Once a Cowboy

Once a Cowboy

3.7 2217
by Linda Warren

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Brodie Hayes is a former rodeo star, now a rancher—a cowboy, through and through. But when he finds out some shocking news about the circumstances of his birth, he begins to question his identity. Luckily, private investigator Alexandra Donovan is there to help him find the truth about who he is. Along the way, he discovers that even a man who thought he'd be


Brodie Hayes is a former rodeo star, now a rancher—a cowboy, through and through. But when he finds out some shocking news about the circumstances of his birth, he begins to question his identity. Luckily, private investigator Alexandra Donovan is there to help him find the truth about who he is. Along the way, he discovers that even a man who thought he'd be alone for the rest of his life can fall in love.

For Brodie, love was something you did once—and for always. But is Alex the type of woman who can take on a stubborn man like him? Because there's one thing about him that will never change, no matter what they find out about his past—once a cowboy, always a cowboy.

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The defunct air-conditioning spit out its last puffs of cool air about an hour ago. Since it was July in Dallas the office was hotter than the hinges of hell. An opened window only stoked the heat in the room. Alex Donovan, private investigator, squirmed in her chair and swallowed back a curse word. She never thought being hot could make her so damn irritable.

"I believe this is my son."

The lady sitting across from her desk pushed a dogeared newspaper clipping toward Alex.

Sweat trickled down Alex's back and pooled at her waistline. One more minute and she would have been out the door. Now she was caught.

Pushing back her frustration with the heat, the office and life in general, she studied the picture of a cowboy astride a bucking bull. The massive black animal looked too menacing to tangle with"that is, to a city girl like Alex. The colored clipping was dated a month ago and was taken at a rodeo for charity in Fort Worth. The caption read: Brodie Hayes, bull rider and three-time world champion gives another stellar performance.

His record was impressive. As was the man himself. The lady pulled a folder out of her purse"more photos"and carefully laid them in front of Alex. They were of the same man; on a horse, with two other cowboys and one head shot that gave a closeup of his features. Several were rodeo photos with PRCA stamped on them"Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

But Alex's eyes were drawn to the clipping of the cowboy on the bull, which best showcased his broad shoulders and long, muscled body. One hand stuck high in the air as he strove to stay on the required eight seconds. His hat lay in the dirt and dark hair fell across his forehead. The sharp angles of his face were set in deep concentration, yet a glimmer of a smile shaped his lips. She had a feeling this man thrived on winning. Thrived on a challenge.

Handsome, tough and fearless were the three words that came to her mind. He was also likely a charmer who had a way with the ladies, but was hell in a fight with a man or a bull. Damn. He was goodlooking. Heat centered in her lower abdomen and she began to wonder if the high temperature was getting to her brain.

Having lived in Texas all her life, she'd seen lots of cowboys, but none quite like this. What was it about him? He had the looks, definitely the sex appeal, yet there was something else about him that she couldn't define.

Alex glanced at the lady, waiting for her story, because she knew there was one. The woman had sad green eyes"that was the first thing she'd noticed. A younger woman who looked to be somewhere in her thirties sat beside her. Probably a daughter or a relative because they had the same facial features, except for black hair untouched by gray, and blue eyes.

"My name is Helen Braxton and this is my daughter, Maggie Newton."

"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Braxton. Maggie. You said you thought this was your son?" Alex fingered the clipping and stared at the daughter. The striking color of her eyes held Alex's attention. Baby-blue. The bluest blue"the same as the cowboy's. Or very close.

Mrs. Braxton handed her another folder. "My son was stolen from the hospital when he was two days old. That was almost forty years ago." She tapped the folder. "The information's all in here."

A feeling of déjà vu came over Alex. She'd dealt with cases like this when she was on the Dallas police force, where desperate parents saw the face of their missing child in every newspaper clipping, their fate in every headline.

One particular case still haunted her. The suffering of the parents had gotten to her and she'd put her heart and soul into finding their missing child. She'd given them hope, which was all they had left. But it hadn't been enough.

Was Helen Braxton one of those parents? Even after forty years, was hope all she had?

Alex licked her dry lips. "Why do you think this is your son?"

