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June 27, 2017


Down Home Cowboy

(Alison's Book)

This Texas Cowboy has come home to Copper Ridge to put down roots…but will he risk his heart again?

Asked where he'd be at this point in life, and Cain Donnelly would have said anywhere but Copper Ridge, Oregon, living with his estranged brothers. But since his wife abandoned them, both he and his daughter, Violet, are in need of a fresh start, so he's back to claim his share of the family ranch. Local baker Alison Davis is a delicious temptation, but she's also his daughter's mentor and new boss. That makes her off-limits… until she offers a no-strings deal that no red-blooded cowboy could resist.

Alison has worked tirelessly to rebuild her life, and she won't jeopardize her hard-won independence. Especially if it also complicates Cain's relationship with Violet. But with Cain offering a love she never thought was possible, Alison has to find the courage to let her past go…or watch her future ride away for good.

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Excerpt

Cain Donnelly was sick to death of being alone.

Or, more specifically, he was sick and tired of going to bed alone. It had been a long time since he’d touched a woman.

Four years.

Four years since Kathleen had walked out on him and Violet. And in that time, he had been consumed with trying to salvage what he could of his daughter’s childhood. With trying to make a new life for them, with trying to build something that belonged to the two of them, and didn’t have his ex-wife’s ghost lingering in the shadows.

That was why they had come to Copper Ridge, Oregon from Texas just a month earlier. The transition had been…rocky so far.

He lifted his beer bottle to his lips and scanned the room. He didn’t know how he had allowed his younger half brothers to talk him into going out. He had to admit that his daughter made a pretty convenient excuse for his hermitage. Of course, Violet was sixteen now, and she could stay alone for a while.

Though, if his brother Finn and Finn’s new girlfriend, Lane, weren’t at home, he probably would have used the excuse of them being in a new place to avoid going out. Out in the middle of nowhere like the Laughing Irish ranch was, Violet was likely to get scared. Or some other lie.

But Lane and Finn were at home, and Cain had found himself fresh out of excuses. So he was sitting in the local bar, Ace’s or something. Which was the name of the guy who owned it, he’d been told.

The place was a strange collision of surf and turf. There were fishing nets, half a boat hung up on the wall and other little pieces of evidence that Copper Ridge was a coastal town before it was anything else. But there were also Western touches that could rival any honky-tonk he had been to in Dallas.

Including a mechanical bull. Which he had to admit was providing a decent amount of entertainment.

Are you going to watch that thing all night?”

Cain turned to look at his brother Alex, who had been eyeing a pack of blonde chicks in the corner, and now looked at Cain just long enough to give him a baleful stare.

They were too…young. All those girls, standing in the corner and laughing, scanning the room and trying to see if they could catch the eye of some guy who might buy them another drink. He knew his brothers were up for it. Liam and Alex would happily jump right in the middle of them—in the next thirty seconds, most likely.

Cain felt too old for all of this. He was supposed to be done. That was the point of getting married. He had liked that. That routine. That certainty.

He had been so certain about the decision to marry Kathleen. She’d been pregnant, and he’d always known that if that happened, he’d be marrying the woman. In many ways he’d been thrilled. To have something in his life that he’d felt long denied.

Stability. A family.

He’d become a father at twenty-two, and it had been the proudest day of his life. And for a while, everything had been exactly like he wanted it.

Obviously it hadn’t been what Kathleen had wanted.

And this wasn’t what he wanted. But he was just so damn sick of being alone. Being celibate. Yeah, it was the celibate thing that bothered him. He didn’t want another relationship. There was no point. Violet was sixteen, and bringing somebody else into the middle of things when their life was already hard enough just wasn’t going to happen.

He had never felt right about bringing a woman home for sex with his daughter in the house. And he had really never felt right about spending the night out while he left her at home. Not when his wife had left the way that she had.

So, here he was. Contemplating his celibacy in a bar. Looking at a mechanical bull rather than women. It was all depressing and mind-numbing enough to make him reflect.

On the slow breakdown of his marriage, the day Kathleen had packed up all her stuff and left without telling him what she was planning and where she was going.

The day she’d surrendered parental rights to their daughter, because she needed a clean break.

He looked away from the bull-riding spectacle and over toward the bar, where he saw something that most definitely caught his attention.

There was a petite redhead leaning up against the counter, her ass perfectly showcased by the tight jeans she was wearing. She shifted, and her hair shimmered beneath the multicolored lights. Then she lifted her arm, brushing all that glossy beauty to one side. Cain was transfixed by the sight of that arm. Pale, freckled, slim. She looked soft.

Just for a moment, he could imagine touching her so vividly that he could feel that creamy soft skin beneath his hand.

More likely, it was a full-on hallucination. He wasn’t even sure if he remembered what a woman’s skin felt like.

Maybe she wouldn’t be quite so pretty from the front. It was always possible. But he hoped that she was. He hoped that when she turned around she provided him with more fuel for the fires of his fantasies. Because hell, fantasy was all he had.

