Saturday Excerpt: Texas Rebels: Phoenix by Linda Warren
A real Texas Rebel is waiting for you in Linda Warren’s newest cowboy romance from Harlequin Western Romance! Meet sexy bull rider Phoenix Rebel in the excerpt below and pick up Texas Rebels: Phoenix to read more.
About Texas Rebels: Phoenix:
Once he gets over the shock of finding out he’s a father, Phoenix Rebel is ready to do right by his toddler son. The gorgeous barrel racer he runs into on the circuit could add a much-needed woman’s touch. There’s just one problem. She’s a McCray—a Rebel’s worst enemy.
Rosemary could gaze into Phoenix’s warm brown eyes forever. And helping the sexy bull rider and his adorable two-year-old has ignited a fierce yearning in Rosie. Somehow she and Phoenix have to find a way to create their own family—even if it means leaving everyone else they love behind…
The cowboy’s last ride.
Phoenix Rebel had been called a lot of things, but he’d never been called daddy. Yet the lady sitting on his mother’s leather sectional with the grim reaper-like expression and thick wire-rimmed glasses seemed determined to pin that label on him.
He scooted forward in his chair, trying to pay attention and look like a mature adult because his mother was sitting right there staring at him. If there was anything he hated, it was having to account to his mother for his misdeeds.
Before any profound words could leave his throat, Ms. Henshaw removed an iPad from her briefcase and laid it on the coffee table, pushing it toward him with one long finger. She tapped the screen. A photo of a young woman appeared.
“This is Valerie Green. Are you sure you don’t know her?”
He studied the pretty, blue-eyed blonde. She looked vaguely familiar, but he’d seen girls like that all over the country as he traveled the rodeo circuit. How was he supposed to remember this one?
“She’s from Denver, Colorado,” Ms. Henshaw added.
That triggered his memory. “Yeah, I met Valerie at a rodeo almost three years ago, I think. I’m not clear on the time. We hooked up for a wild weekend after the rodeo.”
Ms. Henshaw’s gray eyes skewered him above her glasses. “Hooked up? Is that your way of saying you slept with her?”
Again, Phoenix was very aware his mother was listening to every word. He was a grown man, and she knew the lifestyle he and his brother Paxton lived on the circuit. Although Paxton’s life was much more colorful than his. The thought of his brother reminded him he had to be on the road in ten minutes, so he’d better get this over with.
For a moment he considered this might all be a joke. Maybe his buddies were getting him back for the times he’d played tricks on them. But one look at the grim reaper’s expression and Phoenix knew the woman had never cracked a joke in her whole life.
This was serious.
“Yeah.” That was the honest truth. In front of his mother. And it didn’t hurt a bit.
The woman touched the screen again, and the face of a little boy popped up. Phoenix stared at the brown hair and the big brown eyes, and recognition tugged at his heart.
“That’s Jake. He’s Valerie’s son and twenty-five months old.”
Phoenix raised his eyes to stare into her steely grays. “You said you’re looking for the father. I’m not the father.”
In response, she touched the iPad again, and a document filled the screen. “This is a birth certificate, and if you look closely you’ll see that you are listed as the father.”
Oh, crap! There it was in black and white. “I spent a weekend with the woman almost three years ago. She liked rodeo cowboys and followed the circuit. If she was pregnant with my child, I’m sure she would have found a way to get in touch with me.”
“If you’re not the father, why do you think she would put your name on the birth certificate?”
Phoenix shrugged. “I have no idea.” He rubbed his hands together, not wanting to appear callous. “What’s happened to Valerie that you’re now looking for the father?” The woman hadn’t given any details, and he was curious.
Ms. Henshaw picked up the iPad and placed it on her lap. “I’m coordinating this case with a CPS worker in Denver. Valerie has no living relatives, and we’re trying to place this little boy with relatives. Hopefully, his father.”
“So Valerie’s out of the picture?”
“We haven’t been able to locate her. Jake lived with his great-grandmother, who had been named managing conservator since Valerie left him to get married. A week ago the great-grandmother passed away. She was found on the floor in the kitchen, and the autopsy showed she died from a brain aneurysm.”
“Where was the boy?”
