Real Cowboys

Real Cowboys

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by Roz Denny Fox

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She'd sworn to never love another cowboy…

Taking a teaching job in a desolate corner of Idaho was Kate Steele's way of making sure her in-laws didn't turn her son, Danny, into a shiftless broncobuster like his father. Except in the middle of nowhere she unexpectedly ran headlong into a genuine buckaroo….

Being a good parent and a born


She'd sworn to never love another cowboy…

Taking a teaching job in a desolate corner of Idaho was Kate Steele's way of making sure her in-laws didn't turn her son, Danny, into a shiftless broncobuster like his father. Except in the middle of nowhere she unexpectedly ran headlong into a genuine buckaroo….

Being a good parent and a born rancher were all that mattered to Ben Trueblood—until gutsy Kate Steele came along. Suddenly he found himself explaining to Danny that the rodeo circuit wasn't all that exciting…and considering the idea of hanging up his spurs.

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Needed ASAP Certified K-8 Teacher Near Owyhee, Idaho, One-room school Grades 1-8 Approximately 20 pupils Benefits include a two-bedroom cabin Fax resume to Marge Goetz, School Board President 208 555-8809 Will do a telephone interview

Kate Steele smoothed the creased job circular and reread the ad for the umpteenth time. The promise of housing was a bonus. She checked her cover letter one last time before stealthily rolling her wheelchair into her father-in-law's ranch office and firing it off on the fax. Impatiently, she waited for confirmation of receipt. When it slid into the tray, she folded it with the other papers and tucked them behind her in case she ran into her mother-in-law in the hall. Kate's watch said 9:00 a.m., which meant the Steeles' Fort Worth ranch had been in full swing for three hours. It would be eight in Idaho. Kate hoped Marge Goetz worked eight to five.

A preliminary search on her laptop hadn't found any mention of the town of Owyhee, but a county by the same name bordered Idaho, Oregon and Nevada. Agriculture was listed as the county's main industry since the mines had played out. Farm country sounded wonderful. Kate had been born and raised in Kansas. At least it would get Danny away from his grandparents' ranch, which perpetuated his obsession with calf roping and rodeos.

Rolling along the hall, Kate told herself not to pin her hopes on this job. Why would Marge Goetz have to look as far as Texas to find a teacher? The hiring committee probably wouldn't be keen on the fact she was a widowed mom with an almost eleven-year-old son. Plus she hadn't taught in a while. She wondered if that was why she'd lost out on five positions in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It was late in the year to find a teaching job, but that didn't stop Kate from crossing her fingers.

By four o'clock that afternoon, Marge Goetz had called and offered Kate the job.

Once Kate hung up, she pinched herself to be sure she wasn't dreaming.

But the thrill didn't last long. At supper, Kate had to break the news to Royce and Mel-anie Steele…and Danny.

Melanie, Kate's mother-in-law, almost dropped the bowl of green beans she was passing to her husband. "Idaho? Kate…dear…you can't be serious. I said I would ask Rich North, principal at Tumbleweed, if he'd let you sub. It's just I've been busy lately."

"I appreciate that, but I really wanted a permanent job."

"Nonsense, you're not ready to be in a classroom full days."

"Dr. Pearsall thinks I am." Kate glanced at her son to reassure him. Danny had tended to worry about her since the car accident. "I'm fine," she insisted.

Melanie set the beans down and rushed from the room. Royce, a taciturn rancher, followed his wife. Kate wondered sometimes if he'd be happier if she just stayed in her wheelchair in the background. He'd disapproved when she'd ordered a pickup with hand controls and an automatic lift to load and unload her wheelchair. Royce said Colton's life-insurance settlement should go toward Danny's future. Kate didn't point out to her fatherin-law that if she hadn't culled money from her meager food budget to pay the premiums, her rodeo-chasing husband wouldn't have had life insurance.

And the Steeles' plan for Danny's future was that he'd one day be a champion calf roper, like his father.

Danny was silent after his grandparents left the table, even though Kate tried to get him to talk to her. She regretted not telling Danny her plans first—the fact that she hadn't was just one more indication that she needed to be on her own with her son. Much later, when she went in to say good-night, Kate found him sitting at the window. He had one arm draped around Goldie, his golden retriever. The other held a worn lasso that had been his dad's.

"Hey, guy, you should be in bed."

"I don't want to move." He pinned her with serious hazel eyes. "I heard Mimi tell Pawpaw that this move will use all our money. She said we'll go off and forget them…and Daddy."

