Authors: Debra Clopton
Brent waited for her to say more.
“I could leave here today, head down to any number of ranches I know of where I could learn to break horses. There are a lot of talented cowboys.”
Everything she said was the truth, Brent knew. She could go learn to break horses anywhere. She was good enough, that was certainâhe admitted it. Still, if he put Tacy on that horse and something happened it would be his responsibility.
“But,” Tacy continued, studying him hard, “I believe we've met for a reason. I can feel it. I think maybe God has brought us together for a reasonâ
than for you to aggravate me.”
The Trouble with Lacy Brown
And Baby Makes Five
No Place Like Home
Dream a Little Dream
Meeting Her Match
Operation: Married by Christmas
Next Door Daddy
Her Baby Dreams
The Cowboy Takes a Bride
Texas Ranger Dad
“A Mule Hollow Match”
His Cowgirl Bride
was a 2004 Golden Heart finalist in the inspirational category, a 2006 Inspirational Readers' Choice Award winner, a 2007 Golden Quill award winner and a finalist for the 2007 American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year Award. She praises the Lord each time someone votes for one of her books, and takes it as an affirmation that she is exactly where God wants her to be.
Debra is a hopeless romantic and loves to create stories with lively heroines and the strong heroes who fall in love with them. But most importantly she loves showing her characters living their faith, seeking God's will in their lives one day at a time. Her goal is to give her readers an entertaining story that will make them smile, hopefully laugh and always feel God's goodness as they read her books. She has found the perfect home for her stories writing for the Love Inspired line and still has to pinch herself just to see if she really is awake and living her dream.
When she isn't writing, she enjoys taking road trips, reading and spending time with her two sons, Chase and Kris. She loves hearing from readers and can be reached through her Web site, www.debraclopton.com, or by mail at P.O. Box 1125, Madisonville, Texas 77864.
And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
This book is dedicated to Tacy W. Thank you so much
for lending me your first name and also your sunny
smile as the inspiration for Tacy Jones, the heroine of
this book! And also, to all my nieces: Alisha, Becky,
Rikki Lyn, Dani Kay and Mariah. Y'all's Texas spunk
and beauty always inspire me to write strong young
women as my heroines. Last but not least, this book
is dedicated to Bryleigh Belle M., whose sassy smile
and darling name inspired Haley Bell Thornton's
name in my book
Operation: Married by Christmas.
You are all beautiful young women inside and outâ¦
may God bless you all.
I'd also like to thank my editor, Krista Stroever, for her continued dedication and much valued input into
all of my books. To editorial assistant Shana Smith,
for all the things you do in the publishing processâ
thank you so much! And to the great team at
Steeple Hill and Harlequin BooksâI'm blessed
to be a part of this group.
tay, Birdy,” Tacy Jones told her blue-heeler as the truck carrying six colts in need of saddle breaking pulled up the drive. The driver gave her a thumbs-up when she waved and pointed toward the corral next to the barn. He swung the long trailer around in the dusty yard, then backed up to the gates. Dry dirt rose around the wheels as the heavy trailer came to a halt. Tacy jumped from the porch and jogged toward the corral as Birdy tore across the yard.
At the edge of the trailer, Birdy dropped to the ground and waited. Working cattle or horses was in the dog's blood, but she wouldn't act unless given the go-ahead. Like Tacy, she watched the horses stirring inside the trailer.
“Not today, girl,” Tacy said, standing at the back of the trailer. “Looks like a good group,” she called as the
stout driver rolled out of the cab and headed past her to open the doors.
“Yeah, that's what I thought when I picked them up in Amarillo. They're not real fond of people, though. Even halter-broke like they are, they're trouble.”
“They look a little jumpy. You want me to help lead them out?” Tacy asked.
The driver held up a hand for her to halt. “No can do, little lady. They're my responsibility 'til I get 'em outta my trailer. After that they're all yours. Not a minute sooner.” He added the last sentence with the finality of a slammed door.
“Not exactly mine,” Tacy mumbled, frustrated that all she was supposed to do was feed and water the beautiful animals until Pace and Sheri returned from Australia. A glorified babysitterâwell, horse sitterâwas all Tacy was supposed to be at her friends' ranch for the next several weeks. No way would she be able to stand this! She watched the driver struggle to lead the skittish animals forward. Like old yard dogs fighting against wearing a leash, the colts locked their knees one moment and backed away from him the next. Birdy kept looking up at Tacy with questioning eyes, and Tacy could only shake her head. By the time the man
led the last colt off the trailer, he was clearly embarrassed.
As he should be!
