Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Slade Weston’s broad shoulders led the way as he pushed through the heavy mahogany doors and into the wood-paneled lobby at Cattlemen’s, the only steakhouse in the three-stoplight town of Opal Creek. Jules’s stomach dropped as he glanced behind her, to the table he’d vacated minutes ago. With as busy as they were on a Friday night, she’d reset it as soon as he’d cleared the sidewalk.

“Did you forget something?” She didn’t have to check the seating chart to know they were full; there were two tables about to turn, but they were reserved for the couples waiting patiently in the lobby. Sure, people could drive the half-hour from here into Mollalla for more selection, or even the hour into Portland for a food cornucopia, but just as many people made the trip in the other direction. Her uncle had made a name for himself with his blue-collar brand of upscale dining. Cattlemen’s topped the list of the best steakhouses in Portland every year, all the way out in Podunk.

Slade closed his eyes and shook his head, his light brown gaze piercing through her when he opened them. “I should have mentioned I was coming back.”

Yes, but that didn’t solve the problem. She snagged a leather-bound menu and crooked her finger at him to follow. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you.”

She didn’t know who she felt worse for, Slade or his ditched date. For almost a year now, he’d been coming in every Friday night with a different woman each week. There weren’t that many available women in Opal Creek, but apparently everyone from the neighboring counties had gambled for a chance at his glass slipper.

The whole town knew sexy Slade wanted to get married. At least that was the rumor going around. But a man who looked like that wouldn’t have any trouble tying the knot if that’s what he genuinely wanted. Any red-blooded woman would exchange her panties for a ring from a Weston brother. Well, marriage-minded women. Which she was not.

Tucked behind the bar were four high-backed leather booths. They kept the one in the back corner empty for employees, loyal customers who needed a favor, and situations like this. She set the menu in front of him as he slid into the booth.

“Do you need some time with the menu, or should I have them walk a rib eye near the grill?”

Oh, that smile. Yes, he must be a player of the first order. Because his grin was irresistible.

“Am I that predictable?”

“Apparently not, since I was sure you’d left with your lady of the evening.” She tucked the menu under her arm. Curiosity niggled at her to find out what his obsession was with first dates. He might be toying with his parade of women, but she sensed something more.

He pushed back his sun-streaked hair. “Isn’t that a hooker?”

“Where?” Jules scanned the sedate restaurant. Nothing exciting ever happened here, even on the busiest nights.

“A lady of the evening. That’s what they called hookers in the westerns my dad and granddad used to watch.” He tilted his head, and she couldn’t tell if he were amused or annoyed. Amused she could work with, but she couldn’t let him leave tonight displeased. Weston Ridge provided the prime beef for Cattlemen’s and her uncle would have her head if he lost the deal.

“Oh, that’s not what I meant. You’d never have to pay for it.” Her eyes widened, her common sense slapping her upside the head as he laughed. “And now I owe you a beer as well as dinner. I’m going to go put in your order before I put my foot in it again and wind up having to sign over my first born.”

Jules clutched the menu to her chest as she sped to the bar. She keyed in his order, grateful the bartender wasn’t busy and could deliver the draft. Thank goodness she only had a few more weeks in this town before she finally got to head back to New York. No telling what she might say next week when Slade Weston brought in yet another first date. She sure as hell wouldn’t be giving away his table again, even if he bailed before the entree.

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