The Stars of Texas, Book 2
Release Date:

Apr 25, 2024

ISBN:

978-1-961544-95-6

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Texas Reckless Cowboy

by

Rebecca Crowley

He’s the bad boy she needs to help her lay down the law…

Assistant District Attorney Georgia Star is on the ballot in Last Stand, Texas to finally take the top job—but popularity has never been this overachiever’s forte. When her big-city outsider opponent begins wooing her constituents with lies, Georgia knows she has to stop playing nice. She turns to the infamous Cy Powell for advice, but his provocative solution might be worse than a defeat.

Cyrus “Cy” Powell is a property mogul, rancher, and entrepreneur—and a scion of Last Stand’s most notorious criminal family. Despite his legit success he’s never outrun his last name, so when Georgia asks for his help, Cy decides a fake relationship is the perfect pretext to infiltrate her world.

Dating Cy will connect Georgia with her voter base, and squiring Georgia through her influential social circles will polish Cy’s reputation and facilitate his latest business deal. Their chemistry is undeniable, but as the election looms, they’ll need to decide if their fake alliance is real and where their loyalties lie.

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Chapter One

“You handcuffed him to a chair inside the holding cell?”

Officer Cody Huxman shifted his weight, his face reddening to the same hue as his newly grown mustache.

“I thought he was a high risk for escape. The chair offered an extra level of security.”

Georgia Star pinched the bridge of her nose. As a general rule, she tried not to think about the lucrative corporate contracts she’d turned down to become the assistant district attorney here in her hometown, reminding herself that true public service was priceless. That the denizens of Last Stand, Texas, and its surrounding counties slept peacefully, assured that the stately machinations of American justice were safe in her hands, was reward enough.

On rare occasions, however—such as when she found herself face-to-face with a lawman so green he thought office equipment was a stronger deterrent than iron bars—she did think more money might be nice.

“Let me get this straight. You were walking south on Oak Street when Mr. Powell came out of the bank. He then called across the street, asking if you were be-shaving yourself.”

“Yes,” Cody said tightly, his ears the color of ripe tomatoes.

“When you responded that his banter was inappropriate, he assured you he was not bashing the ’stache.”

The officer nodded.

“And when you advised him to change his tone, he…” she flipped the page in her notepad “…told you to relax, mo’ bro, I’ve got a handlebar on the situation.”

“I warned him I’d haul his ass in for disorderly conduct if he spoke to me like that again, and he said he’d be sure to shave the date,” Cody burst out, hands fisted at his sides.

Georgia bit the inside of her cheek, fighting a smile. This wasn’t funny. Cody Huxman was academy fresh and overzealous, eager to shed his past as a baby-faced late bloomer and prove himself to the town of Last Stand. He had the makings of a good cop, but first he needed to thicken his skin—and shave his upper lip.

She closed her notepad. “There’s no charge here.”

“But he said—”

“Cyrus Powell is a born antagonist, Cody. You can’t let him get to you. Especially because he knows the statutes almost as well as I do, and he’ll play as close to the line as he can without crossing it. Next time, just ignore him.”

Cody muttered doubtfully under his breath but pulled out his keys and led her back to the lockup.

Cy Powell sat in the center of the empty cell like the king of the underworld on his throne: black-booted, black-haired, black-eyed, and—if the rumors were true, though she’d never quite bought in—utterly black-hearted. He greeted her with a sly smile over the head of the officer who bent to uncuff him, and then straightened to his impressive height, smoothing the front of his pearl-snap shirt.

“Afternoon, counselor,” he drawled in a thick variation of the local accent, lingering evidence of his unwholesome origins. Although he now owned McNab’s, a dive bar on the outskirts of town that served a population too rough and rowdy for the historic Last Stand Saloon, Cy was a scion of the infamous Powell family, a multigenerational collection of ne’er-do-wells who had more warrants than high-school diplomas.

In a town where almost everyone could trace their ancestry back to the nineteenth-century battle that gave it its name—Georgia herself was the direct descendant of a Jewish immigrant from Austria who opened Last Stand’s first general store—the Powells’ provenance was suspiciously murky. Theories ranged from sophisticated cattle rustlers on the lam to bumbling gamblers hiding from bad debt, but they all agreed the Powells arrived in Last Stand as fugitives from justice and pretty much stayed that way.