"Danny, honey, they want us—well, you—to fill an empty hole your daddy left in their lives. That's too big a burden for you. It's just…time…we all move on."

"But, Mimi says if we stay in Fort Worth, by this winter I can enter the Little Britches Rodeo and win it like Dad did at my age."

Tensing, Kate didn't respond. During her recovery she'd watched from her bedroom window as Danny had devoted long hours to roping fence posts. That rodeo dream was the main reason she needed to get him away from the ranch. She patted Goldie, gently removed the rope from Danny's hand and motioned for him to go to bed. "I'm looking forward to getting back into the classroom, you know. This will be a grand adventure, you'll see."

Kate braked the truck and a thin layer of dust settled on her windshield. For three days she'd endured Danny's sulks and Goldie's hot breath on her neck while she'd pulled a wobbly horse trailer through a dusty landscape dotted with juniper and brittle natural grass. Now she'd run out of dirt road.

In a clearing, a weathered gray cabin sat tucked beneath scraggly pines. Beside it stood an ancient corral and adjoining stall that leaned in the same direction as the wind-bent pines. Off to the right of the house, down a steep slope, sat a small, unpainted shed. Kate yanked on the hand brake, hoping against hope that she wasn't looking at a primitive outhouse.

Stirring for the first time in hours, Danny unbuckled his seat belt and scooted forward. He clutched his dog and his beloved lasso. "Why are we stopping?"

"Uh, I think this is it."


"Our new home, silly boy."

"Pawpaw's bulls live in a nicer place," he announced.

Kate ruffled his hair. "Yes, but everyone knows he babies his bulls." It was a weak attempt at levity. And a knot tightened in her chest. Marge Goetz had said she and her husband owned a sugar-beet farm. But the high plateau Kate had seen thus far couldn't have been classed as farmland.

"Maybe you took a wrong turn, Mom."

Kate rechecked her map and shook her head.She felt Goldie snuffle her ponytail and reached back to rub the dog's soft nose. "This is it. See the red flag on the porch rail? Mrs. Goetz said our landlord would tie one on a pine where we should turn and another on our cabin."

Finally Kate cracked open her door. "It's getting late. We'd better see what's what, Danny. Today's Labor Day and school starts tomorrow. We need to unpack. I've got no idea when it gets dark here." She waved a hand toward the horse trailer. "Unload Flame, feed him, then use the hand cart to haul boxed bedding inside. I'll start with making beds." Kate hadn't wanted to bring the horse. But two of Colton's animals had had to be put down at the scene of their car wreck. Flame was left and Royce had given him to Danny. Against her better judgment, Kate had phoned Marge Goetz and found out the cabin did have accommodations for a horse.

"I've gotta unload all our stuff by myself?"

"Yes. Well, you and me, sport."

"Can't the guy who owns this place come help us tote boxes?"

"Danny, I'm sure he's a busy farmer."

"Well, I'm just a kid."

Kate turned to her son. "We can do this, Danny." She hit the button for the lift that would lower her electric wheelchair to a level where she could slide from the truck seat and drop into the chair as she'd practiced repeatedly. She'd been without the use of her legs since the terrible accident on the Oklahoma turnpike that had killed her husband. Kate had been poked and prodded by a dozen doctors, none able to pinpoint a physical reason for her paralysis. No one had used the word psychosomatic, but Kate knew that's what some of them thought. Kindly Dr. Pearsall said he was confident that one day something would click and Kate would get up and walk. He'd given her exercises so her muscles would be ready if and when the time came. Like right.

After two years, even Kate had begun to doubt Dr. Pearsall's optimism. And her in-laws had long ago relegated her to invalid status.

Her chair bumped hard against the packed dirt. She unlocked the overhead clamp. Flashing Danny a confident smile, she slid from the pickup.

Seeing his mother meant business, he crawled a bit more reluctantly from the backseat. "What if your chair won't go up that hill?"

"It's a gradual incline. Marge Goetz said the cabin owner would leave a door key under a clay flower pot on the porch. You can unlock the door." Kate didn't want him hanging back, maybe seeing her struggle. She had to do this. Returning to Fort Worth simply wasn't an option.

"Hey," he called moments later. "It's not so bad inside. It's got new wood floors and cabinets and it smells like Mr. Duffy's workshop."

Her chair crested the slope, and Kate breathed easier. Otis Duffy, Royce's handyman, made furniture in his spare time, and Danny loved helping him.

