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HEALING A COWBOY’S HEART
Cowboy Dreamin’ 2
HEALING A COWBOY’S HEART | Cowboy Dreamin’ 2 | Sandy Sullivan | Chapter One
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Healing a Cowboy’s Heart
Copyright © 2015 Sandy Sullivan
E-book ISBN: 978-1-944122-01-0
First E-book Publication: August 2013
Second E book Publication: September 2015
Cover design by Dawné Dominique
Edited by Stephanie Ballestreri
Proofread by Mahalia Levey
All cover art and logo copyright © 2015 by Sandy Sullivan
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
To all the cowboy lovers out there. This is for you.
“What the hell?” Jeffery Young slammed on the brakes and pulled his beat up Chevy truck over to the side of the road.
“Where we goin’, Daddy?”
“To the south pasture, but I need to figure out what these people are doin’ on our land, buddy. You stay here.” He hopped out of the truck but left it running to keep it cool in the interior for his son. Three-year-old Ben loved to go with his dad on ranch business. Even though summer had officially come to an end, the days still got hot in Bandera, Texas. Today they’d planned to check on the water trough in the south pasture. He needed to patch it before winter set in.
“Okay,” Ben said, swinging his small booted feet.
Jeff hopped out of the truck, slamming the door behind him. “Who the hell are you? What are you doin’ on Thunder Ridge land?”
A petite blonde stood next to a larger guy he recognized from the land surveyors office in town. He noticed right away how her hair caught the sunlight, bouncing it off the curls when she turned to face him. Green eyes the color of spring grass gazed at him behind the small round glasses perched on her nose.
“What are you doin’ on my land?”
“Surveying. What does it look like?”
The woman sounded way too damned perky for his taste. “Who are you?” He turned to face the man from town. “George, what’s goin’ on here?”
“We’re doin’ a land survey, Jeff.” George motioned to the woman next to him. “This here is Terri Kennedy.”
“Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand, but he ignored it with a scowl.
“No one ordered a survey of our land. You don’t need to be on our property.”
“It’s not for Thunder Ridge. It’s for the new development.” George looked uncomfortable as he shifted back and forth on his feet.
“Get the hell off my property,” Jeff snarled. “We ain’t supportin’ the developers takin’ over the ranch land out here.”
“We have a right to use this road to survey the property boundaries. It’s a county road.”
“Not as long as you’re off the blacktop, it ain’t. It’s Young property.”
“Is he correct, Mr. Scott? Is this private property beyond the blacktop?”
“Well then, we shall move to the blacktop area.” She stomped her booted feet as she moved twenty feet up the road. Her curvy little ass bounced with each step, emphasizing the cute roundness much to his chagrin. “Now, we can continue where we left off. I’m sure you can make the adjustments to the measurements.”
The little smirk on her kissable lips drove his anger higher. He didn’t want to notice anything about the woman, but here he stood watching everything about her. “Fuck.”
“Did you say something?”
“No, ma’am. Get your business done and get off this road.”
“You know you don’t have to be so surly. I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m here as the architect for Meyer, Jessup and Cole.”
Jeff moved closer. Something about her pissed him off. Was it the development or her in general? He didn’t care. She needed to leave and leave fast. “Whoever they are.”
“They are the firm handling the land development in this area.”
“We don’t want a damn development here. We have plenty of problems with not enough open land for the wildlife around here. Having houses will take away the natural habitat.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but there isn’t anything I can do about it. I’m only here to make sure the surrounding property the developers bought will be able to handle the architecture they are planning to build.”
“Just get done and get out of here. If you ain’t gone before I get back, I’ll have you arrested for trespassin’.”
“Try it, buddy! We aren’t on your property now.”
“You were lady,” he growled, spinning on his booted heel and heading back to his truck. “Damn infuriatin’ woman. Who the hell does she think she is? This is our property. She doesn’t belong out here in her fancy shit-kickers, her designer jeans or her fancy western shirt. Like her outfit would make her fit in. Ha!”
