Make Mine a Cowboy

Two full books for the price of one


By A.J. Pine

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From this “fabulous storyteller” (Carolyn Brown, New York Times bestselling author) comes the next Meadow Valley western romance series.

Dr. Charlotte North has no time for a player, not even one as tempting as Ben Callahan. Besides, Charlotte is only in Meadow Valley for a few months to help her grandmother. After that, it’s back to New York and the career she loves. But when her gran starts to meddle in her personal life, Charlotte knows just the man to help her out. Ben’s the perfect no-strings boyfriend, until Charlotte discovers that beneath that rugged, charming exterior lies a sweet and bighearted cowboy.

Ben Callahan is tired of people assuming he’s an immature playboy, so when the smart and sexy Charlotte asks him to be her pretend boyfriend, he jumps at the chance to show everyone that he’s changed his ways. Though he and Charlotte are calling their relationship fake, Ben’s heart says otherwise. Two months with Charlotte isn’t nearly enough. Will Ben be able to prove he’s worthy of her for real before their time together is up, or will she leave Meadow Valley — and him — forever?

Includes the bonus novel Hometown Cowboy by Sara Richardson!


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This is a strange time, folks. Right now, I'm sitting on my couch while my kids play a card game on the floor, one of our cats naps in our pet stroller (which has yet to see the outdoors because it's still snowing), and I contemplate the fact that we haven't left the house in days because we are in the middle of a pandemic. I don't know what the state of the world will be when this book lands in your hands, but I do know that I am beyond grateful to my amazing readers for choosing Ben and Charlotte as your means of escape, comfort, or just pure enjoyment in what I hope will be a happier, safer time for all of us. Thank you.

Thank you, Emily Sylvan Kim, for always having my back not just as an agent but also a friend. I hope we get to see each other in real life in the not-too-distant future.

To Madeleine, my editor extraordinaire, thank you for championing my California cowboys, for helping me keep my timelines straight (I still want to write a book that takes place in just one day), and for always making my stories the best they can possibly be.

Jen, Chanel, Lia, Megan, and Natalie, I'm so grateful for you each and every day. I couldn't do any of this without you and your support. Love you!

S and C, I love you three thousand times infinity.

Chapter One

Ben glanced around the well-appointed doctor's office. A couple hours ago, he was in bed dreaming of a beautiful woman with whom he'd recently spent an equally beautiful, worry-free couple of weeks, pretending this day didn't exist. That was how Ben spent most of his time, ignoring the more serious side of life. He'd gotten pretty good at living for the day and not worrying about the future. His own future, at least. But today was different. Today wasn't about Ben. It was about his brother Sam. Sam was as good as they came, and because of that, he deserved good news. So Ben silently begged whatever higher power would listen that Sam was as healthy as he looked.

Everything from the embossed medical books on the shelves to the framed certificates and accolades on the walls said that Dr. Kegan knew his stuff. And the high-backed upholstered leather chair behind the desk and matching love seats—one on which Ben sat wedged between his newly reconciled mother and father while Sam and his girlfriend, Delaney, sat on the other—said the good doctor knew his stuff well. Which was a good thing, because he was about to spell out the rest of Sam's future.

Six months ago, Dr. Kegan had drawn Ben's blood for the exact same reason—to determine whether he carried the gene markers for early-onset Alzheimer's. Ben hadn't made a production of it, hadn't sat face-to-face with the doc and been told that sometime in the next twenty to thirty years, his brain would start to deteriorate just like his father's had. No, Ben had opted for a phone call to the lab followed by several pints at Midtown Tavern. Then it was home to an empty bed at the ranch he ran with his brother and friend. There was no one there to comfort him or help him ease into the news, but that had been his choice. He didn't want to burden Sam and Colt with a future he couldn't avoid. He didn't want to burden anyone with what he knew he couldn't change. No attachments meant no mess, no broken hearts, no pain. Work hard and play harder, right? Wasn't that the saying? Ben respected the motto—at least the second half of it.

"They always leave you waiting," he said, shaking his head. He pushed himself up from the couch and began pacing. "Doctors. They know what they're about to tell you could change your whole life, and then they schedule you a half hour before they even think about entering the room. I swear, bedside manner goes out the window as soon as they get the cushy office and all the awards and—"

"Hey there, little brother," Sam interrupted. "I appreciate you getting all wound up on my behalf, but I'm in no rush. But if you need to be somewhere…"

Ben raked his fingers through his hair and stopped pacing.

