Read The Cowboy Way Online

Authors: Christine Wenger

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Contemporary Romance

The Cowboy Way

Beth touched her lips. Had Jake really kissed her?

The butterflies still in her stomach told her he had. Passionately. Hard. But she reminded herself that nothing more could come of it.

They were from two different worlds. And besides, she didn't want to get involved with anyone, especially not Jake Dixon. He was the type of man she could easily lose her heart to. And she didn't want a man in her life. Not now.

She was happy living with her son, just the two of them. And Jake Dixon drank. She remembered seeing him drinking a beer last night. No
way
was she going to let another man like that into her life.

No way on earth.

Then
why
had she accepted his invitation to go out tonight?

 

Dear Reader,

Well, we hope your New Year's resolutions included reading some fabulous new books—because we can provide the reading material! We begin with
Stranded with the Groom
by Christine Rimmer, part of our new MONTANA MAVERICKS: GOLD RUSH GROOMS miniseries. When a staged wedding reenactment turns into the real thing, can the actual honeymoon be far behind? Tune in next month for the next installment in this exciting new continuity.

Victoria Pade concludes her NORTHBRIDGE NUPTIALS miniseries with
Having the Bachelor's Baby,
in which a woman trying to push aside memories of her one night of passion with the town's former bad boy finds herself left with one little reminder of that encounter—she's pregnant with his child. Judy Duarte begins her new miniseries, BAYSIDE BACHELORS, with
Hailey's Hero,
featuring a cautious woman who finds herself losing her heart to a rugged rebel who might break it…. THE HATHAWAYS OF MORGAN CREEK by Patricia Kay continues with
His Best Friend,
in which a woman is torn between two men—the one she really wants, and the one to whom he owes his life. Mary J. Forbes's sophomore Special Edition is
A Father, Again,
featuring a grown-up reunion between a single mother and her teenaged crush. And a disabled child, an exhausted mother and a down-but-not-out rodeo hero all come together in a big way, in Christine Wenger's debut novel,
The Cowboy Way.

So enjoy, and come back next month for six compelling new novels, from Silhouette Special Edition.

Happy New Year!

Gail Chasan

Senior Editor

Silhouette Special Edition

The Cowboy Way
CHRISTINE WENGER

 

There are so many wonderful friends I'd like to thank for making my dream come true.
The Packeteers have been with me from the beginning, and I thank them from the
bottom of my heart. The Sisters of the Lake were there when I needed a boost.

Throughout the years, Pat Kay, Carla Neggers and Maggie Shayne
gave graciously of their time and knowledge and made me a better writer.

And to Amber Schalk who taught me never to give up.
I think of you often, Amberoni.

This one's for you, ladies—fabulous writers
and fabulous friends. I love you all!

 

Books by Christine Wenger

Silhouette Special Edition

The Cowboy Way
#1662

CHRISTINE WENGER

has worked in the criminal justice field for more years than she cares to remember. She has a dual master's degree in probation and parole studies and sociology from Fordham University, but the knowledge gained from such studies certainly has not prepared her for what she loves to do most—write romance!

A native central New Yorker, she enjoys watching professional bull riding and rodeo with her favorite cowboy, her husband, Jim.

GOLD BUCKLE RANCH
MOUNTAIN SPRINGS, WYOMING

CONGRATULATIONS TO
BETH CONROY AND KEVIN CONROY!

Dear Kevin,

We are happy to inform you that your essay—about how your mother needs a vacation and how you'd like to participate in Wheelchair Rodeo—has touched our hearts. Therefore, you are both invited to spend a free week at Gold Buckle Ranch located in beautiful Mountain Springs, Wyoming, during the second week of July.

Your mother will find that our facilities promote rest and relaxation. Troubles are soon forgotten at the Gold Buckle Ranch, as one spends sunshine-filled days walking among the wildflowers on any one of our beautiful trails.

Kevin, as you know, Wheelchair Rodeo is the idea of our son, world champion bull rider Jake Dixon. In your application, you stated that Jake has been your hero since before your accident. Therefore, you'll be happy to know that Jake will be personally helping you pick out a horse and teaching you to ride. He'll also be happy to help you mom get used to ranch living.

