Everything is bigger in Texas.
Devyn came here to be invisible. To run from a past that gives her no chance of a future.
Until the day I pull a gun on her and fall head-over-heels in love. With her tenacity; her beauty; even her brokenness.
I don’t need to fix her. I just want to help put together her shattered pieces. I know how to do it. I know broken.
But in our world of untold truths, love doesn’t heal all wounds.
And I’m about to find out just how deep hers are.
Texas Lilies can be read as a standalone novel. It is book two in the Devil’s Horn Ranch Series. This series can easily be enjoyed out of order.
Release date: November 30, 2021
Reader says this book is...: emotionally riveting (3) entertaining story (3) happily ever after (2) high heat (2) strong heroine (1) suspenseful (1) heartwarming (2) swoon-worthy (1) tearjerker (1) tragic (1) unputdownable (1)
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
“You have a ghost in your lodge,” Mr. Hudson says, tying his horse to the post out front.
I stop what I’m doing and turn. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that; last week, a wedding guest said the same thing. “The hunting lodge is a hundred years old. There’s bound to be creaky stairs and unoiled doors.”
“Whatever you say.” He climbs the porch stairs. “But Hank swears he saw someone late last night.”
“There are eight of you staying here this weekend. Someone probably got up for a snack.”
He shakes his head. “Six of us were at the bar you recommended. He and Kora stayed behind for some alone time.” He motions to his colleague. “Hank, get over here. Tell Aaron what you saw last night.”
Hank strides over and joins us on the porch, pulling a piece of straw from his mouth. I try not to laugh at these northerners who come here for a weekend and think they’re cowboys. “Saw a damn ghost.”
I open the door and lead them inside. We stand in the grand foyer. “You saw a ghost,” I say dryly. “In your room while you and your lady were…”
“Getting frisky. Damn right I did. But not in my room.” He nods at the living room to his right. “We were on the couch, you know, taking advantage of this place while everyone was away.”
I glance at the couch and turn up my nose. I make a mental note to pull out the steam cleaner after they leave.
“We’d lit a fire and turned off all the lights. Saw something walk right through the main area.”
“Did Kora see it too?” I ask.
“She was busy,” he deadpans, earning him a congratulatory pat on the back from his boss.
“And what did this ghost look like?”
“I don’t know, man. I was too busy at the time to take notes, and I wasn’t about to stop what I was doing and freak out Kora.”
“But was it like a person? A floating sheet? A shadow?”
He thinks on it as he looks toward the back hallway. “A person, I guess. A shadow, but with definition, you know?”
“And what did it do?”
“It didn’t do nothing. It just came and went.”
“Thanks, Hank,” Mr. Hudson says, dismissing him. “You can go pack up now. We need to be out of here by one for our flight.” He pulls an envelope from his pocket and hands it to me. “This weekend was spectacular. Everything we needed for my team to blow off steam and regroup for our upcoming project.”
I wave the envelope away. “You don’t have to. Really.”
“Take it, Aaron. You more than earned it. This place—the food, the trails, the history. Hell, even the ghost. You’ve really got something here.”
“Thank you.” I tuck the money into my back pocket. “I’d be most grateful if you’d spread the word to anyone who needs a similar getaway. We’re still getting started.”
“You wouldn’t know the operation hasn’t been running for years. This place is run like a well-oiled machine.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence.”
I don’t tell him Friday’s catering order was almost late, and my cleaning lady quit yesterday with zero notice. Well-oiled machine, my ass. Some days I feel I’m hanging on by a thread. Maybe I do deserve the tip. Cleaning all eight rooms while they were on their ride yesterday had been no easy feat.
I’ll split it with Lora, Joe, and Luca. Lora is my events planner, Joe is our cook, and Luca is one of the assistant horse trainers here at Devil’s Horn Ranch. He helps me run horse tours, in addition to all his other responsibilities. Mrs. Garcia would have gotten a cut, too, had she not bailed on me. I guess I can’t blame her. Her sister is very ill, and she went to be by her side in New Mexico. Still, it leaves me in a bind. Even the temp service I called couldn’t get anyone out here. Looks like laundry and toilet scrubbing is how I’m going to spend my Sunday.
