The gun-shy cowboy
A cowboy's scars can last a lifetime. Ty Slater's cheerfulness is a carefully constructed armor. After losing his parents in a tragic accident, he was fostered at Thunder Mountain Ranch. Although he's learned how to survive, he hides a broken heart. He knows love leads to loss, so he's vowed never to fall in love
Unfortunately, Ty's attraction to Whitney Yates is nothing short of a maelstrom, a desire that threatens his resolve. When she's stranded at Thunder Mountain for Christmas, Ty realizes he'd better find Whitney's flaw, and fastbecause his lust is too damn close to love. This red-hot cowboy is ready to bolt unless Whitney shows him that some rides are definitely worth the risk.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Ty Slater was beat, but the decorated streetlamps in Sheridan's historic business district perked him up considerably. A large dose of caffeine would help even more. He parked in front of Rangeland Roasters, a family-owned coffee shop that had originated in Cheyenne but had recently expanded to a second location in Sheridan.
They brewed great coffee, and he'd meant to check out the new shop when he'd visited his foster parents back in August. So he'd try it out now, instead. He didn't want to arrive at Thunder Mountain Ranch for Thanksgiving weekend dragging ass. If he did, Rosie and Herb would fuss over him.
Years ago he wouldn't have minded a little fussing. But he was twenty-seven for God's sake, with a grownup job as a contract lawyer at a well-respected Cheyenne firm.
He'd burned the midnight oil to get his work done before the holiday, and a cup of coffee would keep him from falling asleep during the pre-Thanksgiving Day supper, which was guaranteed to feature tuna casserole. He loved that casserole almost more than he loved the turkey dinner they'd enjoy tomorrow.
He climbed out of his truck into slushy snow that had gathered near the curb. Gray clouds promised more of the same before nightfall, which made the cozy coffee shop even more inviting. Candy canes and delicate snowflake decorations covered the windows, and an evergreen wreath topped with a red bow hung on the door.
Stomping the slush from his boots, he stepped inside where warmth and the fragrance of roasted coffee beans and peppermint greeted him. Manly cowboy types weren't supposed to like flavored coffee, but he might break ranks and order the one they called Peppermint Pleasure.
He unbuttoned his shearling coat and glanced around. The place had drawn a crowd on this cold November afternoon, so most of the tables were taken. A Christmas tree in the corner decorated with coffee-related ornaments looked similar to the tree he'd seen in the Cheyenne location. The tree topper featured the Rangeland Roasters logo, a double R positioned back-to-back on a tan coffee mug.
Branding was always a good thing, and this shop felt very much like the one in Cheyenne. A cheerful buzz of conversation overlaid the carols playing in the background. Fortunately for the owners, the expansion gamble appeared to have paid off.
As he stood in line waiting to order, he recognized one of the baristas who used to work in the Cheyenne location. She'd made an impression on him last summer with her jaunty blond ponytail and ready smile. She was at least five-ten and looked athletic, as if she might be a runner and possibly a skier.
He pictured the nametag she'd worn in Cheyenne. Whitney. An unusual name, but he would have remembered it anyway. When something was important to him, he took a mental snapshot and stored it away.
He'd felt the tug of mutual attraction whenever she'd taken his order but he'd been dating someone during the time she'd worked in Cheyenne. She might have been involved with somebody, too. He hadn't bothered to find out because there'd been no point.
Then one day she wasn't there anymore and he hadn't asked about that, either. Now she'd popped back into his life and he was ridiculously happy to see her. He should ignore that sudden burst of pleasure.
He wasn't dating anyone these days, but getting involved with a woman who lived in Sheridan made no sense. As many hours as he put in at the firm, being separated by a five-hour drive wasn't an optimal situation. And that was assuming she was free and he'd been right about her interest.
All that aside, he looked forward to saying hello and finding out how things were going. The dynamic with the other two employees suggested she was in charge, so maybe she'd been given the manager's job. He wouldn't be surprised considering her brisk efficiency and easy rapport with customers.
