Redeeming the Cowboy - Signed Paperback
Redeeming the Cowboy - Signed Paperback
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They didn’t need anyone until they needed each other.
Blackwater Ranch series book 6.
- Fierce Protector
- Starting Over
They didn’t need anyone until they needed each other.
Felicity Ford is on the run after her cousin’s suspicious death. At the suggestion of her brother, she escapes to Blackwater Ranch to hide out. When she meets the mysterious Hunter, she recognizes the familiar brokenness inside of him.
Hunter Harding was marked as an outcast a long time ago. The scars on his face are the least of his problems when half the town refuses to do business with him. When Felicity moves into the cabin next door, the solitude he keeps is shaken up.
Will helping Felicity pick up the pieces of her life give them both the new beginning they need or destroy everything they have left?
Redeeming the Cowboy is the sixth book in the Blackwater Ranch series, but the books can be listened to in any order.
Read Chapter One
Read Chapter One
Felicity stood just outside the doorway of Dawn’s bedroom but couldn’t step over the threshold. It had been a week since Dawn died, but the pain in Felicity’s chest had been so unrelenting that she couldn’t remember a time when the ache hadn’t existed, ruling her life and sucking the joy out of every minute.
She missed Dawn so bad she couldn’t breathe most days. They’d been inseparable since they were kids. They’d been through everything together, and now Felicity was left to manage her grief alone.
Her phone rang in her pocket, and she debated answering it. She didn’t feel like talking to anyone, but it was also a distraction from the monumental task of going through Dawn’s things. Felicity would need a new roommate soon or she wouldn’t be able to afford the rent.
She knew who was calling. Her brother Jameson had called every other hour for the past week.
She inhaled a deep breath and answered. “Hey.” If she wanted her brother to think she was fine, the lone word sounded semi-convincing. In truth, she hadn’t brushed her hair in days, and the only thing she’d eaten this week was ramen noodles.
“You okay?” Jameson asked.
“Yep.” Again, another passable attempt at pretending not to be crumbling under the weight of her grief.
“I just talked to my boss. I can come by tomorrow.”
She could pack up Dawn’s things on her own, but she needed her brother’s truck to get them to the local thrift store.
“Thanks. I’ll be here.”
Unfortunately, she didn’t have anywhere to be for the foreseeable future. Losing her job at the lumber mill yesterday had been the icing on the cake of the world’s worst week.
“You sure you’re okay?” Jameson asked again. “What time do you get off work?”
Felicity stepped back and closed the bedroom door, feeling relieved that she could wait until tomorrow when Jameson showed up to tackle the memories in her cousin’s room. “I got let go yesterday at work.”
“You’re kidding me,” Jameson spat.
“Yeah. It’s not like this is a shock. I knew it was coming.” The lumber mill had a zero-tolerance policy for tardiness or missed attendance. There were too many people in the small town clamoring for the jobs the lumber mill provided.
“That’s ridiculous. Your cousin was dying, and they expected you to work out your shift?”
“It’s fine. I’ll get my resume updated and start applying.”
She couldn’t even bring herself to care. If she could go back and do it all again, she would have still left work mid-shift when she got the call from Aunt Josie. A ripping pain slashed through Felicity’s chest when she thought about that call.
She kept hoping it was all a long, cruel nightmare. She wanted to wake up and forget all about her cousin’s overdose.
“Don’t worry. We’ll find you a new job.”
Felicity rested the phone between her ear and shoulder as she turned on the kitchen sink to wash the lone bowl she’d used to eat her breakfast for one—again.
“I can find my own job, but thanks for the offer.”
Jameson’s huff was quiet but discernible. They both knew too much about the risk of unemployment. Without an income, things could go south fast. They’d lived it in a vicious cycle throughout their childhood.
Every time their mother had lost her job, Felicity had come up with a way to save their family. Jameson had been too young, and she couldn’t watch him starve, even if their mother hadn’t seemed to care.
This time, she hadn’t been able to save Dawn, and all of the hard work she’d put into getting her cousin on the right track felt like a waste of time. What was the point?
“I don’t like this,” he said, his tone low like a warning.
“Me either.” She didn’t like that the rent had just doubled, she didn’t like the funeral bills she’d just inherited, and she didn’t like sitting in this lonely house all day and night.
She heard the roaring of a diesel engine followed by the warning barks of Boone. Her trusty Black and Tan was as good as a security alarm.
She peeked out the picture window above the sink. A familiar burgundy pickup was parked in the driveway.
Felicity groaned. “I have to go. Cain is here.”
“Don’t open the door for him.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice.” Cain was her least favorite person right now, and the last person on the planet she wanted to see.
Felicity’s thoughts about Dawn’s on-again off-again boyfriend were anything but saintly. How could someone be so heartless? His girlfriend just died, and he’d been MIA ever since.
The front doorknob rattled, and Felicity sprinted to the door. “Gotta go. He has a key.”
