I passed the hell out in the front guest bedroom around 11 p.m. An early night for me, especially on a Saturday. I was exhausted from the long drive and fell asleep in my clothes.
I awoke to my dead father’s dogs—my dogs, now, Cain and Dell—whining to be let out to pee. In the strange bedroom, at first I couldn’t remember where I was, but it quickly came rushing back.
Did I make the biggest mistake of my life by agreeing to stay here?
Rolling over, I picked up my phone from the bedside table.
Jesus! I slept for eleven hours!
Groggily, I got out of bed and led the dogs out the back door. I looked through the pantry until I found a bag of dog food and poured some into the bowls on the back porch.
I left the sliding door ajar for the dogs to wander back in if they wanted. I’d never had a pet before...
Unless you count the devil cat my mom had when I was a kid, but that thing hated me.
I’d need to ask about the dog’s feeding schedule. Maybe that sexy-ass cowboy I’d seen last night could fill me in... What was his name? Hael?
But it wasn’t like I was looking for anything. Since my ugly divorce, I’d pretty much sworn off men. I hadn’t even been on a date since my ex.
As I passed a hallway mirror, I was horror-struck when I saw yesterday’s mascara smeared around my eyes, and my hair was greasy and ratted.
Ugh. I need a shower.
Stripping out of my funky clothes, I stepped into the shower and began to contemplate the rest of my day.
What the hell am I going to do today? What does anybody do around here?
If I were back in the city, I’d likely be out to Sunday brunch right about now.
Oh, man a mimosa sounds good!
After all that had happened in the last twenty-four hours, I could definitely go for a drink or five. I resolved to find a place where I could have some boozy relaxation time.
There must be something in this town.
Turning off the water, I stepped out of the bathtub, only to realize I’d forgotten to grab a towel.
Fuck it. Who’s gonna see? The depressed dogs?
Dripping wet, I opened the bathroom door and walked down the hall to find the linen closet.
I’d just finished gathering the eggs and headed up to the ranch house. Greg always took care of the chickens first thing, but since he’d passed away, I’d taken this on. I opened the door to the coop around six that morning to let the hens out before getting to the other morning chores but left the eggs til later.
I couldn’t say that I didn’t hope for the chance to see Greg’s daughter again and figured she might sleep in after her long drive. She was beautiful.
She had Greg’s dark hair, but that body was all woman. I’d seen her the previous night and hoped I’d see her again the next day to introduce myself before I headed out to work the cattle.
I tried the front door, but it was locked. I knocked a couple of times but got no answer. People around here never really locked their doors, but I remembered that Greg’s daughter was a city girl. It was already after ten o’clock, but maybe she was still asleep.
Are the dogs fed?
I made my way around the house. Cain and Dell were outside eating on the back porch. The back door was open, so she must have been awake.
“Hello?” I called, entering the house. No answer, so I made my way to the kitchen. I sat the pail of eggs on the kitchen counter and then heard a door open and some footsteps coming from the hall.
That must be her. Introduction time.
I’d just say hi and welcome her to the place. I saw her figure come around the corner and stepped forward into the living room.
“Hey, I’m—oh! Oh shit!”
This girl was completely butt-ass naked!
“Ohmyfuckinggod! What are you doing!?!” she shouted.
“I’m sorry! Shit! I’m so, so sorry!” I covered my eyes as quickly as I could.
I grabbed my snatch in one hand and tried to cover my tits with the opposite arm, but they’re...ample, and I knew he fucking saw everything anyway.
Hael. The cowboy. Perfect.
“Why the fuck are you walking around my house?!?”
He stumbled backward, eyes covered, and toppled over, smacking his head on the hardwood floor.
“Arghhh, my head!”
“Not what I asked!” I snapped.
“I didn’t mean to...not that I’m complainin’... I mean...” He looked at me from the floor.
“Stop! Just stop!” My cheeks flamed.
“I’m... I’m sorry! I just...!”
“Done.” He leaped up from the floor, not even sneaking a glance in my direction. Hand over his eyes, he tripped over the ottoman but was quickly back on his feet again before running out.
