Claiming His Cowgirl by Lori King by Lori King - Read Online

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Claiming His Cowgirl - Lori King

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Tornado on the ground in Mobile, Alabama.

The words came out of Lauren’s mouth in a near monotone cadence. She’d been through this so many times that she no longer had an emotional reaction to emergency situations. She just accepted them and handled them. It made being an emergency management coordinator the perfect job for her.

Contacting recovery out of Montgomery. We’ll have supplies readied and volunteers rolling by twenty-three hundred, Jesse Kravitz responded just as calmly, his fingers flying over the keyboard in front of him.

Verify with authorities where they’re positioning the command center before sending directions this time, Jesse, she said gently, giving him a pointed look.

He flushed under the reprimand. Yes ma’am.

Just a week ago, their volunteers had been delayed in providing necessary help to the victims of a tornado emergency when Jesse sent them in the wrong direction. She’d quickly corrected the error, but the delay was a blight on the young man’s record. It was her job to ensure people got the help they needed, and the only way she could do that was if her employees were as efficient as she was. She liked Jesse as a person, and they’d become fast friends, but if he made another mistake like that she’d have no qualms about firing him.

In spite of their military-style manner, they weren’t owned or operated by the government. Fast-Aid was a private quick response team, fully funded by local corporations and philanthropic residents. She was the coordinator for the entire Southern region. Her base of operations was in Little Rock, Arkansas, but she managed volunteers in nine states.

When she wasn’t coordinating medical assistance and supplies, she was in her fully remodeled kitchen creating edible artwork for the handful of clients she regularly provided event catering to. Emergency management was her career, but cooking was her passion.

Second tornado reported just outside of Montgomery. We may have to maintain the first team in stasis until we determine the extent of the need, Jesse reported.

Call in Birmingham unless the storms are continuing their trajectory. We’ll need Montgomery as home base most likely. I have to make a few calls to follow up on the Tulsa situation, but I’ll check in with you before I leave this evening, she said, leaving Jesse to his work and securing herself behind her closed office door. She quickly pulled up her personal email to reread the invitation she’d received earlier in the day.

Drannon asked me to get your mailing address so that he could send you a written invitation for the wedding, but as usual, I forgot. Sorry. I promised him I’d give you the info personally since I screwed up. The wedding is on August 8 at seven. Your old room is ready and waiting for you. Let me know when you’re flying up, and one of us will meet you at the airport. Later-Hawke

Hawthorne Hawke Kapshaw was like a baby brother to her, but they shared no blood connections. They were both taken in by Abe and Sera Crawley as children, him as a foster son, and her as a stray. For whatever reason, they’d connected and become lifelong friends. She left North Dakota behind eighteen years ago as a young, naïve girl with a broken heart and a streak of stubborn determination a mile wide. She had no idea what path her life would take. She only knew that she had to escape the memories of her shitty mother’s fists, and put distance between her and the man who broke her heart.

An image of Vin filled her head, and she sucked in a deep breath, willing it away. She didn’t have time for reminiscing. Her fingers dashed across the keys, and she clicked send before she could reconsider. It was a big risk going back again, but she knew Drannon would be happy to see her. Perhaps, this time, she’d get the closure she needed.

Closing her email, she picked up the phone and called the Tulsa team, pushing all thoughts of Vincent Rhone and Crawley Creek Ranch out of her brain and focusing on her job.

~ ~ ~ ~

Vin figured out he was screwed the moment Lacy started chattering about lilac-colored ties and flowers. He’d agreed to be Drannon’s best man because he loved the guy as if they were blood brothers, but that didn’t mean he wanted to make a fool out of himself.

You look great, Vin! Lacy gushed, hurrying across the store to adjust the purple vest and tie under his dark grey suit.

You’re not seriously going to make me wear purple, are you? he groaned. This was the last thing on his wish list for a Saturday activity.

She hesitated, and then patted his shoulder. I just wanted to get a look at the suit with the lilac under it. I haven’t really decided. Drannon’s insisting on the cream color—

The door beside them popped open and her fiancé, Drannon Russo, appeared wearing an identical charcoal colored suit, but underneath, he wore a vanilla ice cream colored satin vest. Damn right. I told you I’m not wearing the purple one.

Oh, the cream looks lovely, too, Lacy said, moving to her fiancé’s side and adjusting his tie as well. Unlike when she patted Vin, Lacy made more of an effort to caress her man’s chest through his clothes. I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal. It’s just clothes.

Exactly. It’s just clothes. So why do they have to be purple? Vin grumbled.

Lilac, she corrected. And the idea is for the groom and his best man to complement the bride and her maid of honor.

You don’t have a maid of honor, Drannon said with a frown.

Yes I do. I asked Franki to stand in for me. She was really touched by it because she won’t have the chance to stand with Vivienne now, and I think it assured her of her acceptance into the family. Lacy reached for another vest that looked almost identical to the one Drannon was already wearing and held it up against his suit. This one might look better. I like the fleur de lis pattern on it better than the pinstripe. I wonder if it comes in lilac.

A shopgirl who was hovering nearby jumped to bring over a book of fabric samples, and Drannon and Vin were quickly relegated to wall decoration as Lacy and the girl discussed possible combinations for the big day.

You realize she’s going to put us in purple, right? Vin said, shoving his brother with his shoulder.

Drannon groaned, Fuck.

You know, you could still try to convince her to go to Vegas.

Drannon shook his head, looking dejected. Already tried. She says it’s important for the community to see that Crawley Creek Ranch is here to stay, and that there’s a new generation running it securely.

