Authors: Allie Pleiter
Ellie and the Lawman
Leaving behind her big city life, Ellie Buckton can't wait to return to Blue Thorn Ranchâthe place she's always considered home, and the perfect place to mend her wounded heart. But she's unprepared for the instant sparks she feels with the town's new lawman, Nash Larson. Strong and steady Nash doesn't want any attachments in his temporary posting. Not with the troubled teens he and Ellie are drafted to work with. And especially not with Ellie or the undeniable feelings she inspires within him. Nash likes to play by the book. But law and order can't always rule when love is concernedâ¦
“Are you sure you need to say no? Maybe you're just scared to say yes.
Gran always says scared isn't a good enough reason to say no to something that might be good.”
“Then your grandmother is a stronger person than I am.”
What Nash did, helping those kids in LA, must have taken so much courage and compassion. It couldn't all be gone just because one kid betrayed him. Then again, wasn't she hiding out here in Martins Gap because of betrayal, too? “What if what you really need is to prove to yourself you still can see the good in kids like that? What's the worst that could happen?”
He shook his head and gave a dark, low laugh. “I could get shot again. And this time the kid may not miss.”
“Cowboys and Indians,” she said, remembering his earlier comment that now had such a different edge to it.
“Cops and robbers,” he said, his features showing a hint of humor.
“Cars and knitting. It's an idea so crazy it just might work.”
“It probably won't work,” Nash said. “But maybe I ought to try anyway.”
, an award-winning author and RITAÂ® Award finalist, writes both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion for knitting shows up in many of her books and all over her life. Entirely too fond of French macarons and lemon meringue pie, Allie spends her days writing books and avoiding housework. Allie grew up in Connecticut, holds a BS in speech from Northwestern University and lives near Chicago, Illinois.
Books by Allie Pleiter
Blue Thorn Ranch
The Texas Rancher's Return
Coming Home to Texas
Lone Star Cowboy League
A Ranger for the Holidays
Falling for the Fireman
The Fireman's Homecoming
The Firefighter's Match
A Heart to Heal
Saved by the Fireman
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He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted...to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
For all she is becoming
Special thanks again to Beverly Brown
and Donnis Baggett, the owners of the
Lucky B Bison Ranch in Bryan, Texas, who
continue to support me with information,
hospitality and friendship. Thanks also
to Ron and Theresa Miskin at the
Buffalo Wool Company for explaining to me
all about bison fiber.
eputy sheriff Nash Larson walked up to the small red car with Georgia plates and waited for the woman to roll down her car window. “License and registration, please.”
The woman gave a loud sniff as she fumbled through her handbag and glove compartment. “Sure,” she gulped out in a wobbly voice. A cryer. Why did women always think crying was the way to ditch a speeding ticket?
Why? The lead weight in Nash's stomach told him it was because it
. This woman was driving too fast for a rainy night in the middle of nowhere, with out-of-state plates, way too late at night, and he still felt the compulsion to be nice rather than read her the riot act, the way she probably deserved. At least she was smart enough to keep her doors locked and not roll down her window until he showed her his badge. Alone on a Texas back road at 11:45 p.m. was no time for Southern hospitality. “Do you know how fast you were going?” he inquired.
“I should have been paying attention.” The lilt of her Southern drawl, combined with that thing that happened to women's voices when they cried, pulled even more reluctant sympathy from him. “I was upset,” she added, as if that needed explaining.
Nash looked at the license. Ellen Buckton took a nice photo and had a pretty smileâin other words, her photo looked nothing like her current disheveled and tearful appearance. “Maybe tonight wasn't the best night to drive so late, Ms. Buckton.”
“Miss,” she corrected, her eyes brimming over with tears. “I'm sorry.” She reached for a tissue from the nearly empty box on the seat next to herâa seat mounded with used, crumpled tissues. She'd been crying for the past hundred miles from the looks of it. “I just wanted to get home.” That last word trailed off in a small sob.
The plates and license were from Georgia. “You're a long way from home, Miss Buckton. Everything okay?”
Nash wanted to whack his own forehead.
Well, that was a foolish question. The woman is far from home crying and you ask if everything
“I just...” She pulled in shuddering breaths in an attempt to stem the tears. “I just broke off my engagement.” She wiggled her naked left ring finger as Exhibit A. “I'm only about a half hour from my gran's house, where I grew up. I guess I just wanted to get there as fast as I could.” She shut her eyes and held out her hand while visibly bracing herself, as if whatever ticket he was about to give her would sting. “Go ahead. I deserve it. It's not like you'd be ruining a lovely day or anything.”
Nash had never been the kind of man who could kick a soul when they were down. People were supposed to be friendly in Texas, right? That was part of the reason he'd left LAâthat, and the two bullet holes in his shoulder and thigh. Being hunted down tended to make a man rethink his zip code. And yearn to play nice, at least once in a while.
