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Authors: Cathy McDavid

Cowboy for Keeps

BOOK: Cowboy for Keeps
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He’s Just A Cowboy

Not by choice, Conner Durham has traded in his suit for jeans
and cowboy boots. He’s grateful to find work training mustangs—after all,
cowboying is in his blood. But for years he’s been pulling down six figures
working as a systems analyst. Now he’s lost his job, his house and his whole way
of life. The one good thing that has happened is meeting Dallas Sorrenson, a
former flame, again.

Dallas has some surprising news—she’s pregnant. It’s not the
coming baby that has Connor tied in knots, but his current position in the
world. Can a successful photographer fall for a lowly cowboy? And what about
Dallas’ ex—who just happens to be the man who ended Conner’s job? The situation
couldn’t be more complicated…but maybe there’s no such thing as a bad time to
fall in love.

“I won't say I'm unhappy you're single again.”

That was all it took. Desire hit Conner with the force of a
head-on collision. He wanted her. Like no other woman before. Wanted her so
desperately, he couldn't be trusted alone with her a moment longer.

“It's getting late.” He stood, his legs weak at the knees,
and removed his jacket from the chair. “I should leave.”

“All right.” She walked with him to the living room. Before
they reached the door, she stopped him with a hand on his arm and a soft
“Wait.”

“Did I forget something?”

“Only this.” She lifted her lips to his and brushed them
lightly across his mouth. “I've been wanting to do that all night.”

Fire exploded inside him. He dropped his jacket, grabbed her
by the shoulders and held her in place against him. “If I kiss you back, I won't
stop there.”

Dear Reader,

Every story needs an ending, and if you’re a lover of
romances like I am, you want that ending to be a happy one! I’m thrilled to
bring you
Cowboy for Keeps
, the fourth installment
in my Mustang Valley series. I realized once I’d finished the third book,
Baby’s First Homecoming
, that we still didn’t know the
origin of Prince, the incredible wild mustang found roaming the McDowell
Mountains of Arizona. Well, I just couldn’t let that happen.

My hero, Conner Durham, is a different breed of cowboy. Not
only is he an incredible horse trainer, he holds two degrees. Brains
and
brawn. How great is that? Like others in this
rough economy, Conner lost his management position due to company downsizing.
Dallas Sorrenson, the girl who catches his eye, is on her way up in the world.
If that weren’t tough enough to take, she’s pregnant with another man’s baby.
Conner should walk away, but he can’t. And we wouldn’t want him to anyway, now,
would we?

As in many of my books, I took inspiration from real life for
this one. Last year I read a startling news article about an injured horse, and
I couldn’t get that story out of my mind. I’ve used bits and pieces from that
real-life horse’s terrible ordeal in
Cowboy for
Keeps
, where Conner and Dallas help to save a badly injured mare and
her young offspring.

I hope you enjoy this story. As always, I enjoy hearing from
readers. You can contact me at
www.cathymcdavid.com
.

Warmest wishes,
Cathy McDavid

Cowboy for Keeps

Cathy McDavid

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cathy makes her home in Scottsdale, Arizona, near the
breathtaking McDowell Mountains, where hawks fly overhead, javelina traipse
across her front yard and mountain lions occasionally come calling. She embraced
the country life at an early age, acquiring her first horse in eighth grade.
Dozens of horses followed through the years, along with mules, an obscenely fat
donkey, chickens, ducks, goats and a potbellied pig who had her own swimming
pool. Nowadays, two spoiled dogs and two spoiled-er cats round out the McDavid
pets. Cathy loves contemporary and historical ranch stories and often
incorporates her own experiences into her books.

When not writing, Cathy and her family and friends spend as
much time as they can at her cabin in the small town of Young. Of course, she
takes her laptop with her on the chance inspiration strikes.

Books by Cathy McDavid

HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE

1168—HIS ONLY WIFE
1197—THE FAMILY
PLAN
1221—COWBOY DAD
1264—WAITING FOR BABY
1294—TAKING ON
TWINS
1307—THE ACCIDENTAL SHERIFF
1318—DUSTY: WILD
COWBOY
1345—THE COMEBACK COWBOY
1365—LAST CHANCE COWBOY
*
1384—HER COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS WISH *
1397—BABY’S FIRST HOMECOMING
*
1409—AIDAN: LOYAL COWBOY

*Mustang Valley

To Torno, my first and best horse. You will always run wild and
free in my heart.

