Cowboy to the Rescue


By A.J. Pine

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ebook (Digital original)


ebook (Digital original) $1.99 $2.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 3, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

From “a fabulous storyteller” (Carolyn Brown, New York Times bestselling author) comes a western romance about a cowboy who isn’t afraid to break the rules.

All designer Ivy Serrano wants is a fresh start. But instead, her Meadow Valley homecoming includes an electrical fire, a trashed custom dress, and a very handsome fireman who knows how to push all her buttons. Lieutenant Carter Bowen may set off sparks of his own, but the last thing Ivy needs now is town gossip . . . or to risk loving another firefighter.

New to small-town living, Carter is determined to prove himself, both at the station and at the fledgling dude ranch where he volunteers. That means no mistakes, no distractions, and definitely no Ivy. Yet there’s something about the sassy shop owner that he just can’t resist. As things heat up between them, Carter’s more certain than ever that she’s the one. But can he convince her they have a future worth fighting for?

Look for the first novel in the all-new Meadow Valley series, MY ONE AND ONLY COWBOY, on sale December 2019!


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Chapter One

Ivy Serrano smelled smoke.

Not the Ooh! Someone must be having a bonfire kind of smoke or the Mmm! Someone is grilling up burgers kind of smoke. She smelled the Shoot! Something's burning kind of smoke right here, in her new shop, on the day of her grand opening.

She glanced around the small boutique, brows knitted together. She'd been about to flip the CLOSED sign to OPEN for the very first time when it hit her. Something was burning.

After two years of putting her life on hold due to a family tragedy from which she thought she'd never recover, here she was, back home, starting over. And of all things, she smelled smoke.

It didn't take long for the smell to be accompanied by sound, the high-pitched wail of a top-of-the-line smoke detector. Although, if anyone was keeping score, she'd noticed first. One point for the Ivy, zero for technology.

Except then she remembered that each detector was wired to the next, which meant that in five, four, three, two, one…a chorus of digital, ear-splitting screams filled eight hundred square feet of space.

Her senses were keen enough, though, that it only took a second to register that the first alarm came from the back office.

Her design sketches! And samples! And Oh no! It was opening day!

She sprinted through the door that separated the shop from her office and storage. The only appliance she had back there was a mini refrigerator, because every now and then a girl needed a cold beverage and maybe even a healthy snack and ohmygod this was not happening.

She gasped when she saw the charred cord and the licking flames dancing up the wall from the outlet. Items on her desk were turning to kindling as the fire reached paper. She grabbed the extinguisher from its prominent space on the wall and, amid the incessant shrieking, snuffed out the fire in a matter of seconds. She yanked on the part of the cord that hadn't been completely cooked and unplugged the appliance.

Problem solved.

Except the design drawing on her desk, the one she'd been working on for the past week, was partially burned and now covered in foam.

No big deal. She'd simply start over—on the first piece she'd been brave enough to attempt that reminded her of Charlie. And now she had to muster that courage again after—of all things—a fire.

Or it would be, once she remembered how to turn the alarms off. Did she rip the battery out of the first one and all the rest would follow? Or did she have to somehow reset each and every one? She spun in a circle, panic only now setting in, because she knew what happened once the first alarm triggered the rest.

She ran back to the front of the shop and pushed through the door and out onto First Street. Sure enough, an emergency vehicle had already pulled out of the fire station's lot, siren blazing.

She dropped onto the public bench in front of her store and waited the fifteen seconds it took for the truck to roll down the street.

"It would have been faster if you all had walked," she mumbled.

Four figures hopped out of the truck in full gear. One who she recognized as her best friend Casey's younger sister, Jessie, started to unfurl the hose while another—yep, that was Wyatt O'Brien—went to open the nearby hydrant. The third was Wyatt's younger brother Shane.

Ivy stood and crossed her arms. "Fire's out already."

The last one—the one she hadn't recognized yet—strode toward her, his eyes narrowed as he took her in.

"Sorry, miss. But we still need to go inside and assess the situation, figure out what type of fire it was, and if you're still at any sort of risk."