“I'm sorry for your troubles. But driving 80 in a 65 zone won't make anything better. I expect you already knew that.”
She looked up at him with wet, wide eyes. They were a brilliant light blueâlike pool water or a turquoise gemstoneâsomething her license photo hadn't captured in the slightest. “I should have been more careful.” She sighed. “I should have been a lot of things.”
He couldn't bring himself to give her a ticket. Not when he had the chance to make her day just a bit less horrible. Instead, he decided tonight was his chance to show Ellen Buckton that not every man on planet Earth was a heartless creep. Nash handed back her license and paperwork, bringing the most tender, astonished look to her face. “Will you be more careful for the rest of your drive?”
She nodded like a schoolchild. “Oh, yes, absolutely. I promise.”
“You know where you're going?”
“Like the back of my hand.” She wiped her eyes. “Although that's no excuse for speeding, Officer. I know that. But I grew up around here, and I could find my way home with my eyes closedânot that I'm going to, of course.” Now that he'd “pardoned” her, the words were tumbling out in grateful puddles. “I'll be extra careful, and I'm only about thirty minutes away.” She fumbled under the pile of tissues to produce a large ziplock bag filled with dark oblong objects. “Do you like biscotti, Officerâ” she peered at his name tag “âLarson?”
“Um, I do, but you can understand why it might not be such a smart idea for me to be accepting goodies from you.”
Her eyes went wide again. “I've eaten a dozen already, so I really do need to get them out of the car. But you're right. I mean, I didn't mean to imply you could be bribed with cookies or anything, because I'm sure you can't. And I wouldn't. It was just a thank-you for being so nice and all.”
She was babbling, and he could tell that she knew it. Poor thing. She really needed just to get wherever she was going and put herself to bed. “Drive safe, Miss Buckton, and stay under the speed limit.” Then, for reasons he couldn't explain, he added, “And, for what it's worth, I'm sorry about your engagement.”
He was worried that would start the waterworks again, but instead it brought the strangest look to her face. “You know, you're the first person to say âI'm sorry' to me about this whole thing. Kind of tells you something, doesn't it?”
Nash wasn't quite sure if he was supposed to answer that question. Instead he tipped his hat in a way that felt absurdly nouveau-Texan and said, “Good night.”
“Good night, Officer Larson. And thank you. You're the first nice thing that's happened to me today.”
, thought Nash as he walked back to his cruiser.
Cookies and compliments. Maybe Texas won
t be so bad after all.
* * *
Funny how a life can blow up in an instant.
Ellie Buckton looked out the kitchen window and stared at the pastures that made up the Blue Thorn Ranch. She'd grown up in this house, Gran's home, the Buckton family homestead, where her oldest brother's new family now lived. The place where her parents had lived until her mother died when Ellie was thirteen, and where Daddy had bravely held down the fort until his own death three years ago. These walls held so muchâalmost too muchâhistory. But for now, this would be the place where she hid until she could figure out what to do next.
Almost everything about the place felt the same. That stuck-in-time atmosphere was partly why it had been years since Ellie had felt any yearning to come back here. Then again, she couldn't remember ever not knowing what to do next.
She heard Gran's slippered feet shuffle into the kitchen. As she turned to meet those wise turquoise eyes, Ellie's chest filled with warmth instead of the tightrope tension that had lived there since her heartbreaking discovery three days ago.
“How are you, sweetheart?” Gran stood beside her, leaning her white-tufted head on Ellie's shoulder. Gran always smelled of lavender soap and peace. The familiar scents reminded Ellie why she had run here. “Better?”
She wasn't, really. Still, relief at being anywhere but Atlanta might be classified as “better.”
“In a way,” Ellie sighed in reply. “I don't think âbetter' is on the menu for a while yet.”
Gran sighed, too. In her eighty-five years, she'd known her share of heartbreak and hard times, as well. “A broken heart is a hard fence to jump. And you had yours broke but good.” She gave Ellie a hug. “I meant what I said yesterdayâyou stay here as long as you like.” Her eyes grew sharp, her frown sour. “That Derek fellow is a low-down swine for cheating on you the way he did.” She placed her thin hand over Ellie's own. “But coming home was the right thing to do. I'm glad you're here for however long I've got you. I plan to pamper you eight ways to Sunday, and then some more on top of that.”
Her now ex-fiancÃ© had left three text messages and two voice mails on her phone since Tuesday. Ellie had deleted all of them without reading or listening.
Gran put the kettle on the burner while Ellie took a long sip of coffee. “I've been meaning to ask you,” Gran said as she reached for the little china canister that held all her tea bags. “Did you keep the ring after you found that good-for-nothing chef cozying up to your best friend? Or did you give it back?”
Ellie managed a smile. “Actually, I thought about putting it in the blender. But I like my blender too much.”