The beautiful redhead did not disappoint. And she was, in fact, beautiful from all angles. She turned, scanning the bar with a smile on her face. Damn, she was probably there with some other man. Not that he was in a position to do anything about it either way.

Still, it was nice to know that he could get excited about somebody.

If you’re going to sit there looking like you’d rather be anywhere else, maybe you should be somewhere else,” Liam said, never quite as easygoing as Alex was.

Cain didn’t welcome the interruption of his fantasies. This is my happy face,” he returned.

You’re scaring women away,” Liam said.

“That would be your ugly face,” he said.

Alex laughed. “I love bonding time.”

Cain rolled his eyes and took another drink of his beer. Here he was, out. On a Saturday night. And it just felt wrong. He preferred the life he’d had.

Bars, picking women up—he’d done all that in his early twenties. He was just so far past it now. He couldn’t even remember what he’d found appealing about it.

It’s better than sitting at home,” Alex said, clearly looking for some kind of reaction that he just wasn’t going to get.

Okay,” Cain relented, it was nice to go and eat a hamburger.”

And spend time with us,” Alex added. “Because we’re so charming.”

“I work with you dumbasses all day, every damn day. I wasn’t exactly hurting for quality time.”

That makes me feel sad, Cain,” Alex said. “I really thought we were making progress with our brotherly bond.”

Of the four of them, only Alex and Liam had grown up together. They were also the only two full-blood brothers. Cain had been the product of his father’s first attempt at commitment, and then Finn had been the second. Both had been short-lived and unsuccessful.

For the most part, Cain had been raised in Texas, while his brothers had spent their childhoods on the West Coast. All of them had spent sporadic summers at the Laughing Irish, their grandfather’s ranch on the outskirts of Copper Ridge, good times, sure. But all up, the brothers had only spent a handful of weeks together during their lives.

Last month, they’d all inherited an equal share in the place and, since then, it had been a labyrinth of trying to figure out how to navigate the new family dynamic. Mostly, he liked them. Mostly, he didn’t want to punch them all in the face every day. Mostly.

For me,” Cain said, “this is progress. Drinking in public instead of drinking alone.”

Well,” Liam said, “you might look like you enjoy it more.”

“Like you?”

Liam lifted a shoulder. Women like this.”

It’s true,” Alex chimed in, “they do. I go with ‘wounded war hero smiling bravely through my pain,’ and Liam…well, hell if I know why, but something about looking angry at the world seems to draw them in. You could work that angle, Cain.”

I don’t want an angle to work,” he said, taking another drink, looking across the room to try to find the redhead again. She had sat down at a table with a couple of other women, and they were eating, laughing. Definitely having more fun than he was.

She laughed at something that must’ve been particularly funny, throwing her head back and making all that hair shimmer again.

He had to wonder if what he had just said to his brother was true.

Planning on being alone forever?” Alex asked.

I’m not alone. I have a daughter. You two don’t know anything about that kind of responsibility. I’m not going to bring women in and out of her life just because I want to get laid. It’s not responsible.”

“Plenty of people have kids and relationships,” Alex pointed out.

“Yeah, well, those people aren’t parenting Violet. She’s not happy with the move, you know that.”

She seems happier since she got her job,” Liam said.

It’s hard to tell with her.” His stomach tightened slightly as he thought about his daughter and all of the things he seemed to get wrong with her.

“We’ve all got shit to handle,” Alex said, taking a drink. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun too.”

“You don’t know from having shit to handle,” Cain growled. Then felt like a dick because for all that Alex played it down, he was a war hero, and given the fact he never talked about his years of service in a substantial way, Cain had a feeling Alex was pretty deeply affected by them.

It was the Donnelly way. The more it hurt, the more you laughed it off. 

He forced his gaze resolutely away from the redhead. Because there was no point in fostering any fantasies. He had too much on his plate.

So,” Alex said, “are you just going to sit here all night?”

“I was planning on it.”

“Okay. As long as we’re clear that it’s your choice, and we’re not abandoning you.” He stood up, clapping Cain on the back. We’re going to go be social.” Alex picked his cowboy hat up from the table and placed it firmly on his head, then he and Liam headed over to that group of women they had pointed out earlier.

Cain shook his head, leaning back in his chair, his arms crossed. He wasn’t envious of them. In his opinion, they really didn’t understand what was important in life yet. They didn’t have anything bigger to live for. Not like him. He had Violet.

And, even when she was challenging, she was the reason he got up every morning. No, he didn’t envy his brothers. Or their so-called freedom. It was empty as far as he was concerned.

He took one more look back at the redhead, ignoring the tightening in his gut, in his groin. Yeah, he didn’t envy them at all. But while he saw their freedom as empty, his bed was empty too. And right now, he was just damn sick of that.

*

“He’s checking you out.”

