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As I finish Cowboy Rebel, fall is arriving in Sunset, Texas, where the Longhorn Canyon Ranch is located. Y'all will be reading it just as summer is starting, so grab a glass of sweet tea, curl up on a porch swing, and enjoy the story. I was privileged to get to see the cover for this book before I even began to write it. Tag Baker was exactly as I'd pictured him in my mind—blue eyed, hair just a little too long, a slight cleft in his chin, and a swagger to his walk. That last part I couldn't actually see in the picture, but my imagination is very good when it comes to cowboys!
As always, I have a bushel basket of thanks to pass out today. The first one goes to all my fantastic fans who continue to support me by not only buying my books, but also by recommending them to their friends, talking about them at book clubs, writing reviews, and sending notes and messages to me personally. Please know that each and every one of you is precious and appreciated more than you'll ever know.
If my thanks were medals instead of heartfelt gratitude, Leah Hultenschmidt would get a gold one for everything she does to help me take a rough idea and turn it into an emotionally charged book. And my team at Grand Central/Forever, who do everything from copyedits to covers, promotions to sales, would have medals hanging around their necks for all their hard work behind the scenes.
As always, there are no words to truly say how much I appreciate my agent, Erin Niumata, and the staff at Folio Literary Management. Y'all are simply the best and deserve a bushel basket of thanks all of your own.
Last, but never least—thank you to my husband of fifty-two years, Mr. B. He's stood beside me through the thick and the thin of this writing career and continues to be my biggest supporter.
Keep your reading glasses close by after you finish Cowboy Rebel, because there's more on the way. Maverick tells me that he's feeling the magic of Christmas in the air, and Paxton and Hud are trying to convince me that they're not ever going to fall in love. Shhhh…don't tell anyone, but I know better.
Until next time, happy reading!
What can I get you, cowboy?" The cute blonde whipped a towel from her hip pocket and wiped down the bar in front of him.
He tipped his cowboy hat back just a little so he could see her better. "A double shot of Knob Creek. Where's Joe tonight?"
"He works Saturday. I get Thursday and Friday," she answered. "Haven't seen you before."
"I only moved here a couple of months ago. My brother and I usually come in on Saturday nights. But we might change our days." He winked.
"Oh, and why's that?" She set his whiskey in front of him.
"You're prettier than Joe."
"I've heard that line before." She moved down the bar to draw up another beer for the woman sitting at the far end and then worked her way back down to him, her ponytail flipping back and forth as she went from customer to customer.
"Ready for another?" she asked when she was in front of him.
"Not yet. This stuff is sippin' whiskey, so I enjoy it a little at a time."
The folks between him and the woman down on the end were quick to leave the bar when Jake Owen's "Down to the Honkytonk" started playing on the jukebox. They soon formed a line dance, and the noise of their boots on the wood floor competed with the loud song.
He motioned for the bartender to bring him another drink and had just taken the first sip when a big, burly man burst into the bar and stormed across the floor with his hands knotted into fists the size of Christmas hams.
"I knew I'd find you here," the guy yelled above the music and dancers when he reached Tag.
The man bumped Tag on the shoulder when he passed by him. Tag spilled the rest of his whiskey down the front of his shirt. In Tag's way of thinking, it was a shame to waste even a drop of good Knob Creek.
He spun around on the barstool. "Hey, now."
"I'm not talkin' to you, so turn around and shut up. I'm talkin' to my woman down there." He pointed to the other end of the bar. "When she gets mad at me, she always shows up here."
"Well, you spilled my drink, so you should buy me another one," Tag said.
"I ain't buyin' you jack shit." The guy took a few steps and grabbed the woman by the arm. "Come on, Scarlett, we're goin' home."
She slid off the stool, shook off his hand, and got right up nose to nose with him. "I'm not going anywhere with you. If you want a woman, go get Ramona. I'm goin' to finish my drink and then have another one or two."
"I told you that she was a mistake. I broke up with her weeks ago, so don't give me that old shit." He drew back his hand as if to slap her, but instead grabbed a handful of her hair and jerked her to his chest. "I said you're coming home. I made a mistake but so did you. I wasn't the only one cheatin', and I damn sure wasn't the first one."
