The Cowboy Way Series; Book 1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Cover Design by: MadHat Books
I could rope a calf before I could walk. Ranching is in my blood, my heart, and fills my soul. My family and I work for everything we have. But money only goes so far - sweat goes farther. My life has taken many paths. It’s made me grow up and deal with things that others only fear. My daughter is my life. No one could ever compare to that love - or so I thought. That was until this little city gal fell into our laps.
She stole my breath. Stole my thoughts, and stole my heart.
Georgia was home until I lost everything. I had no one, so I packed up and hit the road. My dog was my only companion and for a time that was all right. Fate had other ideas though. My path brought me to Wyoming. Sprawling grasslands, wildlife and cold. I was surrounded.
My heart warmed when we got a good look at a certain cowboy. He was a brother, son and a father. He chased my blues away. Made me smile and put his heart on the line with mine.
He is my one and only. My forever.
Three years ago I started off on a new adventure in this crazy unpredictable world. One that took me to new places in life - naturally - as well as emotionally and physically. Why make changes to a life that was wrapped in gold paper and sealed with a silver money clip? Many reasons. The biggest of them all was that I felt stunted as a person. I couldn’t be me without hurting feelings or letting down the people that I loved. Or so I thought. I was stuck in a dead end, nine to five job that I grew to absolutely hate. I stayed because I made a commitment that I didn’t want to break… but even good things come to an end.
I wasn’t a fan of living off my family’s money, though it was there for me. My PaPa always wanted to take care of me. He’d always say, “No granddaughter of mine will ever want or need for anything.” I loved that man more than the air I breathe now, but I couldn’t get lost in the cloud of money. I wanted a life of my own. I had to prove to him and myself that I could take care of me.
God love him, he let me do things my way once he understood what I wanted in life. I wanted to be independent. I wanted to be the responsible woman he had raised me to be. My grandfather was the man in my life from the time I was a small child. After my parents had me their lives were cut short by tragedy. My mother let her depression over take her mind and ended her struggles with a bottle of pills and a bottle of gin. My father, distraught that his one true love had left him, suffered for years. His depression never seemed to get better. One day when I was about four he just up and disappeared. His body was found years later by hikers. We still don’t know exactly what happened to him. My father was an avid outdoorsman. There was no way it was an accident, whatever it was.
It was just me and PaPa from then on. I don’t really remember much of my father. I have vague memories, but that’s it, other than the pictures I carry with me of him, and my mother and me as a newborn. I hadn’t realized how much I depended on my PaPa until the man I idolized most in my life was taken from me. He had a long, and happy life. He took his last breaths with me at his bedside retelling stories of my favorite memories of us. We had family there, but no one mattered except my PaPa. That night I vowed to change my life. I was going to be happy doing things I wanted to do. I just had to figure out how to go about doing it.
Deciding I needed a clean slate, I sold my house and set a lease with the Historical Society to use my PaPa’s home on the tours of homes - which was a way to preserve it and keep everything just as it was. His maids and butler, who my PaPa had with him for as long as I could remember, were staying on to help keep the home up. Their monthly pay was sent automatically to them through the lawyers, as was anything else home related. It was a way to make sure I always had a place to call home. My heart would always be where my PaPa was.
After weeks of thinking, planning and sorting out my life, I cashed in the savings bonds my PaPa left me and anything else that didn’t hold sentimental value from my belongings. My friend - Kaitlyn - would check in on things for me as well while I was gone. I had my bills (phone, insurance, life insurance and my two credit cards) all set up to do autopayments, so nothing important would be in the mail anyhow. It didn’t take long to decide what went, so I packed my SUV with what I had to have, such as clothes, my german shepherd dog, Tango, and small things that I could never part with and I was ready. As soon as I had cash in hand - via my bank card - I headed off on the adventure of a lifetime. I had a road map, a GPS app on my smartphone, and a helluva lot of time to kill.
