Read a Book; Love a Cowboy
by Karen Rock
Romance readers pick their book boyfriends carefully. We all have a type. While I’ve read, written and adored books with different kinds of heroes, I can’t deny that there is one hero I’m particularly sweet on: The Cowboy. I love cowboys so much that my new western, romantic suspense, A COWBOY TO KEEP, is the prequel to my upcoming series ROCKY MOUNTAIN COWBOYS where I’ll be chronicling the lives and loves of feuding Colorado ranching families the Cades and the Lovelands.
Here are some of my favorite cowboy traits:
Pride. In his work, his family, his home, in himself.
Trustworthy. His word is his bond.
Tenacious. He never quits, especially when things are toughest.
Protective. He looks out for those in his care-women, children, animals, the land.
Courage. He might feel fear, but he looks it straight in the eye.
Honor. It’s a badge he wears, a code he lives, every day.
Independence. As a westerner, it’s in his DNA.
Wise. Men of few words, but deep thoughts.
Strength. He’s strong enough to wrestle cattle, but tender enough to carry a baby.
Respectful. He knows how to treat a woman and care for her, but he also let's her be herself.
Authentic. He’s always himself, right down to his scuffed boots and faded wranglers.
Easy-going. He’s slow to anger, but don’t get him mad!
Humble. He’s self-deprecating and never brags.
Good-looking. That easy smile and gleaming eyes beneath the brim of a Stetson…
Say hello to Jack Cade, my rancher-turned bounty hunter in this scene from A COWBOY TO KEEP. Jack’s tracked his quarry to Mountain Sky Dude ranch, but stumbles on another dangerous individual instead—Dani Crawford, the stable manager currently holding him at gunpoint for trespassing:
~Dani Crawford nearly dropped her rifle when the lethal-looking prowler turned. Their eyes met, a dark promise in the depths of his, and her heartbeat thudded in her ears at his intent, hard-bitten expression. A scar snaked from the top of his left eyebrow, reappeared below his lower lid, slashed his high cheekbone and dipped to his full mouth.
A deadly badge of dishonor, by the look of it.
Some vicious fight he’d survived.
What’d the other guy look like?
Probably rotting in a grave.
A shiver slithered down her back at her fanciful imagination. Strands of hair blew in her face as the wind whistled across the hilly land and coyotes yipped in the distance.
“Hands up!” she ordered, sounding as tough as a gal could while standing barefoot in a tank and sleep shorts. Hopefully her rifle was doing the intimidating.
To her relief, her intruder placed his pistol in the grass and slowly straightened to a goliath height.
His muscular, tattooed arms, revealed by a fitted black T-shirt, pointed at the new moon. His predator eyes never left hers and bumps rose on her exposed skin.
She should have grabbed a robe and sneakers. Searched out one of the ranch’s rare cell phone signals since she didn’t have a landline.
The moment she’d heard the horses and spotted someone moving on her employer’s property, she’d grabbed her gun and pursued, her cell phone shoved in her pocket. She would not—could not—let anything jeopardize the ranch that’d become a second home to her, a haven from her troubled past.
And now she stood alone with the most dangerous-looking man she’d ever seen. Her employers were hundreds of miles away, buying a new horse for the stable she managed. Her staff didn’t arrive for the new season until tomorrow. Would he know that? Was that why he’d come? She should have listened to her friend Ray’s admonishments to stay in town when she’d stopped at his bar earlier. Her tongue darted out and licked her dry lips. His gaze dropped to her mouth, lingered, then rose again.
“Didn’t mean to disturb you, ma’am.” His husky baritone seemed to move right through her skin, wrap around her chest and squeeze the air out of her like a python’s embrace.
“What’s your business here?” she asked, her heartbeat and her breath running wild.
He shrugged broad shoulders, something in the deceptively casual move making her even more fearful. His long, denim-clad legs suggested speed and agility; his flat abdomen, wide chest and lean waist screamed strength. Still. She had the gun. Was in charge of the situation. Yet his calm, relaxed demeanor raised doubts about who was really in control.
He acted like having a gun pulled on him happened every day.
Maybe it did. She studied the hard planes of his face.
“Just passing through.”
“You should have called if you wanted a tour,” she said evenly. Her pulse throbbed at the base of her throat.
The right side of his mouth curled, the easy expression putting her on the defensive just as much as his gun had. Maybe even more.
“Prefer doing things on my own.”
“That right,” she drawled, weighing her options, fear making her bones shake.
Calling 911 wasn’t an option, even if she could get a signal. She’d avoided law enforcement since running from her Oklahoma- issued arrest warrant six years ago. Officers asked too many questions. Might connect her to the worst mistake of her past. Were within their rights to extradite her… She tamped down the horrible, nightmare thought.
He gazed at her steadily. “So. Are you shooting me? My arms are getting tired.” He rolled first one, then the other shoulder. Didn’t look bothered a bit.