We guarantee that you'll both have a wonderful time at the Gold Buckle Ranch!

Very truly yours,

Dex & Emily Dixon

Chapter One

B
eth Conroy looked outside and saw her son parked in his usual spot at the end of the driveway, waiting for the mail to be delivered.

Every afternoon since Kevin had entered the Gold Buckle Ranch contest, he had wheeled himself down to the mailbox at the foot of the driveway at three-thirty sharp in the hope that a letter would come from Wyoming, informing him that he was a winner.

He had on his black cowboy hat as usual, the one she got him for Christmas, and he wore a big silver belt buckle, jeans and a long-sleeved western shirt. Not unusual for Lizard Rock, Arizona—most everyone dressed in the western style, but once in a while other kids wore shorts and a T-shirt.

Not Kevin.

Every article of clothing on him, except maybe his
underwear, was from the “Jake Dixon Collection.” If something didn't sport the name of Jake, his favorite bull rider, Kevin didn't wear it.

Waiting, hoping, looking so alone, he craned his neck toward every car or truck that came down the street. “Today it'll come,” he'd told her earlier, total trust shining in his eyes.

Five minutes later, when the white truck with the blue eagle on the side turned the corner, she saw him wave his fist in the air.

“All right! Cool!” he shouted.

To a ten year old, it must have seemed to take forever for Mrs. Owens, the mail carrier, to reach their mailbox. Beth stepped closer to the screen door so she could hear the conversation.

“Hi, Kevin,” Mrs. Owens said. She leafed through a handful of mail and smiled. “It's here. Gold Buckle Ranch, Mountain Springs, Wyoming.”

“Yesss!”

Beth held her breath. It would mean so much to Kevin if he won the contest, but realistically the odds were against him. She didn't want him hurt any more.

Mrs. Owens reached over the side of the truck and handed him the letter. He stared at it. Beth knew that because Kevin wanted it so much, it had never occurred to him that he wouldn't win the contest.

It had never occurred to her that he would.

He smoothed out the envelope. Win or lose, he'd want to save it along with the letter and glue them into his Jake Dixon scrapbook or hang it on his bulletin board, another shrine to the popular cowboy.

“Would you like to take the rest of the mail?” asked Mrs. Owens.

“Sure.” He stuffed everything into the canvas bag that hung from the side of his wheelchair. “Thanks, Miss Owens.”

“Hope you won, Kevin.”

“I did!”

As fast as his hands could spin the wheels, he tore up the driveway and the ramp to the rental office. “Mom! It's here!”

Beth opened the door for him and stepped back, laughing. “Slow down before you run over my toes.”

He stopped in front of her. “Guess what?”

“Something important come in the mail?”

With fumbling fingers, he pulled the envelope out of his canvas bag and held it up to her.

“I hope it's good news, sweetie.”

He let out a puff of air, carefully opened the envelope and unfolded the letter.

When Beth heard his resounding “Yee-haw!” and watched him turn his chair in a complete circle, she knew that he'd won the Gold Buckle Ranch contest. Her heart filled with joy to see him so happy.

“Mom!” he yelled. “This is so cool!”

“We won the lottery?”

“Better than that.”

“What could be better?” She knew the answer to her own question. Seeing her son walk again would be better than all the money in the world.

“Going to the Gold Buckle Ranch in Wyoming and being in Wheelchair Rodeo.” With a big grin, he handed
her the letter. “I won the contest, Mom. I mean, you won. We
both
won!”

Beth skimmed the letter and contemplated several problems. Sneaking a peek at her son's bright eyes and big, wide grin, she couldn't tell him that the plane trip from Lizard Rock, Arizona to Mountain Springs, Wyoming would wipe out her meager savings. She wasn't entitled to a paid vacation yet, either. Any time off would be without pay. She had stacks of bills. Kevin was probably going to need another operation. There was that specialist in Boston and…and…

She took a deep breath. She knew how much going to the Gold Buckle Ranch meant to Kevin. She'd watched him sweat over his entry. She'd helped him look up words in the dictionary, but he wouldn't let her read the entire essay.

