Free Read

Dear Readers,
Please enjoy Chapter One of Back in the Rancher’s Arms as my way of saying “Thanks” for checking me out. (Best viewed on Desktop or Tablet to prevent formatting issues)

Back in the Rancher’s Arms is a sweet, second-chance romance set in a small town in Texas. I hope you love Dylan and Kayla as much as I do and you decide to order the digital book from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, or iTunes. Currently available for pre-order and will be released on 4/9/18. Remember, the greatest compliment and you can give an author if you love their writing, is to take the time to post a review. As a debut author, it’s ten times more important. Thanks everyone. Enjoy!

 

Chapter One

Kayla stepped out of her SUV and barely missed a steamy
pile of horse manure. Too bad she couldn’t avoid the crap
she would step into coming home. She couldn’t not come to
her cousin’s wedding, even if it meant facing Dylan for the
first time in years, and it was time to break the news of the
partnership she’d been offered to her parents.

She popped open the rear door and picked up her bags,
careful not to lean against the dusty frame. The wheels of
the heavy suitcase kept catching on small pebbles as she
dragged it down the driveway to the front porch, balancing
the garment bag across her shoulder. She entered the old
house, the screen door slamming behind her.

“Mom, I’m home,” she called out loud enough to wake
the neighbors, even if they were a good half mile away. It
was the only way to be heard above the noise of the oversize
fan that sounded more like a John Deere tractor barreling
through the living room.

Nothing in the room had changed since her last
visit home at Christmas, but then, it never changed. Old
furniture with faded fabric. Throw rugs covered scuffed and
cracked wood floors. The baby cradle and wooden rocker
handcrafted by her great-grandfather.

Three generations of Anderson family portraits lined
up in a row, hung on the wall. Their calm faces judging.
Always judging. Just like her parents.

And then there was her picture. The one who dared to
leave.

“Mom. Dad. Anyone here?” she called again, this time
from the base of the stairs leading up to the second floor.

“Kayla?” Her mother came through the kitchen door
with a large bouquet of fresh-cut daylilies in one hand, the
other arm wide and waiting.

Kayla inwardly chuckled when she saw her mother’s
outfit. White stars the size of Texas duplicated themselves
all over the bright-red pantsuit; the homemade eyesore one
of Kayla’s least favorites.

“I can’t believe you’re here. And for a whole week. It’s
been a long time since you’ve been home.” Her mother
pulled her into a tight hug, but not before Kayla saw the
mist in her eyes.

“It’s good to see you, too. You know how it is, school
and work keep me crazy busy. And being the new assistant
at the vet clinic means low man on the totem pole when it
comes to time off.” Not to mention Riverbend, Texas, wasn’t
on her list of favorite places.

“I’m looking forward to when you graduate and move
back home. The distance issue will be a thing of the past
when you open a clinic in town. I thought when you got into
vet school I’d see you more often since it’s only a few hours
away, but I understand.”

Her understanding wouldn’t last to the end of the
weeklong visit. “Hmmm. Thanks.”

“Let me put these daylilies in water and get the
Elephant Ears out of the oven. I made them just for you.”
Her mother paused at the door and glanced down the hall
before entering the kitchen.

Puzzled, Kayla followed. “Yummm. I can’t wait.”

“I wasn’t expecting you this early.”

The familiar smell of vanilla and maple filled the room.
Her stomach rumbled in anticipation of her favorite pastry.
It was a popular treat, especially at state fairs, but no one
could make them as good as her mother.

“I told you I’d be home around one. I’m only thirty
minutes early.”

“Perfect timing for a fresh, hot batch right out of the
oven.” Her mother moved the baked flat dough from the
oven to the baker’s rack. “Big and puffy, just the way you
like them.”

“Great. They smell amazing. Where’s Dad?” Kayla
asked, happy to have sidestepped the moving home
comment.

“With the drought, nothing much makes him happy
anymore. But finding out you were coming home for a
week, well, that’s made him happier than I’ve seen him in a
good long time. He’s probably still in the barn. I’ll send…”
Her mother’s gaze darted over Kayla’s shoulder, toward the
kitchen door. A flicker of guilt flashed across her face.