Chapter One

The tie choked worse than a pair of hands around his
neck.

Conner Durham yanked at the knot, loosening the tie, and then
ripped it off altogether. He flung the offensive garment onto the passenger seat
beside him, where his rumpled suit jacket already lay. The interview, his third
with this particular company, had been a complete and utter waste of time.

He wasn’t getting the job; the hiring manager had said as much
before dismissing him with the dreaded “Thanks, we’ll be in touch.”

Turning his truck onto the long drive leading to Powell Ranch,
Conner slowed his speed to the posted ten miles an hour. He’d have to find a
different way to vent his frustration other than pressing his pedal to the
metal.

Maybe he’d take Dos Rojo out, work the young gelding in the
arena. He and the mustang, named for his distinctive red coloring, were still
ironing out the kinks in their relationship, deciding who was in charge. So far,
they were even, with Dos Rojo coming out ahead some days, Conner on others.

Driving past the main horse barn, he headed for his quarters, a
four-hundred-square-foot efficiency apartment. Hard to believe a mere six months
ago he’d owned a five-bedroom house and spent money as if it did indeed grow on
trees.

No more, and not again in the foreseeable future, unless his
luck drastically changed.

Luck, the lack of it,
had
to be the
reason he couldn’t find a decent job. It certainly wasn’t his qualifications.
According to the one-in-twenty prospective employers who’d bothered to contact
him after receiving his résumé, he had qualifications coming out his ears.
Usually more than the job required.

Little did they know Conner was already downplaying his
education and experience in order to make himself more hirable.

Inside the apartment, he swapped the rest of his dress clothes
for a well-worn work shirt and jeans. Threading his belt through the loops, he
fastened the gold buckle. It was one of his most cherished possessions and
proclaimed him Arizona State Champion in steer wrestling. He’d won the buckle in
college, before abandoning his cowboy ways in order to earn double MBAs and make
his mark in corporate America.

Which he did, for six years, only to fall victim to a massive
layoff and departmental downsizing. In the five minutes it took Human Resources
to inform Conner that his good pal and fellow manager would take over his
position and absorb the few remaining members left on Conner’s team, his entire
life had changed.

A knock sounding on the door provided a welcome distraction.
Another minute and Conner might have started feeling sorry for himself.

Yeah, right. Who was he kidding?

“Door’s open,” he called, pulling on his boots and
standing.

“You decent?” Gavin Powell, Conner’s lifelong friend and
current boss, barged inside. His glance went straight to the sleeping area,
where Conner stood in front of the haphazardly made bed. “Good, you’re
ready.”

“You need something done?”

Instead of answering, Gavin sniffed around the kitchen
counter.

“Hungry?”

“I missed lunch. How’d the interview g—”

“Don’t ask.” Conner strolled into the kitchen, adjusting his
Stetson till it fit snugly on his head. “You live in a house full of people.
Didn’t one of them fix you some food?”

“Sage and the baby are taking a nap, since someone kept us up
last night, crying. Dad’s down with the flu. Between laundry and helping the
girls with their homework, the afternoon got away from me. Do you have any idea
how many papers parents are expected to read and sign? Three, just for Isa to go
on a field trip.”

Last spring, Gavin and Sage had married, joining them and their
two daughters, each from a previous relationship, into one big happy family. Now
they had a two-month-old son, making their family even bigger and happier.

“Never mind,” he complained. “I’ll grab some crackers in the
office. Which, by the way, is where I need you to be in an hour.”

“What’s up?”

“I finally hired a photographer. She’s meeting with us at
four-thirty.”

“Us?” Conner quirked a brow.

“You heard right. I need someone to act as a guide. Who knows
the story of Prince and is familiar enough with these mountains to lead a day
ride. You’re the only one I can spare fitting that description.”

Conner didn’t argue. He owed Gavin for the roof over his head
and the food on his table. Literally. If Gavin hadn’t rescued him a few months
ago, when his severance pay ran out, he might now be living in his truck.

