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Dawsons of Montana series by Jan Scarbrough is a recommended read #westernromance #mustread



Let me introduce you to The Dawsons of Montana…


Titles:

  1. Brody: Dawsons of Montana

  2. Mercer: Dawsons of Montana

  3. Liz: Dawsons of Montana

  4. Ben: Dawsons of Montana


Author: Jan Scarbrough

Genre: Contemporary Western Romance

Publisher: Saddle Horse Press


Book Blurb:


Brody Blurb

When champion bull rider Brody Caldera learns his stepfather has suffered a serious accident, he heads home to the ranch he’d left behind years before. Maybe the clean Montana air of the Six Buckles Ranch, near Yellowstone Park, will help him forget his cheating ex-girlfriend. But returning will also force him to confront another woman, the one he deserted when she needed him most.


Ten years ago, Brody had chosen bucking bulls over booties and bottles, leaving ranch worker Stef Chambers to raise their daughter alone. She’s done her best to cowboy up for the sake of her daughter and build a good life for them. She can’t let Brody’s return change that. Damn the man for breaking her heart once. It won’t happen again. But Stef’s hero-worshipping ten-year-old is enamored by the famous cowboy, and Stef’s best intentions are side-tracked from day one.


Is Brody ready to be the man Stef needs, or is he just taking her for a ride? Brody has troubles of his own, dealing with his injured stepfather and a stepbrother enraged that the family cattle ranch is now a dude ranch. Is he ready to settle down and trade bull riding for a bride?


Mercer Blurb

Drake must cowboy up.


The sudden death of Mercer Dawson’s beloved father hit her hard. Everyone at Six Buckles Ranch grieved, but bright spots are appearing in the blue Montana skies. The tragedy brought Mercer’s stepbrother home and now wedding bells are ringing. The best man is a sexy cowboy and Mercer’s teenage crush. Will he notice her now that she’s all grown up?


Professional bull rider Drake Hawkins is more than a two-bit, washed-up cowboy. He’s had some hard luck, but maybe things are looking up. His best friend’s little sister has grown into a beauty, and she’s in charge of getting him to the church on time. Drake’s party-boy reputation isn’t the only thing against him. If Mercer ever learned Drake’s terrible secret, it could ruin his chance with her.


Can joy and true love grow from the shadows of guilt and grief?


Liz Blurb

It’s good to be in love, whatever age.


Producer and scriptwriter Chaz Kingston is burned out by the ruthlessly competitive world of Hollywood. He’s tired of the empty celebrity lifestyle of his ex-wife and her daughters who are only famous for being famous. He’s tired of a life chasing the next hot trend, the next hot script. And he’s mourning the senseless death of his brother. Then he’s offered the chance to write a script based on a real life feel-good family novel about a dude ranch in Montana. Maybe blue skies and open spaces are what this silver fox needs. But he never dreamed his R-and-R would include a beautiful widow.


Since her husband’s tragic death in a riding accident, Liz Dawson has done all she can to keep the Six Buckles Guest Ranch running. When a handsome stranger arrives at the ranch, she fears her daughter-in-law is playing matchmaker. Liz has already been married to two different men—one wonderful and one not so much. She doesn’t need another man in her life.


Sometimes second chances come when least expected. Can Liz and Chaz take a leap of faith…together?


Ben Blurb

Ben Dawson is a loner with a chip on his shoulder as big as the blue Montana skies he rides under every day. His widowed father’s marriage had been too quick, his stepbrother is a pain, and his stepmother turned his mother’s family ranch into a dude ranch. Ben has only returned to Six Buckles Guest Ranch to keep a promise to his late father, to watch over the ranch and his stepmother. He’s not there to get involved in a relationship, especially with a girl he knew back in high school.

Leigh Weston just wants to do her job as an event planner at Six Buckles and stay far away from entanglements. No good has ever come from them. Her father cheated on her mother, just like her ex-husband cheated on her. Her reunion with Ben leads to more than she expected, but she’s not ready to risk her heart. She exacts a promise from him that their relationship will be strictly hands-off. But when she needs a fake date to an event, Ben looks like the perfect choice. He understands the boundaries she’s set, right?