"Sorry," he said. "I'm just anxious—for you."

The office door clicked open a crack, and they could hear the doctor before they saw him.

"Lori, please tell Mrs. Dunlap I'll call her later this afternoon. She took the news a bit hard. Wait, you know what? Tell her I'll stop by after we close up shop here. We can talk about options for Mr. Dunlap's care, and she can show me pictures of the grandkids."

Delaney laughed. "You're right, Ben. His bedside manner is the worst."

Ben scowled and leaned on the arm of his brother's couch rather than sitting all the way down again.

"Good morning, Mr. Calla—" Dr. Kegan caught himself when he realized Sam had come with a full entourage. "Good morning, everyone, I suppose."

Sam stood and shook the doctor's hand.

The two men were roughly the same height and of similar lean build.

Ben narrowed his eyes. The two men looked nearly the same age as well. Had Dr. Kegan been that young six months ago?

"Hope you don't mind," Sam said, interrupting Ben's thoughts. "Brought the whole family."

The doctor waved Sam off. "Of course not. I love giving good news to a packed house."

Delaney sprang to her feet and grabbed Sam's hand. "Good news?" she asked excitedly.

A weight lifted immediately from Ben's shoulders. His brother was okay. He wasn't, but Sam was. He thought he might be angry or resentful, but all he felt was complete and utter relief.

The doctor smiled and clapped Sam on the shoulder. "I was going to wait until I was sitting at my desk all professional-like, but what the heck? Congratulations, Mr. Callahan. Just like your brother, you are in the clear. Keep in mind that your genetic code means you're both safe from early-onset Alzheimer's but normal risk factors still exist for anyone to develop the disease later in life. Medicine is making strides, though, so who knows—"

"What did you just say?" Ben interrupted. He was standing now. They all were, Ben's parents included.

Dr. Kegan crossed his arms. "I said normal risk factors still—"

"Before that," Ben said, taking a step closer. "The part about both of us being in the clear. Because I spoke to someone at the lab six months ago who told me otherwise. I've spent half a year thinking that life as I know it is on a ticking clock."

The doctor stared at Ben for several long seconds before he spoke. "The lab told you your results were…positive?"

Ben let out a bitter laugh. "Are you telling me they were wrong?"

Dr. Kegan rounded his desk, picked up the phone, and dialed a four-digit extension. After a few beats, he said, "Hi. This is Davis Kegan over in neurology. I need to verify results for a Benjamin Callahan."

Ben winced at the use of his full name. He felt like a kid in trouble. But this might actually be worse since he was about to be told again that by the time he was his father's age, he'd likely be living in an assisted living facility as well.

Dr. Kegan cleared his throat. "No. Not Benjamin Wallace Callahan. Benjamin Phillip Callahan."

Ben glanced toward his father, who was holding hands with his mother. His illness had torn their family apart—and then brought them back together. His parents had something rare, something he didn't believe existed in the real world, but he was damn happy it existed for them.

He held his breath as he waited for the doctor to hang up the phone, and it felt like everyone else was holding theirs too. He wasn't sure if he should be hopeful or angry or both. So he figured not breathing was the logical course of action.

"Uh-huh," Dr. Kegan said. "I see. Yes, this will have to be reported. Thank you."

He hung up the phone, and the room was so silent Ben swore he could hear his own pulse.

Dr. Kegan cleared his throat. "So it turns out the lab has another Benjamin Callahan on record—a sixty-two-year-old man from Bucks Lake. He tested positive for early onset. You did not. I am so sorry for the mix-up, and it will be dealt with. But, Sam and Ben, you are both in the clear."

His mother gasped, and Ben saw his father swipe away a tear. He expected his brother to kiss Delaney before anything else, but instead Sam pulled Ben into a firm embrace.

"Everything is different," he said when Sam stepped back.

It felt like a haze had cleared. He got that nothing in life was certain. He could walk out of the hospital and get run over by an ambulance. He could choke on a cherry pit after sneaking a taste from Anna's produce delivery to the ranch—and he almost had once. Thank goodness Luis, their chef, knew the Heimlich.

"No one dies in my kitchen," Luis had said. "And stop stealing my fruit!"

