Her Last Billionaire Boyfriend Chapters 1-3

January 27, 2019 Liz Isaacson

HER LAST BILLIONAIRE BOYFRIEND is coming on February 5, but you can read the first three chapters right now! You can preorder the book on Amazon right now and have it show up on your Kindle on release day.

CHAPTER ONE:

Adele Woodruff slid her hands down the front of the jeans she’d put on in the dressing room, wondering why she hadn’t gotten a more physical job sooner. After all, working twelve hours a day on her best friend’s ranch had proven to be the best weight loss solution she’d ever found.

She was down fifteen pounds now, and these jeans showed curves she’d forgotten she had. She turned and looked at her behind in the mirror, deciding these were definitely the jeans she needed. Adele was currently counting pennies to make sure she had the money necessary to pay her bills, but these jeans had practically been made for her body.

So she’d get two pairs. That was reasonable. She worked on a ranch now, for crying out loud, and while she’d only been there a few weeks, her clothes had taken a serious toll. The jeans she’d brought with her were ratty and perpetually dirty, so getting a couple of new pairs wasn’t unreasonable.

If only her debt collectors understood what was reasonable and what wasn’t. If only Hank, her no-good, used-to-be-stinking-rich ex hadn’t put all of his expenses in her name and then skipped town. As one woman at a credit card company had told her several months ago, she didn’t care who’d racked up the debt. The fact was, the account was in Adele’s name, and the payment was due on the fifth of each month.

Each and every month.

She’d disputed a couple of the bigger cards and found some relief that way, but they’d only offered her a lower payoff amount, with a more aggressive payback schedule.

She pushed the thoughts of Hank and his monumental debt from her mind. She needed jeans and boots to work on the ranch, period.

Oooh, boots, she thought, and detoured over to the shoe department. So the two pairs of boots she bought weren’t exactly what one might need to work with goats on a rescue ranch—or what Scarlett, the owner of Last Chance Ranch, hoped would become a rescue ranch. But Adele needed the ankle boots nonetheless.

With her purchases in the back of her car, she stuck the key in the ignition and sent up a prayer. “Come on,” she whispered. “Please let it start quickly.” She used to pray that she could get the sedan to start on the first try. But she couldn’t remember the last time that had happened, so her pleas to the Lord had changed into just let it start before I melt in here.

Sometimes that worked, and sometimes she had to get out of the car and take a break to breathe before trying again. Today, in the mall parking lot, God answered her prayers, because the car started on the third try.

“Thank you,” she said, slapping the steering wheel. “This might actually be a new record.” She flipped the car into gear and started toward the grocery store. She had dozens of ideas for her food videos, but she was on a very strict budget for them. Yes, her Instagram channel was fairly new, with only about a hundred and fifty videos. She posted a new one each morning, and that meant a lot of cooking in the evening. It meant shopping several times a week. It meant spending money she almost had.

But her popularity had been growing lately, especially as she focused more on feeding a ranch crowd than doing what some of the other foodie video channels did—anything and everything.

No, Adele wanted to be niched down, because the audiences there were hungry and loyal. The potential to stand out skyrocketed, and she hadn’t seen anyone else doing Beef’s Greatest Hits or Budget Meals for Two.

She’d done both of those, but now that she was on the ranch, she wanted to focus on a more country-style approach to cooking. Things that had to simmer and stew, like chicken pot pie or beef tips and gravy. She wanted to do cowboy pizzas, and rustic desserts, and down-home cooking anyone could do.

Anyone with a single hotplate, the most expensive lights in Hollywood, and four video cameras, that was. She’d found all of the equipment from one of Hank’s storage units several months back. After all, her name was on the lease, and she was the one they’d contacted when he’d stopped paying the bill. Her choice was to lose everything in the storage unit to an auction or come clean it out.

She’d gone and cleaned it out, finding several treasures—the lights and cameras had sparked her idea to start her own food videos, and she’d sold everything else to pay off one of Hank’s cards.