“What about Dos Rojo?” Conner asked. “I want to work him in the
arena before the equestrian drill team arrives for their practice.”

“Then I guess you’d better get started.”

They parted ways on the porch. As Conner crossed the open area
and headed toward the horse barn, the many changes occurring at the ranch during
the last two years struck him anew. His own apartment was once a bunkhouse, back
in the days when the Powells had owned and operated a thriving cattle business.
The smaller of the two horse barns had been expanded to include stud quarters
for Prince, the Powells’ pride and joy. And the cattle barn, now a mare motel,
housed the many horses brought to the ranch to breed with Prince.

Like Conner, Thunder Ranch and the Powells had suffered a grave
financial setback, a combination of the economic downturn, loss of their range
and encroaching housing developments.

Unlike Conner, the Powells had bounced back, thanks in large
part to Prince, a stallion Gavin had discovered roaming free in the nearby
McDowell Mountain Preserve. More significant perhaps, the Powells had adapted,
turning what remained of their cattle ranch into Scottsdale’s most successful
public riding stable.

“Hey, boy.”

Dos Rojo eyed Conner warily as he approached the stall. The
mustang needed an attitude adjustment if he expected to continue living the
cushy life of a working ranch horse. Otherwise, he might end up back where he’d
come from at the Bureau of Land Management’s facility in Show Low, his fate
uncertain and, though Conner didn’t like thinking about it, possibly doomed.

Not entirely unlike his own fate.

He was determined that the horse remain at Powell Ranch, just
as he was determined to find another job.

“Let’s go, boy.”

They spent forty minutes in the arena, Conner putting Dos Rojo
through his paces on a lunge line. When they’d finished, he walked out the horse
and gave his coat a good brushing before returning him to his stall. To his
delight, Dos Rojo sniffed Conner’s hat and nudged his arm as he latched the
stall door.

“I agree.” He patted the horse’s neck. “Good workout. Maybe
next time we’ll try getting a saddle blanket on you.”

There were many things Conner had liked about his former job.
The challenges he regularly faced and overcame, the sense of accomplishment, the
respect and admiration of his peers and superiors, greeting every new day with
purpose.

To be honest, he also found some of those same rewards working
for Gavin.

It wasn’t enough, however.

The ranch office was located in the barn, beside the tack and
storage rooms. As he neared, he could hear voices, Gavin’s and a woman’s.

Conner’s steps faltered, and then stopped altogether. It
couldn’t be her! He must be mistaken.

The laughter, light and musical, struck a too familiar
chord.

His hands involuntarily clenched. Gavin wouldn’t blindside him
like this. He’d assured Conner weeks ago that Dallas Sorrenson had declined
their request to work on the book about Prince due to a schedule conflict. Her
wedding, Conner had assumed.

And yet there was no mistaking that laughter, which drifted
again through the closed office door.

He contemplated turning around, then thought better of it.
Whatever Gavin required of him, he’d do. He owed his friend that much.

Still, a warning would have been nice.

With an arm that suddenly weighed a hundred pounds, he grasped
the knob, pushed the door open and entered the office.

Dallas turned immediately and greeted him with a huge smile.
The kind of bright, sexy smile that had most men—Conner included—angling for the
chance to get near her.

Except she was married, or soon to be married. He couldn’t
remember the date.

And her husband, or husband-to-be, was Conner’s former coworker
and pal. The same man who’d taken over Conner’s department. Supervised his
employees. Expanded his office into Conner’s old space.

The man whose life remained perfect while Conner’s had taken a
nosedive.

“It’s so good to see you again!” Dallas came toward him.

He reached out his hand to shake hers. “Hey, Dallas.”

She ignored his hand and wound her arms loosely around his neck
for a friendly hug. Against his better judgment, Conner folded her in his
embrace and drew her close. She smelled like spring flowers and felt like every
man’s fantasy. Then again, she always had.

Richard was one lucky guy to snare a woman like her.

And, like a fool, Conner had made it easy for him.

She drew slowly back and assessed him in that interested way
old friends do after not seeing each other for a while. “How have you been?”

