They’re made for each other, he just needs to prove it.
Pilot Nate Kershaw may be one of Whiskey River’s biggest players, but from the moment he met cowgirl Damaris Walker, he was smitten. After sharing a searing kiss years ago, she made her feelings clear so Nate doesn’t dare press for more than friendship. No other woman can win his heart, so when his beloved grandmother tells him her dearest wish is to see him settled down, Nate decides it’s the perfect opportunity to convince Damaris they’re meant to be.
After a devastating betrayal years ago, Damaris is still unable to trust or risk her heart—especially with a charming lady-killer like Nate. Against her common sense, she agrees to be Nate’s fake girlfriend and finds herself falling for him harder than she did two years ago.
When Damaris learns Nate has been deceiving her about his true feelings, her fears and trust issues reignite. Will Nate be able to convince Damaris to overcome the pain of the past and take a risk on forever—with him?
Nate Kershaw walked into his house and fell on his bed fully clothed. Dead tired didn’t begin to describe how he felt. He’d just returned to Whiskey River after flying a client to New Orleans and taking a couple of vacation days to have a good time with said client and his friends. Too good of a time. Since he never had more than a beer the night before he flew, he’d stayed an extra day but even partying while sober had taken it out of him. Damn, he was getting old.
When his phone rang and he heard his mom’s ringtone he groaned and considered not answering. But his Mom usually had a good reason to call him, so he picked up.
“Nate, you need to go check on your grandmother.”
“Does it have to be right now?” he asked her.
“Yes. She’s not answering her phone and you know what that means.”
His grandma was ninety-two and his mother tended to panic when her mother-in-law didn’t answer her phone. Truthfully, it worried him too. Grandma had fallen last year and broken her arm. Thank God it hadn’t been her hip. But Betty Kershaw was sharp as a tack, stubbornly independent, lived in her house by herself, and was involved in numerous activities in town. She might get irritated with Nate for checking up on her, but since he was the only family member who lived in the same town, she was used to it.
On his way Nate tried calling, but he couldn’t get an answer either. So he was pretty concerned by the time he got to her house. Getting no response when he rang her doorbell and knocked on her door, he got out his key and let himself in. He didn’t use his key often, but kept it for emergencies. Which he was beginning to think this was. “Grandma,” he shouted. “Are you here?”
No reply. It didn’t take long to look through the house and out back and still see no sign of her or her dog Murphy. But her bedroom door was closed, which wasn’t like her. He knocked and opened it. Grandma sat on the bed, sobbing into her pillow, with Murphy beside her looking distressed.
The sight destroyed him. He’d never, not once in his thirty-one years, seen his Grandma cry. Not even when she broke her arm. She was the toughest woman he knew. Life hadn’t always been easy for her, but she never complained. She just sucked it up and soldiered on. And lived her life to the fullest, determined to enjoy every day.
“My God, Grandma,” he said rushing in. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt? Did something terrible happen?”
She raised her head from the pillow and looked at him with tear-drenched eyes. She also looked every one of her ninety-two years. “Nate? What are you doing here?”
“You didn’t answer your phone so Mom and I got worried. What’s wrong?”
“I got some news from the doctor. You know, from the checkup I had day before yesterday?”
He remembered. He usually went with her but since the flight to New Orleans was already booked and Travis Sullivan, the other pilot at the Devil’s Rock airport had another client, he couldn’t get out of it. Grandma didn’t want to cancel, so her helper/driver had taken her. But Grandma wouldn’t let Louise go in to see the doctor with her. She’d only let family go in with her, which meant Nate, unless one of his parents or siblings happened to be in town. “What did the doctor say?”
She reached for a tissue and dried her eyes, giving Murphy a pat after she did. “I’m not dying,” she said with some asperity. “At least, not yet. But the doctor said I have AFib.”
AFib? “You have atrial fibrillation? That’s”—he started to say not good or even bad, but luckily stopped himself. “Did she say it was serious?” he asked instead. He’d seen the TV commercials. AFib could lead to a stroke. At Grandma’s age that could be really bad.
“She put me on a whatchamacallit—some kind of thinner.”
“A blood thinner?”
“That’s it. She said that would help.”
“Damn it, I knew I should have gone with you.”
“Why? Do you think I didn’t know what she was talking about?”
“No, but people do get confused. It helps to have someone else there. And you’re obviously worried or you wouldn’t have been crying.”
“I’m not worried. I’m ninety-two. I could die any day now, even if I didn’t have this AFib thing.”
“You’re not going to die, Grandma.”
“Hopefully not anytime soon. But I will someday and that brings me to why I was crying.”
“If it wasn’t over the diagnosis then what was it?”
“You, Nathaniel James Kershaw.”
Okay, it was serious when she called him by his full name. “Me? Why were you crying about me? I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not. You pretend that you are but I know you. I want to see you happy.”
“I’m happy.” Basically, anyway. Except for a certain stubborn, hard-headed cowgirl he wanted, who refused to see him as more than a friend.
“Happy and settled down with a good woman.”
He sat beside her and sighed. “Grandma, we’ve been over this.” About a million times. If he couldn’t have the woman he wanted—which appeared to be the case, damn it—then there wasn’t a reason in the world he should settle down.
“I want to see you married before I die.”
“What?” Nate asked. “Did you say…” Surely he’d misunderstood.
“You heard me. Married. I want you to get married.”
“Grandma, I’m not even dating anyone seriously. You can’t expect me to get married. That’s ridiculous.”
“I didn’t mean right this minute. But it’s time you settled down.”
He shook his head. “Not happening, Grandma. Not even for you.”
Damned if she didn’t start crying again. “Don’t cry. Please don’t cry. I didn’t mean—I didn’t say I’d never get married.”
“You might as well have. What good will it do me if I’m dead before you ever make up your mind?” She reached for another tissue and dried her eyes. “You’ve dated a lot of women. I know you have. Can’t you see falling in love with one of them?”
“No.” He was already in love with one of them and had been almost since the first time he’d seen her, at the Whiskey River rodeo nearly two years ago. She hadn’t been competing since it was a youth rodeo, but she’d been in charge of one of the events. Seeing her on one of her paints was something. Talk about a natural in the saddle. As a male he appreciated a beautiful woman riding a stunning black and white paint. He’d asked his buddy and fellow pilot Travis Sullivan if he knew who she was.
“Sure,” Travis had said. “That’s Damaris Walker. And before you ask, no, she’s not married.”
“Hallelujah. Introduce me.”
After the rodeo Travis had introduced them. Damaris was even prettier up close. Classic features, a mouth made for kissing, big, brown, beautiful eyes, and tanned and healthy flawless complexion. She wore a beige cowboy hat over her long, wavy, dark brown hair, and a tight T-shirt with a picture of a paint horse and the words “Walker Paints” beneath it. She wore beige and brown leather chaps over blue jeans, scuffed cowboy boots obviously meant for hard work and not for show, and she had some kind of championship buckle on her belt. Damn, he hadn’t realized just how much of a turn on chaps could be. Worn by the right woman, anyway.
He hadn’t really fallen in love at first sight, but he’d sure as hell fallen in lust. Everything went great until their third date. That was when Damaris put him squarely in the friend zone. And there he’d stayed. To top it off, she was always setting him up with other women. He’d go out with them but none of them lasted long. Because they weren’t Damaris.
“Nate, you have a funny look on your face. Are you sure there’s no one you’re interested in?”
“Grandma, you’ve just given me a great idea.”
“I hope it involves a woman.”
He stood and grinned at her. “Oh, it does. It definitely does.”