“Yeah, buddy?” he asked, trying to calm his temper. The last thing he wanted was Ben thinking he’d gotten pissed off at him. His mother did enough damage when she had him to last a fucking lifetime.
“How come we missed the cake at Grandma’s? I wanted cake.”
“We’ll get some when we get back, okay? I didn’t think a wedding reception was a good place for you.” It wasn’t the whole truth and he knew it. He’d taken the easy way out of watching Joel and Mesa cut their cake. The wedding was beautiful, but he just didn’t want to see his brother happily simpering over his new bride when his bitch of an ex-wife didn’t even spend their wedding night with him. She went off with her friends, got drunk and disappeared for two days while he frantically tried to find her. He should have known from day one what kind of life they would have, but he didn’t want to realize she wanted only his family’s name and the prestige of the ranchland they owned. “Grandma will save you some, I’m sure.”
He glanced at his pride and joy. Even if he hated his ex, at least she’d given him Ben. He loved the kid with everything in his heart. His boy was turning into a miniature of himself from the tip of his straw cowboy hat to the belt buckle he insisted on wearing. The kid was cowboy to the bone. No doubt about it. Not like he had much choice since all eight of his uncles were cowboys and so was his granddad. They ran Thunder Ridge Cattle Ranch including the small dude ranch they’d turned the place into to supplement their income.
He took his job of feeding his pony to heart too. Every morning they went out to the corral behind the main house, fed and watered the small horse before any other chores were done.
“Let’s get this done then so we can go back for the cake.”
Jeff glanced in the rearview mirror only to catch the woman watching him pull on down the road.
* * * *
Terri shielded her eyes from the glaring sun as she watched the man slowly pull down the road. She noticed his long, lean frame when he’d climbed out of the cab of his dirty, old truck. He definitely had cowboy down to an art from the top of his cowboy hat to the tip of his dirty boots. She could tell he was the real deal unlike the men she knew in Houston. Even though Houston was smack dab in the middle of cowboy country, most men she dated weren’t cowboys. They were strictly corporate types—suits, ties and penny loafers.
Too bad she couldn’t see his eyes. You could tell a lot about a man by his eyes.
Oh well, he’d been so pissed off at her being there, it’s not like he would have looked twice at her anyway. She glanced down at her outfit. The new jeans, western shirt and pointed toe cowboy boots looked cute this morning when she’d put them on, but up against his tattered jeans, plain blue T-shirt and worn boots, she looked like a city slicker. Not something she wanted. She needed to fit in according to her clients. She had to rethink her clothing choices apparently.
Getting in with the locals was a priority. She needed information on the water levels, plants, wildlife and other pieces of the puzzle to be able to put together the plans for the housing development, and who better to get it from than one of the local cowboys.
She looked at George wondering whether she could get the information from him. Nah, he seemed like a nice enough guy, but he wouldn’t have the ins and outs knowledge of a cowboy. Hmm. Maybe she could stay at one of the local dude ranches and pick the brains of the wranglers. Yeah. Sounded like a good idea to her.
“Hey, George. I know there are several dude ranches around here. Which one do you think is the best?”
“Like the one that belongs to the cowboy who just chased us off his land?”
“Yep.” George spit tobacco juice several feet away.
“It’s the nicest in the area. They have a great main lodge, meals are included, swimmin’ pool. You name it. They got it. The small little guest cabins are the best, although I hear there are ghosts in the main lodge.”
“Yep.” He scratched his chin. “One of the boys just got married this weekend to a city gal from Los Angeles.”
“There’s nine of them out there, including Jeff who you just sort of met. He’s kind of testy, that one. Doesn’t take kindly to strangers on their property. He’s been very vocal about hatin’ the land developers buyin’ up the property out here.”
“I gathered that.”
“He’s got a real piss pour attitude about him these days. ‘Course with his ex bein’ such a bitch, I can certainly see why.”
“You could do worse than goin’ out there for a few days if you’re thinkin’ along them lines.”
