Cherish Me, Cowboy (Montana Born Rodeo Book 2)

By: Alissa Callen

Chapter One







The next time Payton Hollis went to a wedding she’d wear boots.

Her work-roughened fingers fumbled with the delicate clasp of her sky-high sandal. “Dammit.”

It would be Christmas before her foot slipped free from its candy-pink prison. She chewed the last of the gloss from her bottom lip and glanced at the prone body of the newborn calf on the other side of the wire fence.

“Hang in there, buddy. I’m coming.”

She pulled hard at the diamante buckle winking in the late afternoon sunlight and the clasp finally surrendered. Her sigh of relief blew the strands of brown hair out of her eyes. The next wedding she went to she’d also wear her hat.

Payton tossed the sandal to join its partner on the battered passenger seat of her pickup and rummaged around for her old boots. Her favorite pair had split above their worn heels and she’d stored them in her truck for when she found the money to fix them. They’d been there a while.

She pulled on the soft leather and her feet sighed. Mandy Wright could remind her a thousand times what a bargain the strappy pink sandals were but next trip to Marietta she’d donate them to the thrift store they’d found them in.

The dry autumn wind tugged at her loose hair as she slid into the driver’s seat. Through the dusty windshield, the rugged Absaroka mountain range pushed out of the rolling green foothills of Paradise Valley. She only had to look a little to her left to see where the green faded into a parched brown. Her great-grandfather may have named their ranch after the local white conical wildflower but no flowers, let alone grass, swayed in the breeze. Beargrass Hills Ranch had missed all the spring storms as well as the summer squalls. The prairie was bare, the cattle hungry and her water supply critical.

She turned the ignition key. She’d swing out across the road, back up to the fence and lower the tailgate so she could jump from the platform over the fence. The truck engine idled as she waited for a silver car to pass.

Out her side window, Payton checked on the black Angus cow suckling a tiny calf. When she’d left for Eliza’s wedding she’d known the cow would calve that afternoon but if she’d known she’d deliver twins, she’d never have left her alone. At least the twins had arrived safely and one of the newborn calves was doing okay. It wasn’t uncommon for the second calf to be rejected and Payton had a few tricks up her cowgirl sleeve to ensure the calf would survive. But before she could do anything she had to get the calf to the barn and make sure the little critter had a feed of antibody-rich milk.

Her thumbs tapped on the steering wheel as the silver car drew closer. “Move along,” she muttered as the glossy sedan slowed, “there’s nothing to see here.”

Her stomach grumbled as she breathed in the rich aroma of the plate of foil-covered prime ribs safe on the floor of the truck. Her early lunch was little more than a vague memory. When she’d told Eliza she was worried about the cow and couldn’t stay for the reception held at The Graff Hotel, her kind-hearted friend had organized a plate of food for her to take home. She smiled. Seth was one lucky cowboy and Eliza was one happy cowgirl.

Payton’s smile died as she stifled an unexpected pang of loneliness. Where had that come from? The joy shining in Eliza’s eyes as she’d said her wedding vows must have affected her more than she thought. She had no time, or room, in her life for a man let alone to feel lonely. She had her friends, ranch and cows. That was all she needed, wasn’t it?

The male driver pulled off the road and parked the silver sedan on the verge. She released a tight breath of frustration. Now was not the time for some bored wedding guest to make a stop on their scenic Montana tour while the bride and groom had their photographs taken. She had a calf to feed and then re-mother.

Payton switched off the engine. She’d fielded her share of curious questions when her father had turned Beargrass Hills into a dude ranch during her teens. She rolled down her window. She’d dig deep into her well of zen calm and send the out-of-towner on their way.

A broad-shouldered and lean-hipped figure uncurled himself from the driver’s side seat. She briefly closed her eyes. City-slicker. Then she took another look. This man might wear fancy shoes and a tailored suit but there was nothing soft about the hard line of his jaw or the swagger in his stride.

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