Authors: Alice Ward
Love All Out
THE COMPLETE SERIES
By Alice Ward
Copyright © 2015
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This is Part 1 of "Love All Out" - a 5 part New Adult Stepbrother Romance Series by Alice Ward.
I’d wanted James Parker for as long as I could remember. I’d admired him since forever, but I wasn’t the only one. He made his way through the beds of every woman in our small town… every woman but me, that is.
Years passed without sight of James until the night my dad took me to watch him ride in a rodeo. As I watched him conquer a bucking bull, all I could think about was having him ride me the same way.
Daddy offered James a job on our family’s ranch, which gave me the perfect opportunity to realize my deepest desires. But James was as cocky as he was hot, and I soon realized that taming him could prove to be impossible.
This book is intended for a mature audience, 18+ only.
“Good morning, Willow. Going out for a ride?” Dallas asked as I walked into the stables. He was sitting at the small, dirty table next to the barn door. He let his newspaper fall to the table and gave me his full attention.
“Good morning, Dallas.” I took a seat across from the ranch foreman and adjusted my boots. “Yes, Daddy said that a few of the Herefords calved yesterday. I thought I’d ride out to the pasture and see if any more babies have arrived.” I pulled my long blonde hair back in a ponytail, twisted it into a bun, and topped it with a straw Stetson to protect my fair skin from the morning sun.
Dallas grinned at me. “Cole told me you’d probably want to check the calves this morning. I went ahead and saddled Mayhem for you, thought you might like to get a quick start.”
Dallas started working on my family’s ranch long before I was born. He and Daddy had been best friends since college and Dallas had always been like an uncle to me. He knew I had a hard time lifting my saddle, but he also knew I hated to admit it. More days than not, Mayhem was saddled and ready to go when I arrived at the barn.
“Thank you, Dallas.” His kindness filled me with affection. “That will definitely save me some time. I’m supposed to meet Daddy back at the main house for lunch, and I also need to check the thoroughbreds. I should probably go straight to the breeding barn, but I just can’t resist those sweet baby cow faces.” I stifled a yawn.
“Want a cup of coffee?” Dallas offered. “You looked tired. I just made a fresh pot.”
“Coffee sounds great.” Dallas started to stand, and I held up a hand, signaling for him to stay put. “I’ll get it. You get back to your paper. Did anything interesting happen last week?” Our small town didn’t have enough action for a daily newspaper. Our news came in weekly installments.
I walked across the soft dirt floor to the stainless steel sink and countertop in the front right corner of the stables. I took a clean travel mug from the counter and filled it with steaming black coffee as Dallas filled me in on the local news. Colin and Maddie Lewis had welcomed a baby girl; Shaw’s Drug on Main Street announced extended Sunday hours; and one of the 4-H Club’s sows had given birth to a piglet with a large heart on its backside.
“So basically, nothing out of the ordinary… as usual,” I said as I walked back to the table and set my cup down. “Would you mind passing that up to me when I ride out?”
“No problem,” Dallas replied, the soft, wind-weathered wrinkles of his mouth turning up in a smile.
I smiled my thanks and made my way to Mayhem’s stall. He blew me a hello as I opened his door and walked him into the middle of the barn. I looped his reins in my hand, slid my left foot into my stirrup, and swung myself onto his back. He stood perfectly still until I clicked my tongue, and then he calmly walked towards the open barn door. Dallas stood to hand me my coffee, and I pulled back gently on the reins. Mayhem obediently stopped.
“Do you want to take some ear tags, in case we do have some new arrivals?” Dallas asked as I took the cup from his outstretched hand.
I shook my head. “I’ll let Daddy take care of that. This is strictly a joy ride.”
“All right.” He gave Mayhem an affectionate pat on the hindquarter. “You two stay safe out there. Spring’s here and the snakes are moving.”
“I’ll keep an eye out, and I’ve got my 22,” I assured him. Before I was old enough to go riding on my own, it had been Dallas’s job to escort me. I think my first solo ride was harder on him than it was on Daddy, and he still got nervous every time I left the barn alone. Some people might have found his protective attitude annoying, but I thought it was endearing. Dallas and his wife, Mary, had helped Daddy raise me and I appreciated that they loved me like their own.