“I was, yes. I need more information.”
“Get in good with one of them boys and you’ll have everythin’ you need. The family has been here for a long time. Those boys grew up here. No one knows the land like they do.”
“Thank you for the information, George. You’ve been a big help.” She glanced at the sun making a slow decent into the evening sky. “Are we about done here?”
“Yes, ma’am. Just figuring up the last of it. I’ll get the stakes posted tomorrow so you all know where to cut the parcels.”
“Thank you. You’ve been a huge help.”
“You’re welcome, ma’am.”
George packed up his gear a few moments later before they headed to where his survey truck sat on the side of the road.
Oops. They hadn’t moved the truck. It still sat on Young property. She snerked. I should have George put one of the survey stakes right there since it’s on the dirt road. Really piss off Mr. Jeff Young, the jerk.
She could see dust billowing in the distance. “We’d better get out of here. I think our non-hospitable company is coming back. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to end up in jail.”
“Jeff is a lot of talk. He wouldn’t call the cops since he doesn’t want to have to deal with the sheriff.”
“Yeah. The sheriff is who his ex cheated on him with. They don’t have much to do with each other if they can avoid it.”
“Oh. I can see why he wouldn’t.”
“Yep, but we should be goin’ anyway. You don’t want to rile the Young family. You could use them on your side if you’re set on puttin’ in them houses you’re plannin’.”
“Thanks. Let’s get out of here, then.”
George started the truck just as Jeff pulled alongside his vehicle, slowing down to glare at them from inside his own.
Damn, the man is a jerk! What an ass!
George rolled down the window when Jeff rolled down the passenger window of his. “We was just leavin’, Jeff.”
“See that you do, George. I don’t wanna see her back out here.”
Terri saw a cute little boy wave from the passenger seat and she waved back. “Cute boy.”
Jeff glared before gunning his truck, fishtailing slightly until the truck found pavement.
“Is he always so personable?”
George chuckled. “Yep. Wait until you get to know him a little better. It’s even worse when you’re close to him. He’s always gettin’ into fights with his brothers over somethin’.”
“Sounds like a charming family.”
“Oh, they’re nice enough, especially Nina. She’s his momma. Nice lady. Her sister works at the diner in town. Ann. She’s sweet too. They just don’t want to roll with the times. I’m surprised the ranch started takin’ guests.”
“They run cattle. Longhorns and beef cattle. Angus, I think. They’re kind of stuck in the past, but I think they are working towards keepin’ things more modern even though Jeff would live on the cattle alone. Unfortunately, beef prices have fallen on tough times over the last several years.”
“I wouldn’t see how beef cattle could survive out here. Or any cattle for that matter.”
“Where’d you say you were from?”
“Well then you should know the story of the longhorns. They are a hearty bunch. I swear, they can live off nothin’ for a hell of a long time. The Youngs have some great pasture land they cultivated over the years to be able to run the cattle on.”
“If you want to know ranch life, go stay out at their place.”
“I think I will.”
“Stay away from Jeff though. Talk to the other boys. They love the women, they do.”
“Great. A bunch of bachelors, huh?”
“Yep, except for the one now. But a pretty woman like you should be able to get information out of them easy enough.”
“Thank you for the compliment, George.”
George shrugged and grinned a wide tobacco stuffed grin. “Just sayin’.”
They pulled into the parking lot in front of the surveyor’s office. George came around to open her door as she grabbed her briefcase and purse from the floor. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome, ma’am. I’ll get things together and have the report for you by five tomorrow evenin’ if that works for you.”
“Perfect. I’m going to check out Thunder Ridge on the computer in my hotel room. I’ll probably be stayin’ out there by tomorrow evening so if you could, call my cell and leave me a message when it’s ready.”
“Sure.” He tipped his hat. “Talk to you tomorrow then.”
After a quick nod to George, she walked to her car and hit the key fob in her hand to open the back. She slipped her things into the trunk, then slammed the lid closed.