Even now, with many of them in prison, rehab, or the cemetery, police made so many visits to the overgrown cluster of shacks south of the creek that constituted the Powell homestead, they had a special radio code for it. Barely a week went by without a visit to what they called DFW—named for the busiest airport in Texas, because the Powells were all frequent flyers.

All but one, that is. Georgia had known Cy since kindergarten, and she’d never quite married up his roguish reputation with the clever, quiet young man she’d partnered with on French-class projects and science experiments and whatever other last-picked-for-the-team situation had left him at a loose end.

But that was the story of her life, wasn’t it? Never met an underdog she couldn’t champion or a lost cause she wouldn’t try to salvage. Even her romantic inclinations reflected her dogged belief in second chances, which probably explained why every man she’d ever dated had cheated on her. She just couldn’t give up on anyone, no matter how blatantly irredeemable.

Not that she had any interest in dating until after the election. Last Stand’s long-serving district attorney had finally announced his retirement, and she was in pole position to take the top job—or she would’ve been, if not for that sleazy interloper from Fort Worth who’d turned up to run against her.

“I hope our little misunderstanding didn’t call you away from anything more pressing, Ms. Star. Like actual crime.” Cy looked pointedly at Cody, drawing Georgia back to the present.

“Responding to the deliberate provocation of an officer is never a waste of my time, Mr. Powell. May I suggest you keep the editorial comments to yourself in the future?”

“They were puns,” Cy corrected, and Georgia took him by the elbow, steering him out the front door of the police station before he and Cody could go for round two.

Safely out of the officer’s earshot, Georgia propped her hands on her hips and gave Cy a chiding look. “Are you trying to accessorize with metal bracelets? Because you’ve been jibing Officer Huxman for weeks and you know how that will end.”

“He just takes himself so seriously, and then the mustache… It was too easy.”

“Find another way to amuse yourself, or next time I might not respond so quickly to the news of your arrest,” she told him sternly.

He held up his palms. “You’re right—I’ll stop. I’m not here to make your life difficult.”

“Thank you,” she said uncertainly, her gaze slipping from his to the concrete sidewalk. Cy had this way of looking at her that had always unnerved her. Like those intense, dark eyes of his could penetrate straight through to her soul.

Not that he’d ever given her reason not to trust him—well, except the hundreds of stories about his tomcat bed-hopping and shady business dealings. On the contrary, he’d always been up-front, honest, and completely reasonable in their many run-ins. She almost liked having the odd excuse to talk to him, even if his tidy build and angular cheekbones made her knees a little unsteady.

Of course she’d charge him in a heartbeat if she ever had grounds, but she’d enjoy their thrust and parry until then.

Cy looked past her to the opposite street corner. “Is that allowed to be there?”

She followed his line of sight to a campaign sign for her opponent, Dan Jameson. A high-dollar defense attorney from Fort Worth with lofty political ambitions, Jameson had quietly rented a house in Last Stand so he could meet the six-month residency criteria ahead of the special election in May. Unfortunately, Georgia had been too busy prosecuting criminals to even consider that she wouldn’t be running unopposed, so when Jameson signs started popping up a month ago, she was wildly unprepared. Her younger sister, Jessa, had been helping her throw together a campaign, but Jameson had big-city money behind him, and his signs seemed to be multiplying like weeds all over town.

“Private property. They can do what they like,” she replied glumly.

Cy fixed her with that stare of his again, black eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

“Jameson’s saying you’re soft on crime. That you should be slamming the door and throwing away the key, not accepting plea bargains for rehab or community service.”

“Because it would really serve a town like Last Stand to seek maximum sentences for dumb teens making stupid mistakes or addicts trying to turn their lives around,” she said dryly. “If we were awash with murderers and rapists, of course I would prosecute in the fiercest interest of public safety. But I’m not in the business of ruining people’s lives just to show how tough I am.”

“You’re scrupulously fair. You always have been,” Cy agreed.