“I have interviews scheduled this afternoon,” Dallas told me. “We’re going to need at least two new hands to help with calving season and the spring foals. Do you need anyone for the thoroughbreds? I could send the more qualified applicants your way.”
“Thanks, but Matt and I have things covered.”
He patted Mayhem again. “No problem, Willow. Enjoy your ride.”
Dallas walked towards the back of the barn while Mayhem carried me out the front. I touched the reins to the right side of his neck and he turned left towards the cattle pasture. I relaxed the reins and took a deep breath of the crisp Colorado air.
I’d lived on Aces High Ranch since the day I was born, save the four years I was away at college. But the majestic beauty of the place still took my breath away. It was three thousand acres of mountain paradise that backed into the two million acre San Juan National Forrest. We were thirty miles north of Durango, a quaint, sleepy town of fourteen thousand. The land was evenly split between pasture and mountain terrain, providing ample room for work and play.
“We work hard so we can play harder.” That was Daddy’s favorite saying. After working the cattle and horses in the fields, he’d jump on a horse or ATV and disappear into the mountains for a mini adventure.
I rode up to the gate of the cattle pasture and Huck, one of our ranch hands, swung it open.
“Checking for calves, Ms. Rogers? I expect we’ll have two dozen of them by week’s end,” he said as I rode through the open gate.
“Let’s hope so,” I called over my shoulder. I scanned the pasture and spotted the cattle in the distance. They looked like tiny patterned specks against the green landscape. I pointed Mayhem in their direction and let him set his own pace. He ambled through the field, in no more hurry to be anywhere than I was.
Mayhem was the first colt I ever helped foal. He was coal black with a long white blaze, with slight hints of white in his mane and muzzle. I was six when he was born and he’d been my loyal companion for seventeen years.
The cattle grew larger as we approached and I pictured my mother riding through that very pasture during calving season. Daydreaming about my mother was a habit I fell into more often than I’d like to admit. She died in an avalanche during my first winter, so I don’t have any memories of her. I knew her face from pictures and her spirit from stories, and I filled in the rest with my imagination.
The cows grew noisier and smellier as we neared the far side of the pasture. I was relieved that they were stretched out in a long, narrow line. Having them spread out made it much easier to look for babies. I spotted six new calves, still wet and unsteady on their feet. Their precious clumsiness brought a smile to my face and I lost track of time as I watched the newest members of the ranch explore their new world.
My phone vibrated in my pocket and snapped my attention back to the present. I looped the reins around my saddle horn so I could hold my coffee and answer the call at the same time.
“Hey, Matt. I’m on my way.”
“No you’re not. You’ve been rooted in the pasture for the last half hour. Is everything okay out there?”
I turned towards the thoroughbred barn and smiled. I couldn’t see Matt, but I knew he was watching me. “Everything’s great, we have six new babies out here. How are things in there?” I asked as I turned Mayhem around and headed back to the gate.
“Nothing new to report. Glory is still perfectly calm and eating like a champ. I don’t think we’re going to see a foal any time soon. Clementine and little Buttercup are doing good. The filly’s growing like a weed. Oh, I almost forgot. The Foster mare is about to go into heat. They called wondering if Thunder’s stud fee has gone up.”
“Tell them they can have the usual rate this time. But remind them that two of his colts have qualified to run the Derby. His price is about to go up,” I said proudly.
“I’ll remind them,” Matt laughed . “Although I doubt they’ve forgotten since the last time they visited. I think you mentioned it half a dozen times.”
“Ha ha… I’m on my way to you. What time is it?”
“Half past nine. I’ve already finished the morning chores and I’m about to start exercising the mares. You don’t have to rush over on my account, take your time,” Matt continued.
“Thanks, but you know I’d rather be in the barn with you than anywhere else. I’ll see you in a second,” I told him as I ended the call and slid my phone back into my pocket. As I neared the gate, Huck spotted me. He slid a toolbox onto the back of an ATV and then moved to open the gate.
“Thanks, Huck. Looks like you’ve got some work to do,” I observed. I nodded at the ATV, packed full of tools and lumber.
“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded as he swung the gate shut behind me. “We’ve got a few busted fence panels. There are fresh tracks, looks like a mule deer was using the lumber to rub off his velvet. But Colton and I will have it patched in a jiffy.”