Gran raised a gray eyebrow. “I've got a meat grinder in here somewhere. We could mangle it but good, take photos with that snazzy phone of yours and email them to him.”
Ellie loved that her grandmother had embraced the digital age, even if the old woman did crash her computer twice a week and still hadn't quite mastered the intricacies of texting. Gran had sent her a “come home” email practically every hour since St. Patrick's Day night when Ellie found her fiancÃ© planting passionate kisses on her best friend and would-have-been maid of honor, Katie.
Derek and Katie
. She still couldn't get the sight of them with their arms wrapped around each other out of her head. She'd discovered the pair necking like teenagers in the pantry of the restaurant where they were all working on a company-wide St. Patrick's Day event. Having an engagement destroyed was one thing, but having it self-destruct in front of her boss and most of her friends was a new level of torture. Going back to work when her leave of absence was over would be no picnic.
“No thanks, Gran.” Ellie sat down at the table, feeling tired despite the early hour. She hadn't slept especially well last night, despite the exhaustion she'd felt after hoisting two suitcases into the trunk of her car and driving the fourteen hours to Blue Thorn Ranch. “I don't want to send Derek anything at all, not even hate mail.”
“I hope they yank his television spot when they find out what he did to you.” With a warm curl of delight, Ellie realized Gran was getting out the makings for pancakes. Gran's pancakes were the cure for just about every hurt life had to offer, and Ellie hadn't tasted them in months. Today she wanted them more than anything.
“I wouldn't be surprised if an escapade like that made him even more popular,” Ellie admitted as she reached into the cabinet behind her to hand Gran the flour. “He'd use it, too, if I know him. Derek loves getting attention from the press, even if it's negative, and the whole bad-boy-chef persona is hot right now.”
Gran held up a spatula like a battle sword. “Not with me, it ain't.” Adele Buckton was no one to mess with.
Ellie loved the “nobody hurts my grandbaby” glare in Gran's eyes. After losing her best friend and fiancÃ© in one heartbreaking revelation, it bothered her immensely that no one she'd told in Atlanta had seemed surprised that Derek would cheat on her. And very few seemed ready to rise to her defense. Had no one really expected them to work out? Had everyone hid their doubts or, worse yet, their suspicions as to Derek's ability to be faithful? “I guess the bride-to-be's always the last to know.”
“It ain't fine with your brother, neither,” Gran added. “Gunner would be on his way over there right now to tan his hide if it weren't for all this trouble with the herd.”
Ellie's big brother, Gunner, was just the type to drive fourteen hours to pummel Derek for what he'd done. Like their grandmother, Gunner never swallowed threats or insults with any grace. Having been in her shoesâfinding the love of his life in the arms of anotherânot too many years ago, Ellie could see how Gunner wouldn't hesitate to make Derek pay for his infidelity.
Things were a bit different now. Gunner had found love and had married a wonderful woman, gaining a sweet young stepdaughter in the process. Even though he was the oldest, Ellie would never have guessed Gunner would marry before herself or their younger twin siblings, Luke and Tess. Married life clearly suited him, but Ellie just couldn't decide if Gunner's newlywed happiness gave her hope or rubbed salt in the wound of her own romantic failure.
“What's going on with the herd?” Blue Thorn Ranch had been reborn from her father's failing cattle operation into a thriving bison ranch thanks to Gunner, but the transition was still recent enough to produce new challenges all the time.
“We think someone's been taking potshots at our animals,” Gran explained as she poured the tea into the pot to steep and then flicked a spray of water onto the griddle. It sizzled and popped, indicating the griddle was hot and ready for pancake batter. “The herd is edgy, and we've heard rifles at night. Gunner has a meeting with the sheriff's office this morning to coordinate the investigation.”
Ellie's ears picked up on the sound of little feet galloping down the stairs. “Pancake Saturday!” little Audie cried as she burst into the room clad in bright pink pajamas. The girl stopped in front of Ellie. “Aunt Ellie? When did you get here?” Ellie found her waist encircled in pink arms that squeezed deliciously tight.
“Long after your bedtime, Audie. How's my favorite niece liking the fourth grade?”
Audie looked up at Ellie, making a face. “Fractions are awful, but I love science and art. Gunnerdad says math is useful, but I mostly think it's complicated and boring.”
Audie's invented Gunner-and-Dad combination never failed to put a smile on Ellie's face. He made a big show out of tolerating the name, but the way that man looked at his stepdaughter told everyone how much he loved his new role as Audie's “Gunnerdad.”
“Where's your mother?” Gran asked the girl as she handed plates to Ellie to set the breakfast table.
Audie replied by squinting her eyes shut and sticking out her tongue.
“Sick again?” Gran asked. “I'd guess you're getting a baby brother, then. Only baby boys give their mamas that much trouble.”