Hard To Hold (Big Timber Book 6)

By: Jami Alden

Chapter 1

"Excuse me, Miss?"

Paulina Osborn looked up from her phone at the sound of the bartender's voice. The wide-eyed blonde wore jeans tight enough to cut off her circulation and a t-shirt with the name of the restaurant, Copper Creek Bar and Grill, pulled tightly across her ample breasts. She looked young enough to make Paulina wonder if she was even old enough to be serving drinks, but she'd mixed Paulina's drink with the expertise of someone with a lot of experience behind a bar.

"The gentleman," the bartender's tone said she used the term lightly, "at the end of the bar would like to buy you a drink."

Even though she wasn't interested, her gaze automatically flicked to her right, where she caught sight of the guy in question, standing with his hip cocked, his gaze trained on her. His worn in Wranglers, pearl snap shirt, and dust covered boots said cowboy. He was the real deal too, not one of the posers, though there were several of those on hand at this evening's happy hour as well. He no doubt worked at one of the dozens of ranches scattered around Bozeman, Montana.

He was cute enough, with his shaggy blond hair and blue eyes that crinkled as he grinned at her.

"Tell him no thanks," she said, gesturing to her nearly full Manhattan the bartender had served her just moments before. "I'm meeting someone."

Okay, so she was meeting Katie Conley, her best friend from high school, not some hot date. Not that he needed to know that. There was a time when she would have taken him up on his offer, let him sidle up next to her at the bar. She’d flirt and laugh and dance. If she decided he was a likely candidate to be her next friend with benefits, she'd end the night by giving him her number and arrange for their next meetup.

Or maybe not, she thought as she caught him glaring hard at her as his companions gave him a hard time for striking out. But even if he hadn't shown himself to be a sulky jerk who didn't do well with rejection, she wasn't interested.

Ever since her last friend with benefits, a guy named Ethan who bartended at the Rocking J Bar which was just down the street, had fizzled last year, Paulina had been over the whole dating - if you could even call it dating - thing. It was all such a hassle, trying to find the time to make the hour drive to Bozeman from her home in Big Timber to hang out. By the end, even making the drive once a week was a chore, even if the sex had been pretty damn great.

In the end, she couldn't blame him when he'd thrown her over for a girl who lived here in Bozeman and was, even more conveniently, a cocktail waitress at the Rocking J.

In the past, she would have gotten on a dating app and looked for a likely prospect who lived at least thirty miles from her tiny, insular, gossip-soaked home town. She would get something going until she either grew too bored or too busy to bother, or, as in Ethan's case, the guy decided he wanted more of a full-time girlfriend. Something he damn well wasn't going to find in Paulina.

Ever since things with Ethan had ended, the prospect of finding someone else she could drive an hour each way to watch Netflix and chill with just seemed to be too much effort for too little reward. And no way in hell was she going to date someone from Big Timber; even if there were any eligible bachelors, which there were decidedly not.

Carefully averting her gaze from the cowboy's glare, she sipped at her drink and picked up her phone. Katie was now a full half hour late, she noted with a sigh. She opened up Instagram and scrolled through her feed, then posted a photo she'd taken this morning at sunrise. "Sunrise at Lazy Creek Guest Ranch. So excited to welcome our first guests of the season this weekend!" She included a bunch of hashtags about cowboys, horseback riding, and ranch life, then tagged the Montana Board of Tourism, the Dude Ranchers’ Association, and several past guests of the ranch who followed their feed.

Her father and her uncles might not think the social media marketing had any effect, but she knew for a fact that at least two families who had made reservations for the upcoming summer found the ranch through a friend's Instagram feed.

As she pushed "share," her phone buzzed in her hand. Katie's photo came up on the display.

"Where are you?" Paulina said, wincing as the sound of a toddler's wail echoed in the background. "I'm already halfway through my drink."

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