“Not much of a campaign slogan, though, is it? Vote for Georgia Star, she’s fair on crime.” She rolled her eyes.

He smiled, and suddenly, like jerking out of a daydream, she realized where she was and who she was talking to. Cy Powell was a strategic acquaintance, a likely future adversary, and certainly not her friend.

She took a step back.

“Anyway, do me a favor and steer clear of Officer Huxman for a while. Okay?”

“Whatever you say, counselor.”

He was still looking at her when she turned around, hands in the pockets of his jeans, an unreadable smile playing on his mouth as Georgia strode stalwartly to the door of the police station. Her long list of preoccupations already included her father’s recovery from the accident that had ended his leadership of the ranch where she’d grown up, her sister Josie’s step up to take the reins, the decades-old family drama they’d discovered in his absence, the long-lost relatives she was in charge of contacting, and that was before she got into her professional woes—the election, her active caseload, and the burgeoning rumors of drug dealing in the surrounding counties that thankfully hadn’t yet penetrated Last Stand itself.

She was overworked, underappreciated, and had absolutely no room in her head for the strange attention of Cy Powell.

So why she glanced over her shoulder to look at him, she couldn’t explain—and she didn’t need to.

He was gone.

Cy spotted Marcel Turner waiting on the deck as soon as Benz ambled out of the trees lining the edge of his sprawling backyard. Belatedly he realized he hadn’t taken his phone on his evening ride—or worn shoes, or used a saddle, or bridled his horse. Some habits couldn’t be broken, and he still preferred to ride as he had growing up—bareback, with the lead on a rope halter looped to make reins and a straw cowboy hat angled low over his eyes.

“If you can afford the horse, you can afford the saddle,” Marcel called.

Cy shook his head. “That’s why I named him Benz. I could have the horse or the car, but not both.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Marcel grinned broadly as Cy approached. They were unlikely friends, and unlikelier business partners, but since meeting in juvenile detention almost twenty years ago, they’d been inseparable. Despite their disparate upbringings—Cy was a sullen white boy from the back end of beyond, Marcel a streetwise black kid from Greenspoint in Houston—they found common ground. Both were guilty only of having the wrong last name, and both were ultimately exonerated.

Marcel eventually went to college and began developing property, pulling Cy in as his partner as much for his gut instincts as his capital. Ten years on, Cy owned the bar where he’d once washed dishes, had built a six-bedroom house on forty acres northeast of Last Stand, and managed a dynamic portfolio of property investments that would make most bankers’ heads spin.

And almost no one in Last Stand knew about it.

Oh, they knew he owned the bar, and that he’d got himself a big-ass house out in the country. They also knew as well as he did that a dirty dive like McNab’s didn’t generate mansion money, and that his last name meant his gains were as likely ill-gotten as not. No one knew the real source of his income—and he was happy to let them speculate.

Truth was, he’d never much cared for his hometown or most of its residents. Walking Last Stand’s otherwise picturesque, friendly streets was different when your last name strode three feet ahead of you at all times, prompting whispers behind hands, wary stares, and forced smiles. At least the squalor and violence of the Powell homestead was honest. Once he got into town, he never quite trusted what anyone said.

If it weren’t for his younger brother, Sean—his only full sibling among various halves and one of the few Powells left not to have a criminal record—he’d have lit out a long time ago.

Marcel leaned against the railing of the deck while Cy dismounted and left Benz to graze before climbing the steps to join his business partner.

“Sorry, man, I lost track of time,” he said over their handshake greeting. “You want something to drink?”

“Whatever you’ve got that’s cold. This is way too warm for April.” Marcel flapped the lapels on his suit coat.

“Take that undertaker outfit off, you’ll feel much better,” Cy advised, tugging open the sliding glass door.

Marcel snorted. “Says the man wearing a cowboy hat and no shoes.”

Half an hour later they were lounging on the deck watching twilight blur the lines of the land curving away from the house, glasses of lemonade sweating on the patio table, their most urgent business dispensed with.

“Every time I come here, I have about five minutes when I get it,” Marcel remarked, gazing across the lawn. “The peace, the solitude, being surrounded by nature.”

“And then?”

