The Trouble with Texas Cowboys

BOOK: The Trouble with Texas Cowboys
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Copyright © 2015 by Carolyn Brown

Cover and internal design © 2015 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover art by Blake Morrow

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

www.sourcebooks.com

Also by Carolyn Brown

Lucky in Love

One Lucky Cowboy

Getting Lucky

I Love This Bar

Hell, Yeah

My Give a Damn's Busted

Honky Tonk Christmas

Love Drunk Cowboy

Red's Hot Cowboy

Darn Good Cowboy Christmas

One Hot Cowboy Wedding

Mistletoe Cowboy

Just a Cowboy and His Baby

Billion Dollar Cowboy

Cowboy Seeks Bride

The Cowboy's Christmas Baby

The Cowboy's Mail Order Bride

How to Marry a Cowboy

Cowboy Boots for Christmas

Women's Fiction

The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee

The Red-Hot Chili Cook-Off

This book is dedicated to Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert.

For the many hours of wonderful country music that inspires me to keep writing about cowboys and their sassy ladies.

Chapter 1

The scariest sight in the world is a woman's finger on the trigger of a sawed-off shotgun. Sawyer O'Donnell was not an idiot. When he saw the big hole in the barrel of that gun aimed right at his heart, he dropped the broom and threw up his palms.

“Lady, you might want to put that shotgun down. I'm not havin' no part of this feud business. Let's talk about it,” he whispered.

The gun stayed right where it was, and his hands didn't drop an inch.

Gladys hadn't said a damn thing about a crazy woman in Burnt Boot when he was hired on as foreman of Fiddle Creek Ranch. Maybe the redhead with the bloodshot green eyes was a member of one of the feuding families. Hopefully, she wasn't out to shoot first and ask questions later.

“Who in the hell are you, and why are you in my bunkhouse?” she asked bluntly.


Your
bunkhouse?” Sawyer raised his voice. “Lady, you made a wrong turn back there at crazy and demented. This is my bunkhouse, and you are damn sure not welcome here. So put that blunderbuss away and take your ass back to wherever you came from.”

“Yes, it
is
my bunkhouse. I told Aunt Gladys I'd do my own cleaning when I got here. She said the door would be open and she'd meet me here,” she said.

His hands came down. “
Aunt
Gladys?
Who are you? She didn't tell me that anyone else would be living here.”

Deep-throated laughter preceded Gladys into the bunkhouse. “She'd be my great-niece, Jill Cleary, and I didn't know until last night that she was coming to Burnt Boot. I didn't tell you because I wanted y'all to meet before either one of you went to jumpin' ship.” She clamped a hand on the gun and lowered it until the barrel pointed at the ground. “Darlin', you got to load a gun, or it ain't worth a damn. You made good time. I wasn't expectin' you for another hour. Saw you comin' in, but I had one more bale of hay to kick off the back of the truck before I could get here. Now give me a hug and meet my brand-new foreman, Sawyer O'Donnell. He'll be sharin' this bunkhouse with you.”

Jill propped the gun against the back of a worn sofa and rolled up on her toes to hug her aunt. “I'm not sharing my living quarters with a stranger. I'd rather pitch a tent by the river.”

Gladys pushed her back but held on to her shoulders. “In January?”

“Then I'll stay in the house with you,” Jill said. “You said you'd hired a foreman that was living on Salt Draw. Why didn't you tell me he was living in the bunkhouse?”

“Same reason I didn't rush down here and tell him that you'd be living in it too. You'd have bitched. He would have quit. You've lived in bunkhouses before now, and so has he. Looks like only two in this big old place would be a blessing after living with twenty or thirty people. And, darlin', I love you, and someday you'll inherit all I've got and all Polly has got, too, but you are not livin' with me. Not with your temper. And, besides, you said when you called last night that you wanted to live in the bunkhouse, so that's what you are going to do.”

Sawyer looked from one woman to the other. Gladys was a tall, lanky woman with a touch of white in her black hair. High cheekbones and dark eyes said she had some Native American blood. She'd said she was past eighty, and that's why she needed help on her small ranch. But she damn sure didn't look it or act it, either. Jill had a mop of wavy shoulder-length red hair, green eyes, a cute little nose, and full lips made for kissing. There was no way in hell they could be related.

Gladys read his mind. “Yes, Sawyer, we really are kinfolk. Jill is mine and Polly's only living relative and she has come to Burnt Boot to work for us. And this bunkhouse is big enough for the two of you.”