Technically, it was Ben's fruit since he was co-owner of the ranch, but he wasn't going to argue after Luis saved his life.

And now it had just been saved again.

"I need to go," he said absently. He wasn't sure where, but he needed to get out of this office.

"Ben, wait," his mother said, but he shook his head.

"I'm okay," he insisted. "Really. I just need to think."

About how he'd been living his life—all fun and no connections. About whether or not he could change after living that way since he learned his future might look a lot like his father's.

He'd counted on Sam and Colt for backup at the ranch, often shirking his duties because in the long run, it didn't feel like it mattered. Maybe this was a start. For once he could do something for his brother that mattered, even if it was simply doing his job.

"Take the night off," he said to Sam. "You and Delaney should celebrate. Colt's got lunch and dinner, and I can cover the evening activities or make sure one of the part-timers can."

Sam's eyes widened. "I'm going to take you up on that before you change your mind. Thanks, Ben. Are you sure you're—"

"I'm good," he insisted.

He backed out of the office door and into the hospital corridor.

Just like that, a switch had flipped. He suddenly wanted to make something of his life, like taking his career seriously, to start. And maybe it was time he stopped living in the ranch's guest quarters and built himself a home, started establishing some permanence in his life.

On one side of the ranch, there was a piece of land owned by the bank. Ben had had his eye on it since he moved to Meadow Valley just over two years ago, not that he'd have done anything with it. It was his What if? It was how he busied his mind when there wasn't someone to leave the bar with on any given night. The bank was willing to unload it for a steal since the previous owner had already poured the foundation for a house and small stable—and then had lost their financing and let the property fall into foreclosure. No one wanted to dig it up and start from scratch, so Ben looked at it as a secret challenge. He designed a home to fit the layout, a home he'd never build. But now? If he bought the land, that would prove he could commit to something that really mattered, that it wasn't too late to turn his life around after letting it unravel.

He followed the detour signs to bypass some indoor construction and somehow found himself at the ambulance entrance of the emergency room. He was about to pivot and retrace his steps when he saw Lieutenant Carter Bowen wheeling a gurney into the ER. And sitting on the gurney, with one arm immobilized and eyes narrowed, was Carter's great-aunt and owner of the Meadow Valley Inn, Pearl Sweeney. Ben scanned the area, half expecting to see Pearl's granddaughter Charlotte North there as well—the woman who'd been the subject of his R-rated dream this morning—then reminded himself she lived in New York and had returned home a week ago after what they'd both deemed a very enjoyable fling.

"What happened?" Ben asked, rushing to Pearl's side as Carter called out things like minor laceration and possible dual fractures to the admissions woman behind the front desk.

Pearl waved Ben off. "Oh, I'm fine. I was on the ladder clipping dead branches from the tree in front of the inn—curb appeal is everything, you know—and I lost my balance. It's nothing."

Carter turned around, his eyes full of worry as he glanced from his aunt to Ben. "She most likely broke her right ankle and wrist. Her elbow needs sutures, and—" He blew out a calming breath. "You could have killed yourself, Aunt Pearl. Don't you have someone on staff who can take care of stuff like that for you? Hell, call me over anytime. That's what family is for."

Pearl's jaw tightened. "Are you telling me I'm too old to take care of my own inn?"

"No," Carter insisted. "I'm not stupid enough to suggest something like that. But you are the heart and soul of that place—of this town, even. If something happens to you, it's not just the inn that suffers."

"The inn!" Pearl cried, her anger morphing to something more like fear. "If you're right about my injuries, then I can't walk or cook or—"

It looked like reality was finally setting in.

"I'm right," Carter said. "I'm sorry, Pearl, but once they fix you up, it's going to be a long road to recovery. You're going to need live-in help. And you'll need to increase everyone's hours at the inn so you can take care of yourself. I'll do whatever I can when I'm not on shift, but it's not going to be enough. We can put the call out on the Meadow Valley Courier webpage. Maybe people can sign up for shifts."

Pearl sniffled, all of her bravado dissipating. Ben hated seeing her like this.

"I can't ask my employees to take on twenty-four-hour shifts," she said. "That's all me. They have their own responsibilities and families to go home to." She patted Carter on the cheek with her good hand. "You're so good to me. I know you'll help when you can, but you have your own life to worry about. Everyone in town does. I'll have to see what's in my budget, but if I'm going to need overnight support as well as someone to help me get around the place, that means dipping into my savings, and—"

Ben rested a hand lightly on the older woman's shoulder. "We'll figure this out. You've got a whole town behind you, Pearl."

