Broken / Laura Wright.

By: Wright, LauraMaterial type: TextTextSeries: Wright, Laura. Cavanaugh brothers series ; 2.Publisher: New York, New York : Signet Eclipse, published by the Penguin Group, [2014]Copyright date: ©2014Description: 369 pages ; 17 cmContent type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 9780451464996 (paperback)Subject(s): Ranches -- Fiction | Horse whisperers -- Fiction | Ranchers -- Fiction | Brothers -- Fiction | Businesspeople -- Fiction | Inheritance and succession -- Fiction | Texas -- FictionGenre/Form: Romance fiction. DDC classification: 813.6 Summary: For years, James Cavanaugh has traveled the world as a horse whisperer, but even the millions he's earned hasn't healed the pain he hides behind his stoic exterior. Forced to tackle old demons at the ranch, James throws himself into work to avoid his true feelings. Until he meets a woman who shakes the foundations of his well-built walls... Sheridan O'Neil's quiet confidence has served her well, except when it comes to romance. Refusing to allow her heard to led her to disaster, she chooses to focus solely on work. But after Sheridan is rescued from a horse stampede by the most beautiful cowboy she's ever met, her vow to keep her heart penned wavers. Only, as Sheridan uncovers James's belief that no woman is safe with him, she wonders if such a wounded man could ever give in to love, or if some hearts are too broken to be healed....
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

The Cavanaugh brothers left behind River Black, Texas, long ago. But after their father dies, bequeathing them the Triple C, a cattle ranch that sustains their small town, they return--and confront the painful memories of their childhood home and the truth about their sister's murder...

For years, James Cavanaugh has traveled the world as a horse whisperer, but even the millions he's earned hasn't healed the pain he hides behind his stoic exterior. Forced to tackle old demons at the ranch, James throws himself into work to avoid his true feelings. Until he meets a woman who shakes the foundations of his well-built walls...

Sheridan O'Neil's quiet confidence has served her well, except when it comes to romance. Refusing to allow her heard to led her to disaster, she chooses to focus solely on work. But after Sheridan is rescued from a horse stampede by the most beautiful cowboy she's ever met, her vow to keep her heart penned wavers. Only, as Sheridan uncovers James's belief that no woman is safe with him, she wonders if such a wounded man could ever give in to love, or if some hearts are too broken to be healed....

For years, James Cavanaugh has traveled the world as a horse whisperer, but even the millions he's earned hasn't healed the pain he hides behind his stoic exterior. Forced to tackle old demons at the ranch, James throws himself into work to avoid his true feelings. Until he meets a woman who shakes the foundations of his well-built walls... Sheridan O'Neil's quiet confidence has served her well, except when it comes to romance. Refusing to allow her heard to led her to disaster, she chooses to focus solely on work. But after Sheridan is rescued from a horse stampede by the most beautiful cowboy she's ever met, her vow to keep her heart penned wavers. Only, as Sheridan uncovers James's belief that no woman is safe with him, she wonders if such a wounded man could ever give in to love, or if some hearts are too broken to be healed....

Excerpt provided by Syndetics

PRAISE FOR BRANDED Also by Laura Wright SIGNET ECLIPSE Diary of Cassandra Cavanaugh May 2, 2002 Dear Diary, I saw Sweet again today. This time, it was outside the diner and we only got to talk for a second or two because he had to go somewhere. But it was enough for him to ask me to meet him later out by Carl Shurebot's old place. I CAN'T WAIT! I've never felt so excited about anything in my whole life. He's just so cute. So DIFFERENT. He doesn't look like the other boys around here, with their mud-caked boots and Wrangler jeans. Sweet looks like one of those surfer guys on TV. And every time he smiles at me, my cheeks feel hot. I asked him why I hadn't seen him around River Black before. Everybody knows everybody in this town. But he didn't answer me. He had to go. But I'll ask him tonight. That, and what his real name is. Maybe it's something like Tristan or Brad or Dillon. Ahhhhh! What if he doesn't want to tell me? He seems to like me calling him Sweet, just like I like him calling me Tarts. (Note to self: Go by the dime store today and get some of our favorite candy for tonight!) I guess I could ask my brothers, see who's new in school. But then they'd start asking me questions, and I REALLY don't want them in my business. They'll ruin everything. They'll say he's too old for me, and they'll tell Mom and Dad. I don't think he's too old for me. He can't be more than eighteen, and I'm almost fourteen. It's perfect. He's perfect. I still haven't said anything to Mac about him. Is that bad? I'll report back later, Cass One "Lemon's the clear winner, right?" Before Sheridan could answer, Mackenzie Byrd shoved another forkful of cake into her mouth. This time, rich, creamy chocolate assaulted her tongue. Very