Cowboy Bred, Cowboy Born

By: D Ann Lindun



Chapter One





The powder-blue ’67 Mustang coughed, bucked and came to a grinding halt in the middle of the road.

“Dammit, Mavis!” Alannah Murphy pushed Off on her iPod. Sheryl Crow’s voice, which had been floating out over the dry Texas air, went silent. Only the sound of Alannah’s own breathing met her ears. She glanced to the long, lonely stretch ahead and desperately tried the key. “Come on, girl. Don’t let me down now.”

The classic car refused to cooperate, making only a groaning sound.

Getting stranded out here among the oak trees wasn’t a good thing. It would mean a long walk under the hot Texas sun dodging scorpions, lizards and rattlesnakes. Maybe even javelinas, and they could be dangerous. The last town, Kerrville, stood ten miles behind her.

With a deep sigh, Alannah glanced back. She should be on Gentry land by now, but she’d seen no marker, no archway. The emailed directions had been terse, direct, but this desolate place seemed so far off the beaten track, she’d begun second-guessing the person who’d sent them miles back. The landscape reminded her of an old black-and-white western. She half-expected Clint Eastwood or John Wayne to gallop around a bush.

She checked her phone. No signal. No help.

Damn.

She should have made sure the phone was charged.

Well, she wasn’t going to be rescued sitting like a bunny in the road. To enjoy the late summer sun, she’d left the vintage car’s top down, and a hot, dry wind blew across her face. She pulled her straw hat tighter on her head and tried the key one more time. Not even a groan. Just silence. Time to use her feet.

Just in case a lone cowboy in a white hat did come galloping over the hillside, she reached for her Canon on the seat next to her. She took another disgusted look at the unforgiving Mustang, swallowed a long swig of lukewarm water from the bottle she held between her knees. Then, with a tired sigh, stepped out of the car, carrying the camera and the half-empty water bottle.

“When are you going to give up this heap for a shiny, new Lexus?” she muttered as she took her first step.

A small herd of pronghorn antelope fled toward the purple-tinted hills in the distance as she approached. Lifting her camera, she stopped to snap a few shots. Her employer—The Cowboy magazine—might use one of them if they needed an extra picture in one of their upcoming issues.

She hoped the cowboy she’d been sent to photograph was a good subject and she could get enough fantastic shots of him that they wouldn’t need the wildlife. Charles, the reporter who’d already been sent to interview him, texted to say the cowboy oozed sex appeal in an old-fashioned, silent hero way. Charles warned her not to lose her heart to the sexy rancher.

Alannah snorted. As if.

The last man she’d ever be interested in dating was a cowboy. She’d photographed rodeo riders, to working hands, to country music superstars, and not one of them had ever stolen her heart. A couple had tried, but none had ever tempted her enough to give up her freedom.

A scholarship to a prestigious Eastern college, an internship at a fashion magazine and finally her job at The Cowboy kept her from the same fate as her parents. Footloose and fancy-free was just the way she liked her life, and the way she planned to keep it.

Living like her parents, who had worked themselves to death holding onto a dilapidated dairy farm, had never appealed to her. Growing up, watching Perry and Gilda Murphy struggle to keep their life had convinced Alannah early on she never wanted more than her sterile flat in New York. No piece of land was worth her sanity or health.

After an hour of steady walking, she felt as if she hadn’t moved at all. Nothing looked any different than it had at the disabled Mustang. Her feet, encased in bright-red cowboy boots, felt as if they were on fire. The straw cowboy hat she’d picked up in some boutique did little to shade her face from the blazing-hot sun. A Stetson, or even a ball cap, sounded really good right now.

A lone oak tree offered a strip of shade. After making sure there were no lurking snakes or scorpions, she plunked down under the scrub brush. Although tempted to gulp, she sipped the tepid water.

“Yuck.”

Sitting here waiting for help wasn’t getting her anywhere. With a weary sigh, she pushed to her feet. “I hope this ranch is close. Otherwise, I’m a cooked armadillo.”



~*~



Sterling Gentry didn’t get aggravated easily, but he was ready to pull his rifle from the scabbard near his right knee and shoot the ornery bull he’d been pushing all day long. Both Gentry and the big beast were exhausted. Not to mention the paint gelding he’d worked to a frazzle to keep the escapee moving.

They still had another mile to go before the bull was back on the right side of the fence. The animal had found or made a break in the barbwire and crossed to the Tebow ranch. Aron McCoy had been one of Gentry’s buddies since they wore short pants, but he might not appreciate a Santa Gertrudis bull breeding his Beefmaster or Longhorn cows. One of Gentry’s hands had already repaired the section where the red animal escaped yesterday, so Gentry needed to herd the escapee the long way around, to the gate beside the road.