Cassidy was looking for a home and a place to belong . . . not for a cowboy to steal her heart.
Having lived through her parents’ endless string of “matrimonial bliss gone wrong,” Cassidy Starr knows when the odds are not in her favor. Divorced and humiliated, her faith on rocky ground, Cassidy is through with love. She’s been bucked o_ that horse far too many times. Instead, she returns to Wishing Springs, Texas, and the rundown farm she’s inherited from her great aunt Roxie. She’ll reopen the strawberry farm and a bed & breakfast and follow in her aunt’s footsteps, remaining forever-independent, happy . . . and single.
Rancher Jarrod Monahan’s hands are full running the ranch, looking after his ailing grandfather, and chasing down a group of rustlers on the loose. He’s pushed his longing for a family to the bottom of his list of priorities. Besides, he was in love once but ran scared and lost his shot at happiness. But suddenly, the biggest regret of his life has moved in next door with a wounded heart, determined to become a spinster . . . and that’s a challenge that Jarrod can’t pass up.
Jarrod sets his mind to breaking down the walls around Cassidy’s stubborn heart. How can he show her that a cowboy’s kiss lasts forever? For the good folks of Wishing Springs, falling in love has never been so much fun to witness.
About the Author
Debra Clopton is a multi-award winning novelist who was first published in 2005 and has more than 22 novels to her credit. Along with her writing, Debra helps her husband teach the youth at their local Cowboy Church. Debra is the author of the acclaimed Mule Hollow Matchmaker Series, the place readers tell her they wish was real. Her goal is to shine a light toward God while she entertains readers with her words. Visit her online at www.debraclopton.com, Facebook: debra.clopton, Twitter: @debraclopton.
Read an Excerpt
Kissed by a Cowboy
A Four of Hearts Ranch Romance
By Debra Clopton
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Debra Clopton
All rights reserved.
Strawberry Hill. Cassidy Starr's headlights shined on the faded words of the wooden sign, which looked nearly ready to collapse. She knew exactly how it felt.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed her kinky mass of red hair behind her ears, then took hold of the steering wheel of her truck and drove up the dark, tree-lined lane. Up the hill, the two-story, yellow Victorian appeared in her headlight beams, and a wave of nostalgia and relief washed over Cassidy. She was home.
Humiliated, but home.
Tears dampened her eyelashes and she blinked them away. "I will not get emotional. I will not get emotional," she chanted to the silence around her.
She was done with tears.
So over them.
These days the only thing tears did was make her mad when they dared to threaten.
Coming back here must have been pulling these feelings from her, because it had been months since the divorce, since she'd walked away. Coming back to Aunt Roxie's was just ... well, it was emotional.
She hadn't planned on getting here this late, but on the way her truck's battery died in some tiny town in the middle of nowhere. She'd been lucky when an older man had finally come along and given her battery a jump-start.
Pulling to the rear of the house, she parked, then nearly rocketed out of her skin when the truck backfired. The engine sputtered and died.
"Terrific. Par for the course."
She was suddenly shrouded in darkness as her truck lights died. She groaned — it was blacker than Texas oil out here. Other than the ones coming from the ranch house half a mile away, there wasn't a light or even a moonbeam anywhere to be seen.
Cassidy swallowed hard and tried to crank her engine. It made a sad attempt, but then the battery completely flew the coop as just a clicking noise sounded when she turned the key.
"Well, how do ya like them beans?" she muttered while fumbling around for her cell phone. When she finally found it and turned it on, she groaned again — the battery life meter registered in the red. Two percent life was all she had — this wasn't looking good.
Clicking on the phone's flashlight app, she reached for the truck door. She had to act fast before the little light she had ran out. The heated air of the early June night hit her as she climbed out of the truck, then slammed the door extra hard, trying to make noise, just in case any unwanted visitors were roaming around. Hopefully the noise would scare them off. She remembered that once when she'd been here as a girl, she'd met a skunk face-to-face. Not a good situation at all.
