Twenty-five years ago, the Beckett family was irrevocably divided by lies told and secrets kept. But Ryder Beckett comes back to The Easy Money to reconcile with his past and help run the rodeo arena until he can find a new job. He's quick to fall into old waystaking care of the horses, trying a few of his old rodeo tricks and falling for Tatum Mayweather.
Ryder's childhood friend has become a beautiful woman. But how can he get involved with a single mother of three when he's only at the ranch temporarily? Tatum deserves a stay-in-one-place kind of guy, and that has never been Ryder. Is the pull of family enough to keep him in Reckless, Arizona? Is this where Ryder truly belongs?
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Cathy McDavid has been happily penning contemporary westerns for Harlequin since 2006. Every day, she gets to write about handsome cowboys riding the range or busting a bronc.It's a tough job, but she's willing to make the sacrifice. Cathy shares her Arizona home with her own real life sweetheart and a trio of odd pets. Her grown twins have left to embark on lives of their own, and she couldn't be prouder of their accomplishments.
Read an Excerpt
The day Ryder Beckett swore would never come had arrived. He'd returned to Reckless, Arizona, and the Easy Money Rodeo Arena. But instead of a hero's welcome, he was slinking home like a scolded puppy with his tail tucked firmly between his legs.
Really slinking. He should be meeting his father in the arena office. In fact, he was five minutes late. Only, Ryder had continued walking. Around the main barn, past the row of outdoor horse stalls, all the way to the horse pastures. There he stopped and forced himself to draw a long breath.
He did want to be here, he told himself. Though, to be honest, he needed to be here. Be somewhere, anyway. Why not Reckless, where he could maybe, possibly, mend a bridge or two? He would if his baby sister, Liberty, had her way. For Ryder, the jury was still out.
Keeping a low profile. Yeah, he decided, that had a better ring to it than slinking. Then again, Ryder possessed a talent for putting a positive spin on things. It was what had propelled him to the top in his field. Stupidity was what led to his downfall.
As he stood at the pasture fence, his leather dress shoes sank deep into the soft dirt. He'd have a chore cleaning them later. At the moment, he didn't care.
When, he absently wondered, was the last time he'd worn a pair of boots? Or ridden a horse, for that matter? The answer came quickly. Five years ago during his last strained visit. He'd sworn then and there he'd never set sight on Reckless again. The aftermath of another falling-out with his mother.
Recent events had altered the circumstance of their enduring disagreement. Liberty, the one most hurt by their mother's lies, had managed to make peace with both their parents. Not so Ryder. His anger at their mother's betrayal hadn't dimmed one bit in the twenty-five years since she'd divorced their father.
Was coming home a mistake? Only time would tell. In any case, he wasn't staying long.
In the pasture, a woman haltered a large black pony and led it slowly toward the gate. Other horses, a half dozen or so pregnant mares, ambled behind, bobbing their heads and swishing their tails. Whatever might be happening, they wanted in on it.
Ryder leaned his forearms on the top fence railing. Even at this distance, he could tell two things: the pony was severely lame, and the woman was spectacularly attractive. Both drew his attention, and, for the moment, his meeting with his father was forgotten.
The two were a study in contrast. While the pony hobbled painfully, favoring its front left foot, the woman moved with elegance and grace, her long black hair misbehaving in the mild breeze. She stopped frequently to check on the pony and, when she did, rested her hand affectionately on its sleek neck.
Something about her struck a familiar, but elusive, chord with him. Who was she? A memory teased at the fringes of his mind but remained out of reach.
As he watched, the knots of tension residing in his shoulders relaxed. That was until she changed direction and headed toward him. Then, he immediately perked up, and his senses went on high alert.
"Hi," she said as she approached. "Can I help you?"
She was even prettier up close. Large dark eyes analyzed him with unapologetic interest from a model-perfect oval face. Her full mouth stretched into a warm smile impossible not to return. The red T-shirt tucked into a pair of well-worn jeans emphasized her long legs and slim waist.
"I'm meeting someone." He didn't add that he was now ten minutes late or that the someone was, in fact, his father.
"Oh. Okay." She took him in with a glance that said it all. Visitors to the Easy Money didn't usually wear suits and ties.
"Mercer Beckett," Ryder said.
"He's in the office, I think."
"That's what he told me."
At the gate, she paused and tilted her head, her gaze shifting from mild interest to open curiosity. "Can I show you the way?"
"Thanks. I already know it."
"You've been here before?"
"You could say that. But it's been a while."
"Well, welcome back."
That smile again, familiar but not, and most appealing. It was almost enough to make Ryder break his promise to himself to steer clear of work romances. He'd learned that lesson the hard way and had paid the price with his now defunct career.
Not that he'd be working with this woman exactly. But she was probably a customer of the Becketts, one who boarded her pony at the arena. Close enough.
"You should fire your farrier and find another one." Ryder nodded at the pony. "He or she isn't worth a lick."
The woman's brows arched in surprise and emphasized their elegant shape. "I beg your pardon?"
He indicated the pony's right front hoof. "She has a contracted heel. From incorrect shoeing."