Rather than state the obvious, that he was still looking for a
job and just managing to survive, he answered, “Fine. How ’bout yourself?”

“Great.”

She looked as happy as she sounded. Flushed—no, glowing, her
brown eyes sparkling with curiosity. She’d swept her brunette hair, shorter than
when he’d seen her last month, off her face with a colorful band.

Conner could be mistaken, but he thought she might have put on
a little weight. It looked good, giving her curves in all the right places.

Married life obviously agreed with her.

“I thought you turned down the photography job.” He tried not
to stare, dimly aware that he’d interrupted Gavin.

His friend shot him an impatient look. “Like I was saying,
Dallas’s calendar unexpectedly cleared. She called me last night and volunteered
to take the pictures, if we still needed someone, which we do.”

She broke out in that incredible smile again.

Conner’s heart disregarded his brain’s directive and beat
triple time.

This had to stop. She was taken, and Conner didn’t trespass on
another man’s territory, even when he disliked the guy.

He needed to get a grip on himself, and fast. How could he
expect to work with her otherwise?

The coffee-table-style book, in the planning stages for months,
would chronicle the life of Prince, beginning with his capture, to his success
as a stud horse, as well as tell the story of the mustang sanctuary, from its
inception to today. All profits from the sale of the book would go toward
funding the sanctuary and raising awareness of the plight of wild mustangs.

As an avid advocate of no-kill animal shelters, and a
professional photographer, Dallas had been the Powells’ first choice. It was
Conner, in fact, who’d introduced her to them back in the day, when he was on
good terms with Richard. Since then, she’d become friends with the Powells,
frequently volunteering at the sanctuary. She’d initially agreed to work on the
book, but then there had been that conflict.

No more, apparently.

Conner would do whatever was required of him to help the
Powells and Clay Duvall, whose rodeo arena currently housed the sanctuary. They
weren’t just his good friends, he also supported their efforts to rehabilitate
former wild mustangs and place them in good homes.

He just wished he didn’t have to work with Dallas.

“I thought maybe you two could head out to the sanctuary this
morning,” Gavin continued, oblivious of the internal battle waging inside
Conner. “Get started with some pictures, figure out what all needs doing and how
you’re going to manage it.”

Dallas beamed. “Wonderful idea!”

“I have a class at five.” When Conner wasn’t overseeing the
bucking and roping stock at the Duvall’s rodeo arena, he taught riding classes
at Powell Ranch and lead trail rides.

“I’ll cover for you.” Gavin started for the door.

“O...kay.” Done deal. Conner was going with Dallas to the
sanctuary. “We’ll take my truck.”

She accompanied him out of the office and to the apartment,
where he’d parked.

“I thought you drove a Dodge,” she commented, upon seeing his
older model Ford.

“Used to.” He didn’t elaborate, preferring not to advertise
that he’d traded in the Dodge, along with his convertible and motorcycle, for a
secondhand truck without monthly payments.

“Oh.” Understanding registered on Dallas’s face. “I’m sorry
about your job. Triad Energy Systems lost a good department head.”

He opened the door for her. “Guess they kept the better
man.”

She met his gaze. “They kept the man with more seniority.”

Not the kind of remark he’d expect from Richard’s better
half.

“You’ll excuse me if I don’t ask how he’s doing.”

“Actually, I wouldn’t know.” An indefinable emotion flickered
in her eyes. “As of two months ago, we’re no longer engaged.”

It took several seconds for her words to register, longer for
their implication to sink in.

Dallas Sorrenson was not just single, she was available.

* * *

C
ONNER
HAD
ALWAYS
BEEN
easy to talk to, his boyish charm encouraging conversation. It wasn’t the only
quality Dallas had liked about him.

Did
like about him.

Talk flowed easily on the ten-minute drive from Powell Ranch to
the mustang sanctuary at Duvall Rodeo Arena. Well, with two minor
exceptions.

When Dallas inquired after Conner’s job search, he gave her one
of those nonanswers and promptly changed the subject. They also didn’t discuss
what had happened between her and Richard, though the news of their breakup had
clearly stunned him, requiring a full minute for him to regain his ability to
speak.

BOOK: Cowboy for Keeps
7.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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