“Now for some dinner.” The diner sat across the street from the surveyor’s office. “Great. Maybe I can find out some information from the waitress at the diner. They usually love to talk and if she’s relation to the owner’s wife, she’d probably be more than willing to chat with me if I tell her I’m thinking of stay out there.”
The bell over the door tinkled as she pushed it open. The place seemed quiet. Great. Much easier to talk.
“Take a seat anywhere.”
She found a booth near the back.
“What can I get you to drink?”
“Um, how about a Coke?”
“Sure. The menu is by the napkins there. We have meatloaf on special today with mashed potatoes, green beans and fresh bread.”
“Oh, that sounds wonderful. I’ll take it.”
“I’ll be right back with your drink.” The waitress walked away as Terri studied her. Dark hair pulled back in a tight bun at the back of her head made her features sharp. Long straight nose and high cheekbones spoke of a Native American heritage somewhere down the lineage. The woman was stunning.
When she returned a few moments later with her drink, Terri asked, “Might you be Ann?”
“Yes’m. What can I do for you?”
“My name is Terri Kennedy and I’d like to know about Thunder Ridge Guest Ranch. Can you help me?”
“Certainly, sweetie. My sister and her husband own the place. You won’t find a better time if you’re lookin’ for some real cowboyin’ and ranch life.”
“You ain’t from around here, huh?”
“How can you tell?”
“The clothes for one. You dress like a city girl, but you have a Texas accent.”
“You caught me. I’m from Houston. I’m here on a little business, but I wanted some authentic cowboy exposure.”
“You ain’t gettin’ it in Houston?”
“I live in the city. There are a few ranches around, but I wanted to see what the Hill Country cowboy ranches are like.”
“You’ll get in out there for sure.”
“Sounds like a great recommendation.”
The bell dinged behind the counter. “Be right back. Your dinner is ready.”
Terri sipped on her Coke while she waited for Ann to bring back her plate. There were a few other patrons in the place, but they all looked like they belonged there. Wow, did she feel out of place.
“Here ya go.”
“Looks fabulous, Ann. Thank you. Do you run this place all by yourself?”
“For the most part. I have a couple of girls who help during the rushes and the cook, but otherwise, it’s mostly me. I worked the late shift today so I could be at my nephew’s weddin’ this afternoon.”
“Oh, yes. George told me one of the boys out there got married today.”
Shit. I need to keep my big mouth shut if I plan to pass this off as a simple trip and not arouse suspicion. “Yes.”
“Scott? The land guy?”
“He helped me out on the back road. I got stuck. He must have been out there doing some surveying or something.”
“Seems we’ve had quite of bit of city folk gettin’ stuck out on the back roads. Runnin’ out of gas and such.” Ann’s eyes narrowed and her lips firmed into a straight line.
“Oh?” She needed to be careful or her cover would be blown before she got started.
“Yeah. It’s how Joel met his bride. She ran out of gas back there near their ranch.”
“How utterly romantic. The cowboy rides away with the girl on the back of his horse.”
“Hey, Annie? Can we get some more coffee?”
“Hold your drawers on, Mick. I’ll be right there.” She glanced down at Terri with a smile. “Enjoy your dinner. I’ll check on you in a bit. Holler if you need anything.”
The meatloaf melted on her tongue. She’d never tasted anything so good in her entire life. Within minutes, she’s wolfed down her entire dinner and licked the fork clean.
“You must have been hungry,” Ann said, bringing her another Coke.
“Apparently. You’d think I was starving or something, but you made the best meatloaf I’ve ever tasted.”
“Thank you. My cook does most of the meal prep, but I still do a few things myself. The meatloaf is one of them.”
“I love someone who appreciates good food.”
“My stomach loves you.” She grabbed her wallet. “Here’s a twenty. Keep the change for such fantastic service and food.” With her purse in hand, she scooted out of the booth. “I’ve got a reservation to make for the ranch tomorrow night.” She hugged Ann. “Thank you again. You’ve been great.”
