TWO STORIES IN ONE: AN ALL-NEW SARA RICHARDSON NOVEL PLUS SAVED BY THE COWBOY BY A.J. PINE"Filled with humor, heart, and love, this page-turner is one wild ride." -- Jennifer Ryan, New York Times bestselling author on Hometown Cowboy Can this cowboy be tamed? Everly Brooks is finally living her dream. Renting a farm in Topaz Falls, Colorado, is the perfect antidote to her high-stress life back in San Francisco. It's the ideal place to raise chickens, grow veggies, and run her farm-to-table restaurant. There's just one problem: her new landlord. Mateo Torres is a handsome-as-hell bronc rider who oozes charm, melts hearts-and plans to kick Everly off the farm . . . Mateo has dreams, too. He'd bought that land as an investment, so he could take care of his mom and sisters, which means Everly has to go. Unfortunately for him, this former big-city girl is just as stubborn as the broncs he rides. When his trailer floods and forces him to move into Everly's farmhouse, things between them really start to heat up. Sure, living under the same roof might not be the best way to settle their dispute over the land. But when two rivals share everything-from heated words to scorching kisses-it's definitely the hottest.
Release date: July 31, 2018
Print pages: 448
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I have a surprise for you.”
Everly Brooks tried not to visibly cringe, but ever since her friend had surprised her with a penis cake for her birthday last year, she happened to be a little gun shy when it came to Darla Michaels and surprises. The cake artist her friend had hired had gotten a little too carried away with the details, for Everly’s taste. God, when Darla had cut the masterpiece into neat little squares revealing the red velvet cake beneath the layers of frosting, Everly had to excuse herself so she could go out and get some air.
“It’s not my birthday.” Thank the powers that be. This year, she would make sure to take a vacation so no one could ambush her with frosted body parts. She popped a truffle into her mouth and took a sip of the deep, rich merlot that had already warmed her stomach. “Even if it was my birthday, I don’t like surprises.” She’d had far too many of them in recent years, and not the good kind. Thus the reason she was sitting here at the Chocolate Therapist—Darla’s incredibly successful wine and chocolate bar on Main Street—soothing the ache of past wounds before she and Darla attended an engagement party.
Though she would much rather stay here at the bar with its warm ambiance and sleek, reassuring décor, she’d promised her friend Kate Livingston she would join her and Jaden for their big celebration. Regardless of how many memories it would bring up of her own botched happily ever after, she had to be there.
“I know it’s not your birthday, silly.” Darla swiveled her barstool and nudged Everly’s shoulder. “That’s in February. Wait until you see what I have planned for you this year.”
“Actually, I’m going out of town that week.” Not that she had any clue how she’d be able to get away when she had a farm to run.
Her friend smirked. “Great, then I’ll send the surprise wherever you are.”
Wouldn’t that be lovely? A penis cake showing up at the door of her hotel room? Everly wouldn’t put it past her.
“Trust me, you’ll like tonight’s surprise.” Darla bounced off the barstool and smoothed down her chic tunic. Crazy how put together the woman could look after a full day of working. Her cropped black hair still had shape and style. Though she didn’t need it, her makeup still looked as fresh as if she’d put it on ten minutes ago. Her unsmudged silvery eyeliner happened to perfectly complement her indigo eyes, which always flashed with a lively energy.
Everly, on the other hand, didn’t hold up so well. Her days involved cooking breakfast and lunch in the warm kitchen of her café before heading out to harvest produce and clean the animal pens on her small farm. At least she’d managed to shower and change before meeting Darla. Though she’d regretted choosing this dress the second she’d put it on. The soft red fabric swishing against her skin had sparked a flashback to when Andrew had bought it for her in Venice. He’d been so thoughtful…sneaking back into the store while she waited in line for their gelato. The next morning, she’d found the delicate package sitting on the dresser of their hotel room.
Her stomach turned. Three years later, she still couldn’t seem to reconcile those good memories of him with the bad ones, with the betrayal. How could she have loved someone so corrupt?
Everly reached for the wine bottle and helped herself to a refill. One glass wasn’t going to be enough to get her through tonight.
“Finally.” Darla darted away in the direction of the door. “Your surprise is here.”
Everly swiveled her barstool so she could see what Darla was up to. Her friend opened the door and ushered in two men off the street. Wait. Was that—
“Ty Forrester and Mateo Torres.” Darla put an arm around each of them in grand presentation. “Surprise!” She prodded the two rodeo stars closer. “I knew how much tonight would suck for you, so I set us up on a double date!”
