To have and hold a cowbo.., p.1

To Have And Hold A Cowboy (Cowboy Nuptials Book 1), page 1

 part  #1 of  Cowboy Nuptials Series

 

To Have And Hold A Cowboy (Cowboy Nuptials Book 1)
 


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To Have And Hold A Cowboy (Cowboy Nuptials Book 1)


  CHARLENE

  BRIGHT

  __________________

  To Have and Hold a Cowboy

  A Cowboy Nuptials Novella

  Copyright © 2019 by Charlene Bright

  All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, without the express written permission of the publisher.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

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  To Have and Hold a Cowboy

  The Triple M Guest Ranch in Texas is supposed to be Stephanie Reynolds’s refuge, a place to escape the rigors of New York and find herself among the sage and cattle during a three-week vacation. Unfortunately, when she wakes up with the sun blinding her and a vague memory of a bar, too much whiskey, and a cowboy who may, or may not, have been a huge mistake, she wonders if her vacation is going to be as peaceful as she’d hoped. Hungover and confused, she stumbles into the day, and then into Brad McMurtry, a too-handsome cowboy who seems to take a genuine interest in her.

  As the days turn into weeks, Brad seems to go out of his way to get to know her, igniting an interest—and a fire—inside Stephanie that she hasn’t felt for a very long time. Just when she feels that she should explore this feeling, she runs into Luke McMurtry, Brad’s older brother, and the very cowboy whom Stephanie fears she has reason to regret. Could she have ruined everything with Brad before it really had a chance to begin?

  CHAPTER ONE

  Stephanie Reynolds woke up with a start. The sun blinded her, which was the first clue that she wasn’t at home. She never left the blinds open in the city. For one thing, the only view she had was the apartment across the dirty alley. There was also the creepy guy who lived in that apartment building, rarely wore more than his underwear, and seemed to be looking right at her, no matter what time of day or night it was that she looked out.

  She wiped the sleep out of her eyes and sat up, taking in the unfamiliar room. As she did, she remembered that she was in Texas at the Triple M Ranch in the Hill Country. She’d found the guest ranch online, and it looked so peaceful that on impulse she’d taken the three weeks’ vacation she’d had coming for the past three years and got the hell out of New York. Now, if she could only get the thoughts of Richard out of her head.

  It’s been two months, she realized. A normal woman would have moved on by now. A shooting pain tore through her brain at the thought of him. The whiskey she’d had last night was definitely a bad idea. On top of the headache it left behind to torture her, the pressure in her bladder seemed to be threatening to rip her wide open. She pulled back the covers and put her legs over the side of the bed, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She had passed out with her makeup on, and her big brown eyes looked like a couple of hairy tarantulas had climbed on her face and died. Her blond hair was matted in places, and she hoped and prayed that whatever happened last night that she couldn’t remember, didn’t make her the talk of the ranch today. She was wearing all the clothes she’d put on yesterday, so that was a good sign—not that she was prone to one-night-stands. But she wasn’t prone to drinking heavily and having blank spots in her memory either, so who knew?

  Last night after getting settled in her cabin, she’d walked over to the little bar on the ranch. It was a Thursday night so there weren’t many people checked in yet according to the young barmaid. There was a couple from Ohio and an older gentleman from California with whom she sat and talked for a while. She vividly remembered that, and sipping white wine, but then a group of cowboys had come in … and that’s where things got a little fuzzy.

  She remembered playing pool, which she never did, and a handsome cowboy who kept buying her shots of whiskey. She couldn’t really picture his face and didn’t recall his name, but she did remember his pretty green eyes and the fact that his body looked as if it had been sculpted out of clay. She recalled being self-conscious about being taller than he was, but that was nothing new—she’d felt that way around boys, and later men, since she was a kid. All she could hope at this point was that her impulse control hadn’t been completely crushed underneath the weight of the whiskey. She was here for three weeks and she’d hate to have to face someone with whom she’d done something stupid and couldn’t even remember.

  She got up, took care of her bladder problem, and then went into the next room to make a cup of coffee. The blinds in the front room were wide open, and in spite of the fact that her head still pounded and her mouth felt as if it had been stuffed with pillow batting, she had to stop for a second and take in the view. It was gorgeous country, and each time she looked out on the landscape she felt sure that if there were actually a place that could heal a broken heart, this was it. The whiskey was out of character for her, but now that she’d gotten the getting drunk part of being dumped out of her system, she could move on.

  She finally pulled herself away from the view, put on the coffee, and headed for the shower. When she had checked in to the ranch, the sweet woman at the desk told her that breakfast was served in the main house from seven to ten. Her stomach felt queasy, but she was hoping the leftover alcohol would be absorbed if she got something into it. She looked at the western star-shaped clock on the wall. It wasn’t even eight yet; she still had plenty of time.

  After her shower, she pulled her long, wet hair into a braid on the side. Then she put on enough makeup to make herself look at least human before pulling on jeans and a pair of boots that she’d bought for the trip. She almost burned herself because she gulped down her entire cup of coffee in a single drink. With huge butterflies taking flight in her belly, she headed for breakfast.

