Tina Leonard, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author

Crockett’s Seduction

Read the Excerpt

“Sometimes she riled my temper, but she always made me smile.”
—Maverick Jefferson to his sons after his wife, Mercy, passed away.


Crockett Jefferson wondered if Valentine Cakes—the mother of his brother’s child—ever realized how much time he spent staring at her. His deepest, darkest secret was that she evoked fantasies in his mind, fantasies of the two of them, laughing, touching, kissing—

“Well, that’s that,” his eldest brother, Mason, said, looking over at Hawk and Jellyfish who had come to the Malfunction Junction ranch to deliver news. Bandera and his wife, Holly, had just floated away in a hot air balloon full of wedding wishes and dreams. Hawk’s and Jellyfish’s arrival was fortuitous to get Mason’s mind on something besides weddings, Crockett thought, since he was never happier when one of them was getting hitched. Not that Mason would ever do the deed himself, even if Mimi Cannady served herself up on a golden platter garnished with fidelity and caring. Sometimes, Crockett pitied Mason for not seeing the bounty that was right under his nose. Hell, they all pitied Mason. He wanted his eleven brothers married, and then what? “You’d think a marrying fever had hit this ranch,” Crockett said, slyly hinting that perhaps Mason might not be immune, before Crockett once again found his vision glued to Valentine and her tiny daughter, Annette. His eyes had a habit they didn’t want to give up, no matter how much family drama flowed around him.

Hawk looked at Mason. “Do you want to know what we learned about your father before or after you eat your piece of wedding cake?”

Crockett sighed, watching the fiery little redhead as he heard the pronouncement about Maverick. With regret he took his gaze off of her—she was holding her daughter and a box of heart-shaped petit fours she’d made for Bandera’s wedding. Being an artist of sorts, he appreciated both Valentine’s lovely baked goods and her beauty. She smiled at him, her pretty blues eyes encouraging, her mouth bowing sweetly, and his heart turned over.

She could never know how he felt about her.

He really didn’t want to feel the way he did about the mother of his brother’s child.

Hawk and Jellyfish moved under a tree with Mason so they could talk. Reluctantly, Crockett followed.

“We were able to find confirmation that Maverick was in Alaska, for some time,” Hawk said. “Your father lived with an Alaskan woman of mostly Eskimo descent. She found him slumped in a boat one day, floating off-shore. Not knowing who he was or where he’d come from, she had friends help her carry him to her home. When he awakened, Maverick had no memory of where he’d come from. In an untraveled area and far from any town which might have had a tourist group he might have become unattached from, Mannie kept him with her for four years, always hoping he might tell her something about himself.”

Crockett looked at Mason, who surely had to be feeling the same lead in the pit of his stomach that Crockett was. Excitement and some relief filled him that some trace of Maverick had been found—but he also knew there was more to the story, and it couldn’t be all good, or Hawk and Jellyfish wouldn’t have returned.

Jellyfish put a hand on Mason’s shoulder. “You should know that Maverick never did tell Mannie anything about himself. She awakened one day to find him gone. He’d left behind enough whale meat and food to keep her for a long time, as well as material. Gifts, but not his heart, she told Bandera and Mason. He was a natural wanderer, and even the entire four years he’d stayed with her, she’d sensed he wasn’t really with her by the distant look in his eyes as he searched the horizon.”

“Oh, jeez,” Crockett murmured. They were all wanderers like Maverick. Their father might have lived for many more years, searching for his heart.

“Maybe there is more to learn,” Hawk said. “But we felt it was important to come home to let you know the news of your father, so you could decide what more you need to learn.”

A deep tug settled in Crockett’s chest. Now they would hold a family counsel to decide. That was a good thing, since all the brothers were still here, with the exception of Bandera. Before Bandera had floated away, Mason had announced that he’d enjoyed everybody being together so much for Bandera’s Fourth of July wedding that he intended to hold a family reunion every summer at the ranch. He wanted the family together at least twice a year—Christmas in the winter, and Fourth of July for the summer.

The pond was warm enough then for the children to swim, Mason had stated.

