Ryan Wylder hasn’t told his family everything, but when a stranger comes to town everything comes to the surface as Ryan gets a second chance at love.
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Ryan Wylder isn’t looking for love. He’s been burned before and has learned his lesson the hard way. But when his sexy new neighbor Carly Clarke takes aim at him with her shotgun during a late-night misunderstanding that sparks his interest, he may have to look out for more than his life—he may have to look out for his heart!
Carly Clarke is ready for change. No more men. No more bad decisions or accepting well-meaning interference in her life. Just self-reliance as she builds up her soon-to-be organic farm. Only one problem, handsome cowboy Ryan Wylder keeps showing up and making offers her new business can’t refuse. Will accepting his help mean she’ll lose her fight for independence, or will he respect her boundaries while pushing her to new levels?
And what will this duo do as their lives become inexplicably entwined, and their hearts beg them to take a second chance on love?
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Sneak Peek from The Cowboy’s Second Chance
Carly hadn’t slept well. And not just because she’d done damage to her own property when her cute neighbor, Ryan Wylder, had gotten her exactly where she promised she’d never be around a man again: flappable.
It’d been a long time since anyone had dared drink her in the way he had, and she’d reacted, shooting out her much-needed yard light in order to plunge them into darkness as he returned her goats.
Standing on the dusty ground beside the light pole, she put her hands on her hips and stared up. Beneath her feet were shards of glass. Thankfully, none had landed inside the nearby goat pen. What a careless, dangerous thing she’d done.
And all because a man had been looking at her silhouette. A handsome, challenging man who seemed to see right into her soul in a way that made her feel vulnerable and exposed.
She had a lot to hide, but when it came right down to it, he didn’t matter, and neither did his opinion of her.
Really, though, it wasn’t just the yard light that had her frustrated, nor was it Ryan’s gawking. It was being alone on the ranch. Yes, shooting out the light had been stupid. But so was not throwing a robe over her nightgown before heading out into the yard with her shotgun at one in the morning to see what the ruckus was about.
She needed to think first, then think again. Then act way, way later. Like a week later. Not stomp out into the night all alone on a remote ranch, even if armed. Her US Army Reserves training was one thing, but blindly walking into what could have been an ambush was another.
The gall of him, though. He’d been standing in her yard like he owned it. Just as he did with every patch of ground he tread upon. She’d noticed him around town, as well as at the library fundraiser two weeks ago. It was hard not to, with those bright blue eyes that took in everything, those broad shoulders of his and his confident, commanding presence.
But she was not interested. No, thank you.
She was here on this ranch to learn self-reliance, and she didn’t need another man waltzing in and then back out again, leaving her hanging off a cliff with alligators snapping at her feet.
She let out a frustrated sigh and focused on the light again. How was she going to replace the fixture?
She’d blown it to pieces, and all that was left was a piece of metal hanging from a few wires.
Electrical work was beyond her skill set. So was dealing with heights. Which meant she’d have to hire someone. And that would cost her a fortune, all because she’d been hotheaded.
Think first, Carly. Always think first.
And why had she immediately become so hotheaded?
Because Ryan Wylder and his intense gaze had stirred up parts of her that would undoubtedly lead to bad decisions and long, dark nights. She’d faced too many of those already in her thirty years.
She patted her ebony curls. “Cool it, hothead.”
She didn’t have the cash to spend on wild decisions while trying to get her organic farm started. Right now she had nothing but a week of poor decisions behind her, and they seemed to increase by the day. It was time to stop the cycle. And that meant she would be wise to avoid her new terrible-decision trigger, Ryan Wylder.
A small gust of wind tugged at her open jacket, and she tightened the plaid fabric around herself. It was already mid-November, which meant Texas was ready to serve up just about every kind of weather. The days seemed to start cold, grow hot, end cold. Different from Montana, where they tended to start cold, stay cold and end even colder.
In the distance Carly heard the rumbling of machinery, the Sweet Meadows Ranch next door already becoming familiar to her with its predictable morning sounds. The two ranch houses were uncharacteristically close for this part of Texas. She was just a five-minute walk from the Wylders’ place, though their ranchland stretched way back into the hills.
When she heard an unfamiliar engine rev, sounding as though it hadn’t been run recently, she couldn’t help but wonder what was going on over there, and if anyone knew how to replace a light fixture on the cheap.
As long as it wasn’t Ryan.
Making sure her escape-artist goats were still in their pen, she headed back to the house, leaving her yard light problem for later. As she dreamed of her next cup of coffee, she noticed a faded orange, dusty machine rounding a curve in her long driveway. It disappeared for a moment behind a grove of massive, century-old oaks, before reappearing, the rumbling sound louder. It looked like a 1950s-era truck that had been converted into a forklift.
She hustled to the front yard as the vehicle came closer, and soon recognized the man driving it. Ryan Wylder.
Great. Just great.
It was as if he knew she’d vowed to avoid him, hoping to prevent a wave of bad decisions that would surely follow any interaction with him. And here he was to test her.
She was getting tired of admitting to her family back in Montana that she’d been suckered into trusting the wrong man again, because of another smooth and charming smile. She didn’t need to do it a third time.
As she reached the edge of the drive, the forklift came to a stop beside her, the wheels locking and sliding on the loose gravel.
“Get your light fixed?” Ryan asked, adjusting his black cowboy hat. Most times she’d seen him he was wearing a ball cap, and dressed as though he was about to coach his football team. But he looked right at home in the hat, along with the black-and-red checked shirt under a black vest. Dark colors suited him, matching his hair, bringing out the intensity of his blue eyes.