"No offense intended, but you don't exactly strike me as an expert."
"I'm not. But I do have some experience." Living, breathing, eating and sleeping horses for the first half of his life. "You pull that shoe off, and you'll see an immediate improvement."
"Could be laminitis," she countered. "That's common in ponies."
"It's not laminitis."
"You sound sure."
"Remove the shoe, and you'll see." When she hesitated, he added, "What could it hurt?"
"I'll ask one of the hands." She slid the latch and opened the gate.
"I can do it for you. Remove the shoe."
"In those clothes?"
"What's a little dirt?"
She laughed, a low, sexy sound he quite liked. "We'll see."
Was he crazy? Flirting with a potential customer. A woman who could be married with three kids, for all he knew.
She started through the gate, leading the pony. The horses behind her also wanted out and began shoving their way into the narrow opening. A bottleneck formed, with the more aggressive of the horses squealing and nipping at their neighbors.
"Back now." The woman waved a hand, which had almost no effect.
Ryder stepped forward. If the horses succeeded in getting loose, the Easy Money hands would be in for a merry chase.
Before she could object, he positioned himself between her and the brood mares, blocking their escape. Once she and the pony were on the other side, he swung the gate shut.
"Thank you," she said when he turned around.
"Good thing I happened by. You'd have had a stampede to contend with."
"My hero." Her teasing tone matched the twinkle in her eyes.
"Let me remove that too-small shoe, and I'll really be your hero."
"What about your meeting with Mercer?"
"It can wait."
A small exaggeration. Ryder's father had little patience with people who kept him waiting. Even so, Ryder didn't change his mind.
They began a slow, painful procession toward the barn. If possible, Ryder would have carried the pony. Fortunately, before long, they reached an empty stall.
"I'll get a rasp and a pair of hoof clippers."
"I'll show you where they're kept."
The curiosity was back in her eyes. "I suppose you know where the tack room is, too."
"You have been here before."
Feeling her stare following him, he grinned and strode down the aisle toward the tack room. The next instant, he remembered his hard-learned lesson and sobered.
Voluntarily resigned. In order to join his family's business.
That was what his letter to Madison-Monroe Concepts had cited, though there was nothing voluntary about Ryder's termination. He'd quit his job as senior marketing executive rather than be involved in a messy lawsuit with him named as the defendant. At his lawyer's suggestion, he'd left Phoenix the second the ink was dry on the settlement agreement and before his former boss changed his mind.
Which, technically, made him four days early, not late to his meeting with his father.
No one in his family knew the details of his termination. As far as they were concerned, Ryder had undergone a change of heart, prompted by his father's insistence the Easy Money needed a top-notch marketing expert to guide their rapidly growing bucking stock business and a wish to better know his much younger sister, Liberty.
There it was again, massaging the truth to obtain a positive slant. In this case, Ryder had his reasons.
By the time he returned to the stall, the woman had tied the pony to a metal pole by the door. Ryder removed his suit jacket and draped it over the stall wall. He'd been warm anyway. September in Arizona was a lot like summer in other states. Next, he unbuttoned the cuffs on his dress shirt and rolled up the sleeves.
The womanshould he introduce himself in order to learn her name?worriedly combed her fingers through the pony's long mane. "Are you sure we shouldn't call the vet first? My kids will be devastated if anything happened to Cupcake."
So, he'd been right. She did have children. Which meant there was a father somewhere in the picture. Ryder was almost relieved and promptly dialed down the charm.
"She'll be fine. I promise."
Lifting the pony's sore hoof, he balanced it on his bent knee. Next, he removed the rasp from his back pocket where he'd placed it and began filing down the ends of the nails used to fasten the shoe to the hoof. Once that was done, the shoe could be removed without causing further damage to the hoof. A few good pries with the clippers, and the shoe fell to the stall floor with a dull clink.
Ryder gently released Cupcake's hoof and straightened. He swore the pony let out an audible sigh.
"She'll feel brand-new by morning."
"You won't take offense if I have Mercer look at her?" the woman said. "Just to be on the safe side."
"Not at all." Ryder chuckled. "I wouldn't trust me, either, if I were you." He brushed at his soiled slacks. "Given the clothes."
She flashed him that gorgeous smile.
Kids. Likely a husband. He had to remember that. She'd be an easy one to fall for, and Ryder had a bad habit of choosing unwisely. Just look at his current situation. Unemployed and returning home all because he'd gotten involved with the wrong person.
"By the way, I'm"
"Hey, there you are!" Ryder's father walked briskly toward them, his whiskered face alight with joy. "I've been waiting."
"Sorry. Got waylaid." All the tension that had seeped out earlier returned. New knots formed. Sooner or later, he was going to have to tell his father the truth about the real reason he'd quit his job, and he wasn't looking forward to it. "How are you, Dad?" Outside the stall, the two men engaged in a back-thumping hug.
"Good, now that you're here." He held Ryder at arm's length. "Glad to see you, son."
"I was helping " Ryder turned to the woman, a little taken aback by her startled expression.