"Oops, I see my first obstacle. Steps. But speaking of Mr. Duffy, he nailed together a couple of ramps in case I might need them. Will you bring one from the pickup? Leave the other. It's possible I'll need it at school."

Danny left and returned lugging the ramp. "My old school had concrete ramps for kids who couldn't climb stairs."

"Your school had twelve hundred students for six grades. This school has only fourteen students in eight grades and they all arrive at school in a single van."

"Are they dorky? That's who rode vans to Tumbleweed."

"Daniel Royce Steele, I'm ashamed of you. I don't want to ever hear you call special-needs kids dorky again."

Danny's lower lip jutted. He buried a hand in Goldie's yellow fur. "I had more than fourteen kids in my calf-roping class. Do any kids here rodeo? I didn't see any cows."

Kate hadn't asked Marge that question, although in talking about the area, Marge had called it the land of the last buckaroo. Buckaroo was another word for cowboy, and Kate hoped that meant the cowboys were all gone. "Danny, it costs a lot for rodeo gear and things like entry fees."

"Pawpaw and Mimi will give us money."

She straightened from securing the makeshift ramp to the porch. "No. From now on we make do with what I earn. You'll get a weekly allowance for helping me with household chores. I expect you to save part, and the rest will buy feed and pay vet bills if you want to keep Flame."

"Not keep him? Flame's the best roping horse in all of Texas."

"We aren't in Texas anymore, Daniel," Kate said, aware she sounded a bit like Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz. "From here on we live in a place called Owyhee, Idaho."

"Idaho stinks." Danny kicked the porch step.

Recognizing a look she'd often seen Colton wear if things didn't go his way only convinced Kate all the more that leaving Texas had been a good idea.

Marge Goetz passed a mug of steaming black coffee to the neighbor who stood on her front porch talking to her husband, Ray. "Before you two get so deep into hashing over today's Bureau of Land Management meeting, tell me, Ben, did our new teacher get moved into your cabin?"

"Danged if I know." Ben Trueblood blew on his hot coffee and shifted his gaze to the hills where the cabin sat. His land butted up next to the farm where Ray and Marge raised sugar beets and onions. "Last week I tied red flags like you asked and left the box of folders. Chad Keevler finished the kitchen and new bathroom that the board approved. Out of curiosity, why wouldn't she get here? You said she sounded reliable." He declined to sit in the empty chair Ray offered and braced a knee-high boot on one rung instead.

Hearty, sandy-haired Ray dusted off his work jeans before dropping into another chair. "Marge is fussing because I had to take her SUV to town for engine work, leaving her without wheels. The board hired the Steele woman on Marge's recommendation. Since Sikes's reserve unit was called to active duty and left our kids teacherless midterm last year, I think she feels…"

"Yeah, yeah," Marge cut in. "Responsible. I feel responsible. Can you blame me? We found Ms. Steele so late, the Martins already sent their twins to board with Sue's sister in Elko. The district superintendent says if we dip under twelve kids, the county will suspend our funding. By my calculations, we're at an even dozen."

"Counting the teacher's kid? Did I dream you said she's a widow with a school-aged son?" Trueblood gestured with his mug.

"That's right. Her boy's ten, the same age as Jeff, our youngest." Marge still sounded worried.

Ray patted her on the butt. "Hon, you're determined to fret."

"If homeschooling our boys had fallen to you after the army took Sikes, you'd fret, too. Not a family in the valley is anxious to go on tryin' to teach their kids at home. How much of the curriculum did you teach Clover?" she asked Ben, looking over at the elfin eight-year-old girl with long, black hair who was chasing butterflies through a cow pasture. Every now and then the child stopped to pet one of the massive, white-faced Herefords.

"Now, Marge. Sikes got called up when I was bogged down with the first lawsuit brought by that conservation group who wants the BLM to revoke all grazing leases on public lands. I had to turn Clover's home-schooling packet over to Bobbalou."

Marge scoffed. "What can Lou Bobolink teach a girl?" She used the given name of Ben's old friend and longtime camp cook.

Ben grinned. "How to make beef stew and sourdough biscuits? Hell, Marge, after the recreational ATVers jumped into the land squabble, I had no choice. Vida got sick and couldn't keep house for a while, or she might've helped with lessons. Although, Clover likes trailing the herd."

"Because you let her do as she pleases. You have, Ben Trueblood, from the day she turned up a crying bundle in your barn."

