Hard Loving Cowboy

Includes a bonus novella


By A.J. Pine

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This cowboy’s handsome, sexy, and definitely off limits . . .
Walker Everett spends his days at the Crossroads Ranch wrangling cattle—and steering clear of anything that would complicate his already too-complicated life. Until Violet Chastain, the ranch’s newest employee, asks him to pretend to be her boyfriend for her parents’ anniversary party. She’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever met and needs his help. How can he refuse? Violet isn’t about to fall for a brooding bad-boy cowboy, no matter how sizzling their chemistry. But she also never expected Walker to go along with the charade. Before long, he’s charming her parents at their weekly dinners and kissing her way more than necessary. Spending so much time together tests the limits of their “just friends” relationship, but what happens when their game of pretend becomes all too real?Includes the bonus story Rocky Mountain Cowboy by Sara Richardson!“A fabulous storyteller who will keep you turning pages and wishing for just one more chapter at the end.” — Carolyn Brown, New York Times bestselling author, on Second Chance Cowboy“Cross my heart, this sexy, sweet romance gives a cowboy-at-heart lawyer a second chance at first love and readers a fantastic ride.”New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Ryan on Second Chance Cowboy



Walker swiped his forearm across his face, and his sleeve came away bloody. He guessed his nose was broken, but he was numb to the pain.

“What the hell?” he said. He coughed as blood ran down the back of his throat. That was when he realized he was lying down. He made a move to get up.

“Don’t!” someone shouted. It was a woman’s voice. “Unless you want a palm full of glass. You’re paying for that window, by the way.”


He was about to start asking questions again when he heard the wail of a siren. Seconds later, his vision blurred with swirls of red and blue.

A car door slammed, and boots crunched in the gravel. Or maybe that was the glass he was sprawled on.

“Gimme your hand, Everett,” a gruff, male voice said. And because Walker wanted to get the hell out of whatever situation he was in, he gripped the outstretched palm and let whoever was standing above him pull him to his feet.

Walker’s vision didn’t clear, even when the lights were out of his eyes. But he could make out the uniform. He could tell the vehicle was a black SUV and not a white ambulance, which only meant one thing.

“Evening, Sheriff.” Walker stumbled, but someone caught him by the elbow.

“Hell, Cash. This guy’s a walking miracle. No embedded glass. Looks like he fell just right ’cause there’s not a scratch on him…other than what looks like a broken nose.” The voice belonged to a woman, but she was still standing behind him.

Whoever she was, while she’d been nice enough to keep him from hitting pavement again, she was now pushing him toward a bench. With his arm pinned behind his back.

“Walker Everett, you’re under arrest for disorderly conduct, public intoxication, and likely vandalism if Nora decides she’s had enough of your antics. You want to take it from here, Sheriff?” the female officer asked.

Walker sat and felt cool steel clamp around one wrist and then the other.

“Christ,” Sheriff Hawkins hissed as he squatted, the two men now eye to eye. “What the hell happened in there?”

Walker leaned forward and whispered, “I’d love to tell you that, Cash, but first you’re gonna have to tell me where the hell I am.”

The sheriff winced. “Well, you smell like you’re drowning at the bottom of a bottle of Jack, so that ought to give you a hint. Sorry to have to do this, Walker, but I can’t help you out of this one.” He straightened to his full height. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning if you wish. You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements. Do you understand each of these rights I have explained to you? Having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now?”

Walker Everett had plenty to say—and ask for that matter. His brain was swimming with questions and answers and a few choice words for his friend Cash, who had the balls to arrest him. But none of his words made it to the surface. Instead the black spots dancing at the edge of his vision were a full-on blanket of dark now. The last thing he heard before losing consciousness completely was “Call his brother, Jack Everett. He’ll represent him when he’s ready for questioning.”


To say he had a headache was the understatement of the year. Walker had been on benders before, but he’d learned early on to keep a bottle of ibuprofen in the top drawer of his nightstand. Sure, sometimes he forgot to take them, but after a while it had become habit, and no one actually forgot a habit.

But he wasn’t in his bed right now. He was in a bed, but this wasn’t his room.

“Morning, sunshine,” he heard before he dared to open his eyes. “I’ll call your brother and let him know you’re awake. Said he wasn’t posting bail until this morning as long as you had a place to sleep. Cozy, isn’t it?”

Walker blinked, the tiniest movement, and hissed in a breath through clenched teeth. He guessed by the sheriff’s chuckle that Cash had heard him. He pinched the bridge of his nose and saw stars. Then he caught sight of his bloodstained sleeve and imagined what the rest of him must look like.

