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Authors: Lori Soard

Picking Up Cowboys

BOOK: Picking Up Cowboys
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Picking Up Cowboys

 

 

Lori Soard

 

Copyright © 1999, 2015 Lori Soard

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 1518817343

ISBN-13: 978-1518817342

 

 

DEDICATION

 

 

This book is dedicated to my dear friend Sally Painter, who encouraged me to get my books back out there. I’m so glad to have a writer friend like you. No one else understands you quite the way a fellow writer does.

 

Chapter one

 

 

Catherine Claiborne shook her head to clear her vision.  The snow fell down in blinding sheets.  Wind driven snow-tornadoes howling across the highway didn’t help visibility.  Unless she wanted to wind up in a ditch, she needed to pay attention.

A brilliant red flash of color just ahead and to the right drew her gaze - vivid amongst all that white.  She slowed the four-wheel drive Ford pickup to a crawl.  It was probably an injured animal. 

The object was too red to be part of the Colorado landscape peaking through, that was more of a burnished gold.  Rubbing her fingers over the icy moistness of the windshield, she leaned forward in her seat until she was almost pressing her nose to the glass.

The red splash of color took form.  A car.  A totally impractical, bright, fire engine-red Ferrari.  In the ditch.  What kind of idiot would try to drive a Ferrari on a country stretch of highway in the middle of a snow storm?

City slicker, no doubt.  She tapped lightly on the brakes several times to slow the truck, knowing that to press on them too hard would land her in a similar spot as the owner of the ditch marker. 

She’d much rather curl up in front of the fire with a good Louis L’ Amour novel and a cup of hot cocoa.  She licked her lips in anticipation.  Chocolate was one of her weaknesses. 

Was she crazy? Did she really want to stop on a deserted road and help the unknown person driving the Ferrari?  Was it safe?  Stop! What was she doing?  That was the practical Catherine Claiborne talking.  The one who always did what was proper.  The one that wore comfortable shoes.  The boring Catherine who wore warm clothes in cold weather, including a wool knit scarf, of course.  The person who did what was safe, who did what was totally boring.  That was the person she’d vowed to leave behind.  Her faded, robin’s egg-blue truck had come to a coasting halt just even with the Ferrari.  To break free of that boring old lifestyle, she needed to change her behavior.  The new Catherine Claiborne, the one she wanted to be, wouldn’t stop to consider the prudence of her actions.  She would fly out of her car and investigate the abandoned car. 

The truck inched forward, seemingly of its own will, although Catherine was slightly aware of an insignificant pressure on the sole of her foot as she lightly touched the gas pedal.

Drawing even with the bright-red, sports strander, she stopped the truck, and let it idle.  The car was empty.  That much was obvious.  There seemed little point in getting out to investigate.

Feeling a throat clogging thrust of disappointment rush through her, Catherine released the brake and continued toward Aspen Trails Ranch. 

“At least you were willing to try, Catherine.  Excitement is just in short supply around here.”  Catherine glanced in the rearview mirror, meeting her own frosty-blue eyes.  “And now I’m talking to myself.”

She reached down and flipped on the radio.  The soft lilt of Allen Jackson’s voice filled the cab of the truck and pulled her into his world. 

The music was so lulling.  So soothing.  That she almost ran over the cowboy before she saw him.  Her foot jammed down on the brake in an instinctive jerk, before her mind could command her body not to hit the brakes too fast.

The truck fish-tailed, slid about twenty terrifying feet until it was right on top of the man and then skidded to a halt.

Hands on lean hips.  Stetson thrust back at a rakish angle.  Tight jeans straining over his muscular thighs.  The man turned and faced her, a frown on his face where terror should have been.

Didn’t he realize she’d almost run him over?  He took a commanding step toward the driver’s side of the truck.  Then another.  And another.  Catherine felt her eyes open a fraction of an inch wider at his menacing approach. 

Her first reflex was to lock the door.  But the part of her that longed to break free, the part that refused to allow her to play it safe this time distracted her, and she hesitated a fraction of a second too long.

