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Wild Cowboy Ways
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Allie Logan isn't the type to land a hot hunk of cowboy. Truth is, she's given up on dating since shedding her no-good ex. But the new owner of the most ramshackle ranch in Texas might just change her mind about that. He's six-foot-plus of tall, dark, and charming-the kind of guy who could make a girl throw caution to the wind . . . or the kind of guy who could break her heart.
Blake Dawson hopes he can make Lucky Penny Ranch finally live up to its name, but the property needs a ton of work. Allie and her carpentry skills are his best shot at getting things in order. Besides the fact that her brown eyes and dangerous curves have him roped and tied. Now Blake only needs to convince her that a wild cowboy can be tamed by love-and she's just the one to do it . . .
There are always more people than just the author behind the making of a book. Those who deserve so much more words, but please know my heart is filled with gratitude to all of you. Thank you to my publisher, Grand Central and the Forever imprint, for buying the Lucky Penny Ranch series. Thank you to my absolutely fabulous editor, Leah Hultenschmidt, for working with me to make this a stronger book. To all those folks behind the scenes who created the amazing cover, who copyedited, who worked in promotion, and those who have helped in any way to take this from a figment of my imagination to the book it is today, thank you! Thank you, once again, to Mr. B, my husband, who endures long days of living with an author who walks around arguing with the voices in her head.
Thank you to Elizabeth Rodriguez, whose bid won the right to name a character in my next book. Alora Raine, aka Allie, is that awesome character.
And a big thank-you to all my readers who continue to support me by reading my books, by telling your neighbors about them, for writing reviews, for sharing them with your friends, and everything else that you do. Without readers there would be no need for authors so y’all really are the wind beneath my wings.
Until next time, may love surround you and your life be filled with happy-ever-afters!
Welcome to Dry Creek, Texas, and the Lucky Penny Ranch!
It is always so exciting to start a new series, to find new friends in the characters and new places to visit. When I went looking for the perfect place to set the Lucky Penny Ranch series I knew I’d found the fictional ranch down in the country where the mesquite and cow tongue cactus can take over the land in a hurry if it’s not controlled.
Throckmorton County really does exist and most of the towns mentioned in the book are real. The town of Dry Creek is fictional but it’s very real in my head as well as Allie and Blake and all the folks who live there. I sincerely hope that as you read this book, it becomes as real to you as it is to me. As I finish Wild Cowboy Ways, it’s spring in southern Oklahoma and north Texas. The roses are beginning to bud out and irises are blooming along with the tulips. But when you pick up Allie and Blake’s story it will be winter, so grab a quilt, a cup of hot chocolate, and curl up in front of the fireplace for the debut book in the Lucky Penny Ranch series.
The Lucky Penny had never lived up to its name and everyone in Texas knew it. Owners had come and gone so often in the past hundred years that if the deeds were stacked up, they’d put the old Sears catalog to shame. Maybe the two sections of land should have been called Bad Luck Ranch instead of the Lucky Penny, but Blake Dawson couldn’t complain—not for the price he, his brother, and cousin had paid for the place.
A cold north wind cut through Blake’s fleece-lined denim jacket that January morning as he hammered the bottom porch step into place. The wind was a bitch, but then it was winter, the first Monday in January to be exact. And that damn robin out there pecking around in the dead grass sure didn’t mean spring was on the way. No, sir, there would be a couple of months of cold weather. If they were lucky, they wouldn’t have to deal with snow and ice. But Blake wouldn’t hold his breath wishing for that. After all, when had anything in this place been lucky? Besides, in this part of Texas weather could change from sunny and seventy to blustery and brutal with a foot of snow within twenty-four hours.
He finished hammering down the last nail, stood up straight, and stretched. Done. It was the first job of too many to count, but he sure didn’t need someone falling through that rotted step and getting hurt. His dog, Shooter, had watched from the top of the four steps, his eyes blinking with every stroke of the hammer.
Shooter’s ears shot straight up and he growled down deep in his throat. Blake looked around for a pesky squirrel taunting him, but there was nothing but the north wind rattling through the dormant tree branches. Blake gathered his tools and headed back into the house for another cup of hot coffee before he started his first day of dozing mesquite from the ranch.
Clear the land. Plow it. Rake it. Plant it and hope for a good crop of hay so they wouldn’t have to buy feed all winter. His brother Toby would bring in the first round of cattle in early June. Blake had promised to have pastures ready and fences tightened up by then. Meanwhile, Toby would be finishing his contract for a big rancher. His cousin, Jud, would be joining them, too. But he was committed to an oil company out in the panhandle until Thanksgiving. So it was up to Blake to get the groundwork laid for their dream cattle ranch.