A double date? Everly knew she should say something, but her jaw seemed to be stuck open. Just when she’d thought it couldn’t get worse than a penis cake…
“Ty has been begging me to go out with him for months anyway,” Darla said with an affectionate roll of her eyes.
The man on her left wore the cocky grin of a decorated bull rider. “I knew you’d come around eventually.”
Darla ignored him. “And Mateo here”—she patted his bicep fondly—“is always good for helping a woman take her mind off the past. Am I right?” Her elbow dug into his ribs.
“That does happen to be a specialty of mine.” He eased a step closer to Everly. Everything about the bronc rider was dark—from his eyes to his clothes to the cowboy hat he wore tipped forward on his head. Mystery wrapped itself in the shadows of his face, hiding secrets he likely didn’t want to share. The tattered jeans he wore gloved his lower body, but somehow he still had room to swagger. And he didn’t have to try. Mateo Torres was a man who could swagger without moving a muscle.
Studying him, Everly finally understood why the women in town referred to him as Zorro. The lustrous dark hair, the tanned skin, and seductive eyes made him appear downright dangerous, but his irresistible smile fooled his prey into thinking he was harmless.
“Everly?” He reached out his hand. “I don’t think we’ve formally met. I’m Mateo Torres. It’s a pleasure.”
He seemed to wait for her to offer her hand, but shock and indignation and—okay, sure, maybe a smidgeon of lust—iced her body over and she couldn’t seem to move. “We have met, actually.” Not that he would remember with the sheer number of women he’d likely talked to in his lifetime. “At the café. A few times.” Instead of shaking his hand, she directed a searing gaze to Darla. “Can I see you for a moment?”
Uttering a long-suffering sigh, her friend trudged over. “You two can wait by the door,” she said to Mateo and Ty. As soon as they sauntered away, Everly spun her stool to face the bar and took a gulp of wine.
Darla leaned in next to her. “Is there a problem?”
Problem didn’t even begin to touch it. “You set me up on a pity date!”
“It’s not a pity date,” her friend corrected. “I didn’t have to bribe Mateo at all. When I asked him if he’d go on a date with you, he said, ‘You mean the hot farmer chick?’” Her friend grinned. “So there. He was dying to take you out on a date.”
Everly peeked at Mateo over her shoulder. He leaned against the wall and flashed her an annoyingly confident smile.
She turned back around before he could see the blush rise to her cheeks. She hadn’t dated. Not once since she’d left San Francisco. She wasn’t ready. She might never be ready. “I’m not looking for a relationship.”
“Trust me, honey. Neither is he.” Darla eased onto the stool next to her, a familiar intensity brewing in her eyes. “That’s what makes this so perfect. Instead of wallowing in sad memories, you can have a night of uncomplicated fun. You don’t have enough fun in your life, Everly.”
The woman had a point. Don’t get her wrong; Everly loved the new life she’d built in Topaz Falls, but between keeping things up on the farm and running the Farm café, she didn’t have a lot of time for fun.
“You can’t tell me he’s not tempting.” Darla looked over to where Ty and Mateo stood, her gaze lowering. “I mean, look at that ass.”
Everly already knew Mateo’s ass was close to perfect. She wasn’t blind. But if she was going to go through with this, she couldn’t let herself develop any real attachments to the man. The less she looked at his ass, the better off she’d be. “So, what? We go to the party and hang out, have a few drinks, maybe dance, and then call it a night?” At least that would help her keep her mind off of her ex.
“What you do after the party is completely up to you.” Darla’s eyebrows peaked the way they always did when she had a naughty thought. “But, darlin’, this is Mateo Torres. I have a feeling he’s open to pretty much anything.”
Mateo had to wonder if the free chocolate Darla had promised him for this favor would be worth it. Not that she would’ve had to bribe him to go out with Everly Brooks. Hell, spending the evening with a sexy woman happened to be one of his favorite pastimes, but Everly sure didn’t seem excited about the prospect of spending the evening with him. That could ruin his perfect track record. He’d never ended a date with an unhappy woman. He’d made sure of that. Tonight he might have his work cut out for him.
He glanced at the bar again. Surprise, surprise, Everly’s back was no longer turned. In fact, she stood up and walked toward him.
“Wonder if she’s gonna skip out on you.” Ty seemed to be enjoying the fact that Everly hadn’t exactly lit up at the prospect of going on a date with Mateo.