She tried not to feel vindicatedâbut she was and there was no getting around it. Tacy wouldn't have had such a struggle and she knew it. She might not know how to fully break horses yet, but she had trained some.
thought they knew everything. She could have told him that all he had to do was remove the halters in the trailer and the colts would make a mad dash for freedom. Which they did, heading straight toward the far end of the corral once the man let them loose.
Sweating and as pink as rose petals, the truck driver slammed the trailer door shut. “Now you can have them,” he grunted and, without so much as a “Have a nice day,” hoisted himself back into the driver's seat and hauled out of the yard like he was being chased by wolves.
Tacy shook her head and climbed up to perch on the top rung of the corral, then returned her attention to the horses. They stood at the far end, huddled together in a tight group. Though Pace had already told her they were from good stock, it was easy to tell just by looking at them. Their proportions were perfect, their muscles well-defined. They really were beauties. Two roans, a feisty chestnut, a midnight black and a paint. She loved the look of the paintâshe was partial to chocolate-swirl ice cream, too.
Quietly, she studied them, holding a hand out, wanting to touch them even though they weren't coming near her. “By the time Pace and Sheri get back, we'll be friends,” she said soothingly. Horses were some of the most beautiful and interesting animals God had created, as far as Tacy was concerned. She'd been infatuated with them since she was a toddler and hadn't ever wanted to be anything except a trainerâif she'd been a son instead of a
daughter, that dream wouldn't have required a move here for Pace to help her bring it to fruition. Nope, she could have learned the business right alongside her four brothers. However, being the only girl in the familyâ¦well, it was complicated, so here she was at her friends' ranch, determined to make her future what
wanted it to be. Not what others dictated. She had come here three weeks ago, champing at the bit herselfâeager for Pace to teach her how to break horses. But he and Sheri had gotten called away to the ranch in Australia, and here Tacy sat, her dream on hold until they returned.
Soon, she thought with a sigh. Food and a gentle word to get them used to her would be a start.
“Nothing like the present to start a good thing.” She climbed down from the fence, slow and easy so as not to startle them, and went and filled a bucket with feed.
She'd just entered the pen when a blue Silverado with a matching horse trailer pulled into the drive. Giving the wary horses a wistful glance, Tacy opened the gate and went to see who had arrived.
Almost before the truck came to a halt, a cowboy with a Stetson pulled low over his brow leaped from the cab. Tall, broad-shouldered, he had her attention immediatelyâeven before he plucked the hat from his head and she realized exactly who it was. By the time Brent Stockwell came to a halt, Tacy's heart had skipped a few beats and tumbled to her toes.
“What do you think you're doing?” he demanded, his expression tight as he glared from her to the horses.
“Excuse me?” The fact that Mr. Famous Bronc-buster-extraordinaire was standing smack in front of her, asking rude questions, had her reeling. What was
doing in Mule Hollow? He continued to glare, waiting for her answer, and she gave her brain a mental thump. After all, she'd seen plenty of cowboys before. Mule Hollow was overloaded with them.
But this was
Two years ago this cowboy had been a top-ranked bronc rider, on the verge of winning the world championship, when he'd suddenly dropped out of the competition and disappeared. Not that she followed the pro rodeo circuit that closely back then, but you didn't have to in order to know Brent's face. It had been on the cover of plenty of magazinesâtabloids more than anything. None of that explained what he was doing here. Or why he was wearing that scowl and poking his nose into her business.
“I'm tending my horses, cowboy,” she drawled and gave him the once-over, her eyes flashing green daring him to get any closer. “The question is, what are you doing?”
horses.” Clearly baffled, he stepped back, looking around. “I thought this was Pace Gentry's place.”
“Well, actually it is. I'm watching it for him.” Maybe he was a friend of Pace's since they were both bronc riders.
H is eyes flickered over her with doubt.
watching the place?”
“What's with the twenty questions? Yes,” she said,
patience wearing thin. “I'm watching the place while Pace and Sheri are out of town.”
“I see.” He jerked his head toward the road. “And those are the horses delivered by that rig I just met at the end of the lane?” he asked.
“How did you know that?” Now
confusion was growing.
“Because Pace told me they were coming this afternoon.”
“Pace told you?” The statement came out flat as her stomach began to churn.
He crossed his muscled arms. “That's right. I'm here to train those horses, and I'll tell you straight out I don't want you inside that corral again. They could have trampled you.”
“Whoa, wait just a minute, Mr.
She yanked her gaze away from his corded forearms. “Sheri didn't say anything to me about this.”
“You know me?”
“You're kidding, right?” she asked, and couldn't help thinking the man was better-looking than his picturesâeven with the scowl. “Of course I know you. But let's get back to the âI'm-here-to-train-them' part.”
