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Is it possible to fall in love at the sight of a wisp of jet black hair swirling out an open window of a pickup? In a thousand lifetimes, I would have said, ‘Hell no’. But today I learned not only is it possible, it’s fucking happening. To me. I’d all but given up on love but apparently, it hadn’t given up on me.
When Maria Garcia McGowan stepped out of that truck, her sweet scent hit me and this cowboy was done for. None too happy to be stuck in a cow poke town like Cooper’s Mill, a brainy beauty like her will take some convincing to stick around. Even if I have to tie her to the bedpost, I’m not letting her get away. She’s mine.
I’ve tamed more than my fair share of mustangs, and this sweet filly is about to be lassoed. Except, small town gossip and jealousy have a way of poking their nose into even the sweetest of happy endings.
Author Note: It takes some angry turkeys and a heck of a storm, but these two lovebirds will have you reaching for a paper fan and sucking on an ice cube to cool things off. A hunky cowboy and a whip smart city girl are just the ticket for this safe, steamy and oh-so-happily-ever-after book with everything you expect from Dani Wyatt.
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I GRUNT, STRAINING against the weight as I swing around to toss another couple of hay bales out the open door of the barn loft, squinting against the hot sun reflecting off the windshield of my pickup truck. Momentarily blinded, I allow myself a pause to blink away the sunspots.
Sweat stings my eyes and coats my chest, sticking the shirt to my back, but as heavy as this work is, it has to be done. I twist and turn, swinging the bales from the pile out the opening and down nearly thirty feet to where Reggie, one of the farmhands, grabs them and hauls them closer to the dirt track.
Any moment now, a new customer of mine will pull up and take away the load.
“How many we got so far?” I yell down, swiping my forearm across my eyes.
“That’s sixty-four, boss,” Reggie shouts up, putting a hand over his eyebrows to shield his eyes from the sun’s glare.
I nod, then turn to climb up a few rows onto the towering stack of hay. Reaching up about six rows higher, I grab on to the bale twine, one in each hand. With a grunt, I jerk them away, jumping backward and down the stack as I go, pulling an avalanche of tumbling hay down around my worn black boots as the bales hit the roughhewn floorboards.
When he was a high school senior and I was just a kid, my brother Paul once got caught up here, buck naked and rolling in the hay with Connie Hucket. I laugh at the memory, then shake my head. A lot of screaming followed that discovery, along with accusations from Connie’s father. My brother was never interested in farm work. I don’t see any reason why that should have changed. I’ll have to deal with him, I know that, but not right now. Not when there’s work to be done.
A breeze rustles the trees, flapping my open denim shirt and offering a moment of cool relief on my damp skin. Reaching down, I grunt as I lift two more bales and send them flying out into the air, then hear the familiar thud-thud a moment later as they hit the ground.
“Boss!” Reggie shouts. “Lunch after this, huh?”
My stomach answers with a groan before I can.
“Yup,” I call out, then send another two out into the air.
We’ve been here since dawn, but that’s been everyday for as long as I can remember. I’m up before the roosters and working up an appetite. By this time of day, my morning staple of bacon and eggs have worn thin.
“We’ll get these folks loaded up,” I shout, “then grub.” I take a hard breath and toss another two his way.
The wind out here carries sounds a long distance, and my hearing’s always been pretty good, so when I catch the low hum of an engine approaching, I know I’ve got a few more minutes before they’ll get here. With renewed effort, I grab the last bales and throw them down to Reggie, then head over to the loft door to see a cloud of dust kicking up at the end of the farm’s mile-long drive.
I swipe my hands back from my face, raking my fingers through my hair. Years of hard work have left the palms rough enough to sand wood, but that’s the way out here. I rub my hands down my chest, brushing away some of the sweat, but it’s quickly replaced by more.
This land has been in my family going right back to when the Stoddards came out here to find a simpler way of life back at the end of the nineteenth century. It may be mine now, but I still think of it as belonging to Mom and Dad. And Paul, I concede wearily. As little as he’s been here since we grew up, he still has as much right to call this place home as I do.
Reggie scurries around below me, moving what I’ve thrown down over near where we will load this customer’s order. New in town, name of Patrick McGowan, and I expect from the sound of things that this is his first time around at having horses.
When he called to inquire about buying some hay, it became pretty clear he didn’t know first cutting from second cutting. Alfalfa from Timothy. But that’s fine by me. We’re always learning, and I admire anyone who discovers at any age just how satisfying this sort of life can be.
I lean a shoulder against the doorframe, taking the weight off my feet a little as I watch the cloud of dust get closer.
“Margaret said she made pork chops and fried potatoes.” I can almost hear Reggie’s mouth watering. “Left it in the oven for us.” He lets out a little chuckle. “Man, I’d love to pork her chops.”