Keeping a low profile is tough for Texas’s Sexiest Bachelor. Could a pretend relationship solve the problem? Find out in the first Devil’s Bluffs novel by Stacey Kennedy!

 “Yeah, cowboy, we’ve got a deal.” 

And a very real fake engagement!

Being named Texas’s Sexiest Bachelor is the opposite of fun for divorced rancher Colter Ward. So when old friend Adeline Harlow shows up determined to land an exclusive interview, they strike a deal to form a fake relationship. The one flaw? Everyone believes they’re headed for happily-ever-after! But with Adeline returning to New York and Colter’s family needing him in Devil’s Bluffs, where will they end up?

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"Witty, charming, steamy, and small town Texas!"
Hammock & Read


“Hey, sugar.”

Sitting atop a wooden bar stool, Colter Ward internally groaned at the cloying perfume infusing the air and itching his nose. Before he arrived at the Black Horse, the legendary cowboy bar in Devil’s Bluffs, Texas, he’d figured the dirt and grim under his fingernails from a long day working on a cattle ranch, his unwashed hair and filthy clothes reeking of sweat and God knows what else, would keep any sane woman away tonight.

Irritated he was wrong, he chugged back his ice-cold beer to ease the tight muscles across his shoulders, hearing the liquid’s glug in the bottle. The crisp, bitter taste rushed down his throat as he met seductive brown eyes belonging to a woman who on any other night would’ve spiked his attention. “Not interested.” He coldly turned his gaze back to the television screen above the wall of liquor bottles, highlighting the latest Professional Bull Riding championship.

Lust simmered in her raspy voice. “Then I’ll give you a few minutes to rethink why you should be interested,” she said before heading back to her table on the other side of the bar, where her friend waited.

Colter had come to the bar like he did every Friday after work to unwind, not to find a woman to warm his bed. The place was pure country. Wooden stools butted up against a brass foot rail at a higher counter. Photographs of famous country singers, actors and athletes who’d passed through the small town over the years covered the wood paneling on the walls heading down a dingy hallway to restrooms at the end. Peanut shells littered the floors, and bowls of pretzels were scattered on the round tabletops.

“The ladies after you again?” Riggs Evans, the Black Horse’s owner, and Colter’s lifelong buddy, asked from behind the bar.

One look into Riggs’s amused green eyes, and Colter snorted. “They’re worse than a heifer protecting her calf from vaccinations.” And he had a dozen scars to attest to a cow’s viciousness where it came to keeping her calf safe.

Wiping up the condensation Colter’s beer left on the counter, Riggs threw his head back and laughed, bouncing the messy jet-black curls atop his head. “I’ve never known you not to enjoy the ladies’ interest.”

“These aren’t ladies, they’re sharks.”

Nearly a month ago, Colter’s life had been a disaster after his divorce, but at least it was a quiet disaster. Everything changed when an article came out in a gossip blog out of New York City. In their fifty-state bachelor round-up piece, they named him Texas’s sexiest bachelor of the year, after a photograph of him saving a calf from a rapid went viral. Ever since then, not only local women were hounding him, but women had started showing up from out of town chasing after Colter—and his family’s millions—looking for some cowboy love.

The attention grated on Colter’s last nerve. After his divorce, he’d put his focus on his family’s ranch to ensure the Ward legacy continued.

For six generations, the Ward family had worked cattle and bred American quarter horses. Since they were old money, many had wanted to marry into the family over the years, but these past few weeks the women had been relentless. They stalked Colter. In public. At home. Even in his dreams. All he wanted was a cold beer and some quiet after a long, hard week. Not hungry women who wanted his dead heart.

He needed to get this story buried. And these women off his back. For good.

“Ah, dammit,” Riggs suddenly snapped.

Down the other end of the bar, Willie, more often inebriated than not, was swearing at another patron, who looked ready to throw the old man against the wall.

Riggs sighed at Colter. “Let me know if you need anything else.”

“Sure will.” Colter picked at the slippery beer label on his bottle as country beats played through the speakers above the bar. Riggs had become a cop after high school, and a detective after that, but he’d retired after working a difficult case. He didn’t need Colter’s help. Riggs settled the matter quickly, serving both men a free drink and ensuring they sat apart.

Colter took another sip of his beer as a sweet voice next to him said, “I’ll take whatever’s on tap.”

“Coming up,” said Riggs, now back at his post, with a smile Colter had seen a thousand times over.

Her voice sounded familiar, but Colter refused to acknowledge her. He was so damn tired of turning down women. He wanted the spotlight put on the ranch, his family, not on himself. He kept his focus on the television screen.

“Colter Ward, right?”

Could he get twenty minutes to himself? Ready to feed her the same line he’d been using for weeks, he faced the woman with the soft voice, ready to unleash his frustration—but he stopped short.