“What exactly did you write?” she asked.

“I told them why you needed a vacation in a hundred words or less. It only took me seventy-one words, and that's counting the small ones.”

She bit back a smile. “And why do I need a vacation?”

“'Cuz, Mom…'cuz you worry about me. And Dad died. And we had to move to this crummy place. And 'cuz you have to work all the time.”

His smile faded as his forehead wrinkled with worry lines no ten year old should have. It had been a tough two years for both of them. After the accident, Kevin had undergone four operations and thousands of hours of physical therapy. It was way too much for a little boy to handle. She could barely handle it herself. She had hoped and prayed that his last operation would be a suc
cess, but Kevin showed no sign of improving. The surgeons were puzzled. She was devastated.

She had to save enough money to take him to Boston, to see the specialist, but now this…

Beth walked to his side. She crouched down and ran her fingers through his soft, shiny hair that was so much like Brad's had been.

“Sweetie, I'm okay. We had to make some changes, like selling the house and moving here, but we're doing all right. Aren't we? There's a pool…and you like your school.” She faltered. There had to be more reasons. “Aren't we doing okay?”

Kevin's knuckles were white as he gripped the arms of his wheelchair. “We're doing okay, Mom. But you need a vacation.”

“And maybe you do, too, huh?”

He smiled. The spark in his eyes was back. “I'm going to be in Wheelchair Rodeo. Jake Dixon and Clint Scully and Joe Watley and tons more cowboys do Wheelchair Rodeo every year at the Gold Buckle. There's a campout and trail rides—on horses, Mom. On
horses!

He paused for a quick breath. “And the cowboys teach us how to rope, too. I wish they were real steers, but they're plastic steer-heads stuck in a block of hay. I'll show you the picture. And then there's this big, huge rodeo—a
real
rodeo. And the cowboys come from all over. All the cowboys I watch on TV will be there, but especially Jake Dixon. The Gold Buckle Ranch is Jake's ranch, Mom, and I can meet him, and talk to him, and he'll teach me to ride. And we'll be staying for a week and…”

Beth was mentally adding up expenses, but she let him ramble on. She loved it when he was happy and excited and acting like a ten year old again. She'd heard nothing but “Jake Dixon this” and “Jake Dixon that” since Kevin was six and had first shaken Jake's hand at the
Fiesta de los Vaqueros,
Tucson's annual rodeo.

Jake had won the bull riding competition that night and had stayed in the arena to sign autographs. Beth had waited in line with Kevin for over an hour, and Jake had autographed Kevin's program and given him a red bandana. Then Jake had taken the time to talk to him, making the little boy feel special. Ever since, Kevin had thought of Jake as his special hero, a larger-than-life figure who did much cooler things than any baseball or football star.

Jake Dixon had paid him more attention in those five minutes than Kevin's own father had in a week.

After that, the rodeo became an annual event and Kevin got three more autographed programs, had three more conversations with Jake and got three more bandanas.

Then the accident happened, and it seemed that whenever the Tucson Rodeo was scheduled, so was another operation.

During one of his hospital stays, Kevin had seen Jake being interviewed on TV. On a whim, Beth had e-mailed Jake's fan club, explained the situation and asked if they'd send an autographed picture of Jake to Kevin at the hospital. They did just that. They also sent him a western shirt, the one he had on today.

“Be tough, Kevin. Cowboy up!”
Jake had written with a black felt pen. Kevin had insisted on framing it,
and Beth had found the perfect frame in the hospital's gift shop—silver with bulls on each corner.

With that picture and autograph, Jake Dixon did more to help Kevin heal than all the doctors could. Again this stranger had come through when her son needed a hero the most.

If somehow she could arrange a week off, she could only pray that Jake would live up to her son's expectations. She herself had no expectations as far as men were concerned, but if Jake proved undeserving of Kevin's adoration, he'd answer to her.

She ruffled Kevin's hair and stood. She had made her decision. “Well, I guess we'd better go to the Gold Buckle Ranch and meet Jake Dixon.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

She reached out to hug him, and for a second, she thought he was going to stand. Tears stung her eyes as she gathered him close to her. If she had to, she would sell her soul to get the time off to give Kevin this trip to Wyoming.

