It’s Release Day for Drifter’s Darling, book 12 in the Culpepper Cowboys series! I know you’ve been waiting for it, so here you go, I won’t make you wait! Get started reading Chapter One right here, and then zip on over to Amazon to pick it up!
Culpepper, Wyoming had never been a particularly hopping metropolis, but after eight years running the rat race in Denver, it was exactly the speed Elvie O’Donnell was looking for. There were more cows than people per square foot throughout the state, which was good for the vet business Elvie’s brother, Doc, had going in the remote ranching town. It was a vet business Elvie had happily joined when Doc floated the idea to her a couple of months ago. Culpepper was where her heart was.
Culpepper was also a great place to hide.
“Here you go, Raspberry Rush.” Denise Bonneville pulled a tube of lipstick from its display in the cosmetics aisle of Culpepper’s one and only convenience store and handed it to Elvie’s newly-minted sister-in-law, Nancy. “This one will match your complexion much better than the shade I saw you wearing the other day.”
Nancy took the lipstick with a dubious expression. “I’m not used to wearing make-up in the first place.” She rolled the tube in her fingers, reading the ingredients on the back, of all things.
Denise snorted and brushed away Nancy’s comment. “Honey, I’ll help you out all you want.”
“You will?” Nancy’s eyebrows inched up.
“Sure I will. I’ll do your colors too. Oh! Then maybe we can go on a big shopping trip to Cheyenne or something!”
“You planning to do my colors too?” Elvie asked. Her smile reached all the way down to her gut. She hadn’t had a fun group of girl friends since high school.
“I’d love to.” Denise brightened. “Although you’ll be easy to beautify. You’re so pretty already.”
Elvie blushed. The last thing she ever felt was pretty. Competent, yes. Powerful, occasionally. But pretty just wasn’t something she’d ever cared about.
“Thanks,” she managed at last. “I credit whatever prettiness I have to the O’Donnell genes.”
“You guys sure have a lot of them,” Denise grinned, that look coming into her eyes that all women wore when talking about her brothers. “I had such a crush on Doc for all those years. Not that I do now,” she rushed to add for Nancy’s sake, holding up her hands to prove her innocence. “He’s all yours now, and I don’t believe in chasing other women’s men.” She paused. “At least, not anymore.”
Denise’s lighthearted expression drooped. Elvie reached out to squeeze her arm. “We know you don’t.”
“Yeah, and you’re right about the O’Donnell genes,” Nancy said, steered away from the painful subject. “I still can’t believe I managed to bag such a hot guy.”
“They’re all hot, Doc, Sly, and Arch.” Denise perked up a little, then burst into a full, naughty grin. “I don’t know how you and Doc ever manage to leave the bedroom.”
“Let me tell you,” Nancy drawled, arching one eyebrow. “There are days when we don’t.”
“Eew, eew!” Elvie clapped her hands to her ears, laughing. “That’s my brother you’re talking about.”
“Yes it is,” Nancy teased her, licking her lips. She held up her tube of lipstick. “And pretty soon, he’s going to have Raspberry Rush marks all over his body, including his—”
“No!” Elvie laughed even louder. “Who do you think you are, Chastity Culpepper?”
The three of them giggled like a pack of teenagers talking about the guys on the football team. It was the kind of thing that helped Elvie’s soul breathe. The few friends she’d made in Denver didn’t understand why she wanted to leave the vibrant city for Nowheresville, as they called it. But this was it. There was just something about the friendships a girl could make in a small town. These were the ladies she would call in the middle of the night if her crying baby was running a fever.
Not that she had a baby.
Not that she was likely to anytime soon.
“So what shade would you recommend for me?” She turned back to the shelf of cosmetics. “Ooh! I like this one. Cinnamon Sunset.”
She reached for the tube, but Denise pulled it out of her hands. “Not with your coloring. This one is too warm. You need a cooler shade.” She put the Cinnamon Sunset back and reached for a dark rose tube. “This one. Dusty Rose Dreams.”