A bouncer who looked more like a strutting little banty rooster hurried across the room, got between them, and demanded that the guy leave. Tag could see from the fire in the bigger man's eyes that he wasn't going anywhere. And the stance that the bouncer had taken said he wasn't backing down either. It wasn't one bit of Tag's business, but the man had caused him to spill whiskey on his favorite shirt. While he slid off the stool, the jukebox began to blast out Trace Adkins singing "Whoop a Man's Ass." Now, that was an omen to Tag's way of thinking, especially when the words said something about cussin' and roughin' up a lady.
He took a few long strides and stood beside the bouncer. "The lady says that she's not going home with you," Tag said. "It'd be wise if you just scooted on out of here."
The big fellow put his hands on Tag's chest and pushed. Tag grabbed for anything that would keep him from falling and got a handful of a shirt. The bouncer fell into the woman and they fell into a pile. Before Tag could get out of the tangle of arms and legs and find his hat, Scarlett kicked the man in the knee about a half dozen times. He went down like a big oak tree, landing to one side of the pile.
"You bitch," he growled as he popped up to a sitting position and grabbed a beer bottle from a nearby table, slammed it on the floor, shattering the bottom half into a million pieces. "You know that's my bum knee." He drew back the bottle to hit her with it, but she ducked.
The bottle slashed right across Tag's chiseled jawline. Tag had always considered himself a lover, not a fighter, but there was something about his own blood dripping on his new Western shirt that brought out the anger. Then he noticed that his best cowboy hat was now ruined with beer splatter and cast-off blood drops. He popped up on his feet, hands clenched in fists, ready to fight, but the bouncer had brought out an equalizer in the form of a Taser. A picture of David in the Bible came to Tag's mind as the man dropped to the floor and began to quiver. Amazing what a rock and a slingshot or a little jolt of electricity in today's world could do to a giant.
"You've killed my husband! He's got a bad heart," Scarlett screamed. "I'll sue the whole damn lot of you! Call an ambulance!"
"No!" the big man yelled from the floor, where he was still twitching. "Take me home. Cops will haul me into jail for assault on that cowboy."
Through a red haze of anger and pain, Tag could see that the bartender was already on the phone. He picked up his hat, settled it on his head, and slipped out of the bar before anyone could rope him into testifying or giving his story.
"Glad I didn't drive my motorcycle tonight," he grumbled as he got into his black Silverado.
He removed his plaid shirt and held pressure on the cut with one hand while he started the truck engine with the other. The hospital emergency room was the first place he'd checked out when he'd moved to Montague County the previous month. That information was pretty damned important when he lived by the words of his two bumper stickers. One said ONCE A REBEL, ALWAYS A REBEL. The other was the title of Tim McGraw's country song LIVE LIKE YOU WERE DYING.
He'd barely gotten out on the highway when blood started to seep through his fingertips and drip onto his snowy white T-shirt. He hoped that the doctor would throw some superglue and bandages on it and that it would heal up without too much of a scar.
The only parking place he could find was all the way across the lot. By the time he made it to the door in the heat, he was getting more than a little woozy. The walls of the empty emergency room did a couple of wavy spins when he stepped inside. A nurse looked up from the desk and yelled something, but it sounded like it was coming through a barrel full of water.
Then suddenly someone shoved him into a wheelchair, took him into a curtained examination area, helped him up onto a narrow bed, and turned on a bright light above his head. He expected to see his whole life begin to flash before his eyes any minute, but instead Nikki Grady, his sister's best friend, took the shirt from his hand.
"Want me to call Emily?" she asked.
"Hell no! Call Hud. His number is on the speed dial on my phone. It's in my hip pocket," he muttered.
"What happened?" she asked. "Looks like you were the only one at a knife fight without a knife."
"Beer bottle." Tag tried to grin but it hurt like hell. "Just glue me up. Give it a kiss to help it heal and call my brother Hud."
"Honey, with this much blood loss and the fact that I'm lookin' at your bone, it's goin' to take more than glue and a kiss," Nikki said.
Taggart, or Tag as the family called him, was one of those men who turned every woman's eye when he walked into a place—even a hospital emergency room. The nurses, old and young alike, were buzzing about him before Nikki even got him into the cubicle. With that chiseled face, those piercing blue eyes, a cowboy swagger, and a smile that would make a religious woman want to drink whiskey and do the two-step, it's a wonder he hadn't already put one of those "take a number and wait" machines on the front porch post of his house.