The two lines between his brows deepened like plow rows. “And you are?”
“Tacy Jones,” she said, feeling her brows doing some plowing of their own as she scowled back at him.
“Well, then, Tacy Jones, I'll take that,” he said, reaching for the feed bucket.
Oh, no, he did not just try to horn in on her!
She yanked the bucket behind her and locked her defiant emerald eyes on his. “Hold on just a doggone minute, buster. You can't just waltz in here and think I'm handing things over to you just like that. I don't care who you are, I'm watching this place until someone tells me differentlyâ” she tossed her red hair and placed a warning finger to his hard chest “âand you can just back off.” Okay, maybe now she was overreactingâ
He was really stepping on her toes. With experience derived from handling four older brothers, she gave his chest one more poke. “Something just isn't right about this.”
He dropped his chin and stared at her finger for a second before lifting cool eyes to hers. “I don't know exactly what's going on here. I can, however, assure you that I'm here to train those horses and
had better not be climbing back in there with them again.” He wrapped his hand around her finger and pulled her hand away from his chest.
His eyes were not unkind, just firm as they held hers. Standing so near him and feeling his strong hand around her own sort of made a gal crumble.
Tacy swallowed hard and yanked her hand out of his. She was the girl who got the better of cowboys and enjoyed every minute of it. She was not one to let a cowboy get the better of her. She needed to switch her approach, get things going her way, throw him off balance a bit.
“You know, I think maybe you'd better get Pace or Sheri on the phone or I might have to call the sheriff, Mr. Stockwell.”
His eyes widened in disbelief. “The
But you know me.”
“Wrong. I know who you are. But I don't know for sure what you're doing here.”
“You know I'm not some horse thief come to steal Pace's horses.”
“Maybe not, but you're going to have to get them on the phone and give me some proof.” She gave him a bright smileâ¦the kind she knew said, I'm smiling, but I mean business.
Brent scrubbed his jaw and his eyes narrowed. “You're a regular pain in theâ”
“Whoa, watch it there, cowboy. We've got a pregnant woman in the house.”
Oh yes, this could be fun.
“You're pregnant?” he practically gaspedâwhich Tacy thought was pretty funny.
“Not me, you ninny. Birdy.” She pointed to the dog, who was more than happy to flip over and show the world that she was with pupâpuppies to be exact. “But even if she wasn't, you still need to watch your mouth. It might surprise you to find out that I have been called a lady a time or twoâ”
His hard gaze suddenly softened and he laughedâhardâjust the reaction Tacy was after. Her insides flipping over in response was the unexpected part.
“I wasn't going to say anything ugly,” he said. “I was going to say you were a regular pain in the neck.”
“Yeah, you forget I know who you are, Brent Stockwell. The guy I read about in the papers is no Boy Scout.” A fact she'd do well to remember.
He planted his feet shoulder-width apart and stared at her with eyes gone dark and hard. “I can assure you that guy you read about has died. He's gone. So, though I'm not kidding when I tell you to stay out of that pen over there, I can assure you I wasn't about to say something out of line.”
For the first time in a very long time, Tacy was speechless. What did the cowboy mean by saying he'd died? What kind of statement was that? The fact that he delivered it with such sincerity overrode everything else, yet here he was in front of her, clearly alive.
“Okay,” she said, choosing to move through the awkward moment with a bit of brash humor. “I didn't mean to ruffle your feathers.” What else could she say? Really?
His lip twitched. “Consider my feathers unruffled.”
Not one to lose her head or her good sense, Tacy decided she'd better pull back and reevaluate this situation. She needed to make a phone call.
“Gotta go,” she said as she spun away and trotted to her truckâshe let Birdy have freedom between the stables and the house, so she didn't worry about leaving her behind. Besides, the dog had been staring at the cowboy like he was the best thing since kibble!
The little traitor.
But then again, she couldn't help glancing out her side window as she pulled away. Brent had pushed his hat back and was watching her
with a baffled expression. Her stomach tickled looking at his classic cowboy stance: legs planted, one thumb hooked in his belt, head cocked just slightly. This wasn't over by a long shot.
Brent watched the fiery Tacy Jones drive away. With that red hair and those saucy green eyes, the woman promised to be a thorn in his side.
He'd almost had a heart attack when he'd driven up and saw her heading into the pen with those horses. Though Pace had told him they were halter-broke, that didn't make him any more pleased to see her in the middle of a bunch of unpredictable horses. Pace had a reputation for taking stubborn stock with promise and turning them around. The crazy woman could have gotten herself hurt. That she didn't act like she understood that fact was the problem.