"Yah! Get on outta here!" she yelled loudly into the night. She remembered Pops saying that when he wanted to move cattle along. Pops owned the ranch next door, and she'd been able to tag along with him and his grandsons a few times on roundups. She didn't want to round up anything now, but yelling should run off things too.
At this moment, all she wanted was to get inside Aunt Roxie's house — her house now. It had been six years since her aunt passed away and left the house to her, as if she'd known Cassidy would need it someday. And she'd been right. The thought settled depressingly on her shoulders and she shoved it away.
A bed and sleep were all Cassidy needed for now. It had been an exhausting day of travel from Plano, which had started with catching all the morning commuters in Dallas and then gone downhill from there. If it could go wrong, it had, and all this was more of the same.
Heart thundering, Cassidy moved toward the back porch. Memories greeted her as she approached the house, but now was not the time to be waylaid by them. So she shoved them away, too, and trudged forward.
She stomped up the steps and stooped down to feel beneath the flowerpot that had sat next to that back door since she was a kid. No key.
She should have made certain the Burke brothers, who kept watch on the place, still kept it in the same spot. She just hadn't thought to ask about that when she'd made arrangements to have the electricity turned on.
The eerie sound of a Hoot Owl sounded from the direction of the barn's hayloft, and Cassidy shivered despite the warmth of the summer night. She shined the phone's light that direction just in time to see the bird fly off into the darkness.
She swallowed hard, then turned back to the door and gave the handle a twist, hoping that maybe ... Nope, nothing. She eyed the doggie door with skeptical eyes. No, no way. Striding over to a window on the porch, she tried opening it. No budge.
She was worried about her phone battery too.
"Why couldn't there have been a full moon tonight?" she grumbled, then promptly tripped over the step as she hurried off the porch. Managing not to fall, she found the rock that sat in the flower bed beside the porch and lifted it, hoping maybe ... A couple of bugs scurried away, but there was still no key.
Clomping around the house, she tried each window and the front door.
"Come on!" Weariness was starting to get to her.
She should have felt some excitement at being here, but instead she felt weighed down by the trepidation swirling in the pit of her stomach. She was here, but it was not looking good.
Stop that. She might not be inside her new home yet, but she would find a way. She would —"
Umph," she grunted as she fell facedown on the ground, her phone flying out of her hand. She knew instantly that she'd hit the water spigot that had always protruded from the earth in the middle of the yard. She'd forgotten it was there despite having tripped over it several times growing up. Either it had rained at some point or the water hose had been leaking, because dampness instantly began seeping through her clothes. Then her phone light died, the battery evidently giving out.
"Great. Just great."
She jerked up to her hands and knees and felt around on the ground. Finally she gave up, knowing she'd find it in the morning. Her knees were soaked now, and her determination was wavering.
Sleeping in the hot truck might be her only option. Her head was starting to thump, a lingering ailment from the accident that had pushed her to move to Strawberry Hill. Being hit by a car and spending two days in a coma made a person take a serious look at her life. Rubbing her temple, Cassidy scrambled up and eased around to the back of the house, still wary of what critters she might run into.
She seriously needed to be in the house and get some light. Her stomach was churning, her head was thumping harder, and now her knee throbbed where she'd hit that metal water spigot. She grimaced with each uncertain step.
Aunt Roxie would have plowed through this inky black and dared something to jump out at her. Her aunt had lived her entire adult life single, independent, and self-sufficient. She'd been able to do anything. Cassidy remembered the roof once sprang a leak during a rainstorm and there went Roxie, stomping out to the barn, grabbing her ladder. The next thing Cassidy knew, the woman was up on that roof with a blue tarp and tacks, covering it up until the rain stopped.
"It's just going from point A to point B," she'd tell Cassidy. "You can do anything you want in life if you think about it like that — and read lots of books." To prove that belief she had shelves and shelves of books on every subject imaginable.
