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 Three!
“Hey, Ma,” Dwayne called as he entered the homestead, Felicity just a few steps behind him. They’d unloaded the horses into their own stalls, and they seemed content for now. With the truck and trailer back in the vehicle shed, Dwayne’s stomach grumbled for something to eat.
And he needed a break from the beautiful woman trailing him around the ranch. He hadn’t been out with anyone in years, and he wasn’t sure if her small talk was meant to be polite or if she was genuinely trying to be friends with him. His brain hurt from spending a couple of hours with her, and his muscles screamed at him for a release. If he could introduce her to his parents, maybe his dad would take over the tour of the ranch.
But today, the homestead stood empty, without the scent of maple bacon, or pancakes, or even coffee.
“Huh.” Dwayne stopped in the large kitchen and turned in a slow circle. “They’re not even here.”
“You don’t know where they are?” She glanced around the comfortable house too.
“I’m sure they told me.” Foolishness blipped through him. “I’ve got a lot on my mind most of the time.” He pulled out his phone and sent a text to his mother, who might answer if she happened to be looking directly at her phone right this second.
He put the device on the counter and reached for the fridge, his hand shaking like crazy. He pulled in a breath and held it, but the tremors assaulted him now, and there was nothing to be done about them. “We had hot dogs and macaroni salad last night for dinner. Sounds like breakfast today, right?”
Felicity, who had yet to do much in the way of smiling or laughing, giggled. Dwayne paused in his extraction of the world’s best macaroni salad and twisted to look at her. Her pink lips curved up, and a blush colored her cheeks, making her freckles more pronounced. She honestly was a vision from heaven.
“I don’t think anyone eats hot dogs for breakfast,” she said, shaking her head like he was a naughty three-year-old but she loved him anyway.
He shook out the traitorous L-word and pulled the bowl of macaroni salad from the fridge. “All right,” he said. “But what about this? It’s pasta, vegetables, and Italian dressing. It’s practically an omelet.” He opened the cupboard, but only took down one bowl at a time. Sometimes, when he was really shaking, he couldn’t grip objects. And holding heavy things? Didn’t happen.
He placed a bowl in front of her with, “I think you’re really going to like this.” As he started to pull his hand away so he could gather two forks, her fingers trailed over his wrist.
Seizing, he froze. Everything in him seemed encased in cement, from his lungs, to his feet, to his eyes as they watched her trace a path from his arm to his knuckles.
Her touch was warm, and welcome, and sent pulse after pulse of desire and heat through Dwayne’s poor, dry, cold soul. He could only think, What is going on here?
Felicity didn’t know what she was doing. She wanted to touch him, so she had. “Your hands….” She let her words fade into silence, because she couldn’t say what she really wanted to.
Your hands are beautiful.
Why do they shake like that?
Are you nervous? Afraid?
Your hands are beautiful.
And he did have wonderful hands. Tan and large and strong, yet soft and comforting at the same time. She slid her fingers through his and pressed her palm to his. One squeeze, and she came to her senses.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, dropping her hand and backing up a step. The scent of the Italian dressing filled her nose with a sharp, tangy smell that suddenly made her queasy. “I’ll….” She fell back another step. “Maybe you can just show me what I should be doing.”
Dwayne finally lifted his eyes to hers, and the wonder swimming in those gorgeous cerulean depths nearly unlatched the floodgate she kept locked on her emotions.
“My hands shake,” he said, his voice no louder than hers had been. It seemed to fill the whole house though. “Well, just my right one.”
Felicity couldn’t help looking at it again. His fingers barely moved, but they definitely trembled the slightest bit. She hadn’t noticed it until he’d reached for the bowls, and then everything in her had wanted to touch him.
She fisted her own fingers, surprised and horrified at her stupidity. On the job for two hours and she was holding hands with the boss?
Stupid, stupid, stupid, she scolded herself.
“Do you want to know why?” he asked.
She did, but she couldn’t bring herself to say so. Or nod. So she shrugged. “I don’t want to intrude. I’m really sorry I touched you. I shouldn’t have—” She stopped talking when he lifted that beautiful, trembling hand in a silent attempt to quiet her.
“It’s fine,” he drawled, and she really liked the way he twanged out the word fiiine, almost like it was two syllables instead of one. He turned back to the pasta salad and used that damaged hand to pull a spoon and two forks from the utensil drawer. He scooped some macaroni into each of their bowls and started eating.
Just the thought of putting anything in her mouth made her squeamish.
“You’re not hungry?” he asked.
“I’m—” Embarrassed. Confused. Ready to get to work. They would all fit. So would Attracted to you in a way I haven’t felt in a long, long time.
Instead of finishing, she picked up her fork and took a bite of the salad, making sure to get a chunk of something green with the mouthful of noodles. Sweet and sour had a party in her mouth. She swallowed and said, “This is really good.”
“World’s best,” he said proudly, a grin gracing his face and making her heart ripple like a flag in a stiff wind. “Its won best salad at the Grape Seed Falls Family Festival for three straight years now.”
She smiled too, the gesture feeling nice on her face. She hadn’t had reason to do a lot of smiling or laughing lately, and she’d done both today already. Felicity hadn’t known why she needed to leave her father’s ranch and come here. She’d only known it was the right thing to do.
