who were only interested in her to get closer to her bank account.
“So what do you need to know, Miss Lily?” Beau relaxed further into his chair, almost like he was fixing to take a nap. With the way the house smelled like warm bread and chicken broth, Lily could see why.
“I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit about yourself,” she said, putting a wall between her and everything else. She’d perfected such things over the years, as she needed to appear to love her fans but also keep them at arm’s distance. She had to seem like she adored being on stage even when her heart was broken, or she had a terrible head cold, or she hadn’t slept in days.
Oh, yes, Lily Everett could perform and pretend better than almost anyone. And she could ignore these twittering feelings in her stomach and focus on the real reason she’d come all the way to Coral Canyon and then up another canyon to meet this man. This lawyer. And weren’t all lawyers sharks? Kent certainly had been.
“Let’s see,” Beau said. “I’m the youngest of four brothers. Graham, he’s the oldest.” His voice settled into an easy rhythm with a definite country twang, which matched the cowboy hat effortlessly.
“I used to have a law office in town, but the work got…monotonous.”
Lily sensed something else behind that word, but she simply nodded so he’d go on. “So I switched things up a little. My brothers have all lived in this lodge and it was empty, so I moved up here. Closed my office and started taking on select clients.”
“What kind of clients?” She’d heard through the underground about what he did. But she wanted to hear him say it.
“Women in trouble,” he said unapologetically and with compassion and determination in those dark, dreamy eyes.
Lyrics sprang to her head, something she normally embraced. Slowed down her life so she could take notes.
With eyes as dark as his
A woman has no choice
But to fall.
Lily shook herself. She would not fall into another pair of brown eyes, no matter how chocolatey and delicious they seemed. She pushed the lyrics away, determined not to write a song inspired by this man in front of her.
“Women who need somewhere safe to stay while we work on their case,” he continued. “The lodge provides an…out-of-the-way place for protection, and I still have all the resources I need here.”
“Do you ever go to court? Or do you usually settle?”
Beau leaned forward, a flame in his expression now that matched the fireplace he sat beside. “I aim to settle,” he said. “And I usually do, according to my terms, in about ninety-nine percent of the cases I take.”
“How long have you been doing this?” she asked.
“You’d be my fifth client,” he said. “Under this type of arrangement.”
“What credentials do you have to be a bodyguard?”
He blinked and leaned back into his chair, most of his face getting swallowed by the shadows cast from the brim of his hat. “I’ve never claimed to be a bodyguard.”
“Well, that’s what they call you out there.”
Cocking his head, he asked, “Out where?”
She gestured in the general direction of the front door. “Out where I heard about you.”
Beau let several beats of silence flow between them. Lily couldn’t be sure, but he seemed to be sizing her up far too easily. Or maybe he was working through some zinging, troubling feelings of his own.
“Let’s be clear,” he said slowly, the rumbly quality of his voice soothing and terrifying at the same time. “If I take you on as a client, yes, you’d live here in the lodge with me. The remote location offers protection, and I suppose I manage to do so as well. We’ll work on your case and get you the relief you need.”
Relief. Lily wanted relief so badly, she almost sagged into the soft couch behind her.
“What’s the fee?” she asked, keeping her back straight, straight, straight.
“To live here? Or to hire me?”
“Both,” she said. He obviously didn’t recognize her, and she didn’t need him to know she could probably buy this lodge and employ him.
“The room and board is free,” he said. “You have to treat Celia, Annie, and Bree kindly, and it wouldn’t kill you to help out around the house or with the horses. But it’s not required.”
She nodded, hoping it seemed like she actually knew how to help with horses. Her grandparents had one, but he stayed in the pasture most of the time and no one rode him.
“My fee comes when we win,” he finished.
She noticed that he didn’t say what it would be, and her heart thumped in a strange way, increasing when he said, “So, Miss Lily. Tell me about yourself.”
Beau could see his request made the beautiful Lily Everett squirm. She didn’t physically move, but the distaste for talking about herself showed plainly in those blue eyes. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and met his eye again.
He liked that. She didn’t back down from a challenge, making her vastly different from the other four women he’d helped over the past couple of years. They’d come to him with doe-like eyes and fear in every move and constant checks over their shoulders.
