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Authors: Joan Johnston

The Cowboy

Praise for Joan Johnston

“Joan Johnston does short contemporary Westerns to perfection.”

Publishers Weekly

“Like LaVyrle Spencer, Ms. Johnston writes of intense emotions and tender passions that seem so real that the readers will feel each one of them.”

—Rave Reviews

“Johnston warms your heart and tickles your fancy.”

—New York
Daily News

“Joan Johnston continually gives us everything we want … fabulous details and atmosphere, memorable characters, a story that you wish would never end, and lots of tension and sensuality.”

Romantic Times

“Joan Johnston [creates] unforgettable subplots and characters who make every fine thread weave into a touching tapestry.”

Affaire de Coeur


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

2013 Dell Mass Market Edition

Copyright © 2000 by Joan Mertens Johnston, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Dell, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

Originally published in the United States by Dell, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., in 2000.

ISBN 978-0-440-22380-1
eBook ISBN 978-0-307-56932-5


This book is dedicated to my favorite native Texans, Heather and Blake


I want to thank a number of individuals without whose knowledge and assistance this book could not have been written.

My former law school study group partner, Cheryl Hole, now an assistant district attorney in Edinburg, Texas, was kind enough to introduce me to her friend, attorney Charles W. Hury, who—over a spicy Mexican dinner—helped me to contrive a great many of the financial difficulties that plague the Creed family.

Angela Strittmatter, Public Relations Manager for the National Cutting Horse Association, made me feel more than welcome at the Will Rogers Memorial Complex in Fort Worth during the 1998 World Championship Futurity and initiated me into the world of “cutters.” A special thank-you to Kathy Shaughnessy for finding me a seat for the sold-out Charles Goodnight Gala, and to all the “cutters” who willingly allowed themselves to be interviewed.

My longtime friends Jack and Carolyn Lampe, in Uvalde, Texas, helped me to connect with Robin Clark, a field inspector for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. Thank you, Robin, for all the information about brucellosis and the work of a TSCRA field inspector.

The King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas, provides tours to anyone who would like to see its ranching operation and maintains a museum of King Ranch memorabilia. I want to thank the individuals who shared their knowledge and pride in the heritage of the King Ranch with me, including archivist Lisa Neely.

I’m indebted to Captain Doug Giacobbe of the Miramar, Florida, police department for information and instruction on the use of varmint rifles.

People always want to know what sparks a writer’s imagination. I owe a debt of gratitude to my trainer Charlie Mihlstin for helping me to get in shape—and for informing me that a can of PAM has 433 servings, which inspired a scene in this book.

And finally, to my friend Fran Garfunkel, thank you for being such a faithful reader, avid researcher, and kind critic.



. H
knees turned to mush, and she landed on the edge of the bed as the phone clattered back into its cradle. “Trace …” she croaked.

The sheet wrapped around Trace’s waist as he turned over and leaned up on one elbow, brushing at the sleep in his eyes. It was only a little after four in the afternoon, but they’d both dropped off to sleep after some pretty incredible sex. He took one look at her and sat up abruptly. “What’s the matter? Who was that on the phone?”

Callie’s heart clutched at the mere sight of him, she loved him that much. His features were too angular to be handsome, but she loved the slash of mouth, the blade of nose, and the hint of rough, dark beard that made it necessary for him to shave again in the evening if he wanted to go out.

She captured the moment in her mind, knowing that whatever small chance had existed for a life with this man had ended with the phone call she had just received. Her gaze met the ice-blue eyes that had so frightened her the first time she had spoken to him. Ruthless eyes. Predatory
eyes. She saw the growing concern in those eyes as she struggled to find words to tell him what had happened.

Speech was impossible.

“Who was that on the phone?” he demanded, muscles flexing in his shoulders and arms as he shoved himself toward her. “What the hell is wrong, Callie?”

Tears blurred her vision. Her hands clutched the bottom edge of the thigh-length T-shirt that was all she wore. “There’s b-been an accident. My b-brother Sam—” She broke down, unable to tell him the rest.

She felt Trace’s strong arms close around her as he dragged her into his lap.

“You’re trembling.” He pulled her close and held her snug and warm against his big body. “What happened? Is he dead?”

“No. Something m-much worse.”

“What could be worse—”

“He b-broke his neck. He won’t ever walk again. They d-don’t even know if he’ll live!”

“Damn. I’m so sorry, Callie.”

She clutched him around the neck, muffling her sobs against his throat, for fear someone in the hallway would hear her and come to investigate. Trace wasn’t supposed to be in her dorm room, and they’d both be in big trouble if someone found them together.

She laughed at herself, but what came out were hysterical sobs. Imagine worrying about something as stupid as getting caught with a man on the girls’ floor before visiting hours when Sam was never going to walk again. When any chance of a life with Trace had ended forever.

Callie felt Trace’s big hands smoothing her hair, rubbing her back, a mute promise of support. But nothing
could help now. She hadn’t told him the whole story. He had no idea of the depth of the disaster that had befallen them.

His voice rumbled in her ear. “Tell me what happened.”

Callie cried harder. Their whole world had just been turned upside down, that’s what had happened. It was a miracle they had found each other at all, in light of the ongoing feud between their families. She still found it hard to believe that they had become lovers … that they had fallen in love.

She had never let her gaze linger on Trace during high school, even though she found him attractive, and not just because he was a senior and she was a freshman, or because his father’s South Texas ranch was ten times as large as her father’s. It was a simple case of having the wrong names. He was a Blackthorne, and she was a Creed. Blackthornes and Creeds had hated each other since the Civil War, and the fight had never been more bitter than it was between Trace’s father and her own.

But the University of Texas at Austin campus was a long way from home. She’d been lost those first few days amongst such a huge college population, and even though Trace had been “the enemy,” he’d also been the only familiar face she’d seen. So she’d asked him for directions.

Callie shivered as she remembered how harsh his voice had sounded when he’d given them to her. She’d been surprised when Trace offered to show her the way. Amazed when he asked her to go out with him. Astonished at herself for saying yes.

She would never forget their first kiss. The memory
was filled with sensations. The wind lifting the hair on his brow and tugging at the silk scarf holding her ponytail. The shifting shadows beyond the bright porch light at the front door to the dormitory. The rough bark of the live oak at her back, and the rustle of leaves above their heads. The quiver of expectation as his callused fingertips grazed her nape.

She had felt a shiver of fear as she braced for the unknown, and her gaze had lowered to focus on the third pearl snap on his Western shirt. She had felt his warm breath against her cheek, and finally, the exquisite softness of his mouth on hers and the certain knowledge that beneath his gentleness lay an urgency, a need, a desire so powerful it made her breath catch in her throat.

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