My next release is a full-length novel in the Grape Seed Falls Romance series. It’s called CRAVING THE COWBOY, and it features a man named Dwayne Carver – does Carver ring a bell? His parents got a short introduction in the novelette, CHOOSING THE COWBOY, which came out last summer. But this year, there will be 6 more full-length novels, starting in February and running through June.
Not only is Dwayne the son of Maggie and Chase Carver from Choosing the Cowboy, but he’s Squire Ackerman’s cousin – remember him from Second Chance Ranch? Dwayne is the owner of his family’s ranch in beautiful Texas Hill Country!
And read on for Chapter Five!
Dwayne saddled Gaston faster than he ever had. He found Kurt atop a sorrel-colored horse, practically pacing as he waited. “Let’s go,” Dwayne said.
They rode out to the bullpens, which sat on the far west side of the ranch. The same side as his mother’s rose gardens, the peach and apple trees, and her vegetable garden. As early as it was in the growing season, she didn’t have much Tiger would want.
But Dwayne knew he’d find the bull out there, stomping through what she worked to keep beautiful, searching for something to satisfy his sweet tooth.
“Did you get an apple?” he called to Kurt.
“We’ve tried that. He’s not comin’ in this time.”
Dwayne set his mouth into a tight line and urged Gaston to go faster. They arrived on the west side of the house only to see everything in order. Well, not quite. Evidence that Tiger had been here, rooting for a sweet carrot or a handful of strawberries, was obvious in the torn up ground.
“Where is he?”
The radio on Kurt’s hip beeped, and Austin’s voice came on, saying, “He’s headed for the south road.”
And the south road led to town. Tiger was a regular Houdini, always trying to escape the confines of his pen. He usually just wanted a treat, but this felt like a deliberate attempt to let Dwayne know that he wasn’t happy with all the fences.
Dwayne knew how he felt. But fences kept things neat, and carrots in the ground, and bulls from goring townspeople.
“Call the Sheriff,” he called to Kurt, who managed to pull his cell phone from his back pocket while keeping his horse at a gallop. A flash of emotion struck Dwayne. He wasn’t sure if it was jealousy or inadequacy. Probably both. Because he couldn’t make a call and control a horse at the same time. Not since the explosion in Iraq.
He also hadn’t ridden this aggressively in a while, and combined with the time he’d spent on the board over the water in the dunk tank, and his bones felt like they were knocking together with every stride Gaston took.
A line of horses appeared ahead, and it took a moment for Dwayne to realize they were his cowboys. All stopped. The horses sidestepped and pawed the ground, as if nervous.
What in the world?
His heart dropped to his stirrups. Tiger had hurt someone.
But why weren’t his boys doing anything?
Please, God, he thought. Please help us get this bull contained without injury.
He pulled up at the end of the line, the last to arrive and hating that fact. As the owner, he should be the first on any scene. He should know what to do. His father would’ve been first. His dad would know what to do.
As Dwayne sucked in breath after breath, he couldn’t make sense of what he saw before him. Maybe his dad wouldn’t know what to do in this situation.
Tiger, the brownish-black bull with a white face, stood with his rump toward the line of cowboys. Three other bulls stood slightly behind Tiger, and though they weren’t as large, they certainly made a terrifying line no one should cross.
In a face-down with the four bulls was a red mustang. Not the horse. The car.
With Felicity behind the wheel.
Dwayne’s throat felt like someone had scrubbed it out with sandpaper and then lit it on fire. Men asked him questions. The radio on Austin’s hip bleeped. Kurt’s cell phone blared out its obnoxious ringtone. Jinx barked and barked, circling the bulls without tightening the radius, as if even he could sense something dangerous was about to happen.
Dwayne didn’t have time to wonder what she was doing, coming back to the ranch instead of heading away from it.
He needed to diffuse those bulls before they charged.
* * *
Felicity gripped the steering wheel. The car, though made of steel, didn’t feel like adequate protection against the eight thousand pounds of angry bull standing in front of her. The all-black animal on her right had saliva dripping from its jowls, and the biggest one lowered its head as if it was about to charge.
The car was already in reverse, but she kept her foot jammed on the brake. Number one, she wasn’t great at backing up without looking behind her. Number two, she couldn’t look away from the four pairs of bovine eyes staring at her.
Though her windows remained up, the barking from Dwayne’s dog was plain to hear. He kept moving around the bulls, as if daring them to make one false move. Jinx switched his track to a back-and-forth motion between her car and the bulls at the same time Dwayne separated himself from the line of cowboys waiting a healthy distance away.
He directed Gaston to her left, giving the bulls a wide berth. One by one, the other cowboys moved out too, all going to the left or right and creating a circle around her car and the bulls. Somehow she tracked them without looking away from the angry animals in front of her.
She cracked the window half an inch, and the volume of the barking increased. A second dog arrived, a beautiful German shepherd who didn’t seem like he spent his days snoozing in the shade.
He bared his teeth and barked, barked, barked.
“Back ‘em up, Atlas,” Dwayne called, his voice calm and tense at the same time.