“Send who?” Kayla asked.

“Ummm, nothing. I forgot something is all.”

She picked up a warm pastry and blew on it. One bite,
and her mouth exploded with the delicious taste of maple.
Warm, sweet, and wonderful.

“Hmmm. These are as delicious as I remembered.”

“I’ve got your favorite toppings. Chocolate and
bananas.”

“Then I’d have to wait until they cool.” She laughed.
“Maybe on the second one.”

She often wondered about the secret ingredient her
mother used, but every time she asked, the answer was
always the same. Love.

“I’m glad you like them. There’s something I need to
tell you since you’re here.” Tight lines formed across her
mother’s forehead.

“Is everything okay?” Her mother sounded nervous,
and it was unsettling.

“The thing is I didn’t know he, I mean he—” Her
mother’s gaze shifted to the right, past Kayla.

“She’s trying to tell you I’m here.”

A wave of heat coursed through her veins. Her stomach
pitched like it was falling from the top of the Grand Canyon
into the deepest part of the ravine.

Dylan. Damn it. Dylan.

She swung around to face her first love. The man she’d
given her virginity to. The man she’d been all too willing
to give up her dreams to be with forever. The man who’d
ripped her heart to pieces when he walked away and then
betrayed her in the worst way possible.

He was the man who’d managed to get both her and her
ex-best friend, Becky, pregnant.

“What are you doing here?” Contempt dripped from
her voice, but the words fell flat. Five years to prepare a
scathing remark and none of them surfaced to rip his heart
out, to give him a small taste of the pain she’d felt when he
walked away.

The urge to hurt overrode years of determined effort to
forget him and move on. One small setback. She took a deep
breath and tried to refocus her energy, to return to the hard won
inner peace she’d carved out for herself.

“Hello to you, too, Kayla.” His familiar grin mocked
her. “But to answer your question, I’m fixing the roof.”

Tall, dark, and better than an Elephant Ear. Nothing
puffy about him. Bulging pecs filled his T-shirt and made
it look like it came from the boys’ department. Rock-hard
triceps stretched the cotton short sleeves to the limit. Jeans
that dipped low in the front, weighed down by a large silver
buckle with the letter H emblazoned across it.

Hunter. A few other H words came to mind. Handsome.
Hunk. Hot. The list went on. History. Hurt. Hell.

And heartache. Don’t forget the heartache.

It wasn’t fair. She wanted him to be out of shape or
balding, anything other than I-still-want-you sexy.

“Does it have to be done now? Maybe you can come
back in a week?” Anything, as long as he didn’t stay here. It
was bad enough she’d have to deal with him at her cousin’s
wedding, anything else was beyond the realm of acceptable
torture.

She was over Dylan, but it didn’t mean she was ready to
play nice. And it didn’t mean her body had gotten the over-him
message.

“I asked him to fix the roof, honey,” her mother chimed
in.

She shot her mother a pleading look. After all these
years, surely her mother wasn’t still holding out hope for her
and Dylan to make peace with one another. But then again,
she’d always liked Dylan, even when he’d broken Kayla’s
heart and walked away, her mother had defended him. But
then again, her mother didn’t have all the facts. No one did.

Resentment burned like bile. This wasn’t the time or
place to unload on the man she’d once thought of as her
knight in shining armor but who had turned out to be
nothing more than a self-serving rat. But it didn’t have to
stop her from taking back some of the dignity he’d stolen.

She plastered a smile across her face and looked
squarely at her mother, fighting the urge to look at Dylan. A
quick escape upstairs was her best bet to avoid the current
situation. She picked up the garment bag, slung it over her
shoulder, and reached for the large suitcase. “Right. I’ll just
take these up to my room.” She was hoping Dylan would
take the hint and leave.

“See you soon, Kayla,” Dylan said before turning back
to her mother. “Mary, the roof’s mostly done, and I’ll finish
it up tomorrow morning. Thanks for the Elephant Ears.
Derek and I always appreciate them.”