Sawyer wasn't too sure about that last statement. The bunkhouse had looked huge when he moved in, but a woman living in it would damn sure make it smaller in a hurry.

Travis Tritt's old song “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” played through his mind. The verse that kept running around on a continuous loop said that the men were going to love her and the women were going to hate her, because she reminded them of everything they were never going to be. It said that it could be the beginning of another war, because the world wasn't ready for nothing like her.

With those tight-fittin' jeans attempting to cover up that cute little rounded butt and cinching in a small waist, Jill was sure enough trouble with a capital
T
in Burnt Boot, Texas. The Gallagher and the Brennan men would both love her because she was so damn pretty, but the minute they found out she was in line to inherit Fiddle Creek—well, look out, Burnt Boot.

According to what Verdie had told him already, the feud was already hotter'n a Texas wildfire. Naomi Gallagher, the head she-coon of that clan, was out for Brennan blood. Throwing Jill in that mix would be like throwing a five-gallon bucket of gasoline on the fire. Both families wanted the land separating their properties for the water rights that ran through Gladys's ranch, and even if they didn't, one look at Jill and they'd forget the ranch and want her.

“You two get settled in, and we'll have a long talk in the morning. Welcome home to Burnt Boot, Jill darlin'. Me and Polly are glad that you've finally come home to roost for good.” Gladys gave her niece another hug and whistled all the way to her truck.

The engine of the truck had barely died down, and Sawyer was still trying to make sense of the whole scene, when it sounded as if Gladys was coming back. Thank God! She'd been teasing about Jill not living at the house with her and now she was coming back to get her.

A truck door slammed, and Sawyer hurried to throw open the door. Hell, he'd even carry Jill out there, shotgun and all, and put her into the truck.

It wasn't Gladys standing on the other side of the screen door. It was Betsy Gallagher.

“Evenin', Sawyer. I heard you'd gotten moved in. Thought I'd stop by and ask you to Sunday dinner at my granny's place,” she said.

Red-haired and cute as a button, Betsy was a member of one of the feuding families in Burnt Boot. He'd been warned about taking sides in any way, form, or shape, but with the mayhem that had just happened, his mind went blank and he couldn't think of a reason why he couldn't go to dinner with her.

“Aren't you going to invite me in?” Betsy asked.

“It's a mess in here.” He stepped out on the porch.

“I heard that Jill Cleary was coming back to work for Gladys.”

“She is.” Sawyer still racked his brain, trying to come up with a plausible excuse not to go to dinner with her.

Betsy ran a hand down his arm and smiled up at him. “I expect you have lots to do, so I should be going. You can take me home from church on Sunday and have dinner with us, right?”

“I suppose,” he said.

“Good. I'll see to it you have a good time.” She winked slyly.

He went back inside, threw himself on the sofa with a groan, and covered his eyes with his arm.

“What happened?” Jill asked.

A second knock brought Sawyer to a sitting position, but Jill was already on the way to the door. “I'll get it,” she threw over her shoulder.

“Hello, Jill,” a masculine voice said.

Sawyer fell back and covered his eyes again. At least it wasn't another woman out there asking for him.

“I heard you made it to the ranch this afternoon,” he said. “I'm Quaid Brennan. We met years ago when you were a little girl and visited Gladys. I thought I'd come over and invite you to come to the Brennan Sunday dinner after church, and I'd love it if you helped me teach Sunday school and sat with us in church. We'd sure enjoy making you welcome to Burnt Boot.”

“Sure, and thank you.”

“Good. I'll pick you up at nine for Sunday school, then?”

“That will be great.”

She shut the door and melted into a rocking chair beside the sofa. “Shit! Aunt Gladys is going to scalp me. She said I wasn't supposed to get involved with either family, but I couldn't think of a single excuse.”

“I know exactly how you feel. But if you sit with them in church, everyone is going to think you've joined up with that side,” Sawyer moaned.

“Dammit!”

“Hey, we'll make it through the day and be home in the middle of the afternoon. Let's get back to our cleaning and figure out an excuse if anyone else comes around.”

Another knock on the door stopped him before he could finish the sentence.

“Your turn,” she said.

He hauled himself up off the sofa, crossed the room, and slung the door open, praying that this time it would be Gladys, but it was Kinsey Brennan. He looked past her to the third truck in the driveway, to see Tyrell Gallagher sitting in the driver's seat. Shit fire! Each side had sent a double team to Fiddle Creek to gang up on them.

