Logan doesn’t want or need another woman in his life. Not after being burned so badly before. Only problem is he can’t seem to take his eyes off the ranch’s newest employee. And with her sweet temperament and tempting curves taunting him every time she’s near, how is he supposed to resist being roped in to love again?
Roping the Reluctant Rancher is intended for mature readers.
Release date: April 10, 2022
Print pages: 234
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Roping the Reluctant Rancher
Jenna sighed and pressed her foot on the brake. As her Toyota 4runner came to a stop, her gaze drifted to the scenery outside the vehicle. The view was magnificent, and just as she remembered. A large lake to her left, the sweeping valley beyond giving way to rolling foothills covered in mountain grass and shrubs fading into the pine trees higher up. The jagged mountains soaring above the low-hanging clouds in the distance threatened to steal her breath away with their beauty. It was as if she’d plopped right in the middle of a painting created by a master artist. She didn’t have time to delve too deeply into the memories the beautiful landscape invoked, though. In fact, if the darn cattle didn't clear off the road soon she’d be late for her interview.
Tapping her fingers against the steering wheel, Jenna watched as a large brown and cream cow lazily stripped clumps of grass from the side of the two-lane road while a cute calf sporting the same colors frolicked around beside her. Jenna sighed as the rest of the slow-moving herd ambled on across the asphalt in front of her. Resigned to the fact she could do nothing to hurry things along, she slid the gearshift into park, eased her seat back, and pressed the button to lower the windows. Although the pungent smell of cow manure and dirt permeated the air at first, the fresh scent of pine and earth from the forest surrounding the valley soon wafted in from the slight breeze, and she drew in a deep breath.
It had been a long time since she’d been to the mountains of Colorado, and this was the last stop on her ‘journey of remembrance’ as she liked to call it. When she’d first embarked on the trip to visit the places her father had taken them on their family’s yearly vacations, she hadn’t known what to expect. But now, nearing the journey’s end, her heart was lighter. Lighter than it had been in fifteen years.
As she watched fishing boats bob in the water, she recalled the trips she and her family had made to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Royal Gorge, along with various others in the western United States, before ending their trips in the Taylor Park area northeast of Gunnison, Colorado every summer to escape the Texas heat. She, along with her father and brother, had spent many hours fishing on the banks of the Taylor Reservoir before making their way to their campsite where her mom would have a delicious fireside meal prepared for them. She smiled to herself, recalling the adventures she and her twin brother had played among the tall pines dotting the hillsides surrounding the campground. But those days were gone. Her mother and father had died in a car accident when Jenna and her brother, Matt, were seventeen. Afterwards, the two of them went to live with their grandmother.
With her grandmother now gone too, and her brother, Matt, in Denver to start his new position at a prestigious law firm, Jenna found herself alone and not sure what to do with herself. She’d put her plans for college on hold when her grandmother suffered a stroke. The idea of moving her beloved Gigi into a nursing home had been abhorrent, and Jenna made a deal with Matt. He’d finish his law degree while she cared for their grandmother. After he passed the bar, got himself established, hired on with a firm, and could afford to pay for private care, she’d go back to school.
Things hadn’t worked out the way they’d planned, though, when Gigi suffered another stroke and died last spring. Jenna had been adrift ever since. She didn’t know what she wanted to do and thought a trip to clear her mind would help. And it had. She’d concluded college was not for her. She didn’t know what was but returning to school at thirty-two made her stomach twist. And it was the main reason she’d answered the ad in the Gunnison newspaper. A local ranch outside of town needed a temporary cook and housekeeper. She sat up at the thought of finally finding a place she might belong. Jenna could more than handle the job, as she’d taken care of the household chores while running a small catering business out of her grandmother’s kitchen. She loved to cook and had once contemplated applying for culinary school, but after a few late nights working in the one and only restaurant back in her hometown the idea no longer held any appeal.
Movement in the rearview mirror caught her eye. Leaning forward in her seat, Jenna’s lips parted, and a breathy sigh whooshed out between them when a cowboy sitting tall in the saddle rode into view behind the herd still surrounding her and the other cars. She enjoyed the sight of a strong, confident man in his element. She bit her lip and watched as he expertly wielded the reins while his muscular thighs flexed as he maneuvered his horse to round up a wayward cow. Why couldn’t she find someone like him to take her into his arms and hold her tight and take away some of the loneliness plaguing her?
Her heart fluttered against her ribs when he veered away from the herd and took the time to pause beside each of the cars and trucks in the line behind her, striking up a brief conversation with the drivers as the cattle continued to move across the road. Hitting the lever on the side of her seat to bring it to an upright position, she ran a frantic hand through her long, blonde hair. Flipping down the visor, she smiled at the brightness in her blue eyes. After a quick inspection of her makeup, she flipped the visor back up and sank against the seat. As the cowboy in question drew closer, Jenna sighed and drank in his broad shoulders straining against the fabric of his blue and gray plaid shirt and those delicious thighs flexing underneath the worn denim of his jeans. Her heart tripped slightly in her chest when she lost sight of him, and the clip-clop of the chestnut-colored horse’s hooves came to a stop beside her driver’s side window.