But even fake dates can ignite real romances. Are some promises worth breaking if it leads to a second chance at love?


Excerpts:


Brody Excerpt

Chapter One


Two o’clock a.m.

May 2017

Chicago, Illinois


He was home.


Brody Caldera’s heart quickened as he turned the key to the door of his high-rise apartment on North Sheridan Road. When his girlfriend Lori Ann helped him pick it out soon after they met two years ago, she’d loved the apartment’s million-dollar view of Lake Michigan. The location was trendy and close to downtown and her job at an up-and-coming ad agency. The apartment was to-die-for, and she said she’d be very happy living there alone between Brody’s business trips.


Yeah, Lori Ann was spoiled, all right. He gave her anything and everything she wanted. But why not? He could afford it. What else did he have to spend his money on but the woman he loved? Since the day he met her at a promotional event for his professional bull riders’ organization, he’d been head-over-heels in love with her. And she with him. They were a perfect match for each other. He was athletic, craved excitement, and took chances. She was sweet and calm, a great grounding rock for him. There was just something right about them together. And one day they’d get married and make beautiful blond babies together. Maybe sooner than she thought.


Even after all this time, he adored her. Still bought her clothes and jewelry. Still had hot sex with her. That’s why he’d caught an early plane home. He wanted to surprise her this morning and kiss her awake. And give her the ring he carried in his pocket.


His adrenaline surged just like it did when he was about to climb down on the back of a seventeen-hundred-pound bull. Brody slowly turned the doorknob, so he wouldn’t make noise and wake Lori Ann. She wasn’t expecting him.


What the hell?


Every light in the place was on. He blinked his eyes against the glare reflected off the bank of windows that faced the lake.


Cocking his head to the side, Brody stood at the threshold and surveyed the strange sight in the fashionable, black-and-white living room Lori Ann had decorated. It didn’t look like their peaceful living space with everything neat and in its place. It looked like a scene from a college frat party. Not that he would know firsthand, of course. He’d never gone to college and never been to a frat party, but he’d listened to a lot of stories.


Furniture was shoved back against the walls. Empty glasses and plates littered the glass table tops. Cigarette butts filled several ash trays. He’d never had an ash tray in the apartment in his whole time living there.


Lori Ann didn’t smoke. And folks didn’t smoke in Montana where he came from. He’d learned his lesson the hard way. He’d tried it once out behind the barn. His stepfather had caught him and tanned his hide. His mom had given him the what-for too. Told him smoking interfered with drawing in the clean mountain air. It made riding and roping harder work with lungs full of crap. They were right.


Tightening his jaw, Brody took a step inside, dropped his duffle bag by the entrance, and shut the door behind him. He turned slowly, absorbing the dead silence of the place and drawing in a pungent scent of skunk.


He’d smelled it before on the streets of Chicago as he biked. He’d smelled it on sidewalks in the Loop and on the L.


Brody walked over to the glass coffee table and looked down at the ashtrays, which weren’t filled with only cigarette butts, but the damp, wrinkled nubs of paper-wrapped joints.


Someone had been smoking marijuana. And by the looks of the debris, a lot of it.


So that explained why Lori Ann had been acting strange for six months. He’d overlooked red flags because he’d wanted to. But now he couldn’t. The tightening of his gut told him he’d been a fool.


A damn fool.


A pair of man’s, black leather loafers kicked off by the black leather sofa told him the same thing.


Brody strode toward his bedroom, the one he shared with Lori Ann, and turned on the light switch beside the door. The overhead chandelier illuminated the king-size bed beneath it.


The spectacle rocked him. Another man had enjoyed the fruits of his labor.


Brody planted his legs wide for balance, anger rolling through the length of his slim, muscular body. So, this is what betrayal feels like.


He reached the side of the bed in two strides and grasped the edge of the red satin sheet covering Lori Ann and another body. He tore the covering off her with a quick snap of his wrist.


“Who’s he?” he asked between clenched teeth.


Lori Ann sat bolt upright pulling the red satin sheet back over her breasts.