Her channel made a little bit of money now, and she’d vowed to use only that income to buy the groceries she needed for the videos. She was putting a hundred percent of her earnings back into this business, but it was small and fledgling, and she believed in it.

She selected the cuts of meat she needed, then the vegetables, always planning and double-planning her menu to use a lot of the same items so nothing went to waste. She had a good stock of staples—flour, sugar, salt, garlic powder and other spices—by now, and most of her expenses went to the protein she was cooking, or the dairy aisle. Because wow, she’d never really paid attention to how expensive heavy cream was.

She knew now.

She checked out, her bill coming twenty dollars over what she’d made the previous week. It’s okay, she told herself. She’d make that twenty dollars back this week with her amazing apple turnover video and the watermelon gazpacho she had planned.

With the food in the backseat next to the boots and jeans, she got behind the wheel again, once again praying for a miracle.

She twisted the key. Nothing happened. Again and again, she tried and the engine just clicked. “Come on,” she said, a hint of desperation in her voice. She wiped the back of her hand along her forehead and ignored the people walking by as they headed into the store.

Next time, she told herself as she tried again. And again. She started saying it out loud, but when she’d been trying to get her stupid car started for fifteen minutes, she left the key in the ignition and got out.

Frustration boiled within her. Why couldn’t Hank have had a new Mercedes in the storage unit? She could’ve used that. Guilt immediately cascaded through her. She knew God had blessed her with the lights and filming equipment, and she’d spent hours on her knees thanking Him. So she couldn’t be upset about what she didn’t have.

And yet, she was.

She paced away from the car, the air hot in the parking lot. At least there was a breeze. The car had working air conditioning, if she could just get it started, but the windows didn’t roll down. So she really couldn’t sit in it for very long, trying to get the blasted engine going.

If she didn’t get back up to the ranch soon, Scarlett would wonder where she’d gone. And Adele didn’t want to explain anything, even to her best friend. No one knew about the foodie videos, and she wasn’t ready to tell anyone yet.

She returned to the car, actually somewhat disappointed that no one had stolen it while she’d taken her walk around the parking lot. “They probably tried,” she muttered. “And couldn’t get it started.”

She sighed as she got behind the wheel again. Yes, she’d lost some weight, but she had a lot more than fifteen pounds to lose to be considered anywhere close to thin. She left the door open and turned the key again. Counting in her head, she made it to ten, then twenty. She coached herself to get to thirty, then forty, then fifty before she gave up, got out, and kicked the tires.

She didn’t make it to fifty, because the engine turned over on try number forty-six.

“Hallelujah,” she said, reaching to pull the door shut. She really needed to get Scarlett’s new cowboy-slash-mechanic to look at her car. But Hudson Flannigan had been so busy with projects around the ranch, and Adele didn’t know him well enough to ask.

Besides, she couldn’t pay him. That had kept her mouth shut too.

She flipped the car in reverse and slammed her foot on the gas pedal at the same time she checked behind her. Her car moved, and it seemed to be going at the speed of sound, especially when she saw the huge, white truck behind her.

A horn sounded. She slammed on her brakes. The sedan jerked to a stop. Or had she hit that truck?

Her heart beat in the back of her throat as she put the car in park and opened her door.

“What are you doing?” a man demanded, coming around the front of the truck to see if she’d hit him. She was wondering the same thing, but his condescending tone lit a fire inside her chest.

Or maybe that was this man’s rugged good looks. His long legs and broad shoulders. That delicious cowboy hat he wore, revealing only the hint of sandy blond hair, neatly trimmed. His beard was cut close too, revealing a strong jaw Adele could grip while she kissed him.

She shook herself. Kissed him? What in the world was that? Adele was not interested in this pretty-boy cowboy, though her pulse testified that oh, yes she was.

The cowboy hat and boots were obviously for show, because his jeans looked like the ones she’d just purchased. Brand new. Not a speck of dust anywhere. The boots too, looked like he’d never stepped foot on a ranch, a boarding stable, or even dirt.