Alison glanced up from her dinner, keeping her expression purposefully bland as she looked across the table at her friend Cassie Caldwell. “Who?” She knew who. She had felt his gaze on her while she’d been standing at the bar. She’d snuck a covert glance when he had been talking to the guys he was with, and her heart had done some weird fluttering thing that had made her want to punch her own face.

The really hot guy over there,” Cassie supplied helpfully . Well, the hot guy in the plaid shirt who was sitting next to the two other hot guys.”

The guy wasn’t just hot. He defied such a paltry descriptor. He was broad shouldered, with the kind of muscled that came from serious labor. He had dark hair, mostly covered by a black cowboy hat, and a square jawline that was visible even with the beard he was sporting.

He was gesturing broadly with very, very large hands that made her feel jittery sensations in parts of her body she preferred to ignore.

He was new, and in a town this size that was noticeable. But there was something familiar about him too.

He shifted in his seat and looked in her direction. Quickly. But she still caught it.

She averted her gaze .

I seriously doubt he was checking me out.” Except she knew he had been, and she was processing the strange, giddy feeling that had come on as a result.

She hadn’t felt that in… Well, it had been long enough that she really couldn’t remember. Probably sometime back in high school when boys had felt new and exciting, and sneaking off with them had felt like exhilarating rebellion.

Before she had realized just how bad a turn that sort of rebellion could take.

“Well,” Cassie said with obnoxious authority, “he was.”

Alison shot her friend Rebecca a look, hoping that the other woman would back her up. Rebecca just shrugged. Sorry,” she said, “but I think he was.”

And?

Maybe you should go talk to him,” Rebecca said, flicking some dark hair behind her ear, her engagement ring glittering in the low bar light.

This was the problem. All of her friends were in relationships. Not just relationships, but the relationship. The real thing, the be-all and end-all, soul mates and all of that. Consequently, they had all turned on her. Even Lane, who had stayed home tonight rather than going out because she was spending the evening in with her best-friend-turned-boyfriend, Finn.

Before the great Sexual Finn Awakening, Lane had been the one who had understood Alison’s aversion to romantic relationships. But now that Lane had dealt with her own past trauma and moved on, she most definitely seemed to think that Alison needed to do the same. Though, she was a little more gentle than Rebecca and Cassie.

Barracudas were more gentle than Rebecca and Cassie.

I’m not going to talk to him,” she said, taking a sip of her Diet Coke.

Why not?” Rebecca asked. “Talking doesn’t mean anything else. It might be good practice.”

For what? My future as everyone’s favorite spinster? I don’t need to talk to him for that, Rebecca,” she said dryly.

Suit yourself,” Rebecca said. “But he was looking at you. And that’s a nice ego boost if nothing else.”

Alison nodded begrudgingly and took hold of her straw, nudging a piece of ice up to the top of the glass and crunching it between her teeth. There, he probably wasn’t checking her out now. Who wanted to watch somebody noisily crunch ice?

Much to her chagrin, she looked back over to where he was—and, also much to her chagrin, felt a stab of disappointment when he wasn’t looking back at her. There was no reason to feel disappointed.

But the feeling only increased when he stood and made his way over to the bar, speaking to Ace for a moment before tipping his hat and heading toward the door.

Then he was gone. And she might never have a chance to talk to him. She didn’t know who he was. So he probably wasn’t local. Since she owned a bakery, and before that, had worked at Rona’s diner, which had been one of the more popular diners in town until Rona had retired and closed the place down, Alison was fairly confident that she could spot the out-of-towners.

He was probably one of the tourists that frequented the retail space Rona’s had been divided up into. He had probably been some rambling cowboy, just passing through town for a brief moment before moving on. And now she would never see him again.

Relief warred with a strange clenching feeling in her stomach. Something that felt a lot like temptation. Well, temptation had just removed itself. From her sight. Possibly from town. With any luck, she wouldn’t have to contend with it ever again.

“The only ego boost I need,” she said, dragging her gaze away from the door, drawing in a breath and forcing herself to calm down, is for people to enjoy my baked goods.”

Rebecca and Cassie looked at each other and the corner of Rebecca’s mouth twitched.

Alison frowned. I did not mean that euphemistically. I own a bakery.” She wadded up her paper napkin and threw it in their direction. It missed, rather grandly, and rolled sadly onto the floor.

Sure,” Cassie said, smiling.

My life is full,” she persisted, taking a bite of her side salad.

And if sometimes she felt a little bit wistful when she saw a handsome man, then looked at her life and saw nowhere to put him, well, that was understandable. Someday. Someday she would try to sort all that out. But for now, she was enjoying her aloneness. Enjoying her own company. Something she had absolutely not been able to do before her marriage had ended.

She had never wanted to be alone with her own thoughts, because she had hated that sad, small woman that she was. Almost as much as she had hated her husband in the end.

She had absolutely no regrets about her decisions. About the way she had chosen to move on.

One hot-ass guy in a flannel shirt and Stetson eyeing her up wasn’t going to change that.

 

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