“She won’t.” At least he hoped she wouldn’t. He’d never hear the end of it from Ty. Mateo moved to stand in front of the door in case she tried to make a fast escape. He did have a reputation to uphold.
Instead of pushing past, the woman stopped in front of him, her gaze unsure. “Sorry about that. Let’s start over.” She cleared her throat as though she was nervous. “It’s nice to meet you, Mateo.”
“Nice to meet you, too.” He checked her out as he took her hand. Her face had that pristine look—almost untouched by age or the sun, which made sense since he’d rarely seen her without the wide-brimmed straw hat she always wore around her farm. He’d rarely seen her without that bulletproof expression either—full, curved lips frozen into a polite indifference. She wasn’t unfeeling, though. Her eyes gave her away. They were gentle and perceptive, the perfect shade of brown to reflect the soft light of the dim bulbs that hung overhead. He’d noticed her around town, but had never gotten this close. From what he’d seen, not many people did get close, except for her few female friends.
Whenever he did happen to see her, she didn’t look like this either. She always seemed to dress in dusty jeans and a flannel shirt, not a low-cut dress that showcased those curves he’d never noticed before. Tonight, they were on full display.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
“We should get going.” Darla flicked off the lights. “We’re already late.”
“Sounds good. I’ll drive.” Mateo opened the door and waited for Everly to go outside first. Before he could follow her, Darla snagged his elbow. “Make sure you show her a good time,” she whispered. “She needs this.”
“I’ll do my best.”
An hour later, though, it was obvious his best wasn’t good enough. He’d done everything required of a good date—helped her in and out of his truck, played the charming sidekick as she mingled with her friends and congratulated Kate and Jaden. He’d gotten her a drink—vodka and tonic—and had even snagged a couple of chocolate-covered strawberries for her before they were gone. But her smile hadn’t reached her eyes all night. She wasn’t having fun. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves. The party had taken over the main restaurant at the ski resort where Jaden worked. The place was impressive—high ceilings and log beams, an open bar and a generous-sized dance floor where a live band played country favorites. That’s where Ty and Darla were, tearing up the floor with some of their other friends. That’s where Mateo should be, too. Not backed up against the wall watching the action.
All right, time for plan D. He slipped the empty glass out of Everly’s hand and set it on a nearby table. “You want to dance?” That was pretty much all he had left in his bag of tricks. If that didn’t get her loosened up, nothing would.
“Not really.” She looked around. “Actually, I could use some air.” The woman slipped past him, leaving him in the dust. Mateo glanced at the dance floor again. Darla gave him a crazy-eyed glare. Follow her, she mouthed. He might’ve flipped her off and headed for the bar for another beer instead if it hadn’t been for Ty’s smirk. His friend was usually the one getting ditched by a woman, not Mateo.
Damn. He turned and headed for the glass doors Everly had disappeared through. When they came back in, he’d make sure she had a smile on her face just to show Ty he hadn’t lost his touch.
Mateo slipped outside onto a small stone patio lit by globe lights strung overhead. Everly stood on the other side, staring at the faint outline of towering mountain peaks barely visible in the darkness.
Uh…what was he supposed to say? He wasn’t good at the talking stuff. Much better at the entertaining, flirting, dancing. Fucking. He was awesome at that. Even had the testimonials to prove it. But talking to a woman who was obviously experiencing some strong emotions? That’d never been his strength.
“Mind if I join you?” He sauntered over into uncharted territory.
Everly turned to look at him. Uh-oh, were those tears in her eyes? He tried not to panic.
“You don’t have to stay, Mateo.” She turned back to the mountains. “I know I’m a terrible date. You should go in and have fun with everyone else.”
Tempting, but then he’d have a lot of explaining to do. “I wouldn’t feel right about it.” He sidled up next to her. “I prefer to make sure my date is having a good time.” Which he wouldn’t be able to do until they got past this talking stuff. “Based on your dislike of engagement parties, I’m guessing you had a bad breakup?”
A humorless laugh slipped out. “You could say that.”
“What happened?” Mateo turned to face her so she’d know he was listening. He might be out of practice, but he had grown up with three sisters. He could listen to a woman talk about her emotions.
Everly looked at him for a moment, as though deciding what to say. Finally, she sighed. “It’s a long story.”
“I have some time.” It wasn’t like she was in a hurry to get back to the party. Which meant he couldn’t go back either. “Go ahead. Lay it on me. Maybe it’ll make you feel better.”