He shucked out of his coat and hung it on the rack inside the front door and went straight to the kitchen. Sitting at the table, he wrapped his big hands around the warm mug. He was deep in thoughts about clearing acres and acres of mesquite when he heard the rusty hinge squeak as the front door eased open. He pushed back the chair, making enough noise to let anyone know that the house was no longer empty, when he heard the shrill, muffled giggle.
Surely folks in Dry Creek knocked before they plowed right into a person’s home. Maybe it was a prank, kind of like an initiation into the town or a bunch of wild kids who had no idea that the ranch had been sold. Whatever was going on, his instincts had failed him or else his neck was still too damn cold to get that prickly feeling when someone was close by.
Shooter, who had been lying under the table at his feet, now stood erect and staring at the doorway. Blake would give the joker one more chance before he let him know he was messing with the wrong cowboy.
“Who’s there?” he called out.
“Don’t play games with me, Walter.” The voice was thin and tinny and definitely not a teenager.
“And who are you?” he asked.
“Don’t be silly. You know who I am, Walter.” The voice got closer and closer.
What the hell was going on?
Back in the summer when the Lucky Penny went on the market, Blake, Toby, and Jud decided that they didn’t believe in all that folderol about bad luck. The Lucky Penny’s previous owners clearly just hadn’t put enough blood, sweat, and tears into the land, or it would have been a productive ranch. They hadn’t understood what it took to get a place that size up and running and/or didn’t have the patience and perseverance to stick it out until there was a profit. But now Blake was beginning to question whether the bad luck had something to do with the supernatural.
He scooted his chair back and stood, Shooter close at his side, hackles up and his head lowered. Blake laid a hand on the dog’s head. “Sit, boy, and don’t move unless I give you the command.” Shooter obeyed, but he quivered with anticipation.
“Walter, darlin’, where is she?” If it wasn’t a ghost, then whatever mortal it was with that voice should audition for a part in a zombie movie.
Before Blake could call out a response, a gray-haired woman shuffled into the kitchen. The old girl was flesh and blood because no self-respecting ghost or apparition would be caught anywhere looking like that. She wore a long, hot-pink chenille robe belted at the waist with a wide leather belt, yellow rubber boots printed with hot pink flamingos, and her thin hair looked like she’d stuck her finger in an electrical outlet. The wild look in her eyes gave testimony that the hair wasn’t the only thing that got fried when she tested the electricity that morning. He felt a sneeze coming on as the scent of her heavy perfume filled the room.
“Aaaaachoo.” He grabbed a paper napkin from the middle of the table in time to cover his mouth, when it burst from him like a bomb.
“I hope you’re not getting sick, Walter,” she said as she marched across the room, grabbed his cheeks with her cold hands, and pulled his face down to kiss him on the cheek. “Katy’s wedding is coming up, and I don’t want a red nose and puffy eyes.”
“Of course not. Just a tickle in my nose, that’s all.” Best thing he could think to do was play along until he was able to find who the hell the old girl was talking about.
The woman hung her cane on the edge of the table and plopped into a chair. When she sat down the tail of her robe fell back to show that she was wearing jeans underneath it. She must have escaped from an institution, but Blake couldn’t remember anything resembling a nursing home closer than Throckmorton or Wichita Falls, and the old gal would have frozen to death if she’d walked that far.
She laid an icy hand on his forearm. “Is she out feeding the chickens? Are we safe?”
“I’m not sure.” Blake eyed her closely as he sat back down.
She squeezed his arm pretty damn tight for such bony fingers. “Aren’t you even going to offer me coffee? I walked the whole way over here to see you, Walter, and it is cold as a witch’s tit out there.”
Holy smokin’ shit! Would the real Walter please stand up and do it in a hurry?
Blake opened his mouth to tell her that he was not Walter, but then clamped it shut. If he made her mad, he’d never find out her name and without that, he wouldn’t be able to get her back where she belonged. He could call the police, but Dry Creek depended on the sheriff’s department out of Throckmorton for emergencies and he didn’t have that number.
“Yes, let’s get you warmed up. You take cream and sugar, sweetheart?” he drawled.
“Oh, sweetheart now, is it? You know very well I take it black, Walter.”
“Should I call you baby? Sugar bun? Hot lips?”
