Courting Callie
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Courting Callie

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by Lynn Erickson

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The Lost Springs Ranch for troubled boys is at stake, and it's a man's duty to give back…

Bachelor #2
Mase LeBow, 34
Occupation: Homicide detective, Denver
Biggest Achievement: Living to adulthood after a too-wild adolescence

Widower Mase LeBow figures Callie Thorne's remote equine therapy ranch is the


The Lost Springs Ranch for troubled boys is at stake, and it's a man's duty to give back…

Bachelor #2
Mase LeBow, 34
Occupation: Homicide detective, Denver
Biggest Achievement: Living to adulthood after a too-wild adolescence

Widower Mase LeBow figures Callie Thorne's remote equine therapy ranch is the best place to protect his son. So he's determined to charm her after she "buys" him for a date at the Lost Springs Bachelor Auction. But her insistence on helping his withdrawn boy gets past his defenses…and that can't happen. Falling in love with Callie when he's the star witness in a murder trial would be a huge mistake.

Editorial Reviews

Debbie Richardson
Lynn Erickson writes a warm and wonderful romance with characters that readers will immediately care about in Courting Callie. —Romantic Times

Product Details

Publication date:
Heart of the West , #2
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Read an Excerpt

Callie Thorne had no idea she was muttering aloud to herself until her friend strolled up.

"Hey, Callie," Lindsay said, "it can't be that bad. Look around you. Everyone's having a ball."

Callie let out a whistling breath. It was true. Everyone at the Lost Springs Ranch for Boys was having a rousing good time. There must have been a hundred people—men, women and children—gathered around the showring where the much-anticipated bachelor auction was soon to get under way. Dogs were running loose, and boys from the ranch raced around, creating chaos. Their counselors were trying to keep them in some kind of order, but it was a weekend, the atmosphere festive, and their efforts proved futile.

The crowd wasn't all from nearby Lightning Creek, Wyoming. People had come from as far away as New York and Los Angeles for the auction. There was a bevy of handsome men to bid on—a whole catalog full of them. Each one had his picture in the glossy brochure, along with a brief profile listing likes and dislikes, favorite song, most embarrassing moment… One photo showed a good-looking guy in a tuxedo with a rose in his hand, another in a chef's hat and apron.

Most of the bachelors were success stories, graduates of this very ranch, where troubled boys often found a new path in life. Callie had read all about them. The brochure was still in her back pocket. The auction was a worthy event, designed to raise money for the ranch, which was facing financial difficulties. Callie couldn't have been happier about the super turnout. Her friend Lindsay Duncan's family had owned and operated the place for many years, and now Lindsay owned it. Proceeds from the auction would help put the ranch back on its feet.

Callie only wished she hadn't agreed to participate. Suddenly, a fantasy image popped into her head. She was used to these dreamscapes by now, though she never confided about them to anyone. They came to her at the strangest times, often right in the middle of a totally unrelated situation, and while she watched the scene play out in her mind, she knew she must look unfocused, as if she were daydreaming. Probably that was why people thought of her as a bit of a…crackpot. In this fantasy, she bid on a great-looking bachelor—actually won him for a weekend date. He was everything a woman could dream of: handsome, intelligent, kind and sympathetic, with a smile that made her legs go all watery. He was rich. They were camping out. Sure, Callie thought, why not? Camping beneath a heavenly black velvet sky right on her own ranch. A big steak sizzling in an iron frying pan, and propped up against a rock was an opened bottle of wine. Firelight danced in the man's eyes, and he was leaning close to Callie, telling her this bachelor date was the best thing that had ever happened to him. His lips—the most sensual lips she'd ever seen on a man—parted to kiss her. Her heart sang…. And then he confessed there was this one little thing he had to tell her. He was, uh, married, but it was a bad marriage, and he was miserable….

Callie blinked away the image and realized Lindsay was looking at her curiously. "Let's just forget about the auction part, Lindsay. I'll write you a check, a donation. I don't have to bid on anyone, really. I'd be happy to just contribute."

"No way," Lindsay said emphatically, shaking her head. "You never get off your ranch. This'll do you a world of good."

"/ never get out?" Callie protested. "I'm with people twenty-four hours a day. I'm perfectly happy—"

"Yes, with your work," Lindsay said, interrupting. "But you could use a date. You know? A guy? A date?'''

Every time Callie had gotten hooked up with a man in the last ten years it had been disastrous. She always fell for the losers, the stray puppy-dog types.