“You’re gonna need to get it set, but there wasn’t much we could do without you being conscious. As long as you get to the doctor within the week, you should be good to go. Wait any longer, and they’ll need to rebreak it.”

Walker gingerly swung his legs off the side of the cot, his boots falling heavy onto the cement floor of the cell.

“My brother let me sleep here last night?” His mouth was drier than cotton, and he wasn’t going to try to figure out what it tasted like.

Cash’s feet were propped up on his desk as he sipped his coffee and stared at Walker. “I don’t think I’d call what you were doing sleeping, but that’s not what I want to discuss.”

Walker braced his hands on his knees, head hanging between his shoulders, and blew out a long breath. “December thirty-first is her birthday. Was her birthday.” It had been more than fifteen years, and he still had trouble thinking of his mother in the past tense.

“And it’d break her heart to know how you spent it.”

Walker looked up to meet the disappointed gaze of his oldest brother, Jack. “Do you ever get tired of lecturing?”

Jack scrubbed a hand across his jaw. Dark circles rimmed his eyes. “Yeah. I do.”

Walker stood, not exactly steady on his feet but enough that he wouldn’t topple over. “Noted, big brother. So, this is the part where we make this all go away, right? There are advantages to that fancy law degree you got.”

But Jack stood in front of the small cell with his arms crossed while the sheriff never lifted his feet off his desk.

“This isn’t like all the other times. Nora’s pressing charges,” Jack said. “You fell through the tavern’s damned window. That mess that was once your face? The wooden frame. You’re lucky you still have your teeth.”

“So you’re leaving me here?” Walker asked, not exactly feeling lucky.

“That’s up to you,” Jack said. He slid a hand through the bars and held out a pamphlet. “There’s a place about an hour from here. Supposed to be real nice. Program lasts two months. But you have to voluntarily admit yourself.”

When Walker didn’t take what was being offered, Jack’s head fell against the bars.

“Please,” Jack said. “I can’t keep doing this. You can’t keep doing this to yourself. I’m getting married the end of the summer, and—”

“And you don’t want your drunk of a brother messing things up,” Walker interrupted.

Jack lifted his head, and the pained look in his brother’s eyes made Walker take a step back.

“I’m done making excuses for you. I’m done telling myself that you’re the youngest, that you’ll grow out of this. I’m done wondering when I’ll get the call from Cash telling me that this time your luck ran out. I’m done, Walker. I’m—done.” He dropped the pamphlet on the floor of the cell. “Just because Jack Senior drowned in the bottle doesn’t mean you have to do the same.” Then he started to walk away.

If Jack was finally turning his back on him, Walker’s luck had run out.

“Wait!” he said, the panic and desperation rising.

His brother stopped, and for several long seconds he did nothing else.

Turn around, Jack, Walker thought. Turn the hell around.

After what felt like days, Jack turned to face him.

“Okay,” Walker said. “You win. When do we leave?”

Jack’s fists clenched at his sides. Then they released. “We get your face fixed up—as best we can—and then we get on the road.”

“Just like that?” Walker asked.

“Just like that.”

He’d do this for his brother, but it would only be a temporary fix. Walker knew it, and he was sure Jack did, too. Walker couldn’t change who he was any more than a tiger could change its stripes. For better or worse—in this case he’d admit it was worse—Walker Everett was his father’s son. You couldn’t fight genetics, could you? Yet somehow the inheritance skipped Jack and his other brother Luke.

“It won’t work,” Walker admitted.

“Might not,” Jack said. “But for the first time in my life, I’m asking—no, I’m begging—you to try.”

And that was when Walker realized it, the one part of the equation that had always seemed to be missing.

No one had ever asked him to stop.

“Jenna and Luke know?” he asked his brother when they were outside in Jack’s truck. No way his aunt and his other brother would be left in the dark, but confirmation was always good.

“They know if I come home without you that you made the right decision. Here.” He handed Walker a soft ice pack. “Grabbed this on my way out. Cash said you’d need it. And the bottle of water in the cup holder is all yours.”

Walker tore the lid off the bottle and drank its entire contents without coming up for air. After a substantial belch, he laid his head against the seat and placed the pack over his eyes and nose, letting out something between a groan and a sigh.