“Ooh!” Elvie took the tube, and turned to the tiny mirror built into the display, holding the lipstick up to her face. “I like it. Now all I need is someone to make kissy marks all over.”
The other two laughed.
“I’m sure you won’t have any trouble with that,” Denise said, growing wistful again. “Everyone and their brother is probably falling all over you, considering how few women there are around here these days.”
“Not after Sly and Rachel’s stunt,” Nancy corrected her. “The hotel has been packed full of husband-seeking ladies from as far away as Seattle.”
“That was a smart move on my brother’s part,” Elvie added. “And last I heard, Rachel’s underwear company had so many orders that it pushed them way into the black for the year.”
“So she’s going to be able to keep the company?” Nancy asked.
“Yep.” It felt incredibly good to say that.
But as triumphant as Elvie felt, the feeling deflated as soon as she noticed Denise mulling over the lipstick with a sad frown. Elvie exchanged a look with Nancy. Neither of them were going to stand by and let Denise get depressed. Not since discovering how nice the woman really was underneath the layer of prickles and tragedy that Chastity Culpepper had started to scrape away back in the spring.
“I think we need to find a great shade for you,” Elvie said, scanning the tubes of lipstick still in the display.
“Yeah.” Nancy joined in. “We do have a town full of single men, after all. You’re bound to snag one of them.”
“Sriracha Siren?” Nancy held up a spicy-looking tube of lipstick with a hopeful look.
Denise tried to smile. “It’s not going to work,” she sighed.
“Why not?” Elvie put an arm around her and hugged. “If you think it can work for me…”
“Yeah, but you’re thin and pretty and everybody likes you,” Denise said. “I’m fat and mean and I have a reputation.”
“That’s not true!”
Elvie and Nancy spoke over each other in their haste to set Denise straight.
Denise held up her hands to stop them. “It’s true. You can’t argue with it. I’m all puffy and doughy.”
“Men like curves on a woman,” Nancy argued.
“And everybody knows all about how mean and spiteful I’ve been all these years,” Denise went on. “I’ve been a royal bee-otch since high school, since Wes Fulbright knocked me up and dumped me.”
“Yeah, well, you ended up with the best part of that whole thing, Destiny,” Elvie argued.
“It’s true, Destiny is an awesome kid,” Nancy agreed.
“She is,” Denise admitted.
“She’s been a super big help over at the clinic,” Elvie added.
“I’m so grateful to you for hiring her after school,” Denise said, then rushed on with, “But that doesn’t change how I’ve behaved since she was born. It doesn’t erase years’ worth of being rotten. And every guy in town knows just how easy I was.”
“Was being the operative word,” Nancy rushed to clarify.
“Still, I don’t think I’ll ever find a guy who can love me,” Denise finished, taking the Sriracha Siren out of Nancy’s hand and shoving it back in the display.
“You don’t know that,” Nancy persisted. “I ended up with Doc, even after a billion misunderstandings and false starts. Well,” she cocked her head to the side, “not a billion. But I found him, and I’m lucky.”
“Yeah,” Elvie added. “And I never expected to find a guy who made my heart skip a beat and my girly bits tingle, not after—”
She stopped, clamping her mouth shut. She’d just come way too close to blurting out the big secret she’d been sitting on since the rodeo last month. It wasn’t even a secret either, just something she hadn’t planned on telling anyone. How could she even begin to explain her excitement at the memory of those blue eyes and those shoulders, as broad as the Wyoming horizon, even if she’d only seen them once? Guys like that didn’t come around every day and—
She blinked as soon as she realized her friends were staring at her. “What?”
Nancy grinned and peeked at Denise. Denise smirked and crossed her arms. “You get the feeling there’s something she’s not telling us?”
“Uh-huh.” Nancy crossed her arms as well and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Denise. “Spill it, sister.”
Elvie’s cheeks suddenly went hot. The only way she was going to get out of this with her dignity intact was to act like it was no big deal. “It’s nothing. I was just thinking about the one that got away.”
Drifter’s Darling is out NOW! At the moment, it’s exclusive to Amazon and for Kindle Unlimited, but in three short months, it will be available at iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo as well!