Atlas snapped his teeth and lunged forward. The big bull took one step back. As if dog and bull had perfected a dance over the years, Atlas barked and snapped, lunged and flattened his body to the ground, and the bulls backed up a step at a time.
Red and blue lights flashed in her rearview mirror, but she only glanced at the Sheriff’s SUV for a moment before refocusing on the situation in front of her.
Her ankle throbbed, and she just wanted to get out of here so she didn’t have to tell Dwayne what had happened. He positioned his horse right in front of her hood, blocking her view. Frustration and fear combined into a firestorm, and she leaned to the side to keep her eyes on the four tons of bull-flesh.
Bulls aren’t horses, she told herself, something she should’ve done before she’d started this stare-down. Even the Sheriff was smart enough to stay in his truck, and he’d obviously come to help.
Dwayne waved his hand, a clear indication that she should start backing up. She eased her foot off the brake pedal and let the car’s fuel injection do its job. Inch by precious inch, she put more and more distance between her and Dwayne, between her and the bulls.
The dogs kept barking. The cowboys tightened in, making a line that now faced the bulls. They didn’t have a windshield, or metal, or anything to get them out of harm’s way, and her admiration for the ten men on horseback grew.
“Please help them,” she prayed.
Jinx’s barks intensified, and a sharp, canine yelp filled the air in the next moment. She reached for the door handle but stilled before repeating her stupidity.
Men yelled, and the Sheriff leapt from his car, his mouth moving fast as he spoke into his handheld radio.
That huge brown-black bull broke through the line, sending one cowboy flying from the saddle as he did.
“Dwayne!” she called, her fingers fumbling along the door latch despite her brain’s insistence she stay in the car!
She was barely aware of the shouting around her as she rushed to the fallen form of the cowboy she’d been fantasizing about since dunking him. Reaching him, she knelt and let her hands hover above his torso. “What hurts?”
He groaned, twisting as pain crossed his face.
“Paramedics are on their way.” The Sheriff arrived and crouched down. “Anything broken, Dwayne?”
“I don’t think so,” he said, his voice low and tired and filled with agony. Something was definitely hurt.
“Twenty minutes until they get here,” the Sheriff said.
“Twenty minutes?” Felicity asked, glancing up. “Why so long?”
“Coming from—” Dwayne tried to sit up and collapsed back to the ground. “Crawford.” He panted, favoring his right shoulder. His hand vibrated like hummingbird wings.
Pure guilt pulled through Felicity. She opened her mouth to apologize, to tell him that she’d gotten out of her car to soothe the bulls.
A scoff combined with part of a sob. Soothe the bulls. Honestly, what had she been thinking?
At least she’d made it back to her car without getting gored. But now Dwayne had gotten hurt.
“I’m sorry,” she said, slipping her fingers through his trembling ones. She held on with both of her hands, willing him to understand that she hadn’t meant to further enrage the bull, would never hurt him.
“Not your fault,” he said, his voice strengthening with each word. He squeezed her hand back.
But it was her fault.
She glanced up when someone shouted, and the Sheriff shot to his feet. “They’ve got two of the bulls contained,” he said. “That Tiger just won’t go, will he?”
“He’ll tire out eventually,” Dwayne said. He shifted and moaned. “Felicity, can you—will you—?” He lifted himself up slightly, rolling partially away from her.
She edged closer to him and he rested his injured shoulder on her knees.
A sigh hissed from his mouth. “Thank you.”
“Is it your ribs?” Felicity was about as far from a doctor as she could get, but she knew ribs took a long time to heal.
“No,” he said. “My shoulder. It’s been injured before.” The tremors in his hand started to quiet.
“Get thrown off a horse?”
Atlas approached, his tail tucked between his legs. He nosed Dwayne, a whine in the back of his throat.
“I’m okay, boy.” Dwayne reached up and scrubbed the dog’s head. “You okay?”
The German shepherd sat down right next to Dwayne’s chest and looked at Felicity as if he knew she was the cause of his master’s injury. His tongue seemed to be a mile long, and the heat from his breath brushed her fingers.
“Atlas and I used to work together,” Dwayne said.
“Oh yeah? Does he dabble in horses too?”
“Explosives,” Dwayne said. “He can sniff ‘em out better than any other dog.” He grinned at the dog, and the gesture was so sweet and sincere that Felicity’s heart melted. “Can’t you, boy?”
“You worked around explosives?” Her voice sounded almost like a whisper, filled with reverence. She wanted to know, but she didn’t want to pry.
“I was a Marine corporal, and he was a military combat dog. We worked together.” Dwayne closed his eyes, and sirens went off in Felicity’s head.
“Hey, stay awake, okay?” She stroked her fingers across his brow line and tried not to drink in handsomeness.
His eyes opened again, and they looked right at each other. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I was just coming back to feed Linus and Lucy, and there were bulls out, and I thought I could….”
He reached up with his left hand and brushed her hair off her face. “It’s not your fault. Tiger busts through the fence a couple times a year.”
She bit back the rest of her confession—the part where she got out of her car and actually walked toward a one-ton animal as if her presence alone could calm it. She nodded. “They should be here soon.”
She willed the ambulance driver to go faster and prayed that Dwayne would be just fine.