No one expects to be this lucky at the age of twenty-nine. I didn’t have to work. I didn’t have to be accountable to anyone, or anything. I was free. I was a bird in the wind that could soar as high or low as she wanted. I took advantage of the freedom. I searched small towns for trinkets. I went to movies and plays in the larger metropolitan cities. I ate at restaurants mere tables away from movie stars and famous ball players. Was I impressed? Eh, not really, people are people. They wanted their freedom and alone time as much as I did. Anyone I passed got a smile and that was about it.
After a few months of said adventure I knew I was in heaven. I had the freedom of the road, and was able to do what I wanted, when I wanted. Who knew being my own boss would be so freeing. Thanks to my PaPa I had more money than I would ever need, so I was definitely taking advantage of it. I was going to discover who I was. Or I wouldn’t. As long as I had wheels under me, food in my tummy and my bank card, I was golden.
That was what I had always said, until an accident in the backwoods of some small, indistinguishable town led me to stumble into the man that would change things for me. An accident changes things for you. Makes you rethink things. But it can also set you off on a new path. My path led me to the infuriatingly, super sexy cowboy that made my anger rise, my lady bits throb, and my heart skip a beat at his smile. And that was after he yelled at me. I yelled back, but really... It was all for show. I think.
That man not only put me on the fence about the truth behind his actions, he cracked my heart wide open. He showed me what I was missing in life - he showed me what it was to be me. To be loved and desired in ways I could have only imagined. I was free to be what he desired. I was free to be the woman that set him free as well. Together we had it all, even our start was not so easy.
Life is never easy, though. Life is a rollercoaster and I’m here with my arms up, a laugh bubbling inside me, and the man that now owns my heart and soul at my side.
“Tango, stop, lift and pee already, would ya?” I called out to my German Shepherd as he sniffed around the empty lot behind the gas station. I was off the road for a few minutes to pee, get some gas and hopefully find a little off the road eating place. I was starving. But, first things first. I needed him to pee, so I could go in and pee. How hard was it to hike a leg? Or cop a squat? Jesus. I was squirming now more than before. I needed to go and he was taking forever. I was not about to leave him out here in bumfuck egypt alone. He wouldn’t go to a stranger, far from it, but I wasn’t chasing him, or taking the risk of him chasing someone off and getting shot or hit by a car.
“TANGO! Dude, hurry your furry butt up!”
I saw a man pumping gas at the other pump give me a look and I smiled at him. I wanted to roll my eyes but I stopped myself, only barely. Finally, after what seemed like four days of waiting, Tango cocked his leg up, peed and then had to do that damn, macho man ‘I peed here so it's mine’ dance where he kicked his back legs up and growled.
“I swear on all that's holy I will make you sleep outside if you don't get over here,” I muttered as the man getting gas eyed me. Maybe he thought I was talking to myself. Possibly. Sorry, mister. I ain’t crazy yet. I smiled at my thoughts. My gaze went back to the older man at the pump. He seemed to take notice when Tango ran around the building and back to me. He sat with a hand signal and I gave him a treat. That was how he was trained after all. He went, he got a treat. It's not that he was spoiled or anything. No, never.
“Good dog, Tango. Now, load up. Momma has to pee, and pay for the gas before this fella calls the cops ‘cause he thinks I'm gonna run off on him.” I pushed his muzzle away from my face when he decided I needed a slobbery lick on the cheek. “Not now, Romeo,” I said, laughing as I pushed him back into the SUV, shut the door and gave him the signal to stay through the opened window. I jogged across the parking lot. I hurried into the store and back to the bathrooms.
When I came out I smiled at the man behind the counter before grabbing a bag of Doritos, a Dr Pepper and of course, two big bottles of water for Tango. I paid for everything, gas included, and headed back out after a not so nice chat with the clerk. Men are idiots. But I did finally get him to tell me that all that was close by in the way of food stops was a burger place. I’ll pass on that. Tango and greasy stuff was a no go. The dog had enough gas issues as it was. I swear, sometimes it was like he’d had something crawl up in him and die. He was stealthy about it too. He was secretly trying to kill me with toxic fumes. I just knew it.