As her door was yanked open forcefully, she realized she was taking a foolish risk. He could be a serial killer or an ax murderer.  He could be Hannibal Lecter’s long lost cousin.  She searched the interior of the truck frantically for a weapon.

The cigarette lighter?  Broken.  Just her luck.  Her gaze fell on a cassette tape. 
A Country Christmas
.  If he had been from the city rather than the country, she could have popped it in.  Some city folks hated country so much  the first strain of Bluegrass could drive them off.

There was some loose change in the half-open ash tray.  She could throw it at his face.  A few pebbles rested on the floor mat on the passenger side.  She’d have to bend over too far to retrieve them, putting herself in a vulnerable position.  What she wouldn’t give for an umbrella.  A nice, large, sharply-pointed umbrella.

“What do you think you’re doing?”  The man’s voice slid over her like warm leather.  Raspy and full of promise.

“I didn’t see you.” 

“Then you weren’t looking,” he said dryly.  His angular face lost some of its anger as his green eyes took in her slight shaking.

Nerves.  Catherine wished she didn’t react to moments of extreme stress by trembling.  Try as she might, she’d never been able to control it.

“Why are you walking in a snowstorm?”  Catherine managed through chattering teeth.

He leaned one arm across the top of the door frame; his broad shoulders blocked the view of the snow-capped, purple mountains she knew were just behind him.

“Hitch hiking.”

Catherine sucked in her breath.  A hitch hiking cowboy.  When she’d vowed to become the new Catherine, hadn’t she said the very next thing she would do was pick up a hitch hiker?  It had been a wild thought.  Get a tattoo, pierce her toe and pick up a hitchhiker.  She would never do the first two but picking this man up was a possibility.  Here was a chance to break away from her responsible nature.  Letting a strange man into her truck was the height of irresponsibility.  It was crazy, she knew it, but she could hardly leave him out in a snowstorm, could she?
No thinking like that
, Catherine ordered herself.
You don’t need a practical reason for giving this man a ride.
  This was her opening.  No questions.  Live for the moment.  Offer him a lift.

Besides, it wasn’t quite as crazy as driving in this storm.  No one should be out in this blinding whiteness. 

Break free.  Live a little.  Do something wild. Be un-Catherine like.

“Can I give you a lift?”  She forced herself not to ask for a name.  That was something the old Catherine would have done.  Not the new Catherine, the take-charge-Catherine, the worry-about-tomorrow-when-it-gets-here-Catherine.

“Don’t mind if I do.”  He tipped his hat and made his way to the passenger door.  She leaned across the cab to open for him.

Catherine slammed her door shut, the echoing click on his side of the truck sounded loudly in her ears.  He filled the cab.  The air suddenly grew stiller.  Closer.  Fresh pine and musk, and the underlying, exciting scent of danger. 

She glanced at the man out of the corner of her eye as she shifted into drive and headed toward the ranch.  “Where are you headed?”

He looked at her with slightly hooded eyes for a moment, seeming to choose his words with care.  “I was thinking about staying at a dude ranch out here for a while.”

Catherine gave a start.  A dude ranch?  In the middle of December?  A ski lodge maybe.  She opened her mouth to suggest it but then realized how practical it might sound.  Not something the new, never-waste-your-time-with-practicalities-Catherine would say.

“Which one?  I’ll drop you off.”

“Aspen Trails.”  He tilted the cowboy hat down, covering the flop of midnight black hair which had fallen onto his forehead.

Catherine stared at him in shock for a moment.  “That’s my ranch.”

The cowboy sat up suddenly straighter and turned to face her.  “Is that so?”

His voice held an almost predatorial growl.  Catherine shivered again.  This time she didn’t care if he saw it.

 

***

 

Gage Maddock glared at the woman driving the truck.  She was the owner of Aspen Trails.  Catherine Claiborne, aka his business partner.  She was also the daughter of the slyest, most crooked man Gage had ever had the misfortune to meet.  Catherine Claiborne - his enemy.

Her honey-blonde hair flowed over her shoulders in soft waves.  He wanted to bury his fingers in it.  Bury them in it and pull on her hair until she cried out in pain.  She was the one thing standing in his way to reclaiming his dream.  The goal he’d worked for these fourteen long years.