She shrugged and cleared her throat, trying to force the tremble out of her voice. "It was an electrical fire. Probably caused by faulty wiring in a mini fridge cord because I had this place inspected a dozen times and know it was up to code. Used a class C extinguisher. I have smart detectors, though. Couldn't get the fire out before you guys were automatically called. Sorry to waste your time."

The fire was out. That wasn't the issue. Fire didn't scare her after the fact, especially now that she was so prepared. It was—them. She didn't want them here, didn't need them here, and certainly didn't require anyone's assistance. Just seeing their uniforms made it hard for her to breathe, made it impossible not to think of how Charlie wearing the uniform had cost him his life.

The man in front of her took off his firefighter helmet and ran a hand through a mop of overgrown dark auburn hair. If he weren't wearing the uniform, he'd have been quite handsome. She knew it was backward, that most women found men in uniforms sexy. But there was nothing sexy about a man who risked his life for a living. Noble? Absolutely. That didn't mean she had to find him attractive.

There was something familiar about him, though, even though she swore she'd never met him. Ivy knew just about everyone in town, especially those who worked at the fire station. So who the heck was this stranger?

"You still need to let us inside," he said. "We're not permitted to accept civilian confirmation of fire containment."

Ivy scoffed. "Just tell Chief Burnett it was Ivy's place and that I said everything is fine. He knows me well enough, so that should suffice."

The stranger grinned, but Ivy got the feeling it wasn't because he was happy.

"Chief Burnett is also my new boss, and I don't think he'd take kindly to me slacking off on my first call. But, hey, appreciate the heads-up and the unneeded paperwork I'll have to file when I get back to the station."

Definitely not a happy smile. Well, that made two of them. He wasn't happy to be here, and she wasn't happy to have him here.

He pushed past her and through the front entrance of the store—aptly called Ivy's—while two of his crew assessed the outside of the building's facade and the fourth jogged down to the end of the street and disappeared behind the row of stores that included her own.

"I really do have things under control in here," she called over the continued screech of the multiple alarms. When she received no response, she followed into the back office, where Needed-a-Haircut Man was inspecting the charred cord from the mini fridge and the blackened outlet.

"Don't you turn those off or something?" she yelled, barely able to hear her own voice.

The firefighter stood, pulled off his glove, and climbed onto her office chair. He reached for the smoke detector on the ceiling and pulled it out of its holster. Then he pressed a button, and it and all other alarms ceased.

"Thought you had things under control in here," he said with a self-satisfied grin as he hopped down to the floor, his boots hitting the linoleum tile with a thud.

Her mouth hung open for a second before she regained control.

"I did. I mean, I do. The detectors are new. This is the first time I've had to use them." And I grew up in a firefighter household, thank you very much. So who are you to question what I do and do not have under control? Of course, she kept all that to herself because her family was her business, but still—this guy had a lot of nerve.

He pointed to a button on the device marked with the word RESET.

"All you have to do is press and hold for five seconds, and they all turn off. But, if you accidentally do the same thing with the TEST button, all alarms will sound for half a minute. So I don't recommend doing that during business hours. Might scare customers away."

Ivy rolled her eyes. "I can read, but thanks for the warning."

"My pleasure," he said, smiling. "I'm gonna grab the rest of the crew so we can do a full assessment on the outlet, check your circuit breaker. Glad to see you're not using power strips."

"It was the fridge. I'm sure of it." That was the last time she took a hand-me-down appliance even if it was still under warranty. "Look, Mr.…"

"Lieutenant Bowen," he said.

Her eyes widened. "What happened to Lieutenants Russo and Heinz?"

"Nothing. Lieutenant Heinz runs his team, and I run mine. Russo's wife got a really great job in Seattle. They're moving at the end of the month. I'm taking over his team. You new in town?"

She scoffed and smoothed out her A-line blue sundress, then straightened the shoulder straps made of small embroidered daisies she had painstakingly created on her sewing machine. It was one of the few items in the shop that was an Ivy Serrano original. Part of her wanted him to notice. The other part called her out on even considering flirting with him. Firefighters were not her type, yet today she seemed to need extra reminders.

