The Men of At Ease Ranch (Book #1)
No amount of training could’ve prepared him for her.
Former Army Ranger Stone Mitchum doesn’t have time for relationships, let alone a one-night stand. He’s too busy running a ranch that helps transition veterans back into society. But when his curvy new tenant falls into his arms, his libido snaps to attention.
Jovy Larson has four weeks to prove she’s worthy of taking over the family business. She’s up for whatever ridiculous task they throw at her, but selling vegan food to a bunch of cowboys in cattle country, Texas? Not half as tough as fighting her attraction to her sexy, surly landlord.
Good thing she’s stubborn. Then again, so is he…
Using a horse was smart. Besides, they enjoyed the exercise. Especially his colt. Galahad was two, and taller and bigger than most stock horses. The white-and-brown paint was always the talk of the town whenever Stone rode in on him.
With the fence to his right, he traveled past several properties and stopped to feed some of the livestock grazing near the fence by the road. Their eagerness and wholehearted acceptance made this Stone’s favorite part of heading to town. He always shoved cut-up carrots into his pockets before leaving the ranch.
Joyful, Texas, had a population of only fifteen hundred and three, yet the unexpected tended to happen. He prided himself on being prepared for anything—
“Hi, Stone,” a female voice called from behind.
He turned toward the sound of hoofbeats to see the neighbor’s daughter riding toward him on the other side of the fence, her ample breasts doing their best to give the petite woman a black eye. Stifling a sigh, he smiled and nodded at the recent college grad. “Hi, Abby.”
She was a nice girl, and cute, and once upon a time he would’ve been pleased to see interest lighting her pretty blue eyes. But, ever since Leo’s…attempt, Stone had sworn off women. Hell, there was no need. None ever got a rise out of him. His body remained dead below the belt, even in Abby’s presence. Could be because his tastes tended to go for a more mature woman who was well past legal drinking age and not prone to giggling, but he was fairly certain it was because of that night.
“It’s awfully hot. I was just heading to the swimming hole for an afternoon dip. Care to join me?” Her pink-coated lips curved into a coy smile while she batted her lashes.
A blatant invitation. One his buddies at the ranch would think he’d lost his mind to turn down.
“Thanks for the invite.” He shook his head. “But I have business I need to tend to in town.”
So, he’d lost his mind, and his sex drive. Whatever. He had work to do.
Without waiting for a reply, he picked up the pace and didn’t slow until the last property before town came into view. There was only one girl in his life right now. She was big and sweet, with the warmest chocolate-brown eyes that melted his heart. Lula Belle. The cute black-and-white cow he always stopped to feed. Catching his scent, the old girl stopped grazing and turned toward him.
He halted his horse. “Hey, sweetheart. I have something for you.”
She let out a moo and rushed to the fence, her bell clanging out a funny tune that never ceased to bring a smile to his face.
After dismounting, he fished out the remaining carrot pieces, then reached over the fence. “Here you go, girl.” He opened his palm, marveling at how an animal so big could be so gentle, never once nicking his hand.
Stone stroked her head and talked to her as she ate, knowing not to get on his horse until she was done. The old girl always ran after him, and he didn’t want her to choke. So he waited for her to finish before he climbed back onto Galahad. “I have to go, sweetheart. You stay here,” he told her before he resumed his gallop to town, the echo of the cowbell growing fainter as he passed Skeeter’s and neared the second building.
The Beer and Steer.
He rode by a handful of pickups, cars, horses, and a tractor in the parking lot, while he eyed the front door. His stomach tightened. No. That was a step he wasn’t ready to take. A damn good excuse was needed to get out of joining his brother and the guys later.
One he was still contemplating as he removed his hat and swiped the sweat from his brow after he secured Galahad on a horse post tucked safely out of the way at the end of the street. Last month, rent day had been twenty degrees cooler. He knew better than to complain, though. Next month started “oven” season. Although compared to some of his deployments to the hellhole across the pond—in full gear—a Texas summer would be cake.
With his Stetson back in place, he spent the next half hour walking down one side of the street, collecting rent from a few tenants in the L-shaped row of quaint little shops and businesses he and some of Foxtrot’s crew had painted a light blue last month. Amazing what a coat of paint could do. The buildings looked fresh and cheerful. Hell, even the foot traffic appeared to have increased. He nodded to several passersby and stopped to shoot the shit with a few others.
A sliver of satisfaction shot through him at the knowledge that not only had the veterans he employed benefited from three days’ work, his tenants had also reaped a reward. A good reminder of why he did what he did.
Still trying to devise a reason to keep his ass out of the Beer and Steer, Stone headed down the wooden sidewalk on the other side of the street to his final stop.
Jovy. The northerner who was trying to get out of her first payment. What was her problem? He’d been more than lenient, signing her on for only one month. Jesus, he’d even agreed to let her make weekly payments. Weekly. Who does that?
Apparently, he did. Because he was an idiot. And desperate.
A desperate idiot.
But he wasn’t a hard-ass. Hell, he knew how damn tough it was to pay bills, and if he hadn’t needed every cent from the shops he and his brother had inherited when their grandparents passed, Stone wouldn’t be out in the damn midday Texas heat pestering good folks for their rent. But he needed it. The vets needed it. And dammit, this new tenant was just as bound as the rest.
Setting his shoulders, he rounded the corner, ready to do battle with the pain in the ass from Philly, then stopped dead, his heart rocking the shit out of his chest.
A stunning woman with a dark ponytail swishing past her shoulders stood on a ladder in a white tank top and shorts, struggling to affix a metal sign to two hooks in the wood ceiling above the shop door.
Long, bare, supple legs—with the right amount of delectable curves—disappeared under a pair of denim cutoffs barely covering the sweetest ass he’d ever seen. His pulse kicked up speed then broke into a full-blown gallop. Not only were those curves sweet, they were so awe-inspiring they breathed life into his neglected body part. The one he didn’t want inspired. His damn dick twitched for the first time in nearly a year.
Son of a bitch. That was not good.
Still, try as he might, Stone couldn’t tear his gaze away. He was seeing some cheeks here. Mouthwatering, upside-down heart-shaped cheeks he wanted to grab with both hands while he buried his…
A sharp burst of longing spiked almost painfully through his groin. Did he look away? Hell no. His resurrected libido was calling the shots. He swallowed, never taking his gaze off the shorts that were so short, he could see a light purple thong, and the bottom of…ah hell…
A green tattoo?
The urge to step close and run his hands up those gorgeous legs and cup the equally gorgeous ass caused him to hear bells. By the time the flash of black and white registered in his muddled brain, Stone realized the ringing he was hearing was real. Very real. And it came from the bell around the approaching cow’s neck.
Shit. How’d she get lose?
At the moment, that didn’t matter, because the cow was charging straight toward him, apparently uncaring there was a ladder with a sexy, unsuspecting, barely-dressed woman in the way.
Donna Michaels is an award winning, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of Romaginative fiction. Her hot, humorous, and heartwarming stories include cowboys, men in uniform, and some sexy, primal alphas. With a husband in the military fulltime, and a household of nine, she never runs out of material to write, and has rightfully earned the nickname Lucy…and sometimes Ethel. From short to epic, her books entertain readers across a variety of sub-genres, and one has even being hand drawn into a Japanese translation. Now, if only she could read it.