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The Cowboy and the City Slicker

The Cowboy and the City Slicker

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The Cowboy and the City Slicker

ratings:
4/5 (1 rating)
Length:
228 pages
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 19, 2019
ISBN:
9780463783733
Format:
Book

Description

Can a fish out of water find a home on the range?

Alex Wheeler arrives in Arizona with a job to do—convince Matthew Parsons to sell his guest ranch to an Americana-themed resort chain. A landscape filled with nothing but cactus and cattle promises a dull week, until he meets the strong, silent cowboy who lassoes his interest. Alex begins to fall for Matthew’s quiet charm, gentlemanly ways, and hidden sweetness. As their friendship and attraction deepen from casual to intense, Alex delays revealing his agenda.

Matthew Parsons has one wish—to keep his family heritage intact despite financial hard times. He has convinced himself his life isn’t lonely, until a dynamic, animated, upbeat stranger erupts into his solitude and breaks down his barriers. Against all odds, a man he could actually grow to care for has come to the middle of nowhere like a gift just for him. Even knowing Alex must soon leave, Matthew can’t help falling a little bit in love.

When the truth comes out and harsh realities must be faced, their budding relationship is trampled. But a bruised bloom may be nurtured back to life even in the harsh desert.

Publisher:
Released:
Mar 19, 2019
ISBN:
9780463783733
Format:
Book

About the author

Whether you're a fan of contemporary, paranormal, or historical romance, you'll find something to enjoy among my books. I'm interested in flawed, often damaged, people who find the fulfillment they seek in one another. To stay informed about new releases, please SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER. Help an author out by leaving a review and spreading the word about this book among your friends. You can join my street team at FB. Learn more about my backlist at http://bonniedee.com or find me on FB and Twitter @Bonnie_Dee.

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The Cowboy and the City Slicker - Bonnie Dee

The Cowboy and

the City Slicker

Bonnie Dee

Copyright © 2019 by Bonnie Dee

SMASHWORDS EDITION

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

Smashwords License Notes

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

Chapter One

The first step out of his rented Range Rover should’ve given Alex a clue how this trip was going to go. As his brand-new, tooled-leather cowboy boot hit the ground, it kept sinking. A stench rose to crinkle his nose and make his eyes water. He looked down at what the locals might colorfully call a cow pie smashed under one pointed toe.

Well, shit!

He slammed the door behind him and hopped on one foot over to the sagebrush to scrape off the offensive dung, succeeding only in getting his shiny boot dusty. After shouting several more descriptive, less literal curses, Alex considered plucking a long cactus needle to pick the cow pie off his sole. A glimpse of something from the corner of his eye made him realize he was not alone.

A man sat astride a tall black horse several yards away, both horse and rider so still, they might have been carved from stone. His features were hidden under the shade of a gray Stetson. I wouldn’t, he drawled in a flat tone.

Alex remained frozen, balancing on one foot, about a second away from toppling into a bed of cacti. Wouldn’t what?

You were headed toward that saguaro like you were planning to snap off a needle to clean your boot. They don’t break that easy, and there are chollas all around it.

There’s what now? Alex studied the ground and saw nothing but some cute, fuzzy baby cacti. They looked so much like little teddy bears, he wanted to cuddle one.

The rider urged his horse nearer with a touch of his heel. As he pointed out the patch, he towered over Alex. They’ll cling to you, and the spines will work their way into your clothes and skin. You don’t want to mess with chollas.

Oh! Alex backpedaled and felt a familiar squish. He’d stepped in the same cow pie with the heel of his other boot.

As he pulled up his foot, he fell against the side of the SUV. Since his face was already beet red from the blazing Arizona sun, the cowboy wouldn’t see how hard he was blushing as he floundered around. Fuck the Wild West! From the little Alex had experienced so far, every bit of nature here was made to torture humans.

The stranger dismounted, let his horse’s reins dangle, and sauntered toward Alex. The animal picked delicately at the vegetation, apparently knowing what was safe to eat in the godforsaken landscape.

From the top of his hat to the heels of his battered boots, the tall, lanky man was the quintessential image of a cowboy hero. A faded blue chambray shirt was tucked into worn jeans, the large buckle on a wide belt the only ornamentation. A date and the words roping champion were stamped into the metal. As the man drew closer, Alex at last glimpsed his face below the hat brim. Skin as tan as his boots and chiseled features completed the stereotypical Western image. Had Rancho Verde hired a handsome actor to portray the part for its guests, or was this Matthew Parsons, the man Alex had come here to meet?

Need a little help? The cowboy drew a knife from a sheath on his belt, knelt, and lifted Alex’s boot to scrape the bottom clean. Alex stared at the top of his Stetson while the man cleaned one boot, then the other. When his hero glanced up from under the brim of the hat, Alex’s pulse raced. Good God, this guy was hot, his features harshly angular and as rugged as the landscape.

Gotta watch where you step out here. Could be a rattlesnake next time.

Alex nodded like a bobblehead—a figurine that would be labeled City Slicker. Uh-huh. I will. Thanks.

