It was their parents’ ranch, through the good days and the bad. But if they want to hang on to their land, their pride, and their family, the three Sorentino sisters will have to reinvent it from the ground up—and one of them just may reinvent herself in the process…
Cowboys have never been good for Amy Sorentino. First her hard-riding father bankrupted the family farm. Then her all-hat-no-cattle boyfriend sold her out on national television, ending her promising career as a chef. Now she and her squabbling sisters have partnered up in a final attempt to save their land by starting an inn and local restaurant. So it figures that with everything on the line, Amy’s key supplier is just the kind of Stetson-tipping heartbreaking bad boy she’s sworn to avoid. But Kellan Reed has a few secrets of his own—and cowboy or not, Amy can’t resist this kind of wild ride…
“One hot romance from start to finish.”
--Carolyn Brown, New York Times bestselling author of Mistletoe Cowboy
“Simply delightful.”—New York Times bestselling author Lori Wilde
Chefs the world over loved to riff about ingredients as
inspiration, about tender leaves of fresh-picked basil or
fall’s first crop of apples sparking the creation of whole
menus in their minds. For many chefs, food spoke to them
like muses, guiding forces of creativity. Not Amy. She felt
the life in each pot, the potential in every pan. In the way
the light reflected off stainless steel and the hiss of a gas
stovetop. And no matter which kitchen she cooked in,
from Los Angeles to Paris, she carried with her the most
invaluable inspiration of all—her knives.
Specifically, her nine-inch MAC SPK-95 Classic chef
knife. Standing at the counter in the kitchen she grew up
in, she withdrew it from its canvas bag and moved it over
her arm, relishing the perfectly balanced weight of the
blended steel tool.
“Hello, baby,” she crooned.
Airport regulations had required her to stow the MAC
in her checked bag yesterday for the flight to New
Mexico, a rule she followed grudgingly, and this morning
was their first reunion. Being that this was her first time
back in Catcher Creek since the Ultimate Chef Showdown
debacle and with an afternoon lawyer meeting on
the horizon, she needed this moment more than ever. She
needed to dice.
With practiced ceremony, she sharpened the knife with
a pass along a honing rod. The zing of metal sliding over
metal sent chill bumps crawling over her skin. A second
pass over the rod, and this time, the vibrating zing of steel
tightened her nipples. She smiled, a secret, wicked smile,
as her stress evaporated. She adjusted her grip on the hilt
of the honing rod, set the base of the knife against its shaft,
Who cared that for her thirty seconds of fame as a reality
TV star she was the laughingstock of the nation? She
didn’t have to face the vicious gossip of Catcher Creek’s
locals anytime soon if she didn’t want to. She was no
coward, but today was going to be hard enough without
Zing. Damn, she loved the feel of friction sliding up
Who cared about the pressure she’d piled on herself in
returning home—the suffocating stress of her sisters
counting on her to save them all from disaster? She
wouldn’t crack. Unlike her mother, Amy didn’t have that
luxury. Which was why, for a few quiet minutes, she
needed to lose herself in knife work, in the mindless task
of dicing perfect cubes of celery.
She flicked the tip of the blade with her finger and
licked her lips. Lethally sharp, just the way she liked it.
The MAC was ready for action. As was Amy. She placed
the knife on the cutting board and moved to the refrigerator.
She had no idea the sort of produce her sisters kept
on hand, but certainly they’d stocked celery, knowing
how important dicing vegetables was to regulating her
She opened the refrigerator door and gasped. Except for
a bottle of ketchup and a gallon of milk, every shelf and
both crispers were empty. She slammed the door and
raced to the pantry. Empty. Not even a potato. She glanced
sideways at her MAC, which sat impotently, waiting for
her. And just like that, her usual anxiety returned with a
The Quick Stand was roasting inside. Whoever set the
thermostat either had a poor understanding of electronic
devices or the misfortune of being born cold-blooded. Sure
New Mexico was experiencing a cold snap, but nothing
justified heat this sweltering. The refrigerator display cases
whirred nonstop, and Amy debated the merits of staging a
citizen’s arrest of the leathery-skinned farmer at the
coffeepot who’d forgotten to apply deodorant. Then again,
that would mean stepping out of the line she’d already
invested ten minutes of her time waiting in.
She glanced around. Busy place for a Saturday, probably
because it was the only store open before ten o’clock
for twenty miles—a fact she’d learned the hard way. With
each padlocked door and darkened store she’d driven by,
the more viciously the day’s stress seized up in her belly.