nice. But frankly, you couldn't go all that wrong when it came to chocolate. Unless, of course, it was covering up grasshoppers or scorpions or whatever the crazy insect-eating population was pairing with their cocoa these days. She swallowed, licked her lips, and then reached for her napkin--which had been folded into a lovely bird of paradise by the owner, Albert Lee, and set next to her plate as soon as she'd taken a seat. Mac stared expectantly across the white wicker table at her. "So? What do you think? Raspberry, lemon, or chocolate?" Sheridan noted the look of panic on the forewoman's face, and wondered once again how she'd been roped into cake tasting with her boss's fiancée. Oh, that's right. She'd been strolling down the street--her first time strolling, mind you, but it had felt like the right thing to do in the small town--when a hand had suddenly shot out of Hot Buns Bakery, curled around her arm, and yanked her inside the oh-so-precious pink-and-white establishment. "Well?" Mac pressed good-naturedly, pushing the brim of her Stetson back off her forehead. "Thoughts? I need them. Normally I have them. But today, for some reason, it's just blank upstairs." A smile touched Sheridan's lips. She really liked Mackenzie Byrd. The dark-haired, blue-eyed, ever-grinning forewoman of the Triple C Ranch was funny and smart and took no shit from anyone--male or female--which was an attribute Sheridan wholeheartedly admired. In fact, in another life, where Sheridan didn't work for the man she worked for, she and Mac might've been friends. But she did work for Deacon, and friendship wasn't something she allowed herself to invest in. Either with time or her emotions. She'd grown up, maybe even hardened, watching her mother invest so deeply in her father's happiness and career only to be destroyed when he'd walked out on them. Determined to never risk her heart, she'd looked at all relationships as a distraction to her schooling, her work, and her goals. Sometimes it got lonely. But Sheridan would always choose loneliness over destruction. "They're all excellent," she offered in a professional tone. Mac groaned and held her fork above her head, the tines stained with bits of frosting. "I know. But which one is the best?" Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate . "That's really for you to decide, Miss Byrd." Dropping back in her chair, Mac's eyes narrowed. "Sheridan, seriously, you can't call me that. We've talked about this." The small smile that had touched Sheridan's lips a moment ago expanded into a full-fledged grin. She couldn't help it. She liked this woman. "You and Mr. Cavanaugh are engaged. I am his employee. In my very corporate world, there's no fraternizing with the boss's family. Or those who are soon to be family." "Oh Lord have mercy," Mac said with an eye roll. "And forgive me for saying so, Miss Byrd," Sheridan continued, "but isn't this something you should be doing with Mr. Cavanaugh?" "As you very well know, Deacon's in Dallas for the next couple of days. This needs to get done." A slight wickedness flashed in her blue eyes. "And as his right hand, his most trusted employee--" "Oh dear." Mac laughed. "Come on, you know what he likes." "As do you, I'm sure." "He's abandoned me in my time of need, Sheridan," Mac said dramatically. "This wedding is less than three weeks away, and things like cake and flowers and food need to be decided on. Am I supposed to make all the decisions alone?" "I believe some women would find that a blessing, Miss Byrd." I know I would . "Total control of the remote, so to speak." Mac snorted. "I'm not that kind of woman, Sheridan. Now, if we're having beef for the fancy dinner, that I can pick out and drive right on over to the butcher." She paused for a moment as Hot Buns's head baker sidled up to their table and set a sizable piece of coconut cake between them. "Wow, Natalie," Mac exclaimed, taking in the layers and the fluffy white coconut. "This looks amazing. I'll never decide." "Maybe you should call off the wedding, then?" Natalie replied softly. Both Mac and Sheridan glanced up at the dark-eyed woman, who was somewhere around Mac's age. "I'm sorry; what did you say?" Mac asked, confused. Natalie looked sheepish. Her eyes pinned to the table, she ran her hand through her short blond hair, which was cut in a cute pixie style. "I'm kidding. Of course." She swallowed tightly, then turned around and walked back toward the kitchen. Sheridan stared after her. "Strange woman." "Yep. Even back when we were in school," Mac remarked. "But she makes a mean doughnut. And a killer pumpkin-spice cupcake. And, of course, regular cake. She's a bakery genius." Turning to face the forewoman once again, Sheridan laughed. "Well, then, she's excused. Geniuses are exempt from normality. You know . . . she could help you with your wedding plans. A school friend might be just the thing." "Natalie isn't a friend," Mac clarified. "Wasn't back when we were in school either." "Okay. Then maybe someone from the Triple C . . ." "My closest friend is Blue." Sobering, she released a heavy sigh. "And he's run away from home." "Right." While she didn't know the details of the newest Cavanaugh brother's exit to parts