“You’re very welcome. I hope you come by again before you head for home.”
“Definitely! I wouldn’t miss it.”
Terri pushed open the door, catching the fragrance of lilies hanging in the baskets near the front of the diner. A cool evening breeze had worked its way up, bringing the temperature of the day to a tolerable level. Rain clouds threatened and she knew enough about the weather to know it would storm soon. She loved thunderstorms but getting caught in one in the middle of Texas Hill Country wasn’t a great idea. Flash floods happened regularly although she doubted they had them in town. It was the outlying areas that had to worry more.
She drove her car to the small motel, which wasn’t much, but it was clean and homey. She liked the room with its wrought iron bed, homemade quilt and fantastic lacy curtains. It reminded her of her grandmother.
As she opened the door, the cooler air of the room hit her in the face. Now, the temperature seemed almost cold. She quickly turned the thermostat down. A bath would be nice. Her suitcase lay open on the bed with all of the clothing she’d brought for her two week stay in Bandera. She might have to check out the western wear store in town to see if she could find something not so citified. They had faded jeans these days. Maybe she wouldn’t stick out so much. She glanced at her boots. She needed to go walk in some mud with them or something. Scuff them up a bit so they didn’t look so new.
Jeff’s boots looked well worn.
“What the hell made me think of him? He’s difficult, cranky, egotistical, and he’s going to be a pain in my ass. I just know it.”
She grabbed her pajamas before she headed toward the bathroom for a nice long soak. She’d even found some bubble bath in the bathroom when she’s checked in so she could have bubbles, hot water...ah. Relaxing. She needed it after her week at work, the long trip from Houston to San Antonio in her car and being threatened with jail because of where she stood.
“Enough! I don’t need to think of him. I’m sure I’ll be dealing with him soon enough when I show up at his family’s place. My stay should be interesting.”
The next morning Terri packed her suitcase, stuffed it into the trunk and headed back out to where she’d been the day before with George. The country was beautiful in the bright sunlight of the fall. Texas junipers dotted the landscape along with a multitude of rocks, brush and flowers. They sure had a different type of shrubbery than she had in Houston.
City blocks with its skyscrapers reaching for the heavens from every angle, left something to be desired most of the time.
She’d grown up in a small suburb of Houston and enjoyed the camaraderie of knowing her neighbors. Her high school had a small class and when she’d gone away to college in Houston, it had been a culture shock. The classes were huge. Teachers didn’t know the students names and the campus stretched for miles.
The many years she’d spent studying for her architecture degree stretched on and on. Oh, she’d made friends, but it wasn’t the same. She really wished some days, she had a close friend to just talk with, call on the phone or have lunch with.
She’d been working freelance for herself since she left her first job out of college two years ago. It was great working for herself, especially when she had a multi-million dollar account hanging in the balance like this one for the developers, but lately her existence seemed lonely, even to her.
At thirty years old, she really needed to quit jumping around so much. Her parents wanted her to settle down and raise a family, but she hadn’t found the guy she wanted to settle down with yet.
She’d had a couple of boyfriends over the years too, but nothing serious. No one could live up to what she had in mind for her forever love. The man she had in mind had dark hair, pretty blue or gray eyes, a kick-ass smile and a killer body. He needed to be the same age as her or a little older. He’d have a great job. Some money saved. Maybe even a retirement plan.
A giggle escaped her mouth. Didn’t she just have it all planned out even though she had no prospects of a boyfriend, much less someone to settle down with.
The gate to Thunder Ridge came into view. She hit the buzzer on the com when she drove up to the stone pillar.
“Can I help you?”
“Terri Kennedy. I’m a guest.”
The wrought iron bars slowly slid open. Interesting.
