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Authors: Nancy Robards Thompson - Beauty and the Cowboy

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Beauty and the Cowboy

BOOK: Beauty and the Cowboy
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Beauty and the Cowboy

a montana born fair novella

Nancy Robards Thompson

 

 

Tule Publishing Group

Beauty and the Cowboy

Copyright © 2014 Nancy Robards Thompson

Kindle Edition

The Tule Publishing Group, LLC

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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

ISBN: 978-1-940296-57-9

Dedication

This book is dedicated to Jane Porter and Katherine Garbera for making me part of the Tule Publishing family. It’s also dedicated to Cindy Kirk and Renee Ryan for helping me bring Jesse and Charlotte’s story to life.

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Dear Reader

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

The Big Marietta Fair Series

About the Author

Dear Reader,

There’s nothing like a summer fair! It brings the community together and provides ample opportunity for fun and romance. Who wouldn’t want to snuggle up with a hunky cowboy on the Ferris wheel? If you’re lucky, you just might be able to steal a smooch or two at the very top, high above the crowd. You might even fall in love.

The Big Marietta Fair is the backdrop for my hero and heroine, Jesse Guthrie and Charlotte “Charlie” Morgan’s love story. As next door neighbors growing up, Charlie and Jesse have known each other their entire lives. But he was too busy training for the rodeo and she was always unavailable. In fact, most recently, Charlotte was engaged – or almost engaged; the status of her relationship is pretty murky until her maybe-fiancé takes himself out of the picture altogether. When that happens, Jesse and Charlie discover they are so much more than friends. As long as they don’t allow ghosts from the past to get in the way…

I had such fun writing
Beauty And The Cowboy
. I hope you love it as much as I do. I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can email me at
[email protected]
or connect with me via FaceBook at
https://www.facebook.com/nrobardsthompson
and Twitter
@NRTWrites
. Here’s hoping you fall in love at the Big Marietta Fair.

Warmly,

Nancy

Chapter 1

“W
here’s the ring?”
Mattie Guthrie demanded when Charlotte Morgan walked into the Marietta Fairgrounds offices.

No preamble. No greeting.

Just the breathless, starry-eyed demand of a teenage girl who was more interested in getting the jump on the gossip than doing her summer receptionist job. Clearly, Mattie expected a look at the ring before she would grant Charlotte admittance to the meeting she’d scheduled with Mattie’s brother, Jesse, the fairgrounds manager.

Charlotte stopped a safe distance from the reception desk. Reflexively, her thumb found the base of her bare ring finger. She shoved her naked left hand into the safety of her linen jacket pocket.

The air conditioning that had felt so refreshing when she’d closed the door on the muggy July morning suddenly felt icy and inhospitable. It hummed conspiratorially, as if supporting the stink eye Mattie was now shooting her.

“Come on, Charlie, let me see.” The girl’s pitch went up an octave as she reached across the desk, palm up, wiggling her fingers in a give-it-up gesture. “We’re like family and I haven’t even seen the ring yet.”

Charlotte fisted her hand in her pocket.

True, she and Tom had gone ring shopping in Bozeman last weekend. It hadn’t taken long for word to get around Marietta: After all these years, Charlotte Morgan and Tom Tucker were finally getting engaged. The only problem was, they hadn’t bought a ring, and when Tom had kissed her goodbye before heading off to his next competition on the Professional Bull Riders circuit, Charlotte certainly hadn’t felt as if she’d been proposed to. Not properly, anyway.

Now, it seemed as if the entire town of Marietta was wagering: Were they or weren’t they engaged?

The fact that she didn’t have a ring on her finger should’ve said it all. However, a tiny tidbit not many people knew was it wasn’t Tom’s fault that they’d walked out of that jewelry store empty-handed. Charlotte had been the ambivalent one. Tom had gravitated toward a gorgeous two-carat bundle of bling so big and bright it could blind a person from fifty paces. She’d desperately wanted to love the marquise he wanted for her. But when she’d put it on and held up her hand to look at it, the bottom point of the setting had dug into the base of her finger. Then every time she’d moved, the ring had seemed to bite her. She’d even tried a larger size, but that had just made the ring slide off her finger when she’d put her hand down at her side.

So she’d pointed out a modest emerald cut, which she’d actually preferred to the marquise, but Tom hadn’t been very enthusiastic. For a split second, Charlotte had wondered if his lack of gusto held a deeper meaning. Because for a moment it had almost seemed like they were both just going through the motions. Then she’d looked around at all the gorgeous rings, sparkling in the cases as if to celebrate the occasion that she, Charlotte Morgan, was finally making the big commitment.

And she’d wanted to run.

It was all so overwhelming. They’d been together for six years, but they’d been apart more than they’d been together.

It was just commitment jitters. That was all.

She’d taken a deep breath and reconsidered Tom’s marquise. She’d worn it around the shop for a while, hoping she’d get used to the feel of it. However, ultimately, all she’d wanted to do was take it off. In the end, Tom, seeming a little quiet and deflated, agreed they should wait until next time.

Would there be a next time?

Charlotte blinked away the thought.

Of course there would be a next time. But did it have to be right now? Maybe they should wait until he was spending more time in Marietta than on the road. Obviously, living apart as much as they did wasn’t the way to start a marriage.

They’d talk about it in three weeks, when he was back in town to present the awards for the Marietta Fair Junior Rodeo competition.

Mattie cleared her throat, startling Charlotte out of her thoughts. The teenager looked like she was about ready to come around the desk. So Charlotte quickly took control of the situation.