“I’m Lily Everett,” she said again, like that should mean something to him. “I have two sisters, Rose and Violet. We’re…singers.”
Beau simply blinked, wondering what kind of music she sang. When she didn’t continue, he said, “That’s nice.”
She sighed like he was being difficult on purpose, and said, “I write most of the songs, and I’m the lead singer.” She shifted now, edging closer to him—or maybe toward jumping to her feet and leaving. “We’ve put out nine albums, and they’ve all gone platinum.”
Beau realized what she was telling him. “Oh, I see.” So she was a celebrity. Famous. And obviously in hiding, as she couldn’t even email him from her normal account, or with her real name.
“What kind of music?” he asked, though he wasn’t sure why he cared. If it wasn’t in the realm of Garth Brooks or Chris LeDoux, he wouldn’t know it.
“Mostly pop with some banjo,” she said. “Violet plays.”
“And you sing.”
“Mm.” Lily crossed her legs as an uncomfortable look paraded across her face.
“You ever been married?” Beau asked.
Lily’s eyes flew to his, and he had his answer.
“He’s the problem, I’m guessing.” Beau wasn’t guessing, but he did need Lily to feel as comfortable as possible. He wanted to help her for some inexplicable reason. Maybe the way his heart was fluttering around in his chest like it had grown wings and wanted to be set free.
Lily swallowed and cleared her throat. “He is.”
“Well.” Beau groaned as he stood, his muscles aching for some unknown reason. He hadn’t done much that day that he didn’t normally do. Exhaustion swept over him and he reached for the mantel to steady himself though it was only seven-thirty. He shouldn’t be so tired so early in the evening. Maybe it was because the sun was setting earlier and earlier and with the onset of darkness by six, he was ready for bed too.
“Well,” he said again. “If you let me know what else you’d like to know, I can send you with some things. Then you can make your decision.”
Lily got her to feet too, and he noticed that she was well-prepared for the weather here. It made sense, as she’d obviously been living in Jackson Hole for at least a few weeks now.
“What would you send me with?” she asked, shrugging into her coat.
“References,” he said. “Past clients.” Not Deirdre, but Lily didn’t need to know that. He followed her to the door, getting a nice noseful of her floral scent. His pulse flapped in his neck for several reasons.
Number one, he could recognize attraction when he felt it. And number two, he absolutely was not interested in getting involved with another client. No siree, he was not.
So maybe she wouldn’t hire him. He had her fake email address. Maybe they could stay in touch through that and he could ask her to dinner when she wasn’t recording or traveling.
Number three, when she opened the door, they were met with falling snow. Lily froze, the word, “Oh,” dropping from her mouth.
“You better hurry,” he said. “Or you’ll be stuck here for the night.” He eyed the skiff of snow that had already started to accumulate on the sidewalk.
She faced him, that determination making a reappearance. “Can I stay here for the night?”
Beau fell back a step. “Why?”
“I didn’t get a hotel in town. I was going to drive back to Jackson.”
He exhaled, thinking of the long drive down the canyon in weather like this just to get to Coral Canyon. And on to Jackson? She wouldn’t make it if the snow kept falling at this pace.
“I can pay for a room.”
He scoffed and stepped back inside. “That won’t be necessary. C’mon back in. Let me see what rooms are available.” Beau honestly had no idea. Bree managed the lodge part of Whiskey Mountain Lodge, including the cooking and cleaning that came with it. Since he’d moved in a few months ago, he’d taken several guests on horseback adventures, but there wasn’t anyone at the lodge on this Wednesday night.
Still, he didn’t know if the rooms had been made up and were fit for a guest or not. “The guest rooms are upstairs,” he said, putting his foot on the first one. “You don’t have a bag or anything?”
“I can just sleep in my clothes and slip out in the morning.”
“Sure, if we’re not snowed in.” Beau didn’t turn to look at her. The odds of getting snowed in this early in October were slim, but Mother Nature had been known to dump feet of snow in these mountains whenever she dang well pleased.
He pushed open the first door he came to and found the bed made and everything seemingly in order. “This one looks available.”
He knew the one at the end of the hall was Celia’s, as she often stayed over in the winters or before big family events. But there were six other rooms up here.
“This is fine.” Lily slipped past him, blasting him with those lilacs or lavender or whatever flowery smell lingered in her perfume. “Thank you, Mister Whittaker.”