Then he saw the calendar on the wall behind her. Aw, hell, he'd forgotten. He'd probably find it plastered all over town. He pulled his Stetson a little lower over his eyes. Like that would help.
There he was in all his gloryshirtless, arms folded on the rail of a corral, hat at a rakish angle and a cocky grin on his unshaven mug. The photographer had insisted on the scruff. The other guys had been clean-shaven and she'd wanted him to look as if he'd just crawled out of bed with a lover.
Apparently he did look like that. He'd had several women hit on him as a result of the calendar and he'd had a brief affair with one of them. She'd expected him to live up to that manufactured image and hadn't been the least bit interested in getting to know who he really was. After that he'd turned down any similar invitations.
He had no one to blame but himself. He'd been the genius who'd suggested a beefcake calendar to promote Thunder Mountain Academy, a new project based at the ranch where he'd lived as a foster kid for three years. The residential school for older teens was designed to teach them everything about horses, plus bring in some much-needed revenue. Turned out his foster parents had been the victims of a Ponzi scheme that had sucked up their life savings.
Ty had been willing to help the cause, and his legal training had come in handy for the Kickstarter campaign that had raised the startup funds for the academy. Because the calendar had been his idea, he'd been talked into being the first pinup guy. He hadn't factored in that a sixteen-month calendar meant he'd be decorating walls everywhere from September through December. He couldn't wait for January first.
He'd taken his share of ribbing from the other lawyers in the firm. The guys thought he should be thrilled that he'd attracted so much female attention. Most of the women in the office now looked at him with a gleam in their eye, even the married ladies. It was embarrassing.
He should be over it by now. He should be used to walking into a public place and seeing himself hanging on the wall. He wasn't.
He looked away from the calendar and met Whitney's brown gaze. "Hi, there, Whitney! Great to see you again. How's it going?" Maybe she'd just ignore the calendar issue.
"Good, real good." She grinned and tilted her head toward the calendar. "And here I thought you were a straightlaced lawyer type."
So she wasn't going to ignore it. Well, he couldn't blame her. He was on a beefcake calendar and most people found that intriguing, especially if they'd only known him as a white-collar professional. "I'm extremely straightlaced. And anal. You should see my sock drawer."
"Sounds like fun."
"Trust me, it's not." Damn it all, each and every time this happened he felt vulnerable, and not only because he was half naked in the picture. Anyone who read the accompanying text would learn he'd been a foster boy at Thunder Mountain Ranch. He wasn't ashamed of it, not at all, but still the information was personal.
He hadn't figured on that kind of exposure when he'd agreed to be the first poster boy for the academy. He'd been swept up in the emotional campaign to save Thunder Mountain Ranch so Rosie and Herb could live out their golden years there. They deserved that.
They'd been put in dire straits through no fault of their own, sort of like he'd been when his parents had died. He'd wanted to help make things right for them. He still did, but man, the calendar stint had been more than he'd bargained for.
Whitney's expression softened. "Sorry to tease you about it. You're probably sick of people doing that."
"It's okay. It's for a good cause."
"Absolutely. So what can I get for you? As I recall, you like black coffee, no embellishments."
"Usually that's true." So she'd remembered his coffee order. Flattering. And he hadn't imagined that tug of mutual attraction last summer, either. They liked each other. Even better, she'd liked him before the calendar had appeared.
He glanced behind him to see if he was holding up the line. Apparently he was at the end of it. "But today I want one of those Peppermint Pleasure lattes, instead."
"Festive choice. Whipped cream?"
"No thanks. Don't want to get too wild and crazy."
"Your choice, but the whipped cream really makes it sing. We sprinkle candy cane chips on top to give the whipped cream some crunch."
"Do you like it like that?"
She held his gaze. "Love it."
Well, now. He suspected they'd moved beyond the subject of peppermint lattes. The room suddenly grew warmer. "Then I guess you'd better lather on the whipped cream and candy cane chips."
"Good decision. For here or to go?"
"I'll drink it here."