“This is just an assumption, but when he couldn’t wake his great-grandmother, he pulled a chair to the front door and somehow opened it and got out. He was found on the street two blocks away in nothing but a soiled diaper. Someone saw him and called the police, who went door-to-door trying to find where the little boy had come from. A neighbor identified him, and that’s how they found Mrs. Green. He is now in foster care and not happy. He cries daily wanting Ma Ma.”
Phoenix clasped his hands together until they were numb. The story did a number on his conscience. Could the kid be his? The question went round and round in his head like a lead marble, leaving indentions that he didn’t want to feel.
“Have the police given up on finding Valerie?”
“No, but with few leads they’re stumped. Mrs. Green’s neighbor said that Valerie met a guy who wanted to get married, but he didn’t want the kid. That’s why she left him with her grandmother. The neighbor said the baby was about three months old then, and Valerie hadn’t been back to see the boy since. The grandmother kept hoping she would return. The boy needed someone younger in his life.”
Phoenix felt a tug on his heart again for that little boy. His emotions were getting involved, and he couldn’t let that happen. The kid wasn’t his.
Ms. Henshaw thumbed through the iPad. “The authorities there also talked to a friend of Valerie’s. She hadn’t heard from Valerie since she’d married, but when questioned about Jake, she said that Valerie didn’t really know who the father was. When asked why your name was on the birth certificate, the woman said probably because it was an easy name to remember.”
Oh, man. Even if this was a joke, his buddies could never get it this good or pick a woman as heartless as Valerie Green.
“The woman gave CPS two more names, and we’re tracking them down. Valerie was determined to get child support from someone. That is, until the new man came along and she forgot about the boy. That may be why she never contacted you.” She thumbed through more information. “The grandmother received a good pension from her husband, so the child was well taken care of. I guess Valerie knew that. Now—” she reached inside the big bag again “—it’s time to find out who the father really is.” She pulled out a vial with what looked like a large Q-tip in it. “If you agree, I can swab your mouth, and we’ll know in a couple of weeks if you’re the father or not.”
A swarm of butterflies attacked his stomach, similar to when he slid onto an eighteen-hundred-pound bull, knowing this was it—the truth. He’d either get thrown onto his keister or last the eight seconds.
“Sure. I just feel I’m not the father.” Yet that feeling was slowly waning.
Ms. Henshaw got up and came over to him. Within a second, she ran the swab through his mouth and placed it back into the tube. He noticed his name was written on it. That was it. Easy. The truth would be easy.
She stowed her iPad in the big briefcase and handed him a business card. “My phone numbers are on there. Call if you have any questions.”
“Thanks. How will I get the results?”
She reached for her phone in her purse. “I can call you, which would probably be the easiest way since you’re always on the circuit. What’s your number?”
He gave it to her, and she stored it in her phone. She then turned to his mother. “Thanks, Mrs. Rebel, for allowing me into your home. I hope we can resolve this situation soon.”
His mother stood and shook the woman’s hand. “I hope you find the little boy’s father. A boy needs a father.”
“Yes, ma’am, I agree with you.”
Phoenix got to his feet and also shook the woman’s hand. “I’m a little conflicted about all this, but if I’m the father, I will take responsibility.”
She nodded and walked toward the front door. His mother followed, and his brothers Jude and Quincy came in from the kitchen.
“What’s going on?” Jude asked.
“A girl I spent a weekend with says I’m the father of her baby.” Phoenix had no problem talking to his brothers. That’s how they’d gotten through the years after their father’s death. They shared with and depended on each other.
“Is it possible?” Quincy asked.
“Yep. She put my name on the birth certificate, but her friend said she wasn’t sure who the father was. Isn’t that a touching story?”
“Did you use protection?” Quincy kept up the questions.
“I always use protection.”
“Then you may not be.” Jude patted him on the shoulder. “Did she do a DNA test?”
“Yes.” Phoenix reached for his hat on the chair. “Now you two can stop smothering me. I may be the youngest, but I’m old enough to take care of my own life, even if I screw up every now and then.”
His mother joined the little group. “Did Phoenix tell you what’s going on?”
“Yes, Mom, I did. And now I have to go to a rodeo. I’ll let y’all know if I’m a daddy or not.”