“Irene will do just fine,” she harrumphed, but Blake could see a smile tilting her lips.
He patted her hand as he pulled his arm away and got up from the table to retrieve a second coffee mug. “How about a toaster pastry to go with that?” he asked. Maybe if he got some food in her, she’d snap out of it and figure out he wasn’t Walter.
“What in the hell is a toaster pastry? Your mama usually makes gravy and biscuits.” The smile faded and her eyes darted around the room.
“Not this morning, darlin’.” So the woman who put even more craziness in the old gal’s eyes wasn’t Walter’s wife but his mother.
“I keep telling you to move out on your own,” Irene continued as he placed a steaming mug of coffee in front of her. She wrapped her hands around it like a lifeline. “If you had your own place, I’d leave my husband and we could be together all the time.” She pursed her mouth so tight that her long, thin face had hollows below the high cheekbones. “A man who’s almost forty years old has no business living with his mother, especially one who won’t make you a decent breakfast.”
“But what if she can’t get along without me to help her?” Blake asked.
She shook her fist at him. “You’ve got four brothers. Let them take a turn. It’s time for you to own up to the fact that this ranch is bad luck—always has been, always will be. You aren’t going to make it here, but we could do good out in California. We’ll both get a job pickin’ fruit and get us a little house in town. I always wanted to live in town.” She took his hand, hope shining in her eyes. The old girl just about broke Blake’s heart.
“Let me make a call and see what I can do,” he said gently.
The only phone number he had for anyone in Dry Creek was right there in bold print on the bottom of a 1999 feed store calendar hanging on the wall beside the refrigerator. Strange but January 4 was on a Monday that year, too. Blake wouldn’t even need to get a new calendar.
Maybe the folks from the feed store would know who to call. He hoped to hell that phone number hadn’t changed in the past seventeen years.
“Well, what in the hell are you waiting for?” she yelled, all the piss and vinegar coming back in a hurry. “Call one of them. Call them all. I don’t really care but it’s time for you to cut the apron strings and get on with your life, Walter.” She picked up the coffee and sipped it. “And put that dog outside where he belongs.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said.
The wild look in her eyes got even worse. “Don’t you ma’am me! I’m not an old lady, by damn. I’m a woman in her prime and don’t you ever ma’am me again.”
He had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing out loud. Whoever this woman was, she wasn’t about to let anyone steamroll her.
“And after you’ve called and we’ve had our coffee, we can fool around until she gets back in the house.” Irene smiled up at him.
As if Shooter understood he wasn’t welcome, he circled around the table, keeping a wary eye on the newcomer until he got to the back door where he whined. Glad to have an excuse to leave the table, Blake went to open the door and let the old boy out, wishing the whole time that he could escape with him.
Just exactly what did she mean by “fool around”? Did it mean the same in her demented mind that it did in today’s world. If so he’d have to make that cup of coffee last until someone could come get this woman or else learn a whole new level of bullshitting his way out of a messy ordeal.
He eased the cell phone out of his pocket and poked in the numbers from the calendar. Irene seemed very content to sip her coffee and mumble about a damn dog being in the kitchen where womenfolk made food. Dog hairs, according to her, were covered with deadly diseases that could kill a person if they got into their fried potatoes.
“Dry Creek Feed and Seed. May I help you?” a feminine voice answered on the third ring.
“Ma’am, I’m the new owner of the Lucky Penny, and an elderly woman named Irene showed up at my door this morning. It’s starting to rain and…” He didn’t get another word out.
“Oh, no! Just hang on to her and I’ll send someone for her in the next few minutes. Don’t let her leave,” the woman said, and the call ended.
Allie hated two things: cleaning and cooking. But every third week it was her turn to clean the big two-story house known as Audrey’s Place.
Back during the Depression, Audrey’s had been a rather notorious not-exactly-legal brothel. Miz Audrey, the lady who owned the place, had seen an opportunity where everyone else around Dry Creek saw defeat. She’d hired six girls at a time when everyone needed jobs. She was one of the few folks who hung on to her land, her business, and came out on the other side of the Depression with more money than she knew what to do with. Her girls, too. The hundred-year-old house had withstood tornadoes, winds, and all the other crazy weather that Texas could throw at it.
But Allie wasn’t appreciating her family home’s rich history as she trudged through each of the six bedrooms on the second floor to vacuum, dust, and tidy up. She would far rather be the one creating mess. Give her the glorious smells of wood shavings, plaster dust, or varnish during a home remodel and she’d be much happier than breathing in pine-scented cleaners.