As I walked back to my vehicle I noticed there was a new truck parked across from me. I watched the two men as I opened the back door to grab Tango’s bucket. Hey, it's a road trip and he's messy. Least with a bucket and the three towels on his seat my seats won't get ruined. He could drink in peace and I wouldn’t get a slobbery water bath, again.
“Hey, sexy, that your dog there?” I sighed and turned, slamming the door a little harder than I needed to. I glanced at the men then to Tango. He was alert, ears pricked up and his shoulders tight. I shook my head as I moved to open the driver's door, making sure I blocked Tango’s exit. He was very protective of me after all. He had been since my PaPa got him for me. That had been two years ago. Tango was one of the last birthday presents I got from my PaPa. He gave me someone to love, a protector and a friend all in one.
“Nah man, he like, totally came with the car,” I said in my best Valley girl impression. Ugh, that made my own head hurt.
“I think she’s a bit of a smartass, man,” the one ass said to his friend.
“Watch it, bro. Dogs bite,” the other one said. I was guessing it was to warn his friend, who had taken a few steps around his truck.
“He’d bite me?”
“Yerp, like you were a nice juicy steak.”
“Why? I didn't do anything to ya, sexy.”
“You're annoying me, isn't that enough? I asked, sardonically.
“Oh, we got a feisty one, Jet,” the idiot in the truck said.
“Oh for fuck’s sake. Why can't I shoot stupid people?” I muttered as climbed up in the seat and shut the door. Tango licked my hand as I patted his shoulder. “Easy, big fella. Ignore them. Apparently they don't get enough oxygen up here. It makes them stupider than a bag full of rocks.”
I started the SUV, pulled out of the space, and flipped the two idiots a one finger salute before pulling out of the station's parking lot onto the road. We were somewhere in Colorado. I was following I-25 up and heading into Wyoming. I'd rented a cabin, one that I'd found online of all places, for a few weeks. Summer was finally here and I wanted to take advantage of the beauty of a wide open space. Plus, Tango and I needed a little time off the road. This leg had us on the road for two long weeks now. We’d just muddled along after leaving Tennessee, only stopped whenever and wherever. Minus the potty breaks. We stopped for those and to stretch our legs every two hours. Too much sitting could cause health problems.
I'd picked up the trailer behind us at some place in Kansas. It's got a small kitchen area with a stove and table, a tiny bathroom and a bed. So I bought it. I don't use the bathroom, though because, well I'm not cleaning that. Even I have my limits. I stop us at places that have wash houses, or at cheap motels. It's worth the time to shower and refresh. I’m not sleeping on funky sheets, though. So the trailer it is.
Flipping on my signal, I merged back into the I-25 traffic and set the cruise control. As Tango laid down he put his head on my lap and I scrubbed my fingers over his ears. His whine made me laugh.
“We’ll eat in a couple of hours. Once we cross the border we’ll only have a few hours more. Then it's a hot bath for me and a new place for you to mark as yours,” I said, for my benefit too. I loved the freedom of the open road, but it would have been slightly more entertaining with someone else to talk to that could actually return my words with more than barks, growls or toxic fog inducing farts.
A few hours later, both Tango and I were spread out on a picnic blanket on the grass of a roadside picnic site. The sun was beaming down on us and the cool air brushed against my exposed skin like a sensual caress. It was heaven. The countryside we’d traveled through so far was beautiful and peaceful. We were going to enjoy our time here. I just knew it.
“Tango, let's go,” I said, standing. I grabbed the blanket up, folding it as I walked. Looking back, I grinned. Tango had the draw string bag with what was left of our lunch, and our trash in his mouth. “No slobbering this time, pup, ‘cause that's just gross, Kay?” Maybe I was losing it, ‘cause that made me laugh. Yeah, I really needed someone to chat with besides my pup. I could always call Kaitlyn, but she’d try to convince me to come back home and I just wasn't doing that. There was nothing there for me. My parents had been gone since I was a baby, I knew nothing of them other than that they loved me. All I’d had was my PaPa and now that he was gone, I had nothing. Kaitlyn was a friend, yes, but she also one of the reasons I left Brant & Sons. It was a small family owned insurance company. Mr. Brant was a sweet man. His sons, though, were two dickwads who thought they were some gift from God and that every woman should kneel down and worship them. Kaitlyn was all for quickies in the back office, the bathroom or anything else they asked, but not me.