Handsome. That’s what he was.
And in Carly’s world, handsome spelled T-R-O-U-B-L-E.
“Here you are again.” She held up her empty palms. “And me without my shotgun.”
To her delight, the man’s lips quirked into a slight smile. “I can wait here if you need to retrieve it.”
Oh, but she loved a man who didn’t take her too seriously. And that light Texas drawl? Mmm. It sounded good with that deep, gravelly voice of his.
What was she thinking? Yes, he was eye candy, but he’d already been established as trouble.
“My goats are accounted for this morning. Why are you here?” Her words came out abruptly, but she didn’t regret them or the distance they might bring.
“I thought you could use a lift.”
She raised her eyebrows and gave the bastardized truck an unimpressed look. There was only one seat and she most certainly didn’t need to ride anywhere with Mr. Trouble.
“To fix your yard light.”
“Oh!” Her surprise and delight slipped out before she could tamp it down. “That was…” She closed her mouth and instead studied the platform made of pallets and plywood resting on the machine’s forks.
“It’s mighty neighborly, I know,” Ryan said, with a wry smirk that made him look even more devilishly charming. “My parents ingrained it into me, and honestly? Sometimes it’s a genuine pain in the butt.”
“You don’t happen to have a replacement bulb for the light, do you?”
“I don’t think so.” She winced, realizing she needed more than just a bulb. Maybe she could find a cheap solar light she could nail to the pole and call it done. She’d seen a few gnome ones in the hardware store in town. Maybe she could strap up a whole herd of them. However, as amusing as that would look, she didn’t think they’d cast enough light to be helpful.
“You’re in luck,” Ryan said.
“I am?” She hated her growing intrigue, how easily she was drawn into his spell. She didn’t want to be. She wanted to keep her status as a self-reliant, independent woman who didn’t need a man to save her. Or, help her, in Ryan’s case.
“I grabbed a bulb while I was in town.” He gestured to a box near his feet.
Carly glanced at her wrist, bare of a watch, then up at the sun. Whatever the time, she was confident it was still too early for any of Sweetheart Creek’s stores to be open.
“I have a key for the hardware store,” he explained. “I put it on my tab.”
“I thought you were a teacher.”
“I am. But I used to do inventory at the store while in high school. They never asked for the key back.”
And obviously he’d never offered to return it, either.
“You bought a new light bulb?” she asked.
“I picked up a fixture and some wire, too. It looked like you did a thorough job of obliterating that light.”
He was too helpful. What was his angle? A man like him had angles. Always. And not just those handsome, sharp ones making his jaw look extra sexy.
“Out of the goodness of your heart?” she asked.
“I can leave it for you and Mr. Clarke to fix, if you prefer.”
Hearing someone refer to her late husband brought her back down to earth as that familiar slice of pain jabbed through her heart. She barely even noticed the assessing look Ryan was giving her.
“If you’re good with heights,” she said, “your help would be appreciated.”
“Are you a steady hand with a forklift?”
“I guess we’ll see, won’t we? How high does this thing go?” She patted the cold metal fender, and it made an odd banging sound as though it was hanging on to the machine by one last bolt.
“Hopefully high enough. Do you know how to drive stick?”
She scoffed. Of course she could drive a standard transmission. She’d grown up on various farms in Montana, where her father had worked as a hired hand. As soon as she and her brother were old enough they were given jobs as well, and their dad had insisted she learn to do all the things Jerome did.
“How much did the fixture cost?”
How much were yard lights? Carly wondered. A hundred dollars? Less? More?
“I can’t accept it unless I know how much it’ll set me back.”
“Why don’t we do a trade?”
And there it was. His angle. She waited for his setup. The one that would surely lead to her second bad decision where Ryan was concerned.
“You have something I need,” he said, his voice dropping lower, “and I have something you need.”
Carly glared at him. Maybe she should have gotten her shotgun, after all. He was just another cowboy thinking she was an easy and willing mark.
“Do you still have that stable and corral out back?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said slowly, her suspicion easing despite her desire to cling to it for safety. The ranch wasn’t named the Lucky Horse for nothing. It had originally been a small hobby farm focused on horses, but when the owners retired, the farm had fallen into disuse and the corrals sported thigh-high weeds.
When her family had heard the farm was how she was using the inheritance from her recently departed grandmother, they had at first been silent.
Then they’d started asking the inevitable questions about whose idea it was to spend her money, and who she was partnering with. It seemed her relatives were wising up to her pattern of making poor decisions.
But this time it was all her.
She wanted to own something. Something that was hers. Something nobody could take away, unlike the farms where she’d grown up, putting her labor into someone else’s dreams. Surely her family understood what she was looking for here? And what better place to make a fresh start than on a ranch with the word lucky in its name?
“Thinking of renting them out?” Ryan asked, his voice deep and mesmerizing.
“I don’t know what condition they’re in,” she lied. The truth was, she didn’t want to fix them up or deal with a demanding and expectant renter, which Ryan would surely be.
She needed that light fixed, though. Not just for her safety when performing chores before dawn or after sunset, but for security, too.
However, the idea of being indebted to Ryan Wylder was like a giant warning alarm going off, blinking and blaring.
But if she didn’t accept his neighborly help, she would have to pay someone an exorbitant amount to fix damage she’d caused.
She could accept Ryan’s help without causing a wake of problems, couldn’t she?
But if she did, then she’d have to rent a stable to him, which would likely ensure that the handsome man would be around a lot more than she could handle.
It looked like either route she chose, she’d be making one more bad decision this week.
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Copyright 2020 Jean Oram