He wore a shirt in a lighter tint than summer grass, and he clearly had more money than he knew what to do with. When he looked at her, she forgot where she was and why she was so sweaty.

Sweaty. Oh, man, she was so sweaty from her fight with starting the car. Why couldn’t she meet handsome men while she was dressed in a flirty skirt and with her makeup done just right?

Embarrassment crept through her, but she lifted her chin. This guy was no different than Hank. Sure, he had a black cowboy hat and a pair of boots Hank wouldn’t be caught dead wearing, but other than that, he was exactly like her dirty, rotten ex-husband.

“I didn’t hit your precious truck,” she said.

“Came real close,” he said.

“Yeah, well, real close and contact are two different things.” She turned and started back toward her seat. He grabbed her arm, and dang, if that didn’t send fireworks and a raging inferno of fury through her bloodstream.

She glared at his hand and then up into his eyes. “Get your hands off me. And move your truck. You’re causing a traffic jam.”

The cowboy removed his hand from her arm as if he’d been burned. He had the decency to look cowed by her. Embarrassed even, hopefully that he’d touched her without her permission.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“You don’t need it,” she said, getting behind the wheel and closing her door. At least the car was still running, the air conditioner blowing.

She looked in her rear-view mirror to see the big truck still blocking her and that delicious man still staring at her.

It was easier to glare than to smile, and besides, Adele was not interested in another billionaire boyfriend. Oh, no, she was not.

CHAPTER TWO:

Carson Chatworth didn’t want to get in his truck and leave without getting that pretty woman’s name. But she wasn’t budging from behind the wheel of her car, and he really was causing a traffic flow problem in the parking lot.

He decided he didn’t care. He’d been in California for approximately seventy-two hours and the traffic here was the worst he’d ever seen. Of course, anything was going to be worse than Gold Valley, Montana, where he’d been born and raised. With a population of only fifteen thousand, the traffic could never be that bad.

He glanced around the grocery store parking lot, thinking there were probably fifteen thousand people here right now, trying to get something to eat.

Taking a deep breath, he strode over to her window and knocked on it. She shook her head like mad, her short blonde hair flying around that beautiful face. “I just want to ask you something,” he said.

“My windows don’t roll down,” she said, and he could barely hear her through the glass.

“I don’t believe that.”

“Believe what you want.” She didn’t try to roll them down, which meant she’d lied to him. Had he really been that rude? She’d almost smashed into his truck, and that, plus his dogs, was all he had left from his almost forty years in Montana.

“Fine,” he practically yelled, frustrated at her and hungrier than he’d been in a while. “I have ways of finding out who you are.”

That got her to get out of the car, and she almost hit him with the door as it came flying open violently. “Are you threatening me?” she asked, her blue eyes blazing with fire. “I didn’t hit you. Go away.”

“I just want to know your name.”

“Well, too bad. I have no business with you.”

“I’ll find out.” Why he cared, he wasn’t sure. Maybe because she was the first person to make him feel alive since the sale of the ranch. And if he were being honest with himself, long before that even.

“What are you going to do?”

“I got your license plate number. I’ll make a few phone calls.” He had money, and while he’d never had to throw it around to get what he wanted, he could learn. Oh, yes, if there was one thing Carson Chatworth was doing these days, it was learning all kinds of things he’d never thought he’d have to.

He rounded the front of his truck, catching her muttered, “I hate men like you.” He paused, wanting to go back and explain that he really wasn’t a bad guy. That she stirred something in him, and he simply wanted a way to contact her later. Maybe take her to dinner so they could get to know each other better.

Their eyes met, and something super-charged flowed between them. For him, it was attraction, but for her, he suspected it was being classified as something else entirely. Probably anger.

That pink tint in her cheeks was so sexy, as was that brilliant, blue tank top and the cute little straw hat she wore. Everything about her appealed to him—well, except the glare. He could do without that.

He tipped his hat at her, glanced at her license plate again, and got behind the wheel of his truck. Once he was out of the way, he reached over to the glove box and got out a slip of paper to write down the letters and numbers before he forgot them.