She shot him a doubting frown. “Okay. I found out my fiancé—who I’d dated for six years, by the way—tampered with evidence to win a trial for our firm.”
“Law firm,” she clarified. “Andrew paid off a doctor to change the results of a rape kit so the client, who just happens to be a star NFL player, wouldn’t be convicted.” She seemed to lock her jaw, but her lips still trembled. “He implicated me in the plot. Used my email to send messages to the doctor, and even though I had nothing to do with it, I got disbarred.”
Whoa. So much about that sentence was fucked up, but he couldn’t get past the biggest shock. “You’re a lawyer?” Everly Brooks—hot farmer chick—was a lawyer?
“I was a lawyer,” she corrected. “Back in San Francisco.” Her face had paled. “Thankfully the doctor came forward and Andrew went to prison. After that…I couldn’t do it anymore. I mean, I totally trusted him. I almost married a man who was trying to exonerate a rapist.” Everly flattened her hand against her stomach as though the words made her sick.
They made him sick, too. There was a special place in hell for assholes like that. “Can’t you fight it? Seems to me you shouldn’t be punished if you didn’t know.”
She shrugged. “I could petition to have my license reinstated. But I moved here almost three years ago and left that life behind.”
The revelation struck a nerve. Didn’t sound so different from what he’d done. Minus the lawyer and getting disbarred thing. “You walked away from everything?”
“My job, my parents, my friends, my life.” She counted it all off on her fingers. “I wanted to start over. Thought I could leave everything ugly behind and it wouldn’t be part of my life anymore.” Her eyes closed. “Obviously that didn’t work.”
Mateo studied her. The soft glow above their heads cast her in a different light. Before standing here, he wouldn’t have said she was beautiful. Pretty, sure. Though she seemed hell-bent on hiding it behind straw hats and overalls and timidity. But her face stirred something in him. He could relate to that lost expression more than anyone would know. “I might be able to help you with that. Leaving the ugly behind.”
Her eyes narrowed. Yeah, she didn’t believe him. She saw what everyone else saw—what he wanted everyone to see. The life of the party. The laid-back cowboy. “Believe it or not, I have some experience with leaving ugly things behind.” He’d buried a betrayal in his past so deep, even his closest friends didn’t know about it.
“What did you have to leave behind?”
“See, that’s rule number one.” Mateo eased a step closer. “You don’t talk about it. Talking about the past makes you dwell on it. And dwelling on the past makes you miss out on the party.”
She shot him an amused smile. “What’s rule number two?”
“When there’s a live band playing, you dance. Nothing makes you forget the shitty parts of life like dancing.”
“I don’t know how to dance.”
He gaped at her, letting his expression speak for itself.
Everly raised her shoulders defensively. “I’ve danced at weddings and stuff. But I don’t know how to dance to country songs. That wasn’t exactly big back in San Francisco.”
“Lucky for you, I’ve gotten pretty damn good at it.” On the circuit, he’d spent his fair share of time in country music bars all over the good ol’ U.S. of A., and he’d learned real quick women like a man who can dance.
Mateo walked back to the door and propped it open so they could hear the music. “Let’s Go to Vegas.” Yeah, he could work with that. “We’ll start with the two-step. It’s pretty simple. All you have to do is follow my lead.” He slipped his hand onto her waist, curving his fingers around her hip, and clasped her right hand into his left.
Everly’s shoulders went rigid, and she leaned back as though trying to keep space between them. But space didn’t work when you were dancing the two-step.
“Rule number one for dancing.” Mateo guided her body closer to his, not so they were touching, but so that she could at least feel his movements. “Relax.”
“You have a lot of rules,” Everly muttered. If you asked him, she sounded a little breathless. Of course, he wasn’t much better off. The feel of her body under his fingertips had his heart drumming.
“Trust me.” He tightened his grip on her. “The only thing you need to know right now is quick, quick, slow, slow.”
“Quick, quick, slow, slow,” she repeated, inching closer. Her eyes were focused on his.
“On the first step, I move my left foot forward and yours goes back.” He demonstrated, his hip grazing hers. “Then I move my right forward and your right goes back.” He completed the step, keeping his hand firm on her hip to show her how to move.
“Got it.” Her face had flushed.
“Then we do the whole thing again, just slower.” He turned her and did it again, holding the steps a beat longer.
“That’s it?” Everly gazed up at him with a smirk. “That’s not so hard.”
“It’ll go a lot faster when you’re actually moving with the music. Think you’re ready for that?”