“You sure my luck didn’t run out?” he asked Jack. “Because other than a fresh bottle of whiskey, this is about as close to heaven as I think I’m gonna get.” When his brother didn’t so much as laugh, let alone answer him, Walker cleared his throat. “This isn’t who I wanted to be, you know.”

The only problem was, if he wasn’t this—the brother who couldn’t get his shit together, who nobody even expected to grow out of this kind of behavior—then who the hell was he? Because this was the only version of himself he recognized anymore.

“I know,” Jack finally said as they pulled out onto the main road. “I know.”

Chapter One

The job is yours if you want it. We leave as soon as we’re done putting that addition on the bed-and-breakfast. We can use all the cheap labor we can get.”

Walker held the phone to his ear for several seconds, letting the offer sink in.

“I need to stick around for Jack and Ava’s wedding,” he finally said. “That’s not until the end of July.”

Sam Callahan, of Callahan Brothers Contracting, laughed. “Yeah, I know about the wedding. Got a save-the-date e-mail and everything. We’ll be heading out soon after, breaking ground on the ranch in early August.”

Walker nodded, though he knew the man on the other end of the line couldn’t see him.

“I gotta think on it,” he said. “But I’ll let you know.”

“Sure thing,” Sam said. “Welcome home, Everett.”

Walker ended the call. He didn’t have much of a response to the sentiment, not when the place he’d spent most of his life felt as foreign right now as if he’d moved to the other side of the world. It was still the place where his mother had died and where his father had gone off the rails. But it was far from home.

He slid his phone in his pocket and got back to the task at hand.

It was high noon, the heat topping out at an unseasonably hot eighty-eight degrees for early March. Walker had been using the circular saw outside the winery’s back entrance for the better part of two hours. His T-shirt was soaked through with sweat, his jeans full of sawdust, and his beard was itching his neck something fierce. But when he looked at the perfectly cut pieces of crown molding ready to be stained, he considered it all worth it.

Okay, he was hotter than Satan’s pitchfork in a furnace and was sure he’d sweated out fifteen years’ worth of alcohol even if he hadn’t had a drink in two months. Nothing was worth this kind of torture, but now that the floors were done and the entire inside of the winery painted, Jack and Luke wouldn’t let the sawhorse inside even if Walker used a drop cloth.

“There’s air-conditioning inside,” he’d argued.

“Fresh air will do you good,” Luke had countered.

“Plus Ava and Lily will have our asses if you mess up their space,” Jack had added.

Leave it to his brothers to throw their respective partners under the bus when they weren’t around to defend themselves or hear Walker’s side of the argument.

“Do you know how much fresh air I had while I was gone? I’ve been on hikes, bikes, and”—he’d leaned close to whisper this one to Luke—“and there was outdoor yoga, man. You don’t know the fucking horrors.”

You’d think a guy would get some sort of recognition for two months of sobriety, yet here he was, tossed outside like his nephew Owen’s Lab, Scully.

Who was he kidding? That spoiled pooch was probably in the ranch lying next to the air-conditioning vent getting a belly rub. Damn that sounded nice.

He pulled his shirt over his head, found the one dry spot left, and gave his torso a good once-over. That was when he heard the crackle of tires in the gravel out front and the distinct sound of a car door slamming not once but twice.

Excellent, he thought. Visitors.

As he made his way to the front of the soon-to-be Crossroads Winery, the sound of a heated argument filled the air. At least, he thought it was an argument based on the rapidly increasing volume of their voices, but the words that floated his direction were anything but English.

Reviens, Violet! Tu sais que tu m’aimes!

The male, who Walker could now see was a tall, lanky guy with curly dark hair, was waving his hands in the air as he followed the woman—a curvy brunette with thick waves tumbling over her shoulders, light brown skin, and legs for days—toward the winery’s front door.

Va te faire foutre, Ramon! J’arrête!” She added a one-fingered gesture, and even though Walker didn’t speak what he guessed was French, he did understand the universal language of Fuck you.

“We’re closed, gorgeous,” Walker called to her, and without a second glance, she changed her trajectory from the building’s entrance to where Walker stood a couple yards to the right.

Est-ce que tu vois?” she called over her shoulder to the other man as she approached. “Il est la!” She was close enough to touch him now—and she did, wrapping her arms around Walker’s waist.

“Are you married?” she whispered. “Engaged or attached in any way?”

He shook his head slowly. “So you do speak English, huh?”

“Please,” she said under her breath. “Go with this, and I promise to make it up to you.”

“Mmm-hmm,” he said.

