Once Upon a Cowboy
Published by: eXtasy Books
Author : Paula Calloway
Word Count :9699
Publication Date :2013-05-20
Series : #
Heat Level :
- Product Code: 978-1-77111-569-8
A wild ride leads to a showdown on the range and in the bed.
Seizing the chance of a lifetime, Destini finds herself facing a hunky cowboy determined to get her off the ranch she just inherited.
Seeing nothing but trouble in the little filly, Lance sets his sights on running her off and the sooner, the better.
A night ride leads both into trouble, and Destini’s discovery of Lance’s secret scares him more than her.
His lips tight, he holstered his gun. “The ranch will be up a draw in two days.”
Rick climbed out of his truck. “Now, Lance, Miss Halcourt was probably taking in the—”
“I warned you. You didn’t listen.” The rider turned the horse and galloped toward the open pasture.
Destini frowned. “What’s up a draw?”
The attorney sighed. “Cowboy for in trouble. Meet Lance, the manager of the Diamond Back Ranch.”
“It’s a beautiful place.”
Rick helped her from the car, collected her suitcase, and directed her toward the house. “Lance turned up on your uncle’s doorstep almost thirty years ago as a wandering five-year-old. The background on the boy turned up nothing more than the possibility of traveling or camping family lost in the wild with the kid as the lone survivor. It took some serious finagling, but no one knew how to charm better than JT. Since no family ever claimed the boy, Montana left Lance in JT’s care as a foster child. JT raised him as a son and even trained him to manage the Diamond Back.”
Destini raised her eyebrows. “He certainly doesn’t look thirty-five.”
“Claims life on the range keeps him young. Your uncle requested Lance remain the manager even if you sell.”
“I don’t object if he promises not to scowl.”
Rick set her suitcase inside the door of a room. “This is the master bedroom.” He pointed at a box on the kitchen table. “Everything about the Diamond Back is right here. Anything else you want to know, Lance can tell you.”
Destini frowned. “Does he bite?”
“I haven’t heard anything from the local doctor.”
“What about the vet?”
Rick chuckled. “Nothing from there either. Lance always put the ranch first in his life and fears losing it. Cowboys, especially men like Lance, never trust city folk.”
Destini shivered. “I don’t intend to destroy it.”
“Such might make him smile. It’s late, and Whitehall is a good distance. Here’s my number. If you can’t get an answer from one of the hands, Jake, in particular, is harmless and friendly, call me.”
“Thank you.” When the front door closed, she turned her attention to the house. The single-story cabin held a bathroom, two bedrooms, a quaint living room, and cozy kitchen, all with the friendliness of a warm and welcoming western décor and several live plants. She stepped onto the porch and smiled at the waiting red truck.
“There’s a drive path to the top of the hill. You can see most of the ranch from a distance. Pardon my bad manners, ma’am.” He opened the passenger door and tipped his hat. “Name’s Jake Abrams.”
“Hello, Jake, and I’d love to.” Destini climbed in the vehicle for the ride and enjoyed the way the hills rolled until a mountain cornered off the back area of the land. Lined with barbed wire, the wooden fences seemed more focused on keeping things out rather than in. She looked at each pointed out herd as the animals milled about or grazed.
“Might be easier on horseback, but Lance will need to make sure we have a lady-broke horse first.”
Jake cringed. “A cowboy-broke horse is one a real hand can ride, like Lance’s bay gelding. A lady-broke is gentled so a lady or child can handle it.”
Destini eyed the man several years older than her father, his skin weathered with the sun and elements, his salt and pepper hair more pepper. “Gelding?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He chuckled. “Stallion is a man, mare is a lady and gelding is...was...well, he’s a man without male parts.”
“Makes sense. Tell me more about whom and what’s on this ranch.”
Jake turned back toward the house. “Lance is our manager and head wrangler, which means he deals with fancy stuff and mostly with horses. The rest of us are pretty much just ranch hands, hands for short. Cattleman is the cattle ranch owner-operator. Frequent joke is the difference between a cowboy and a cattleman is the cowboy’s buckle covers his belly, not the other way around. I don’t mean to intrude, ma’am, but Lance is a good man to ride the river with.”
Destini smiled. “I don’t know what the last phrase means, but if you’re asking me to keep Lance on, you can spread the word my uncle said Lance was permanent on the Diamond Back.”
“Itis good to hear, ma’am. Ride the river is cowboy for if a cowboy’s on your side, he’ll stick. Cowboys get called a lot of things, but lazy and worthless are fightin’ words around here. You’ll need to pardon us every now and then as a cowboy puts action ahead of thought, and sometimes we speak a little forward, but always try to be polite to a lady. I’m the yaker around here, and my mouth gets the better of me. Most of the hands refer to you as a catty whompus. Ain’t a bad thing, it means something doesn’t fit and, well, you’re a city girl. No one expects you to stay.”
“Must be nice growing up where you can trust people. City’s bad for teaching things no one should be forced to learn.”
Jake parked the truck and climbed out. Another hand opened the passenger door. “We’re a harmless group, ma’am.” He eyed the manager. “Well, most of us.”
Lance directed the bay gelding into the path of the truck. “I’m not paying you to teach city folk, coffee boiler. It’s time you stop beating the devil around the stump.”
The ranch hand shut the driver’s door. “A coffee boiler would rather do simple tasks than hard labor and the latter means running from responsibility. It’s the name this here ranch manager dubbed me.”
Lance rested his forearm across his pommel and leaned forward. “Or are you making a mash, old man?”
Jake scowled. “I ain’t trying to impress no one. Especially womenfolk.”
Lance straightened. “That crowbait you lost last month is back in the lower pasture. It’s your job to bring him in before he gets in the silk. So tuck yer shirt tail in and get a wiggle on it before your spurs get all tangled up.” He motioned with his hand. “Translation permitted.”
Jake scowled. “Bad horse, barbed wire, close my mouth, hide my tongue, and hurry up before I make up too many things. Anything else, boss?”
“Nope.” He turned his horse away. “My advice is don’t wake up the wrong passenger.”
Jake folded his arms over his chest. “He means don’t mix with a dangerous person.”
Destini shivered. “Is Lance dangerous?”
Jake waved aside her concern. “Nah, but he can be hard.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a hard man.”