Then he left this grocery store completely. There would be another one not too far away, and Carson needed space to think.

What he really needed was someplace to call home, as he’d been on the road for over two months. Living in hotels and campgrounds was not the life for him, and he’d applied for a couple of jobs in the area, at local ranches and boarding stables. Surely his lifelong ranching skills could get him on somewhere, preferably Last Chance Ranch, which had advertised a cabin to live in as part of the wages.

He got a sandwich and just drove, having nowhere to go until his interview tomorrow. So he’d drive until he got tired of the vibrations of the road beneath him, and then he’d find a hotel.

With something substantial in his stomach, he reflected on the scene in the parking lot. He hadn’t sworn at that blonde woman, or really said anything too bad at all. She’d almost rammed into him, and he was merely checking his vehicle. She’d got out to check too.

Feeling okay with his actions, he rolled down his window and let the warm air blow in. His cowboy hat threatened to get blown away, so he took it off. He cast it a glare, like it was responsible for his father’s drinking habit and his brother’s online poker addiction.

The debts they’d racked up over the years would’ve taken Carson his entire life to pay back, and he supposed he should be thankful that the Lord had provided him a way to get out from under their actions. Get away from them.

And he was grateful for that. But he was also angry and heartbroken that he’d had to sell Cobble Creek Ranch to do it. He’d only known a Montana summer in all of his thirty-eight years of life, and packing everything he owned into the back of this truck and crossing state lines had cost him more than he’d imagined it would.

But Terry hadn’t called once since Carson had left, and he supposed he should put that in the blessings column too. If he were counting those at the moment, which he wasn’t.

His father hadn’t tried to reach him either, and Carson hoped the two of them were still alive. He didn’t hate his father and his brother; he just didn’t want to be saddled with taking care of his father’s failing health when he did nothing to follow the doctor’s directions. Nor did he want to watch Terry play games online when he could be working to bring home the money they needed.

“Disabled,” fell from his lips, along with a scoff. Terry was not disabled. He just didn’t like working.

“Not your problem anymore,” Carson said, and he was at least right about that. But the loneliness he’d experienced since leaving behind everything and everyone he’d ever known had hit him hard. Maybe that was why the woman in the parking lot had lit such a reaction in him.

Tired of driving already, he pulled off the highway and used his phone to find a hotel. Calls, texts, and mapping were about all he used his device for, but it was the best one money could buy.

He’d managed to get the family lawyer on his side and together, they’d split the money from the sale of the ranch so that Carson got fifty-one percent, with the other forty-nine being split between Terry and their father.

Didn’t matter. Carson had become a billionaire overnight, and while the number was less in Terry’s bank account, there were still nine zeroes at the end. Well, there had been when Carson had left the state of Montana. Who knew what his brother had spent in the past ten weeks.

Another problem Carson didn’t have to deal with anymore. His money was safe, protected where neither his father nor his brother could ever access it. He’d bought a new truck, and a new hat, and packed Ted and Tony into the back before driving away.

“Time to stop driving away,” he told himself as he went inside to see if this hotel would let him have dogs. The dog waste bags on a pole in the middle of the front lawn was encouraging, and sure enough, they gave him a room for the night no problem.

Now he just had to survive another lonely night before his interview. Yes, his two black labs were great company, but they didn’t speak English. They couldn’t give advice. He did steal comfort from their loyalty and devotion to him, but what he really wanted was a friend.

He wanted to know who that blonde woman was, and how he might be able to see her again. Because if she would just listen to him, he could explain that he hadn’t meant anything by asking her if she’d hit his truck. If they could just talk, then maybe he could ask her out. Maybe he wouldn’t have to be alone forever.

* * *

The next day, he skipped his morning prayers like he’d been doing for months. God had never seemed to hear him in Montana while he pleaded for a solution to their financial problems that would allow him to keep the ranch he’d grown up working. No, every solution required the sale of their generational land, their herd, crops, all of it.