He got it. He ran a ranch. She ran an inn. It was more than a job. It was a lifestyle, and she'd need someone to fill in every hour of the day she couldn't work, which right now looked like it was all of them.

She held her head high and nodded. "Maybe you weren't the right man for my Charlotte, but you have a good heart, Ben Callahan."

Did he? Pearl had been none too happy about her granddaughter's fling. She needs someone with staying power. Someone that will convince her to stay in Meadow Valley where she truly belongs. Those had been Pearl's words to him only a week or so ago. Was it possible it was this easy for him to convince her otherwise? Maybe he wasn't the best at showing it to his brother, his parents, or the few others he let past his own wall of bravado. But his heart was there, beating behind his rib cage. It might be a little rusty, but it still worked, didn't it?

"What about the chief?" Ben asked. Chief Burnett and Pearl had been dating for quite some time. "Can he help?"

She shook her head. "I can't ask him to do that," Pearl said. "He has an entire fire station to run. Adding more hours to his load isn't safe for him—or for you, for that matter," she said, eyes back on Carter. "You both do forty-eight-hour shifts as it is."

Carter nudged the gurney forward, and Ben moved out of the way.

"We need to finish this discussion later," he said. "We need to get you evaluated by a doctor and sent to radiology and verify the fractures, make sure they can be set without surgery. Ben, do you think you could swing by the inn and make sure everything is okay, let them know Pearl's out for the rest of the day? Also, I hate to ask, but I'm on shift until this time tomorrow. Could you maybe give Pearl a lift home if I'm not available?"

Ben nodded. "I'm on it. I'll head back to town and see what I can do about getting some extra help at the inn. I'm sure your staff will be more than happy to step up until you get released, and we'll worry about more permanent help after that," he said, hoping to reassure Pearl. "How long do you think X-rays and all that will be?" he asked, directing his attention back to Carter.

"A couple of hours at least."

Ben nodded once. "Then I'll be back in a couple of hours."

Pearl grabbed his hand. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Ben Callahan."

"I owe you, Callahan," Carter added, then turned his attention back to his aunt. "Okay, Aunt Pearl. Let's see what kind of damage you did and get you all fixed up."

Then Carter wheeled Pearl away, leaving Ben standing there with a gift—not that Pearl's injuries were any sort of boon. But he'd been gifted a second chance at life and now with his first shot at showing he could be something more than the selfish ass he'd been for months. He wasn't going to mess this up. 


Ben had not only checked in on Pearl's staff but he'd also stayed at the inn for the entire two hours helping check guests in and cleaning breakfast dishes while the kitchen staff prepped for lunch. By the time he'd made it back to the hospital, he found out Pearl was being prepped for surgery.

Things were more serious than we thought, Carter texted when Ben arrived back in the waiting room. If you want to head home, I can let you know when she's released. IF she's released today. It all depends on when the orthopedic surgeon on call has a break in their schedule.

But Ben felt the urge to stay, to see this thing through and be there for Pearl like he'd said he would.

Already cleared my calendar for the rest of the day and can move things around tonight if needed, he replied. If it's okay with you, I'll hang out until you have news.

Carter responded immediately. Remind me to buy you a beer next time our paths cross at Midtown.

Ben laughed. I'll hold you to it, he texted back. Are you staying with Pearl until then? Can I come check in on her? How about I head down to the cafeteria and grab us both some coffee and something to eat?

Ben was restless and wanted to do something to help.

Sure, Carter said. That would be great. I'm sure Pearl would love the company. It'll give me a chance to check in with the station and make sure everything's okay over there.

So Ben made his way to the cafeteria and did as he'd promised. He also stopped at the gift shop and picked up a few Get Well balloons to hopefully brighten up the otherwise sterile room.

It turned out to be another few hours before the surgery actually took place, and by then, Ben was all in.

"I'm not leaving until it's done," he'd said as Pearl was wheeled out the door, Carter following her to the operating room. "Want to make sure all went well. And who knows? You might still need a ride home." He winked at Pearl, knowing that she was likely spending the night at this point.