She paused on the bottom step, made sure that Granny was arguing with the characters of Golden Girls on the television in the living room, before she toted the bucket of cleaning supplies up the stairs. Allie had put in the new railing the previous spring and still liked to run her hand over the new wood, taking a moment to admire the intricate spindles she’d turned on her lathe. Her father had given her the tools, the knowledge, and the love for carpentry. Some days she missed him even more than others, like when she opened the bathroom door and there was the lovely vanity they’d worked on together the year before he died.
She was about to return downstairs, when her phone buzzed in the side pocket of her cargo pants. She pulled it out and without even checking the caller ID she answered, “Hello.”
“Alora Raine Logan,” her mother said.
“Why are you double-naming me? I couldn’t possibly get into trouble while cleaning the house!”
“You let your grandmother get away from you.” Katy’s voice was so shrill it hurt Allie’s ears.
“Impossible, Mama. The doors are locked with those new baby guards that she can’t open. Besides, not fifteen minutes ago, I checked on her. She was sitting on the sofa watching Golden Girls.”
Granny had shaken her fist at the television with a string of cuss words. Even in her moments of confusion, she never lost her spirit.
“Well, she’s at the Lucky Penny now,” Katy said.
A gust of cold wind hit her in the face when Allie reached the foyer. The door was thrown wide open, and Lizzy’s yellow boots were gone from the lineup beside the hall tree.
“You’re right. She’s gone! But why the Lucky Penny?” Allie was already cramming her feet down into a pair of boots.
“She must’ve heard us talking about a new cowboy buying that place. I can’t leave the store so you’ll have to go get her,” Katy said. “It’s going to rain so take a vehicle. I hope she at least put on a jacket or else she’ll catch pneumonia, frail as she is.”
“Lizzy’s rubber boots are missing from the foyer and I dressed her in jeans and a sweatshirt this morning.” Allie stuck her free arm into a stained mustard-colored work coat.
“Thank goodness she’s at least got something on her feet. Last time she went over there, she was wearing nothing but a nightgown when I went to get her. There she sat on the porch flirting with someone in her head because the only living thing on the whole ranch was an old gray tom cat,” Katy said.
Allie picked up her van keys from the foyer table and headed out the door. “I’m on the way, Mama. She’s probably sitting on the porch like last time. I don’t think anyone has moved in yet.”
“Lizzy said that Herman Hudson came in for a load of feed this morning and that at least one cowboy moved in on Saturday,” Katy said.
“How’d you find out where she is?” Allie asked.
“The crazy cowboy who bought the place called the feed store. The number was on the bottom of one of those calendars we used to give out at Christmas. Lizzy answered and then called me.”
“I’ll call you when I’ve got her back in the house.” Allie jogged out to her work van and hopped inside. She shivered as she shoved the key into the ignition. They’d had a mild winter up until now, but January was going to make up for it for sure if this was a taste of what was to come. She didn’t give the engine time to warm up but shoved the truck into gear, hit the gas, and headed down the lane toward the road where she made a right-hand turn. The steering wheel was as cold as icicles, but in her hurry she’d left her gloves on the foyer table. Half a mile farther she made another right and whipped into the winding lane at the Lucky Penny.
Had she gone by foot, Allie would have walked a few hundred yards, crawled over or under a broken-down barbed wire fence, and gone another hundred yards to the old house. That’s most likely the way that Granny had gone, and it took less than ten minutes to get there. Allie came to a screeching halt outside the house and with a carpenter’s eye saw how much more dilapidated it had gotten since she was last on the ranch.
How long had it been? At least eight years because she’d been divorced more than seven, and the last time she’d been there was back when she and Riley, like all the other kids in that day and age, parked there to make out. Looking back, the smartest thing she did when she and Riley split ways was take her maiden name back.
A big yellow dog met her halfway across the yard. His head was down and his tail wagging, which meant he wasn’t going to take a chunk out of her butt. But the sight of him did slow her down.
She held out a hand. “Hey, feller, what’s your name?”
The dog nosed her hand in a friendly gesture, so she rubbed his ears. “You got my granny in that house, or is she hiding in one of the barns this time?”
The first big raindrop hit her on the cheek and rolled down her neck. It was as cold as ice water, and more quickly followed before she made it to the porch. Shivers chased down her spine as the water hit her bra and kept moving to the waistband of her underpants.
She knocked on the door and waited.
“Walter, don’t open that door,” her granny called out loud and clear.