“Are you sure it was a deer? Nothing bigger… more dangerous?” I asked nervously. I loved living on the ranch, but being so close to the mountains meant the threat of wild animals was literally looming above us. I was used to living in the untamed land, but that didn’t mean that I wanted to come face to face with a grizzly bear.
“It was definitely a deer, ma’am… maybe an elk. But it wasn’t a bear or anything like that, their tracks are completely different.”
“Yes… of course,” I stammered. I felt my cheeks burn and knew that my porcelain complexion was turning a deep shade of pink.
Of course the tracks are different. I’m acting like a city girl.
Colton walked out of the supply barn, nodded at me, and climbed behind the steering wheel of the ATV.
“Have a good day, Willow,” Huck called as he slid in next to Colton.
I waved goodbye, gave Mayhem a light nudge with my heels, and prayed that the blush would disappear from my cheeks before I reached the breeding barn.
Matt and I spent the next two and a half hours exercising my thoroughbred mares. There were other horses on the ranch, of course, but they were someone else’s responsibility. The thoroughbreds were mine. My mother had a passion for breeding racehorses, and I liked to think I’d inherited it from her.
My family, the ranch, everything in my life began with a racehorse. Aces High was a beautiful red thoroughbred, one of the first my mom ever produced. Everyone in the industry tried to buy him, and they all thought Mom was crazy when she refused to sell. Instead, she hired a jockey, trained Aces High herself, and happily watched as he outran his competition in race after race.
Mom and Daddy met at the retirement party of a mutual friend. Dad said that he took one look at Mom and fell in love. The more he learned about her, the more determined he became to make her his wife. But Mom wasn’t interested in him, not at first. She came from money and had an expensive education. He grew up in a Denver apartment and worked his way through state school. Daddy had a business degree and intentions to make his way in the world as an entrepreneur. Mom was unimpressed.
So Daddy did what any man would do in the face of rejection: he turned up the charm. He started courting her, very old-fashioned like, and showed up at all of Aces High’s races. Every time the horse won, and the horse won a lot, Daddy presented Mom with two dozen long stemmed roses. She softened towards him and by the time the Kentucky Derby rolled around, they were dating.
Aces High won the Derby that year, as well as Preakness. He lost Belmont Stakes, which is unfortunately common with champion racehorses. Mom was devastated, but Daddy had a surprise for her. The first time he watched Aces High race, he hadn’t placed a bet. But the second time, he wagered his life savings that the horse would win. He did the same thing at each consecutive race, right up until Belmont. At that race, instead of betting on the horse, he bet on something else entirely. I can still see the smile Daddy had on his face when he first told me about the day he’d proposed to my mother. They were in her owner’s box and Mom was trying to be a good sport about her horse’s loss. Dad told her about his gambling, the money he had in the bank, and the land he’d just bought with his winnings. He dropped to one knee, pulled out a two carat diamond, and asked her to be his wife. She agreed and five years later, I was born. Mom didn’t live to see the ranch reach its full potential, but I’ve carried on her legacy the best I could.
I stood in the breeding barn, brushing Thunder and daydreaming about the day the man of my dreams would drop to his knee and ask the same question Daddy asked Mom. I could only hope that my love story would be as romantic as theirs.
“Willow, we’d better get going if we’re going to be on time,” Matt called out from the front of the barn. Daddy had asked him to lunch as well, which piqued my curiosity. I couldn’t imagine what he wanted to talk to us about. I gave Thunder one last stroke of the brush, fed him a couple of sugar cubes, and returned the brush to the tack wall. By the time I made it to the front of the barn, Matt was tapping his foot impatiently at the door.
“Did you walk down this morning?” he asked. He wiped sweat from his sandy blonde hair and covered his turquoise eyes with sunglasses as we stepped out of the barn’s shadow.
“Yeah, but we’re running late and it’s getting hot outside. Let’s drive up to the house,” I suggested.
“Your wish is my command,” he replied with an indulgent smile. He slid behind the steering wheel of an ATV and I sat down beside him. He draped his arm across the back of our seat and I knew that to unknowing onlookers, we’d seem like the perfect, happy couple. We probably would have been, except that Matt was gay. My life would have been much less complicated if he suddenly woke up one day and found women attractive. We’d been best friends for ten years, so I knew the chances of that happening were slim to none. I was just content and grateful to have someone who understood me so well.