Not wanting to dwell on the negative, he didn’t kneel down as soon as he rolled out of bed. And he’d been happier—at least he thought he was. He worked now, thought things through, and went with what his gut told him. He used to think that was God, leading and guiding his life, but now he wasn’t so sure.

Maybe God had abandoned him the way his mother had, all those years ago. She’d been the one to teach him how to fold his arms, how to say a prayer, how to look on the sunny side of life. But apparently, even she had a limit, and she’d left his dad and Cobble Creek Ranch when Carson was only twelve years old.

“Two interviews today, guys,” he told Ted and Tony, brothers from a litter he’d bred on the ranch. “Let’s hope we get one of them, okay? Then we can find a real house to live in.” He straightened his hat and grabbed his duffel bag before heading out to the truck with the dogs.

Last Chance Ranch sat a few minutes up a canyon, the ranch on a bluff that overlooked the valley and bordered the Angeles National Forest. It was beautiful land, and he passed a couple of parked cars for sale at the intersection where he turned to go up to the ranch.

A few minutes later, he arrived at the front gate to the ranch, which was being guarded by a legless robot. It looked like it might be a mailbox, but it was in serious need of repair. He eased his truck by it, noticing instantly that this place was in the process of getting cleaned up.

And whoever was doing it, was doing a great job. And they need help, he thought as he passed a couple of roads on his left and nothing but farmland on his right. His heart took courage at the familiar sight of a ranch, and he liked the aura of this place immediately.

He pulled into the driveway of the homestead, as a woman named Scarlett Adams had instructed him, and he said to the dogs, “Okay, so I’m going in. You stay here. I’ll be back,” before facing the house.

His nerves fired on all cylinders as he walked up the sidewalk, noticing the grass had been freshly cut but that the flowerbeds were bare. The scent of cattle and sunshine hung in the air, and there was no better balm to Carson’s soul than that.

After knocking on the door, he only had to wait a few seconds for a redhead to open the door. She was pretty, like the blonde, and yet his heart didn’t flounce around in his chest like a fish out of water the way it had at the sight of the other woman.

“Hello,” he said, smiling at her. “I’m Carson Chatworth.” He extended his hand for her to shake, which she did.

“Come on in,” she said, falling back and turning as she walked. “I’m Scarlett Adams. I’ve got my associates with me today.” She pointed to a cowboy sitting at the kitchen table, which had been turned to face the door. “Hudson Flannigan. And Adele Woodruff.”

Carson almost fell down at the sight of Adele Woodruff—the woman who’d almost hit his truck in the parking lot yesterday. Well, now he knew her name, and he hadn’t even had to make any phone calls or toss any money around.

CHAPTER THREE:

Adele stared at the cowboy walking toward her. She could not believe that it was the same, arrogant fool who’d practically threatened to call the cops on her. I got your license plate number.

She hadn’t hit his truck, and she’d sat fuming in her car for a good five minutes before she’d tried backing out again. She’d managed to do it without getting another crazy cowboy in her face, and she could not believe he was here right now.

What was God trying to do to her? Hadn’t she suffered enough already?

“Hello,” Carson said to Hudson, his smile perfectly in place. He shook Hudson’s hand and then presented his hand to Adele.

She didn’t want to make a scene, so she held out her hand and let him pump it. Zillions of butterfly wings burst to life along her skin where he touched, and her eyes met his for a moment as Scarlett sat at the table.

Adele pulled her hand back, shocked—literally—by the physical reaction to Carson. She’d only had this reaction to a man a couple of times in her life—and she’d ended up married to Hank.

“So,” Scarlett said, beginning the interview while Adele clenched her arms across her chest. “You worked a ranch in Montana?”

“I owned the ranch,” Carson said, his voice full of confidence. Adele couldn’t help scoffing, and it was a bit too loud as her best friend turned to look at her. Scarlett’s eyes held a question, but Adele wasn’t going to answer it right now. She didn’t want to answer it ever.