"You're Ryder Beckett?" The question hinged on an accusation.
"On my good days."
Only his father laughed. "You should hear what they call him on his bad days."
The woman stared at him. "You weren't supposed to be here till Saturday."
"I got away early." Ryder felt his defenses rising, though he wasn't sure why. And how was it she knew his schedule? That elusive familiarity from earlier returned. "Have we met before?"
"This is Tatum Mayweather," his father said. "You remember her. She's your sister Cassidy's best friend."
Tatum. Of course. The name brought his vague memories into sharp focus. "It's been a lot of years," he said by way of an excuse.
"It has." She removed the halter from Cupcake and shut the stall door behind her. "If you'll excuse me, my lunch hour is over, and I need to get back to work. Your mother's been answering the phone for me in the house."
"Guess I'll see you around, then."
"Bright and early tomorrow morning." His father beamed. "Tatum's our office manager. After I give you a tour of the bucking stock operation, she can go over our contracts with you."
Office manager. That explained her cool reaction to him.
If Ryder accepted his family offer to be the arena's new head of marketing and client relations, he'd be in charge of advertising and promotion, duties currently performed by Tatum.
"Look, it's not."
What could he say? That he wasn't after her job? Okay, maybe he was, but only parts of it and only temporarily. She, however, didn't know that.
"See you in the morning." She left, her movements no longer graceful but stilted.
Well, at least Ryder didn't have to worry about becoming involved with a coworker. Any chance of that happening was walking away with Ms. Mayweather.
Only after she'd disappeared through a door across from the tack room did Ryder realize she hadn't asked Mercer to check on Cupcake.
Ryder's father kept up a near constant stream of conversation as they covered the short distance from the barn to the house. "Thanks for coming. It means a lot to me. Your mother, too."
It was no secret Ryder's father still loved his ex-wife and intended to win her back. Ryder had agreed to help and support him with the expansion of the rodeo arena. He didn't, however, understand his father's enduring feelings regarding his mother.
"Hope you're hungry," his father said. "Your mother's fixed enough food for a dozen people."
"I don't want her going to any trouble."
"Your early arrival put her in quite a tizzy. She made an emergency run to the grocery store last night just to have the food you like on hand."
"I'm not picky, Dad."
"Well, this is a big day for her. She's nervous."
She wasn't the only one. Ryder had been fighting anxiety for days now.
Five years was a long time to go without seeing one's mother. They'd spoken on the phone, but only occasionally when he happened to call his sisters. Mostly on birthdays and Christmas. One or the other insisted he talk to their mother, too. He usually relented, solely for his sisters' sakes. Ryder simply couldn't get past what he saw as his mother's betrayal.
His father always defended his mother, saying she was right to divorce him. Ryder didn't see it that way. She cared only about herself and hadn't once considered the effect losing their father would have on her children.
Her selfishness, however, wasn't the only reason his return was difficult. She'd lied. For twenty-five years. To everyone. And like the divorce, the lies had stolen parts of their lives they could never get back.
"The girls can't wait to see you." His father talked about Ryder's grown sisters as if they were young. Then again, Cassidy had been only ten when their parents divorced, to Ryder's twelve, and Liberty not even born yet. His father probably did think of Ryder's sisters as "girls."
"Cassidy's volunteering at Benjie's school this morning," he continued, "and Liberty's in Globe, picking up lumber. That young man of hers is coming to lunch, too."
"You like him?"
"If you're asking me, is he good enough for her, the answer is yes. I like him. Hell, I fixed 'em up."
"That's not the story I heard. You darn near ruined their relationship."
"Water under the bridge."
Ryder's sister obviously possessed a forgiving heart. "What's the lumber for? Fences?"
"Building jumps. We teach English hunter classes now, if you can believe that. Part of our outreach program with the school. We offer riding instruction to students for a discount price. Your mother's on the school board and spearheaded the whole thing."
"I had no idea." What else would Ryder learn about his mother during his stay? Did he care?
"It's good for the arena, and it's good for the community. Gives the students something to do in the afternoons and on weekends. Reckless is a small town without funding for local sports programs. But you know that as well as anyone."
Ryder did. He'd grown up in Reckless until he was fourteen and legally old enough to choose which of his parents he wanted to live with. On the day after his birthday, he'd packed his suitcase. A week later, when nothing his mother said or did and no amount of tears she cried made a difference, Ryder boarded a bus to Kingman where his father had moved.
For a few weeks each summer, he came back. That ended once Ryder graduated high school and left for college, allowing the rift between him and his mother to widen.
Then, a few months ago, Liberty discovered she shared the same biological father as her siblings and made contact, inviting him to Reckless for the purpose of getting acquainted. He did that, along with exercising his right to half ownership of the arena. When Ryder's mother objected, he threatened her with legal action. Having little choice, she eventually caved.
The result, the Becketts were now all in one place, though not reunited. Perhaps that was too much to ask.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When they had a secret. And the uncle finds out and tell the mother he would tell his brother if dont. Then she goes to a lawyer to find out who to except from the father when he finds out.