The good thing is we don’t have more guests coming in for ten days. Or maybe it’s a bad thing, but it gives me time to find a new housekeeper. Not many people can afford to work part time on such an irregular schedule. The hunting lodge is barely breaking even. But I’m determined to make it work. Like Mr. Hudson said, we’ve got something here, and damned if I’m going to let Gavin or my parents see me fail.
After the eight guests are picked up by the airport shuttle, I get busy cleaning. I start by sweeping downstairs. Dirt gets tracked in from the trails, and I’m not about to let these floors get mucked up; I installed them myself. In fact, I almost single-handedly fixed up this lodge. It’s why I thought I should be the one to try to make something of it.
The loud music blaring from the sound system I put in helps pass the time. Someone taps my shoulder, and I jump. It’s my cousin Maddox. I pull the remote from my pocket and mute the song.
He laughs. “Didn’t mean to startle you. You’d think I was the boogeyman, based on your reaction.”
“Guess I was into the music. What’s up?”
“Andie wanted me to invite you for supper.”
It’s one o’clock in the afternoon, and I recently had a sandwich, but my stomach growls just thinking about the meals his wife cooks. “I’ve never been one to turn down an invitation to the McBrides’. What time?”
“I’ll be there.”
He glances at the mop in my hands. “Where’s Mrs. Garcia?”
“You’re looking at her.”
“What’s so funny?”
“You’re learning what it’s like to run things.”
“You’re the one who runs things, Maddox.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it. From day one, the hunting lodge has been your project, Aaron. I have to admit, I had my doubts. But I’ve read the guestbook comments. There hasn’t been a single negative word from anyone. No complaints that I’m aware of. Luca says he’s making bank on tips. I’d say you’re doing one hell of a job.”
“Thanks.” I point to the vacuum cleaner. “If you’re done pumping my ego and have nothing else to do, feel free to help.”
He backs away. “Sorry. Andie’s expecting a few mares to foal this afternoon, so I’m on diaper duty.”
“I’m not sure how you do it.”
“No, raise a kid while you run the ranch and she does her vet stuff.”
He heads for the door. “It takes a village, man.” He waves casually over his shoulder and leaves.
He’s right, and Devil’s Horn Ranch is like a village. Almost thirty people work here, and most of them live on the property. Two small houses are occupied by Mickey, the head horse trainer, and Miguel, the barn manager. Owen, the ranch manager, lives in a small log cabin on the outskirts of DHR. The others either reside in the small apartments behind the arena or the bunkhouse. Me—I built my own cabin out by the ridges the property was named after.
I’ve spent summers here since I was fifteen. When I decided to go to college in Texas, I came here over every break. I slept in the bunkhouse and earned wages for being a ranch hand. Saved every penny to put into building my one-bedroom cabin. I finally finished it shortly after I graduated last year.
Gavin McBride, Maddox’s dad and my uncle, agreed to let me fix up the old lodge and try making it into a business. Although we still call it the hunting lodge, it doesn’t get rented out to hunters. We do have a few thousand acres of hunting ground, but it’s been deemed too much of a liability to have drunken hunters stay here. With Lora’s help, we rent it out for parties, business meetings, and weddings. Most people stay for long weekends to enjoy the property, which is well over ten thousand acres. We’ve got some of the best horse trails around, not to mention the Fort Worth nightlife, which is only a limo ride away.
Six hours later, my hands raw from washing, scrubbing, and laundering, I return to my cabin to shower before hopping onto my ATV for the trip to the main house.
After pulling up to Maddox’s, I’m waved at by no less than five barn workers and ranch hands. When I’m not doing lodge business, I’m usually here, helping mend fences or bailing hay. To them, I’m one of the guys, just like Maddox wants us to be.
Andie is coming out of the south stable. She bounces over to me, clearly elated.
“I’m guessing you birthed a horse today?” I say.
She smiles big. “Two of them. Two healthy foals. I’d say that makes for a good Sunday.”
My eyes flicker to her hands. “You will be washing up before cooking supper, yes?”
Laughter follows me up the porch steps. “Already did. Anyway, I’m not cooking. Maddox is making his famous short ribs.”
My mouth waters. If there’s one thing my cousin does well, it’s cooking short ribs.
Andie scoops up her daughter, who is playing on the living room floor. Viv squeals as her mother twirls her around the room. Andie holds the baby out to me. “Can you take her for a minute?”
