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 Two!
“Yes, I’m Felicity Lightburne,” she managed to say. She stepped forward and extended her hand to him.
“I’m Dwayne Carver.” He took her hand, his fingers warm and wonderful against hers. He easily stood over six feet tall and sandy blond hair peeked out from under his cowboy hat. A different one from Friday night, Felicity noted.
“Sorry about the dunking,” she added as he pumped her hand. Sparks traveled up her arm and popped through her shoulders. He pulled his hand away quickly and stuffed it in his pocket.
“You ruined a three-year record, I’ll have you know.” He sounded grumpy about it, and his bright blue eyes crackled with lightning. “And my best pair of boots.”
She glanced at his footwear, which seemed just fine to her. “I played softball growing up.” She didn’t mention her father had coached her. It seemed like every thought in her mind contained the painful reminder of her dad, even here, miles and miles from where all the memories had been made.
“One ball.” He shook his head, the hint of a smile pulling at his strong mouth. A twitter started in her stomach, one that chirped of his handsomeness, his chiseled features, his strong arms, and legs, and spirit.
Felicity tamed her thoughts and adjusted her hat on her head, certain the morning sun wasn’t the only thing warming her. “So I was told I could board my horses here.”
Dwayne glanced at her car, his eyes stalling there as he took in the bright red muscle car. “You drive that?”
“It’s a mustang,” she said with a little shrug.
He chuckled. “A mustang. Right. So you didn’t bring ‘em with that.”
“No, my brother brought the horses when I moved here last week.”
“Last week,” he said softly. Then he perked up. “You’re boarding?”
She nodded, almost wilting with his proximity. “Yep, boarding.” Her voice scratched against her throat, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Let’s go get ‘em. You have a trailer?”
She met his eyes again, almost falling into their depths. Catching herself before she turned into pudding at this cowboy’s second-hand boots, she said, “No trailer. Can’t pull it with that.” She smiled at her car. It had been good to her over the years.
“No, I don’t suppose you can.” He grinned too, making him so good-looking, it should be a crime.
“Where you livin’?” He took slow steps away from the parking area, and she went with him.
“Out near the Hammond peach orchards?” Why she phrased it as a question, she wasn’t sure. “I’m renting a cottage on Bartlett Street.”
“Yeah, I know the area.” He cast her a quick smile and ducked his head. “So I’ll hook up my trailer and we’ll go get your horses. Then I can show you around the ranch and we can talk about what we need you to do here at Grape Seed.”
He obviously wasn’t the one who’d called and interviewed her. She’d remember his rich baritone voice, as it sent a bolt of heat straight through her. She needed to get a grip on her emotions before they stampeded her.
He’s just another cowboy, she told herself as she followed him toward a four-bay garage. He’d either find her too masculine for his taste, as most of the other men she’d dated had. Or he’d treat her as just one of the guys, overlooking her femininity completely. She preferred both of those to the men who seemed cowed by her, and at least he hadn’t done that.
She jumped in to help him hitch the trailer to the truck, and then she climbed into a new, nice vehicle. Black leather and the scent of oranges greeted her, and she realized that this ranch had a lot more money than the one she came from.
“All right,” he said in that sexy-sweet drawl of his. “So you must have your horses over at Levi’s.”
“Yeah,” she said. “How’d you know?”
“He’s the only operation with horse boarding.” He filled the seat next to her, his cologne like a siren’s call to her. She hadn’t come here to find a boyfriend. Hadn’t even thought about dating a man in a few years now. She’d just needed somewhere that wasn’t filled with memories of her father. Somewhere to find refuge from the storm her life had become without her dad in it.
But as Dwayne rumbled down the lane and then turned on the road and headed back to town, Felicity thought he might just be an added bonus to her move to Grape Seed Falls.
Say something, Dwayne told himself. Say something. Say something. Say something. He couldn’t think of a single thing to say to the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid eyes on.
Finally he came up with, “So what brings you to Grape Seed Falls?”
“This job,” she said, almost woodenly. He cut her a glance but didn’t know her at all and couldn’t tell if his question had annoyed her.
“My dad said you trained horses at a ranch near Dallas.” His curiosity had always gotten him in trouble, but he couldn’t help himself. He wanted to know everything about her, including how long she thought she’d be with the ranch.
“I did.” Another two-word answer. Anxiety attacked him, making his leg muscles tight and the tremor in his right hand more pronounced. He’d trembled the teensiest bit while they were shaking hands too, but he’d pulled away quickly and hid his hand in his pocket. Felicity hadn’t seemed to notice, something for which Dwayne was grateful.
“Who taught you how to train horses?”
“My dad.” She folded her arms over her stomach, and Dwayne took it as a hint to stop asking questions. He gripped the steering wheel with his right hand to keep his infirmity dormant. At least Levi’s farm was on the west side of town, same as the ranch, so the drive wouldn’t take long.
They arrived in record time, and Dwayne almost leapt from the truck before he flipped it into park. His anxiety couldn’t be caged sometimes, and at least he could release some of it into the wide sky above Levi’s stables.
“They’re down here.” She nodded toward the pastures that bordered the entire east side of the property. “I’ve come to ride them before.”
“Every day, I bet.” He stepped to her side, wishing he could position himself on her right, which was ridiculous really. He wasn’t going to hold her hand. But, if he did, he’d want to hold her right with his left so his tremors could stay secret for a while longer.