And that bothered her a lot. Time to throw this fish back in the stream, much as she’d like to get to the bottom of his visit. Since an access road to the Pike National Forest crossed the property, sometimes disoriented stragglers turned up. It’d be naive of her to think a man like him would get lost, though.
An armed man…
Keep him talking or get rid of him? Seeing as she was alone, she’d go with the latter.
“Where’s your vehicle?”
“Outside the gate.”
“Let’s go.” She nodded toward the entrance, down one of the dirt paths crisscrossing the property. It passed the two-story main lodge and the corral where they brought saddled horses for daily expeditions.
“I need my gun.”
Her eyes widened. “Not on my property.”
“I need my gun.” His tone sounded easy as ever, yet steel had entered it. An implacable quality that suggested a man used to getting what he wanted.
“Then you shouldn’t have dropped it.”
He lowered his head and peered at her from beneath his brows. “I’m not leaving without it.”
“If we agree that leaving on a stretcher is an option, then go for it.” She didn’t even try keeping the sass out of that one. In the oddest way, she enjoyed the tightrope feel of this conversation. Recognized it from the days she’d run with the wrong crowd until that fascination had come back to bite her. Hard.
But she wasn’t the kind of woman who enjoyed that sort of thrill anymore… Resentment rose at the glimpse of her old self. She’d worked too hard to start over, to become a better person, to ever go back to the way she’d been.
He rolled his eyes skyward and his chest rose and fell. “Ma’am. I have no quarrel with you. Let me have my gun and I’ll be on my way.”
She blew out a breath. “Kick it over here.” He did, and the Glock skidded to a stop at her feet. “Don’t move unless you want your head blown off.” At his nod, she snatched it up and straightened, her rifle still trained on the trespasser. “I could shoot you. It’s the law.”
“But you won’t.” He lowered his arms and crossed them.
There was a breathtaking silence as that sank in. Her mind raced wild along its trail.
“How do you know?”
“You ever shoot a man?”
Heat crept up her neck. She willed herself not to turn red like she always had, growing up, when caught out. “Have you?” she challenged, and lifted her chin. Tried looking tough. Lord, she hoped she looked tough.
He gazed at her steadily, and she clamped her teeth together. Swallowed hard.
He sauntered closer and she stared, mesmerized, the way a hare does when cornered by a western rattler. With a small push, he nudged her rifle barrel down. She breathed in the pure male scent of him. Not so much unwashed as worked hard. It made her nostrils flare. Her palms began to sweat. He wasn’t a man to tangle with.
“I want my gun.”
His words snapped her out of her trance and she backed up a few steps. Her mind turned in circles. She was fooling herself to think she had the upper hand here. Time to level the playing field. She tucked her rifle under her arm, pulled back the Glock’s slide to remove the chambered round, yanked out its magazine and tossed the empty gun back.
He caught it neatly with one hand. “Thank you, ma’am. I’ll see myself out.”
“I’ll be right behind you.”
His eyes gleamed. “And here I was, thinking you didn’t like me,” he said, and there was the corner of a grin there, bitten back as he holstered his gun.
Arrogant bastard. “I like your back. Intend to watch it as you go.”
His low chuckle made her flush again and then he strode away without a backward glance. Pebbles grazed the bottoms of her feet as she hurried after him, slightly dizzy. Off-balance. Bats called, up in the dark air. A clump of aspens leaned in the wind, intent, watchful. The rush and whisper of them roared in her ears.
At last they reached the gate and her fingers trembled on the keypad.
“No need.” He scaled the fence and dropped neatly on the other side. The moonlight glinted on his white teeth as he smiled. “Thanks for the tour.”
He tipped his hat and she watched him go. Studied the shadows long after they’d lost sight of him, too. She gripped the gate’s metal bar when her knees turned wobbly.
What had he wanted? Not to harm her, it seemed.
Would he come back?
Given her past, she wasn’t in any position to be spending time with dangerous men. But, suddenly, she wanted to know more about the scarred man who both frightened and fascinated her.
She gave herself a mental kick and headed back to her room behind the stables.
She’d more than had her fill of them and wouldn’t let another occupy her thoughts. Not when the last one nearly destroyed her life. Not when, with her recent promotion to stable manager, she’d finally achieved the security that’d let her put her past behind for good.
The stranger’s striking face returned to her as she slipped under the covers. She punched her pillow. Hopefully she’d never see him again.
Read the first three chapters of A COWBOY TO KEEP HERE on Goodreads! Add it to your Goodreads "To Read" list HERE.
Did you enjoy Jackson Cade? What are your favorite cowboy qualities? Share your answer in the comments section below to enter to win a copy of A COWBOY TO KEEP- digital or print, winner's choice. Winner announced on my Facebook Page at http://www.facebook.com/karenrockwrites tomorrow!