“Oh, Beau’s fine.”
She flashed him a smile made of razors and closed the door between them. Beau stepped back and stared at the white-painted wood, wondering what in the world the last hour had brought him.
Possibilities, sang through his mind, and Beau cleared it quickly when he heard Lily start to sing behind the door. He thumped down the stairs in his cowboy boots, chastising himself for thinking there was any possibility for anything between him and Lily.
The very idea was laughable. She was as skittish as a baby colt with a broken leg, and he didn’t have enough pieces of his heart left to go giving it to another beautiful woman.
“Help me help her if I can, though,” he whispered as he entered the dimly lit kitchen and pulled open the freezer. Since he’d moved into the lodge, Celia had been keeping the mint chocolate chip ice cream in steady supply.
He pulled out the carton and scooped three large balls into a bowl. He did want to have meaning in his life, and this version of practicing law while he helped someone in desperate need had given him that. Much more than litigating divorces or dealing with trivial complaints against the city.
He wandered down the hall to his master bedroom, his ice cream bowl in his hand, and sat in the window seat to eat and watch the snow fall. He honestly wasn’t sure if he wanted Lily Everett to hire him or not, and he managed to make it through all the ice cream before opening his Internet browser on his phone and typing in her name.
In less than half a second, dozens of images and articles came up, and she hadn’t exaggerated her fame.
Beau exhaled, his breath fogging the cold window, and let his phone fall to his lap. He’d never handled a celebrity case before—and he wasn’t sure he wanted to start now.
Maybe she won’t hire you, he thought for the second time that night, but something way down deep inside him whispered that of course she would. He was the best lawyer in Wyoming, after all.
And women like Lily Everett only hired the best.
* * *
The following morning, Beau trudged through the snow—which he actually liked—to the horse barn. Bareback didn’t mind the colder temperatures either, and the black and white horse greeted him like they were old friends. Which, of course, they were.
“Hey, boy.” Beau gave Bareback a handful of baby carrots, another addition to the fridge since he’d moved in. “Sun’s up. This snow should be melted by noon.” But Beau still wouldn’t take Bareback or any of the other horses out riding. The ground would thaw into a muddy mess, and they could stay in the stables for a day or two until things dried out. Beau only hoped his soul wouldn’t wither in that timeframe.
The horse continued snacking on his vegetables, not caring about Lily Everett up at the house. But Beau, it seemed, could not think about anything else. It had taken him an extraordinary amount of time to fall asleep, and even then, his dreams had been marred with dinner in a bad restaurant, with even worse music coming from the speakers.
Behind him, Black Powder puffed out his breath onto Beau’s hand, and he turned. “Hey.” He didn’t offer this horse any carrots, because he didn’t tolerate anything outside of a regular horse diet. “No riding today. I was just tellin’ Bareback.”
Black Powder nudged Beau’s sternum in a playful gesture. Beau chuckled and ran both hands up the horse’s nose to his ears. “You’ll be fine. It’s warm in here, and you have plenty to eat and drink.”
He took a few steps away from the horses, saying, “I’ll be back later, okay?” He’d need to feed them their morning rations, but he wanted to make sure Lily got out of the lodge okay.
He whistled a childhood tune as he walked back up the sidewalk toward the backdoor of the lodge. The sky was bright blue this morning, the storm having blown itself out sometime during the night.
The sun hurt it was so glinting and bright against the snow, and already the sidewalk had cleared patches as everything melted. Beau squinted against the glare and ducked inside to stomp the snow off his boots and hang his coat on the pegs in the mudroom.
He took an extra moment to breathe deeply and center himself, throw up a prayer, and run his hand through his beard in an attempt to tame it before he faced the rest of the house. He could brew coffee and scramble eggs—which was more than the rest of his brothers—but it wasn’t the kitchen that called to him this morning.
Instead, he stepped toward the living room and climbed the steps. The door at the top stood open already, and he called, “Hello?” and stuck his head in.
But the room was empty. The bed made. Lily had already gone.
Like a ghost. Like she’d never been there.
Beau turned away from the huge, hollow, upper floor of the lodge, retreating quickly to the more familiar and safer level where he lived, his disappointment sharper than it should’ve been.