The Rancher's Twin Troubles

The Rancher's Twin Troubles

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by Laura Marie Altom

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Dallas Buckhorn refuses to believe it. His angelic girls wreaking havoc? Never! But their teacher, Josie Griffin, insists on making him feel like the worst father on the planet. He only wants his daughters to be happy. How can that be wrong?

Josie knows the Buckhorn twins aren't bad—they're just spoiled by their overindulgent, and ruggedly handsome…  See more details below


Dallas Buckhorn refuses to believe it. His angelic girls wreaking havoc? Never! But their teacher, Josie Griffin, insists on making him feel like the worst father on the planet. He only wants his daughters to be happy. How can that be wrong?

Josie knows the Buckhorn twins aren't bad—they're just spoiled by their overindulgent, and ruggedly handsome, cowboy daddy. But she also has a job to do, and she can't do it when the twins are out of control in her classroom.

Josie might be hard on Dallas…because he seems oblivious to how lucky he is to have his girls. Her own tragedy haunts her, but the more she spends time with the Buckhorns the more she imagines herself in their family picture. But that means saying goodbye to her past, and she's not sure she can do that….

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Buckhorn Ranch , #2
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"Are we talking about the same kids?" Dallas Buck-horn shifted on the pint-size chair in his twin daughters' kindergarten classroom. Across a sea of tiny tables, his angels made dinner in a play kitchen. "Because my Betsy and Bonnie wouldn't pull a stunt like that."

Uptight Miss Griffin folded her hands atop her desk, full lips pressed into a frown. Her mess of red curls had escaped the clip at the back of her neck, making her look more like a pretty teen ditching school than a full-grown woman teaching it. "While the girls are lucky to have such wonderful support in their corner, the fact remains that our classroom fish tank had an entire package of Kool-Aid spilled in."

"Yes, well—" the tank's purple-tinged water forced Dallas to hide a chuckle "—the goldfish don't seem to mind."

"Since you seem to find this amusing, Mr. Buckhorn, you should know that at the time of the incident, your girls were the only children near the tank."

"Yeah, but did you see them do it?"

After a moment's hesitation, she said, "No, but—"

Dallas stood. "Ever heard the phrase 'innocent until proven guilty'?"

"Sir, with all due respect, this isn't the first time I've had trouble with the girls. They've put popcorn in the plants to see if it would grow. Sneaked cafeteria food into our play kitchen and served it to other students. The last time it rained, they—"

"Whoa." Slapping on his Stetson, Dallas said, "I don't know what you're trying to prove, but if Bonnie and Betsy did all of that, sounds to me like my babies aren't getting adequate supervision. Maybe you're the one who needs looking after?"

On her feet, hand on her hips, she said, "I've been teaching for ten years, and trust me, I understand it must be hard hearing your children are, well…out of control, but—"

Dallas whistled for his girls and they came running. "Did you two do that to the fish tank?" He pointed at the purple mess.

"No, Daddy," they said in unison, big blue eyes wholly innocent.

"There you have it." Hands on their backs, he ushered them to the classroom's door. The smell of crayons and paste was bringing on a headache. Clearly, the teacher must've been sniffing too much of that white school glue. "My girls said they're not guilty. End of story. Before we go, want help switching out the water?"

"He didn't?"

"Oh, he did." Josie put a carrot stick to her mouth and chomped. The teachers' lounge was blessedly quiet.

Josie had a free period while her kiddos were in music class, and she was enjoying every minute with her best friend, Natalie Stump. "Then he and the girls cleaned out the tank. Does that sound like something the father of innocent children would do?"

"No…" Natalie struggled opening a chocolate milk carton. "But it was decent of him. Maybe he has issues with admitting his daughters are anything less than perfect." As Weed Gulch Elementary School's counselor, Natalie was always on the hunt for the best in people. Usually it was a trait Josie found endearing, but in this case, already dreading the twins' next stunt, she wished Dallas Buckhorn would wake up and see the delinquents he was raising.

Josie sighed. "Bonnie and Betsy are adorable and funny and smart, but both have an ornery streak I can't control."

Without thinking, Josie took Natalie's milk carton and had it open in a flash. "You're good at that."

"I'm pretty sure I had a college course on stubborn milk."

"Nothing on tough-to-handle kids though, huh?"

"More than I can count, but these two beat anything I've ever seen. If they continue this trend, by third grade they'll be robbing ice cream trucks."

Natalie chuckled. "They're not that bad."

"Mark my words. This isn't the last time I'll have to confront their father."