“Brody! What are you doing here?”


“Seems you’ve been taking me for a ride,” he said in his quiet cowboy way.


Lori Ann stared at him wide-eyed. He might not look like a cowboy with his frayed blue jeans, Chicago Cubs T-shirt, tennis shoes, and ball cap, but his jaw was set with the same cowboy determination that made him a champion bull rider and the same instinct that made him competitive from the time he was seventeen.


And that instinct was kicking him right in the seat of his pants.


The other man turned over onto his back and mumbled something about turning off the lights.


“I can explain.” Lori Ann’s voice had a frantic tone to it.


“Nothin’ to explain. I get it.” Brody didn’t need a picture drawn for him. “Be out of here by the time I get back.”


He turned on his heel and headed for the door.


“Wait!” she shrieked, ripping the sheet off the bed and leaving her bed partner buck naked sprawled out in the king-size bed. Running after him, dragging the sheet, Lori Ann caught up to Brody in the living room and grabbed him by his right arm.


Brody stopped and looked down at her. Her blond hair was disheveled. He’d seen her naked many times. Why was she hiding now behind the sheet? Shame? As if seeing her for the first time, he noticed the unhealthy pastiness of her porcelain skin and the selfish pout of her full lips.


His sister, Mercer, had warned him about Lori Ann a long time ago. He hadn’t listened then. But he was listening now.


“Where are you going?”


“I’m going home.” The idea suddenly formed in his dazed brain.


“But this is your home.”


“I’m going home to Montana.”


Lori Ann dramatically dropped the red sheet and clutched at his T-shirt. “You can’t leave me!”


“Looks like I’m about to.”


Brody unclasped her hands, one finger at a time, picked up his canvas duffle bag, and opened the door. “I’ll send my lawyer for my clothes and personal belongings.”


“But what about me?”


“I suppose you need to get yourself another sugar daddy. Looks like there’s a candidate in my bed.”


That other candidate stood barefoot in the doorway of the bedroom—his trousers hastily jerked up around his hips. “Hey, man,” he muttered. “It’s all cool.”


“Sure is. You can have her now.”


Brody glared at the idiot and turned quickly. He left his apartment before he did something stupid like knock the bastard’s lights out. He may have been played for a fool, but that was no reason to let his temper lead him into something he’d regret later.


Hiking the duffle bag over his shoulder, Brody strode down the hallway, his hands shaking worse than when he was getting ready to ride a rank bull with eighty thousand dollars on the line.


At the elevator, he punched the button for his ride down and out of a life he realized he’d been hanging on for far too long. Better to go back to the folks he used to know. Honest, decent, hardworking folks who were what they seemed to be. Not lying opportunists like his ex-girlfriend.


His cell phone buzzed just as the elevator door opened. Thinking the text was from Lori Ann, he almost didn’t remove his phone from its belt clip holster. But he did. The text was from Mercer.


Mom needs you. Dad’s had an accident. He’s in the hospital. Brody come home.


Mercer Excerpt

Prologue

Las Vegas, NV

Professional bull riders’ event

May 2017


Drake Hawkins’ heart surged. Damn! He loved this sport. No matter where events were held, they all smelled pleasantly the same—a blend of dirt, cowboy sweat, and bull manure. Spectacular explosions, pyrotechnics, and earsplitting rock music started each competition, and then the smoky smell of extinguished fireworks mixed with the other familiar bovine odors until the aroma faded as competition got under way.


Cowboy-crazed fans were the same everywhere, shouting for autographs and requesting selfies with their favorite bull riders. And there were plenty of good cowboys at each major event, from the point leaders to hot-riding kids coming up for the first time from minor ranks—all professionals wearing starched jeans and starched Western shirts, their fringed, colorful, leather chaps swishing as they walked and the star-shaped rowels on their spurs chinking with every step.


This was Drake’s life. And he loved it. He wanted to be nowhere else.


It was his best friend Brody’s life too. They’d traveled together for eight years until Brody hooked up with his girl Lori Ann. Even though their hard drinking, partying days were behind them, they continued to enjoy an off-colored joke, a slap on the back, and the kind of camaraderie only good friends could share.