The man rose to his full height, which was very tall. He gazed down into Alex’s face for several heartbeats—except Alex’s heart stopped beating for those seconds—frowned, and turned to walk toward his horse.

Desperate to make him stay, partly because this was the man he needed to talk to, but mostly because he wanted another look into those pale-steel eyes, Alex began to babble. "Swarro? That’s how you pronounce saguaro? I always wondered. Roadrunner cartoons are about the closest I’ve ever come to seeing these giants. He gestured at the many-armed cactus looming behind him. Are you by any chance Matthew Parsons, owner of Rancho Verde?"

The man paused with one hand resting on his horse’s neck and looked back. Yeah. You a guest?

I shore am. For some reason he adopted a faux Western twang. My name is Alex Wheeler. I’m spending a week, and I shore am tickled at the chance to ride the open range and help with the herding.

Hm. The cowboy grunted. How’d you get separated from your group?

I’m not part of a group. I just drove out from Phoenix Sky Harbor.

You didn’t need to rent a vehicle. The ranch has a shuttle to fetch you. It’s one of our services.

I wanted the freedom to take side trips to see more of the land. It’s so…amazing. He wasn’t telling the truth with that adjective. It was amazing that people survived here at all. Beautiful would’ve been a stretch to describe miles of land inhabited by cacti, sagebrush, scrubby little trees, scorpions, and foraging cattle whose poop was ridiculously huge. What do your cows eat? There hardly seems to be any grass.

There’s some, and they can graze on prickly pear, Parsons replied briefly.

Oh. Faced with his host’s taciturn manner, Alex struggled to find something else to say. I thought I saw a prairie dog popping up. That’s why I stopped. He gestured toward a patch of scrub that looked exactly like all the land around it.

Probably did. Parsons took hold of the horse’s bridle. Ready to drive on to the ranch? I can guide you.

Alex had the destination entered in the vehicle’s GPS, but his goal was to get closer to Matthew Parsons, so he played dumb. Sure. Steer me in the right direction. Should I follow you and the horse or…

The look Parsons shot him made him feel dumber than ever. Of course the man wasn’t going to ride down the road in front of him, leading the way. Take this road another eight miles, then turn left. When you reach Cathedral Butte, look for a dirt track on the left. That’s the driveway.

There’s no sign? What a helluva way to run a business. Seclusion was great for vacationers who wanted a private getaway, but a resort needed to advertise its presence a little.

Parsons put a foot in one stirrup and mounted in a graceful move that made Alex swoon. The man sat erect in the saddle with the sun silhouetting him in a golden aura.

Mrs. Ketchum will welcome you. S’pose I’ll see you at supper. With that terse announcement, Matthew Parsons galloped away.

Alex watched small clouds of dust rise from the horse’s hooves as the rider and his mount headed off. The lyrics of a song he couldn’t quite remember played in his head. I wanna be a cowboy. Ride you into the sunset. But he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be a cowboy or get swept off his feet by one.

By the time Alex reached the ranch, the sun was kissing the horizon. From the moment he spotted a cathedral-shaped rock formation and turned on a dirt track that led to a cluster of several weathered buildings, time and miles seemed to exist in a warp. He felt as if he’d driven cross-country all the way from Chicago rather than taking a jet.

The ranch’s outbuildings, a decent-sized barn and several derelict sheds, would need to be either renovated or replaced. The house itself wasn’t too bad. With a little TLC, the two-story building could be transformed from ramshackle to impressive. A porch wrapped all the way around it, allowing views of the horizon in every direction. Put in a row of comfortable rockers and some flower boxes hanging on the rail and the porch would be finished. The house needed a coat of paint, and the roof should be replaced with red slate, which would be eye-catching from a distance.

Alex assumed the bedrooms would be outdated. Not a problem for visitors who craved an authentic, vintage feel. But guests also wanted modern amenities like flawless plumbing and good Wi-Fi. It was a pretty solid bet Rancho Verde would not be up to standard in those areas.

He began to jot a mental list: spruce up the house, renovate the stable, put a fancy wrought-iron arch at the entrance of the driveway with a sign welcoming visitors, and paint just about every surface that could be painted. It shouldn’t take too much expense to turn this place into an attractive tourist destination. The promotional department at Homespun Vacations would entice the guests here. With properties across the US, Homespun was king of Americana-themed resorts. This run-down ranch could be a viable asset since it was only about an hour south of Phoenix. Alex would continue to assess the property while gently massaging its owner into considering the idea of selling.

He parked the SUV, took his bag from the back, and walked up a dirt pathway to the house, pausing on the porch to take in the stunning sunset view. Cathedral Butte glowed rose-colored in the distance, and a paint box full of colors streaked the horizon. He could imagine sitting on the porch with someone special, drinking in the scenery and margaritas.

Honeymoon retreat! There was a good angle. In a primitive and butt-ugly online ad, Rancho Verde was billed as fun for the family. There was a very dated photo of a child grinning while riding a horse. But replace the shabby sheds with private bungalows, and voila, a romantic couples’ getaway still within reasonable distance of the city if they wanted a break from all the wilderness. Watch the revenue flow.