  The main house sat about a quarter of a mile from her cabin. As she walked over to it she saw a few of the other guests sitting on their front porches having coffee, watching their children play, or just taking in the view. She felt a tickle of sadness in her chest that she didn’t have anyone with whom to enjoy all of this beauty. One might think she’d be used to it since she rarely had anyone with whom to enjoy anything, but she supposed that wasn’t the kind of thing a person ever got used to.

  She stepped onto the wide porch surrounding the big ranch house just as the front door was pushed open. It slammed into her and knocked her backward. She missed the railing she was reaching for and landed flat on her back in the dirt. What the hell have I done to piss off the fates so badly?

  “Oh damn! I’m so clumsy. I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” The voice was unmistakably masculine and tinged with a thick Texan accent. She looked up, but there was no one in front of her. Suddenly, she felt a strong pair of hands sliding underneath her arms and then along the sides of her large breasts as they tried to lift her.

  “What are you doing? Let go of me!”

  Apparently realizing where his hands were, he muttered a “Shit!” and all at once let her go. She was suddenly looking into a pair of jade-green eyes, and for just a second she forgot she was lying in the dirt in front of the busiest building on the ranch, that if she didn’t get up before the other guests started coming out after breakfast, she would surely be the talk of the ranch. He held out his hands that were attached to a pair of powerful-looking arms and shoulders, and as if in a trance, she reached for them. He pulled her gently to her feet; it wasn’t until she was standing upright staring
at his broad chest that it dawned on her that he was a few inches taller than she was. It probably wasn’t every day that he knocked someone her height onto their butt. At least he’ll remember me. She almost smiled.

  “I’m so sorry,” he said again. Her eyes were on his face now. He was most definitely the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen in person, and he looked vaguely familiar. He was at least four inches taller than her six feet, so he couldn’t be the cowboy from last night at least. Whoever he was, though, he was hot. He looked like one of those cowboys on the giant digital screens in Times Square advertising aftershave or an all-male revue show. He appeared to be somewhere around twenty-five, but could possibly be younger; the dark stubble that covered the lower half of his face could be misleading. She was trying to keep her eyes completely away from his full, soft-looking lips.

  “Don’t worry about it. I’m fine.” She reached back and dusted off the butt of her jeans. She felt like it was big enough to attract attention without being covered with dust. When she touched it she realized it wasn’t dust, it was mud, and she’d just spread it out across her backside making it worse. It was all over her shirt, too.

  “I’m such a klutz,” he said. Those green eyes were locked on to hers, and she felt almost hypnotized by them. “I’m really sorry.”

  She smiled at him. He looked so sincere and upset that she felt sorry for him. “It’s really okay. I should go back to my cabin and change before I have breakfast.”

  “Damn, I feel so bad,” he said. “I’ll go tell Ma to be sure to save you a plate. I’ll have her save you a really big one.”

  Suddenly the spell of his handsome face and gorgeous body was broken as his words cut through her like a knife. You don’t go through life as a big-boned woman of six feet without being called a name or two. She felt the old familiar embarrassment about her size, along with a powerful sense of anger, surge through her.

  “Don’t bother!” she exclaimed, and began to storm off the porch. When she turned away from him, she felt his strong hand on her upper arm and the rush of heat from that simple touch sparked a fire deep inside her core.

  “Wait, what did I do now? Please …”

  She turned back. “Let go of me.”

  He dropped his hand with a confused look on his face. “Are you angry with me? I know I’m a big, overgrown idiot. I’m always knocking things over and breaking things.”

  “Luckily you ran into a stout girl today then, huh?”

  “What?”

  Stephanie was sure this man who stood well over six feet and was built of lean, solid muscle had never known the struggle of being a tad overweight. She was also certain he was probably involved with or married to some petite little barrel racer or Suzy homemaker, and for some reason that thought made her angry. She wasn’t usually an angry person but between her recently broken heart, her hangover, and her run-in with a cowboy that made her mouth water even as he unintentionally insulted her, she was at her limit.

  “Right. Like you didn’t notice that I was a big girl when you pulled me up off the ground. I’m sorry, but ‘I’ll have Mama save you a huge plate’ gave it away.”

  He pulled his dark brows together. “You think I was calling you fat?” He ran those sexy eyes from her face all the way down to her toes, taking in every inch of her. When his eyes found hers again, he didn’t look like he disapproved of what he saw, but she was sure that was her imagination. This guy was way too hot to be interested in a girl like her. She was trying to walk away again as he said, “You’re not fat. I would never call someone that even if they were, but trust me, you’re not. I just felt bad for being the cause of you starting your morning getting knocked down and covered with mud and wanted to do something to make up for that. I told you that I’m an idiot.”

  She wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth. Either way, she felt like a fool for bringing it up. All she wanted to do now was escape. She’d spent the last fourteen years, ever since she was eleven years old, being self-conscious about her size. She was always bigger than the other girls. She played sports in school and ate healthy, but no matter what she did she was never going to be one of the petite or even willowy girls that she and most of the world thought were beautiful. Standing nearly six feet tall in her stockinged feet, people had told her all of her life what a “pretty face” she had. Now with that pretty face all hot, which she assumed was probably bright red as well, she tried to fix things.