“Hey, Sawyer. We haven't been formally introduced, but I met you at your cousin's wedding reception. I came to invite you to Sunday dinner.” She smiled.

Tall, willowy, blond, and brown-eyed, she looked like a runway model, but Sawyer had the perfect excuse all ready.

“I'm going to dinner with Betsy Gallagher,” he said.

“Oh, well then, you must give us equal time, darlin'.” She opened the screen door and stepped inside. Before he could take a single step back, her breasts were brushing against his chest. “You have to come to supper at the Brennan household. It'll be more private anyway without the whole family there.” She picked up his hand and wrote a number in the palm. “This is my cell phone number. Call me at a quarter to six, and I'll talk to you the whole way and give you instructions on how to get to River Bend. See you then.” She blew a kiss off the tips of her fingers and then touched his lips with her forefinger.

“Holy shit!” Jill said. “What's going on?”

“News travels fast in a small town. They know you have arrived, and they're going to swamp you with dates,” he said.

“But why?”

“Fiddle Creek, and you're a damn fine-lookin' woman.”

“But why you?”

“They just want to get rid of the threat. If one of those women can snag me, then that's one cowboy out of their way,” he said.

“You sure about that?”

A heavy knock landed on the door.

“I bet you dollars to cow patties that's a Gallagher wanting to take you to Sunday dinner,” he said.

She grimaced. “Maybe it's for you.”

“If it is, tell the woman I've got the plague.”

* * *

Jill answered the door, and there stood a tall, dark cowboy with pretty brown eyes.
Lord, please let this be a Bible seller who's lost his way and is looking for directions
, she prayed.

Her prayer fell on deaf ears.

“Miss Jill Cleary, I swear you have grown up to be a gorgeous woman. The last time I saw you, you were in pigtails. You won't remember me, probably. I'm Tyrell Gallagher. I heard you'd made it to town and I wanted to ask you to Sunday dinner.” His Texas drawl was sexy as hell, and he was easy on the eyes.

“Thank you for coming by and for the invitation, but I've already got dinner plans for Sunday,” she said.

“Well, then, darlin', you could invite me inside,” Tyrell said.

“It's a mess in here.” She used Sawyer's line and stepped out on the porch like he'd done.

He pinned her against the rough wood wall of the bunkhouse with a hand on either side of her. “I can't change your mind about dinner?”

“Sorry, but the plans are made.” She felt like a caged cat and fought the urge to holler for Sawyer to come save her.

“Then supper? We have two meals at Wild Horse on Sunday. Supper is buffet instead of a sit-down dinner, but you can still meet the family,” he whispered close enough that she caught the faint scent of peppermint gum over the top of whiskey.

“Okay,” she said. “What time?”

“I'll pick you up at six. What's your favorite color of roses?”

“I don't have a favorite,” she said.

He took a step back and grinned. “Then red it is. I'll see you Sunday.”

She hurried into the house, and Sawyer was gone from the sofa. Surely he hadn't slipped out the back door and left her alone.
I
take
back
everything
I
thought
about
him
when
I
first
got
here, Lord. Please don't let him be gone. I'm going to need a friend and lots of support
, she prayed again.

She had a moment of panic until he came from the kitchen with two opened bottles of beer in his hands. He handed one to her and downed a third of the other one before he went back to the sofa and sat down on one end.

“I thought you'd left me to the wolves all by myself. It was a scary moment. I don't even know you, Sawyer O'Donnell, but please promise you'll stick around.”

“I gave Gladys my word I'd stay for a year,” he said.

She exhaled loudly. “We got off on the wrong foot. I'm tired and weary from driving and worried that I made the wrong decision in coming here, so I'm sorry for aiming my gun at you.”

“Same here. I'm not a bit sorry that I took this job, but I wish to hell Fiddle Creek wasn't right in the middle of two feuding families,” he said.

“I'm going to supper at the Gallaghers' ranch and dinner at the Brennans'. At least no one can say I'm choosing sides,” she said with a long sigh as she plopped down on the other end of the sofa and kicked off her boots. “I shouldn't sit down, or I'll never get up and get this cleaning done. My feet hurt. My head is aching, and damn, Sawyer, why did I just agree to do two things I don't want to do?”

He picked up her feet and put them in his lap, massaging the soles through her socks. “I'm going to Wild Horse for dinner and River Bend for supper, but believe me, it's not happening but this one time,” he said. “I'll be ready for them next time around.”

BOOK: The Trouble with Texas Cowboys
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