But Crockett knew it really had nothing to do with pond water. Mason just wanted the brothers and their families together, on so-called Malfunction Junction ranch which was the home of their hearts.

Crockett had to admit there was something to family bonding as he watched Valentine help her tiny daughter across the field to the inflatable jump house. But right now, he wanted to get away from all thoughts of family—and Maverick. It simply hurt too much to know that their father had been living on whale meat in a hut somewhere. It was life—but it wasn’t life with them. Could Maverick have been happy at all? Had he lost his memory? Or had his heart given out after their mother had died? Crockett doubted they’d ever know all the answers. They’d been haunted too many years by the questions–and they’d all learned various techniques of dodging the painful soulsearching.

“Thanks, guys,” Crockett murmured to Hawk and Jellyfish since Mason seemed dumbstruck. “I’m sure Mason will call a family consult after dinner to discuss what you told us. Stick around. Helga’s made ribs and sweet peas, grilled corn, and I believe Valentine whipped up some blueberry pies. Comfort food is what we all could use right now. And good friends.”

That said, he headed in Valentine’s direction. He grabbed the box of petit fours from her so that she could play with Annette. “Go on,” he told Valentine. “You jump, too.”

“Thank you, Crockett.” Giving him a smile which tugged at his heart, Valentine pulled off her shoes and got inside the bounce house, bouncing and jumping gently with her daughter. He supposed it was a shame that Valentine and his youngest brother, Last, had not worked out as a couple. And yet, they had a beautiful little daughter; Annette was such a sweet baby. The Jefferson brothers had backed Valentine in her own business and she’d bought the bakery in town, renaming it Baked Valentines.

He would never have dreamed that the one-time receptionist at Marvella’s beauty salon, Never Lonely Cut’n’Gurls, would have been such a smart businesswoman—and an awesome baker. It was hard for him to understand why Last didn’t love this talented, hardworking woman—and he was just as puzzled as to why his own heart yearned to be near her.

First Calhoun, then Last. He was getting in a groove of being very jealous of his brothers, and that worried him. Resentment was a new feeling for him. Growing up, they’d just had each other.

Lately, he’d found himself stewing over things a man shouldn’t, and it was affecting the way he felt about his family.

With pleasure, he noted that all of Valentine bounced when she bounced. Her hair, her breasts, even her laughter seemed to go up and down as she played with her daughter. He loved watching her be a mother.

Crocket lowered his head for a second, pushing his cowboy hat down on his head, thinking. Before his brother, Calhoun, had stolen his thunder and his creativity by becoming a better artist than he—commercial, Calhoun always said, as if that made it better and more acceptable—Crockett had put his soul into painting nudes. He could spend hours thinking about the beauty of the female form. It was a good life, cowboying by day, painting by night.

Now he seemed to think about Valentine all the time. Which was only getting him frustrated.

Valentine turned and fell over, laughing. Her jeans-clad bottom jiggled-—and Crockett’s artistic eye was transfixed.

He’d never seen anything with such rounded perfection. Bountiful, and sexy. Lush and full.

“Only sculpting would do that form justice,” he mused, his artistic side bursting to creativity. “The warmth of fired clay, touched with the hue of a rosy—”

“What?” Valentine asked, sitting up to look at him. “Do you want to join us, Crockett?” His mind ablaze with creative thoughts, a new idea, and a fierce desire to be near her, Crockett set the petit fours platter on the ground, pulled off his boots, and got into the bounce house. Annette giggled because he was unstable, not used to being on something jiggly, so he put his hands down and bounced the floor a little to make her pop up and lose control, too.

Valentine playfully pushed back, catching him off guard. This time, it was Crockett who flew—right into her lap.

Oh, God, she felt good. She was every bit as soft as she looked, and even better, she smelled like cinnamon. Her smile faded as she stared down at him, seeing something in his eyes he didn’t want her to see.

Bad, bad timing.

Rolling away, he rose to his feet. Valentine watched him, her smile completely gone now, her gaze questioning.

He was going to ruin a good friendship with his curiosity about Valentine. Curiosity? That was a funny, shifty word for what he now realized was full-blown desire.

And that was a path toward certain heartbreak.