unknown, Sheridan knew enough to be sympathetic. "I'm sorry about that. I know you two are very close." Mac's eyes went kitten-wide. "Don't say you're sorry. Say you'll be my wingman." The woman was relentless. "Miss Byrd--" "Mac," she corrected. "You're really stubborn, you know that?" She snorted. "Hell yes, I know. Part of my charm." She wiggled her eyebrows. "And this no-fraternizing-with-the-boss's-relatives business ain't gonna work anyway." "Oh?" Sheridan said, her gaze flickering traitorously toward the coconut cake. She loved coconut cake. Made a pretty decent one herself. Maybe strange-genius Natalie could teach her a thing or two. "Why's that?" "Well, James won't like you calling him Mr . Cavanaugh when he's kissing on you now, will he?" Heat slammed into Sheridan's cheeks, and the entire bakery seemed to shrink around her. "Wh-what?" Dipping her fork into the coconut cake, Mac's grin widened. "Oh, come on, Sheri." Sheri? And . . . James ? KISSING ON HER? What the hell was happening? This town and several of its residents were getting to her, making her appear soft. Making her forget why she had come to River Black. Work. For her boss, Deacon Cavanaugh. To further her career. Not to forge friendships or get caught up in dramas, imaginings, or, for God's sake, wedding plans! Sitting up just a little bit straighter, Sheridan said in her most controlled voice, "I'm here to work, Miss Byrd. I'm not dating anyone. Especially not James. Er"--she cleared her throat--"Mr. Cavanaugh." To be fair, she had noticed James Cavanaugh. Frankly, one would have to be blind not to. The man was decidedly handsome and rugged. He worked with horses, for heaven's sake, and knew his Shakespeare. That was a serious quadruple threat. But professionalism demanded that noticing was as far as it went. No dating. No kissing. As she studied Sheridan, Mac slid another forkful of coconut cake into her mouth. "So, what you're saying is, he hasn't asked you out?" Good Lord. Grant me patience . "I'm not saying anything," Sheridan answered quickly and with the slightest hitch of irritation. "And of course he hasn't asked me out." But instead of picking up on the frustration, Mac looked utterly perplexed. "Really? I mean, how is that possible? I swear, whenever you're around, the guy can't keep his eyes off you, or his tongue inside his mouth." "That's not true," Sheridan said tightly. But she couldn't stop the foolish and juvenile voice inside her that was already wondering if it were. Lord, if Deacon were to ever think she was interested in his brother, her position could be jeopardized. And she'd worked way too hard to endanger her career--not to mention her heart--over a rugged horse-whispering man with a pretty face. A very pretty face, her inner voice persisted. Sheridan mentally rolled her eyes at herself. Thankfully, something caught Mac's attention out the window and she turned away. "Well, well," she said in a near-purr. "Speak of the devil." Sheridan followed her line of vision and promptly forgot her middle name. What was it? Dorie? Donna? "Holy cripes," Mac said, shaking her head. "He's got one of the mustangs out. Is he nuts? Riding that stallion down Main Street like he was a tame little pony driving to Sunday service." Sheridan's pulse jumped and her skin tightened around her muscles. Delilah? Danielle? Oh, that was it. Sheridan Danielle . Her eyes widened. A man was riding down the street atop a very rebellious-looking black-and-white horse. No. Not a man. A cowboy. No. Not a cowboy. The hottest cowboy she'd ever seen in her life. Probably the hottest cowboy in existence. Dressed in jeans and a black thermal, pieces of his brown hair peeking out from under a black Stetson, James Cavanaugh kept strict command over the snorting, frustrated animal beneath him. Not by being big and loud and cruel, but with that quiet, confident strength he always seemed to possess. Quiet confidence. It was one of the things about him that intrigued her--and one of the things that would remain a tightly held secret from the woman seated across from her, if she wanted to keep her job secure and the probing questions to a minimum. "Looks like he's in the process of breaking that stallion," Mac observed, chin lifted, eyes narrowed. "I've heard about his work, but I've never seen him in action. Quite a sight, eh, Sheri?" Sheridan was just about to tackle the "Sheri" issue when James Cavanaugh turned to look in the direction of the bakery and caught her staring at him out the picture window. As heat infused every cell of her body, Sheridan held his gaze. For a heartbeat, or maybe two, she forgot everything else around her. Including that pesky truth about her work and her employer. All she saw was James Cavanaugh's gorgeous blue eyes. They were probing, hypnotizing. And suddenly, completely without her permission, her hand lifted and she gave him a small wave. Which he acknowledged with a clipped nod, then turned back to the mustang and continued down the street. Unnerved, Sheridan blinked and the world came back into focus. What was that? she wondered, turning to face Mackenzie once again, her cheeks flaming and her breathing uneven. What had just happened? And god, what had she done? The