I hurriedly made my way to the linen closet and grabbed a towel, wrapping it around my body as I ran into the guest bedroom, slamming the door behind me. Plopping down on the bed, I caught my breath.
Then, remembering the look on that poor guy’s face, I couldn’t help but let out an audible laugh. He seemed more mortified than I was.
Well, that’s one way to break the ice.
Now, fully dressed, I left the house to explore a bit more.
I walked up to some horses grazing on the other side of the fence. One horse, in particular, a white one with patches of brown, came up close. I’d never touched a horse in my life, but I decided to do what I’d seen in the movies and reached out to touch its nose. It stepped even closer.
“Aw, she likes you!” I heard a female voice say. Looking up, I saw a solid-looking woman in her forties or fifties riding up on a white and gray horse. She swung her leg over to dismount when she reached me.
“I’m Ronnie Afram. You must be Cora.”
“Welcome! I’m so sorry for your loss. Your daddy was a great man.”
Biting my tongue, I simply said, “Oh, yeah, I really didn’t know him… all that well. But thank you.”
“You like horses?” She motioned to the one I’d been petting. “She seems to have taken a shine to you. If you want to take her for a ride, you’re more than welcome.”
“I’ve actually never even touched a horse before this.”
“Well, she’s a real good one to learn on if you decide to give it a try.”
“You… work with the horses?”
“Yep.” She smiled, pushing some of her stray brown and gray out of her face. “I’m here six days a week. Live just a few ranches down.
“Hael and Geoff are the other two hands around here,” she continued. “Geoff deals with the sheep, and Hael works the cattle. Hey, Hael! Come on out here! Meet the new owner!”
“Oh, um… I actually… met Hael… this morning…” I heard Greg’s daughter say as I emerged from the stable.
Shit. I’m gonna get fired.
“Hey, I… I’m so sorry,” I blurted out as I rounded the corner. As I approached Greg’s daughter, I kicked over a pail next to Ronnie. I stumbled but was able to catch my balance. Ronnie sighed. “Hael! Ya clumsy fool!”
Greg’s daughter was clearly holding back laughter when I met her eyes. She must have thought I was an idiot.
“It’s fine! Just… don’t,” Ronnie said, swatting me away. “I got work to get back to. It was real nice meeting you, Cora.”
“You too,” Greg’s daughter said. “So,” she said when Ronnie was out of sight. “You’re Hael?”
“Uh, yes, Hael Gunners.”
“I’m Cora Braelynn.” She extended her hand. “I believe you’ve seen me naked.”
“I’m really so sorry. I was just comin’ in to—”
“You dropped off the eggs, yes, thank you for that. I didn’t even know there were chickens here.”
“I really can’t tell you how sorry I am for that.”
“It’s okay. After I had a mini heart attack, I actually couldn’t stop laughing,” she said as I met her sparkling green eyes.
Damn, she was gorgeous. Despite my embarrassment, I couldn’t help but feel my pants get a little tighter.
“Let’s just forget it ever happened,” she said. “I mean after you strip down and show me yours, of course. That’s only fair.”
My jaw dropped.
“I’m just fucking with you!” She laughed.
We pulled up to a place with a sign that said Dusk Bar in Hael’s blue Ford pickup. After breaking the tension from earlier, I think I got him laughing enough to stop being so embarrassed.
I had asked him where a girl could get a drink in this town, and he said there was just one place. I tried pulling it up on my maps app, but once again, the internet service was terrible, and it did me no good, so Hael offered to drive me there.
“Care to join me? My treat?” I offered.
“Oh, uh… that’d be nice, but…” He looked torn. “I’ve got a lot of work to finish up.”
“Suit yourself,” I said, stepping out of the truck, a bit disappointed that he’d turned me down.
Opening the door to the bar, I gave one more glance back at Hael.
Clumsy, but sexy as hell.
As I entered, I stopped in my tracks in the doorway, shocked. I hadn’t expected a classy joint, but this place was full of cowboys. Every single one of them, men!
The entire bar fell silent. And they were all staring at me.