“Why don’t you own it now?” Hudson asked, and Adele thought that was a very good question indeed.

“I had to sell it,” Carson said. “And I’m looking for a new place to be.” His voice held something softer in the words. Something Adele couldn’t process fast enough, but something that touched her heart—and that really annoyed her.

“Mostly horses?” Scarlett asked.

“Horses, cattle, whatever,” Carson answered. “I can clean stalls and do ranch maintenance. I can fix fences, and feed animals, and assess their needs. I know agriculture issues and have managed the farming aspect on a working cattle ranch.”

“Finances?” Scarlett asked, scribbling the things he’d said like she’d go back and read her notes later. No, Adele knew Scarlett, and if Carson could do half the things he’d just said, he’d leave this kitchen with a job.

Her heart couldn’t decide which it wanted. Having him here on the ranch every day meant she’d likely have to see him. They’d have to talk about what happened in the parking lot. She’d have to admit that she was just having a bad day, was stressed, and just wanted to come back to her private cabin here on the ranch.

He’d tell her why he was so upset, and why every pair of jeans he wore looked brand new, and why that dimple in his left cheek was so adorable.

“I had an accountant,” he said, and she stopped fantasizing about things she had no right to fantasize about. “But I knew what was going on. We met regularly, and I could definitely do that too.” He flashed another smile, this time right at Adele, before turning back to Scarlett. “Whatever you need.”

Whatever you need.

Adele decided she needed to make a Needs List and hope he’d come knocking, offering her the same thing he’d just offered to Scarlett. She gave herself a little shake. No, you don’t, she told herself.

She didn’t need Carson to fulfill her needs. She was doing that all by herself, thank you very much.

“Great.” Scarlett reached across the table and shook his hand again. “You’re hired. Adele, will you take him over to the Community and let him pick out a cabin?”

Oh, no, This wasn’t happening. Adele kicked Scarlett under the table in a not-so-subtle way, because Carson saw everything. She had a distinct feeling that he didn’t miss much, and that scared her as much as it excited her.

Scarlett looked at her, dozens of questions in her eyes. “What?”

Adele gave one quick shake of her head, but Carson stood up. She couldn’t say anything in front of him anyway. She hadn’t told Scarlett about the incident in the parking lot yesterday, and now she’d have to.

Scarlett stood. “Adele will take you over,” she said. “I’m assuming you need somewhere to live? We have cabins on-site, and that’s part of your pay.”

“Sounds great,” he said, glancing at Adele and then looking away. Smart man. At least he seemed to be learning quickly.

Adele couldn’t see a way out of taking him over to the Community and giving him a tour of the cabins. She’d told her friend that she’d do anything. Clean out stalls. Feed pigs. Whatever it took to earn the money she needed to pay her bills. And she had. For weeks, she had. And for the past few weeks, she’d actually been happier than she’d been in many, many years.

She was not going to let Carson ruin that. So Scarlett would know she didn’t like this new hire, Adele glared at her as she led the way to the front door, looking away when Carson stepped between her and Scarlett.

The heat outside hit her in the chest, and she sighed.

“Look,” he said, darting down the steps in front of her. “I’m really sorry about yesterday. Honestly, I am.”

Adele couldn’t have him being nice to her. Then she’d soften, and hold his hand, and start something with him. Because the attraction between them felt magnetic.

No boyfriends on the ranch.

Hadn’t she and Scarlett said that?

Yes. Yes, they had.

But she was pretty sure Scarlett had already started something with Hudson. So why couldn’t she have a little fun with Carson?

She shoved the thought away, noticing the dogs in the back of his truck. “Black labs?”

“Yes,” he said, walking with her as they approached the truck. “Brothers, from my ranch in Montana.”

She cut a glance at him out of the corner of her eye. “I used to have a black lab, when I was growing up. His name was Bubba.”

“They’re great dogs,” Carson said, and Adele congratulated herself on having a normal conversation with him. She couldn’t believe she’d shared something so personal, though. After all, Bubba held a special place in her heart.