“Phoenix, I want to talk to you.”
“Sorry, Mom, I’ve got to go.” No way was he having this conversation with his mother.
Quincy was a step behind him. “We’re here if you need us.”
Looking back at his older brother, Phoenix knew he could depend on Quincy for anything. Jude, too. And his other brothers. They were family. But this time Phoenix had to go this alone to sort through his own thoughts and everything that had happened back then.
Phoenix nodded. “See y’all in a couple weeks.” He walked out the door to the truck and travel trailer waiting in the driveway. Climbing into the passenger seat, he said, “Let’s go.”
Paxton shoved the shift into gear. “What’s going on? What did that woman want?”
“Just drive and get us out of Horseshoe, Texas.” Phoenix leaned back his head and pulled his hat over his eyes, hoping his brother would get the message. He didn’t want to talk.
The three-quarter-ton truck pulled the travel trailer with ease, but the ride was still bumpy, and Phoenix’s thoughts were even bumpier. He tried to remember Valerie and that time. It was a little blurry because they were drinking and having fun like he did after a lot of rodeos. Lately he and Paxton had slowed down. He hated to say it was an age thing. He preferred to look at it as maturity.
After the rodeo, Valerie and some girls had come back to the cowboy area and asked if they wanted to party. Of course, that was like asking a cowboy if he wanted beer. They went to a club and danced and drank and then went to a motel. The next night was much the same. Valerie made a beeline for him and they hooked up again. This time he sensed she was on something more than beer and figured she was just a little too wild for him. He wasn’t into the heavy stuff. He was a cowboy. Riding came first with him.
She’d wanted his number, and he’d given her a fake one because he knew he didn’t want to see her again. He remembered that vividly. Little things were starting to come back. Valerie was just a one-night stand. That would be sad if he was her child’s father. That wasn’t how children were supposed to be conceived. Oh, man.
He sat up straight and gazed out at the scenery flashing by. Rural Texas in September was still dry and hot, but the greenery was beginning to fade as signs of fall were creeping in.
“You ready to talk?” Paxton asked.
“You don’t have to. I’ve already gotten messages from Quincy and Jude.”
“They’re like two mother hens.”
“You got caught, huh?”
“Shut up.” They rode for a while in silence and then Phoenix asked, “Do you remember Valerie Green?”
“I’m having a hard time remembering her, too, but some of it’s coming back. A buckle bunny who wanted to have fun, and now she says I’m her kid’s dad. And don’t ask me if I used protection or I’ll hit you.”
“Why would I judge you? I could be in your boots.”
Phoenix and Paxton had traveled the circuit for years, and they knew each other better than anyone. They liked the girls who came to the rodeos. They couldn’t deny that. The women’s attention was a turn-on. But now Phoenix was wondering why he needed all that attention.
“I don’t feel like a father. Aren’t you supposed to feel those things?
Paxton laughed, slapping his hand against the steering wheel. “You’re asking me?”
“Right. What was I thinking?” Paxton, with his charismatic charm and good looks, was the proverbial playboy. Around the rodeo circuit he was known as the “Heartthrob.” Women gravitated toward him, and he had his pick of anyone he wanted. At times that had gotten him into some jams. Last year a girl wrecked his whole rodeo season, but he’d straightened up his act, and now both of them were in the top ten cowboys in the country. They would be in Vegas for the big show come December if they didn’t screw up.
“You know, Pax, I’m changing my ways. It’s not a good feeling for someone to come out of the blue and say I might have a son. That’s irresponsible and immature. Dad would not be happy with me. From now on I will be choosy about whom I sleep with.”
“Yeah, right.” Paxton drove past two girls in a red Volkswagen. Once the girls saw the truck and trailer, with “Save a Horse. Ride a Cowboy.” sticker they honked their horn and waved out the window. Right there, Phoenix decided the girl thing was just too easy and he had to be more responsible. He wouldn’t give in to any more light flirtations.
His mind kept rolling with the miles, and he seemed to have a need to look back over his life and the rodeo. It had been one endless party, and he felt the weight of that for the first time. How could he have created a life and not know anything about it? That was unacceptable.
* * *
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