"No," she said, indignant. "I was born and raised in Meadow Valley, California. Been here all my life. Mostly. But I can't believe I didn't know Jason and Angie were leaving town." She'd been in her own little world the past couple of months getting the shop ready to open. Had she really been so wrapped up in her own life that she'd missed everything happening around her?

"I might be a little out of touch," she admitted. "But I know you're not from Meadow Valley."

He chuckled. Even though it was a small smile, this one was genuine, going all the way to the crinkle of his blue eyes. Not that she was noticing his eyes. Or how his broad shoulders shook when he laughed. "Just got here last week from Houston. You're very perceptive, Ms.…"

She could hear his light accent now. "Serrano," she said. "Ivy Serrano."

He raised a brow. "Any relation to Captain Emilio Serrano, who practically ran the Meadow Valley Fire Station up until a few years go?"

Ivy swallowed and her eyes burned. "Guess you did your homework. Captain Serrano is my father."

The playfulness left the lieutenant's eyes, but his gaze didn't falter. "I'm sorry to hear about your brother. From what I've been told, he was a hell of a lieutenant himself."

"Thank you." It had been two years since Charlie died in the line of duty, but it still felt like she'd found out only five minutes ago. She cleared her throat. "You were saying something about inspecting the outlet?" She was 99 percent sure the outlet was fine, but right now she'd let him and his crew tear apart the drywall if it meant this conversation would end.

"Right," he said. He pressed a button on a small radio clipped to his collar and called for the other three firefighters. "We should be out of here in less than an hour."

She nodded. "Can I still open the store? Today was supposed to be my first day."

"That'll depend on what we figure out after a short investigation," he said.

The three firefighters she knew poured into her office from the back door.

"Hey, Wyatt," she said.

Wyatt O'Brien, always the gentleman, tipped his helmet. "Hey there, Ivy." Then he turned to Lieutenant Bowen. "All clear out back, sir."

The lieutenant nodded. "Thanks, O'Brien."

"This was a waste of time," Shane said, storming past them all and back out front. That was pretty accurate. Wyatt's younger brother always had a bitterness about him that clung tight. Looked like not much had changed.

The lieutenant's jaw tightened, but he didn't say anything.

"Hi, Ivy," Jessie said.

Ivy forced a smile. She'd known Jessie all the young woman's life. But all she could hope when she saw her in uniform was that Casey would never have to go through what Ivy and her family did.

"Heard you're working the front desk at the guest ranch on your off days," Ivy said. It's safer there. Maybe you'll like it and sign on full-time.

Jessie nodded. "Those school loans aren't going to pay themselves off." She looked nervously at the lieutenant. "I'll go check on Shane." And she hurried after him.

Ivy pressed her lips together and forced a smile. "Thanks, gentlemen," she said to the two remaining men. "I guess I'll just wait up front and let you do your job."

She blew out a shaky breath and headed back into her unopened shop—past the checkout counter and the table of baked goods and refreshments she'd set up for her very first customers.

All she'd wanted was to start fresh and instead she'd started with a damned fire and four firefighters bursting her bubble of safety.

A small crowd had gathered outside the store, which meant the gossip mill was in full effect.

She knew to fight an electrical fire with a type C extinguisher. But the only way to fight small town gossip was to shift the focus. The last thing she needed was every person in Meadow Valley talking about poor Ivy and how fire had brought tragedy into her life again.

She squared her shoulders and fluffed out her brunette waves, then pushed through the door and out onto the street.

"Nothing to see here, folks! Just a quick inspection before Ivy's doors are officially open."

"I heard sirens!" a man shouted, and Ivy recognized Lonny Tate, the owner of Meadow Valley's Everything Store. Most small towns had a general store or a small supermarket, but not Meadow Valley. Lonny Tate prided himself on carrying everything from toilet plungers to the occasional bottle of Coco Chanel. The only problem was that because the place was a quarter of the size of the Target the next town over, you never knew for sure if what you needed was in stock.

"Was there a fire?" a woman cried. It was Mrs. Davis from the bookstore. "Oh, poor Ivy. Not another fire."