The bottom line was her aunt Roxie wasn't afraid of anything. She'd lived fully and on her terms until she'd dropped dead in her garden. She was probably up there in heaven right now with her big, floppy, brimmed red gardening hat and her oversized chambray shirt and her gardening gloves, telling the Lord where she wanted the strawberries, tomatoes, and marigolds to go.
And he was probably saying, "Have at it, Roxie. Things have never looked so good before."
Cassidy smiled in the darkness, consoling herself with the knowledge that her aunt had died doing what she loved. Working in her garden, living her simple, uncomplicated, single life.
And that was exactly what Cassidy had come home to do.
She made it to the back porch by feel and memory, then knelt down and felt for the doggie door. When she'd been younger she'd fit through this opening. Loopy, Aunt Roxie's cocker spaniel, hadn't been big, but she hadn't been tiny either. If Loopy could fit, maybe Cassidy could. She pushed on the heavy flap and felt it give. She weighed the idea of sleeping in her truck, no light, and no shower against sleeping in a bed, light, hot water, and all the comforts of Aunt Roxie's things around her.
It was a no-brainer. She needed sleep tonight. She had a lot to do. Starting tomorrow she was making plans for her organic strawberry farm and beginning the process of making her new home into a bed-and-breakfast.
You won't make it on your own. You need me.
Jack the Jerk's chiding words echoed through her mind, words he'd smugly tossed at her the day they'd signed the papers that had cut their legal ties.
But like Roxie, she could make it on her own.
She would make it on her own.
Because from here on out that was the way it would be.
A fist of fear knotted in her chest, but she ignored it as best she could and stuck her head through the doggie door.
She was going in.
* * *
Jarrod Monahan clicked off the computer, scrubbed his eyes, and pushed his chair back from the desk as the clock on the mantel struck midnight and chimed. He'd been going over the cattle records in his office for hours now and he was tired. It had been a long day.
The clock on the mantel seemed to tick louder than usual in the silence. The house, as always, was quiet. When a man lived by himself, watched a little TV, and basically did nothing but work in his office or sleep when he was home, quiet was all it would be. He told himself he should get another dog. His Blue Heeler had died two years ago, but Jarrod just hadn't taken the time to replace it.
Needing something more than a computer to stare at and the sound of a ticking clock, he went outside to sit on the back porch. As soon as he stepped out the door, he breathed in the scent of the rose bushes beside the porch, a leftover reminder of his mom when they'd all lived here as a family. The heat met him too. The first week of June had hit with a vengeance and he and other ranchers in the area needed rain already. Walking to the edge of the porch, he let the haunting sounds of the coyotes and the crickets settle around him, much preferring them to the silence inside his home that seemed to permeate his soul tonight.
He might think about that dog more seriously.
Tonight he was restless. In more ways than one. Lonesome feelings had been grabbing hold of him lately and dragging behind him like dead weight. The feelings set him off center and they were distracting. But he wanted to focus on the only issue that mattered right now — the fact that the ranch had cattle missing.
The numbers didn't lie.
Jarrod passed up the chairs on the porch and sat on the steps instead as he gazed into the darkness. He heard the sound of an owl in the distance as his thoughts churned. He wasn't going to jump the gun, but he was pretty certain these cattle were being stolen, which meant only one thing — he had rustlers.
He turned the numbers over in his mind again. It was possible the theft could be the work of one person. Then again, he hadn't checked all the sections of the ranch, which was expansive with a lot of cattle. He didn't know the exact number of missing cattle he was dealing with, but he would know soon. At the moment it was just a rough estimate.
He did know one thing, though. Whoever was taking their cattle was in for trouble when he caught them. And he would catch them. He and his brothers, Tru and Bo, had been working too hard for too long to let this go. He'd catch them and then he'd —
His gaze suddenly locked on a small pin of light across the pasture.
He stood up and watched the light creep along for a moment. The only thing out here on the far side of the ranch was his house, with no neighbors for miles — except for the Starr place. But that had been empty for over six years. Roxie Starr had passed away suddenly and left her property to her great-niece. Cassidy had been here only long enough to pay her respects to her great-aunt at the funeral, sign papers, and make a few arrangements for caretakers. Then she'd gone back to life in the city. And her husband.