wave . . . the staring . . . "That was a beautiful animal," she managed to push out from her dry throat. Then she quickly clarified, "the mustang." Amusement glittered in Mac's eyes. "They're his passion--that's for sure." Passion. It wasn't a word Sheridan wanted her mind to associate with James Cavanaugh. Too late, mocked the foolish and juvenile voice inside her. "So, is that why he's staying in River Black?" she asked. "To care for them?" Mac shrugged. "There's a lot of reasons, I'm sure. Dealing with Everett's will. The wedding. And there might be some new information about Cass's passing." The sudden yet soft heat in Mac's voice gave Sheridan something solid to focus on. Cass was not only Deacon's and James's sister, but she had been Mac's best friend. Sympathy rolled over the lingering unease James Cavanaugh had ignited within Sheridan. "But I 'spect with the mustangs on Triple C land, James'll be here for quite a while. I hope so anyway." Mac's eyes connected with Sheridan's again and they were ripe with more questions. "For everyone's sake." Sheridan eased back her chair, placed her napkin on the table, and got to her feet. She tried not to think about how unsteady her legs felt or why that would be. She'd allowed way too much today. Discussing Deacon's brother, the staring, the waving . . . "I should get back to the office." Mac picked up her fork again and started in on the last few bites of coconut cake. "Which one are you in today?" "Town. But I'll be heading out to the ranch in the afternoon." "Oh. Maybe I'll see you there." She shrugged. "I want to take another look at the spot we may use for the ceremony." "I'm sure whatever you decide will be lovely, Miss Byrd." Sheridan turned to go, but Mac grabbed her hand. "Hey." Preparing to be scolded once again for the formality, Sheridan turned back. Mac was chewing her lip. She looked sheepish. "Look, I'm sorry. I know you're here to work. Deacon's your boss and you don't want any problems with that. I'm being a pushy jackass." Sheridan gave the woman an easy, but decidedly professional smile. "It's no problem. And, Miss Byrd, I'm here for whatever you need." She slipped her hand out of Mac's grasp and turned and headed for the door. But halfway there, she paused and glanced back. Professionalism was one thing, but truth in bakery goods was another. "I think the coconut cake would be the perfect choice." Mac looked surprised, and she called back, "But you didn't even try it." Sheridan nodded at the empty plate in front of the forewoman. "'This above all: To thine own self, be true.'" Ah, Shakespeare, she mused as she exited Hot Buns Bakery and started down the street. He always knew the perfect thing to say. •   •   • James slid off the mustang's back and gave the young creature a few strokes down his warm neck. Bringing a nearly wild animal into town wasn't the best idea he'd ever come up with, but Comet--that's what he was calling the stallion for now--needed to be looked at. And after all the mini bombs Dr. Grace Hunter had been dropping lately regarding her father, the ex-sheriff of River Black, and what he did or didn't know about Cass's killer, James wanted another chance to see if he could get any more information out of her. As he moved his hand down the stallion's withers and back, Comet eyed him suspiciously. You using me, cowboy? he seemed to be asking. Because I'm sound. Nothing but a little scratch. What d'you say we head back through town toward home, see if that pretty redhead with the sexy gray eyes is still in the bakery? Get us a slice of carrot cake or somethin'. James frowned. None of what had just come ticker-taping through his mind was from the stallion or his cautious gaze. That was all him. And unfortunately, it was not the first time he'd been having thoughts like those. Ever since he'd come upon Sheridan O'Neil in the rain a few weeks back, stranded on the side of the road near the Triple C, her beautiful wary eyes, that smart mouth--hell, that spectacular ass--had been assaulting his mind fast and furious. They were the kinds of thoughts that normally made him antsy, made him get out the duffel, pack up his duds, and head to one of the many hang-your-hat spots he'd purchased over the past five years or so. But this time he didn't have the luxury of a quick and painless departure. There were too many glass balls in the air here in River Black. Someone needed to stand beneath 'em. Catch them before they fell and shattered and did some permanent damage. So the unwise attraction to his brother's citified employee? Hell, he'd be ignoring that. Because women, in his experience, were even more fragile than glass balls. And his track record for catching the fallen ones was dismal at best. "Mr. Cavanaugh?" Dr. Grace Hunter emerged from the small veterinary clinic and started down the path toward him. She was a pretty thing. Small, lots of curves, thick dark hair. Cole's type all the way. Probably why his little brother's voice changed to a wolf's growl whenever he talked about her. She came to stand in front of Comet, her green eyes so guarded James wondered if he'd lost the battle before the war had even begun. Not that he gave a damn. She was going to talk--tell him