"The doctor is on his way. He just finished stitchin' up a patient with a knife wound. From the looks of you, I'd think you'd been in on that fight." Nikki applied pressure to the cut with a wad of gauze.
The curtain between the cubicles flew to one side, and a white-coated guy came over to the bed. "What have we got here? I'm Dr. Richards." He gently lifted the edge of the gauze. "Knife?"
"Beer bottle," Tag said.
"Well, the first thing we have to do is shave off that scruff. Deaden it up and then shave off the area around it, Nikki. I'll take care of the kid who thought he could ride his skateboard down a slide, and I'll be right back," Dr. Richards said.
"Yes, sir." Nikki nodded.
The doctor had been instrumental in getting Nikki her first job as a registered nurse, and she really admired him. An older man with a white rim of hair around an otherwise bald head covered in freckles, he was the best when it came to stitches, in Nikki's opinion. Tag was a lucky cowboy that Dr. Richards was on call that night. It could have been an intern doing the embroidery on his face, and it would be such a shame to leave a scar on something that sexy.
"You still going to go out with me even though I'm clean shaven and got a scar?" Tag asked her as she prepared to shave part of his face.
"If I don't work, I don't eat, and I'm real fond of cheeseburgers," she answered.
"What's that supposed to mean?" He winced when she picked up a needle to start the local anesthetic.
"That I don't have time to take a number and wait in line behind all those other women wanting to get a chance at taming you," she answered.
He wrapped his hand around her wrist before she started. "I'd move you to the front of the line, darlin'."
"Well, ain't that sweet." She patted his hand and ignored the heat between them. "But, honey, you're way too fast for this little country girl. Now be still and let me get this ready for Dr. Richards."
Without blinking, he focused on her face as she sank the needle into several places to deaden the two-inch cut. Whispers of other conversations penetrated the curtains on either side of Tag's cubicle, but heavy silence filled the space while Nikki put in the last shot.
"That all?" he finally asked, but his piercing blue eyes didn't leave her face.
"Except for cleaning up around it," she answered. "And you were a good boy. I'll tell Dr. Richards to give you a lollipop before you leave."
"It ain't my first rodeo," he said. "Did you call Hud?"
"Not yet," she said.
"With the amount of blood you've lost and the shot doc will probably give you for pain, you'll need a driver or you won't be released," she said. "So it's Hud or Emily. Take your choice."
"You're a hard woman, Nikki," he said.
"And you're a hardheaded man," she shot back as she carefully shaved the scruff from around the wound.
"We ready to fix this cowboy up?" Dr. Richards threw back the curtain. "What'd the other guy look like?"
"Not a scratch on him, but he was limpin'. His woman tried to kick his kneecap halfway to Georgia," Tag answered.
Dr. Richards chuckled. "And I bet you were defendin' her in some way."
Tag grimaced when he tried to smile. "Just helpin' out the bouncer a little. Seemed like the thing to do since 'Whoop a Man's Ass' was playin' on the jukebox."
"Well, looks like you was the one who got the whuppin'." Dr. Richards chuckled and turned to Nikki. "Good job there, Nikki. Now it's my turn. We could try glue and strips, but as deep as this is, stitches will do a better job."
"You're the doctor," Tag answered.
"It's up to you whether you shave your face clean when you get home, but if you don't, you're going to look a little like a mangy dog."
"Looked worse before," Tag drawled. "And probably will again."
A lady in pink scrubs poked her head between the curtains.
"What do you need, Rosemary?" Dr. Richards asked the nurse.
"Sue Ann just arrived. Nikki handles her better than any of us. Would you mind if I help out here and she takes that job?"
"Go on," Dr. Richards said. "I've got this."
"Where is she?" Nikki asked as she pushed back the curtain. Rosemary had fast become her friend since they both worked the weekend shift. The woman was average in every way—brown hair, brown eyes, but her sense of humor and smile were infectious.
"I'll show you and then get right back in there with Doc." Rosemary led the way. "Lord have mercy." She laid one hand over her heart and fanned her face with the other one. "That cowboy could melt my panties with those blue eyes."
"Sue Ann strung out or drunk?" Nikki liked Rosemary, loved working with her, but she was always teasing Nikki about settling down and getting married.