“Oh, I’m ready.”
Grinning, he waited for the beat then launched into the dance, holding her against him, breathing in the scent of cinnamon and something sweet. “Quick, quick, slow, slow,” he murmured, whirling her around before doing it again.
Everly clung to him, laughing as he danced her across the patio. He watched her face while they moved, watched it come alive with a happiness that brightened her eyes and electrified him with the desire to give her more.
* * *
Mateo was right—dancing did have some kind of magical power. Everly couldn’t stop laughing as her whirled her and spun her and dipped her low. She was breathless and warm—so very warm against his body. Even the chill of the fall night couldn’t touch her.
“Quick, quick, slow, slow,” he murmured against her hair, keeping their movements perfectly aligned with the music. God, that rhythm. It wrapped her up, took her away, made her lightheaded and giddy. Had she ever been giddy?
The music ended abruptly, and Mateo pulled her even closer before dipping her grandly, his strong arm supporting her back. His forehead glistened and those magic eyes of his flashed with sparks of mischief. He was exotic and playful, so different from any man she’d ever met.
“Not bad for your first two-step,” he said, raising her back up. The second his hands fell away, disappointment washed over her. Don’t stop touching me. It had been too long since she’d been touched. Held. And it felt so good that she could’ve danced with him all night. But the band must’ve been taking five. The only sounds coming from inside the party were laughter and chatter.
“You want another drink?” Mateo asked, rolling up his shirtsleeves. His forearms were as rock-solid as the rest of him.
“I’m fine. Good.” She was good. For the first time in what seemed like forever, she couldn’t stop smiling.
“We could get some food.” Mateo moved away from her and headed for the door, but going in would break the spell.
“Wait.” Her heart refused to settle.
He turned, one corner of his mouth lifted in a sexy smirk.
“You haven’t told me rule number three yet,” Everly murmured. It was all she could manage with the way her heart pounded. Crazy how alive it made her feel.
Mateo glanced at her, his gaze darker than it had been minutes before. “I’m not sure you’re ready for rule number three.”
She marched over to him, not stopping until the tips of her ballet flats touched his boots. “Try me.” She stared into his eyes, a smile still tugging on her lips. “I need the full three-step program.” Especially since something told her the third rule involved more physical contact than his hand on her hip. She needed more. More energy, more color, more passion, more courage. Those parts of her had been crushed, but they were still there in pieces. When Mateo touched her, somehow she could feel them coming back together, strengthening to raise her up. Darla was right. She needed this—to feel something again, something exhilarating and carnal. And uncomplicated. Mateo wouldn’t love her, which meant he couldn’t hurt her either.
“Rule number three”—Mateo’s intense stare lowered to her mouth—“can’t be explained. It has to be shown.”
Everly slid her hands up his broad shoulders. “Then show me.” All of it. “Make me feel something.” The words came out in a whispered plea.
Eyes steady on hers, Mateo brushed his palm against her jaw and gently tilted up her head, guiding her lips to his. The light touch of his mouth made her knees tremble. Energy expanded through her—bright and scorching. Mateo teased her with small kisses, slight scrapes of his mouth against hers. Her breath hitched painfully under her ribs, dislodging the months of loneliness that had made her heart feel so heavy.
He pulled away too soon, gazing at her as though wondering what she thought.
“I haven’t quite got it yet,” she murmured, stunned by the power of her body’s response to him. “More.” She ached for more.
Without hesitating, Mateo wrapped her up in his arms and pressed her in close enough that she could feel the hard bulge at his crotch. His mouth was more commanding this time, almost urgent. God, he was soft and hard at the same time. And his tongue…it wound around hers, seeking, exploring, igniting something deep within her. A moan trembled in her throat.
Mateo backed her up until he had her pinned against the brick wall, and she couldn’t stop her hands, couldn’t hold them still. She reached around and grabbed his perfect ass, urging him to grind against her.
“Fuck, Everly,” he growled out as he kissed her jaw. “You taste like cinnamon.”
“I bake a lot,” she gasped, letting her head rest against the bricks. Mateo moved his hot mouth down her neck, licking and nibbling until her thighs were pressed tightly together, quivering like they’d forgotten how to behave. Good grief, she was out of practice…
Mateo traced his lips up to her ear. “You want to go somewhere else?”
“Yes.” Lordy, she sounded pathetic. Desperate. But seriously. Where had Mateo been all her life? He could make her laugh and pant and dance and grab his ass. There was no telling what else he could make her do.