Might as well tell her, he thought. She’d find out soon enough. All the cowboys on the ranch knew, and he loved that he didn’t have to hide it from anyone out there. He was more self-conscious when he went into town, held his hand in a fist in the grocery store, and sat with his right side against the wall when attending church.
Before he could say anything, Felicity made tiny clicking sounds with her tongue, and two horses in the pasture lifted their heads and came toward her eagerly. They had similar markings for a pair of paint horses, though one boasted a darker shade of brown than the other. The smaller one arrived first, lifting her nose over the fence and accepting Felicity’s touch.
He watched the woman and felt her love for her horses permeate the air. She seemed crisp around the edges, but possessed softness too. His own smile melted across his face as he gazed at her. With a start, he realized he was staring—and turning into a marshmallow just watching this woman interact with her horses.
“So what are their names?” he asked, reaching out to stroke the second horse as it arrived.
“That’s Linus,” she said. “He’s getting old. This here’s his younger sister, Lucy.”
“Linus and Lucy,” Dwayne repeated, happiness slipping through him. “Funny.”
“The car is named Charlie Brown.”
Dwayne tipped his head back and laughed. “So you’re a real Peanuts fan.”
“My father loved the Peanuts.” Her demeanor changed as if a switch had been flipped, and Dwayne sensed the sadness in her.
“Loved?” he asked, unable to censor himself. “Does he like something different now?”
She shook her head, her throat working as she swallowed. She leaned forward and put her forehead against Lucy’s. “He—he’s—” She exhaled, a blush rushing into her face.
“It’s fine,” Dwayne said. “I’ll go find Levi.” He edged away from her, half-hoping she’d call him back. She didn’t, and he gave her the space he sensed she needed.
He found Levi in the tack room of the front barn, and Dwayne admired the newer equipment, the airy space, the clean floors. His tack rooms out at Grape Seed Ranch definitely needed an upgrade.
“Morning, Levi,” he said, causing the other man to turn.
“Dwayne.” Confusion crossed the other man’s face. “What brings you out here?”
“Felicity Lightburne has her horses here. We’re moving them to my ranch. It’s part of our agreement.”
“Oh, right.” Levi glanced out the window, but it didn’t face the direction of the pastures. “She mentioned she’d be starting there soon.”
“Today.” He ran his fingers over the stitching on a saddle hanging on the wall. “Heard anything about the auction in Austin?”
Levi paused in his work and nodded, a knowing glint in his eye. “Yeah, Clarion Champions will be there. Rumor is they’ll have six horses up for auction.”
Dwayne’s first love was horses, but Grape Seed Ranch was a cattle operation. He couldn’t do everything required to keep eighteen thousand head of cattle cared for and alive and train horses. Thus, the addition of Felicity to the staff.
But Dwayne hoped he could learn from her—and the fact that she was beautiful had nothing to do with his desire to stick to her side and take notes of everything she did. No, it did not.
“Probably be expensive,” Dwayne said, his thoughts spinning from Felicity to horses and back again.
Levi chuckled and went back to organizing his toolbox full of horseshoeing equipment. “No doubt. You gonna go see what they bring?”
“Definitely.” Both men laughed, and peace settled in Dwayne’s soul. Levi was just like him: A first son who’d taken over the family business, and they shared an unspoken friendship because of their choices.
He nodded out the window. “Looks like she’s ready to go.”
Dwayne leaned forward so he could see out the window too. Felicity passed in front of him, leading both horses with a set of reins. “Yeah, and I’m her ride.” He sighed like it was a terrible thing to be.
“And her boss, right?” Levi jostled some tools, creating a metal-on-metal sound that grated against Dwayne’s nerves. He could never be a farrier. Too many loud noises that sounded like explosions. Too much hot iron that reminded him of the scent of a bomb.
“She’s my new trainer, yes.” He reached up and pushed his hat lower on his head as if Levi would see the heat rising through his neck.
“She any good?”
“My father seemed to think so.” Dwayne turned to leave the tack room so Felicity wouldn’t wonder where he’d gone. “You can’t steal her from us.”
“I can try!” Levi called after him. “Especially if she’s good!”
Dwayne chuckled, but his determination was set. Felicity was his horse trainer, and he wouldn’t let her go without a fight. As he emerged into the bright sunlight, a thought struck him like lightning.
He was prepared to do almost anything to keep her at Grape Seed Ranch, and he hadn’t even seen her work with a horse yet.
Inhaling deeply, he told himself to pull back on the reins. Just because she was pretty didn’t mean she was interested in him. She clearly had something plaguing her, the same way he did.
He found himself offering a prayer on her behalf as he hurried over to the horse trailer and got it unlocked for her so she could load Linus and Lucy. They took some coaxing, but eventually she had them tied in and ready to roll.
“So.” Dwayne took a moment to adjust the air conditioning once he’d climbed into the cab of the truck. “Breakfast?”
She whipped her head toward him so fast, a flash of pain stole across her face. She rubbed her neck and squinted at him. “Breakfast?”
“My mom’ll have somethin’ at the homestead we can eat.” He flipped the truck into gear, cursing himself for making the meal sound like an invitation to dine with him alone. Wondering why the mistrust had entered Felicity’s expression so quickly. Clenching his right fist to keep his tremors dormant just a little longer.