"Maybe both. Did I hear you turn that man down when he asked you for a date? Are you bat crap crazy?" Rosemary asked.
"You're married and have four kids," Nikki said.
"And I'm on a diet, too, but that don't mean I can't stare in the window at the candy store." Rosemary laughed. "Oh, there's another good-lookin' cowboy out in the waiting room who says he's here for Tag. Want me to let him come on back?"
"I'll get him if you'll keep Sue Ann pacified for another minute." Nikki made a quick right turn.
Tag's twin brother, Hudson, stood up when he saw her. "How bad is it this time?"
She motioned for him to follow her. "Stitches on his jaw. The cut was deep. Doc's takin' care of him right now."
Nikki had had no trouble seeing that the Baker brothers shared DNA from the first time she met them. The cleft in Tag's chin was more pronounced, and he wore his hair longer than Hud did, but those crystal clear blue eyes were the same. Even with those similarities, there were enough differences between them that she could hardly believe they were twins. However, they were pretty true to what she'd heard about it taking two personalities to make one when it came to twins. Tag was the wild and crazy one. Hud, the more grounded brother with a funny streak and a big heart.
"Right here." Nikki eased aside the curtain to Tag's cubicle.
"What'd you do now?" Hud asked.
"Had a little run-in with a beer bottle," Tag answered.
Nikki hurried away to take care of Sue Ann, their regular weekend patient in the Bowie emergency room. Some folks were happy drunks, but not Sue Ann. When she had too much liquor or snorted too much white stuff up her nose, she became the poster child for hypochondria.
"Oh, Nikki, darlin'." Sue Ann slurred her words. "Just take me on into surgery and take out my stomach. It's got an alien in it that's trying to eat its way out through my belly button."
"I need a list of all the medicine you've taken since you were here last week, and whatever you've ingested in the way of alcohol or drugs in the past twelve hours—no, make that twenty-four hours—before we can do that, honey." Nikki pulled a stylus from the pocket of her scrubs and was ready to write before she realized she didn't have her tablet. "You think about what you've had, Sue Ann. Things are hectic here tonight. I'll be right back."
"All done," Dr. Richards said as Nikki slipped inside to get her tablet. "You see to it that you call my office tomorrow and make an appointment for next Friday so I can check this. If you start running a fever, call me. I think Nikki did a good job of cleaning it up, but one never knows when it comes to bar floors and beer bottles."
"I'm riding a bull at a rodeo on Friday night," Tag said.
"We'll see about that." Doc turned to Hud. "Make your brother behave this week."
"That's an impossible job." Hud grinned.
"Then I'll admit him for a week. We've got restraints that we can use to keep him in the bed, and the nurses will love taking care of his catheter." Doc winked at Hud.
"I'll be good," Tag growled. "But I don't have to like it."
"Give me your truck keys. Paxton is out in the waiting room. He's going to drive it home, and I'm taking you," Hud said.
"I'll call if I need you," Nikki said as she picked up her tablet. When she reached Sue Ann's cubicle, the woman was sitting up in the bed. She was as pale as the sheet she tucked around her thin body. One hand was over her mouth and the other was pointing toward the bathroom. Nikki dropped her tablet on the table and barely got a disposable bag to Sue Ann in time.
When she finished emptying her stomach, Sue Ann handed the bag to Nikki and said, "I had a little drop of tequila at the Rusty Spur tonight."
"How big of a drop?" Nikki picked up her tablet and stylus. "Tell me the truth. If we have to do surgery, it'll make a difference in how much anesthetic we give you. You wouldn't want to wake up before we got done, would you?"
"Five shots. No, six, and then maybe four"—she lowered her voice to a whisper—"of those pills."
"What pills?" Nikki asked.
"The ones I bought from that cowboy who was dancin' with the pretty girl. That damned alien got in my stomach. They told me it was just the worm in the bottle of tequila when I ate it with a little lime and salt, but I know better. It looked like a baby alien, and I just swallowed it whole. Then my stomach started to burn and hurt. I saw that cowboy passing some pills to a lady, so I bought some from him."
Nikki thought she'd seen and heard everything when she worked at the nursing home in town, but this would be a story she'd have to share with her best friend, Emily. "Okay, then several shots of tequila and pills of some kind. I think we can kill the alien and fix you right up without surgery."