“Good morning to you, too, Matt. Actually, I’m here for the walkthrough with your brother. Jane will be here any minute. Will you please let Jesse know I’m here? I’d hate to keep him waiting.”

The girl sat back in her chair. That’s when Charlotte noticed the puppy sleeping in the girl’s lap. “FYI, I’m going by the name Mattalyn now. I’ll accept Mattie, but I’d prefer Mattalyn. No one is allowed to call me Matt anymore. And you didn’t answer my question, Charlie. Where’s your engagement ring? I swore to Gina that you’d gotten one. But Gina said when she saw you at Sweet Peas, you weren’t wearing a ring. But I told her if you were in Sweet Peas, you were probably there ordering your wedding flowers—”

“I was at Sweet Peas talking to Risa about donating flowers for the Miss Marietta Fair pageant.”

That’s what today’s meeting was about. Charlotte had been hired away from her job at the bank to work for the Marietta Chamber of Commerce. One of her biggest projects was putting a new spin on the pageant.

“Oh.” Mattie scratched the puppy behind the ears, and her gaze darted from Charlotte’s face to the hand hidden in her pocket.

“Good to know about the name change, Mattalyn. It suits you. It’s very grown-up. Is that a new puppy?”

Mattie nodded. “Yep. Jesse let me bring her to work. Isn’t she the sweetest thing?”

For a moment, Charlotte thought she’d successfully diverted the girl’s attention from rings to puppies, then Mattie said, “But you are engaged, right? Because I told Gina you were.”

Oh, boy.

Charlotte glanced in the direction of Jesse’s office, hoping he would miraculously appear and rescue her from his sister’s grilling. But the door was open and the light was off and it didn’t seem likely.

Maybe it was best just to tell her the truth.

“We didn’t find the ring we were looking for. So, we decided to wait.”

Charlotte shrugged it off like it was no big deal.

“Oh.” The girl frowned. “But you and Tom are getting married, right? And I’m going to be in the wedding, right?”

“Whoa, one step at a time,” Charlotte said. “Let us get engaged first, and then we’ll talk about the wedding party. I promise you’ll be among the first to know, and you will be in my wedding. Now, will you please let Jesse know I’m here, okay?”

“He knows you’re coming, but he isn’t here. I mean he’s here here.” She made a sweeping gesture with her hands and woke up the little dog, who yawned and stretched. “He’s just out somewhere on the grounds. He said he had to go take care of some things before you got here. You’re kind of early, but I can call his cell if you want.”

She set the puppy on the floor. “So, you just don’t seem very excited about getting engaged.”

“I am excited, Mattalyn.” Charlotte forced her best smile. “Now please call Jesse?”

As Mattie placed the call, Charlotte’s left thumb meandered to her bare finger again. The marquise had been beautiful…in theory. But what good was a beautiful ring if all she wanted to do was take it off? That pointy end had actually made an indentation in her skin. It had been the strangest, most uncomfortable thing.

She was getting married only once. Was it so wrong to want everything to be perfect…right down to the ring?

She swallowed around the fifty-carat lump in her throat, hating herself for feeling so ambivalent.

“He’s on his way,” Mattie said as she hung up the phone. The puppy made her way around the desk and was sniffing at Charlotte’s feet.

“She’s cute. How long have you had her?”

“She just showed up in the backyard the other day. Jesse said if I take care of her, I can keep her.”

Jesse had always had a soft spot for animals. In fact, sometimes it seemed as if he liked animals more than people. That was one of the things that had made him such a good bull rider. He seemed to be able to sense what the beasts would do before they did it. That was also what made it so sad when he’d had the accident that had ended his career.

“What’s her name?”

“Lulu.” Mattie propped her chin on her hand and regarded Charlotte with dreamy eyes. “Weddings are so romantic. Aren’t you just so happy? I can’t imagine anything more exciting than being in love and getting engaged and planning a wedding.”

“You’re going to experience a lot of exciting things before you meet the right guy and settle down, Mattie. Don’t be in too big of a hurry.”

“Well, I am fifteen,” she said. “So marriage isn’t that far away. And when I meet the right person, I’m not waiting as long as you and Tom. God, you guys have been together forever.”

“We’ve been dating six years. We both thought it was important that I finished college before even thinking about marriage. And we wanted Tom to get established in his career. I mean, he’s away a lot, and that’s not easy.”

It was true. She and Tom had started dating in high school, but since graduation, they had been apart more than they’d been together thanks to her being away at college and his constant travel. But they’d made it work.

Charlotte turned at the sound of the door opening. Her boss, Jane Weiss McCullough, who was head of the Marietta Chamber of Commerce, and Jesse stepped inside and closed the door behind them.

“Good morning,” Jane said. “I’m not late, am I?”

Mattie shook her head. “Jesse wasn’t even here, and Charlotte was early. We were talking about her and Tom going ring shopping over the weekend.”

Jane, who looked cool and crisp in a sleek summer dress, shot Charlotte a knowing glance. Jane was one of the few people who’d heard the whole story about the gouging marquise ring and Charlotte’s cold feet. In typical Jane fashion, her friend had listened but hadn’t judged.

As a relative newcomer, Jane was no stranger to Marietta gossip. As the new director of the Marietta Chamber of Commerce, she’d ruffled a few feathers before she’d found her place in the close-knit community. Then, when she married Sam McCullough, she’d been the subject of speculation similar to the type that Charlotte was going through now, and she’d handled it like a pro.

Now that Charlotte found herself a feature on the Marietta grapevine, she intended to borrow a page from Jane’s dignified book.

Jesse frowned. “Mattie, did you finish the paperwork I asked you to have ready for our meeting?”

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