“Thanks for winning the trip for us, sweetie,” she said, hoping she sounded convincing. “We're going to have a great time.”

Checking the clock on the wall, she saw that it was almost time for Kevin's water therapy. She had two rent checks to collect and a phone call to make before she could close the office for the day and watch the therapist work with Kevin.

“You'd best get your bathing suit on. Sam will be here in a half hour for your exercises. I'll be in to help you change.”

“I can do it.”

“But—”

He was off in a flash of chrome and denim, wheeling up the ramp that led to their small apartment in the back of the office.

She felt a pang of sadness when she remembered that Kevin had called their apartment “crummy.” It was crummy compared to where they used to live—a brand-new, four-thousand-square-foot house in the Catalina Mountains crowning Tucson. There they'd had wide-open spaces and room to run. It was a perfect spot for a kid growing up.

In contrast, their apartment complex was crowded with cars, concrete and cul-de-sacs.

Their life had been fairly good before the accident. Before her husband Brad had picked up eight-year-old Kevin from his friend's house and crashed into the concrete pilings of a bridge.

That was two years ago, yet she always felt physically sick whenever she thought of that day, that minute, that second that had forever changed her life and Kevin's. She would live with the guilt forever.

She should have known that Brad had started drinking again. She should have known….

She had been driving home from the grocery store that day when she saw Brad's cherry-red convertible crushed against a wall of concrete. She'd jumped out of her car and run as fast as she could toward the accident, but the police had caught her and pulled her away. Helpless, she'd watched and waited, crying hysterically, as police and firemen pried the mangled metal of the car away from Kevin to get him out.

She was screaming his name so loudly that Kevin heard her. He lifted his hand and waved. She knew then in her mother's heart that he was going to live. They'd let her hold his hand until they sedated him and got him ready for the ambulance.

As Kevin dozed, a kind policeman took her over to see Brad. He was already dead, lying in a ditch along the side of the road. A bright blue plastic sheet covered his body.

She knelt down, lifted the sheet and saw her husband, finally at peace.

Alcohol had claimed Brad, but it wouldn't take her little boy, not while she had a breath left in her. She'd kissed Brad's forehead for the man he used to be, taking one last look and remembering happier times. She'd let her tears fall, and when they dropped onto his face, she brushed them off and then covered him.

“Your husband didn't have his seat belt on, but your boy did. That saved him,” said the cop.

She got into the ambulance with Kevin, and didn't let go of his hand until they wheeled him into the operating room.

Beth shook away the memory and blinked back her tears. Relaxing her clenched fists, she poured herself a drink of water from the cooler and drank it down. She had to concentrate on business right now, so she would be able to watch Kevin's progress with Sam. Then she'd make dinner, read the information from the Gold Buckle Ranch, and enjoy her son's company for the rest of the evening.

Kevin was her whole life, and to make things up to
him, she would give him the world if she could. But since she couldn't, the least she could do was give him Jake Dixon.

 

Jake signed a dozen autographs in front of the baggage claim area at the little airport outside Mountain Springs. When he was on top of the Professional Bull Riders point standings, hundreds of people used to crowd around him. He'd loved every minute of it.

A dozen fans would have to do, since these days he was ranked number thirty-nine out of forty-five pro bull riders. He was just hanging on to the tour by his ragged fingernails.

Jake checked his watch for the hundredth time. Instead of being cooped up in the dinky little airport, he would rather be mending fences or working with the new mustang he'd just bought from Joe Watley, a stock contractor.

Better yet, he'd rather be riding bulls on the Professional Bull Riders tour and working on pumping up his ranking.

But nothing was scheduled for the month of July on the tour, so he'd take care of business at the ranch and work on organizing the Jake Dixon Gold Buckle Bull Riders Challenge and Wheelchair Rodeo like he'd done for the past two years.

From what he could tell so far, they were going to have a bigger crowd than ever for the Gold Buckle Challenge. Area hotels were booked solid and so were area campgrounds. This meant a nice boost to the local economy and an even bigger boost for the Gold Buckle Ranch.

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