Mrs. Braxton dug in her bag and Alex wondered what else she had in that suitcase of a purse. She laid three photos on the desk while juggling the purse on her lap. "After I saw the photo in the paper, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I checked out Mr. Hayes on the Internet. I bugged Maggie until she helped. That's how I got all the photos." She pointed to the pictures on the desk. "This is my husband and my other two sons. Look at them, then look at the cowboy."

Alex did as instructed and saw they indeed shared a striking resemblance"the same structure of the face, the same black hair. But it was the eyes that affected her the most. They had a bluer than blue quality"as clear and as riveting as the beaches of Padre Island. From the close-up of the cowboy she could see that his eyes were the same. Just like Maggie's.

"We named our first son Travis, after my husband. Maggie is our second child, then we had Wesley and Will. Will drowned when he was nineteen and we lost Wes a year ago. His truck was hit by a drunken driver and!" She pulled a tissue out of the bag and dabbed at her eyes. "Wes helped run the ranch, and now my husband has sunk so far into depression that neither my daughter nor I can reach him." Her watery eyes looked directly at Alex. "Ms. Donovan, please, I need you to find my only remaining son."

The plea in the woman's voice worked to accomplish what her father always warned her about"it touched her heart.

Mrs. Braxton fished out a checkbook. "What do you charge? We don't have much, but we'll pay whatever you ask."

Alex had to be completely honest. "Mrs. Braxton. The odds that this man is your son are very low." She clasped her hands on the desk and felt the waistband of her jeans stick to her skin. Couldn't they feel the heat? Neither seemed bothered by it.

"I've tried to tell her that, but she won't listen to me." These were the first words the daughter had spoken.

"I know I'm a foolish old woman," Mrs. Braxton said. "I have to know, though, why he looks so much like my husband and my other sons. It's been almost forty years and not a day goes by that I don't think about Travis. When he was kidnapped, there was a huge investigation. My husband and I haunted the police station, but our baby had disappeared without a trace."

She twisted the strap of her purse. "The detective said that most babies are found within twenty-four hours because the perpetrator is usually a woman who's desperate for a child and she's eager to show off the baby. Friends and neighbors usually recognize the person wasn't pregnant and contact the authorities. We waited and waited but no such person was ever found. Every lead was a dead end. For years we hounded the detective and he finally told us that we needed to go on with our lives. I laughed at him. How do you go on without your child?"

Helen blinked back a tear. "But life did go on. I had other children and tried to have a normal life for them. Every so often something happens, though, like seeing this photo in the paper, that gives me hope that some day I will see my son."

"Mrs. Braxton!"

"He lives somewhere around Mesquite. That shouldn't be too hard to check out."

The sad eyes now turned desperate and Alex felt herself being pulled in against her will. So much heartache for one family.

"They do a lot of things with DNA these days. A simple test is all I'm asking."

Say no. Just say no. But somehow Alex found she couldn't. She scooted closer to the edge of her chair. Something about Helen's sad eyes was about to make her break one of Buck's cardinal rules. Do not get emotionally involved.

She'd been told her head was as hard as a crowbar, but this wasn't about being stubborn or strong-willed. This was about proving she could take the difficult cases and stay emotionally detached. This was her own personal test.

"You do realize we'd be invading this man's privacy, turning his world upside down."

"But you're a detective. Can't you do it discreetly?"

"Yes, but!"

"Just name your price. I'll write you a check."

"Mom, please." Maggie touched her mother's arm. Mrs. Braxton covered her daughter's hand for a moment, then glanced at Alex. "Ms. Donovan, this is my last chance to save my husband, my family and my sanity." She pointed to the clipping. "That is my son. I just know it. I've been looking for years and I've never had this feeling before. Please."

Buck had warned her about taking these types of cases, but she never paid too much attention to her father her partner in the agency. He'd say they were too emotional and too time-consuming. Tell her that she shouldn't put herself through that again. To go with the cases that bring in the big bucks and leave the gut-wrenching cases to detectives with more grit in their gizzards.

In his own way, she knew her father was trying to keep her from getting hurt again. While working on the Dallas police force she'd found a missing child murdered. She realized then she didn't have steel-coated nerves. It had been a tough decision to quit the force and join her father in the detective agency. If she wanted to be tough as nails, she had the perfect teacher"Buck Donovan. But she hadn't worked a missing person's case since. It was time to get back into the swing of things.

