Texas Strong

Sweetgrass Springs Stories
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The most reviled man in Sweetgrass Springs, Tank Patton lives on the razor’s edge of control, locked down and solitary by choice, keeping himself apart—the only way he knows to avoid the legacy of violence handed down from his father. When he meets a young mother in dire straits, he gives her and her winsome children the immediate help they need, intending to give her wide berth from then on.

Chrissy Daniels desperately hopes she can make a new life for herself and her children in Sweetgrass Springs, and that means being strong and self-reliant, no more leaning on men who are losers or worse—yet she finds herself touched by the bone-deep loneliness she senses in the man everyone has warned her is a brute and not to be trusted.

Despite his intentions, Tank finds himself drawn back to Chrissy’s warmth and the sweetness of her children, yet he knows that to truly care for them means keeping his distance. Chrissy battles her long history of choosing men unwisely, yet she finds herself unable to turn away from this man she’s beginning to suspect is more decent than anyone believes—including Tank himself.

But can a man who’s never trusted anyone and a woman who’s trusted all the wrong men defy the odds and open their hearts to each other?

Excerpt: Texas Strong

“Seriously, Josh Marshall will be at the work day? Movie star Josh Marshall?” Ruby’s new waitress Chrissy Daniels asked young waitress Brenda Jones. “Getting his hands dirty with, I don’t know, carpentry and stuff?” She fanned herself. “Getting…sweaty?”

“I know, right?” Brenda straightened one of the small flower arrangements she brought in after the days she worked at Veronica Gallagher’s flower farm. “I thought I’d faint the first time he walked into the cafe. He’s really nice, though, and down to earth.” She gave a nervous glance toward Jeanette. “His older brother is even more handsome, if you can imagine.”

Chrissy blinked. “Um…no. That can’t be possible.” She, too, glanced over, then filled another napkin holder as they set up for the supper rush. She’d been a waitress enough years to understand about pecking orders. Jeanette was top of the heap, and right now she felt extra vigilant because Scarlett was still in the hospital and Ruby wasn’t young.

The bell over the door rang, and someone walked in, a big man, tall and broad, with a badge on his shirt.

Brenda stiffened, just a little, and Chrissy couldn’t help wondering why.

He wasn’t strictly handsome, she thought. He had a rough edge to him, a rugged cast to his features. He didn’t look like a happy person, either. Around him was a sort of force field, an invisible barrier separating him from every else.

He looked like the loneliest man on earth. Not that his features betrayed him; his face was stone still, set in lines of authority and rigid control. But in his eyes, she caught a shadow…a hunger, barricaded almost immediately by what she thought of as iron doors rolling down, landing with a sharp thud.

Chrissy glanced about her, but everyone she saw was moving along in normal fashion, as though nothing had happened. Some appeared uneasy, others studiously ignored him as he stood like a tall, broad oak in their midst. But everyone left him alone, so alone that her feet were moving before she thought.

Her movement snagged his immediate attention. Blue eyes regarded her as if from behind a sheet of glass.

But a spark of curiosity flared.

“Would you like to sit?” she asked, clutching her ordering pad. Up close, he was even more dominating, and inside she jittered. “Or are you here to meet someone?”

Bitter amusement flared for a second. “You’re new.”

His voice could be hard, she thought, and intimidating, but she heard the edge of resignation in it.

“I am. My name is Chrissy Daniels. Do you come here often, Sheriff?” The star on his chest gleamed.

“Deputy Sheriff. And no, not any more often than I have to.”

Her eyes widened. “But the food is great, and everybody loves Ruby and Scarlett.”

A corner of his mouth turned up, and she thought he might have a great smile if he ever chose to use it. Somehow the tension around her made her think he didn’t use it much.

“You really are new to town.”

She frowned, wondering what he meant. Her lips parted to ask.

“Tank, stop glaring at my new waitress and come get your food,” Jeanette barked.

“He wasn’t—“ Chrissy began.

His large, rough palm gripped her arm for one brief second. “Don’t bother defending me. It won’t help.” Just as quickly his touch was gone, then he was gone, moving across the room with a surprising grace for such a big man.

She watched him go, torn by the urge to stop him, to ask what he meant, to make someone explain why, in a town that had been nothing but welcoming, this man was all but shunned. She didn’t understand, but she didn’t want to rock the boat. She needed this job. Wanted more every day to belong to this place.

So she said nothing as she watched him go, her own palm clasped over her skin where he’d touched her.

Where his loneliness was a fine powdered residue over her own.

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