Read Can't Resist a Cowboy Online

Authors: Elizabeth Otto

Tags: #Indulgence, #Military, #marine, #paint river ranch, #Romance, #Elizabeth Otto, #childhood sweethearts, #Entangled, #ranch, #cowboy, #Can't Resist a Cowboy

Can't Resist a Cowboy

BOOK: Can't Resist a Cowboy
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He’s always been her weakness...

Injured and discharged, Marine Levi Haywood has returned to his family’s ranch to heal and start a new life. After all, once a cowboy,
always
a cowboy. The only problem? Life at the ranch has moved on since he joined the service, and suddenly his role in the family business is much less clear. And things get a lot more confusing when the woman he left behind returns home.

Carrie Lynn Waite has never known a time when she didn’t love Levi. They were childhood sweethearts, but because of her health, she was forced to move to the city, away from the ranching life. Now Carrie’s come home only to learn her family’s ranch is in trouble and Levi is back, along with an undeniable attraction she can’t resist. But some things never change, forcing Carrie to choose the future laid out before her…or the cowboy she could never resist.

Table of Contents

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

Copyright © 2015 by Elizabeth Otto. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at
www.entangledpublishing.com
.

Indulgence is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.

Edited by Liz Pelletier

Cover design by Liz Pelletier

Cover art by iStock

ISBN 978-1-63375-202-3

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition May 2015

Chapter One

A man dancing on the roof of the Tit for Tap bar with a squawking chicken under each arm should have been a little odd, but it was exactly the type of thing Carrie Lynn Waite expected around here. Surrounded by people, she crossed her arms and tipped her chin up to better see the show. The man started a little jig, somehow managing not to fall when the chickens went into freak-out mode. The crowd gave a raucous cheer and one corner of Carrie’s mouth tugged up.

“What’s this?” She slid her father, Darren, an amused look, indicating the roof.

He shrugged. “Supposed to be good luck.”

She snorted. “For who?”

“Not the chickens.” Darren winked and it did Carrie’s heart good. Concern had overridden her happiness at being back in Montana when she’d arrived at her childhood home and found worsening disrepair. Agate Falls ranch had always needed a touch-up here or there, but this was different. Much, much worse. Once the centerpiece of the house, the wraparound porch was missing sections of railing. Steps were broken, the bottom one gone completely. And the crack in the living room window? She didn’t have time to contemplate how that might have happened before her father led her to his truck and ushered her to the bar.

He’d tried to hide the creases in his forehead by pulling his cowboy hat low. It didn’t fool her. She’d been his pillar for years. She’d become adept at sensing when shit was hitting the fan and he was trying to keep it to himself.

The man yelled something from above and stumbled. Carrie caught her breath. One chicken went flying, making an arc through the fading daylight, wings flapping to beat hell as it plummeted into the waiting hands of the crowd.

The roof dancer raised his free arm over his head and bellowed, “May Fire!” and the crowd cheered, holding plastic beer cups high. Slow warmth filled her chest at the pronouncement. May Fire, the start of cattle branding season in Greenbrook, Montana, was something she’d missed since moving away five years ago. It was a celebration of community and a time for the local ranchers to get together for food, drinks, and the bonfire that gave the event its name.

Carrie tilted her head to adjust for the dimming sunlight, momentarily closing her eyes against the glare. A shout from up top startled her into looking. The second bird made a descent, falling straight at her. Carrie stepped forward, her arms going out instinctively to make a cradle for the poor thing as it landed with an ear-piercing squawk.

Shocked, Carrie breathed a sigh of relief, the chicken’s heart racing as it settled into her embrace and promptly tucked its head into the crook of her arm. Darren shook his head and tipped his hat back.

“You always did have the touch, Carrie-girl. You could put the meanest dog to sleep with a little scratch.” It was true. She had the gift of touch—at least that’s what he’d always said. Her job in Wyoming as a massage therapist played to her skills, and she was good at it. There was nothing quite like the satisfaction of taking someone’s stress and pain away.

Mindlessly stroking the chicken, Carrie looked around for a place to deposit the bird as she followed her dad inside the Tit for Tap. They hadn’t gotten far when he stopped and turned to her.

“Welcome home, honey. I didn’t get a chance to tell you earlier.”

“Thanks, Dad.” His request for her to visit couldn’t have come at a better time. She’d been planning to take a long vacation at Agate Falls anyway. Five months had passed since she’d last been home, and she needed a quiet place to do some heavy thinking. She couldn’t shake the impression she’d have more to think about soon, given the state of the ranch.

He studied her a moment. “We need to sit down and have a good talk.” Their weekly phone conversations hadn’t tipped her off to any bad news brewing, but her dad had always been good at keeping things to himself until he just couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“By the way…” His expression grew serious. “Just ’cause you’re home at branding time doesn’t mean you’re working. You just sit back and watch.”

A diabetic since childhood, she’d struggled with hard-to-regulate blood sugar levels starting around puberty. The physical labors of ranching life seemed to make it worse. A few hours of horseback riding or working the fields and her sugars would plummet and she’d faint, sometimes suffering injuries as a result. After she’d passed out in the barn and broken her arm, her doctors suggested a radical lifestyle change to try to help.

