Her Small-Town Cowboy

BOOK: Her Small-Town Cowboy
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A Family for the Teacher

Lily St. George dreams of marriage and a family of her own. But as a temporary kindergarten teacher, she can’t get too attached to anyone in Oaks Crossing. When a student brings in her single father for show-and-tell, Lily is drawn to charming cowboy Mike Kinley. Working overtime to save his struggling horse farm, Mike claims to have no room in his life for love. But when they team up to start a riding school for children at his ranch, Lily knows she’ll have to help Mike see their partnership is meant to be permanent.

“Thanks for making time for me today,” Lily said with a smile.

“No problem,” Mike responded. “Sorry it wasn’t much of a riding lesson.”

The sweet smile warmed to something he didn’t quite understand. And wasn’t sure he wanted to.

“Actually, I learned a lot. About you.”

“Yeah? Like what?” he asked.

“That you don’t hesitate to put yourself in danger to help an animal when it’s in trouble. That says a lot about a person, don’t you think?”

“I guess so,” he hedged, feeling awkward and proud at the same time. He wasn’t used to being praised for simply being himself.

“Someone like that is just the person I want teaching me. Do you think you can work me into your schedule again soon?”

“How ’bout Monday at four?” he heard himself ask, cringing at the eager tone in his voice.

Since he couldn’t take it back, he did his best to act as if seeing her again that soon didn’t matter all that much one way or the other. When deep down, he knew it did matter. A lot.

Mia Ross
loves great stories. She enjoys reading about fascinating people, long-ago times and exotic places. But only for a little while, because her reality is pretty sweet. Married to her college sweetheart, she’s the proud mom of two amazing kids, whose schedules keep her hopping. Busy as she is, she can’t imagine trading her life for anyone else’s—and she has a pretty good imagination. You can visit her online at
miaross.com
.

Books by Mia Ross

Love Inspired

Oaks Crossing

Her Small-Town Cowboy

Barrett’s Mill

Blue Ridge Reunion

Sugar Plum Season

Finding His Way Home

Loving the Country Boy

Holiday Harbor

Rocky Coast Romance

Jingle Bell Romance

Seaside Romance

Hometown Family

Circle of Family

A Gift of Family

A Place for Family

HER SMALL-TOWN
COWBOY

Mia Ross

Forgive, and you will be forgiven.


Luke
6:37

For Ruth

Acknowledgments

To the very talented folks who help me
make my books everything they can be:
Elaine Spencer, Melissa Endlich
and the dedicated staff at Love Inspired.

More thanks to the gang at Seekerville
(
www.seekerville.net
), a great place
to hang out with readers—and writers.

I’ve been blessed with a wonderful network of supportive, encouraging family and friends. You inspire me every day!

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Epilogue

Dear Reader

Excerpt from
An Unexpected Groom
by Ruth Logan Herne

Chapter One

M
ike Kinley hated weddings.

Maybe
hate
was a little strong, he amended as he guided a team of perfectly matched bays into the shade of a nearby oak tree. Setting the carriage’s brake with his boot, he glanced over at the gazebo where a photographer was taking shots of the bride and groom he’d just delivered.
Poor kids,
Mike thought with a grimace. They had no idea what they were in for.

Then again, neither had he. He’d done everything in his power to make Dana happy, and where did that get him? Divorced and wishing he’d listened to his head instead of his heart. Now he was thirty years old and working seven days a week desperately trying to hold up his end of a faltering family business. If they couldn’t come up with a way to bring in more cash—and soon—their shaky bottom line would crater to a depth they wouldn’t be able to recover from. They’d be forced to sell the place that generations of Kinleys had worked so hard to build up from a scenic bluegrass meadow to the well-respected Gallimore Stables. He and his brothers would be hunting for jobs, and his mother would lose the home she cherished so much. While Mike couldn’t deny that weddings brought in some much-needed revenue, they sure were tough on his nerves.

And seeing as it was early May in Kentucky, wedding season had only begun.

Hoping to get himself back to his usual even keel, he jumped down and took a small tackle box from the well where he rested his feet when he was driving. Taking out a soft cloth and brush, he began rubbing the horses down, talking as much to entertain himself as them.

“There’s my girl, Penny,” he cooed in a quiet voice. “We’ll get you shined up, and then it’s your turn, Ginger. Folks’ll want to pet you later on, so you’ve gotta be looking your best.”

