Today's post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Cowboy Takes a Bride. Just wanted to let you know that for a limited time my publisher is selling the book as a preorder on Kindle/Nook for $4.99. The price will go up to $7.99 when the book is released. Just a heads up if you were looking to buy on ebook.
The naked cowboy in the gold-plated horse trough presented a conundrum.
In the purple-orange light of breaking dawn Mariah Callahan snared her bottom lip between her teeth, curled her fingernails into her palms and tried not to panic. It had been a long drive down from Chicago and jacked up on espresso, she hadn’t slept in thirty-six hours. There was a very good chance she was hallucinating.
She reached to ratchet her glasses up higher on her nose for a better look, but then remembered she was wearing contact lenses. She wasn’t seeing things. He was for real. No figment of her fertile imagination.
Who was he?
Better question, what was she going to do about him?
His bare forearms, tanned and lean, angled from the edges of the trough, an empty bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold dangling from the fingertips of his right hand. Even in a relaxed pose, his muscular biceps were tightly coiled, making Mariah think of hard, driving piston engines.
Like his arms, his legs lay slung over each side of the trough. He wore expensive eel-skin cowboy boots. She canted her head, studying his feet.
Size thirteen at least.
Hmm, was it true what they said about the size of a man’s feet? She raised her palms to her heated cheeks, surprised to find she made herself blush.
Question number three. How had he come to be naked and still have his boots on?
Curiosity bested embarrassment as she tracked her gaze up the length of his honed, sinewy legs that were humorously pale in contrast to his tanned arms. No doubt, like most cowboys, he dressed in blue jeans ninety percent of the time.
She perched on tiptoes to peek over the edge of the horse trough. The murky green water hit him mid-thigh and camoflagued his other naked bits. Robbed of the view, she didn’t know if she was grateful or disappointed.
But nothing could hide that chest.
Washboard abs indeed. Rippled and flat. Not an ounce of fat. Pecs of Atlas. A rough jagged scar, gone silvery with age, ambled a staggered path from his left nipple down to his armpit marring nature’s work of art. The scar lent him a wicked air.
Mariah gulped as captivated as a cat in front of an aquarium.
A black Stetson lay cocked down over his face, hiding all his features save for his strong, masculine jaw studded with at least a day’s worth of ebony beard. His eyes had to be as black as the Stetson and that stubble.
Mesmerized, she felt her body heat up in places she had no business heating up. She didn’t know who this man was, or how he’d gotten here, although she supposed that drunken ranch hands came with the territory. If she was going to be a rancher, she’d have to learn to deal with it.
A rancher? Her? Ha! Big cosmic joke and she was the punchline.
Less than twenty-four hours ago she had been standing in line at the downtown Chicago unemployment office—having just come from a job interview where once again, she had not gotten the job—her hands chafed from the cold October wind blowing off the lake, when she’d gotten word that Dutch had died and left her a horse ranch in Jubilee, Texas.
What was she going to do with the place? And on a more immediate note, what was she going to do with the man in the horse trough?
Tentatively, she inched closer.
He didn’t move.
The shy part of her held back, but the part of her that had learned how to slip into the role of whatever she needed to be in order to get the job done—and right now that was assertive—cleared her throat. “Hey, mister.”
No response. Clearly it was going to take cannon fire to get through his stupor.
You’ve got to do something more to get his attention. Hanging back and being shy has always puts you in hot water. Take the bull by the horns and—
Okay, okay stop nagging.
She reached out and poked his bare shoulder with a finger. Solid as granite.
Come on. Put some muscle into it.
She poked again. Harder this time.
Not a whisper, not a flinch.
What if he was dead?
Alarmed, Mariah gasped, jumped back, and plastered a palm across her mouth. Dread swamped her. She peered at his chest. Was he breathing? She thought he was breathing, but the movements were so shallow she couldn’t really tell.
Please don’t be dead.
In that moment, the possibly deceased naked cowboy was the cherry on top of the dung cake that was her life. Three weeks ago, she’d lost her dream job working for the number one wedding planner in Chicago and then her vindictive boss had blackballed her in the industry. And now Dutch was gone too and she’d been left a ranch complete with a dead naked cowboy.
Be rational. He’s probably not dead.
Maybe not, but clearly he was trespassing and she couldn’t have him thinking that it was okay for him to go around stripping off his clothes and falling into other people’s horse troughs during his drunken stupors.
Be bold, do something about this.
Bolster by her internal pep talk, she stepped up to flick his Stetson with a thump of her middle finger. “Yo, Cowboy, snap out of it.”
She was just about to thump the Stetson again, when one of those sinewy arms snapped up and his steely hand manacled her wrist. The tequila bottle made a dull pinging sound as it fell against the ground. Big fingers imprinted into her skin.
“Eep!” Oxygen fled her lungs. Panic mushroomed inside her. So much for being bold.
“Never thump a man’s Stetson,” he drawled without moving another muscle, his voice as rich and luxurious as polished mahogany. “Unless you’ve got a death wish.”