“Ya’ got this one,” Brody said, as Drake climbed into the chute and settled on his bull.


“Yeah, no problem.”


Drake spoke with confidence, but he had none. Tonight, his future was on the line. He needed a solid performance in the worst way because he was in danger of being sent down to the lower ranks if he couldn’t keep up his scores.


And if he couldn’t keep up his standing and win events, he didn’t make money. What would happen to Gracie if that happened?


As he began to pull his bull rope, Drake couldn’t combat the nagging fear gripping him in the gut—not so much of falling, of getting hurt—but of failure. He’d failed once before, and the overwhelming guilt of that failure rode him hard, as hard as he rode the dangerous bucking bulls that were his livelihood.


***


Standing behind the chute ready to help Drake pull his bull rope, Brody Caldera sensed the tension in his friend, and it didn’t bode well for a good ride tonight.


Bulls won most of the battles at an event. Even eight seconds were too long for most riders who were tossed before the buzzer. It wasn’t if a competitor would be hurt, but when and how bad. Bull riders knew that. They knew the odds were against them, but they climbed on board ill-tempered bulls night after night. Whether it was pure, hardheaded orneriness that caused a rider to think he could best a bull or the lure of big money and fame, young men kept coming back for more.


Brody had been one of them at age eighteen. Right away he’d joined up with Drake, and they toured the circuit together, finally making the big times. But whereas Brody’s career was now riding on high, Drake’s seemed to be bottoming out. He’d slid in the rankings, recently fighting injury after injury. Now healed, tonight was Drake’s best shot for making a comeback.


The fifteen-hundred-pound, American bucking bull Drake had drawn was named Hang ’em High. The bovine was solid brown with a white face and clipped horns. He bucked off his rider eighty-three percent of the time and scored an average of forty-five points out of fifty. If Drake could stick this big bull for eight seconds, he’d have a good shot of a score in the eighties—a score high enough to put him into the short-go, the championship round.


Over the years, bull riders had started wearing black protective vests and mouthpieces. Many had taken to putting on a helmet. But Drake was a purest. He steadfastly refused to don a helmet, saying it hampered his line of sight. He continued the tradition of wearing only his cowboy hat.


The bull remained eerily quiet in the enclosure.


Drake adjusted his seat as Brody leaned over the chute and helped him pull the slack of the bull rope. “He’ll go left out of the chute,” Brody said.


Grim-faced, Drake nodded. “Thanks. I know.”


Drake made a hand wrap around his leather glove. He pounded the roped hand with the fist of his free hand, just as the stock contractor wrapped a flank strap around the bull’s hindquarters. Drake scooted up behind the animal’s shoulders and nodded again.


The gateman swung open the gate, and Hang ’em High blasted out of the chute as if someone had lit his butt on fire. The bull whirled left and then turned back to the right with a series of hard bucks. Drake went with him.


“Ya’ got ’em! Ya’ got ’em!” Brody repeated under his breath, excitement for his friend building with each jump, each kick. “C’mon, man, you need this one!”


The eight-second buzzer sounded.


Drake yanked the tail of the rope with his free hand and bailed out. But the rope didn’t give. He was hung up. Trying to get his feet under him while his riding hand was plastered to the side of the agitated bull, Drake fought for his life. Hang ’em High picked up speed.


The cheers of the crowd turned into screams of fear.


Three of the best bullfighters in the sport, guys who distracted the bull and protected the rider, were working hard to free Drake, who ricocheted across the dirt tied to the spinning and bucking bull. It wasn’t going well, Brody’s gut told him. Without thinking, he did the unthinkable and vaulted off the chute into the fray.


Heart pumping adrenalin, Brody threw his body in front of the bull, dodging the lowered head and horns. This gave one of the bullfighters enough time to snatch the tail of the rope, unhooking Drake’s hand. Drake soared through the air like a rag doll and hit the ground with a fierce whack, planting his face in the dirt.


The danger wasn’t over. The angry bull turned on the prone body.