Jefferson and Carlisle Brant were both disgusting human beings. Period. I learned that the day I was hired as Mr. Brant’s new administrative assistant. See, Oliver Brant was an upstanding, kind hearted man. I liked him, a lot. Too bad his sons missed that boat. Though, I've met their mother and she's not much better. Oliver married and mated with the she beast, who was a decade - at least - younger than himself and that's where the twin hellspawns came from. Shuddering, I shut the back door to the SUV and sighed. Maybe if things were different and I wasn't the ‘ice queen’ as they called me, I would have stayed. But as it was, I wouldn't let myself be used like some whore. I loved myself a helluva lot more than that.
I shifted myself so I could give Tango the “go pee” hand signal, which was just me pointing. He didn't need it twice. I looked at my watch and smiled. Two hours, I think that's all it takes for us to get to the place…. crap, I forgot the name. Moving to the passenger side of my vehicle I opened the door, pulled out the notebook where I kept everything and found the reservations page. Yeah, I was a little OCD but I wasn't stupid enough to not keep up with my spending and contacts along the way.
“Ah, there it is,” I said, sliding as I slid my finger down the page. “Abernathy Cannon Ranch.” Closing my book I stretched, turned and whistled for Tango. He rounded the car and was up in the seat before I had time to really blink. “I'm gonna put a bell on you. Whatcha think about that?” I scrubbed my hands along his neck and scratched behind his ears.
“Ready to go?” With a lick to my face and a bark that made my ears ring, I shook my head, shut his door and ran around to get in. Within fifteen minutes we were back on the road, and hopefully we’d be crossing the border in an hour or so. That all depended on traffic. I sang along to the radio, ignoring the GPS app on my phone that kept cutting in and out. I wasn't stressing over any of this. I just wanted to enjoy the ride, and with Jason Aldean singing along with me, my day was going great.
An hour and fifty six minutes later we were making a wide turn onto the dirt road the GPS indicated. There wasn't much around, just mountains, grasslands and cattle. Or at least I thought they were cattle. The sun was starting to get lower and I was exhausted. My body was not sure what time zone we were in anymore so I stopped trying to sleep on a schedule. It was all too much to keep track of. I followed the road, going slower than normal since I wasn't sure where I was.
Ten minutes later we were rounding a curvy part of the road when something stormed out in front of us. I shrieked and slammed on the brakes, throwing myself against the steering wheel and swerving off the road. Tango was growling and barking, but what caught my attention was the sound of metal shrieking, another engine roaring, and then silence.
***all titles are available on Kindle Unlimited
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~Meet Barb Shuler~
I’m a Carolina Girl by right and a Texan by birth. Best of both worlds. I have the brass sass to keep up with my Texas sized temper. Living and working in both states i’ve learned a lot about hard work, adapting to your surroundings and making the best of the path that you have been led down. My grandma Dollie once told me I would know what I was meant to do when it happened. She was right, as always.
As with most book lovers, I am an avid reader. Reading has always been a hobby - a passion, really and a way to get lost in other people’s lives, their drama and other worlds. It’s a private movie in your imagination that you get to cast and navigate through, at your own pace. Reading helps to expand the perimeters of one's mind. That is what got me into writing. Writing has been something that I have done since I was a kid. If I had paper, I was writing. Nine out of ten times it made no sense but what are words if they are not to be used to your advantage? Words are a part of us all. Why not use them, right?
During the day I work as a ‘desk jockey’ and help the residents of my county navigate themselves around our little, but not too little country town. By night I am either blogging with my best friends, doing PA work for some of my favorite authors or fighting with the voices in my head. They can be stubborn at times. It’s a blessing and I am cherishing every moment. Tomorrow is never guaranteed so I want to make sure I live the day as fully as possible. For what is my creation, can become someone else's treasure.
~ Connect with Barb here ~
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