The Cowgirl's Little Secret

By: Silver James

One

Cordell Barron was always in control—of his life, Barron Oil and Gas Exploration, everything that made up his world. Except for now. At the moment, Cord’s world was crashing down around his ears and his life seemed to be spinning out of control.

He stared at his hands, curled so tightly around the steering wheel that his knuckles were white. Jolie is home. Stay away from her. The words, spoken just over a month ago by her father, were seared into Cord’s memory. Like the woman.

Jolene Davis. Juliet to his Romeo—right down to their feuding families. Cord had walked away from her, not once but twice, if their hookup for “old time’s sake” five years ago counted. Technically, she’d walked away the second time—before he could. Turnabout was fair play and all that crap. That was what he’d told himself at the time. He hadn’t wanted to admit how much it hurt—waking up hungover to find her gone, the sheets still smelling of her sweet mimosa scent. Even now, all these years later, he hated spring when the mimosa trees bloomed.

Jerking his thoughts back to the present, he stared out the windshield of his crew-cab pickup. His fingers drummed a nervous tattoo on the console. He should call his brother Cash. Technically, they were half brothers, but Cord was head of Barron Security. He could find out everything about Jolie in an hour. Her phone number. Where she lived. Worked. Boyfriend’s name. His heart thudded at the thought she might have one—or worse, a husband. He pounded the heel of his fist on the console, making his phone jump onto the passenger seat. Cord had no right to dictate anything about Jolie’s life, but the thought of her in another man’s arms, accepting his kisses, sharing his bed...

What was wrong with him? He was supposedly the easygoing Barron, the good ole boy comedian. He didn’t get angry. He didn’t slam his fist into inanimate objects—especially when it would hurt like hell. Except when Jolie was around. He was always off balance where she was concerned, like a pinball game with lights flashing and bells clanging as a huge TILT strobed in front of his eyes. Yeah, that definitely summed up their relationship. They’d been headed for a big, fat game over from the moment he first laid eyes on her.

The tune of “Take This Job and Shove It” rang out from his phone, sending him scrambling to retrieve it. He unclenched his fist and answered with a terse “What?”

“Hey, cuz, catch you at a bad time?”

Cord clamped down on his emotions, shifting into business mode to talk to his cousin Cooper Tate, operations manager of BarEx, the Barrons’ energy company. “Funny, Coop.”

“Just as I suspected, we lost the drill bit down the hole.” Annoyance and something akin to chagrin colored Cooper’s voice. “The crew has to fish it out. You gonna get outta the truck and come up or what?”

Glaring through the windshield at the group of men standing around on the floor of the drilling rig, Cord replied, “Or what, smart-ass?”

“Will you just get your butt up here? We need to talk.”

A wicked dust devil of red dirt kicked up and spun across the bare expanse of the well site. Rather than cooling the air, the wind seared everything in its path like a blast from a furnace. The block and tackle attached to the crown of the derrick creaked and swung in a desultory arc, and a length of drilling pipe gripped in the hoist tongs swayed with a gust.

Inured to the hot August weather, Cord shoved his phone into the hip pocket of his jeans, snagged his hard hat from the passenger seat and climbed out of the white truck bearing the BarEx emblem on its doors. The metal steps leading from the ground to the drilling floor rang beneath Cord’s boots. Heat waves shimmering around him, Cord gripped the steel handrail during a quick flash of vertigo. His hand felt scorched as he released the rail and climbed again.

On the rig floor, Cooper introduced him to the tool pusher. “Cord, Tom Bradley, best damn rig manager we have.”

Cord shook hands with the older man, who then turned to spit tobacco juice before saying, “Damn rig sure seems to be jinxed, boss. Y’all think there’s somethin’ to the problems we’ve been having?”

Taking off his hard hat for a moment to brush fingers through his hair, Cooper finally spoke. “I... Maybe. Too many injuries. Too many delays. We should be down to oil sand by now but we aren’t even close. Seems as if something happens every other day.”

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