The dark-haired girl standing beside Whitney picked up a cup. "So that's a large Peppermint"
"That's okay, Meryl. I've got this." Whitney neatly plucked the cup out of her hand. "Have a seat wherever you can find a space, Ty. I'll bring it to you."
"Thanks, but I haven't paid yet."
"Oh, right." Her laugh was slightly breathless. "Meryl, can you please handle that for me?"
"Absolutely." Meryl stepped to the cash register and took the bill he handed her. "So you're really the guy on that calendar?"
"You should be proud of it. That's an awesome picture, and the calendar's for a great cause. I'd love to attend that academy, but I'm too old. I just turned twenty."
"Maybe eventually they'll open it up to adults." He pocketed his change and added money to the tip jar. "You're not the only one who's expressed an interest. Maybe I should mention it while I'm at the ranch this weekend."
"I wish you would. Sounds great for kids trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. But if you could add a special session for those of us who are still trying to figure that out but don't qualify, agewise, I'll bet you'd get some takers."
"Okay, I'll ask."
"Thanks. And you're even cuter in person." Then she blushed. "Did I just say that out loud?"
He smiled. What a sweetheart. "It's okay."
"At least you're not all stuck-up about being on the calendar. Some guys would be."
"Yeah, definitely," said the other girl, who'd been filling the napkin dispenser and the cream pitcher. She looked to be about the same age as Meryl. She stared at him with an adoring expression. "They'd be all I'm so hot."
"Not my style." Another customer came up behind him and he moved out of the way. "Guess I'd better find a seat." He quickly located an unoccupied table.
So this was the effect of media on a guy's rep. Multiply this by a hundred different sexy impressions, and no wonder movie stars were mobbed. The photographer had created an image of him that didn't exist, and yet women bought into it.
He didn't roll out of bed and pull on jeans, boots and a hat before going out to take care of the horses. He hadn't even done that when he'd lived at Thunder Mountain. Guys might have tackled the morning chores before shaving, assuming they'd had enough of a beard to worry about, but they'd always put on a shirt.
Okay, maybe a few times he'd repaired a fence or shoveled manure without a shirt on. When the job was especially hot and dirty, a cowboy might go bare-chested. But it was the exception to the rule.
Whitney brought over his latte topped with an expert swirl of whipped cream and lightly sprinkled with candy cane bits. "Now isn't that pretty?"
"Sure is." He lifted the cup. Cool, soft whipped cream tickled his upper lip as he got a mouthful of paradise. Coffee, steamed milk and peppermint was a drink fit for the gods.
Licking away the whipped cream, he swept up a few crunchy pieces of candy cane. He closed his eyes and sighed. "Oh, yeah."
"See what you've been missing?"
"Yep." And he wasn't talking about the latte. He looked up at her standing beside his table in her tan Rangeland Roasters shirt and a matching skirt that swished around her knees when she walked. In Cheyenne she'd worn slacks like everyone else. Maybe the skirt was another indication that she was the boss around here.
He decided to seize the day and worry about complications later. "Listen, I'm here until Sunday. Is there any time we might get together for." He paused in confusion. His first move was always a coffee date but Whitney worked in a coffee shop.
She laughed softly. "Coffee?"
"No, I guess not. A different kind of drink, something involving alcohol." He hesitated. "Unless you're seeing someone?"
She shook her head. "Nope."
"Good." Adrenaline rushed through his system, or maybe it was the caffeine. Either way, his heart beat faster.
"I take it you're not with Theresa anymore?"
He blinked in surprise. "You know her?"
"Only by the name I wrote on her coffee cup whenever you'd come in together."
"Good memory. And no, I'm not with Theresa." He met her gaze. "If I had been, I wouldn't have asked you out."
"I figured, but it never hurts to be sure."
"Absolutely." He liked her direct approach. "So what's your schedule? I'm tied up tomorrow, but after that I'm flexible."
"Tomorrow wouldn't work for me, either. I'm covering for several of my employees so they can spend Thanksgiving with their families."
"Then you are the manager."
"Yeah, it was a terrific opportunity and I grabbed it."
