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"I love you," Dallas said, kissing her softly one more time. "Now, before you come to your senses-let's go buy those rings."

EPILOGUE.

Dallas won the World Champion All-Around Cowboy title again in December. It took a lot of concentrated effort, since he had gotten so far behind in the earnings he needed to qualify and he spent a lot of time on the road making up for the loss. But his wife had traveled with him those last grueling months, and with her unfailing support, he had no choice but to win.

He had found a woman willing to give up everything for him. Dallas meant to give it all back and a whole lot more, including loving her every day for the rest of his life.

He looked over to where she sat in front of the Christmas tree in her yellow terry cloth robe, her golden hair rumpled from their lovemaking last night. It was Christmas morning. They had returned to the Circle C in mid-December, after the National Finals in Las Vegas, and Patience had begun to look for a teaching job. She already had several interviews lined up and he had no doubt she would get whatever position she wanted. Then they planned to rent a house.



"Come on, Dallas! Get over here, boy." Charlie stood in front of the fireplace, looking like a big gray bear in his robe and slippers. They had awakened at their usual early hour and all raced downstairs to open the packages under the tree. "You and Patience got one more gift to open."

Dallas started toward where Patience sat on the sofa. His knee bothered him a little after the tough Finals competition, and this morning he'd had to take a couple of Advil for his shoulder, but he was off the road for a while, getting in shape to ride in the spring, and he was already feeling better.

Dallas walked over to the sofa. Patience gave him the special smile she reserved just for him and something tightened in his chest. God, he loved her. It still bothered him to think how close he had come to losing her.

Instead, with the money he'd won this year, his savings account was growing by leaps and bounds. In another year or two, he'd have enough to quit riding, buy that ranch, and settle down to the business of raising a family.

It wouldn't be too long before his own kids would be sitting in front of the tree, eagerly tearing through their gifts. He glanced at the tall green pine that glittered with bright-colored lights and red-and-silver tinfoil streamers. Strings of cranberry and popcorn they had made themselves were draped around it, and green, red, silver, and gold b.a.l.l.s hung from the branches.

They had all four helped put the tree up, drinking homemade cider and eating Annie's hot and spicy chili one cold Texas night. Now that he was a married man, the atmosphere in the house had changed. Over the past few weeks, watching him and Patience together, his aunt and uncle had realized the two of them were nothing like Avery and Jolene. Unlike Dallas's parents, their marriage came first and no sacrifice was too great to make it work.

"Come on," Charlie grumbled, "me and Annie's gettin' tired of waitin'."

The rest of the gifts had already been opened, a stack that included a fancy new Navajo saddle blanket for Charlie, a pretty robe and matching slippers for Annie. There'd been a bottle of perfume for Patience and a new western shirt for him. Dallas had given his wife a pretty little filly colt that she had gone wild for and she had given him an Australian shepherd puppy, which Dallas figured would be nothing but trouble, but had already weaseled its way into his affections.

Still, one small box remained.

"You open it," Dallas said, handing the package to Patience, who ripped off the pretty silver foil paper and tore open the box to find a sealed envelope inside.

"I did my part," she said, handing him the envelope with their names penned in blue ink on the back. "Now, it's your turn."

Dallas recognized Charlie's bold script, flicked him an assessing glance, and saw his mouth split into an ear-to-ear grin.

"Come on, son, get a move on. I'm startin' to get hungry."

Dallas opened the envelope and drew out a folded document that was several pages thick. He froze as he unfolded it and realized what he held in his hand.

Dallas shook his head. "No. No way. I won't let you do this."

"Take it easy, son. We ain't givin' the place up completely. If you skip down a little, you'll see we're keepin' a life estate on the house and a little chunk of ground around it. We figure you got enough saved up to build a place of your own down the road a piece."

Dallas straightened on the sofa, tried to swallow past the lump that was building in his throat. He opened his mouth, but no words came out.

"The Circle C would have been yours anyway," Charlie said a little gruffly. "You've been a son to me since the first day you come here. Now...well...me and Annie, we're gettin' too old for all this hard work. We figured the two of you could handle things from here on out. Give us time to enjoy ourselves a little for a change."

"Now your man won't have to be gone all the time," Annie said to Patience, who looked as shaken as he. "And you two can start workin' on those grandkids I been wantin' for so long."

"Thank you." Patience wiped tears from her eyes. "You've both been wonderful to us."

"It won't be easy," Charlie warned. "We've still got that lawsuit to settle and most of the money in the emergency account is gone, what with all the problems last summer. But I figure you can d.i.c.ker with that oil man, make the deal on the southwest section Brad Sullivan was tryin' to make, maybe find us some oil."

Dallas just nodded, still not quite able to take it all in. With a place of his own, he could quit rodeoing. He could stay home with Patience and build up the ranch.

"There's just one more thing," Charlie said.

"What's that?" Dallas looked up from the papers in his hands.

"Ben Landers is plannin' to retire. He and his wife are movin' out to Arizona. Guess you'll have to find yourself another foreman."

Dallas glanced at Patience and read the same thought in her eyes. "Maybe Stormy would be interested in the job."

"You think that boy's ready to settle down?" Annie asked.

Dallas grinned. "Only if he found the right woman."

"Now, that would be a happy ending," Patience said.

And in the end, it was.

AUTHOR'S NOTE.

Hope you enjoyed Patience and Dallas's story, DESERT HEAT, the second book of the Sinclair Sisters' Trilogy. If you haven't read Charity's tale, MIDNIGHT SUN, I hope you'll look for it. The third book of the series is Hope's story, set in the romantic Caribbean and scheduled for release next spring. Till then, have a grand adventure! Best wishes and happy reading, Kat.

ISBN: 978-1-4201-1960-2.

Also by Kat Martin.

MIDNIGHT SUN.

HOT RAIN.

THE SECRET.

THE DREAM.

THE SILENT ROSE.





CHAPTER DISCUSSION