The sharp, sometimes brittle obsidian eyes jerked up at Marge's harsh accusation, but almost as quickly the lean lines of Ben's bronze face softened. "Look at her. She's happy. And a damned sight brighter than some folks give her credit for. Clover's got a way with animals like nobody I've ever run across. One day she'll make a great veterinarian."

"Not without education and discipline," Marge said.

Ray cleared his throat. "Don't rag on Ben, hon. Everybody knows Clover's way better off with him than those teens from the Shoshone or Paiute reservation who dumped her at his place."

"Leave it," Ben said, cutting Ray off. Ben had been born on one of those reservations. No one had to tell him about the harsh existence faced by those two kids he'd caught sight of running from his property that icy night.

"Marge, I'd like to devote more time to Clover. But I figure the best thing I can do for her is fight like hell to hang on to a ranch Bobbalou and I started carving out of this unforgiving land when I was fourteen. I've never blamed Clover's mother, whoever she is. I broke free of the bad crap that perpetuates itself on reservations. Percy and me, we had Lou, and he knew to leave the res and buy his own land. It's not as easy for kids today, what with our land being gobbled up or fought over."

"This land is sucking us all dry," Marge said.

Draining his mug, Ben set it on the porch rail. "Bud Martin, Percy Lightfoot, me and a scant few others are damned lucky to keep ranching the way it's meant to be done. Letting cows roam free in the tradition brought here a hundred years ago."

Meet the Author

Roz Fox, a.k.a Roz Denny and Roz Denny Fox began her writing career with Harlequin Books in 1989, and has since written nearly 50 romances centered around home, love, and family for Harlequin Romance, Super Romance, American, Signature Select, Everlasting Love, and online serials for eharlequin. Roz currently resides in Tucson, Arizona.

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Real Cowboys 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A high-concept romance, Ms. Fox joins together two complete opposites making this Harlequin Super Romance sizzle. Kate Steele has been crippled by love, literally and figuratively. Having come from a desolate marriage to a rodeo cowboy who chased woman as flagrantly as he chased a win, Kate was on the verge of ending a painful chapter in her life. Yet fate robs her of closure as a highway accident takes him from her and leaves her unable to walk. With the help of her son, Kate leaves the overbearing world of her in-laws and ventures into life, determined to make it on her own far away from the ways of reckless cowboys. Taking a teaching position in rural Idaho, she expects to find a hotbed of agricultural farming. Too late, she finds a small town lacking in single women and an abundance of men who call themselves buckaroos but embrace the tough existence of ranching she had hoped to leave behind. Still, one man stands out from the moment they meet and Ben Trueblood is more than he seems. He needs Kate as much as she needs him. Romance sparks between Ben and Kate with the air of inevitability born by a mature relationship. Each completes the other and heals the wounds left behind while forging a new existence where love finds a foothold to flourish. Ms. Fox creates a compelling story of hope and healing unlike any this reviewer has read before.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Worried about her ten year old son Danny ¿replacing¿ his late father Colton in the minds of his paternal grandparents, wheelchair bound Kate Steels accepts a teaching position in Owyhee, Idaho teaching 20 students ranging from first to eighth grade. When she tells her in-laws that she is taking a position in Idaho, Royce and Melanie Steele are outraged as they insist she is not ready for permanent work and their grandson needs them if he is going to be a rodeo star like his late father. Kate worries that the Steeles see Danny as a viable substitute for Colton.------------ Danny hates the move as his grandparents have spoiled him in their efforts to relive the glory of their late son especially at the Little Britches Rodeo competition. Meanwhile Idaho rancher Ben Trueblood considers quitting the rodeo circuit to work full time as a rancher and to be a full time dad to his adopted daughter Clover when he meets Kate and Danny. Though he doubts the Texan will survive the winter, he hopes she does because he is falling in love with her she feels the same way but Kate rejects the idea of a rodeo rancher husband as one was enough to last a lifetime and her in-laws still want him home.-------------- Readers will enjoy this entertaining ¿Home on the Ranch¿ contemporary romance as the lead couple fall in love, their children abetted by her in-laws have a different agenda. The story line is character driven by the six prime players, which leads to a richly fulfilling family drama as each is unique with varying needs. Though the wrap-up coda at a Texas airport restaurant after a late Amber Alert like suspense seems too nice, fans will appreciate Roz Denny Fox¿s deep tale.--------- Harriet Klausner