"At least he's hot." Natalie poked Josie in the ribs with an elbow. "Makes for interesting parent/teacher conferences."

Heat crept up Josie's neck. Hot was hardly the word. The man was more in the realm of drop-dead gorgeous, but that was beside the point. "He's all right. If you go for that sort." Tall, spiky dirty-blond hair, faded jeans that hugged his—

"Don't even try lying to me. That porcelain skin of yours gives everything away. You're blushing."

"Am not." Josie had always hated her pale complexion, and this was just one more reason why.

The late September day was warm and she dumped her last two baby carrots in the trash, preferring to stand in front of the window air-conditioning unit, letting the cool wash away her crabby mood.

"Let's hope," Natalie said, thankfully off the subject of the all-too-handsome cowboy, "this conference will serve as a wake-up call for the girls. I bet you don't have a lick of trouble from now to the end of the year."

"Betsy! Bonnie! Get down from there before you break every bone in your little bodies!" Beneath the mammoth arms of an oak that'd no doubt been on the playground since before Oklahoma had even been a state, Josie stared up at the Buckhorn twins. How had they scrambled so high? Especially so fast? The first branch was a good five feet from the ground. She'd cautioned the three teachers on playground duty to keep a close watch on the twins, but they reported that the girls had been too quick for anyone to stop them.

"Look at me!" Bonnie shouted, hanging upside down monkey-style at least fifteen feet in the sweltering air.

"I can do it, too!" Betsy shouted, much to Josie's horror, mimicking her sister's stunt. It'd only been a week since Josie's meeting with their dad and already they were finding mischief.

Winded, Natalie approached. "I called their father and he's on his way. Luckily, I caught him on his cell and he's already in town."

"Thanks," Josie said. "Obviously, the girls aren't listening to any of us. Maybe he can talk them down."

"I'm flying!" Bonnie shouted, holding out her arms Wonder Woman-style.

"I wanna try," said pigtailed Megan Brown who gazed at her classmate with wide-eyed awe.

"Me, too!" All of a sudden at least twenty of the thirty-eight kindergarteners outside stormed the tree base. Jumping up and down, they looked more like a riotous mosh pit than normally well-behaved children at recess.

"Bonnie, please," Josie reasoned, hand to her forehead shading her eyes from the sun. "Halloween's almost here and you wouldn't want to ruin your costume with a big cast, would you?"

"Casts are cool!" Jimmy Heath declared. "I broke my leg sledding and Dad painted it camo."

"Ooh." was the crowd consensus.

Josie prayed for calm.

What she got was a black truck hopping the parking lot curb to drive right up onto the playground. At the wheel? Dallas Buckhorn. Lord, how she was well on her way to despising the man. If only he'd taken her seriously during their conference, maybe this wouldn't be happening.

"Come on, kids," Natalie and the other teachers on duty called, gathering the children a safe distance away.

Dallas positioned the truck bed beneath the girls before killing the engine.

Exhaust stung Josie's nose, causing her to sneeze.

"Bless you," he said with a grin and a tip of his hat.

"Daddy!" Betsy cried, waving and swinging. "Look what I can do!"

"I see you, squirrel." He didn't look the least bit disturbed. "Now, before you give your teacher a heart attack, how about you two scramble down from there and into the truck bed."

"Do we have to?" Bonnie asked. "I thought you said it was good for us to climb trees?"

"It is, but that's at home. My guess is that around here, shimmying up things taller than you breaks more than a few rules." Wearing faded jeans, weathered boots, a red plaid Western shirt and his trademark hat, the man looked nothing like a father. More like a cowboy straight off the range.

Natalie leaned over and whispered, "He's so handsome it hurts to look at him."

"Hush," Josie snapped. "This is a serious situa—"

Before she could finish, the girls had scurried down the tree and into the truck bed. Legs rubbery with relief, Josie finally dared to breathe.

"See?" Hat in hand, Dallas sauntered over. His walk was slow and sexy. "My girls are expert climbers. I don't even know why you called."

Stunned by his cavalier attitude, she wasn't sure what to say. "Do you realize that if either of your girls had fallen from that height, they could've been seriously injured?" Focusing on maintaining a professional demeanor, Josie folded her arms and adopted her best stern-teacher expression.

"Do you realize my angels have been climbing trees practically since they could walk? I've taught them to look out for weak branches and to always plan a safe path down." Checking his truck to find the girls surrounded by their friends, he added, "I've done some of my best thinking in an old oak—at least back when I was a teen."

