Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Opposites might attract…
The Brennans and the Gallaghers put aside their one-hundred-year feud every Tuesday for their weekly poker game. This week, the stakes are sky-high. Goaded to recklessness, Declan Brennan bets one thousand dollars that he can woo the next woman to walk into the saloon. A minute later, fiery-haired Betsy Gallagher pushes through the doors. If Declan can tame this wild Gallagher, he’ll have earned every penny.
If they don’t kill each other first…
Betsy can outshoot anybody in Burnt Boot and loves ranching more than anything—until she falls for Declan. He’s fallen for her too. But when she discovers what sparked their courtship, Declan will need a Christmas miracle to save his hide—and his heart.
NY Times and USA Today Bestselling author and RITA Finalist, Carolyn Brown, has published more than seventy books. These days she is concentrating on her two loves: women’s fiction and contemporary cowboy romance. She and her husband, a retired English teacher, make their home in southern Oklahoma.
“You cowboys are free to play poker here, but you’d best remember my rules. This is neutral territory, and by damn, I can—and will—drag that shotgun out from under the counter to enforce them. So keep it civil. Understand?” Rosalie shook her finger at the lot of them.
She hadn’t owned the bar very long, but she didn’t take crap off anyone. The wrinkles around her eyes testified that she was somewhere in her fifties. The strawberry-blond hair worn in a ponytail sticking out the back of her Dallas Cowboys ball cap didn’t have a single gray strand shining in it. Neither Brennans nor Gallaghers wanted to face off with those cold, gray eyes when she was angry.
“Yes, ma’am,” Quaid said respectfully.
“Then play cards or gather up your poker chips and get on out of here.” Rosalie turned back toward the poker table. “Where’s your O’Donnell buddies? I thought this crappy feud might be on its way out when Leah Brennan married Rhett O’Donnell a few weeks ago.”
“Never!” Eli said. “As long as a Gallagher is alive, we’ll keep the feud alive to show these Brennans who’s boss.”
“That’s crazy. Why do you play poker with them?” Rosalie headed toward the jukebox. “It’s all insane anyway. Y’all go to the same church, and nowadays, your kids go to the same school. You’re all ranchers, and both families have a granny who runs things. Sounds to me like you are more alike than different.”
“It’s so sweet to beat them.” Quaid laughed. “They whine like little girls when they lose to us Brennans.”
“Y’all need to end the feud. A hundred years is long enough for folks to carry a grudge.” Rosie plugged the money into the jukebox and chose a few country tunes.
Eli chuckled. “Like that’s gonna happen in my lifetime.”
Declan glanced over at Eli. “Lay out the rules if there are any. If not, let’s finish this game and wait for some old gal to come through the door so Tanner can get on with the business of falling in love with her.”
Eli nodded. “Rule number one: you have a month to make her fall in love with you and get her into bed. It can’t be a one-night stand. I’ll even give you a few extra days since Thanksgiving is next week and you’ll be busy on the ranch.”
Declan held up a palm. “Whoa, hoss! You’re already talking like I’ve lost this game. The rules are supposed to be for both of us.”
Eli flashed a go-to-hell look across the table. “You have until the week before Christmas. Tanner will want to take his winnings and do some shopping with them. And I’m the one making the rules, so don’t be yelling at me. Rule number two: it has to be a woman you’ve never dated before. Rule number three: just to make it interesting, it really does have to be the next woman who walks into this bar so that all four of us know who it is, and you can’t lie to us about having never dated her.”
“So.” Declan checked the calendar on his phone. “Friday, December 18, one of us has to be dating, have slept with, and made the next woman who comes through the doors fall in love with him. And how does Tanner prove to you that he did all that? He could just lie and take my money. After all, that’s what a Gallagher would do.”
“She has to tell it all over town,” Tanner said.
“What if she doesn’t kiss and tell?” Declan asked.
“If you are that irresistible, she’ll be bragging all over town that she’s snagged you,” Tanner said through clenched teeth.
“Okay, you’re on. If you win this hand, I’ll take that bet. And not a one of us around this table can tell anyone about the bet. It has to be a secret, and if it gets out, then all bets are off.”
Quaid threw up his palms. “You’re all crazy. What if the woman who comes through those doors is fifty years old and chews tobacco?”
Tanner shrugged. “A bet is a bet. Hope you like older women, Declan. Thursday night’s pickin’s are pretty slim here.”
There was no way a Gallagher was going to beat a Brennan in poker. “I’ll be glad to take your money tonight and at Christmas. I heard the crunch of wheels out there in the parking lot, so get ready to meet your woman, Gallagher.”
Tanner fanned out a royal flush. “I reckon at Christmas you’ll have to shell out more, but this pot is right fine for now. And I just heard that truck door slam out there in the parking lot, so get ready to meet your date, Declan Brennan. Remember, it’s a secret, Eli and Quaid. Anyone tells, and this town will see the feud fire up hotter than it’s been since your family started it.”
“We didn’t start anything. Y’all did.” Declan said a prayer as he glanced toward the door.
Tanner’s cocky little grin faded, and his face looked like someone had smeared ashes all over it when the door opened. Eli’s eyes came close to popping out of his head and rolling across the floor, and Quaid sucked all the oxygen out of the air in one big gulp. Declan felt as if he’d just been struck by lightning straight from God’s hand.
“You are a dead man, Tanner,” Eli whispered.
Quaid exhaled so hard that it whistled through his teeth. “And so are you, Declan. Granny Mavis will kill you if you go after her.”
“A bet is a bet. And a Brennan does not run from a fight,” Declan said.
Sweet Jesus in heaven. Declan had been in love with Betsy since they were kids in the same Sunday school class. He might have lost the poker match, but here was his chance, and the Gallaghers couldn’t do jack shit about it. Poor old Tanner had just set the whole thing up on a silver platter and handed him the rights to the whole thing. Talk about luck—Declan had lost the money on the table, but he’d been given the rights to Betsy Gallagher.
“Let’s call it off,” Eli said. “Just pretend it never happened and walk out of here.”
All eyes went to Tanner.
“Gallaghers don’t run either,” he murmured.