Hang ’em High was within goring distance, and Drake wasn’t moving. Brody reacted. Flinging himself over Drake’s body, Brody covered his head with his arms. There wasn’t even time for a quick prayer. The white-faced bull hurdled over them both, grazing the side of Drake’s skull, and then giving up the fight, trotted like a pet dog to the center gate and exit.


Fans cheered. Bullfighters shouted, cursing Brody’s stupidity, while Brody’s ears rang with the rushing sound of his own fear.


“Ya’ okay, Drake?” he asked, pushing away from his friend’s back.


No answer. Blood oozed from Drake’s head onto the dirt.


“Hey, get the docs!” Brody shouted.


Beneath him, Drake Hawkins was out cold.


Liz Excerpt

Prologue

Malibu, California

July 2018


Charles Martin Kingston—Chaz to his friends—pulled off the main road into the parking space beside his half-brother’s twenty-five-million-dollar beach house. Fronted by the Pacific Ocean with views of the mountains beyond the highway, the six-thousand-square-foot luxury home had been his brother’s peace offering to his second wife.


Even six bedrooms, seven baths, a chef’s kitchen, infinity pool, and spa hadn’t worked. The ungrateful bitch had divorced Dalton Kingston anyway, throwing his baby brother into the deepest, darkest depression Chaz had yet seen.


Women.


His own track record wasn’t much better. He’d married once and divorced once, vowing never to get tied up with a crazy woman like Adrianne again. From the first, he should have been wary of her because she came with baggage from one failed marriage—identical twin daughters Alena and Amalee. God, he still couldn’t tell those girls apart, even though they’d turned twenty-one and he’d known them for fifteen years.


The only good to come of his marriage was his daughter Ashleigh. Fifteen—going on forty—she was the light of his life. But she was her mother’s daughter more than his. Hooked on glamor and fashion, she knew every pop trend that, of course, she tweeted, blogged, or whatever kids today did to call attention to themselves. Chaz had kept her out of her mother’s reality TV show so far, but it was getting harder to do.


Alena, Amalee, and Adrianne Wade (she’d taken back her first husband’s name) were big stars in the celebrity world. Famous for being famous. No real talent except for making themselves the objects of curiosity for paparazzi and gossip magazines. Chaz didn’t want that for his daughter.


That’s why he needed to see Ashleigh more often. Make time. Not skip his visitation. But it was all so complicated. His life. His job. This business he was in, trying to make it in the ruthlessly competitive world of Hollywood. He was constantly trying to keep ahead of the sharks that would eat him alive if he didn’t remain current. Find the next trend two years before others knew it existed. Be the first with the best script. The best ideas.


Chaz sat a moment in front of his brother’s dual garage entrances. He expelled a breath, opened the car door, and stepped out onto the pavement. California sunshine struck him with its familiar fierceness. He squinted into the glare, wishing he’d brought his sunglasses. The roar of the ocean almost drowned out the rumble of cars driving past the beachfront house.


Except for Ashleigh, Dalton Kingston was his only family. Although ten years his junior, Chaz had always felt close to his brother. But even that closeness had frayed lately.


Chaz worried about him. About the anger and despondency that ate away at his brother’s life. About the fact that he hadn’t answered his cell phone in two days.


Why did it seem as if he’d lost control of everything? If he wasn’t careful, he’d end up as miserable as his brother.


His cell phone rang. Finally. If Dalton had called sooner, he could have saved himself the trip. Chaz pushed the button to answer the call without checking caller ID.


“Mr. Kingston, this is Jane from the Morrison Agency. We spoke two days ago.”


Chaz’s shoulders slumped with disappointment. “Yes, I remember.” Regardless of who was on the other end of the line, he was always polite. Professional. One never knew when a bit of kindness and consideration would pay off.


“Did you receive the eBook I emailed you?”


Had he? Chaz couldn’t remember. “Yes, I did.”


“Great! I wanted to make sure you’d received it and that it was in the right format. I guess you haven’t had time to read it yet.”


“No. Not yet.”


“I understand.”


There was a pause. Chaz shifted his weight to his other foot.


