The Christmas Cowboy

The Christmas Cowboy

by Judy Christenberry

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The Christmas Cowboy by Judy Christenberry

Hank Ledbetter's bachelor status was downright legendary in the state of Colorado. And with every member of his family finding true love—three weddings in one year!—Hank was the lone holdout on the Lazy L cattle and dude ranch. Then city slicker Andrea Jacobs arrived for the holidays….
Andrea brought a whopper of a secret with her—but she made no secret that she was attracted to the strong, sexy, smooth-talking cowboy. Surrounded by her newly wedded friends and sharing the Ledbetters' holiday cheer was going to make this Christmas a very special one. And even though she hadn't come looking for one, could she rope herself a cowboy husband for Christmas?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460393307
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 08/17/2015
Series: Lazy L Ranch , #3
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 288,120
File size: 971 KB

About the Author

Judy Christenberry, hasn't always been a writer, but she's always been a dreamer. As a child, for entertainment while doing chores, she told herself stories-she was always the heroine. However, Judy didn't start writing until she turned thirty-eight, just one year after her father's unexpected death.

After this, she realized life promised no guarantees about how much time you have. Why wait to pursue your dreams?

She had begun reading Harlequin Romance novels about ten years earlier, so romance writing came naturally.

Over time, Judy realized two central themes dominating her writing: family and small town/country life. Many of her books have cowboy heroes, partly because she read all Zane Grey's romantic versions of the Old West as a teenager, and partly because her parents grew up on farms.

As a child, Judy was surrounded by animals. Her father raised a few head of cattle to keep meat on the table. At one time or another, there were sheep, Thanksgiving turkeys, ducks and dogs, and there were always chickens.

Raised in a family of four children with a stay-at-home mom who was a terrific cook and an excellent teacher, where family tradition was concerned, Judy learned the importance of family at an early age. But, family comes in all shapes and flavors. What's important isn't the two parents and the 2.5 children, it's love and support.

The last element that frequently appears in Judy's stories is a dash of humor, just enough to bring a smile to your face. She believes laughter is good medicine and it definitely makes a six-foot hunk even more attractive!

Therefore, it may surprise readers when they discover Judy was born andraised inDallas, Texas: a major city. In addition, her marriage ended fifteen years ago. Yet, with support from her mother and siblings, Judy and her two daughters discovered their own definition of family. She taught during the day, wrote at night, pursued her dream and raised her children.

Now, with her daughters pursuing their own dreams, Judy writes full-time and is wrapped up in her storytelling. She lives each new adventure with the vigor of a young girl, still dreaming up tales while washing dishes. She hopes to entertain her readers as much as she entertains herself!

Read an Excerpt

Hank Ledbetter was hungry.

After a long day in the saddle he couldn't wait to devour the meal his sister had waiting in the kitchen at the Lazy L. But Jessica allowed no one to eat until the entire family was at the table. Whatever was left of the family, he thought.

Right now his brother, Pete, was on his honeymoon, as was his grandfather Cliff and his new bride, Leslie. Jess, too, had married only last summer.

Yes, the Ledbetters were dropping like flies.

Hank's belly growled. There'd be no wedding in his future.

All he was concerned with was eating his dinner and getting to town to see the ladies. He wasn't picky about his women. Brunettes, blondes, redheads… Didn't matter to Hank, as long as they made him laugh and weren't empty between the ears.

And weren't interested in roping themselves a cowboy for a husband.

"Jess, can't we at least get started without Jim?" After a full day's work, Hank needed nourishment.

His sister shook her head. "Hold your horses. He had to take a phone call. I'm sure he'll be here in a minute."

"Can't he just tell them we're closed until December?"

"No, he can't, Hank. You know that."

He should've known Jess would think Jim did the right thing, no matter what. After all, hadn't Jim agreed last summer to wait for a honeymoon until October— it was now November—when the Lazy L dude-and-cattle ranch was closed to guests until December? Not many men would be willing to postpone what Hank assumed was the best part of marriage.

Not that he would ever find out, he told himself again as he shook his head. He was having too much fun. He and Jim had split their jobs so that neither had to work every day, which left Hank plenty of time for the social life he was enjoying in nearby Steamboat Springs.

At the sound of boot heels, he looked up. "'Bout time you got here. I'm starving."

Jim Bradford kissed his wife before he took a seat. "That's why it pays to be married to the cook," he said with a grin.

Jessica joined them at the table and Jim said the blessing. As she started passing the dishes, she asked, "Who was it on the phone?"

"It was an interesting call," Jim said as he took a bite of a freshly baked roll. He looked up at Hank. "Means you won't have to take care of the cattle anymore, Hank. You're in charge of the horses."

On one hand, that was good news, since Hank preferred horses to cows anytime. But he didn't understand why the change.