He forced himself to relax against the seat.  There was no point in giving his identity away too soon.  If he sat back and listened, there was no telling what type of useful information he might learn.

“You own the Aspen Trails Ranch?”  It would be interesting to hear her answer.

Her thick, brown lashes lowered for a moment before flickering back up.  “Yes.  It was my father’s.”

Gage barely kept from disagreeing with her.  “Is that so?  And how did he come by it?”

The scent of wildflowers tickled his nose.  It must be her shampoo, he thought.  It suited her.  She had a wild freedom about her with her loose, curling hair, exotic almond shaped, pale blue eyes - icy eyes – and full, kissable lips.

The rosy flesh of her tongue darted out and touched those lips and Gage felt an unwanted stirring inside.

“He started with a partner but bought him out.” 

Gage grunted in answer and turned to look out the window at the magnificent snow-shrouded landscape.  His blood pulsed through his veins in a rhythm his body had almost forgotten.  Durango.  It was in his blood.  Even after all these years his heart remembered the soft sighing of the wind through the pines, the pulse of the mountains, and the clean, pure fragrance of the lakes and streams.

Home.  His home.  His land.  His retribution.

“Are you on vacation, Mr.--”  Her glance flicked away from the road and lingered on him for a questioning moment, before focusing again in front of her.

She wanted his last name.  Gage tipped the crisp, new edge of his hat lower on his forehead.  Well, she wouldn’t get it until he was good and ready.  Claiborne’s were wily and sneaky.  He needed every advantage he could get and right now he had one because she didn’t know who he was.

He’d planned to burst into her well-ordered life and demand what he wanted.  But his car had other ideas.  The slender tires had failed to catch traction in the thickening whirls of snow.  The back wheels had skittered, groaned and skidded smoothly into a ditch. 

He should have remembered that the crystal ice that covered the backdrop of skyscraper-like mountains also coated the roads in winter.  After spinning his wheels uselessly for ten minutes, he’d slammed out of the impractical Ferrari and crunched through the snow in new, black Laredo boots.

But disadvantage had turned to advantage when Catherine Claiborne had offered him a ride.  He had the upper hand because she wasn’t aware of his true identity and he intended to keep it that way for a while.  “Vacation?  I guess you could say I’m taking a long deserved trip.”

The smile which tilted up the corners of her full lips disappeared and the apples that had formed over high cheekbones softened.  The fear in a wild animal’s eyes when it knows it is trapped flitted through her icy-blue gaze before those long lashes fluttered down and covered the emotion.  Gage considered lecturing her on the perils of picking up hitch hikers.

He shifted and bit down on his inner cheeks to keep from saying anything.  If she was anyone other than Catherine Claiborne, he would.  But she was the enemy.  Why should he care if she took unnecessary risks with her life?  So what if she was young and vibrant and...

“You really shouldn’t pick up strangers.”  His irritation with himself caused his voice to rap out sharply.

She jumped and her hands shook slightly.  “It’s snowing pretty hard...” 

Gage watched a determined look cross her features.  The change in her demeanor was amazing.  Her shoulders straightened, her fingers relaxed their white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, and the shaking stopped.  She flipped her long hair over one shoulder and shrugged.

“Ciest la Vie.”

Gage stared at her in amazement.  She was like a teenager with a wardrobe of new clothes, constantly changing.  Or perhaps she was simply good at camouflage.  Her father certainly had been.

“So you want to learn how to be a cowboy?”  She winked at him, the huge smile back on her face.

He’d been a cowboy before she’d been born.  “Sure.  Why not?  Think you could teach me?”

It was meant to be a challenge and she didn’t disappoint him.  Her laughter slid over him like the gentle leather of a horse’s bridle. 

“I’m up to it.  If you don’t mind a little snow.  Sure you wouldn’t rather come back this spring?”

“No.  I’ve waited long enough.”

He crossed his arms over his chest.  Fourteen years to be exact.  He refused to wait another day.

BOOK: Picking Up Cowboys
4.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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