She slid her palms up his bare torso and linked her fingers behind his neck. Walker didn’t think, just acted. He dropped his balled-up T-shirt to the ground, pressed his hands firmly against her hips, and dipped his head so she could brush her soft lips over his. If he thought he was parched from baking in the morning sun, it was nothing compared to the insatiable thirst he felt when her tongue slipped into his mouth. He growled as she let out a soft moan. And then he took all that she gave, and damn this stranger was a giver.

His hands traveled south, and he waited for her to object, but she only kissed him harder. So he squeezed her round, firm ass as their tongues and mouths and lips spoke a language they both understood.


Sure, the tenets of his therapy strongly recommended no dating within the first six months of his sobriety, but this could hardly be interpreted as dating. He didn’t even know this woman’s name, only that he’d been in the desert for eight long weeks, and she was either an oasis or the best damned mirage he’d ever seen.

And working at the vineyard wasn’t an issue—yet. He’d cross that precarious bridge in the fall when the vineyard officially opened. Right now his brothers were happy to let him do all the necessary busy work. After all, all work and no play meant no falling through tavern windows, right?

Bien!” Walker heard the other man call, but he wasn’t about to cut short whatever was happening to acknowledge him. “Vous gagnez. You win. You want me out of your life? Au revoir. Perhaps your new man would like to take you home.”

His words were heavily accented and dripping with disdain.

She didn’t respond, but kept up with the charade as Walker heard the car door slam, the engine rev to life, and then finally, the frantic sound of tires spinning too fast to gain purchase before finally squealing onto the main road and eventually, out of earshot.

“You gonna tell me what the hell that was all about?” he said against her lips. “Wouldn’t mind your name, either.”

She lowered herself onto the spikes of her heels, the shoes apparently not enough to reach Walker’s six-foot-four-inch frame. Her pink lips were swollen and the copper skin of her chin was rubbed pink from his beard. She absently brushed her fingers over it as her eyes searched far down the now empty road.

“How about I start?” he said when she made no move to answer him. “Walker Everett. You seem to be stranded at my ranch.”

She cleared her throat, her eyes—brown with flecks of gold—finally focusing on his.

“I thought this was a vineyard.”

Walker grunted. “Depends on if those grapes out there make anything worth drinking, but I’ll let my brother and his fiancée worry about that. I’m more interested in that mighty friendly greeting of yours. Not that I’m complaining.”

She smoothed her fitted black skirt and refastened the button of her crisp, white shirt that had undoubtedly popped open when she was making his acquaintance. Not before he snuck a glance at the lavender lace that peeked out from beneath.

“I’m here for the interview,” she finally said. “Though I realize now I’ve most likely already lost the job. Damn it, Ramon.”

“He your boyfriend?” Walker asked.

The woman crossed and uncrossed her arms, then started looking around desperately.

“My bag!” she yelled. “He left me without my bag?”

Walker squinted, then strode past her to the empty parking area where he retrieved a tan leather tote. Her expression brightened when she saw it, but when she reached for the bag, he retreated with it still in hand.

“First your name,” he said.

She blew out a breath. “Violet. Violet Chastain. I have an interview with Jack Everett for the sommelier position, and that was my boyfriend until a picture of him with his wife and daughter fell out of the passenger-side visor and right into my freaking lap. That kiss—I mean, what I did when I got out of the car? I guess that was my pride going into fight or flight, though I’m not sure which category my behavior falls under other than entirely unprofessional.” She reached again for her bag, and this time Walker gave it to her. She pulled out her phone. “I’m going to call an Uber, and you can forget I was ever here.”

As she strode to where the parking area met road, Walker’s own phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out to find a text from Jack.

Running late. Supposed to interview wine expert. Fill in for me? Her references are great. She’s been in the restaurant industry a long time. Just make sure she knows how to talk about and sell wine. Shouldn’t be too difficult.

Walker laughed. Of the three Everett brothers, he was sure he knew the least about wine, winemaking, and what you needed to know to sell it. She could say whatever she wanted, and he’d have no choice but to believe her.

He dropped the phone back into his pocket, then retrieved his shirt from the ground. He beat as much dust off of it as he could before pulling it back over his head. Then he made his way to where Violet stood on the side of an empty road, furiously tapping the screen of her phone.

“How’s that Uber working out for you?” he asked.

She groaned. “It’s not. The closest driver is thirty miles away.”