"What are you talking about, Jim?"

"That call was from a young woman who needs to learn to ride in a month. She's willing to pay a lot for lessons."

Jess asked the question that was on Hank's mind. "Why's she coming here?"

"She says she heard about us from a friend of a friend."

This time Hank spoke first. "Where's she from?"

"New York City."

Hank's hand stilled on its way to his mouth, the beef stew dripping from his fork. "A city woman is coming all the way to Colorado to learn to ride? Can't she learn in New York?"

"She wants to learn to ride like a cowboy." Jim dug in to his food. "Anyway, she's going to take the bedroom next to ours, with the private bath."

"This isn't fair! I was supposed to have the whole month off. No guests till December—that was the deal."

"Except for tending the horses, that's true," Jim said calmly. "And that's why you'll receive extra pay for the month. Can't you use a little extra cash?"

"I think I'd rather tend the horses half the week and tend the ladies the other half." Hank couldn't help the smile that lit his dark eyes.

Jim named a figure. "You sure you can't use the money? I did promise the woman, after all."

The amount was tempting. Still… "Why don't you teach her to ride!" He had to hold his ground, or Jim and Jess would trot all over him the way they did last summer when the family decided to turn the cattle ranch into a dude ranch. Hank was the only holdout. He'd given Jess so much resistance that his granddad had called in an outside manager. Once Jim came, he not only stole his sister's heart, he whipped Hank into shape. But Jim wasn't getting his way this time.

"Then you'd have to deal with the ranch by yourself," Jim replied calmly. "And you wouldn't get the extra money. And you'd have to work six days a week."

Jim had a point. After all, he couldn't expect Jess to fill in for Mary Jo, Pete's wife and the ranch chef, and work the herd at the same time.

"Damn it, Jim, I didn't volunteer for this job."

"I know, Hank. But one of us has to teach her. And my wife isn't much in favor of me giving private lessons to a single lady." He winked at Jess. "But it's your choice, Hank. Either teach the lady to ride for a month or tend the horses and work the herd six days a week."

Hank ground his teeth. He didn't like either choice.

"Did she say she was staying until she learned to ride, or the full month?"

"She's paying in advance for a full month, so she's staying."

"Damn, damn, damn," Hank muttered.

"It won't be that bad, Hank," Jess interjected. "She'll probably be too sore to ride much in the beginning."

"True, Jess," her husband concurred. He turned to Hank. "And you've got to promise not to try to get rid of her before the end of the month. Be nice to her."

Hank frowned at Jim again. "Fine," he said.

He picked up his fork again, but the food that had enticed him only minutes ago no longer appealed. He pushed away from the table.

"With my luck she'll be three hundred pounds and ugly as sin."

Hank found himself in the Denver airport two days later. He'd made an effort to clean himself up, wearing a nice western shirt with pressed jeans, a belt buckle he'd won in a Cheyenne rodeo and his dress Resistol hat. He was even wearing his dress boots, all for this wealthy woman.

Jess had given him the seal of approval before he left the ranch earlier that morning. Then she'd handed him a sign to hold up, with the lady's name printed on it. Andrea Jacobs.

Her name made her sound stuck up. Just one more fault to add to the long list Hank had drawn up in his mind. His imagination had already turned her into one damn near impossible woman.

He leaned against the wall in the baggage-claim area, watching people come and go. When the first group of travelers came through the door, he held up the sign, figuring she'd be traveling first-class. A rather large woman came through the door, and Hank grimaced behind the placard, certain she had to be the one.

"Excuse me," said a voice beside him. "I'm Andrea Jacobs."

He turned his head and stared. Slender and young, the woman had long, wavy, brown hair that shone with red highlights. She was more than pretty. "You are?" he asked, shocked by her appearance—and his luck.

"Last time I checked my ID I was." The woman smiled and showed perfect white teeth. "Thank you for holding up a sign. Your manager said to look for a tall man with a cowboy hat, but—" she looked around "—there seem to be a lot of tall men with cowboy hats in the terminal."

He stiffened a bit. "It's ranch country, ma'am." He wanted to remind her she wasn't in New York anymore, but held his tongue. "Did you bring luggage?"

She looked at him as if he was crazy. "You expected me to arrive without luggage for a month's stay?"

Little Miss Andrea Jacobs sure had an attitude. He was beginning to wish the heavyset woman he'd spotted earlier was his new pupil. She might have been easier to manage. "Let's get your bags, then," he growled.

It wasn't what he wanted to say, but he'd promised his sister and brother-in-law he'd be on best behavior.

Andrea Jacobs was irritated.

She followed the cowboy to the baggage-claim area and now he just stood there as the luggage spun around on the carousel. He hadn't asked her what her bags looked like. Were they going to wait until everyone else had claimed their luggage?

What kind of man was this?