“They have rooms to rent in the lodge.” He gazed into her eyes.
Yes. A room. A bed. Anticipation gripped her throat. “Let’s go.” She broke away from him and went for the door, but it flew open.
Three women came stumbling onto the patio in a giggling huddle. They were young, so pretty and made up that even Everly did a double take.
“Oh, hi, Mateo,” the one with the long blond hair purred.
“Hey, Chrissy.” Mateo shot her the same grin he’d been using on Everly all night.
It didn’t matter. This was Mateo Torres. She knew his reputation. Like Darla had said, he provided uncomplicated fun. To a lot of women.
The blonde gave him a perfect sex-kitten glance. “I didn’t know you were here tonight. I would’ve saved you a dance.”
“I’m here with Everly,” Mateo said, not glancing at her. “Her friend set us up.”
The unnecessary explanation recoiled through her. Her friend set us up. Right. Because he wouldn’t be here with someone like her by choice. Seriously. Look at those women. They were gorgeous, dressed to seduce, the kind of women Mateo preferred. And she was simply on a pity date. “It was a blind date,” she informed them, with a cold look directed at Mateo. “He had no choice in the matter.”
He winced. “That’s not what I—”
“You go on a date with someone you don’t even know before calling me?” The blonde gave him a pout. “You know I’m always available for you, Mateo. It’s been a while.”
“I’ve been busy,” he said, having the decency to look uncomfortable. “Out of town a lot.”
“Well, now that you’re back in town, call me sometime.” Blondie ran a hand up his arm. “I’ve missed you.”
“Uh. Right. Sure.” His hand gripped the back of his neck like he’d suddenly gotten too hot.
Funny, because Everly’s whole body had frozen. So much for the hot ache of desire. A pity date was one thing, but she drew the line at pity sex.
With a little wave, the trio headed back into the party, taking the trail of Chanel No. 5 with them.
Silence pounded in Everly’s ears. See? This was exactly why she didn’t go out. Why she didn’t dance. Dwelling on the past was far less humiliating than becoming someone’s charity project. She’d agreed to get a hotel room with him, for God’s sake! All because he felt bad for her? No. She’d prove she wasn’t that desperate.
“Sorry about that.” Mateo’s eyes still wouldn’t meet hers. “They hang out at the Tumble Inn a lot.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets. Shockingly, Mateo the badass bronc rider could look seriously awkward and guilty when he wanted to.
Except he had nothing to feel guilty about. In fact, she was glad they’d been interrupted. For a brief few moments, when she’d confessed her deepest hurts to him, she’d thought she saw a flicker of recognition in his eyes, like he understood something about those wounds. But she’d been seriously mistaken. He’d only been fulfilling a promise to her friend.
“Don’t worry about it.” Everly slipped past him. “You don’t owe me an explanation. I know Darla talked you into this.” She stepped inside, but peered back over her shoulder. “Thanks, Mateo. Your three-step program was a huge help. But I think I’ll get a ride home with someone else tonight.”
Everly had to admit, when she’d marched her Jimmy Choo shoes out of the Ivy League halls of Stanford University with her law degree in hand five years ago, this wasn’t quite what she’d pictured for her future.
Dried mud caked her red rubber boots—and her jeans, for that matter. From the feel of it, she even had a smear of mud on her cheek. But it was hard to complain too much with that view staring her in the face.
From anywhere on the small farm she leased, she could see some of the tallest mountains in Colorado. They stretched out on all sides, surrounding the valley of Topaz Falls, sealing it into its own beautiful haven. Back in San Francisco, she’d never really noticed the sky. But here that royal blue sea above the mountain peaks stunned her every single time. Being covered in mud was a small price to pay for living in a place she loved and finally following her passion.
Though she was starting to feel less and less passionate about waterfowl.
Reaching up, she swiped the mud off her face and stomped across the pen that housed the resident chickens and ducks.
Ducks. Why had she wanted ducks anyway? Sure, their eggs were rich and made her cakes and scones extra fluffy, but had she known what kind of trouble Walter would cause her, she would’ve left his cute, fuzzy little duckling ass at the feed store last year instead of paying three dollars for him. Now she understood why he’d been marked down in the half-price sale.
“You were so adorable when you were a baby,” she muttered as she eased toward the harebrained mallard who’d cornered a squawking hen against the fence. It seemed that Walter was in one of his lusty moods again and Henrietta—who was
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