"Good for you. But I guess you might not be able to take much time off, considering it's a holiday weekend." He couldn't believe how disappointed he was.
"I will be pretty busy, but I scheduled some free time Friday night to decorate my tree. Want to help me?"
"Sure!" His world brightened. "Can I bring takeout for dinner?"
"That would be wonderful. I don't know if you like Chinese, but"
"I do. Any special requests?"
"I like almost anything, so you can surprise me."
"All right." He couldn't remember ever making a date so effortlessly.
"I get off at six, so give me a half hour to change clothes and haul out the decorations. Got your phone?"
He pulled it out of his coat pocket and keyed in her number and her address as she gave it to him. "And your last name is?"
"Jones. You can text me your number so I have it in case there's a problem with staffing Friday night, but I don't expect one."
"Doing that right now. And by the way, my last name's Slater."
"I know. It's on the calendar."
"Oh." He glanced up from his phone. "Right."
"I've only known you as Ty, but would you rather be called Tyrone?"
"Tyrone's for my clients. Ty's for my friends."
"I doubt I'll ever be your client." She smiled. "So I'll see you Friday night."
"You will, and I'll be armed with Chinese food." He hesitated, almost afraid to say anything more in case he was reading too much into this invitation to help with her tree. "It'll be nice to get to know each other better."
Awareness flashed in her brown eyes. "I think so, too."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thompson is one of those authors who can transport you to the locale of her story through her words. The intricate, picturesque descriptions painted this world for me, allowing me easy access to the unforgettable story that she’s created. The plot was both emotional and romantically infused. The number of different subjects that intertwined throughout made for a complex and multifaceted tale that had me engaged on multiple fronts. Ty’s past comes back to haunt in in many ways during this novel. As he got closer to Whitney throughout I got to know him as he was, is, and wants to be. I loved the many facets of character development that Thompson went into with him. Getting to know Whitney was also a treat. Her beliefs and fears combine with her desires in remarkable ways. I also enjoyed how the final chapter gives readers a sneak peek as to who we get to get up close and personal with in the next novel of the series. Not only did it give me a bit more insight into a character that I’d been hearing about through this novel, but it’s got me counting down the days for the next in the series. As with all the novels in the Thunder Mountain Brotherhood series, this novel is fun, funny, romantic and emotionally hard hitting. Thompson wraps it all up in an exciting and entertaining package that is fantastic for all lovers of modern western romances. Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this work in exchange for an honest review.
These two heats up the house for thanksgiving! WOW! This is a steamy story, the story of two people who both have experienced a great loss in their lives, that have shaped up the people they are today. But both of them have a very different way to approach life and the grief, and no matter their feelings, this will eventually affect their relationship as well. I loved the series when it first started, with the foster boys, their brotherhood and all for one attitude, with their love for Rosie and Herb, and tuna casserole, bringing them all together. A good part of the previous stories in the series were dedicated to the way they were all working on to save the ranch and built up the academy. This story is just a love story between Ty and Whitney, with lots of heat and sexy fun. Some of the brothers still show up, and of course Rosie and Herb, but I kind of missed the tune of the earlier series. But regardless, the story is good, it is great entertainment, and surely will keep you warm this holiday, there's no doubt about that ~ Four Spoons
My Thoughts: I think it would be completely impossible not to fall in love with new stories in this series, because every time I pick up another one, I'm in love all over again. Ty and Whitney have known each other from his stops at her coffee place, but when they first met he was with somebody. After she starts working at a different place and he runs into her again, he's available and interested in something more with her. While they do have an intense lust about each other, there's something blooming below the surface that keeps them going. Everything about their relationship goes much deeper, and as time goes on, they discover the things they truly want from life. A Cowboy Under the Mistletoe is another winner from Vicki Lewis Thompson! Ty and Whitney have this perfect pairing about them, friendship mixed with lust and love. I loved seeing them grow together and fall together. I could never get enough of the wonderful people in the Thunder Mountain Brotherhood series. I don't want to see it end because not only are the love stories amazing, but so is the setting. Gorgeous and lovely and you feel like you're there. My Rating: Very Good