Alex opened the front door with its hand-lettered sign, Welcome. Come on in!, and the scent of something rich and beefy made his taste buds leap to attention. A clattering of pots and pans from the back of the house was music to his ears. Rather than calling out to announce his arrival, Alex studied his surroundings. A chandelier made from antlers illuminated a tiled foyer and a staircase flanked by hand-carved newel posts. On the right, through an archway, he glimpsed an old-fashioned parlor. Down the hall must be the dining room and kitchen. Footsteps thundered overhead, and childish voices yelled insults.

Boobyhead! Give that back.

No! It’s mine.

A second later, two small boys raced down the stairs while fighting over a toy. Alex feared they’d get tangled together and fall the last few steps.

He held up his hands. Whoa there, pardners! What’s the ruckus?

Titus took my horse! The shorter boy’s lip trembled, and tears glistened in his eyes.

I had it first. Cody stole it. I just got it back, the taller boy replied calmly.

Identical glares and beet-red faces under white-blond hair suggested the two must be brothers.

That sounds like quite a pickle, Alex said. Maybe we need to get the law in on this. Just so happens I’m a sheriff.

The boys stopped arguing to stare at him, openmouthed.

Seriously? Where’s your badge? the older boy asked.

Let’s hear the circumstances of the nag’s provenance, then I’ll decide who gets custody. Alex tried to sound old-timey, but his speech was over their heads.

Huh?

Give me the horse, then you can each present your case like in court.

Cool! Does the loser get lynched? Titus wisecracked as he handed over a plastic horse.

What’s lynched? Cody’s white eyebrows knotted in a worried furrow.

Hung. Like on a gallows. The older boy mimed holding a rope above his head and lolled his tongue as he made a choking noise.

His little brother’s frown deepened.

No one’s getting hanged, Alex reassured him. Maybe a little time in the pokey is all.

What’s a pokey? Does it have spikes? Cody seemed ready to cry.

Before Alex could get in any deeper, the boys’ mom appeared at the head of the stairs.

You two! I said to stay in your room until I got you for supper. This is Mom and Dad’s rest time.

It’s boring indoors. We want to go outside and look for rattlesnakes. I can kill one, cut off the rattle, and make a necklace from it, bloodthirsty Titus said.

Don’t even think about touching any wildlife you find. Not snakes, lizards, scorpions, nothing! Now march yourselves right back upstairs and wash for dinner.

Hey, Mister, you still got our horse, Titus pointed out.

Alex surrendered the brown-and-white plastic equine to him, and the boys clambered up the staircase as quickly as they’d thundered down.

Hurry up and use soap. Their mom gave them each a swat on the rear to hurry them along, then she regarded Alex. I’m sorry. They can be a real handful. I hope they didn’t bother you too much.

No problem. They’re cute kids. Hi, I’m Alex Wheeler. Guess we’re ranch hands together for a spell.

Cindy Oates. Those two little angels are Titus and Cody. Since the only vacation time my husband, Bryan, and I could both get coincided with the first week of school, we figured a guest ranch would at least be more educational than a theme park. But keeping those two out of trouble any place can be exhausting.

On-site childcare, Alex added to his list. But that was a given with Homespun. The company knew how to make certain everyone had a good time, giving parents a break so their vacation was pleasant and memorable.

What do you think of your vacation so far? Alex asked. Seems like the perfect place for kids to play cowboy and experience ranch life. Better than a theme park.

Except there are real rattlesnakes and scorpions, so I have to keep an eye on the boys every minute. Cindy wrinkled her nose. I wanted Hawaii, but a trip like that is way out of our price range.

Plenty of trouble to get into there too. The ocean, for example, Alex pointed out. Kids are drawn like magnets to anything they’re not supposed to get into.

Upstairs, the brothers were yelling again. Mrs. Oates gave Alex a weary smile. Nice meeting you. I’ll see you at chow time.

Alex tipped a pretend hat in reply and holstered imaginary guns. The whole Wild West theme was kind of fun and made him feel like a kid again. Although his career revolved around vacations, he never truly felt as if he were on one.

Leaving his luggage in the foyer, he walked down the hall to find a staff member who could direct him to his room. The delicious beefy scent grew stronger as he neared a door that must lead to the kitchen. Suddenly, the two-way door flew wide, nearly hitting Alex in the face.

He jumped back as a short, thin woman barreled through, carrying a covered metal dish. She stopped dead to avoid him, and the tray started to slip from her oven-mitted hands. Alex grabbed it without thinking, and heat seared his palms. He yelped and let go. For a second, it seemed certain the heavy dish would crash to the floor, but the wiry woman maintained her grip while peering at Alex with concern.

Are you all right? Let me put this on the table, then I’ll tend to your hands.

She hurried to the dining room and was back before Alex fully felt the pain in his reddened palms. She beckoned him into the kitchen and to a huge double sink, where she guided his hands under the tap. Cool water took the sting from his skin while he glanced around the kitchen.

Like the parts of the house he’d seen so far, this area might have remained unchanged since sometime in the seventies. The counters were Formica-covered and scoured so that

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