“Mr. Kingston,” the agent began then hesitated again. “The thing is, I have another candidate for the book, but I’d really like to see you turn it into a TV script. You do such wonderful work. My client enjoys your shows on the Sweet Romance Network. She’d really love it if you’d take a chance on her book.”


Yes, wouldn’t they all? Most eager novelists with a bestseller wanted him to write their movie script or produce their books for cable television or one of the streaming content platforms. There just wasn’t enough time in the day for every one of them.


“Remind me again the name of this novel and why it’s so special?”


Under Montana Stars is a family novel. Set in Montana. It’s a USA Today bestseller as a self-published eBook. My agency has gotten involved to produce a trade paperback and handle the other rights—foreign, movie, audio book, you know.”


Yes, he knew. “As I asked, what’s so special about it?”


The agent drew in a breath and then launched. “Under Montana Stars is a fabulous book about a blended family and how they coped with the loss of the patriarch, their father and stepfather. It expresses family values—love, loyalty—things that are so hard to find in much of today’s society. It is a feel-good book. One that will give the viewers a sense of hope.”


One book can do all that?


Chaz rolled his eyes. “Sounds fabulous.”


“It really is.” The agent must not understand sarcasm because of her enthusiastic reply. “It’s written by Stephanie Caldera, wife of the famous bull rider Brody Caldera. In fact, it’s semi-autobiographical in many respects.”


Chaz had never heard of Brody Caldera or this wonderful book that had somehow broken through all the millions of other self-published eBooks to hit the bestseller list. That didn’t mean it wasn’t worth checking into, but at the moment his mind was elsewhere.


“Give me time to read the eBook, and I’ll get back to you,” he said to put off the agent.


“Oh, thank you, Mr. Kingston. You won’t be sorry!”


The call ended and so had Chaz’s patience. He was tired. Sick of people poking at him from all angles, wanting this or that. He was no magician. Hell, he couldn’t even control his own daughter or make his brother respond to a phone call.


Chaz stuffed the cell phone back in his pocket and strode to the metal gate that shut Dalton’s home from the world. He punched in the security code and pushed open the gate. Walking across the courtyard, he rang the doorbell. No answer. He twisted the doorknob. The heavy, ornate front door was unlocked.


Chaz entered and glanced around. The house was eerily quiet. No light jazz provided background music through the all-house sound system. Only the whir of air conditioning and the tick-tock of a distant clock broke the silence.


The décor was pristine white with an occasional beach scene watercolor on a wall. The Pacific Ocean was meant to be the house’s main design element and the tall picture windows exposed ocean views from every direction. Dalton’s home was built into a hillside with four stories. The top floor was the entrance and contained a few bedrooms. Chaz knew his brother never used them. He descended a staircase built into the right-hand corner of the house that would take him from the entry hall to the family area on the bottom floor.


“Dalton!” he called when he reached the kitchen on the second floor.


The sink was filled with dirty dishes and legal papers were scattered on the table. Housekeeping wasn’t Dalton’s strong suit. Folding doors stood wide open to the massive outdoor entertaining deck. Chaz crossed the deck and gazed at the ocean.


Something was wrong. He’d known it all week, but he’d tried to ignore the feeling gnawing at his gut. Now it punched him hard in his stomach. What would he do if anything happened to his baby brother?


The expansive master suite on the third floor was empty—the bedclothes rumpled, and a pair of blue jeans cast off on the bathroom floor. Chaz opened the door to the private deck and went outside. He saw the blue water of the infinity pool below. From its location one level above the sand, it seemed to cascade into the ocean.


But he didn’t see his brother.


Heart in his throat, Chaz went down the stairs one more time and came into the family room. As in the kitchen above, the folding doors stood open. Someone was stretched out in a wicker chaise lounge facing the pool and ocean. The chair was situated under the deck which had obstructed Chaz’s view from above.


“Dalton?”


No response. Chaz walked closer and paused behind the chair.


He knew what he’d find, but he had to force himself to take the last step.


Facing the rolling ocean and the brilliant orange sunset, Dalton Kingston sat with a needle sticking into his outstretched arm.