She stared at the photo of Brodie Hayes. There had to be a way to do this discreetly and put Mrs. Braxton's mind at rest once and for all. And she could make sure that no one got hurt, especially one very good-looking cowboy.

"I'll do some checking, but I'm not promising anything." Alex told her the retainer fee and Mrs. Braxton wrote out a check.

"Oh, thank you, Ms. Donovan." Relief filled Mrs. Braxton's face and Alex wished with all her heart this case would turn out the way the woman wanted. The odds were against her. Still, she'd do her best.

"Please call me Alex." She rose and was grateful for the flurry of air the movement circulated.

"And please call me Helen." Helen slipped the strap of her purse over her arm. "My phone number and everything is in the folder."

"Thank you. I'll be in touch." Helen walked out, but Maggie lingered.

"Ms."Alex, my parents don't have a lot of money. My father used to raise cutting horses, but after Wes's death he sold most of them. They live off their social security now. I'm powerless to stop my mother in this search. Since we lost Wes, it consumes her whole life. And when she saw the photo, well, our lives haven't been the same."

"I can imagine that losing a child is something a woman never gets over."

Maggie brushed back her dark hair. "Yes. I have two children, a son, Cody, and a daughter, Amber. If someone took them from me, I'm not sure how I would handle it."

"Your mother seems very strong."

"Yes, but please don't indulge this fantasy of hers. Travis is gone and I—we have to accept that. After all these years my mother has to find a way to let him go." Her blue eyes pleaded for Alex to understand.

"I'll do my research and be very honest about my findings."

"Thank you." She turned to leave, then reached into the pocket of her two-piece suit. "I live here in Dallas and my parents live in Weatherford. Here are my numbers." Maggie laid a card on the desk. "If you find anything, please call me first so I can be with my mother when you tell her."

"I will," Alex promised, and Maggie walked out. She studied the card"an accountant. What a load Maggie carried being the only remaining child. That had to be hard for her, but she also seemed like a strong woman.

Alex gathered everything and put it in her briefcase. Her goal now was to breathe fresh air"cool fresh air.

The offices consisted of four rooms"a reception area, her father's office and hers, then a storage room. With her briefcase in hand, she headed for the front door. It opened before she reached it and her father, Dirk Donovan, walked in.

"What the hell? It's like an oven in here. Why in the hell don't you have on the air-conditioning?"

Buck, as he was called, was an ex-police officer who stood over six feet and had a hefty frame and a sour disposition. To say they never saw eye-to-eye on anything was an understatement. Sometimes Alex questioned her sanity in going into partnership with him, but after her last assignment with the Dallas police department she needed someone who would not treat her with kid gloves. Buck certainly had never done that.

And a part of her was searching for a closer relationship with her father. She felt she barely knew this man who most people seemed to fear, including her at times. Her mother died when Alex was two so she never knew her. She yearned for a family connection, a normal life and a deeper father-daughter relationship.

They'd been partners for two years and Buck criticized, ridiculed and browbeat her at every turn. She gave as good as she got, but what did that say about her"that she was a glutton for punishment? Or maybe, like Mrs. Braxton, she still believed in fantasy, fairy tales and a happy ending.

She placed one hand on her hip. "You're a detective. Can't you figure out why it's so hot in here?"

Meet the Author

Linda Warren loves happy endings. The Rita® nominated author has written 26 books in the last ten years. Drawing upon her years of growing up on a ranch in Texas, she writes about sexy heroes, feisty heroines and broken families with an emotional punch. She lives in central Texas with her husband, and spends her days doing what she loves—creating unforgettable love stories—with happy endings.