Vin nodded in agreement. It’ll definitely make the old timers more comfortable with our little band of misfits.

Come on, let’s get out of these monkey suits. I think I’m allergic to this tie. Drannon headed back into a fitting room. Vin laughed as he went back into his own space and changed his clothes.

He didn’t mind standing up for his brother because he could see how happy Lacy made Drannon. He knew the day Lacy showed up on the ranch that there was chemistry between the two, and it didn’t take them long to connect and build an unbreakable bond.

To her credit, Lacy was a beautiful woman both inside and out. With long, red hair and gorgeous chocolate-brown eyes, she reminded Vin of their foster mother, Sera. She had a strong core of beliefs and a wicked wit. The two would have been fast friends.

As it was, Sera had passed away a few years back, followed closely by her husband, Abe. The two had created a sanctuary for foster children, and Vin always knew he’d never be able to repay them for their kindness. It still hurt to think about them, but he was slowly healing.

Vin had been their first foster child, and he’d been with them the longest out of anyone. He couldn’t even remember his biological mother or a time when he hadn’t lived at Crawley Creek. At the tender age of three, he’d been dumped off on the state because the woman who’d given him life didn’t want him. Her rejection burned in his gut every day—a wound he was sure would never heal—even though he only knew it in a figurative way.

By the time they’d changed back into their own clothes, Lacy had made her arrangements with the shop attendant, and she was handing over a card for payment. Drannon shook his head when she asked if he wanted to see the receipt, and in that moment, Vin knew for sure he’d be wearing that lilac ensemble to the wedding.

Resigned to the humiliation for one day, he said his goodbyes and got the hell out of Dodge as fast as he could. There was more wedding shopping planned for the day, but he was by no means interested in joining in. He had work to do back at the ranch. In fact, he had more work than time these days, but at least he was working with his hands, and doing what he enjoyed. Not many people could say that.

Chapter 2

July 27 – Wedding Countdown T-minus 12 days

I’m glad she’s at least able to come for my wedding, Drannon told their youngest foster brother, Hawke, as they sat down to breakfast Monday morning. She hasn’t been back for years.

Not true. She was here for Abe’s funeral, Romeo said, filling his girlfriend, Franki’s plate before he heaped food onto his own. And before that, she was here for Sera’s.

Doesn’t count. She met us at the cemetery and didn’t come back to the ranch afterward, Drannon said, sipping his coffee as he pondered the situation.

Vin kept his trap shut. He knew why Lauren Kensington had avoided Crawley Creek, but he sure as hell couldn’t explain it to his brothers. His stomach twisted with guilt. He’d been the one to send her away, but it was for her own good, damn it. Surely she knew that by now?

I wanted to remind you guys that the psychologist is arriving today. Marilyn set up the Huck Finn cabin for her to use. She won’t actually have her first patient until after the wedding, but her apartment lease was ending, and she needed time to settle in, Lacy said, changing the subject away from Lauren.

What’s this girl’s name again? Romeo asked.

Dr. Jeannette Hall. She’s from Philadelphia, and I don’t think she’s ever been around livestock, so I’m guessing this is going to be a tough transition for her. Be nice. Lacy gave Hawke a glare.

Hey, I’m always nice to the ladies! Hawke protested, patting his chest as though he was wounded before wiggling his eyebrows. Very nice, if they want me to be.

Groans filled the air, and Vin rolled his eyes at his younger brother’s antics. It used to be Romeo who was the playboy of the group, but ever since he backed over Franki’s bike in the parking lot at Mick’s Watering Hole, he’d been smitten. He seemed to be okay with the loss of his manwhore status, and honestly, Vin was just glad to see the kid sobered up. He’d helped drag Romeo’s drunk ass in the house in the middle of the night way too many times.

Francesca Franki Scott fit his younger brother like a glove. Despite the fact that she’d just recently lost her sister to a violent sex trafficking ring, Franki was working hard to move past her grief and build a new life at Crawley Creek. Vin had mad respect for the girl. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose a sibling, much less lose one in such a tragic way.

Turning to Franki, he asked, Where’s Destiny this morning?

The pretty brunette paled a little, and her eyes grew sad. Roman reacted almost instantly to his girlfriend’s distress, reaching out and lacing his fingers with hers as she answered, She’s not feeling well again.

That girl needs help. Roman shook his head, his expression grim. The more she heals physically, the weaker she seems emotionally. I don’t think she’s been out of the cabin in the last three days.

Did anyone call Mark? Maybe he needs to prescribe her some medication? Drannon asked.

He knows already, Franki assured him. Bran has been by every day to check on her, but she’s been turning him away. She told him he didn’t need to drive all the way out here unless he had a lead on that guy, Knox.

Vin cursed under his breath. They may never have a lead on him.

Nodding despondently, Franki’s eyes glistened with unshed tears. I know, but I can’t bring myself to break her like that. She’s so fragile.

Well, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that Brandon Bowers won’t give up without following every possibility no matter how far-fetched. If there’s a way to crack that trafficking ring and mete out justice for your sister and Destiny, he’ll find it, Vin declared, patting Franki’s opposite hand affectionately. She gave him a half-hearted smile of thanks, and he swallowed the lump of emotion in his throat.

Years ago, he’d lost someone important to him, and the impact left a scar a mile wide on his heart. He wasn’t sure he’d ever find solace from the nightmares that plagued him. Visions of sand, sweat, blood, and screams. Hell on Earth had never been a more relevant phrase than when his subconscious plunged back into that horrific period in his life.