When her turn arrived, she took a deep breath and
stepped to the checkout counter. A niggle started in her
throat, like a first tickling of hysteria. She swallowed it
back. Please, please, please have celery.
Charlene Delgado, who’d been the cashier for as long
as Amy remembered, smiled in surprise. “Well, if it isn’t
the famous actress home from Hollywood. I watched you
on that television show. A shame, what happened with that
cowboy contestant. He played you bad, for sure, but your
tantrum”—she whistled—“that was one for the ages.”
Amy ground her molars together and painted a pleasant smile on her lips. She’d wondered which Catcher Creek
resident would be the first to bring up Ultimate Chef
Showdown and Cowboy Cook Brock McKenna. In town
less than twenty-four hours, she hadn’t been kept waiting
long. And how fitting that Charlene, the leader of the local
gossip brigade, delivered the initial blow.
Charlene was spot-on about Amy being shamed, even if
she got the details wrong, but she wasn’t about to point out
that the show filmed in New York City, nor that Amy was
a chef, not an actress. If she’d been anything of a decent
actress, that tantrum would’ve never happened. She
pushed her smile as wide as her lips would stretch. “Thank
you for watching the show. The support of my Catcher
Creek neighbors has been such a blessing.” If one counted
deafening silence as support.
“What can I do for you, dear?” Charlene asked.
“Does the Quick Stand carry celery? I couldn’t find any
and I really, seriously, need some this morning.” Like a
turning of the screw, thinking about her futile celery search
across the county twisted her belly into a tighter, more
“Celery? You cooking some sort of gourmet breakfast,
like that time on Chef Showdown where you had to make
a dessert using vegetables? Wait . . . you’re pregnant, aren’t
you? You have a craving for celery.”
“No . . . NO! Nothing like that. It’s just—”
A woman in line conspicuously cleared her throat.
Amy froze. And so it began, the whispers and stares
she’d faced all her life in this small community, the disdain
she faced for being a Sorentino. Her cheeks heated,
but she didn’t dare turn. Let them all look. Let them
whisper to each other behind their hands, Like mother, like
daughter. Amy had gone up against worse bullies and survived.
Not always with dignity, she amended, thinking
about Ultimate Chef Showdown, but she’d survived
“It’s just that I’m a chef, and I need celery,” she finished,
forcing her smile wider.
“I wish I could help you, but we don’t carry celery.”
“How about onions? I could make do with onions.”
Charlene shook her head. “We don’t carry any produce
Charlene trudged to a refrigerated bin and removed a
Styrofoam snowman from the top. She fished something
out, waddled to the checkout stand, and slapped a three-
ounce bag of baby carrots on the counter.
Cringing, Amy poked at the bag. “Fine. Give me everything
The woman in line cleared her throat again, followed by
a muttered “Those Sorentinos. . . .”
This time, Amy whipped around. “Is there something
you want to say about my family?”
The woman’s eyes widened in shock and, Amy liked to
think, a healthy dose of fear. Yeah, that’s right, lady. Don’t
mess with a Sorentino. I might go all crazy on your ass.
A man stepped forward, his expression placating.
“Now, ladies. Let’s stay calm. No need to get riled up on
this fine morning.”
Amy cursed under her breath. A cowboy. Just perfect.
She was already primed with need from her knife-
sharpening session, pent up with nervous tension that
needed releasing. She’d tried to take the safe route to stress
relief by sticking to celery, but it looked like the universe
had different ideas, throwing a cowboy into her path.
Dark brown hair curled beneath his dust-coated cowboy
hat and his long legs ended in scuffed, aged boots that
settled a familiar, heavy ache between her thighs. True, she
was the only woman she knew who got hot and bothered every time “Desperado ” played on the radio, but there was
something about boots, snug jeans, and a worn-in Stetson
that flipped a switch in her. And this particular cowboy—
oh, Doctor. She pictured him tossing bales of hay into a
truck bed, his burly biceps bunching, his broad, strong
back flexing, his brow sweating from the effort.
Snapping her gaze away, she mentally shook herself.
The last thing she needed in her life was another cowboy,
especially after Brock McKenna, even if this one clocked
in at an eleven on the hotness scale.
She looked at him again with fresh eyes, this time registering
his patronizing grin. Amy hated to be patronized.