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Once a Cowboy (Harlequin American Romance #1151) 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2214 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Dallas-based private investigator Alexandra Donovan has concerns over her latest case because she cannot see a happy ending no matter what she learns. Her middle aged client Mrs. Helen Braxton believes former Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association star Brodie Hayes is her biological son abducted from a hospital just two days after she gave birth to him about four decades ago. The client wants the sleuth to find out all she can about Brodie¿s life past and present.--------------- Alex meets Brodie and both feel a strong attraction that neither anticipated as such desire has never hit them before. When he learns just who Alex is and the information about him she believes is the truth, he is overwhelmed because he now wonders just who Brodie Hayes truly is even as he knows one thing for certain, he loves Alex.--------------- ONCE A COWBOY is a terrific private investigative romance as the attraction between the professional sleuth and the retired professional rodeo participant is overwhelmed by her findings that she knew before hand would lead to someone being angry and disappointed and ready to shoot the messenger. Thus it is a stunned Brodie going through a form of the steps of grieving while also schizoid like falling in love with the bearer of bad news. Linda Warren¿s latest contemporary into a must read family drama.----------- Harriet Klausner
BelieverinbooksJB More than 1 year ago
I loved the country setting and the characters..Had to much intamacy detailed for my taste..other than that it was a good free book..
NanJan More than 1 year ago
It was an easy read with a storyline that was a little different than the usual. The back story wasn't really developed well, but this isn't a long novel. The only complaint I had at all, was the repetative use of 'cowboy'. Do people really talk like that in Texas?
Tiggerncoke More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book much more than I had anticipated. At times I couldn't wait to get back to my nook! I had quit reading Harlequin because I had read so many that I could pretty much guess where they were going. I will be picking up another one very soon. : ) I wouldn't say it was excellent, but definitely good for when you have nothing else going on and need a distraction.
LovingtheNOOKbook More than 1 year ago
This book is very tastefully written. If I hadn't been married before I began reading this NOOKbook, I would've gone to Texas looking to help Brodie find himself! This is definitely a good read. Loved the characters, from the kooky granny to the lost parents and the dying "mother" this was well written. My sole complaint--the last chapter tried to do too much and was too predictable; it seemed like Linda Warren, who had done an amazing job up to that point, abandoned the editing and crammed everything the reader could possibly want into that last chapter. I am still ready to wrangle my cowboy! My husband is willing to fill that role.
Casita More than 1 year ago
Although the plot was good, I didn't think the female protagonist was very fleshed out. It was more just following over the shoulders of an interesting story. I read more for the drama with the cowboy's family and birth--it was almost the end by the time anything happened between the two. Good if you're bored, maybe?
yorkiebaby More than 1 year ago
Having never read of herbooks it was a terrific and at such a steel of a deal price wise. I will be looking for more of her stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I can't complain too harshly, seeing as this was a free nook, I can say it was choppy. The entire thing is written in actions, with very little feeling or thoughts of the characters behind them, and most sentences seem like fragments. I couldn't get a feel for the characters, and the romance moves from slow to suddenly there, with very little build-up, while the last plot twist seems like it was made up at the last second. All in all, it wasn't a terrible read, but nothing about it left me satisfied.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. The storyline was interesting and was something I hadn't come across before. It was hard for me to put the book down and get things done. I couldn't wait to get back to reading it. I got a little confused toward the end when they were having Brodie's birthday party with all the people and extra names being thrown out there. Overall a wonderful book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
## This book was awful! Doesn't matter if it was free, I can never get back those 3 hours. The "hero" was a complete ass. He kept telling the heroine to "go away, leave me alone, i never want to see you again". But she was so weak, she kept showing up, over and over.....it got so old. Then after about 100 pgs into the story, they finally get together and he tells her WHILE they are having sex "practice makes perfect" about rolling on the condom and "I don't have enough fingers to count all the women I've been with." True or not, only an insensitive jerk would say these things at that moment. I would've kicked this guy to the curb. In addition to that, about a third of the book is about the heroine's grandmother and has no bearing on the story whatsoever. UGH!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've always loved cowboy novels. Since I picked up a Louis Lamour novel. This one I read in three days. The characters feel so real. A must read for cowboy novels readers
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was very interesting all the way through and i was not ready for the book to end
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. Tototally worth your time. Greatbook and loved the chactors inthe book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best cowboy stories ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It has been a while since high school I read a romantic book. This was nice to read not to mooshy. The story was good but could of left out the part about ALex's true mother part. All in all it was good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was good. The grandmother was too funny. I thought it was worth getting and reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Looks interesting
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's an ok book, trying to get through it, it's been over a week, and really only read it when I'm bored. The review would be harsher if I had actually paid money for it
beck0912 More than 1 year ago
Usual Harlequin style ,,, short though
Anonymous 6 months ago
It kept me interested, the story was never boring. I would highly recommend this book.
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