I balance her on my hip. “How old is she now?”
“Six months yesterday,” Andie says, heading across the room to join Maddox in the kitchen.
I peer down at the small human. “You’re a big girl now, aren’t you?”
Andie sets the table and puts Viv into her highchair. During supper, she spoon-feeds her orange and green goop from a jar.
“I’m thinking of staying at the lodge for a few nights,” I say.
“Something wrong with your cabin?” Maddox asks. “Your toilet broken?”
“Nothing like that. The cabin’s great. But several people in the last few groups at the lodge have claimed a ghost is there.”
Andie freezes, the spoon halfway to Vivian’s lips. “A ghost. Really?”
Maddox’s head bobs up and down repeatedly. “You could use it as a hook to get more business. Haunted hunting lodge. People love that shit.”
Andie gives him a biting glare.
He looks guilty. “Sorry, babe. I meant people love that stuff.”
“I’m not buying it. I’m going to stay there a few nights and see what’s up. I’m sure it’s a creaky step. Maybe shadows made by the stained-glass window I installed over the front door.”
“You’re staying there alone?” Andie asks.
“Last time I checked, I was a grown man.”
Andie studies me. “I wouldn’t do it, even for money. A hundred-year-old building in the middle of nowhere? Nobody will hear if you scream.”
I roll my eyes. “There’s no ghost, Andie. I just want to get to the bottom of why people might think there is.”
She points her fork at me. “There’s a lot of history here, Aaron. You’ve seen the graveyard beyond the ridge. We’ve told you the stories Maddox’s grandmother passed down to us.” She turns to her daughter. “Your namesake knew everything about this place. One day we’ll tell you all about it.”
“Want company?” Maddox asks.
“Oh, no,” Andie says. “You’re not leaving us alone here if there’s a ghost on the ranch.”
He looks amused. “You don’t really believe in that shi—uh, stuff, do you, babe?”
“Like I said, there’s a lot of history on this ranch.”
“Could be my grandmother,” Maddox says.
She shakes her head. “If Vivian were going to haunt anything, I guarantee you it would be this house or maybe the stables. She barely went into that old lodge.”
“You’re probably right. Could be that some hunter died there years before she bought the place.”
I snicker. “Jesus, you two are way too gullible. There’s no ghost.”
“Guess you’ll know soon enough,” Maddox says. “Might want to keep your gun handy.”
Andie narrows her eyes. “Will a bullet hurt a ghost?”
“Fair point,” he says. “Might want to try garlic or a pointy stake through the heart.”
“Those are for vampires.”
I clear the dishes and wash up. “Thanks for dinner. I’ll see you in the morning… if I survive the night.” I cackle a spooky laugh and kiss Viv’s soft curls before leaving.
Maddox says, “If I don’t hear from you by nine, I’ll send a search party.”
“Ha-ha.” I grab my cowboy hat and put it on, then leave.
At my cabin, I get a book, a six-pack of Coke, and some snacks, then start for the lodge. Before I get too far, I decide to go back and find my gun.
Once inside the lodge, I contemplate locking the doors. But here on the ranch, we never lock doors, so I decide against it. I can hear Andie saying, “Ghosts don’t use doors.”
There’s a logical explanation for what people have seen. There always is.
I take the sodas from the plastic rings and place them in two rows on the left side of the refrigerator, then check the expiration dates on the yogurt and stack them according to freshness. Being raised by a woman who owns a restaurant, it was ingrained in me to organize a kitchen properly.
It’s late, and I had a long day, but I’m determined to stay up as long as I can. I take my book into the living room and open it to the dog-eared page. I’m not sure how much I read, however, because I’m concentrating on every little sound. It’s windy outside, which isn’t helping.
I trace a banging noise to the screen door I hadn’t latched right. A window rattles in one of the guest rooms, and I mentally put it on my list of things to fix.
I settle back down to read, my eyelids growing heavy.
The next thing I know, the lodge is illuminated by the morning sun. Damn. I didn’t even make it to midnight. I rub my eyes and go to the kitchen for a soda to help wake me up.
I know how I organized the cans last night—two rows of three—but one of them is missing. Not one from the front either; one from the back. As if someone didn’t want anyone to notice a can was gone. A yogurt is missing, too.
There’s no ghost at the lodge. It’s a goddamn thief.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...