She heard Jameson’s order, but she didn’t have time to wait. Cain already had the door open, but she positioned herself in the entryway to block him.
Dawn had a type—bad boys—and Cain fit the bill better than any of them. Felicity’s skin prickled when he was around, and she always fought the instinct to run.
It was his eyes. They were so dark she wondered if there was any light inside him.
Felicity knew how to stand up to men. She’d been doing it at a young age when her mother let them into their home. Strangers who ate all of their food and complained about Jameson’s infant cries. She’d been nine the first time she’d called the police for help, but that came after her mother’s flavor of the week had backhanded her to the floor.
Felicity straightened her shoulders and steeled her voice. “What do you want?”
“I came to get some of my stuff.” He stepped inside and used his shoulder to push her out of the way.
She righted herself and followed him into the house. “You’ve got a lot of nerve showing up here.” Her control was slipping. Her anger was mounting. The injustice of Dawn’s death hit her square in the chest.
He ignored her, and she followed him to Dawn’s room. He knelt beside the bed and reached beneath it to pull out a shoe box.
“Stop it!” Felicity screamed.
Cain opened the box and quickly located two tiny objects. The diamond earrings Dawn had loved.
“You can’t take those,” Felicity seethed.
“Move.” He forcefully shoved her out of his way as he stalked back through the house.
Just as he walked out the door, she set free the rage that had been building inside of her. “You killed her, and you didn’t even show up to the funeral!”
Cain stopped and turned to her, the movement slow and controlled like a predator sizing up its prey. Boone barked incessantly from the fenced-in front yard, heightening the tension in the air.
Movement caught Felicity’s attention, and she saw her neighbor, Fred Nix, step out onto his porch and fold his thick arms over his chest. There wasn’t any love lost between Fred and Felicity, but she wanted to kiss the old coot for making an appearance if only as a witness.
When Cain looked over his shoulder to see what she was looking at behind him, she had a split-second idea and jerked his key from the lock where he’d left it. He turned back to her just as she threw it with all her might toward the thick bushes that lined Fred’s property.
Felicity’s heart pounded in her chest as Cain eyed the indistinct area where she’d thrown the key. She said a quick, fervent prayer knowing she’d probably sealed her fate. If she was about to meet her Maker, she wanted to be on good terms with Him.
Sure enough, Cain’s mouth pursed into a tight line, and his eyes narrowed. She’d seen him mad at Dawn plenty of times, but she’d never seen this.
A wave of stupidity disguised as bravery washed over her, and she held his gaze as she whispered, “Choke on it.”
Cain lunged at her, and she ducked. Twisting to the side, she jammed her heel into his shin and thrust her elbow up into his ribs. He stumbled at the attacks, but he was barely affected. Her one hundred and thirty pounds were nothing against his two hundred.
She didn’t need to maim him, but she’d accomplished her goal of getting him out of the way. She darted back inside, slammed the door closed, and flipped the deadbolt.
Cain’s fists landed heavy on the other side of the door. His curses and threats were drowned out by Boone’s barking.
Felicity tucked her chin and linked her hands behind her neck as she whispered a prayer. Calm. Peace. Lord, anything.
Cain’s poundings soon silenced, and she lifted her head to suck in a deep breath. She’d either just made a huge mistake or he’d gotten what he wanted and he’d leave her alone.
Her hand shook as she lifted it to cover her mouth. She’d tried to pull Dawn away from the people who dragged her down with them, but judging from Cain’s visit, Felicity had failed miserably.
A high-pitched whistle had the hairs on her arms rising and a wave of cold dread running down her body. “No.”
She flipped the dead bolt and jerked the door open. She sprinted around the house to the driveway. Small rocks and sticks jabbed the soles of her feet, but the pain was secondary to the immediate problem.
“Stop!” she screamed at the top of her lungs.
Cain had a grip on Boone’s collar, and with one jerk, her dog was flung into the back seat of the pickup truck.
“No! Cain! Stop!”
He ignored her as he slid into the driver’s seat, closed the door, and flung gravel as he sped out of her driveway.
Felicity felt the cold sting of tears sliding over her temples as she ran after the truck. She sucked in jagged breaths through her teeth as the sobs made it impossible to continue running. She needed air. She needed the pain in her chest to go away.
Stopping at the end of the road, she braced her hands on her knees and panted.
Cain. This was all Cain’s fault. He’d taken Dawn, and now he’d taken Boone. Her friends. Her family.
He’d taken everything from her.
She stood and looked around. The neighborhood was filled with old houses in various states of decline. She’d been fighting this battle with life for over thirty years now, and she was tired of merely surviving. Living paycheck to paycheck her whole life was enough to break her, and now she didn’t even have that.
Was this her breaking point? Was it all going to come crashing down on her where she stood in the tall grass on the side of the road in a rundown neighborhood?
Apparently, it was, and she had no idea how to pick herself up from this one. But what choice did she have but to keep fighting? She couldn’t just sit down here and wait for nothing.
No one was going to save her. She’d learned early on that she had to save herself.