"I'm fine, Mrs. Davis," Ivy said. "Promise."

"If you're fine, then you'll call me Trudy like I've been asking you to do for decades," the woman said with mild exasperation. "The only Mr. Davis I know is my father."

Mrs. Davis—Trudy—was practically family to Ivy, so she understood the worry and wanted to put the woman's mind at ease. But Poor Ivy? The whole town would be calling her that before long if she didn't set the record straight.

She kicked off her wedge sandals and climbed onto the bench. A hush fell over the growing crowd of Meadow Valley residents. The town was still abuzz after the annual Fourth of July festival. Ivy had hoped to open up shop before then to capitalize on the event, which was one of their biggest tourist attractions, but—as her good friend irony would have it—her electrical inspection hadn't yet gone through.

"There's no fire," she lied. "Everything is fine. Just a misunderstanding. The store will be open soon. But in the meantime…" She held a hand to one side of her mouth like she was telling them all a secret. "How about that dude ranch on the outskirts of town? I hear we got ourselves some real live cowboys over there."

"Oh!" Mrs. Davis exclaimed. "And I hear they hired that good-looking new fire lieutenant to give some trail tours. Turns out he's a bit of a cowboy himself!"

Suddenly the mumblings changed from the likes of Poor Ivy to things like "I've always had a thing for redheads" and "There's nothing sexier than a man on a horse," along with "You mean a redheaded firefighter on a horse."

Funny. Ivy thought the lieutenant's hair was more of a brown with a hint of red. And maybe there was something slightly sexy about a rancher on a horse, but not when fighting fires was in the mix. Fire was dangerous. Fire took lives. For the bulk of hers, her family had always worried about her father. But once he hit fifty and still hadn't let any blaze get the best of him, they'd all been lulled into a false sense of security, one that let Ivy and her family believe that Charlie, her brother, would also be immune.

They'd been wrong.

The throng of locals Oohed, snapping her back to the present. They weren't looking at her, though. They were looking past her. So she gazed over her shoulder to find the supposed sexy redhead striding through her shop door and out onto the sidewalk, his three cohorts following close behind. While the other firefighters pushed through the crowd and headed back to the truck, Lieutenant Bowen did no such thing.

When he saw her standing on the bench, he crossed his arms and grinned.

"Are you gonna sing or something?" he asked. "And if so, are you taking requests?"

She rolled her eyes.

He thought he was so charming with those blue eyes and that one dimple that made his smile look a little crooked but at the same time really adorable.

Again, all of the nopes. Men who played with fire were far from adorable.

"Am I open?" she asked. Please say yes and then go away.

"Open for business, Ms. Serrano. Though I think you'll need to retire that pesky appliance of yours."

"You heard the man!" Ivy said. "We are open for business!"

She hopped off the bench, slid back into her shoes, and held open the door, ushering much of the crowd inside.

"So," she said. "I was right?"

He nodded once. "You were right. But it's still my job to make sure."

"And it's my job to sell the stuff in there, so I better head back inside," she said. "Thank you, by the way. I know what you do is important. I just wish I could have caught the alarm before you all had to gear up and head over here."

He shrugged. "Beats pulling kittens from trees."

She laughed. He was funny. If he weren't wearing all that gear and the uniform underneath… But he was.

"You obviously haven't met Mrs. Davis yet," Ivy said. "She fosters kittens when she's not at the bookshop. And she's got a big old oak in front of her house. I'm sure you'll hear from her sooner rather than later."

"I'll consider myself warned." He glanced up and down the street, then back at her. "So what do people do around here for fun?"


On Sale
Sep 3, 2019
Page Count
144 pages
Forever Yours

A.J. Pine

About the Author

A librarian for teens by day and USA Today bestselling romance writer by night, A.J. Pine can't seem to escape the world of fiction, and she wouldn't have it any other way. When she finds that twenty-fifth hour in the day, she might indulge in a tiny bit of TV to nourish her undying love of vampires, superheroes, and a certain high-functioning sociopath detective. She hails from the far-off galaxy of the Chicago suburbs.

Learn more about this author