Kayla paused at the doorway.

Since when had her mother started cooking for the
Hunter brothers? And how dare Dylan ignore her request
to stay away? He knew why she didn’t want him here. At
least half the reason anyway. What is he up to?

“If the roof is mostly fixed, there’s no urgency. The
forecast isn’t calling for rain, so I’m sure you can leave it
until after the wedding. It’s going to be hectic around here,
and having a repairman underfoot will only add to the
stress.” Kayla looked Dylan straight in the eye, challenging
him to contradict her.

“Kayla,” her mother choked out.

“It’s okay, Mary,” Dylan said. His intense gaze fixed on
Kayla. “I’m not a repairman. I’m a friend of the family, and
I’m fixing the roof to help my neighbors. And even though
it hasn’t rained in a long time, a storm can pop up without
warning. You won’t be able to get rid of me easily until
after Saturday. No matter how much you want me gone,” he
added, his voice flat and final.

Kayla glanced uneasily at the stairs, eying her escape
before she turned back to Dylan. Her curiosity slid into
overdrive.

“Why not?”

If Dylan was going to be blatant, then so was she. She
wasn’t a naïve schoolgirl anymore—her days of agreeing
with him simply to earn his approval were over long ago.

“Haven’t you heard?” The first hint of a smile tugged
at his lips. Whatever he was going to say wouldn’t be good.
Kayla kept quiet, waiting for the proverbial cowboy boot to
drop.

“I’m the best man at the wedding. I guess it’s lucky for
you I live next door, or I’d be sleeping in the guest room
next to you.”

Kayla closed her eyes and drew in a deep and ragged
breath, trying to stop the rollercoaster of emotion rushing
through her veins. Her heart galloped wildly out of control.
No way. This couldn’t be happening.

Best Man. Maid of Honor.

What the hell were her cousin and Ethan thinking?

Ethan, Casey, Dylan, Randy, and Tommy, otherwise
known as the Fearless Five, always stuck together, but Ethan
and his cousin, Casey, were like brothers. She’d mistakenly
assumed he’d be the best man when she’d agreed to be maid
of honor.

“Why is Ethan settling for second best? Is Casey
unavailable?” She saw no reason to hide her disdain.
A pained look crossed Dylan’s face. “Casey died in
Afghanistan over a year ago. Guess you’re stuck with me.”

A sick feeling landed with a thud in the middle of her
chest.

“What?” she gasped. “Casey?” She rubbed her arms,
seeking warmth and comfort, anything to shield her from
the truth of Dylan’s callously delivered news. She looked to
her mom for confirmation.

“I’m sorry, honey. It’s true.”

Fun loving, happy-go-lucky Casey is gone.

Dead.

She didn’t come around much, but someone should
have told her.

She’d followed the Fearless Five around for years,
mostly because of Dylan, but the others had tolerated her
presence, and she’d grown fond of them all. It had been like
having five big brothers, at least until her feelings for Dylan
had changed.

Remorse stuck in her throat, making it almost impossible
to speak. The depth of pain in Dylan’s voice had been real.
Her heart ached for all the guys. Dylan included.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” She reached out to touch his
arm. She didn’t have the heart to be mean after hearing the
news. The guys must have been devastated, along with the
entire town. Casey had been a down-home country boy, a
lot like apple pie. He was sweet and could entice anyone
who dared to resist his appeal.

It couldn’t be any clearer she was no longer a part of the
town. She was an outsider and couldn’t remember feeling as
alone as she did right now.

Strike that. There were two other times in her life she
felt this alone, both Dylan’s fault. Experience didn’t make
the pain any less to bear.

Dylan glanced down at her hand on his arm before
leveling her with a hard glare.

“There’s a lot you don’t know. Maybe finally coming
home you’ll learn some of it.” Dylan tipped his hat low,
turned, and left.

There’s a lot you don’t know, either, you two-timing
jerk.

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this, please consider ordering the book.

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

KOBO

iBooks

My newsletter is a great way to stay in the loop for exciting news, fun tidbits and giveaways!

HEA NEWSLETTER

 

Advertisements