New Release time...and it's something a little different for "Crystal Green"!
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The Cowboy's Secret
Copyright 2016 by Chris Marie Green
What were some of your favorite stories to read while growing up? I loved historical romances, especially Westerns by Johanna Lindsey, Rebecca Brandewyne, and Shirlee Busbee. At the same time, I was still watching Little House on the Prairie! Talk about different takes on the same world.
When Debra Holland asked me to write a launch story in her new Kindle Worlds exclusive Montana Sky series, I jumped at the chance. It’s true that her wonderful historical Western series is sweet (meaning there’s lots of sexual tension but no actually love scenes), and it’s true I’ve never published a historical before, but you know I’ve written more than a few cowboys, and I always enjoy new genres and challenges.
So I wrote a novella for Montana Sky Kindle Worlds named The Cowboy’s Secret. Kindle Worlds, which is a fan fiction community that uses Debra’s world while introducing new characters, is a fun way to immerse yourself in your favorite series, and here’s a taste…
A cowboy’s hidden heart…
Silent, strong Boone Ross has a secret, and after beautiful widow Lorena Bell arrives at the ranch where he works, that secret only grows, threatening to consume them both.
The past has always been a step behind Boone, but now it’s coming closer and closer. Is it time to run again, or will he stay and fight for a love that can bring him out of his self-imposed darkness?
Now here's the first chapter...
Every time Lorena Bell saw him, she couldn’t stop herself from looking some more.
And then even a little bit more than that.
She leaned against the broom she was using to sweep the front porch of the cabin, subtly gazing past the barn where Boone Ross was repairing the railings of the Golden C Ranch’s corral. Perhaps he always drew her eye because of the way he moved, and right now was no exception as he hammered away at the wood, the muscles in his arms and back flexing under his shirt. It also didn’t help that, whenever he tipped back his wide-brimmed hat to check his handy work, the gesture offered a tempting glimpse of his strong jawline and profile, which always seemed so stoic.
A mystery, she thought. A man who kept his head down and jaw tight every time he appeared with the other hands in the kitchen to pick up their meals, a cowboy who didn’t seem to be all that sociable with anyone. Lorena couldn’t help but to think he was as silent and rugged as the distant snowcapped Montana Territory mountains, but then…
Then there was the way his dark hair peeked out the back of his hat, brushing his neck and tickling his collar as he hammered away at that rail. The detail lent an out-of-sorts boyish quality to his toughness, and her mind went even farther than it had any business going.
What would it be like to just brush my fingers against that hair as I walk on by…?
The thud of small, running footsteps from behind her jolted her out of her inappropriate wool gathering, and she straightened up and started to sweep the porch again as the footsteps stopped beside her.
“Whatcha looking at, Ma?”
“I was only taking in the spring air for a moment. It’s simply divine out here, isn’t it?” And, yes, she was only talking about the landscape. Most certainly.
She smiled down at Thomas, the spitting image of what his father must’ve looked like at eight: curly blond hair with big brown eyes. A naughty cherub. But, even now, as he peered up at her with what seemed to be crumbs from a sugar cookie on his chin, she couldn’t help a sense of sadness, of wondering why she didn’t miss Karl more than she did.
When the sound of hammering beat at her from the corral, she forced herself to ignore it. She’d wasted enough time dreaming today.
“Thomas, what’s that near your mouth?”
Her son pulled a face that indicated he was conjuring an answer she’d most likely not believe. “Um…”
“Cookies. Am I right?” She sighed. “Those are for the men, and I suspect you went out of your way to poke around the main kitchen for them when you caught a sniff.”
“But I’m a man, Ma.”
He puffed out his chest a little so that his suspenders expanded with his effort. Such a thin, tiny chest. Most times, she just wanted to hug him, unless he was making mischief—which was most times.
“Men wait for their desserts because they respect the cooks,” she said. “So this means you’ll have no dessert for the rest of the week, young man.”
His expression turned sheepish. “Yes, ma’am.”
Shaking her head, Lorena tucked the broom into the crook of her arm and raised her son’s face, brushing off those crumbs. “Before you went on a cookie hunt, did you finish your arithmetic and do your chores?”
Another task on her list of things to do: Now that they’d settled in to the cabin on this ranch and winter was over, she needed to see about sending Thomas to school in town.
He shifted on his little boots. “May I play now?”
Exasperating, but ever since his father had passed on, she had a hard time with saying no to Thomas as much as she should. Back in the town of Hart Pines in eastern Montana, he’d attended a one-room schoolhouse, so she knew he missed being with other children, and he was acting up because of that, besides still missing his father.
He grinned up at her with the kind of pleading charm Karl never had mastered, and when Lorena nodded her permission for him to run about the yard, he darted down the steps to the ground. She watched him shoot straight toward the corral where Mr. Ross was working.
“Thomas!” She hadn’t meant for him to bother the nearest ranch hand—especially this one.
But he was already halfway there, and she could tell the cowboy heard him coming, too, because his broad shoulders slumped.
Lovely. Since Lorena and the family had arrived a week ago, she’d done her best to leave Mr. Ross to his peace. Unlike the other cowboys, he didn’t precisely put out the welcome mat for anyone, so she had the feeling she might have to sweep Thomas out of the man’s way just as surely as she’d been trying to dust off this porch.
As her son skidded to a pause near the cowboy, then stood on his tiptoes to see what the ranch hand was doing, Mr. Ross got back to work. Lorena watched them, waiting for the cowboy to tell Thomas to skedaddle. But it didn’t happen.