Breaking his own strict rule about not feeding the horses, he slipped a hand into the pocket of the elegant morning coat his sister forced him to wear for these gigs and brought out a few sugar cubes for each of them. After they slurped down their treats, he ran his hands down their legs in a practiced motion, lifting their hooves to make sure no gravel from the estate’s pathways had gotten wedged into their shoes.

Satisfied that everything was okay, he stood between them and patted their outside shoulders. “Lookin’ good, ladies.”

In unison, the beautiful mares tossed their heads and whinnied back at him. Behind him, he heard a woman laugh. Careful not to startle the horses, he slowly turned to find a slender bridesmaid coming down the wide steps that led out to the gardens from one of the three reception halls. Wearing a pale blue dress that looked as if it was made of spun sugar, she seemed right at home in her elegant surroundings. A few curls had escaped her elaborate hairdo, framing a pair of sparkling eyes that were nearly the same color as her dress. His poetic reaction to her was totally unlike him, and he sternly reminded himself to keep things professional.

“If I didn’t know better,” she commented in a melodic drawl, “I’d think they understood what you said to them.”

“Oh, they did. They’re female, so they can never get enough compliments.” Even to his ears, that came across as jaded, and he tried to soften the impact by extending his hand. “Mike Kinley, carriage driver.”

After a moment, she gave him a shy smile and shook his hand. “Lily St. George, runaway bridesmaid.”

That was a new one, he mused with more than a little curiosity. Normally, he wouldn’t even think of asking her to explain. But he had at least an hour to kill while he waited for his passengers, and although he thought horses made great companions, they weren’t much in the conversation department. “Mind if I ask why?”

“My younger sister is the bride, which is wonderful.” Pausing, she frowned. “The groom is my ex-boyfriend.”

“Not so wonderful.” When she sighed and nodded, the sadness that came into her eyes brought back some of the mood he’d been trying to shed. Thanks to Dana, he knew how it felt to be cast aside and then discover how easily you’d been replaced. So, even though he knew it was probably something he’d end up regretting, he offered her a solution. “The ceremony’s over, right? You could just leave.”

“My whole family’s in there, so I can’t do that. What would everyone think?”

That it was cruel to ask you to be part of your ex’s wedding party?
Catching himself before he insulted this sweet stranger, he searched for a way to lift her spirits. He noticed her eyeing the horses, and inspiration hit. “Would you like a tour of the grounds?”

“In the carriage?” When he nodded, her eyes rounded with excitement. “I’d love to, but are you sure it’s okay? I mean, you’re working another wedding.”

“We’re waiting for them to finish their pictures,” he replied with a nod toward the large group, “and the horses get antsy when they stand still for too long. We were headed out for a walk and some water, anyway.”

Technically, that was true, even if he hadn’t been planning to go just yet. For this time of year, the day wasn’t all that warm, so he figured the extra circuit wouldn’t do the horses any harm. While he didn’t normally put himself out for wedding guests this way, the delight shining in Lily’s eyes told him he’d made the right decision to make an exception for her.

As he prepared to hand her up into the tufted velvet passenger section of the carriage, she hesitated for some reason. “Is something wrong?”

Casting a longing look at the padded driver’s seat, she turned those stunning baby blues on him. “Could I ride up front with you?”

“Most folks like the royal treatment.”

A flicker of disapproval flashed across her face, and she firmly shook her head. “Not me. Besides, if I sit in back, we can’t talk to each other.”

That had been part of his plan, Mike admitted to himself reluctantly. Harsh experience had taught him not to trust anyone—especially anyone female—too easily. His tried-and-true strategy was to keep people at a safe distance until he could be sure they were who they seemed to be. Because of that, he didn’t have a lot of friends, and the ones with the integrity and fortitude to get through his defenses were there to stay.

“I’m not much of a talker,” he hedged, hoping to dissuade her without being outright rude.

“That’s okay,” she replied brightly. “I am. And I’d love to sit up near the horses, if they won’t mind.”

Her concern for the mares’ preference settled it for him. Anyone who considered the feelings of animals was on the way to being all right in his book. “Let’s ask ’em. Whattya think, girls?”

Right on cue, Penny nodded her approval while Ginger let out a muted whinny. Laughing, his passenger said, “I think they like me.”

Who wouldn’t?
Mike nearly blurted. Firmly shoving the errant thought aside, he bowed the way his sister insisted he do and politely handed Lily up to the wide bench driver’s seat. Then he circled around the carriage and settled in beside her. As he picked up the reins, it occurred to him that he probably wasn’t the first guy to go out of his way for her. “Just so I don’t end up in trouble, are you here with anyone?”

BOOK: Her Small-Town Cowboy
8.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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