something. She couldn't avoid the Cavanaugh brothers forever. Not after dangling a goddamn carrot in front of their starving faces, then yanking it away. "Morning, Doc," he said. Her gaze shifted to the stallion. "Something wrong with your horse?" "Matter of fact. And since you couldn't come out to the ranch, I thought I'd come to you." "Right," she said quickly. "Sorry about that. I'm just really swamped at the moment." He took a gander at the empty parking lot. "Yeah, I see that." She ignored him. "So, a flesh wound on his hindquarters, you say?" She headed around back to check things out. "I did the best I could to treat it, but it didn't seem to heal, and then it started to look infected." She gave Comet, who was uneasy at best, a gentle pat on the croup, then ran her hand down his thigh. "Probably something still inside the wound." She took out her bag and riffled through it. "I'm going to clean it up first, and then we'll see what we got." James watched her work, watched as she used Comet as a protective barrier between herself and him. Anything to discourage a real conversation between them. She had to know that wouldn't work. That, hell, he wasn't giving up that easily. When he did manage to get a ten-second glimpse of her, he found himself impressed by her manner and skills. He'd been gone from River Black for a long time--long enough for a few new businesses, like RB Animal Care, to open up. But he'd heard about the young vet's skill and nature. And true to telling, she had a calm, gentle way about her, yet was unwilling to take any bullshit from the animal she was treating. Damn fine recipe for a good country doc. After a minute or two, she held up a pair of silver tweezers, a thin strip of brown pinched between the tips. "Looks like we got a wood splinter. From a fence, no doubt. I'm going to put some topical on the wound, but I'm also going to prescribe antibiotics." "Sounds good," James said, rubbing Comet's neck. "Then after maybe we can talk." She didn't answer him. "Dr. Hunter--" James began. "There's nothing to talk about, Mr. Cavanaugh," she answered abruptly, her focus remaining on the horse's hindquarters. "I told you and your brothers. Several times, in fact. What I said in the Bull's Eye, what I thought I heard from my daddy, it was a mistake." Yeah, she'd been saying that for days. Every time he or Deac or Cole tried to get her to talk. She'd made a mistake. Her daddy wasn't right in the mind. Dementia had set in. What horseshit. None of them believed her. Well, they didn't want to believe her. Because with just a couple of words-- Diary existed. My father has it --she'd brought on something all three of them had lost a long time ago. Hope. It took supreme effort in that moment to tamp down the frustration simmering inside James. This woman didn't understand the magnitude of that word--what she'd started--what she couldn't undo. No matter what she said now, or tried to get them to believe, in their minds her father might very well hold the key to a twelve-year-old mystery. To the truth--the hell of his sister's murder, and every damn day afterward. His gut tightened. All that time not knowing what had happened to Cass. Or who had happened to Cass. His sister had lay dead and alone, with no comfort and no justice. That would not stand. James and his brothers owed the truth to the sister they had all failed. But with the way the vet was playing this, he knew that to get that truth, he and Deacon and Cole had to go easy. Break down the real reason she was backpedaling on that declaration she'd made at the Bull's Eye. He summoned his calmest voice. "If you'd just let one of us speak with your father--" "No," she said tightly. She stood up, her bag in hand, her eyes lifting to connect with his. "My father's ill. His mind's not his own anymore. He's highly medicated." James bit back the urge to snarl, And my sister is dead. "We wouldn't push him, Doc. You could be there to make sure. We just want to ask him about what he said to you--" "He didn't know what he was saying," she interrupted caustically. "He doesn't even remember saying it." "What about the diary? Have you even looked for it?" "I looked in all his belongings. There's no diary," she insisted, her tone as tense as her body language. "It was just ramblings. Something he'd wanted to find, no doubt, and hadn't." James ground his molars. Clearly, the woman in front of him was trying to protect her father and backing her into a corner wasn't going to make her tell him the truth. It would just make her dig her heels in further. For now, he'd leave it. He and Deac and Cole would have to find another way to get the information they needed. "Well, thank you for patching him up, Doc," James said in a careful voice. "Better be on my way." Grace looked momentarily startled, as if the last thing she expected was for him to drop the subject. Then relief and professional distance settled over her features. "I'll get that prescription." He watched her walk up the path, then disappear inside the clinic. Was it possible? Could it actually be possible that Sheriff Hunter was just a sick old man with wild ravings about a past he couldn't remember, a past that didn't exist? Hell, he didn't know. But