He was as dead as Chaz knew he would be.


Ben Excerpt

Chapter One

September 2017

Brody and Stephanie’s Wedding

Six Buckles Guest Ranch


Leigh Weston surveyed the buffet table and moved a couple of dirty plates from the edge to the separate dish cart. So far, the reception was going gangbusters. Her staff made sure the liquor flowed freely and the tables were loaded with food. She’d pulled off another successful wedding. A perfect night to remember for the bride and groom.


Weddings and romance had always fascinated her. That’s why her own divorce made her choice of occupation somewhat of an anomaly. Every day the paradox amused her. Leigh had never found a life partner, and she probably never would, but being an important part of the happily-ever-after of others was satisfying.


As she watched the dancefloor, she noticed Ben Dawson headed her way. She’d known Ben in school. He had been dark, mysterious, and aloof back then and all her girlfriends would have killed for a date with him. Including her. Now, dressed all in black from his jeans to his shirt and black-tooled boots and with his brooding good looks, he remained the rugged cowboy of her memories. He stopped at the self-serve punch bowl and ladled fruit juice and ginger ale into a glass cup.


“I can get you something stronger, if you like,” she said.


He eyed her, perhaps realizing he knew her. “No thanks.”


Coming over, he stood beside her quietly, drank his punch, and watched the dance crowd. Leigh swayed slightly to the music. She didn’t know what to say to him. It had been years since she last saw him.


He glanced down at her then placed his empty cup in the dish cart. “You put all this together?”


“Yes. It’s my job, and I love it.”


“I love my job too.” He hooked his thumbs in his belt. There was a self-satisfied gleam in his eyes. “I’m a cowboy. The real kind. Not like the make-believe ones that visit here.” The sarcasm was heavy in his voice.


Stef had told her Ben worked on a big cattle ranch up north. From the way he talked, she could tell he didn’t think much of the dude ranch Six Buckles Ranch had become.


“That’s a tough life.”


“Yup.”


When he didn’t elaborate, Leigh bit her lower lip. She looked up at him. “Do you remember me? From high school? I was Leigh Smith then.”


“Yup. You were a cheerleader or something.”


“That’s right.”


“One of the popular girls.”


She chuckled, a laugh as raw as an open wound. “You could say that.” How time had changed her life. She’d failed at one relationship after another before her marriage. Then after her divorce, she’d finally quit trying to find love.


More silence between them. The music swelled with the beat of another fast dance. The groom twirled the bride in his arms.


Then there he was. Her ex. Bill Weston. He fast danced with a leggy blonde. A sudden feeling of heaviness swept through Leigh’s body. Her muscles went numb. She felt dizzy. She’d never wanted to see that man again. But there he was, big as life, spoiling the whole evening for her.


“I didn’t know he was dating again.”


“Who?”


Leigh covered her mouth with her palm as she fought back the shock of saying her thoughts out loud. “My cheating ex-husband.”


Her face flushed. She didn’t want to make a fool of herself. Too late now.


The music switched to a slow tempo. Bill and Blondie plastered their bodies together. Leigh turned away. Why did it matter to her? Bill lived in the community. Belonged to the town council and wanted to be mayor. Seeing him with another woman was bound to happen eventually. It wasn’t as if he’d been faithful during their marriage. The only difference now was he felt free to flaunt his girlfriends in public.


***


Color drained abruptly from Leigh’s face. She was upset. The pretty girl he’d admired from afar during high school, the girl he had wanted to know better before all his classmates started teasing him over his father knocking up and marrying a thirty-year-old divorcee right after his mother died, needed rescuing. Ben had punished that disrespect a few times with his fists until either the taunts ended or he became immune. Maybe it was time to finally address that hurt.


“The only way to beat your demons is to show you don’t care.” He should know. He had practiced this philosophy since he was thirteen. Now he had a chance to pass on his wisdom. “Ma’am, would you like to dance?”


His long fingers wrapped around her smaller hand. She nodded and stumbled beside him into the crowd next to her ex-husband.