Jarrod strode into the house and grabbed his shotgun from the gun safe. He either had rustlers sneaking onto his property through his neighbor's place or there were vandals next door.
Either way, with the mood he was in, if they were lookin' for trouble, they'd come to the right place.CHAPTER 2
Cassidy had almost made it through the doggie door when the belt loop of her jeans caught on something on the outside of the door. "No," she grunted. She tried to back out so she could unhook herself, but she couldn't. She yanked her body hard. Nothing happened. "This is ridiculous." She was stuck, and no amount of yanking or jerking was doing her a bit of good.
It was icing on the awful day.
In the darkness the musty scent of dust and disuse assaulted her senses. She sneezed, then dropped her forehead to her arm. Could it get any worse than this? She sneezed again as coyotes howled in the distance. What if they showed up and there she was hanging halfway out the doggie door for them to nibble on her bones? A shiver ran through her at the thought.
She jerked harder but it was useless.
"This is just so not right," she muttered as a deeper weariness and feelings of ineptitude filled her. What was she going to do?
"Okay. Back out real slow and easy," a deep, gravelly voice warned.
Cassidy froze and screamed silently, Who? And where had the man come from? She hadn't heard a vehicle drive up.
"Come on, do as I say."
Her weary eyes narrowed and fear shot straight to mad. "I don't know who you are," she growled, saying the first thing that popped into her exhausted brain, "but I warn you, I'm armed, so you better back off." What? Are you crazy, Cassidy?
"Well, that makes two of us," the man drawled. "Now, come on out here."
Her heart leapt in her chest — he was armed. What if he was here to rob the place?
"My patience is wearing thin and my trigger finger is itchin', so hurry it up."
"This is ridiculous. Look here, bucko," she warned, not liking yet another man trying to push her around. "I guess we will have to have our shoot-out at the O.K. Corral in a little while, because the truth is I'm stuck here. So there isn't much that can be done until I get loose. Either help me or get off my property."
Laughter from the other side of the door was her only answer. A husky, wonderful laugh that she would know anywhere. "Jarrod Monahan, is that you out there?"
"Cassidy Starr, I have seen you in some predicaments, but this one wins hands down. What in the name of thunder are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing, knitting a sweater?"
"Well, you could be, but since your hands aren't exactly the part of your anatomy I have a visual on, I don't know what you're doing over there on that side of the door."
Drop her in a hole and push dirt over her! She was pretty certain she was glowing with mortification in the pitch-dark house as she growled, "Get me loose, please. And stop gawking."
"You've got me on that one. I cannot tell a lie," he drawled and chuckled at the same time.
Memories from the past rushed by her in living color. "You're incorrigible." She yanked her hips hard.
"Hey, I'm not the one stuck halfway through a doggie door."
"Would you please help me get unhooked from this thing so I can move?" She wondered what he looked like after all these years. She'd glimpsed him a couple of times at Aunt Roxie's funeral, but he'd stayed well away from her at the back of the packed church. And outside he'd had his cowboy hat on, which cast his face in shadow.
She suddenly felt his hand on her hip and she tensed.
"I'm sorry to have to do this. Hold still."
He tugged on her waistband, then she heard an odd sound and felt the tightening of the hooked area. She realized she was feeling the blade of a pocket knife sliding through material.
"You're cutting my jeans!"
And then she was free. Cassidy wasted no time after that. She pulled herself through the door and into the dark house. She stood up and felt along the wall beside the back door for the light switch. Thankfully she'd made sure to have the utilities turned on. She'd even asked for them to be turned on a few days before she told them she would be here, just in case. Sure enough, she'd been ready to come back home earlier than she thought she'd be, and today she'd made her escape.
Excerpted from Kissed by a Cowboy by Debra Clopton. Copyright © 2016 Debra Clopton. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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