“They’ll fit right in here,” she said, putting her walls back up. So he was handsome—gorgeous was a better word, actually. He smelled amazing—like pine trees and mint. He obviously had money. If she let her defenses down, she’d fall for him faster than she even knew.

“Okay.” She exhaled heavily. “Drive me over to the Community, and I’ll show you the cabins.” She started around the front of the truck. “This thing has air conditioning, right?”

He chuckled as he got in, saying, “Yes.”

Adele disliked trucks in general, because she felt fat and clumsy getting into them. She wasn’t sure where to put her foot, and she ended up half-hopping and half-falling into the truck. Carson said nothing; didn’t even look at her. But humiliation burned through her, increasing her internal temperature.

“There are thirteen cabins over here,” she said, slipping into tour guide mode. “Hudson lives in the back corner, and Sawyer’s taken the one at the end here.” He turned, and Adele continued with, “All the other cabins are available, and you can choose any one you want.”

He drove around the loop in silence, then started around again. He pulled into the driveway right next to Hudson’s cabin, and said, “I like neighbors, and the dogs will like the woods here.”

“Great,” Adele said dryly, already reaching for the door handle. “Okay, I have to—”

“Would you go to lunch with me?” he asked, totally interrupting her.

She swiveled her face toward him, sure he had not just asked her out. “No,” she said, sliding out of the truck in an ungraceful way. “Welcome to Last Chance Ranch.” She slammed the door and walked away, not even giving the dogs a pat the way she wanted to.

* * *

Adele found peace and comfort in the way her knife moved effortlessly through celery, making each piece uniform. Cooking soothed her, and she didn’t even mind the clean-up afterward.

She diced onions and celery and added them to the pot already simmering on her single hotplate. The overhead lights made for hot working conditions, but she didn’t mind so much.

After stirring the beef together with the vegetables, she then added salt and pepper and garlic salt. With her board clean, she cored her head of cabbage and chopped it up too. That went in the pot. Then chili powder, and water, and a lid.

While that simmered, she cleaned up and opened a few cans, always making sure she worked on the lovely pieces of gray marble she’d found in a thrift store on her way back from cleaning out Hank’s storage unit. She’d experimented for a week before getting the lighting settings correct, and sometimes she had to change them depending on where the sun was.

She usually cooked after her long day on the ranch, and the sun wasn’t a factor as Gramps’s cabin next door took most of the light from the sunset. The thought of Gramps reminded her that she hadn’t checked in on him yet that evening. She would when the cabbage patch stew was finished.

Cabbage felt western and rustic, and anyone could make this simple recipe. She pulled out her phone and started typing up a caption for her video—also an acquired skill over the past few months. She’d studied other foodie video accounts and took notes of when they used emojis and when they posted in their stories or how they moved links in and out of their bio.

She was still starting up, but she’d managed to get tagged by a huge account, and her subscribers had skyrocketed in the past week. That fact made a smile touch her face, and Adele held onto it, unsure of when the last time she’d grinned had been.

She hated that she couldn’t feel happiness as easily as she once had. But her life was a hundred and eighty degrees away from where it was a year ago, and she was still adjusting. At least that was what she told herself.

Finished with her caption and still waiting for the cabbage to cook, she turned away from the island in the kitchen and wandered to the front door. She’d installed an extra lock just to make sure no one came in while she was cooking.

Adele wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t want anyone to know about TastySpot or her culinary skills. “Those are still coming along,” she told herself. She hadn’t gone to culinary school, but the dream lingered on the horizon. There, but always just out of reach.

Once Hank’s debts were paid, Adele was going to look into going to classes. She’d looked before, just after Hank’s disappearance, and the price tag had convinced her to take the job here at Last Chance Ranch with Scarlett.

So while she was here, she would work hard, both with the goats and on her cooking. But if the time came that she could leave behind mucking out stalls and become a chef, she’d take it. Oh, yes, she’d take any opportunity that came her way.

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