The cowgirl who loved ho.., p.1
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       The Cowgirl Who Loved Horses, Queens of Montana Bonus Book, p.1
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           Vanessa Bartal
The Cowgirl Who Loved Horses, Queens of Montana Bonus Book


  Copyright © 2011 by Vanessa Gray Bartal

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Prologue

  Cecily Blake sat on the fencepost and willed herself not to cry. In the past few months her life had been turned upside down, and now it was falling apart. If she didn’t figure something out fast, she stood to lose everything her family had built for generations. The problem was that she had no solutions. She had spent her life doing as she pleased with no thought to how their business was run. Now she deeply regretted all the wasted years of selfishness.

  A truck pulled up behind her and came to a stop, but she didn’t turn to look. She knew it was one of the Henshaw’s workers and she had no desire to talk, even if she did appear rude.

  An undeniably male presence appeared beside her and rested his elbows on the fence. “Watcha staring at?” the man asked.

  Cecily nearly fell off the fence in shock, but she covered her surprise and spoke calmly. “Hello, Marcus.” She hadn’t expected Marcus Henshaw himself to come.

  He tipped his hat to her. “Cecily.”

  “Did all of your ranch hands run off or die?” she asked.

  He gave her a wry smile. “Believe it or not I occasionally do some work myself.”

  She nodded. Everyone knew Marcus was a hard worker. Ever since he graduated from college, he had a passion to make his ranch even more of a success than it already was. “Sort of like the guy who owns Boardwalk buying up all the rest of the board,” she said.

  “My favorite piece is the car,” he said.

  She was surprised he had picked up on her Monopoly reference. Lately she had been blurting whatever crossed her mind without running it through a filter first, and when it happened, most people stared at her in silent confusion.

  “I like the dog,” she said. Her mind conjured the image of the little metal dog, and she looked off toward the distance as she remembered afternoons spent playing Monopoly with Kitty and Dante. She never won. It’s like a metaphor for my life now. The stakes are higher, and I’m still losing.

  “Are you ready?” Marcus asked. His gentle tone grated on her nerves. She didn’t want pity, especially not from one of the high and mighty Henshaws--the highest and mightiest Henshaw, no less.

  She nodded curtly.

  He offered his hand to help her down, but she ignored it and jumped off on her own. She brushed at the seat of her pants and led him to the entry of the corral.

  He cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable. “I sure am sorry about the trouble your family has been having lately.”

  She nodded curtly again in acknowledgement of his sentiment. “We’ll manage. Congratulations on your engagement.”

  He laughed. “Where did you hear that rumor? I’m not engaged.”

  She paused and looked at him with some of her old self returning to her. Once upon a time she had loved nothing better than neighborhood gossip. Now since they had become the main source of gossip she had lost her taste for it. “You’re not?”

  He shook his head. “We’re still dating, same as we have been off and on for the last few years now.”

  She shook her head. “Sorry. Don’t know how I got it so mixed up.” But she did. She only half listened to people when they talked now; her mind was too much on her own problems to be involved with anyone else. She probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to the chatter about Marcus and his girlfriend except for the fact that she found them fascinating. Marcus was their local celebrity. His family had more money than anyone she knew. He was handsome, charming, and well educated. The fact that he was dating a beauty queen only added to his mystique. She had always watched from a disinterested distance. He was six years older than her, and the conversation they were having right now was the first one they’d ever shared.

  They reached the opening of the pen. “Here we are,” she said. “It’s probably best if you back your truck in. This guy has a temper.”

  Marcus nodded. He had been studying her suspiciously since he arrived and what he saw disturbed him. She was nothing like the Cecily he had watched grow up for so many years. She had always been a spirited and flighty little thing. He used to think there was nothing between her ears but cotton. True, he had never really known her, but he knew her in the way that people know all their neighbors. She was his kid brother Mathew’s age. There weren’t a lot of people in these parts. They were a tight knit group, and it would have been impossible for Cecily to escape his notice. Plus he had to admit she was a pretty kid, and she always had been. Her mother was of Spanish descent. Cecily and her brother, Dante, received her dark complexion and hair. Cecily’s hair flowed thickly down to the middle of her back, and she had a pleasant, shapely figure.

  Today she wasn’t the spirited girl from his memory, though. She was sad, broken, and afraid. He felt sorry for her, and he wished there was something he could do, but she was obviously proud. He smiled. He liked a girl with pride and spirit. His smile fled and he shook his head. No wonder he and Lacey weren’t engaged. He couldn’t seem to stop his eye from roaming, even to a child. He remembered Cecily’s birth, for crying out loud, just a couple of months after Mathew’s. He grimaced. What was wrong with him?

  He backed the truck up to the pen and exited the truck to open the trailer. He knew Cecily had no idea he was paying above market price for the bull, and he would never tell her. It was one small way to help a neighbor, and it was a small price to pay because it was a good bull. His thoughts distracted him, so it took a split second for the small scream to register. When it did, he whirled to face the pen and his blood ran cold. Somehow in her attempt to open the gate Cecily had dropped onto the wrong side of the fence. The very large, very angry bull was now bearing down on her, and she was frozen in fear.

  Action before thought had become his creed after so many years of ranch life. He swooped her up with one arm and jerked her out with such force that they both toppled backwards. She landed on top of him and they froze, stunned from the possible danger she had faced. Then her face crumpled and she started to cry.

  Marcus stared at the top of her head in consternation. What was he to do with her now? Gingerly he reached out his hand and smoothed it over her head. She rested her forehead on his chest and balled up his shirt in her fists.

  “There now, it will be all right.” He said it awkwardly because of course it wouldn’t be all right. Her future was grim, and everyone knew it.

  She sat up and looked at him. The sight of her sad little tear-streaked face did something to his heart, and now action before thought was his undoing as he moved his hands to cup her face and drew her forward for a kiss.

  When their lips met, it was as if something was unleashed in both of them. For her part she was most likely seeking the comfort and security his embrace offered. That was easily explained and understood. What bothered him most was his headlong response to her. His last rational thought before he gave over to the kiss entirely was that he had never lost himself so completely in a kiss with anyone. Then she twined her fingers in his hair to tug him closer, and he turned off his mind completely.

 
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