Ben rested his hand on the curve of her back and pulled her into his arms. She was his height and slender with dark reddish-brown hair tumbling like a heavy mane, twinkling hazel eyes, and inviting lips. They glided together as if they belonged. The feminine grace of her body, her sheer presence, shook his composure. She glanced up at him, and he glimpsed the surprise in her eyes. Did she feel these unfamiliar sensations too?


Ben squeezed his eyes shut and inhaled her scent of vanilla, her sweetness, and warmth. Suddenly, he wanted her with every fiber of his being. He had the overpowering urge to tilt her head and find her mouth. Wouldn’t that cause everyone to drop their punch cups. Ole Ben, the consummate loner, finally finding love. Who knew? Apparently, he was as normal as the next guy. They’d be chatting about this night around the dinner table for months. Nope. Wasn’t going to happen. Not on the dancefloor. Not with everyone watching.


Someone bumped him from behind. His eyes flew open.


“Sorry, bro.”


Ben hated it when Brody, the bridegroom, called him “bro.” Brody was no more his brother now than when they fought down by the corral as kids. The boy had always been an arrogant son-of-a-B. Always looking for ways to weasel his way into Ben’s father’s affections, to cut out him, the real son. One stupid comment from him would set Ben’s hair on fire and then fists would fly. Brody’s support for his mother’s scheme to turn the ranch into a successful enterprise when it had failed as a cattle ranch didn’t soften the animosity he still felt towards his stepbrother either. Sometimes he itched to give Brody a good pummeling again. As soon as night followed day, that day was coming. Another reason to avoid too much family contact. It was a good thing he had a real job on a real cattle ranch and was expected back at work on Monday.


Ben surveyed the newlyweds and his chest burned. Brody and Stef looked so happy, so in love. Regret washed through him. His adult life until now had been spent at one outfit after another, living in bunkhouses with other cowpokes. Too many one-night stands, too many women complaining about his iciness. His last steady girlfriend had hassled him, “You’re so damn detached. You never let anyone in. You’re just a cold-hearted bastard.


With Leigh in his arms, with her head on his shoulder, Ben hummed as the music and the magic of the night swirled around him.


Until that moment, he hadn’t realized how alone he was.


***


Ben pulled Leigh into his arms right beside her ex. She glanced up and him, then folded into his embrace, feeling the thump of his heart, hearing him hum to the tune of the music.


She gave herself up to the experience of being held in a man’s close embrace again. It felt so good, like that empty place within her was finally filled. Hiding her face against his shoulder, she pretended they were lovers and had a future together. A little of the numbness she’d lived with since Bill’s betrayal had made her the talk of the town two years ago softened around the edges. Maybe there was a chance she could love again.


Leigh gave herself a little shake. Who was she kidding? That was simply a pipe dream. She knew she didn’t do happily-ever-afters.


Buy Links:



Hank brings two series together: the romantic The Dawsons of Montana and the romantic mystery Ghost Mountain Ranch! https://books2read.com/HankGhostMountain



Author Biography


The author of two popular Bluegrass romance series, Jan Scarbrough writes heartwarming contemporary stories about home and family, single moms, and children. Living in the horse country of Kentucky makes it easy for Jan to add small town, Southern charm to her books and the excitement of a Bluegrass horse race or a competitive horse show.


The Ghost Mountain Ranch series is a contemporary western series with a good blend of mystery and happily-ever-after romance. The Dawsons of Montana is another four-book contemporary western series.


Jan leaves her contemporary voice behind with two paranormal gothic romances, Timeless and Tangled Memories, a Romance Writers of America (RWA) Golden Heart finalist. Her historical romance, My Lord Raven, is a medieval story of honor and betrayal.


A member of Novelist, Inc., Jan self-publishes her books with her husband’s help.


Jan lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with one rescued dog, one rescued cat, and a husband she rescued twenty-three years ago.



Social Media Links


Newsletter signup (free ebook) https://janscarbrough.com/contact/

1 Comment


N. N. Light
N. N. Light
Mar 20, 2023

Thank you, Jan, for sharing your book series with us!

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