A sharp bolt of electricity shot down her spine when he tipped his head and his deep voice washed over her as he said, “Sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am. We’ll have these mommas and their calves out of your way shortly.”
Her heart skipped a beat as she gazed into the man’s warm, sable eyes looking at her from underneath the brim of his black cowboy hat. Eyes that seemed for a moment to look deep into her soul. It was short-lived, however, when his gaze shifted to her chest before lowering. Jenna’s heart sank the instant his eyes widened, and he sucked in a sharp breath. As he turned abruptly and spurred his horse forward, a knot settled low in her stomach.
Watching the back of the horse and rider through the window as they hurried to move the last of the cattle off the road, Jenna adjusted the neckline of her T-shirt where it had dipped down, exposing her overabundant cleavage, then slid her hand along her front to pull the bunched fabric away from her pudgy stomach. Stupid genetics. Why did she have to take after her mom and grandmother with their wide hips and oversized boobs? Why couldn’t she have inherited her dad’s tall, lean build like her brother? Maybe then she’d have guys falling all over her instead of turning away once they got a good look.
“Maybe he was just in a hurry to get the cows off the road, but I doubt it,”
Jenna muttered to herself as she put the gearshift into drive and slowly eased forward as the last of the cows stepped off the road and into an open, grassy area. If he had turned away because of her heavier body, that was his loss. He’d never know what he was missing out on. Despite her curves, she had a lot to offer—she was an excellent cook, loyal, with lots of love in her heart to give to someone if they gave her a chance. Oh, well, the cowboy was probably married with a handful of kids anyway. And as her grandmother always said—there is someone out there for everyone. The problem was Jenna had yet to find him. Just for once, though, she’d like to have a handsome man smile at her and make her feel good about herself.
* * *
“Can you start tomorrow?”
Jenna sucked in a deep breath and looked around the large interior of the cafe and made a quick decision. Why not? What else was she going to do? Go back to the small town in Texas she’d grown up in and twiddle her thumbs? She smiled at the woman across the rustic wooden tabletop about the same age her mom would have been. She’d put Jenna at ease immediately with her smile and kind words. Betty had requested to meet in Taylor Park at the Nugget Café near where her son and the ranch hands were rounding up the cattle herd and close to the cabin Jenna rented during her stay. Her husband needed to change a tire on one of the cattle trailers that their hands were going to be using to take their cattle back to the ranch later that evening. When Jenna had argued, Betty had insisted, stating it would save Jenna from having to drive the forty minutes back to Gunnison then another thirty minutes out to the ranch on the other side of town. According to the sweet woman she needed a housekeeper and cook for her son and their ranch hands while she and her husband went on an extended vacation but had found no one willing to take on the job. She and her husband were handing the reins to the family cattle business to their son, and Betty worried with the added responsibilities he’d be facing he wouldn’t have time to take care of the household chores and feed himself or the hands. Jenna didn’t want to pry, but she couldn’t help but wonder why the son didn’t have a wife who could take care of things. From what she gathered, the son was old enough to manage a large cattle operation, so it made sense he’d have a wife.
Oh, well, it wasn’t any of her business, and the job was only for a couple of months, although Betty hinted it could last longer. That little tidbit had thrown Jenna for a loop, but after she’d had a few minutes to think about it she wasn’t troubled. After all, she’d been wanting to move closer to Denver, and Gunnison was only a four-hour drive from there. Much closer than her grandmother’s house in Texas. It was a decision she could make when, and if, the time came.
Jenna cleared her throat. “Sure, sounds good. Is there anything I need to do beforehand? Fill out paperwork? Give my information?”
She let out a breath as Betty reached across the table and patted her hand. “You can do it this evening if that’s okay? I’m sorry I’m having to throw you to the wolves, so to speak, but Paul and I are leaving early in the morning, and I want to make sure I have someone in place. If you come out tonight, I can show you around the house and where everything is in the kitchen. Bring your things and you can stay in the room I have ready. Logan and the other ranch hands are loading the last of the cattle into the trailers to bring to the ranch. They’ll be in late tonight, but I’ll put a couple of breakfast casseroles in the fridge. All you’ll have to worry about is heating them up in the morning. The kitchen is stocked, and I made a menu for next week, but feel free to change it if you want. Thank you. I can’t tell you how much you taking this job means to me.” Betty smiled as she slid a piece of paper across the table. “Here’s a map to the ranch.”
Jenna eased back in her chair as a feeling of peace settled deep in her soul while Betty turned to look out the window at a large truck pulling into the parking lot in front of the café. Maybe this was the first step in finding a place she could call home?
“Oh, there’s Paul now. Think you can find it?”
Jenna nodded, then watched as Betty waved through the large window next to their table at a ruggedly handsome older man with a salt and pepper beard and cowboy hat pulling up in a truck. As Betty said goodbye and made her way to the door, Jenna’s stomach dropped reminded of the cowboy from earlier. What if he worked for the ranch? Sitting up in her chair, Jenna squared her shoulders. Even if he did, she wasn’t going to let him or anyone else stop her from finding a place she belonged.
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