The roaring of a speeding truck drew her attention, and for a moment, she worried that Cain was coming back to finish her off. Then all the tension left her shoulders when she spotted Jameson’s truck.
Just this one time, she’d let Jameson save her.
The truck screeched to a halt in front of her, and Jameson jumped out.
“What are you doing? I’ve been calling you.”
She felt numb as she shook her head. “He took Boone.”
Jameson’s fists tightened at his sides. His nostrils flared, and his chest rose and fell in deep waves. His jaw twitched as he bit his tongue. He’d probably go home and pound a punching bag for hours.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said as she headed toward the passenger’s side of his truck. If one more thing went wrong this week, she’d scream until her throat was sore.
They didn’t speak on the short drive back to her house. She didn’t want to say anything. Her chest felt too heavy, and any words she could manage would be garbled.
Unfamiliar silence greeted her as she stepped out of Jameson’s truck. Boone was always excited to see her, and now that small piece of happiness that she looked forward to was gone.
Once they were inside, Jameson broke the silence. “You can’t stay here.”
Felicity rounded on him. “I appreciate the ride, but—”
“I’m not trying to tell you what to do. You know you can’t stay here. Don’t be stubborn about it.”
She took a deep breath and tried to clear her head. Jameson was right. She just didn’t like the way it sounded more like an order.
Jameson’s expression softened. “I was at work.”
Felicity’s eyes widened. “You didn’t have to leave! I was fine.” They couldn’t both lose their jobs.
“I will always be here when you need me. It’s us against the world, remember?”
Her throat constricted at the words. She’d said them to him hundreds of times over the years.
He stepped closer and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Fortunately, I have a boss who knows family is at the top of the priority list.”
“Yeah, you’ve got a good one.” Few people were lucky enough to work for someone who understood that life happens and it isn’t always expected.
Jameson took a deep breath and squeezed her shoulder. “That’s why I asked them if you could move to the ranch.”
Felicity jerked her head up. Her younger brother was a good foot taller than her, but he never made her feel like he was looking down on her. “What?”
“You can’t afford this place on your own. I don’t like Cain or any of Dawn’s friends who might just show up and cause trouble. And the Hardings always need an extra hand. The place is booming.”
“I told you I could find my own job,” Felicity reminded him.
“Yeah, and I found you one anyway. You can be mad about it while we pack up your things.”
Her hands perched on her hips, and she leveled him with a cold stare as she prepared to argue.
He held up a hand. “Don’t. I know you’re more than capable. You’ve always taken charge, and now it’s my turn. Don’t turn your cheek to a good thing because of your pride.”
She took three steadying breaths before she was able to truly understand what he was saying.
Jameson continued, “Cain is bad news, and he’ll be back. Guys like that don’t let things go.”
She sighed. “I may have thrown his key into the bushes,” she admitted.
Jameson let his head fall back. “Seriously? I’m glad he doesn’t have a key, but you didn’t do yourself any favors with that stunt.”
“I know. I was just… angry. And hurt.”
Her brother’s arms wrapped around her, and she rested her head on his chest. Exhaustion washed over her. She was tired of always standing tall. Her life required constant vigilance, at least while she’d been living with Dawn. She’d brought trouble after trouble to their doorstep.
“I need you to come to the ranch,” Jameson said. This time, there wasn’t any demand in his voice, only pleading.
“No offense, but I don’t want to live with you.”
Jameson chuckled. “I don’t want to live with you either. You’re too bossy.”
“It’s my job.”
“No, I’m a grown man, and you don’t have to raise me anymore. You did just fine, but you’re free now.”
Free? She’d spent her teen years looking out for Jameson and her adult life trying to keep Dawn out of trouble. She felt a little lost without someone to need her.
But she wasn’t free. The unrelenting bills were a reminder that she would always serve a master who signed her paycheck. Right now, she wasn’t in a position to be responsible for herself, much less someone else.
She forced a smile and patted her brother on the shoulder. “You turned out pretty good.”
“You don’t have to live with me. There’s an open cabin on the ranch.”
Jameson had moved into an old cabin at Blackwater Ranch about a year ago, and he’d only ever said good things about the family he worked for. She knew the Hardings. She’d gone to school with the oldest brother, Micah. But they didn’t owe her anything, and she didn’t want to be in debt to anyone.
“What’s the job?”
Jameson shrugged. “I didn’t get that far. I was kind of in a hurry because I didn’t want you here alone with Cain at the door. Probably just whatever they need help with at the moment. Haley manages the bed and breakfast, but she’ll be out on maternity leave soon, so she might train you to take over some of those duties.”
Felicity bit her lip and looked at the floor. She wasn’t attached to this place, and she didn’t have a way to afford it. A job and a place to sleep sounded like an offer she couldn’t pass up.
Jameson continued, “They gave me the rest of the day off to help you.”
Felicity smiled. It seemed the Lord had made a way for her when she’d been hopeless—again. “Well, we better get to work.”