BILLION DOLLAR COWBOY: It was just supper, for God’s sake; it wasn’t an inquisition. They weren’t going to take her out in the yard and stone her to death if she ate with the wrong fork. Andy had said they were just like family, and since she was his assistant she should meet them, but she didn’t want to get all friendly with the “family.” She just wanted to work off her debt and get out of Ambrose, Texas. She’d managed to avoid most of them for a whole week and thought she could do so for months, but oh, no, Andy decided it was time for her to break bread with them that very evening.

Laura sat up straighter in the chair and pushed her glasses up on her nose. She hated going back to glasses after years and years of wearing contacts. She could wear her contacts on special occasions, but not more than a couple of hours. Tonight didn’t qualify for that in her opinion.

“We are glad that you came to supper, Laura,” Maudie said.

Maudie was tall, thin, with salt-and-pepper hair, and not nearly enough wrinkles to be Colton’s grandmother. She’d never be worth a damn in a poker game because Laura could easily read her through her green eyes. She’d popped in and out of the office at least once a day, so Laura had met her, but saying a brief hello and sitting at the supper table with her was two different things.

Laura’s smile was strained at best. “Thank you.”

Andy clapped his hands once. Conversation stopped and all eyes were on Laura. She sincerely thought about crawling under the table and hiding, but she refused to let anyone intimidate her. Not even the people who lived in a house so big that it took her breath away when she first saw it. It had turrets and wings and tall windows, a deep wraparound porch, and would put Tara from Gone with the Wind to absolute shame.

“Introductions!” Andy said with a sweep of his hand. “Maudie is the only one who has met Laura, who has been getting settled into the apartment and the job this week. As you all know, she is my distant cousin so I’ve known her since we were both kids.”

Laura nodded at Maudie even though saying hello from behind a desk and computer was far different than knowing them.

“And,” Andy went on, “that feller over there with the platter of steaks in his hand is Rusty. He’s the ranch foreman and the person who knows what’s going on in any corner of the ranch. The kid beside him is Roxie, our new resident teenager.”

Rusty smiled. “I’d begun to think you were just a figment of Andy’s imagination or that he’d hired a robot. Welcome to the ranch. If I can help you with anything, you just holler. The apartment suiting you all right?”

“Yes, sir. It’s great,” she said.

Roxie looked up and Laura’s heart went out to her. There was something in her blue eyes that said she wasn’t real sure of her place in the world or where she’d fit in if she figured out that she even had a place.

“Hello,” Roxie said in a soft Southern drawl.

Laura saw herself at sixteen when someone new came to dinner at Aunt Dotty’s ranch. Trying to remember her manners and not talking too much, but being friendly. It was an awkward age at best. Andy had already mentioned that Roxie had just recently come to the ranch on a full-time basis and was more than a little bit shy.

Andy pointed in the opposite direction. “The cowboy at the head of the table that looks like shit is Colton.”

“Thanks a lot, Andy, for telling your kin that I don’t run my own ranch and that I look like shit. He’s a real good best friend, Laura. I want to thank you for taking on the job of working with Andy. It can’t be easy as picky as he is about everything,” Colton growled.

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