he was going to find out. Because discovering and revealing the truth about Cass's disappearance and her killer was the only way the Cavanaugh brothers could honor the sister they loved. The sister they had failed to protect. Two "That's not going to be acceptable, Mr. Palmer." Sheridan stood on the porch steps of her boss's new ranch property with her back to the late-afternoon sun and her eyes on the contractor she was ever having issues with. "Your quote included all materials for the work." The man, who looked to be in his midfifties, tipped his hat back and regarded her with an almost parental glare of frustration. "Things change when you work over a long period of time, honey." Honey. So, we're going to play that game, are we? "That's not my problem, Mr. Palmer," she said. She may not have been wearing one of her power suits, but her don't-try-to-screw-me-over attitude transcended both attire and office building. "Prices for materials aren't fixed," the man continued. "Of course they're not," Sheridan agreed. "Which is something you should've factored into the estimate." He chuckled softly. "You're new to these parts. We do things a little different 'round here." "Is that right?" "Yup." "And if I decide not to accept that excuse?" His shoulders lifted and lowered in a carefree shrug. "Then maybe we can't get the work done on time, sweetheart." Sheridan stepped down so she was face-to-face with the man. If there was one thing she had grown accustomed to and knew how to handle, it was a certain brand of men in business. The ones with the disease her aging, single, working mother had called Bastard-Male-Itis. The one, during her second year of business school, Sheridan had renamed Underestimate Me, Assholery in honor of a particularly douchey econ professor. "You could walk away from this project, Mr. Palmer," she stated evenly. "Refuse to honor your agreement with Mr. Cavanaugh. But understand if you do so, you'll be hit with a lawsuit so devastatingly fierce and impossible to fight, it will not only bankrupt you, it will bury your entire family in debt." He blanched, but his eyes flared with anger. "Wait . I'm not done," she continued coolly. "Or you can choose to stick around and finish the job you signed on to do in a timely and cost-effective manner." His expression pinched, he looked her over. "Well, aren't you somethin'?" "I need your answer, Mr. Palmer." She eyed him sharply. "But if you do choose to stick around, know this--and I'm only going to say it once--my name isn't sweetheart, honey, baby, or sugar. It's Ms. O'Neil." Palmer's jaw flicked with tension. Mom would be proud, Sheridan thought, her eyes pinned to the man before her. As a salesgirl at Sears for twenty-two years, the other Ms. O'Neil had never been called anything but Georgia. "Do we understand each other, Mr. Palmer?" she pressed. Before he could answer, someone called out from the driveway below, "There a problem here?" The male voice brought Sheridan's head around and her heart plummeting into her belly. James Cavanaugh and his massive black horse were parked about fifteen feet away, at the end of the stepping stones leading up to the porch. How hadn't she heard him ride up? Moments ago, she'd been verbally kicking ass; now she couldn't seem to find her voice. That was not like her. She did not melt in front of men. Ever. Well, not exactly ever. There had been a little melting when she'd ridden on his horse with him a couple weeks ago, and in his car with him. And then there was the crazy window wave at the bakery today . . . Oh Lord, he looked so intense, so gorgeous, so imposing on top of that stallion. But truly it was his eyes, those twin pools of probing, hungry ocean water that really turned her knees to melted butter. She sounded crazy. Crazy and slightly infatuated. She was going to have to watch that. Only disappointment and pain came with unsteady limbs. "No problem," the contractor said, though his tone hinted otherwise. He pulled off his hat and wiped his brow with his shirt sleeve. "Mr. Palmer and I were just coming to an understanding," Sheridan said, clearing her throat. "One I'm assuming we won't have to repeat again." James walked his horse to the very edge of the stone path, his gaze shifting to the man beside her. "That right, Caleb?" Caleb? Dammit . So, they knew each other. She supposed that wasn't a surprise considering how small the town was. Odds were then that James was probably going to take the older man's side in their dispute. Or at least smooth Palmer's ruffled feathers. Long-held relationships, nepotism, they trumped most any issue in business. And around here--with the Stetson-wearing boys' club--she guessed it was probably even more so. Caleb pushed out a breath, then uttered, "Ms. O'Neil and I have an understanding." "I hope it's that she's your boss and you're her employee," James said, his tone surprisingly serious. That made Sheridan's eyebrows lift. And maybe her chest tighten a little too. No boys' club. Or maybe there was and James Cavanaugh, Esq., just wasn't a member. She liked that. And she liked that he'd remained on his horse and let her handle her business. Wanting to keep things civil and productive, she turned back to the