He chuckled. “Not sure where you’re from, gorgeous, but you’re in Smalltown, USA now. This little part of San Luis Obispo County almost doesn’t exist on the map. Closest you’ll get to an Uber is an Everett pickup truck or a horse. Can I interest you in either of those? Also been instructed to fill in for my brother Jack, so if you still want that interview…”

Her head shot up, and she stared at him with wide eyes. “You’re kidding, right? After what I just pulled?”

He raised a brow. “Do you hear me complaining?”

“No but…I mean, you’re not…Wait, now that I think of it, you did kiss me back, didn’t you?”

The corner of his mouth quirked up. “I sure did.”

“Thank you, by the way, for putting your shirt back on. Not that I didn’t like what I saw—or felt—and ohmygod I should not even be commenting on your bare torso, but the whole being clothed thing is making it slightly easier to look you in the eye.”

He looked down at his attire, then let his gaze travel up from her sleek three-inch heels all the way to her starched collar.

“I’m not exactly dressed for an interview,” he said. “But Jack doesn’t want to have to reschedule. So if you’re still looking for a job…”

“I am,” she assured him. “I most definitely am.”

“Then I guess we’d better head into my office,” he said, backing toward the winery’s entrance. He held the door open, and she followed him inside. “Why don’t you get a lay of the land while I head in back to wash up. Then we can talk about your qualifications as a…” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and opened back up to Jack’s text. “…sommelier,” he said.

Yay,” she said wincing.

“Glad you’re excited.”

She shook her head. “You said suh-mel-yer. But it’s actually suh-mel-yay.”

He narrowed his eyes. “That French or something?”

She nodded.

“Does it mean someone who knows about serving wine?”

She nodded again.

“Then I’m gonna go wash up. When I get back, we’ll talk about your qualifications as a person who knows about serving wine.”

He left her standing in the entryway as he headed toward the office on the other side of the building.

“Suh-mel-yay,” he said under his breath. This woman with her fancy words and shoes and lips that were far too soft was in a league all her own. Good thing he was in the penalty box until further notice.

Chapter Two

Violet watched him walk away. Stared at him was more like it. How could she not when he sauntered with all his gritty swagger? But as the backroom door snicked shut behind him, reality flooded back to greet her.

Her boyfriend—and former boss—was married. And a father. And he’d made a fool of her before leaving her stranded ninety minutes from home. Not the auspicious start to her interview that she’d hoped for, so naturally she’d made things even better by kissing her potential employer.

After a month of dating Ramon, she expected to be hit with a wave of heartache, but all she felt was white-hot indignation.

The score was most definitely Life with fifty bajillion and Violet at zero. How much worse could it get?


  • "A fabulous storyteller who will keep you turning pages and wishing for just one more chapter at the end."—Carolyn Brown, New York Times bestselling author, on Second Chance Cowboy
  • "Cross my heart, this sexy, sweet romance gives a cowboy-at-heart lawyer a second chance at first love and readers a fantastic ride."—Jennifer Ryan, New York Times bestselling author, on Second Chance Cowboy
  • "Sweet and engrossing."—Publishers Weekly on Tough Luck Cowboy
  • "Light and witty."—Library Journal on Saved by the Cowboy
  • "Ms. Pine's character development, strong family building and interesting secondary characters add layers to the story that jacked up my enjoyment of Second Chance Cowboy to maximum levels."—USA Today Happy Ever After
  • "5 Stars! Top Pick! The author and her characters twist and turn their way right into your heart."—Night Owl Reviews on Second Chance Cowboy
  • "This is a strong read with a heartwarming message and inspiring characters."—RT Book Reviews on Second Chance Cowboy
  • "This book made me so happy! I swear I had a smile on my face the whole time I was reading."—LeighKramer.com on Worth the Wait
  • "There was some serious heat, some conflict, some miscommunication and a evening out to yield the ultimate happy ending a romance novel needs. Overall, the read flowed well and the characters are easy to like."—Ramblings of a Young PR Girl blog on Three Simple Words
  • "A winner for me from the very start."—Straight Shootin' Book Reviews on Six Month Rule
  • "A.J. Pine's writing is superb. I loved following the characters. Their struggles were real. The needs were strong. This is a romance that I recommend to all."—Romancing the Book on Six Month Rule
  • "Oh. Em. Gee. I started Six Month Rule and could not put it down. A.J. Pine has put in everything that I love about romance into a 280-page novel."—Books by Migs
  • "Top Pick! 4 1/2 Stars! I loved this story."—Harlequin Junkie on I Do

On Sale
Mar 26, 2019
Page Count
480 pages

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.

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