Brock had done that on Ultimate Chef Showdown and it
was as grating to her nerves now as it had been then. The
longer she thought about it, the more she wanted to smack
the arrogant smirk off this new cowboy’s sexy, stubbled jaw
with her bag of baby carrots, then stuff it down his throat.
How dare he barge in on her stressful day with his tight
jeans and T-shirt that showed off the muscles beneath like
he was God’s gift to women? Snatching the bag from the
counter, she gave a little practice swing with her three
ounces of whoop-ass.
No. She wouldn’t cause a scene. Her tattered reputation
couldn’t handle another public freak-out. Her gaze drifted
over the crowd of people in the market. From those in line
to the people doctoring up their morning coffee, all eyes in
the place were trained on her.
Too late. She’d already caused a scene. The heat of her
cheeks spread over her neck. She’d been seconds away
from bludgeoning a man with a bag of carrots. Unbelievable.
She should never be allowed out of the kitchen again.
She counted down from ten before speaking in her
calmest, most rational voice. “I’m not riled up. I’m buying
carrots.” She dangled the bag in front of her face. “See?”
Lifting his hat from his head, the cowboy’s grin broadened. He ran a hand over his mop of hair as he moseyed
her way, his boots clomping along the linoleum. She
couldn’t tear her gaze from him. The way he moved got her
visualizing him swinging onto a horse, taking the reins,
issuing a command. The prick of heat on her skin grew
unbearable. She had to get away from him before she
embarrassed herself even further.
“Perhaps we could step out of line to talk in private and
let these good folks get on with their morning.” His voice
was a low, lazy drawl that turned her legs rubbery. She
allowed him to take her arm and lead her to a rack of
magazines in the corner, mostly because she wanted to
feel those large, work-worn hands on her skin.
Get a grip, Amy. Remember rule number one.
She twisted her arm away. “What do you want?”
“Just trying to keep the peace, Miss Sorentino—Amy.
You looked like you were ready to go postal on Linda
Klauss. I had to do something.”
She shook her hair back and lifted her chin. “Let’s stick
with Miss Sorentino. And who are you?”
“Kellan Reed, your neighbor.”
Damn. Her morning just went from bad to worse.
“You’re Kellan Reed, owner of Slipping Rock Ranch?”
“At your service.”
With the way he was looking her over, she bet he was.
“I’m opening a restaurant here. You’re on my list to call.”
“Is that so?”
“I have a business proposition for you.” She felt dirty
saying the words, like from them he might divine that she
was imagining how he’d look astride a horse. Shirtless.
Lordy. Maybe she could hand this particular negotiation
off to Jenna.
“I look forward to discussing it with you, so long as you
leave your bags of carrots in the car.” Amy balked and he
held up his hands. “I’ve got some time now. Why don’t you follow me to my ranch and we’ll talk about what it is
you want from me? Business-wise, of course.”
She chewed her bottom lip, considering. After Brock
McKenna in all his cowboy glory played her for a fool on
Ultimate Chef Showdown, she’d added a new number one
rule to live her life by—resist temptation by steering clear
of cowboys. Unfortunately, she was opening a restaurant
that would feature locally grown food, and her success depended
on securing contracts with the best ranches and
farms in the region. Kellan Reed’s cattle ranch sat at the
top of that exclusive list because of its reputation for producing
the most coveted, high-quality beef in the southwest.
Not to mention the most expensive.
So if Kellan Reed offered her an invitation to talk business
at his ranch, she had no choice but to take him up on
it. The way she saw it, she had the drive from the Quick
Stand to his property to strategize a way to convince him
to sell Slipping Rock beef to her at an under-market rate.
That was going to be a problem because, even now, she
was having trouble stringing together a single intelligible
sentence with him looking at her with those deep brown
eyes—and they weren’t even alone yet.
She would have to be strong. No going inside his
house, no needless small talk. They could negotiate outside,
where she had quick access to a getaway vehicle
should she sense her self-control crumbling. After securing
the beef contract, she’d thank him and be on her way
like a reasonable, responsible adult. No problem.
She afforded him a terse nod. “It’s a deal.”
“Excellent.” His dark eyes twinkled with lusty purpose—
or maybe that was only a product of Amy’s overactive
imagination. “Char, would you put these on my tab?” He
waved a candy bar and a bag of pretzels in her direction.
“Breakfast of champions?” Amy asked.