Excerpt: Cowboys Don't Stay

Excerpt: Cowboys Don't Stay

Book 3: Tanner Brothers Series

Chapter One

He wasn’t dead.

At least that’s what they told him.

They were probably right. Being dead, Noah figured, wouldn’t hurt quite so much. Every bone, every muscle — hell, every hair on his head — hurt like sin.

He mustered all his strength and shifted his position in the bed about an inch. Ant least there was nothing wrong with his memory. He knew exactly what had happened. He could still see it in his mind’s eye — the truck trailer slapping into the van like Ken Griffey, Jr. ripping into a fast ball. Noah felt like the cover, torn right off the ball.

He couldn’t believe he’d really ridden nine out of ten NFR broncs just last week. It didn’t seem possible. At the moment lifting his head didn’t seem possible.

At least he could breathe. He could remember a time — just when was a little hazy, though — when even getting air seemed an iffy proposition.

It was because of his collapsed lung, he remember them telling him. And that was because of his four broken ribs. And they were the result of that trailer playing baseball with the van, whacking him and Taggart clear out of the park.

Where the hell was Taggart? Noah couldn’t remember having seen him since the accident, not since the paramedics had arrived and removed his friend’s unconscious body from the van.

And that had been … when? He didn’t know. He didn’t know where he was — some hospital in Laramie? Cheyenne? — or how long he’d been here. Hell, and he’d thought his memory was all right?

He didn’t know anything!

“Taggart!” Noah struggled to sit up. All his muscles screamed.

“Here now, it’s all right.” The voice came from the left. It was soft, soothing. Gentle. Female. “It’s okay, Noah. It’s okay.”

At the sound of his name, Noah tried to turn his head. Other muscles protested. He groaned and his head fell back against the pillow.

“Your friend’s all right. Take it easy,” the voice said again, and a nurse came into his range of vision. A slender nurse in a starchy white uniform. A nurse with oddly familiar, wide green eyes and dark brown hair that was pulled back into a long braid. An even longer braid than he remembered.

Noah stared, disbelieving.

“T-Tess?” It took him a minute to find enough air to form her name.

“Hello, Noah.”

He smiled weakly and a little wryly. “What is this — deja vu?”

A faint smile crossed her face. “Not quite.” Her voice was soft, but her tone was neutral, professional. That wasn’t the way it had been . . . how long ago? Seven years? Eight?

Even though, of course, it was how they had met. She was studying to become a nurse and was doing a practicum in the hospital where he ended up after getting hung up and kicked and concussed at the Laramie rodeo. He’d barely regained consciousness when his buddies had left him and headed down the road again. The next day, he’d been well enough to leave, but had had nowhere to go.

After a moment’s indecision that was reflected clearly on her face, the dark-haired, starry-eyed nursing student he’d flirted with since they’d carried him into the hospital had agreed to take him home.

She wasn’t the sort of girl he normally hung around with. The brash, eager “buckle bunnies” who generally followed him around were a fay cry from the serious girl who had told him her name was Tess Montgomery.

Tess Montgomery had been thin and coltish, shy, yet surprisingly eager to please. She had also been the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.

She still was. But there was no eagerness about her now, nor shyness, either — only a pleasant smile and cool, professional competence.

She was Tess Montgomery, R.N. — the first and last woman with whom he’d had what could even remotely be called “an affair.” Tess Montgomery —’ one of the many women he’d love and left. Tess Montgomery — the only woman who’d ever cried when he’d walked out the door. 

God had one heck of a sense of humor, was all Noah could think.

* * * * * * 

… There. She’d seen him — conscious and coherent this time — and she’d escaped unscathed. She’d even managed to be professional and polite.

It didn’t matter that her hands were shaking as she walked down the hall to the nurse’s station. It didn’t matter that her breakfast was doing somersaults in her stomach and that there was a lump the size of a Rocky Mountain in her throat.

He didn’t know that. And that was what mattered. That, and that she manage to keep her indifference firmly in place until Noah Tanner was once more out of her life.

“What the matter?” Nita asked her. “You look like you’ve gone ten round with a ghost.”

Tess shook her head and managed a wan smile. “Just hungry,” she lied. . . “I didn’t eat lunch.”

Nita grunted. “You work too hard.”

“We all work too hard.”

“But you more than most. You need a break. A vacation. A little joy in your life.”

“I have a little joy in my life,” Tess said. Her hands trembled less now. She wiped her palms surreptitiously on the sides of her white slacks.

“Besides Susannah,” Nita said patiently. “You need more than a daughter and a job that takes all your time.”

“Get a life, you mean?”

Nita grinned. “Get a man.”

“No, thanks.” Tess would have been far more emphatic if she thought Nita wouldn’t accuse her of overreacting. She picked up a set of charts and riffled through them

.

“Derek’s interested.” It hadn’t gone unnoticed that earnest Derek Mallon, the new ob-gyn resident, seemed to be popping up everywhere Tess Montgomery went. “Either that or he’s lost an awful lot of the time,” Nita giggled. “Why else would he end up in orthopedics so often?”

“Maybe he’s interested in you.”

“I’m twenty years older than he is, and fifty pounds heavier.”

“Love is blind,” Tess said blithely. It was also stupid, and dangerous to the heart, but she wasn’t saying that.

“Well, if you don’t want Derek, there’re other fish in the sea. Want a cowboy?”

“What?” Tess almost dropped the charts in her hand.

Nita, noticing looked speculative. “I’m not selling them, if that’s what you’re worried about. I just thought . . . what about either of those two rodeo cowboys? Handsome devils, both of ’em. They’re a bit battered at the moment, but when the bruising fades . . .”

“No,” Tess said flatly. “I don’t want a cowboy.” Never again.