Long waves of strawberry-blond hair curtained a round face. Freckles dusted a small nose, and pouty lips had never looked so pink and inviting. Given that she was wearing a thin blouse and long skirt, nothing was left to his imagination. She had a body made for a man’s hands—all the right curves in all the right places. Damn. He’d bet she smelled like a lavender field mixed with sunshine. He began rethinking why he didn’t want to take a warm, lush woman to his bed tonight.

“Or am I mistaken?” she asked with a smile that snuffed out his thoughts.

Until he remembered she—and any woman—was currently the enemy. “Listen, I’m sure you’re a wonderful woman, but let me make this unboundedly clear to you: I’m not looking for a relationship. I’m recently divorced and paying alimony to my ex-wife, and I’ve got enough emotional baggage to fill a barn. Believe me, I might have millions, but the hell I’ll put you through ain’t worth the money.”

She lifted a single eyebrow, sliding onto the stool next to him. “Wow. After that gleaming introduction, I can assure you that I’m most definitely not applying for the job.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Adeline Harlow.”

Unable to ignore the manners his parents had raised him with, Colter closed his callused hand around her delicate fingers, returning the handshake. “Colter Ward.”

She laughed softly. “Yes, I’ve already told you that I know who you are. Do you not remember me?”

He gave her another look over, reassessing. “I’m afraid I don’t. Should I?”

She pulled her hand away, leaving his skin tingling. “I should think so. I babysat your little brother for an entire summer.”

He fought back through his hazy memories, and her name came to him. So did two pigtails, crooked teeth, a chubby face and baggy clothes. “Not the Adeline who’d sit on my parents’ couch and write in those journals?”

“That’s the one.” She smiled.

He could hardly believe his eyes. He’d seen many pretty women, but Adeline was something entirely different. Something…tempting. “Jesus, you’ve left me a little speechless here.”

She hit him with a smile full of sass. “Guess that’s not a bad way to leave the unshakable Colter Ward.”

He laughed dryly. “Believe me, Adeline, I’m shakable.” Hating how darkly pathetic he sounded, he took another gulp of his beer.

“So, you’re actually human after all, hmm?”

Glancing sideways, he held her playful stare. Though behind the mischievousness, he saw what he needed to know. Back in high school, he’d hung with the popular crowd, and Adeline had not. She thought he had it all. She was dead wrong. “Whatever gave you the impression that I wasn’t human?”

Her grin widened. “You are Texas’s sexiest bachelor, after all.”

Damn that article. “Where did you move again?”

“New York City,” she answered and then thanked Riggs as he delivered her beer.

As she took a sip, he asked, “I’m still news in New York City? That article came out weeks ago.”

She set her beer down on the paper coaster. “What can I say? People love a hot, heroic cowboy.”

He liked—probably more than he should have—that she thought he was hot. To shift the subject off himself, he asked, “Have you moved back to town?” From what he remembered, her mother had moved them away after that summer she babysat his brother, Beau, to be closer to family.

“No, I’m just visiting.” Her spine bowed before she straightened her back and smiled again. “How’s your family?”

“Beau and my mother are great.”

“And your dad?”

Coldness sank into Colter’s bones. “Five years ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It’s progressing fast.” Something Colter would never forgive himself for. He should have been there to help his father when he grew weak. Instead, he’d only focused only his crumbling marriage. He refused to fail his family again.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” Her hand came to his forearm, her warm gaze offering an alluring comfort.

“Thank you. It’s been hardest on my mother.” The heat from her fingers on his arm chipped away at the ice in his veins. “My dad’s been in a wheelchair for a few months now. He’s at a nursing home now but comes home often with the help of a nurse.”

“Aw, that’s hard.” She slowly withdrew her hand, reaching for her beer mug again. “Your parents were always so in love, so it’s nice that he can come home sometimes.”

Yeah, his parents were madly in love. He’d once wanted a love like that for himself. Until he realized that kind of love didn’t happen for everyone.

She watched him closely, awareness reaching her kind, honey-colored eyes. “I saw that your family donated to the Parkinson’s Federation this year.”

The donation had been the largest his family had made yet—$300,000 in his father’s name. “Whatever we can do to further research to help cure this cruel disease, we’ll do.”

She smiled softly. “Your family has always been so generous to our community.”

He caught himself staring into her eyes, feeling an odd sense of nostalgia. Adeline had known the young man he’d once been, before his heart was ripped out. She didn’t look at him like he was broken, the way his family did. Hell, even the way Riggs did sometimes. “So, Adeline, if you haven’t moved back to town, why are you here?”

“To see you.”


She hesitated. Then she hit him with, “I’m actually a journalist. I work for the blog that named you Texas’s sexiest bachelor.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “You wrote that article about me?”

“No,” she said. “But my editor wants a follow-up story, because you’ve been such a hit with our readers.”

“I see,” he said, feeling the walls around him slam up. Wanting nothing to do with anyone involved in the blog that had turned his life into a circus, he polished off his beer. “It was good to see you, but I better get going.”

“Wait,” she said, clamping onto his forearm again.

He looked at that touch burning his arm then into her widening eyes, which he almost felt like he could get lost in. Never in his life had he wanted to leave and stay in the same place at all once.

