Craving the Cowboy(3)

By: Liz Isaacson

Laughter and cheering met his ears, but Dwayne could only stare as disbelief and humiliation spread through him like poison. He met the woman’s eyes, and she ducked her dark cowgirl hat and disappeared into the mass of people.

On Monday morning, Felicity Lightburne woke with a buzz in her stomach that wasn’t exactly comfortable. She glanced around the still-unfamiliar bedroom, disliking the butter-yellow curtains as much now as she had when she’d moved in last week.

She sighed as she dragged her legs from under the bedspread and sat on the edge of the mattress. Felicity wasn’t bothered by the early hour. She was used to rising before the sun and being in the training ring with a horse by dawn.

She was used to sipping coffee in the dark, and smelling like dust and horse flesh, and showering in the afternoon just to get the layer of sweat and dirt off her skin.

But she didn’t want to go work at a ranch without her father. Didn’t want to work at a ranch that wasn’t her father’s.

“Couldn’t stay there,” she muttered to herself as she reached for the pair of jeans she’d worn yesterday. She could wear them again; all she’d done was wander around town and then attend the rodeo in Crawford. At least Grape Seed Falls and the other small Texas towns surrounding it possessed charm.

“Give me strength for this day,” she whispered as she moved into the kitchen. She set the coffee to brew, scraped her hair back into a ponytail, and ate a banana before leaving for the new ranch where she was starting her new job. Apparently, the owner needed to hire out the training of the horses as the ranch continued to grow and expand. He’d hired her over the phone, and he’d seemed nice enough. Impressed with her credentials. Relieved to have her.

But none of that relief entered her system as she set her car west and left the town proper of Grape Seed Falls behind. She kept her arm draped lazily across the steering wheel, as if this was just another day at work. Just another commute.

But it wasn’t.

Number one, she’d never commuted to work. She got up and walked out of the rambler where she’d grown up, crossed a few hundred yards, and entered the stables.

Number two, she’d never worked for anyone else. Her family’s cattle ranch sat just outside of Dallas, and she’d worked the land there and learned to train horses from the greatest trainer Texas had ever seen. Her dad.

His death punched her right in the face, making her eyes sting and her nose run. She hated the simultaneous hot-cold feeling, hated that all it took was a simple thought of his pale blue eyes and quick smile to make her breath catch and her chest feel hollow.

Felicity managed to master her emotions before she arrived at Grape Seed Ranch and turned down the drive. The homestead was handsome, with a beautiful yard surrounding the house. She parked by the biggest barn and got out of her car, wondering where to go next.

“Mornin’,” a man called, and Felicity turned, ready to pin her smile in place and make it through this day.

One day at a time, she coached herself. Her mom had told her that every day following Dad’s death. Felicity had tried to stay at the family ranch. She really had.

She turned, thinking this ranch already felt better. Freer. Like the air held oxygen instead of pure sadness.

“You must be Felicity.” The cowboy drew closer, and Felicity sucked in a breath when she recognized him.

He froze in the next nanosecond, obviously recognizing her too.

He was the cowboy she’d dunked with a single throw, after plenty of capable men hadn’t been able to get the job done. And by the dark look filling his face, he wasn’t happy to see her again.

Chapter Two

“Yes, I’m Felicity Lightburne,” she managed to say. She stepped forward and extended her hand to him.

“I’m Dwayne Carver.” He took her hand, his fingers warm and wonderful against hers. He easily stood over six feet tall and sandy blond hair peeked out from under his cowboy hat. A different one from Friday night, Felicity noted.

“Sorry about the dunking,” she added as he pumped her hand. Sparks traveled up her arm and popped through her shoulders. He pulled his hand away quickly and stuffed it in his pocket.