contractor and stuck out her hand. "I'll see you tomorrow, Mr. Palmer. Bright and early." "Sure thing," Caleb ground out. Then after giving her hand one irritated pump, he stormed past James and headed for his truck. Yes, he was going to be trouble. "I see why you're Deacon's right hand," James said as he dismounted, and the contractor's truck sped off in a cloud of dust behind him. After tying up the stallion, he climbed the steps and came to stand beside her on the porch. He touched the brim of his hat. "Ms. O'Neil." "Mr. Cavanaugh." Tendrils of heat skittered down her back. "Lately, it seems, I'm both of Deacon's hands." His brows drew together. "Really?" Okay, that hadn't come out right. She stared at him. Up close, the man's eyes were shockingly beautiful. Like the sunlit water in Hawaii or Bali. "You know, the business side of things, and then helping his bride-to-be with wedding plans." "Oh, right," James said with sudden understanding. He scrubbed a hand over his square jaw, which carried a night's worth of stubble. "I saw you at the bakery earlier." Perfect . "Yes, you did." "You waved at me." Double perfect . "Possibly." He grinned. "So what'd y'all choose?" Food. Much better topic of discussion. "I suggested she go with the coconut cake, but who knows which way the wind blows? Sweets are a very personal decision. Now, if it were my wedding, I'd be all over a Reese's Peanut Butter cake." Could she talk any faster? God . . . And was that sweat trickling down her back? "Your wedding?" Those eyebrows drew together once again. "I just meant--" "Are you engaged, Miss O'Neil?" Sheridan laughed, but it came out sounding like a choke. In fact, it probably was a choke. "No. God, no. No." He leaned back against the railing, regarding her, and crossed his arms over his chest. His very broad, very muscular chest. "That's a pretty passionate answer. You against marriage or something?" "Of course not!" "Because if you think it's a sham institution, maybe you shouldn't be helping out a couple who's gettin' hitched." "Okay, you're really misunderstanding me here," she said quickly, thankful for the breeze picking up around them. She looked him over. The casual stance, the relaxed expression, the amused, ocean eyes. "What's this all about?" "What?" he asked innocently. "Your obsession with my feelings on marriage." His face broke into a wide grin. "No obsession. Just curious about you, Miss O'Neil. That's all." Oh. Right. That's all. He was curious about her. Was that her heart fluttering around inside her chest, butterfly-style? Good God, did Deacon have to have such a swoon-worthy brother? "You know," he continued casually, "you mentioned the Reese's wedding cake, and I just thought there might be someone cutting into the cake with you." "There's not." Sheridan was pretty sure her answer was spoken at the speed of sound. "Okay." "I mean, I think the idea of having a partner you can trust with your heart, who's your friend as well as your lover . . ." She cleared her throat. Why was she continuing to speak? What was wrong with her? "It's a nice, romantic idea. But I don't know if I really believe it's possible." He nodded, his expression turning serious all of a sudden. "I agree. I'm never getting married." His words--his statement--had Sheridan's eyes widening, her chest tightening, and her mind clearing of all that crazy-girl fog. Wow . She knew what had formed her opinions on marriage, and relationships in general, but she was very curious about what had formed his. Not to mention strangely disappointed. But James Cavanaugh's romantic future--or his past, for that matter--wasn't her business. Couldn't be. And she needed to keep reminding herself of that when he was around. "So," she began, forcing a professional tone. "You obviously came all the way out here for a reason, and I'm guessing it wasn't to debate the merits and/or pitfalls of romantic and committed relationships." Amusement returned to his gaze. "You're something else, Sheridan." The way he said her name . . . it was like being given only one lick of an ice-cream cone on a very hot day. Deliciously irritating and a giant tease. Not your business, Sheridan . "Is there something you need, Mr. Cavanaugh?" "Do you know when Deacon's expected back?" he asked, his eyes still holding her captive. Deacon. Well, now that made sense. Of course he was here to see his brother. Not to banter about inappropriate subjects like marriage, or demonstrate how blue his eyes could get in the light of the ebbing sun. "Tomorrow night, I believe. But he has a meeting with investors, so that one day could be stretched into two." "Shouldn't you be with him?" James asked. "Excuse me?" "Well," he began with a casual shrug and a grin. "Doesn't he need both his right and his left hand?" Did he know that when he smiled his entire face lit up? Probably not. And she wasn't about to tell him either. "I think he needs me here to straighten out greedy contractors who think they can slip and slide when a mere filly's in charge." He checked over his shoulder, took in the spot where Mr. Palmer had made a hasty departure a few minutes ago and turned back. "That what I came up on?" She nodded. "Sometimes country boys underestimate strong