“Are you Walter?” she asked the dog, who’d followed her to the porch, just as the front door swung open.
“No, he’s Shooter. Are you Katy?”
Allie looked up into the greenest eyes she’d ever seen rimmed by dark lashes. Her gaze traveled to his wide shoulders, the Henley shirt stretched over bulging abs, and the big belt buckle with a bull rider on it. She had to force herself to look back up, only to find him smiling, his arms now crossed over his chest.
Lord, have mercy! Crazy cowboys who bought a bad luck ranch were definitely not supposed to be that sexy.
She wanted to crawl under her work van because there she stood wearing cargo pants, a faded thermal-knit shirt frayed out at the wrists, black rubber boots, and the old coat she wore on the job site. She smelled like pine oil and ammonia and didn’t have even a smidgen of makeup on her face.
Granny shuffled across the floor. “Don’t be silly, Walter. This is Katy, my daughter. You’ve seen her lots of times at church for the past six months. Don’t you have enough sense to get in out of the rain, girl? Why haven’t you invited her inside, Walter? Where are your manners?”
“Granny, I am not Katy. I’m Allie, your granddaughter. You know better than to sneak out of the house like this. You scared all of us,” Allie fussed.
“Maybe we can sort this out inside where it’s warm and dry,” Blake offered. He stuck out his hand. “I’m Blake Dawson. C’mon in.” His eyes were so green that she would have sworn he was wearing colored contact lenses.
She put her hand in his. “I’m Allie Logan, your neighbor. I’m so sorry about this.”
Her hand tingled and the feeling lingered as she followed him into the house and through to the kitchen, tugging Granny after her. Maybe it was the weather, or the fact that he was one sexy piece of baggage. Most likely it was the fact that she hadn’t had sex in so long that she might have to get out the how-to booklet to even remember what body part went where.
“I’m ready to go home now.” Irene’s head tilted to one side and she shoved her hands into the pockets of the chenille robe. “I came over here to welcome this young man to Dry Creek. You should have come with me.”
“You live nearby?” Blake asked.
“Yeah, the big house called Audrey’s Place. It’s just past your east field and over the fence.”
“Audrey’s Place? Is this Audrey? She told me her name was Irene.” Blake shoved his thumbs into his hip pockets.
Irene’s face went into that mode that reminded Allie of a dried apple doll; all wrinkles with deep-set eyes and a puckered-up mouth, hollowed cheeks and a sharp little chin. She poked Blake in the chest with a bony finger and raised her voice as high as it would go. “Hell, no! Audrey was a whore. I’m a fine, upstanding churchgoin’ woman. I’m not a hooker like my great-great grandma. I am Irene Miller, young man, and don’t you forget it.”
She held her hand up to catch a drop of water when it fell from the ceiling. “Don’t know why we’re wasting our time with makin’ casseroles to welcome him. He won’t be here more’n a year. The good-lookin’ ones never stay. Couple of ugly ones made it two years, but the cold winter will put this one on the run.”
“Granny!” Allie said as soon as she could get a word in edgewise.
Irene shrugged. “Better get a pan and put it under that leak, young man, or you’re going to be mopping all day. Now take me home, Allie.”
“Granny, you’re being rude.”
Blake chuckled. “She does manage to keep things lively.”
“You have no idea.” Allie glanced at the drip coming from the ceiling. “It’s been leaking a while from the size of that brown ring. You’re lucky someone put down linoleum flooring because it could ruin carpet or hardwood.”
Blake nodded. “Damn. I hoped that the water marks on the ceiling were from a long time ago and the leak had been fixed. I’ll just have to add it to the list of the million other repairs.”
- "With an irresistibly charismatic cowboy at the center of this story, Brown's latest is a sexy, fun read. ...The genuine, electric chemistry between Allie and Blake jumps off the page."—RT Book Reviews on Wild Cowboy Ways
- "A breathtaking romance filled with soul-sizzling passion and a heart-stealing plot. A five-star hit!"—Romancing the Book
- "Heartwarming and funny. ...WILD COWBOY WAYS will pull you in and won't let you go until the end. I loved this book and recommend it to everyone. 5 stars."—Book Junkiez
- "A perfect read to just curl up with. The book is light, sweet and just the right amount of humor and emotions to keep you reading along. Carolyn Brown will get you falling in love with the characters before you can blink. ...It made me feel like I was watching a classic Hallmark movie. *swoon*"—Once Upon an Alpha
- On Sale
- Dec 22, 2015
- Page Count
- 384 pages