"Now, look at that guy over there, the one near Rex…" Lindsay nodded across the showring to where Rex Trowbridge, local lawyer and director of the ranch, was standing with Lindsay's uncle Sam Duncan, a retired counselor. They were talking to one of the men about to be auctioned off. "He's a park ranger from Yellowstone. Zeke is his name. I even remember him from when he was one of our problem kids. He turned himself around, has a great life as a ranger, and he's very available.. "

Callie shook her head emphatically. "I just can't. I can't go through with this auction stuff." Even as she spoke, the auctioneer was testing the microphone in the middle of the dusty showring, pinging the mike with a finger, and people were already beginning to cheer and whistle, anticipating the first man to go on the block. "I feel…sick," Callie said, aware of a warm flush spreading across her cheeks.

Someone called out to Lindsay then, and she gave Callie an apologetic smile and turned to leave. "I'll be back," she said. "I've got to socialize. Just keep checking out the guys. You'll find someone."

Callie stood digging a pointy-toed cowboy boot into the dust, her head down, eyes covered by the brim of her well-worn Stetson, hands jammed into her jeans pockets. She told herself she could do this. It was for Lindsay and her uncle Sam, and all the boys would benefit. But, wow, she wished it were over. It was just too, well, embarrassing. Buying a man.

While the women took their seats in the grandstand, Callie made a beeline for the ranch house and the ladies' room. Maybe she could hide inside till it was all over, say she'd gotten sick, write Lindsay that check. That's what she'd do, all right. Hide out. Chicken out.

She passed Twyla, who owned the beauty parlor in Lightning Creek. Callie considered stopping to talk, but Twyla was busy selling raffle tickets on a quilt made by women in the local hospital guild.

When she reached the ranch house, the bathroom had an endless line, and she really didn't need to use it, anyway. She wandered aimlessly around the place, eyeing the elk antlers on the walls, the river-rock fireplace and Navajo rugs, as if this were the first time she'd been to Lost Springs Ranch.

People were milling everywhere. Inside and out. Around the bunkhouse dorms, crowding the barbecue pit, from which rose the delicious aromas of ribs and chicken cooking on spits. There were tables laden with food: coleslaw, potato salad, corn on the cob, baked beans, brownies and corn bread. Ice-filled wooden tubs held bottles of soda and beer. But all Callie could see was that great big beautiful guy by her imaginary camp-fire. Married.

Callie stood off to the side beneath a cottonwood tree and watched as the first man climbed onto the block and made a mock bow to the assembled throng. The women cheered and yelled out catcalls as the auctioneer gave a brief introduction, then began his singsong litany. "Who'll give me five hundred dollars? I have five. Who'll bid six? I have six six six, seven. Who'll give me eight eight, nine."

Callie watched the whole thing in mute fascination. The bachelor was trying to bump up the bids with a big flashy smile toward the grandstand, where the women egged him on. Once he even posed, flexing his biceps— Mr. Universe. Everyone loved it, and the air was split with whistles. The bidding went on under the hot June sun. "I have eighteen, who'll give me nineteen? Nineteen nineteen nineteen. Nineteen! Who'll give me two thousand, two two."

Callie wished she felt more like participating. The auction was for a wonderful cause, the proof of which was in the men being bid on. Alumni of Lost Springs, they'd turned their lives around, thanks to the ranch. And there were so many boys like them here today. It was just that she had so little free time. Her ranch, an equine therapy ranch five miles up the road, kept her so busy that months seemed to fly by like days. She didn't have time for a date—even one she paid for.

Callie tipped the brim of her Stetson back, looked up at the pellucid Wyoming sky and sighed. Write a check and hightail it out of here, she mused. Just do it.

Then she thought about all the folks back at her ranch, her parents, her assistant, the cook and the housemother who tended to the therapy guests. They'd all stood out in the drive this morning, eyed her new jeans and Western-cut blue-and-white-checked shirt and her favorite Stetson, and told her to go get herself a good one. Her father, Tom Thorne, had even called out for her to bid as high as she wanted on a nice young man. "It's for a great cause," he'd said.

Well, she knew there were definite limits to the amount she could spend despite what her dad had said. Their ranch was doing okay. But just okay. And, like Lost Springs, the Someday Ranch depended on a lot of volunteer help from the neighboring town of Lightning Creek. Maybe this commitment she had made to Lindsay and the auction wasn't such a good idea after all. Maybe.

"I found him" came a voice at her ear, startling her. It was Lindsay. "I found you just the right bachelor. Come on."

Before Callie could protest, Lindsay had her by the arm and was dragging her toward a barn behind the grandstand. "Quit it, Lindsay," Callie was saying, and that was when she saw the man.

She stopped short, about thirty yards from where he was standing, talking to another guy. Her breath caught.

"Pretty nice on the old eyes, huh?" Lindsay whispered, and she nudged Callie in the ribs.

"Uh.. " was all Callie got out.

He was something to look at. About six feet tall, lean and fit. He had a full head of wavy dark hair with a lock that escaped and lay curled on his forehead. And a mustache. A great thick mustache over full lips. Even from where Callie stood gaping, she could see the blue of his eyes—like the blue of the Wyoming sky.