  “I misunderstood, sorry. I’m going to go change.” Once again, she tried to escape.

  “I’m Brad McMurtry. What’s your name?” That smooth, sexy voice stopped her in her tracks.

  “Stephanie.” McMurtry … why did that name sound familiar? Oh shit! This couldn’t be the guy from the bar; his last name was McMurtry too.… She was sure of it all of a sudden. What was his first name? Damn! She couldn’t remember. She looked back at this cowboy’s face. There was no way she would have forgotten those eyes, and he wasn’t acting as if they’d ever met. Maybe she was wrong about the name. Her brain was slightly pickled after all.

  “Mornin’, Stephanie. Which cabin are you staying in?”

  “Ten,” she mumbled, walking away before he could say anything else. She felt him watching her until she got to the end of the road. As she turned down the gravel path toward her cabin she saw him turn and walk back into the house. When she got inside she was breathless. She wasn’t sure if it was from the fall, the anxiety, or those incredible green eyes. Either way, Brad McMurtry had at least given her fodder for her fantasies.

  Since Richard had walked out on her two months ago she’d decided that she better get used to being alone. She passed at least a hundred men a day on her commute to the office. Some of them gave her curious glances, like they were looking at the Amazon woman in the freak show, but most of them didn’t even make eye contact.

  When she first met Richard, he had been overweight. He was a client at the law firm where she worked, and he came in a lot while he was going through his divorce. The first time they went out for dinner, he told her that after his wife had cheated on him, he’d filed for divorce and then had fallen into a depression. He didn’t do anything but watch television and eat when he got home from work every night. Stephanie volunteered to walk with him every day, and as time went on, they both began to change their eating habits as well. By the end of three months he had lost nearly thirty pounds. She was holding steady at five.

  Six months into their relationship, he went from wanting sex three or four nights a week to trying to pencil it in for Saturday date night. She held out another two months, knowing something was wrong but being afraid of the answer if she asked. Finally, at nine months and forty pounds lighter, he left her and went back to his ex-wife.

  Her heart was broken because she’d thought she was in love with him. It was her best friend Maggie who finally told her that she was “settling” for less than what she deserved and what she needed was to take a vacation, clear her head, and come back stronger and more confident than ever. She’d been in Texas for exactly twenty-four hours, and so far she didn’t see any of that happening.

  She stripped off her muddy clothes and took another quick shower. Once she was clean again, she put on the thin cotton robe the ranch left for guests and went to look through her luggage for a clean outfit.

  She’d just pulled out a pair of jeans when she heard a knock on the front door. It was just after eight-thirty, so she assumed it was housekeeping. She pulled open the door; Brad McMurtry was standing there holding a Styrofoam take-out container and what looked like a large cup of coffee with steam wafting from the hole in the lid.

  “Hi,” he said with a grin that sent shockwaves through her body. “I figured since I ruined your breakfast the least I could do was deliver it before I headed back to work.”

  “Oh, wow. Thank you.” She realized his eyes slipped down from her face and then returned quickly; he was probably reassessing his earlier evaluation of her body. She reached for the contain
er, and when she did she felt a cool breeze in places she shouldn’t have. She looked down and realized the robe had slipped open. It wasn’t showing a lot, but one of her breasts was partially visible. She quickly moved to close the robe, letting go of the container. It had already left his hands, and just like that, her feet were covered with warm white gravy and scrambled eggs.

  “Damn it!” The curse escaped her lips before she realized it. She was holding the robe tightly around her with one hand and looking down at the mess she’d just made. She could feel her eyes filling with hot tears, and all she wanted was for him to go away so she could sit down right where she was and cry. It was a tad before nine a.m. and she was already done.

  “Jesus, I can’t do anything right,” he said. She looked at his face which displayed the kindest look of sincerity. He was blaming the mess on himself.

  “It was me,” she said. She felt one of the tears slide out of her eye and roll down her cheek. She was having trouble holding the rest back, and her breaths were shortening. She had to get him out of here. He started to bend down and she realized he had a handkerchief in his hand. “No!” He looked startled. “I’m sorry, but I’ll do it. Thank you. Please go.”

  “Stephanie, I’m so sorry.”

  “It’s okay, really. It was me.”

  His face was a picture of agony. “I can’t leave you like this; you’re crying.”

  “I’m okay,” she said, sucking in a breath and trying to pull herself together. “I’m really okay. Please go.”

  He took a step back, but started to say her name again. She couldn’t take anymore. She swung the door closed in his face. The second the barrier was between them, she slid to the floor and finally let the tears fall freely. Stephanie never cried. She hadn’t cried since she was twelve years old when her grandfather passed away. She didn’t even cry for Richard. She didn’t know what she was crying for now, but was suddenly so overwhelmed that she could no longer keep it inside.

 
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