Several longhorn cattle grazed in the distance. A large home could be seen behind the trees as she drove up the long driveway. Several smaller cabins stood to the right when she pulled up in front of a three foot wall that separated the drive from the walkways. “What a cool set of buildings.” A huge barn stood off to the back and she could see several cowboys walking around the corral. It looked like they were about to take a group of guests out on a ride. She’d have to take one while she stayed here. It’d been years since she’d been on a horse.
A gorgeous looking cowboy stopped at her door. Dark hair framed his face and he had the most amazing blue eyes she’d ever seen. They reminded her of crystal blue water like you see in the pictures of the Caribbean. She opened her door. “Hello.”
“Can I help you with your luggage?”
“I only have one suitcase, but if you’d like to grab it out of the back, I’ll get my computer case. Thank you.”
“My pleasure, ma’am.”
“And you are?”
“Damn you make me feel old with the ma’am stuff.”
He tipped his hat. “Sorry. It’s part of how I was raised, ma’am.”
“Thank God for cowboys,” she murmured.
“Oh, nothing.” Joshua put her suitcase near the door of the car as she grabbed her briefcase and computer bag from the backseat. “Can you tell me where to check-in?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll take you in there.”
She followed the gorgeous cowboy up the walkway to the side door made of wood. The damn thing must weigh a ton. He pushed it open and preceded her inside. “Follow me.” They walked through what appeared to be a huge dining room with several wooden picnic type tables and one huge table at the front of the room. A staircase sat to the back leading up to what she assumed would be the guestrooms in the main lodge. This is where George said they had ghosts. She looked around quickly, but didn’t see anything. Stupid. Like they show themselves in the daytime!
“Ma?” Joshua yelled. “I have a guest with me.”
“I’m in the office.”
“Follow me, please.” He led her around the coffee station, through a large archway and into the hallway where she could see an office to the back of the room. “Here you go.”
“Thank you, Joshua. I think I can handle it from here.”
“All right. This is my mother, Nina. She handles the guest registration.” Joshua set her suitcase against the wall.
“Terri Kennedy,” she said, holding out her hand to shake Nina’s.
“It’s nice to meet you, Terri. Welcome to Thunder Ridge.” Nina glanced at the card on her desk. “I have you in one of the outside guest cabins for a two week stay. Correct?”
“Great. I just need your credit card and we’ll get your key.” Nina glanced at Josh. “You can go back to work now, son. I can show Terri where she’ll be stayin’.”
“Uh, sure.” Josh looked back as he walked down the hall and ran into the doorframe.
She giggled as he turned beet red.
“He’s a good man. You seemed to have turned his head.”
“What are you hoping to accomplish while you stay here, Terri?”
Shit! Did she somehow find out about what I’m really doing here? “Just some hometown cowboying and ranch life.”
“You have a Texas accent. Where are you from?”
“They don’t have dude ranches there?”
“Well yes, but I wanted to come out to Hill Country and snoop around a bit. I’d love to talk to some of your sons about the cowboy way of life. I hear you have nine?”
“Ah yes, my sons. I’m sure they’d love to spend time with you. A pretty woman always gets their attention. They enjoy talkin’ about ranch life.”
“Perfect. I need to make some notes on different things about the ranch too. The soil, the water, the plants...you know.”
“Yes. Um, I’m a conservationist.”
“We have some very interestin’ things on our land. I’m sure you’d love to explore. I could probably even convince one of the boys to take you out ridin’ if you like to ride, so they could show you around the property.”
“Absolutely, Nina. Thank you.”
“We’ll let you get settled in your room. Lunch is at twelve-thirty and dinner is at six. We ring the dinner bell outside and inside so you should hear it anywhere you are.” Nina handed her the copy of her receipt and her key. “Follow me. I’ll show you where your room is.”
She followed Nina out the main doors and to the left. Two small cabins set off a little ways from the main lodge, each with two doors on them.
“Each cabin has two separate rooms that are connected by a door, but it will be locked between you and any other guests who might rent the room across from you. It’s empty at the moment.” They reached the door to the cabin. “I hope you’ll be comfortable.”
“I’m sure I will. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. See you at lunch.”