She kept watch, though, thinking it was a good thing that the men had already finished branding and castrating the cattle, bundling them off on the new railroad for sale elsewhere before Lorena and her curious little varmint had arrived with the rest of the family. She wasn’t looking forward to having to explain some of what ranch life included to her boy, even though their small town had offered some sense of the country.
Thomas crept closer to Mr. Ross, then closer, and still the cowboy concentrated on that rail. When he finished hammering, he stood to his full height, his hands on his slim, denim-clad hips. Lorena’s breath caught in her chest, fluttering, and it wasn’t due to her corset being laced too tightly.
Was it right to call a man beautiful? Because that’s what he was.
But why was she even thinking about men after hoping she would never have to be thrust into marriage again?
She blew out a breath. It was one thing to appreciate a man’s beauty, but to marry another one? He would have to be special…
Startled that she’d been caught “taking in the spring air” once again, she blinked at the tall, gangly man who’d quietly come to stand at the foot of the porch.
She nodded to him. “Good afternoon, Mr. Stanley.”
The owner of the Golden C held his hat in front of his chest. With his lively dark eyes, a generous mouth, and an Adam’s apple that bobbed when he swallowed hard, Jasper Stanley seemed like an actor who’d wandered onto a stage where the set was all wrong for him. He had a whiff of the East about him, with his new denim pants and fresh boots, along with an embroidered waistcoat. He looked more suited for a top hat rather than the one he was holding, and she should know because, once, she’d seen an actor in a traveling troupe wearing fashionable duds in a production of Tom Cobb in Hart Pines.
She’d heard tell that Mr. Stanley was flush with family money and had come westward as an adventure, intent upon running a small ranch. Rumor had it he was also searching for a bride, seeing as Sweetwater Springs and its outskirts had slim pickings for females.
As the hammering recommenced over at the corral, Lorena’s heart mocked the rhythm—and it wasn’t because of the eager shine of Mr. Stanley’s gaze.
Don’t think about Boone Ross. Don’t you do it again, Lorena.
Mr. Stanley kept his hat in hand. “Is Mrs. Horner over in the kitchen?”
“Yes, sir, she is. I’ll be there to help her soon.”
“Oh, I’m not checking up on you and your sister’s work schedule, Mrs. Bell. I…uh…I…”
Stopped by to say what a glorious day it is? It wasn’t the first time, and Etta had already commented on his propensity to greet Lorena frequently. It was all her sister seemed able to chat about some days while they baked and cooked the men’s meals, as well as tended to the cleaning and laundry and other household necessities.
“He’s got his eye on you,” Etta would even say at the end of the day in their cabin, and her husband always seemed to be around to agree with her.
Not that Lorena put much stock in whatever Garth had to say on the matter. He would love to see her married off and out of his way since there’d be two less mouths for him to feed and feel responsible for.
But, now, Lorena put Mr. Stanley out of his stumbling misery and beat him to his usual comment. “Isn’t it a glorious day?”
“Yes. Yes, it is.” He looked around his property with obvious pride. But when his gaze reached beyond the buildings and toward the waving grass, he sighed. “I must confess that I didn’t expect it to be so brisk in the spring. I had visions of a warmer sun.”
She only smiled, wondering if Etta and Garth were right about Mr. Stanley nursing thoughts of matrimony in his head. If he was courting her in his own way, he certainly needed advice. But would he think she was ready for courting with Karl’s death still fairly recent, even after a year, and under such terrible circumstances…
Mr. Stanley cleared his throat again, and Lorena reluctantly met his gaze.
Please don’t be courting me, she thought.
He beamed, reaching into a pocket and taking out a letter. “I have something important to share.”
“Oh?” Oh, no.
“I’ve been engaged in a correspondence, with a childhood friend from Philadelphia.” He thrust the letter at her. “I’m to be wed, Mrs. Bell.”
Relief poured through her as she leaned the broom against a post and reached for the paper. She unfolded it to find curly writing and the scent of lemon-tinged perfume.
“I can hardly believe it,” he said, giddy. “Miss Tyrell—Eleanor—will be here next week. I hope you don’t mind, Mrs. Bell, but I wanted to arrange a welcome for her—or the closest we can come to one.”
She finished reading the sweet letter—My dearest Jasper, it began—and handed it back to him. There was a real woman who was going to marry him. Wonderful!
“Leave everything to my sister and me,” Lorena said. “Back in Hart Pines, we attended a gathering or two. Not that the town was the center of social activity, but we know our way around a reception.”
“Excellent. Yet, when I hired you, along with Garth, it wasn’t with the intention of having you put on grand airs here. I was more in need of domestic help as well as another cowboy.”
“We’re only too happy to do this.” She held a hand to her chest. “Congratulations, Mr. Stanley. Sincerely.”
So very sincerely.
His Adam’s apple even looked ready to jump for joy. “Thank you, Mrs. Bell. Sincerely.”
He pushed his hat onto his head, and the ill fit marked him even further as a gentleman playing rancher. But as he strolled off, his hands clasping that letter, she couldn’t stop smiling. And she couldn’t stop wondering. Who was this woman precisely?
While Lorena imagined all sorts of things in her mind—a prim debutante? A woman who was as happy-go-lucky as Jasper Stanley himself?—her gaze snagged on the cowboy working at the corral again, as well as on her son.
Thomas had climbed up on the top rail, sitting astride it, still watching the ranch hand working, even if the man had moved to another section, farther away from her son. Well, as long as the little imp wasn’t bothering Mr. Ross, she would let this go since there was laundry for her to get to. While she worked, she’d just keep an eye on the situation.
And, in spite of herself, on the mysterious cowboy, too.
The Cowboy's Secret
Copyright 2016 by Chris Marie Green