No ranch work. No horseback riding. No extreme physical labor. Agate Falls was an hour from the closest hospital, and it had been stressful on her father to constantly worry about her. By the time she was thirteen, she’d been homeschooled with a tutor and placed on an activity restriction. She’d spent the bulk of her younger years on the sidelines, watching while ranching went on around her, resenting every moment she couldn’t participate.

Eventually, her body adjusted and she had less trouble regulating her sugar. When she’d turned eighteen, her dad had urged her to move to the city to live with her aunts where medical care was easily available. She’d left, gone to college, and gotten a job as a chiropractic assistant and massage therapist. But she’d missed Agate Falls every day since.

A stream of people had formed behind her, urging them forward. Carrie was nearly pushed into her dad’s back as they shuffled inside. “So, where is branding tomorrow?”

The glance he cast over his shoulder spoke for him. She groaned. There were five ranches in Greenbrook; why did it have to be
that
one?

“Paint River Ranch.” Just saying the words gave her a shot of longing and the shadowy memory of turquoise eyes looking down into hers. Her scalp tingled as she struggled with the sudden need to turn around and search the sea of faces. Damn it, she already had—the moment she’d stepped out of the truck in the bar’s parking lot. There’d been no sign of the Haywood boys, Cole, Tucker, and Levi, anywhere. Good. She’d run into
him
eventually, she supposed.
Eventually
could hold out a little longer.

Tightening her grip on the chicken, Carrie stepped over the threshold of the bar and handed the bird to the bouncer. He leaned back on his stool with both palms in the air. “No way. Deep fryer’s in the back.”

She mirrored his playful grin. “Seriously?” Tempted to launch the bird and make a run for it, Carrie followed her dad inside. The dim interior light made her squint.

Darren spoke into her ear like he had a secret. “Levi’s going to be here tonight. Been a good few years since you seen him, huh?”

Well,
eventually
just got a whole lot shorter. A good few years since she’d seen him? That had been on purpose. The bastard had ditched her six years ago and never looked back, and no matter how much she’d missed him all this time, her pride kept the longing in check.

“He’s all healed up,” her dad continued as if this were an ordinary topic and not one that hurt. Time had passed; he probably figured she was over it. Mostly, she was, though there were still moments when she lost herself in what she’d had with Levi, and what could have been—if he hadn’t dumped her.

Carrie’s arm tensed around the bird, one hand stroking him to keep her nerves under control. The Haywoods were their neighbors. Growing up, their families had helped each other with ranch work, and spent a fair amount of free time together. Levi had been her friend before he’d been her first love—and the first to crush her soul into a gazillion pieces.

Thanks to his brother Tucker keeping her in the loop over the years, she knew Levi had almost lost his life in Afghanistan and was subsequently healed. Her connection to the Haywoods ran deep. Though it had pained her heart each time Tucker texted or called with a tidbit, it agonized her more to consider asking him to stop updating her. She and Levi had too much history, she supposed, to ever be completely erased from each other’s lives.

“Geez, girl. You’re going to pet the feathers clean off him.”

“What?” She looked down, realizing she was petting the bird too hard. She wished her diabetes didn’t keep her from drinking, because something strong sounded perfect right about now.

“You okay?”

Carrie feigned indifference. She’d let go of Levi a long time ago, and it was going to stay that way. When she saw him again, she’d hold in six long years of emotion and be polite and composed. She’d say hello and get it over fast, like ripping off a Band-Aid, before her brain and heart had the chance to get stupid over him.

Luckily, her dad didn’t pry anymore. “I’m going to mingle a bit on the way to the bar. Get us a table?” Darren left to flag down a waitress. A band geared up to play from the stage, the crowd getting louder and rowdier by the second. Aware that she was still in the path of people coming in the door, Carrie moved to the side and looked for a place to sit as the shadows continued to mess with her depth perception.

A huge
bang
from the back of the dance floor made her jump. A collective gasp of surprise went through the space. Light filtered in the far end of the room as if the back door had been opened and the crowd made a dash to part down the middle. Someone shouted, “Damn it, Cody, not again!” as a huge shadow shot down the path the crowd had made.

“Horse in the bar!” was followed by a cheer that seemed amazingly out of place, because, really? A horse? Though she did have a chicken… It took Carrie’s brain a moment to register. Yep, horse, trotting through the room with its rider whooping, “May Fire!” and waving his hat in the air. She searched for an escape, but the distorted shadows left her no clear path to follow.

The horse’s hooves sounded like hollow thunder on the wood floor—getting louder as it headed straight for her. A man burst off his chair next to her, inadvertently knocking it in her direction as she tried to sidestep out of the horse’s path. Carrie tripped, right arm going out to help her balance, left arm squeezing the bird. She wobbled the wrong way, stumbling forward instead of back as the planks vibrated under her feet.

A cry lodged in her throat as a puff of warm horse breath washed over her face, the animal so close, she could feel its body heat.

Carrie tensed, preparing for impact.

BOOK: Can't Resist a Cowboy
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