“And then I remember y’all don’t have a McDonald’s, or a Starbucks, or a Buc-ee’s. Even Temple has a Buc-ee’s.”

“We got a tequila distillery.”

Marcel shot him a withering look.

Cy shrugged. “What do you want me to say? Ain’t no love lost between me and this place, you know that. But my kid brother’s here.”

“Sean is twenty-two. He’s not a kid.”

“Dumb as one sometimes,” Cy muttered.

“I’m just saying, you’re limiting yourself by sticking around here. If you came up to Dallas with me, it’d put us in a much better position, get us into some of these deals at earlier stages. Businesspeople like to see both partners in person, not wait for me to call you or promise I can speak on your behalf.”

Cy shifted in his seat, long-held guilt at forcing Marcel to be the face of their operation flaring afresh. “I know I put you in an awkward position sometimes, being so far away.”

“For the most part I don’t mind, but… Cy, you need to find yourself a girlfriend. A nice one,” Marcel blurted in a way that suggested he’d been holding in that thought for a while.

Cy blinked at his friend. “What the hell difference would that make?”

“Because there’s a huge social component to this business that I didn’t even know about until Tracey and I got together. Suddenly I’m getting invites to dinners and brunches and cocktail parties, and it’s a whole thing—the men go off on one side and share intel, the ladies go on the other and compare manicures.”

“Tracey must love that.” Cy grinned, imagining Marcel’s hard-charging venture capitalist wife politely admiring someone’s French tips.

“Okay, they probably talk about other stuff. But don’t underestimate how old-school these networks are, and how important it is to play the game, even if the rules are stupid. One day we’ll be rich enough to be the power brokers, and then we’ll change the rules ourselves, but until then, it’d be weird to bring my bachelor business partner to a couples’ soiree with even numbers of seats at every table.”

Cy took a long, considering drink from his glass. He owed almost everything he had to Marcel, who had the education and sophistication he lacked, not to mention the generosity to have brought him in as his partner in the first place. He knew he left Marcel twisting in the wind a lot, and he knew that if they were ever going to take their portfolio to the next level, he’d have to step up his involvement. Especially if he wanted to make the kind of money that would get him and Sean away from Last Stand for good.

But there weren’t many women in Last Stand who’d be practiced at the kinds of events Marcel was talking about, and even fewer who’d consider going on his arm. He’d let his playboy reputation inflate right alongside his air of criminal mystery. It served him well, effectively filtering out anyone who might be looking for more commitment than he could offer—which usually amounted to about twelve hours.

He wasn’t interested in the complexity and weakness required for a real relationship. It had to be temporary, and ideally a quid pro quo. But who would be willing to pose as his would-be girlfriend, and why?

Georgia.

As it had for years, the thought of the hardworking ADA instantly brought a smile to his face. He’d always had a soft spot for the oldest of the four Star sisters, who insisted on doing what was right even when it made her unpopular. For as long as he could remember she’d treated him with decency and an open mind, and he respected the hell out of her for it.

Helped that she was easy on the eyes, too, her roasted-chestnut hair always tumbling out of its serious, I’m-a-lawyer tied-back style, her sweet, curvy body and long legs equally defiant of those boring skirt suits she stuffed them into. God knew why she was still single, or why she’d dated every slick-suited loser in three counties.

Not that it mattered. Any assignation between them would be purely business.

He wondered if she knew just how much favor Dan Jameson had already curried in the local community, or how savagely he was using her prosecution record against her. Of course, not everyone in Last Stand could be swayed, but between the gullible and the vindictive, the numbers weren’t on her side. The best way for her to win would be to persuade non-voters to vote, and vote for her. To motivate the disinterested, disillusioned, and downright lazy.

In other words, the entire clientele of McNab’s.

“When’s the next couples event?” he asked Marcel.

“A week from Saturday. But you can’t find a date that fast, can you? This needs to be the real deal, Cy, not one of your bartenders you’re paying overtime. Whoever she is, she’ll need to talk the talk. Give you the legitimacy you so desperately need.”

“Don’t worry about that.” He smiled slyly. “I know the perfect woman.”

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping April 25, 2024

Texas Reckless Cowboy is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-961544-95-6

April 25, 2024

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