Sue Ann fell back on the bed with a sigh. "I don't know about that. Don't you need to do one of them TSA things?"
Nikki bit back a giggle. "You mean an MRI?"
"That too. Do all the tests you need to. I want this thing out of me." Sue Ann put a hand on her stomach.
"I'll talk to the doctor and be right back. Are you still taking…" Nikki read off a whole page of prescription drugs. "You do realize that you're not supposed to drink with about half of these or take street drugs with them?"
"I know my body better than you do," Sue Ann declared. "My grandma drank every day of her life and she lived to be ninety-eight."
"Yes, ma'am," Nikki said. "I'll go talk to the doctor and be right back."
She stepped out of the cubicle, tablet in hand this time, and stopped so fast that her rubber-soled shoes squeaked on the tile floor. One more step and she would have collided with Tag.
"It's just not my night." He smiled down at her. "I get in trouble for taking up for a woman, and now one almost falls into my arms but doesn't."
"It might be a sign that you need to peel those stickers off your truck and begin to reform a little," Nikki told him.
"Never." Tag grinned.
If the next door neighbor's dogs hadn't set up a barking chorus with the landlady's mutts, Nikki might have slept until dark on Monday. That would have been disastrous since her mother expected her to answer the phone at exactly seven o'clock. If she didn't answer, then her mother would call the police station and the hospitals. Any other day of the week, it didn't matter if Nikki was lying in a ditch half dead, but no one had better mess with Wilma Grady's schedule.
"Thank God for barking dogs," Nikki said as she crawled out of bed. She had an hour until her mother called, so she took a quick shower and got dressed. She sat down on the sofa in her tiny three-room garage apartment and called her mother's number.
"It's not seven. My show isn't over, but there's a commercial, so what's wrong?" Wilma said curtly.
"Nothing's wrong. I thought maybe we'd go out, or I'd bring a pizza or some fried chicken over for supper and we could visit in person," Nikki said.
"I eat at four thirty so I can take my medicine. I don't eat fried foods or spicy pizza. You know that, Nikki. The commercial is over. I'll call you at seven and we'll visit." And just like that she was gone.
Nikki was hungry, and she'd figured out that she didn't have to be in her apartment to talk to her mother on Monday nights at seven o'clock on the dot. She could talk to her anywhere, especially when Nikki's part of the conversation was nothing more than muttering, "Well, that's too bad," or "Bless her heart," now and then. She could do that in a booth at the Mexican place or sitting in the park while she ate a hamburger. With her purse and keys in hand, she locked the apartment door behind her. She made up her mind as she started the car engine that chicken enchiladas sounded really good that evening.
- "Carolyn Brown is one of my go-to authors when I want a feel-good story that will make me smile."—Fresh Fiction
- "Brown's capable fourth Longhorn Canyon contemporary western romance...suggests that love can make even the baddest of bad boy cowboys want to settle down. Sweet, sexy romance and a strong heroine elevate the story. Fans of romance series filled with small-town charm and a cast of supportive family and friends will appreciate this installment and seek out earlier ones."—Publishers Weekly
- "Sizzling romance between believable characters is the mainstay of this whimsical novel, which is enhanced by plenty of romantic yearning."—Publishers Weekly on Cowboy Brave
- "Over 300 pages of warmth, humor and sweet romance...Carolyn Brown always manages to write feel-good stories, and this is definitely a ... special read."—Harlequin Junkie, Top Pick, on Cowboy Brave
- "The slow-simmering romance between Claire and Levi is enhanced by the kind supporting characters and the simple pleasures of ranch life in a story that's sure to please fans of cowboy romances. "—Publishers Weekly on Cowboy Honor
- "Charming moments sneak into character conversations by Carolyn Brown, which is typical of her work, and no different in the latest Longhorn Canyon novel. Friendship, family, love, and trust abound in Cowboy Honor."—Fresh Fiction on Cowboy Honor
- "Lighthearted banter, heart-tugging emotion, and a good-natured Sooner/Longhorn football rivalry make this a delightful romance and terrific launch for the new series."—Library Journal on Cowboy Bold
- "Western romance lovers are in for a treat. This wickedly saucy series is unputdownable. There's no one who creates a rancher with a heart of gold like Carolyn Brown."—RT Book Reviews on Cowboy Bold
- On Sale
- May 28, 2019
- Page Count
- 400 pages