Shaking her head, she struggled for the right words. "You have to understand that at school, there has to be a certain order to our days. There are procedures and rules to follow—not just for safety, but for learning. By condoning your daughters' actions, you've essentially told every student out here that disobeying my rules and those of the other teachers is not only perfectly okay, but heroic."

"Aren't you exaggerating just a tad?" When he held his thumb and forefingers together, he winked. Despite the fact that he was handsome enough to make her swoon, she held her ground. The man was impossible and he brought out the worst in her. She was never this much of a shrew. But she'd also never encountered someone quite so blind. As young as the twins were, now was the time to temper them. Not in their teens when they were already lost.

"No, sir," she said, standing her ground. "I don't believe I am."

"Then where does that leave us?"

Us? She rationally knew he meant their parent/ teacher relationship, but the way he'd slapped his hat back on his head, hooking his thumbs into his back pockets had her distracted. What was wrong with her? Why was it that whenever she came within five feet of him her mind turned to mush and her body fairly hummed? She was finished with men, so why wouldn't her body obey?

"Um…" Josie cleared her throat. "Perhaps you might want to spend time in the classroom with the girls. You'd be able to see what's expected of them, and then pass along the message."

Blanching, he said, "Me? Back in school? No, thanks. Tell you what I will do, though. The girls and I will have a nice, long talk about no more recess tree climbing."

"I'd appreciate it," Josie said, unsure what to do with her hands.

Thankfully, seeing how most of her class had joined the twins in the bed of Dallas's truck, she had more pressing matters than the study of how his hat brim's shadow darkened his eyes.

"Mom," Dallas said that night, chopping an onion for her famous spaghetti sauce, "I swear that woman's going to drive me off the deep end."

Georgina Buckhorn sighed. "How can you be intimidated by a scrap of a kindergarten teacher?"

"Who said I was intimidated?" Dallas brought the knife down especially hard on the onion. The clap of metal hitting the wooden cutting board echoed in the big country kitchen. "She annoys me, that's all."

"Because she speaks the truth and you don't want to hear it?" Her back to him, she took pasta from an upper shelf. She was a tall woman made all the more imposing by the top knot she'd formed with her long silver hair. Once upon a time, before Dallas lost Bobbie Jo, his mother's words had been gold. Now, Dallas resented her for getting into his parenting business. It wasn't that they didn't get along, but where the girls were concerned, they no longer shared the same values.

She always nagged him about the twins needing more discipline, but to his way of thinking, wasn't losing their mother enough? Bobbie Jo had died giving them life. Her last whispered words had been for him to put his love for her into their babies. By God, every day since, that was exactly what he'd done.

Bonnie and Betsy were his world and no one—not his mom and certainly not their teacher—was going to tell him he was a bad parent when his life was dedicated to their happiness.

"Dallas," his mother said, dropping pasta into a pot of already boiling water on the industrial-size stove, "this house is big enough that we can generally keep to our own business, but this is one matter on which I refuse to bend. Sunday night, I caught Betsy drawing all over her bathroom mirror with lipstick. My brand-new Chanel lipstick I bought last time we were in Tulsa. When I asked her to help clean the mess, she crossed her arms, raised her chin and flat out told me, 'no.' Now, does that sound reasonable to you?"

After dumping diced onions into a pan filled with Italian sausage, he took the cutting board and knife to the sink, running them both under water.

"Ignore me all you want, but deep down, you know I'm right." Behind him, her hand on his shoulder, she added, "A large part of being a good parent is sometimes being the bad guy. You have to set boundaries. Just like your father and I did with you and your brothers."

"That's different. We were all hell on horseback."

She snorted. "Like your girls are any different because they're only riding the ponies you gave them for Christmas?"

"They love those cuties." He bristled. "Ponies topped the twins' Santa lists."

"Doesn't make it right." She stirred the meat and onions that'd started to sizzle above a gas flame. "Clint Eastwood topped my wish list, but you don't see me out gallivanting, do you?"

"You're impossible." His back turned, he took his work coat from the peg mounted alongside the back door. "I'm going to check the cattle."

"Mark my words, Dallas Buckhorn, you might temporarily hide from this situation, but sooner or later you have to deal with your rambunctious girls."

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Meet the Author

Laura Marie Altom of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is the bestselling, award-winning author of over forty books. Her works have made several appearances on bestseller lists, and she has over a million books in print worldwide. This former teacher and mother of twins has spoken on numerous occasions at both regional and national conferences, and has been married to her college sweetheart for twenty-six years.

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