Title: Cowgirl, Unexpectedly
Author: Vicki Tharp
Genre: Romantic Suspense/ Western Romance/ Military Romance
A Harley and a highway are all an Iraqi war veteran needs to soothe her restless spirit—until a pit stop puts her on the front lines of love . . .
Settling down is not an option for Mackenzie Parish. Since the end of her tour of duty, the ex-Marine has been on the road, doing what she can to ease the pain of her wounded shoulder and mind. But when her money runs out, she takes a job on a Wyoming ranch—and finds herself in unfamiliar territory once more . . .
Mackenzie’s lesson number one: a horse is definitely nothing like a motorcycle. But even knee deep in manure, and saddle sores aside, Mac finds comfort in the daily routine of hard work and the great outdoors. Only her bunkmate, Hank Nash, provides an unsettling distraction. The former champion bull rider has returned home to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Yet despite his own struggles, he has the patience to show Mac the ropes, and the sweet touch to draw her out of herself—and her violent past.
But when the ranch becomes the target violent threats, Mac will have to choose between the call of the road—and the man who has helped her feel whole again . . .
Available now for pre-order and set for release in October 2017!
My engine sputtered and died on the downhill road into the ranch, like an old dinosaur rattling out its last breath. I coasted the rest of the way and skidded to a stop in front of a small group of men gathered around a campfire. Pebbles kicked up by my rear tire pinged into the crowd and landed with a tink against the side of the fire-blackened coffee pot. I settled my bike on its kickstand, swung my leg over and stepped to the edge of the circle of men.
Clouds building along the mountain range turned the sky the deep blue-gray of aged gunmetal. Thunder rumbled and my engine ticked as it cooled. Thin tendrils of campfire smoke curled into the air, but the handful of hot coals remaining provided little heat. A sharp whistle from an older man I assumed was the boss or ranch foreman, hushed their chatter, but all eyes remained on me. Men don’t intimidate me, but I swallowed a grumble when my eyes settled on Hank from the café.
One of the cowboys spit on the ground, another stopped whittling. A kid to Hank’s right sucked in a hard breath. I thought he might choke on his toothpick.
“Morning, boys.” I said, confident, if not entirely welcome. For a moment, silence reigned. Even the cow dog stopped chewing at his fleas. “Looks like I’m just in time.”
“I thought the women’s knitting circle met on Wednesdays,” the kid muttered around the toothpick.
There was the expected quick round of chuckles. Ignoring the comment, I walked over to the foreman and pulled the flyer from my back pocket. “Says here you need hands. I have two, so I’m here to apply.” Another round of light laughter ensued, but the scowl I sent them silenced them fast enough.
“You’re a woman,” the foreman said, as if the statement would come as a revelation to me.
I pasted on a bright smile, patted my short-cropped mop of hair the same deep, brownish red as the horse tied to a nearby tree, and flattened the front of my bomber jacket that all but hid my breasts. “Kind of you to notice.”
“We need men. Strong men. With muscle.”
I took the flier from his hand and feigned perplexion as I pretended to reread the information printed on the sheet. “No, nothing here specifies men only.”
“You have to be able to ride.”
“I can ride.” He probably meant horses, not motorcycles, but he hadn’t qualified the type of riding so I didn’t consider it an outright lie. Besides, how hard could it be anyway?
“And shoot,” the foreman added.
A genuine smile tipped my lips. “Not a problem.”
He crossed his arms over his chest, eyes narrowed. “And wrestle calves.”
The breath I blew out ruffled my bangs. “Never wrestled calves,” I admitted. Looking around, I tilted my head, indicating the kid with the toothpick, still lanky from a growth spurt. “But I sure as hell can out wrestle him.”
The group of men burst into hoots and guffaws, and one of them piped up. “Awh, c’mon boss, give her a shot, what can it hurt?”
The foreman scrubbed a hand in nearly a week’s growth of beard and sighed. “Got no quarters for ladies, here.”
After all the things I’ve done. I don’t think I qualified as a lady any more. “That shouldn’t be a problem.” I sauntered over to Hank with mustered bravado and jabbed a thumb in his direction. “I’ll bunk with Pops.”
Hank jerked his chin up as if I’d slapped him. “Pops?”
He had at least ten years on a couple of the other guys, who weren’t long out of the schoolyard at best. It wasn’t like he was old, old. But old enough I wouldn’t have to tell him more than once I wasn’t interested in some sort of high country romance. In Iraq, the men had learned to leave me be. These guys would, too. In time. I needed some rack time before I had the energy to deal with it though. Plus, I figured I’d already pissed off Hank enough this morning that he’d be the least likely one to hit on me.
Hank eyed me with speculation, the brim of his hat shadowing his expression. “You’re no spring chicken either.”
I ignored him and the round of juvenile comments from the guys about eating chickens, plucking chickens, and a whole host of other remarks that were designed to be taken the wrong way. If my bones didn’t ache and the muscle under the scar on my shoulder didn’t burn, I might have argued with him. As it was, I already felt twice my age, so I couldn’t disagree.
An ear-piercing whistle came from behind me. The men quieted mid-laugh and the mutt saddled up to my leg and leaned against me. I dropped a hand to its head and felt the quick lick of a hot, moist tongue on my palm. I turned my head and recognized the man I’d restrained this morning and the young girl walking up from the main house.
The girl’s smile was a quirky mixture between shy and amused. The man spared me a brief nod before turning his attention to the rest of the men. “Enough of that kind of talk. I run a family operation. My wife and granddaughter live here. I expect you to behave as gentlemen, and treat them,” the man looked between his granddaughter and myself before glaring back at them, “and any other women with respect. If you cannot manage that, then you’d best go now. I won’t tolerate that nonsense here.”
He turned and headed to the barn without any fanfare. I figured that meant I, as well as the rest of the men gathered there had the job. I went to grab my motorcycle while the others grabbed their gear from their trucks. Two had their own horses in a stock trailer and they headed over to offload them. The horses’ hooves tapped a nervous, deep staccato on the trailer’s wooden floorboards as they backed out. Steel clanked on steel as the rear door banged against the shaking trailer. I straddled my bike and shifted it into neutral. The bunkhouses were downhill from the campfire, so I kept a close eye on Hank’s jeans-clad ass as I coasted down the ranch road after him.
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Born with a love for animals, Vicki Tharp pursued a career as a veterinarian, graduating from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine in 1992. Always an avid reader of romance, mystery, and suspense, she combined her interests and medical knowledge in her first book, DON’T LOOK BACK.
She makes her home on small acreage in south Texas with her husband and an embarrassing number of pets. When she isn’t writing, trimming hooves, woodworking, or mucking out the barn, you can usually find her on the back of her horse, enjoying the delightful nasal bouquet of flowers, fly spray, and eau de horse sweat.
Her new series, Long S Ranch, is launching this fall with the first story COWGIRL, UNEXPECTEDLY.
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