And then he'd headed back to the waiting room, made himself as comfortable as he could in one of the waiting room chairs, and…waited.

Apparently that waiting turned into him nodding off. What could he say? Doing stuff for others—the whole not being selfish thing—was draining, physically and emotionally. Even if Pearl didn't put him on a pedestal, she was like a grandmother to him. For a guy who had put said emotions on hold for not only the past six months but also since his father received his own diagnosis, this whole putting-his-energy-into-caring-about-others thing was going to take some getting used to. What better way to do so than with a nice, long nap?

Chapter Two

Charlotte North stood in line at her favorite New York City bodega, grateful she was on time enough that said line wasn't yet out the door. She waited in the narrow space between the magazines and newspapers and the wall-to-wall selection of candy in front of the checkout counter. She could smell the coffee, but what she really needed was to taste it. Or have someone inject it into her veins. But the coffee in her insulated thermos, which she'd just filled to the brim, was still too hot to drink. By the time she found a seat on the subway, it would be ready for the perfect first sip, but oh how she needed that perfect first sip now—or ten minutes ago.

She'd been home from Meadow Valley for a week already, but somehow it still felt like she was on California time. Or maybe, despite her best judgment, she still longed for lazy mornings and a warm body she could wake up next to.

She shook her head and quietly scoffed at herself.

Sharing her bed was not something Charlotte did regularly. Not for lack of enjoying such activities but because such activities did not fit into her routine. And she certainly relied on routine.

Today, she told herself. Today my life will get back in sync.

And she'd stop thinking about how good it felt to forget about the real world for a while.

Or how good it felt when a certain cowboy did certain things to her that made the real world so easy to forget.

"It's dark when I wake up in the morning and dark when I get home from work. Why is daylight saving time a thing?" a woman asked from behind her. "Also, I already finished my scone. Do you think they'll still charge me?"

It was the same opening to almost every morning conversation.

Charlotte looked over her shoulder and smiled at Vicki, a woman who lived in the same neighborhood and ran on a similar schedule. They rode the same train to work, but Vicki got off two stops earlier.

"How were the boys this morning?" Charlotte asked, inquiring about Vicki's twin sons. She knew about her bodega buddy's family life not because she'd asked but because Vicki was the kind of person who told you everything whether you wanted her to or not. Charlotte—not great at small talk—was always grateful for someone who could carry the entire conversation. All it took was one question, and Vicki took care of the rest.

"Still sleeping when I left, thank goodness," she said. "One of these days, I'm going to talk my clients into afternoon instead of morning appointments, but that'll have to wait until Bill can change his schedule so he can pick the boys up after school." She sighed, then tucked her mermaid-colored hair—a mixture of varied shades of blue and purple—behind her ear. "Don't do the whole married-with-kids thing, Char. You won't know which way is up." Then she held up her index finger and shook her head. "Scratch that. Do it. Do it all because it's the best ever, but make sure you have a Bill—not my Bill, of course—to remind you which way is up when you forget. Or where your missing phone is when it's already in your hand. That's why I almost had to skip the coffee and scone and head right to the station. Glad I'm not the only one in a rush." She laughed, then tapped Charlotte—who'd completely turned around to face her—on the shoulder. "You're up!"

Charlotte blew out a breath and spun to face Antonio, the older man who owned the corner shop and made the best pot of coffee this side of Manhattan. Maybe in the entire city.

"Miss Charlotte!" the man exclaimed. He called every woman Miss. "You're running late again this morning."

She winced and inserted her debit card into the chip reader like she'd done every morning for the past few years.

"Thanks for noticing," she said. "Again."

Antonio laughed. "Hard not to notice when it's so unlike you. You're just so dependable. I can set my watch by your arrival. How do I know what time it is if you're three to five minutes late?" he teased.

She narrowed her eyes at his smartwatch. "The internet makes sure you don't forget."

But Antonio wasn't entirely off base. Charlotte was never late. At least, she hadn't been up until this transitional week. Not for years. She hadn't taken time off since medical school, which was fine by her, because time off meant time away from routine, and time away from routine just got her out of sync. Like now. But part of her contract with Children's Pediatrics and Dentistry was that practitioners were required to take their four weeks of paid vacation, plus a generous helping of personal days, though preferably not all at once.

"A burned out doctor is not


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On Sale
Aug 25, 2020
Page Count
640 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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