“One interview, that’s all I’m asking for,” she said with big, pleading eyes. “Then you can go back to your life, and I’ll go back to mine.”

“That article has turned my life into a spectacle. Why would I let you write another one about me?”

She gave him a beaming smile. “Because I’m utterly charming?”

He felt a crack splinter his wall against her. “No.”

Her smile widened. “Because I’m a friend of the family?”


The playfulness faded from her face, replaced by something fierce that wrapped around Colter and yanked him forward. “Because what stands between me and the promotion I’ve worked my butt off for years is an exclusive interview with you. Nothing—and I mean nothing—will stop me from getting my interview and earning that promotion. So, either you agree now and make this easy, or we spend the next few days playing a game that neither of us wants to play. But in the end, you will give me the interview.”

A chemistry he had not felt in a very long time, if ever, burned between them, tasting rich, raw and tangible. “Why do you think you’d win a game we played?”

Her grin sparkled. “Because I never lose.”

Colter could forget his own damn name under that smile. “Is that so?” He closed the distance, leaning near, pulled by something that felt warm, familiar and yet brand-new, too. The local women in Devil’s Bluffs kept their distance from a man who’d already failed at marriage and clearly was not on the market. For weeks, he’d been running from women from out of town, all to keep his mind focused on the ranch and off the numb ache in his chest, and none had stopped him in his tracks.

Until her.

None had him wondering what she’d do if he acted on the heat burning in his gut and dropped his mouth to hers, declaring a challenge of his own.

Until her.

What kind of power did this woman possess?

“Yeah, that’s so,” she responded, heat flooding her gaze. “I know you’re used to getting your own way.” Being a Ward son echoed in the air between them. “But I’m up for a promotion, along with three of my coworkers. All I need to do is prove myself with an article that blows my competition out of the water. I need that exclusive, and you’re going to give it to me.”

Colter chuckled, both at the gall of her and how much he liked it, right as Riggs cleared his throat and said, “Was asked to deliver this to you.”

He set the beer down in front of Colter, but Colter never looked away from Adeline’s pinkish cheeks. Damn, he wanted to make those cheeks burn darker. “Send it back,” Colter said, and Riggs took the beer away.

All the answers Colter had been looking for suddenly landed in his lap. No one was going to leave him alone. Not these women. Not Adeline. Not the gossip blog. Suddenly, things became clear, and he knew the path to regaining control of his life. “You want your story? I want these women off my back. Stay in town and pretend to be my girlfriend until this story dies down, and I’ll give you the exclusive you want.”

Her eyes widened. “You’re serious?”

“Deadly serious,” he confirmed. “I want my life back so I can focus on our ranch. You need a promotion. This is a win-win for both of us.”

She gave a cute wiggle on her stool, her skin flushing. “I think you’re giving me far too much credit. Why would women care if I’m your girlfriend?”

“I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit.” He stared at her parted lips, her shining eyes, her slowly building smile, and closed the distance between them, waiting for her to back away. When she didn’t and even leaned in closer, he said, “Trust me, they’d care.” He captured her mouth, cupping her warm face, telling himself the whole damn time this was a terrible idea.

And yet…and yet, at the feel of her sweet, soft lips, he came undone. She tasted like the past, of easier times, happier times, and of uncontrolled passion. While he’d thought earlier she’d smell like lavender and sunshine, he was pleasantly surprised to find she smelled like sugar and spice. Heat flooded his groin as his scruffy cheek caught on the soft strands of her hair. He had no intention of stopping, but when she moaned eagerly, he remembered they weren’t alone. He slowly broke the kiss and reveled in the heat simmering in her half-lidded eyes.

“And how will that make them care?” she purred.

“Look for yourself.” He gestured to the woman who’d sent him the drink. And as she headed for the door, scowling the entire way, with her friend in tow, he added, “Like I said, they’ll care.”

Adeline watched the door shut behind the women before addressing him again, “No emotion. No intimacy, except for mandatory kissing to keep up the show. And tell the truth only to people you trust.”

He inclined his head. “I can handle those rules. Can you?”

“Believe me, I won’t get attached,” she said.

He wondered why the promotion was so important to her, that she’d agree to such an insane idea, but he didn’t feel it his place to ask. “Do we have a deal, then?”

The side of her mouth curved ever so slightly as she firmly pulled him into her and said against his mouth, “Yeah, cowboy, we’ve got a deal. You get a girlfriend. I get the exclusive.” Her lips met his, and she owned his mouth, obviously proving a point that she could to both of them. Then she was gone, heading for the door.

“I thought you weren’t interested in the ladies,” Riggs mused.

Colter stared at the door as it shut behind Adeline, trying to catch up what in the hell had just happened. He’d never done anything this spontaneous in his life, but he was done doing things the usual way and getting nowhere. He wanted the spotlight off him. For good. “I wasn’t.”

“Ah, so, she’s not a shark, then?” Riggs asked with a laugh.

“No. She’s…something else entirely.”


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