Home > Hope on the Range(8)

Hope on the Range(8)
Author: Cindi Madsen

   And if you let yourself think about that, you’ll break your other goal of not crying in front of that jackhole.

   “Do you guys want to go for a ride on Maximus?” she asked the kids, who were growing heavier in her arms by the second.

   The twins erupted with cheers and enthusiastic yeses, and Harlow cringed as she realized she should’ve checked with Liza first. Too late, she glanced up in search of their mother.

   Only her gaze was temporarily snagged by the new guy. He was staring at her, his smirk leading her to believe he was mocking her. He had ridiculously pretty eyes for a dude, a mesmerizing shade of amber that practically glowed, which hardly seemed fair when she’d ended up with boring brown ones.

   Harlow lifted her chin. Mama always worried about the type of people she’d be around whenever she came to Turn Around Ranch to train or to babysit, but the Dawsons ran a tight ship. Some of the teens she’d made friends with, and others she steered clear of, but she’d never been afraid of anyone on the ranch.

   Finally, she yanked her eyes away and addressed Liza. “Sorry. I should’ve asked first.”

   Worry lines creased Liza’s forehead. “Both of them are a bit much to handle when it comes to horses.”

   “Aiden and I will help,” Chloe offered, and Liza’s shoulders relaxed visibly.

   Mr. Too Cool for School rolled his eyes at them, too, so Harlow decided not to take his obvious contempt for her personally.

   “Come on, Maddox,” Brady said, clapping the dude on the back. “Let’s get you settled in.”

   Maddox. Of course his name was something mysterious and sexy.

   No, not sexy. He undid any chance of that with his personality.

   And he’s not my type. After her last experience, Harlow resolved to stick to all-American cowboys, which there were plenty of at school. Although not many she hadn’t known for all of forever, but that was a problem for a different day. Right now was for getting herself rodeo-ready so that she could at least beat her turncoat partner in all the single-rider events.



Chapter 3

   “Yeah, the website said it was isolated, but much farther and I’d need a passport to return home,” Mr. Eric Richmond, CEO and owner of the software company RichTech said to one of the people from the corporate retreat.

   There was a large SUV parked by the office. Due to driving dirt roads, the black vehicle that Tanya’s truck could outperform ten times over was now closer to brownish-gray.

   She wasn’t sure whether the guy meant the remark as an insult or if the slight tinge of irritation she felt was due to rushing home yesterday, only for Mr. Richmond to call two hours later and inform her he’d be showing up first thing the next morning instead. Something about a contract negotiation. All she could focus on was disappointment over the fact that she could’ve spent more time with Brady.

   Admittedly, she couldn’t stop rehashing their time together. Not even a blip of a reaction had come from the “neck presentation” move, where she’d tilted her head and exposed her neck to him. So she’d taken it a step further, and her cheeks heated as she recalled her attempt to wink at Brady while delivering a flirty line.

   Since it’d led him to think she had something in her eye, Tanya needed to either practice winking or take it off the ways-to-flirt list. A moment earlier, she’d been panicked, afraid the “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” line had been too bold, but Brady hadn’t even considered it a come-on.

   According to the dating book on her nightstand, the biggest mistake women made was to stop trying. And so, even though taking extra effort with her hair and makeup hadn’t done a damn thing for her yesterday, Tanya had dressed up again today. Not only for the first impression thing, which had automatically come out yesterday when Brady asked, but also because she was determined.

   “Eric Richmond?” she asked, and he glanced toward her. Then did a double take, reducing her frustrations over the guy and makeup all at once.

   An idea popped into her head. When she’d read that hair-flipping was a legitimate flirting technique, she’d rolled her eyes so hard she thought she might’ve sprained them. But as she swept her curly strands over her shoulder, she added a huge smile, and Mr. Richmond’s eyes tracked the motion.

   Hmm, guess I’ll have to try that one on Brady the next time I see him.

   Pops came lumbering out the noisy front door, his steps slow yet steady as he gripped the rail and descended the steps on the porch. At sixty-four, he could still handle a lot of the ranch work, but he’d had a heart attack a few years ago, which had slowed him down—much to his dismay. The doctor wanted him to take on less of the physical labor and lower his blood pressure and stress level, which was when Tanya had been summoned home. Extra fun, since he constantly rebuffed her offers to help with physical tasks, insisting he wasn’t helpless, while in the next breath, he would complain about how frail he’d become.

   “Beau Clayton,” her complicated father said, extending a hand to Mr. Richmond, who requested he be called Eric.

   After exchanging pleasantries, the businessman turned to Tanya. She wondered if his button-down shirt and slacks were his idea of ranch wear. If so, he’d learn real fast how badly that thin fabric could stain and tear. His features softened, a light hitting his hazel eyes. “And you are…?”

   “The woman you’ve been corresponding with the past month.” The guy had asked about a bajillion questions via email, both before and after booking his stay. Not that she minded. It just made it fairly obvious he had no clue how to run a ranch. It’d made her want to ask why on earth anyone had left land to him, but she’d gotten much better at holding back questions people might consider rude.

   “Ah, so you’re Tanya.” Eric said her name as if he were tasting it, and despite herself, she softened. After all, the guy was willing to try, and that was commendable. Even if he looked like he drank kale shakes, bragged about his hefty mortgage, and had an assistant to run errands he wouldn’t deign to do.

   In fact, watching him deal with livestock and manure was sure to be highly entertaining, and who couldn’t use more of that? “That’s me. I’ll be your motivator, overseer, and most likely the person you want to say goodbye the fastest to by the time this is over.”

   His lips tilted up at the corners. “I highly doubt that.”

   “You underestimate how hard I’ll push you.” Without realizing it, their conversation bubble had shrunk to admit only two, when there was an entire group of people awaiting her orders. She scanned the faces that showed a combination of anticipation and trepidation and raised her voice. “All of you.”

   “That’s why I’m here,” Eric said. “I’d rather have my hard lesson now than down the road.”

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