He hadn't even bothered to introduce himself when they met.

When she'd decided to take these lessons, she'd had all these romantic notions about a cowboy who would teach her how to ride. Maybe she'd read too many books and seen too many westerns, but she'd expected a strong, old-fashioned kind of man, one who could ride like the wind and rope a rustling steer, but treat a woman like a prized possession.

Instead she got him.

When the couple beside her heaved their bags off the carousel, he finally turned to her. "How many bags do you have?"

"Three. They're bright blue," she said begrudgingly.

She began to think that maybe this hadn't been the best idea. Maybe she should never have decided to learn to ride just so she could impress her—

"Aren't you even looking for your luggage?"

She turned to him. "Excuse me?"

"You look like you're daydreaming and meanwhile a couple of blue bags have been going around. I don't know what your suitcases look like, so you'd best pay attention."

This oaf wasn't anything like the nice man from the Lazy L dude ranch she'd spoken to on the phone. He'd promised she'd be a great rider in a month and gather memories to last a lifetime.

"Are those your bags coming up?" His impatient voice intruded on her thoughts again.

She looked up. "Yes, those three."

She grabbed two of the bags and set them at her feet. Then he chased after the third bag.

"I'll carry the middle bag," she said when he returned.

"I can manage," he said tersely.

"Fine." She'd been trying to be gracious but if he insisted on carrying everything, then so be it. She stepped back so he could lead the way to his vehicle. She only hoped it was comfortable. She'd gotten up very early this morning to catch her flight. Though she'd planned to sleep on the flight, she'd sat next to a woman who had talked to her the entire trip.

Certainly, Mr. Sourpuss wouldn't intrude on her naptime.

Though she'd have liked to stop somewhere for lunch, she wouldn't suggest such a nicety to this man. The sooner they got to the ranch, the better.

His vehicle was a late-model Lexus sedan. She could take a nice nap in that car. He stowed her luggage in the trunk, then opened the passenger-side door for her. The small courtesy warmed her, but she certainly wasn't won over yet.

When he pulled the car into traffic, she expected he'd talk about the ranch, but he was quiet, only the sounds of country music on the radio preventing total silence.

Fine with her. She lay her head back and was almost asleep when she felt the car slowing. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm hungry," the cowboy replied.

Looking around, she noticed they'd pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant called The Prime Rib. She inhaled the scent of barbecued beef.

"The ranch is two hours away. I need to eat." With that he got out of the car.

Andrea sat there, not sure if she should follow.

Her door opened. "Are you getting out?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't understand that you…" Never mind, she told herself. She simply got out of the car and followed him into the restaurant.

The place was much nicer than she would expect the oaf beside her to frequent.

When they were seated and the server approached their table, he barked, "We'll take a 'mucho nacho' and two iced teas to start."

"Are the nachos good?" Andrea asked when the waitress left, trying to make conversation, though she didn't know why she was bothering.

"I like them."

She tried again. "I'm surprised you ordered an iced tea. I figured you for a beer man."

He shot her a look. In the bright light she could see that his eyes were dark brown laced with topaz. Almost the same brown as his hair, now that he'd taken off his hat.

"Jess said I couldn't."

"Is he your boss?"

"No. She's my sister."

She nodded. "So you both work on the ranch?"

"No, we both own the ranch," he said indignantly. Then he added, "Along with my grandfather and my brother."

"And you are…?"

"Hank Ledbetter." He flushed. She could tell he'd suddenly realized he'd forgotten to introduce himself.

The waitress arrived then with a towering plate of nachos and their drinks. Before Andrea could order for herself, Hank ordered for both of them. "Two sirloins, medium rare, with baked potato and salad."

True, Andrea thought, she was more than two thousand miles from home, but she'd never expected to find a totally different species of man in Colorado. She sat there, completely dumbfounded at his audacity.

"Aren't you going to try the nachos?" he asked when he noticed her sitting there stiffly.

Much as she didn't want to, she was hungry. "Are they hot?"

"Not if you don't eat those green things. They're jalapeños. That's what makes them hot."

She laughed to herself. "We do have jalapeños in New York, Mr. Ledbetter. In fact, we have all kinds of cuisine."

She tried some of the nachos and found them delicious.

They ate in silence, Hank wolfing down three times as much as she did. When only one chip remained, he said, "You want that?"

"No, thanks. You go ahead."

He didn't hesitate. Scooping up the chip, he ate it in one bite.

She marveled at his appetite. "Will you be able to eat your steak?" she asked.

His brow knit as he looked at her. "Why wouldn't I?"

"I just thought that after you… Never mind. I guess that was a dumb question."

Their meals arrived then and she sighed when she saw the huge, thick steak.

"I'll never be able to eat all that," she said, giving voice to her thoughts. "That's more than I eat in two dinners back in New York."

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