Standing in a strange kitchen and eating macaroni salad with a handsome man shouldn’t feel so right—or so scandalous. But it felt like both of those things, and Felicity couldn’t help the second smile that slipped across her face.
* * *
Only thirty minutes later, everything she’d experienced in the kitchen—the wonder, the peace, the happiness—had faded to shock.
“There are four unbroken horses here?” She looked at Dwayne like he’d just pulled an April Fool’s prank on her.
“I believe the ad said we needed someone immediately.” He watched the wild horses with his mouth set in a grim line. She much preferred the flirty, fun grin. “Now you know why.”
Four unbroken horses.
She usually worked with one horse at a time, as it was exhausting work to break and train a horse. Not only physically but mentally, emotionally, spiritually. She gave everything she had to the animal, and the patience required…well, she wasn’t sure she could do it times four.
“And it’s just me?” She disliked the squeaky quality of her voice on the last word.
His boots scuffed the concrete where they stood. “Well, I was hopin’…that is, I—I’d really like to learn how to break horses better.” His words tumbled out of his mouth now. “You’ll see that some of ours aren’t that well behaved, and it’s because I’m not the best horse whisperer out there.”
Felicity frowned, unsure of everything and turned in a slow circle as she faced the stable. Their whole herd was rowdy? She closed her eyes and prayed for strength. “So I’m going to train you too, is that it?”
More boot scuffling, and Felicity’s annoyance lifted another degree. “I don’t have time to train the horses. That’s why we have four unbroken, and a bit of a naughty herd.”
“You don’t have time.” She wasn’t sure why she was repeating his words. At least the stable seemed to be in decent repair, but she hadn’t stepped foot inside quite yet. “Are you the foreman or something?”
“No, Kurt’s the foreman.”
“What are you so busy doing then?”
“I own the ranch. Well, I will, once my father retires. But he’s essentially retired now. I do everything the owner does.” He shot her a quick glance. Nothing long enough to grab and hold onto, see how he was feeling. Although, the defeated notes in his voice didn’t fall on deaf ears.
“You own the ranch.”
“It does decently well,” he said, and she thought about the expensive vehicles in the shed. “But we need help with the horses.” He leaned against the fence now, his gaze on the animals in the pasture. “They’re great horses.”
“You love horses.” She wasn’t asking. She could simply hear it in his voice, see it in his profile.
“But you’re too busy running a cattle ranch.” She put one foot on the bottom rung and hoisted herself up so she was standing on the fence. A whistle through her teeth caught the attention of all four horses.
Only the black and white Tobiano spotted saddle horse lifted his head. She extended her hand toward him and said, “Come on.”
The horse took a few hesitant steps toward her and stopped. He was gorgeous, standing at least sixteen hands tall. Felicity felt him burrowing into the soft part of her heart, and she knew they’d get along fine.
“I’ll start with him. Does he have a name?”
She climbed down from the fence and leaned her back into it. “Okay, Dwayne. Here’s the deal.”
He looked at her, and a skitter of nerves raced through her, causing her pulse to pound against the back of her throat. “I’ll start with Spotlight. You choose one you’ll start with, and we’ll train them together. I’ll train Spotlight, and I’ll train you how to train….”
“Payday,” he said. “He’s the Rocky Mountain chocolate out there.”
She glanced over her shoulder to the horse who hadn’t even responded to her whistle. “He’s pretty.”
“He’s my favorite. I bought him only a month ago.”
She grinned at him, pleased when he swallowed hard. “You make it a habit to buy horses and then leave them out to pasture?”
“I like buying horses,” he admitted.
“And yet you own a cattle ranch.”
“Duty,” he said. “My brother left a long time ago. My sister teaches third grade. Someone has to run the ranch my parents spent their whole lives building.”
She cocked her head and tried to absorb what he’d said. “But if you don’t love it….”
“I do love it,” he said. “I love this ranch. My men. Being away from the town. I just happen to love horses more than cows.” He gave her another million-watt smile. “But the cows pay most of the bills, so I’m…dabbling in horses right now.”
Felicity laughed, the sound rich and delicious as it bubbled from her throat. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed like that. It felt good. It cleansed something inside her that had been dark and sticky before.
“Dabbling in horses,” she said. “All right.” She turned back to the chocolate Rocky Mountain horse with the flaxen mane and tail, leaning into the fence mere inches from Dwayne. “Horse training is a full-time job. Who’s gonna do what you normally would?”
She nudged him with her shoulder playfully. The gesture felt easy, yet also a bit forced. She hadn’t flirted with a man in a while. “So you’re going to work twenty hours a day?”
He nudged her right back. “Whatever it takes.”
Felicity liked his drive, his hard-working spirit, the scent of his cologne. She wondered about his tremor, and how he’d come to love horses more than cows, and if they could maybe be more than two people training horses together.
She pulled on the train of thought, trying to bring it back before it ran away. After all, she’d only met Dwayne—a man who collected wild horses like other people collected coins.
“Maybe you can teach me how to do whatever it is you do,” she said.
“Like fixing fences and painting barns and repairing training rings?”
“Yeah, like that.”
“So you’ll be dabbling in ranching.”
She’d like to think she’d be dabbling in Dwayne, but she just smiled and said, “Sure. Dabbling in ranching.”