A city boy, Callie was thinking when Lindsay told her he was a cop. "He's from Colorado. Denver," she said, and Callie recalled noticing him in the brochure. But now, in the flesh, she could see the alertness in him. It was in the pitch of his head, the flex of his knee beneath the tan Dockers, the tension in his square jaw. A cop.

Then, abruptly, as if he sensed the two pairs of eyes on him, the man pivoted and glared at them. Lindsay giggled. But Callie wasn't laughing. Despite the heat of the summer day, a chill ran up her spine. He looked downright menacing.

"Good grief," she whispered, shifting her gaze away.

"What's with him?"

Lindsay shrugged. "Haven't a clue. I don't remember him that well from the ranch. His name's Mason LeBow. He goes by Mase. I think he was married."

"Was?" Callie asked.

"I guess. I really don't remember." Suddenly Callie saw a little boy, maybe six or seven years old, run up to this Mase LeBow and grab onto his pant leg, cowering behind him. The man, Mase, reached down and patted the child's head and gave him a smile, one that didn't quite reach those glacial-blue eyes. He looked so out of sync in this happy crowd, and for the life of her, Callie had no idea why he would elicit such an uncharacteristic response in her.

She stole another glance at the cop. Dangerous. That was all she could think. He looked dangerous. And she knew suddenly that Lindsay had found the perfect bachelor for her to bid on. Who would want a date with this guy? She'd bet she could buy him for a song and a dance, too. And even better, Callie wouldn't have to go through with the date. She'd let him off the hook immediately, tell him whatever came to mind.

The only thing that stirred Callie, that tweaked her curiosity, was the little boy. He looked enough like Mase LeBow to be his son. Probably was. Callie couldn't imagine the man agreeing to a "bachelor" date if he were married. So he must be divorced. And the wife, ex-wife, couldn't take the kid for the weekend, and Mase got stuck with him. Maybe that was why he was looking so uncomfortable. The child, too. The poor boy was feeling his father's tension, responding to those bad vibes. How awful, Callie thought. She'd bid on this man for sure and immediately set him free from any obligation. Everyone would go home happy. Perfect, she thought.

But when it was Mase LeBow's turn on the block, Callie froze.

To begin with, the bidding was slow. It was that look on the cop's face. Oh, he was trying to cloak it, but still the jaw was tight and his eyes were chilling the group of women. Someone had raised her hand and bid six hundred, then it went to nine. But the auctioneer was stalled at one thousand. "Who'll give me one thousand? Do I hear one thousand?" And Callie just couldn't seem to twitch a finger in the direction of the auctioneer.

"One thousand. Do I hear.?"

Callie's arm was propelled into the air. By magic, she thought frantically, then realized it was Lindsay who had her by the elbow and was jerking her arm upward.

The auctioneer spotted her motion instantly and called out, "I have one thousand. Who'll give me twelve? Do I hear twelve hundred?"

Twelve never came, and Callie bought the mustached cop from Denver with the menacing look in his beautiful blue eyes.

"What a hoot," Lindsay whispered in her ear. "Now all you have to do is tame him." She turned to leave.

"Oh, God," Callie said desperately. "Don't leave me now, Lindsay."

But Lindsay kept right on going. "Just write the check and meet the man. How bad can it be?"

How bad…? A vision flew into Callie's befuddled mind.

Mase LeBow. Looking wickedly mean. Placing handcuffs on her wrists in a dark alley, dragging her into a patrol car. Locking her up. Throwing away the keys. And he was laughing, too, a deep male laugh utterly devoid of humor.

Someone was patting her on the back. Callie sucked in a big breath and focused. It was Rex Towbridge, the ranch director. "Great choice, Callie," he said, "but you bought him too cheap. Mase is a very special person."

Callie swallowed. "Is he…dangerous?"

Rex smiled warmly. "Mase? Heck, he's the nicest guy around. You got yourself a real bargain. Now, go and introduce yourself and have fun."

"Introduce myself?"

"Sure," Rex said. "You bought the man, Callie. He's yours, lock, stock and barrel."

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2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
...this author definitely does not have the talent Susan Wiggs has. I truly missed her writing style for this story, yes I felt it was poorly written. Other than that, good characters and plot. Unfortunately though, I don't think I will delve any further into the Heart of the West stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Twyla's first husband was a first class jerk! He treated her like dirt and refused to even acknowledge his own son. But she picked herself up, started her own business and made a good life for her son, her mother and herself. And the secondary characters were very entertaining. And then we come to Rob. Even knowing what Twyla had been through with her ex he betrayed and hurt her without a second thought. At the same time, he betrayed his girlfriend and allowed her to treat Twyla in a very condescending manner. And he never gave Twyla an explanation or an apology. He redeemed himself somewhat in the end but Twyla deserved better.