women." He laughed, took off his hat, ran his hand through his tousled and possibly sweaty hair. "Oh, I think that applies to all boys." Then he put it back on and captured her with those devastating eyes once again. "And even more so if the filly in question happens to be breathtakingly beautiful." For a moment, Sheridan wondered if she'd heard what she'd thought she heard. Or if maybe that foolish and juvenile side of her brain had taken over and was tossing out heart stoppers. And then James Cavanaugh added another whopper to the mix and she was toast. "Maybe what you need to be dealing with is a man, Miss O'Neil." It was truly unfortunate how warm she felt inside her red skinny jeans and tailored white blouse. And it had nothing whatsoever to do with the blazing sun poised overhead. She swallowed, her throat dry. She needed to find some water. With ice. Maybe a bucket of it to throw over her head. And she needed to get away from the gorgeous cowboy. Like maybe permanently. Avoidance was key. "Well, I'd better get," he said, as if he'd just read her mind. Or seen the sweat droplets glistening near her hairline. He pushed away from the porch steps. "Of course," she acknowledged. "Back to your horses." "Well, they ain't mine exactly, but . . .yeah. I'm trying to find them different lodgings." "Oh," she exclaimed softly. "You don't want them at the Triple C?" She remembered how angry he'd been when Mac had brought those BLM horses onto the property. All the brothers had been at odds about what to do with the place. But since Deacon had given up his quest to destroy his father's ranch, Sheridan had assumed that maybe James had given up his anger and come to accept that the wild mustangs were home for good. "They need someone around who knows what they're doing, how to handle 'em," he told her as he descended the porch steps. Sheridan's brows slammed together in confusion. Someone who knew what they were doing? Well, that was most certainly him. So what was the issue? "Are you planning on not being around to care for them?" she called after him. It was surprising how the thought of him leaving River Black anytime soon made her chest ping. Yes, avoidance, Sheridan! Learn it, know it . He untied his horse, then stuck a foot in the stirrup and easily swung up into the saddle. "I'll be here for the wedding. But after that, who knows?" Who knows? That was pretty much her future plans with regards to the small Texas town as well. Her gaze moved over him in a lazy, yet problematically possessive way. All that lean, tanned muscle and quiet, capable talent. Those raw blue eyes that searched hers, and that mouth that turned up at the corners in an irresistible smile before saying her name. He was the stuff of fantasies, and she needed to do everything she could to keep herself away from him and focus on her work. Because fantasies were trouble. For suckers. They got you hurt and broke and sidetracked and miserable. She hugged her files closer. "I'll be sure to let Mr. Cavanaugh know you came by when he returns. Or when he calls, if you'd like." Under the brim of his black Stetson, James's eyes shuttered, no doubt noticing the suddenly cool professionalism threading her tone. But he didn't acknowledge it. Just gave her a polite "Appreciate that, Sheridan" before turning around and leading his horse down the drive. •   •   • "Beautiful sight," Sam remarked as the mustangs thundered past, heading for the creek bed half a mile off. "They are that," James agreed, his eyes on the stallion out front--the paint who had won his place as the sole alpha among the mares. "But we need to find them a different ranch to roam." The old cowboy tossed him a curious look. "Why is that now, boy? They got all they need here. Water and vegetation. Why don't you put those thoughts away for the time bein'. Deacon's not selling his share of the Triple C; Blue ain't back from wherever the hell he's gone off to." Excerpted from Broken: The Cavanaugh Brothers by Laura Wright All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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Publishers Weekly Review

Type A personality Sheridan O'Neil has her priorities firmly in hand, and wildly sexy horse whisperer James Cavanaugh does not figure into them in Wright's lackluster contemporary western. Sheridan, the personal assistant to James's powerful brother, has no desire to rock her stable career boat for a cowboy, no matter how attractive he is. Witnessing her mother's devoted marriage crumble due to the careless whim of her father taught Sheridan that men and love are not to be trusted. But longing glances, fiery lust, and an undeniable connection with James point to her romantic downfall even as she struggles to keep her guard up. Meanwhile, an old Cavanaugh family tragedy underpins the series story line, driving the main characters as well as a multitude of minor ones to various actions and sometimes muddling the central romantic plot. Characters straight out of central casting, a reliance on tired clichés, and overly dramatic responses to most situations result in a forgettable read. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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