The McGavin Brothers
Book 16

A cowboy by any other name...

When Air Force vet Aaron Donahue lands a dream job in Eagles Nest he doesn’t have love on his mind. Then Caitlin Dempsey pops on his radar and he can think of nothing else. But his chances of successfully wooing her take a nose dive. Against all odds, he shares his name, both first and last, with her cheating ex.

If only he could start fresh with a different name...

Excerpt

Aaron polished off his beer before glancing over the latest version of his letter to Caitlin. “I think it’s okay, but I can’t tell anymore. My brain cells are still fried from your bachelor party.” He handed it to Badger. “Take a look.”
Badger scanned the paper and slid it back across the kitchen table. “You nailed it. Just needs a closin’ and a signature.”
“What kind of closing?”
Tilting back his chair and steepling his fingers, Badger maintained his balance with the same coordination that had made him a skilled fighter pilot. He’d been as toasted as anybody the night before, but he’d kept this Sunday evening appointment to create the letter. “Just use Respectfully yours. Sets the tone we’re goin’ for.”
“Sounds old-fashioned.”
“Nothin’ wrong with that.”
“If you say so.” He scribbled the words.
“Now sign it and we’re finished with that part.”
“Thank God.” He put his signature on the letter. Since he didn’t have Badger’s iron constitution, he could use some sleep. “Now we can—”
“I hate to tell you, good buddy, but you just signed your name right there.”
Damn it. Sure enough, he’d automatically scribbled Aaron Donahue. Heaving a sigh, he reached for a blank piece of paper.
“Patience, grasshopper.”
Aaron looked up and caught Badger grinning at him. “Not funny.”
“Is too. Everythin’ about this caper is hilarious.” He paused. “You need to stay loose.”
“Now you tell me.”
“It’s just a little play-actin’, like when we dressed in drag for the squadron talent show that time.”
“But we weren’t trying to fool anybody with those wigs and makeup. Convincing Caitlin I’m someone else is gonna be damn near impossible.”
“Me givin’ her a letter from my old buddy Raven will be a good start.”
“And that’s the other thing. I’m not Raven anymore. That was in my other life. I haven’t used that name since I was discharged. Ryker doesn’t answer to Cowboy, either, except when he’s with us.”
“Every boy and man in Eagles Nest answers to cowboy. I wager this town has the highest percentage of cowboys in the—”
“Nevertheless, Ryker and I didn’t hang onto our call signs like you did.”
“’Cause y’all didn’t get saddled with Thaddeus Livingston Calhoun the Third. And I can’t help pointin’ out that if you’d stuck with yours, you wouldn’t be in this pickle.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t.”
“Which is the reason we’re goin’ to deploy it now. I doubt Caitlin’s ever heard us call you Raven. She’ll think she’s talkin’ to a whole different person.”
“That letter sure makes me sound like somebody else. I don’t recognize that guy.”
“Because you’re not used to thinkin’ of yourself as a hero.”
“I’m not—”
“Wounded in action and decorated for valor. Doesn’t get much more heroic unless you’d made the ultimate sacrifice. I’m personally delighted that you didn’t.”
“But I’m not used to talking about any of this.”
“You’re not talkin’ about it. That’s the beauty of a letter. That’s how an admirer who’s hesitant to lay his cards on the table in person handles this kind of situation.”
“I’m only hesitant because I’ve got the same name as her scumbag ex.”
“Exactly, and we’re goin’ to fix that unfortunate situation by presenting her with a genuine war hero she won’t be able to resist. I get that you didn’t want to put in that you were awarded a medal, but I plan to tell her.”
“Please don’t.”
“Do you want to impress this woman or not?”
He sighed. “Yes, but—”
“Then go with the narrative. It’s all true. Shot down behind enemy lines, fought off the enemy and escaped despite a broken leg.”
“Only because of Ryker. I told him to leave me.”
“Yes, and he’s a legend in his own time, but we’re focusin’ on—”
“We’re still not telling him?”
Badger shook his head. “Can’t afford to. I’ll have my hands full not tellin’ Hayley. Which reminds me, we need code words.”
“For what?”
“We can’t talk about this on the phone if Hayley’s around. Or Ryker. Or anybody, come to think of it. You can text me a code word if all’s well or a different one if it’s effed up. Use Mach 3 if things are good and tailspin if you’re scrappin’ the mission.”
“Okay, but I don’t see how you can keep this from Hayley. Or how we’ll keep Ryker from finding out. We should tell them.”
“Can’t. The more who know, the more likely we’ll have a leak. Hayley’s not a problem. Believe it or not, we go days at a time without mentionin’ you.”
“Yeah, okay, but we see Ryker all the time. He—”
“I don’t want to burden him with a secret he can’t tell April. And there’s the chance he’ll try to talk us out of it.”
“Aha! There’s the real reason you don’t want to tell him.”
“Because I’ve had experience with Cowboy in that regard. When I pretended to be Hayley’s fiancée Christmas before last, he was not happy that I was foolin’ her parents. He told me not to.” He spread his hands. “See how wrong he was?”
“Yeah, but this is different.”
“Not really. Strictly speakin’, I was much less truthful durin’ that episode than you’ll be durin’ this one. You’re a genuine hero.”
Aaron smiled at the way his Southern buddy dragged out the word genuine. “Compared to Ryker, I’m not—”
“Don’t tell me that you didn’t go through hell durin’ all those operations on your leg because I know better. That’s hero stuff right there.”
“So it wasn’t a picnic, but—”
“Let’s not forget the nightmares.”
He shrugged. “Most returning vets have ’em. Nothing unique about that.”
“And the freak sandstorm that scratched the corneas in both eyes didn’t help, either. They’re still sensitive.”
“Not that sensitive. I was cleared to fly.”
“With tinted goggles. Anyway, we have to exaggerate that bit so you can keep the lights low and your ball cap on.”
“Badger, this isn’t gonna work. She’s sharp. She’ll figure it out in two minutes.”
“You’re discountin’ the sales job I’ll do prior to her showin’ up at your house. Southerners are natural storytellers. And charmin’ on top of it.”
Aaron rolled his eyes.
“If I do my job and turn you into a romantic hero, she’ll want to believe. She won’t be lookin’ for reasons to doubt the setup. A couple of heartfelt conversations in your dimly lit livin’ room and she’ll start likin’ you more’n a bear likes a honeycomb.”
“If it gets that far, and I’m not convinced it will, she’ll start liking Raven, Aaron’s new roommate. How will she take it when she finds out it’s been me all along?”
“She might be discombobulated at first, but by then you’ll have your foot in the door. She’ll realize you two get along like grits and gravy.”
“I hope you’re right.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Damn it, why does her ex have to have my exact name, first and last?”
“I reckon his momma liked the sound of it, just like yours did.”
“Guess so.”
“Look at it this way. What have you got to lose?”
“My dignity.”
“Tell that to someone who hasn’t seen water balloons fallin’ out of your dress.”


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Book 16

Copyright 2001-2019 Vicki Lewis Thompson