His Reluctant Rancher by Roxanne Snopek
Can a city girl and country cowboy open up to love?
The last place city girl Desiree Burke expected to find herself was living at and working on a ranch, much less butting heads with the ranch's sexy cowboy owner, Zach Gamble. But that's exactly where she ends up after an incident at work leads her to her best friend Rory's doorstep. Desiree is a gifted physical therapist, and Rory knows exactly where her brand of tough love is needed the most.
Zach's been through hell and back. A devastating car crash left his brother gone, his father paralyzed, and him with mental scars a mile wide. His survivor guilt alone makes him sure he doesn't deserve to find love. But as Des works her way into his ranch, his family, and his life, suddenly the last person who belonged there is the only one he believes belongs…with him.
About the Author
Roxanne Snopek is an award-winning Canadian freelance writer. Her articles and essays have been published widely, from local newspapers and national newspapers to magazines such as Woman's World and Reader's Digest. Her personal essays have traveled much farther than she has, and have been translated into over a dozen languages.
She's also the author of several non-fiction books, all centering on the human-animal bond. Although she's now focusing on fiction, her work always ends up with animals in it, somehow. She likes it that way.
Read an Excerpt
His Reluctant Rancher
A Three River Ranch Novel
By Roxanne Snopek, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Roxanne Snopek
All rights reserved.
Three River Ranch doesn't look nearly as welcoming as it did last summer, Desiree Burke thought. She drove beneath the rough-hewn sign at the gates to the mustang sanctuary and held tight to the wheel as it bumped and jerked in her hands. Ridges of ice clawed at her tires and threatened to pull her into the ditch that ran beside the long driveway. Leafless trees flanked the guesthouse like silent skeletal sentries, and in the distance, Bear Paw Mountain loomed cold and forbidding.
She shuddered, then mentally slapped herself.
"Mierda!" she muttered. "Next thing, you'll be looking for a guy with a ski mask and a chain saw."
But the shivers wouldn't go away, and she couldn't blame them entirely on the bleak Montana landscape. The last week had left her stunned and even—yes, she could admit it when she was alone—afraid.
But mostly, furious. What was the point of getting a titanium hip if you weren't going to use it? Her protocol was sound and would have been successful if Mama Marquesa Bruno had tried, even a little. Was it painful? Of course! The matriarch wasn't happy to find a therapist who didn't cater to her every whim, the way she'd trained her beleaguered offspring. Mama was a wily rock cloaked in sighs and pathos.
Until she rolled up against the hard place that was Des.
Only now Des was suspended while the American Physical Therapy Association investigated the complaint.
Mama Bruno got the last cackle after all. Des shuddered.
Even now, the memory of that moment made Des feel as if she couldn't get enough air into her lungs. She never dreamed a patient would sabotage her own therapy, out of spite! The Brunos would have crucified her if she hadn't managed to hijack the dramatic opus by catching the old bat before she hit the ground. Old ladies bruised like ripe plums and shattered like glass.
Des had always prided herself on being one step ahead of her patients, modifying her treatment strategy and approach to optimize their response. Yet she'd been outmaneuvered by a sharp-eyed crone who didn't want to be bossed around.
But hadn't Tina Jeffrey grabbed onto that golden opportunity with both meaty mitts? Since her first day, when Des had challenged the clinic's antiquated methodology, the two had been at loggerheads.
Des sighed. Naturally, she'd reacted with her customary tact, which was to say none. The word bitch had come up, as had the phrase when hell freezes over. Plus a few choice tidbits in Spanish that probably drove her boss even further up the wall.
Even if the complaint was withdrawn and Des was reinstated, she could never work under the same roof as Tina again.
But she had to work somewhere, and word traveled.
The hot rush of injustice rose again. She was good at what she did, damn it. Okay, so she pushed harder than other physiotherapists, so she took risks. She got results. In the end, her patients thanked her. On their feet.
Her throat tightened. She loved her job. She needed her job.
Des pulled her little sports car to a stop in front of the guesthouse and sat quietly for a moment, listening to the tick-tick-tick of the cooling engine before silence descended.
The darkening sky above and the endless expanse of snow-covered hills all around made her feel like a rabbit looking for cover. How did people live out here in all this ... space? She needed the reassuring hustle-bustle of the city, the noise, the shopping ... the lattes.
Rory had urged Des to get away and spend some time with her at the ranch. Then she'd thrown Des a challenge she knew would be irresistible: their good friend and neighbor was running out of medical coverage, without being anywhere near recovered from the car accident that almost killed him.
She hadn't used the word hopeless, but Des heard it anyway.
A week ago, she'd have been all over a case like this, eager to help a broken man regain his life. Now, the thought of dealing with another frightened, angry patient—and his family—made her break out in a cold sweat. But it wasn't Joe Gamble or even the prospect of failing that scared her. At least, not entirely.
It was the thought of working around Joe Gamble's son Zachary that had her nerves jitterbugging. And not in a bad way.
Which was the problem.
Zach's lazy cowboy grin was irresistible when he aimed it her way, and although Des had given no quarter, she was pretty sure he knew the verbal jousting was merely her opening salvo.
She was there for one reason, and one reason only. Rory. However, if she'd had a little spare time, she might have spent it with Zach. Why not? He was a carefree bachelor, enjoyable company, rumored to treat women well, and—most importantly—not looking for commitment.
Fine qualities in a guy, as far as she was concerned.
She wasn't averse to a bit of fun, and the first time they met, he'd made it clear that he was willing to play, but that's as far as they'd gotten.
And everything was different now.
She tried to imagine Zach's face without the grin, his voice without the banter, his eyes without the spark, and it made the muscles in her chest and throat constrict.
And that right there was what really scared her.
Because, grin or no grin, there was no way Des would end up like Rory, stuck out here with straw in her hair.
"No sense borrowing trouble, chica. You've got enough of your own." She got out of the car, shoving all thoughts of Zach firmly from her head.
"Hola?" she called, pounding on the door. "Rory? Anyone home?"
She walked around the porch to the back of the guesthouse, and there stood Rory's mini-SUV. Des breathed a sigh of relief, then went closer and peered in. Lulu's car seat and various toys littered the vehicle that stood tucked under the carport. Farther back, by the original ranch house that was still undergoing renovations, she could see Carson's pickup truck.
As she trudged through the snow toward it, she could hear the muffled sounds of a nail gun. And voices.
Des pushed open the door. A burst of warm air, tangy with the scent of freshly cut wood, rushed against her face.
"Hola? Rory?" she called again. "Can I come in, or have you still got the plague?"
A bang sounded in another room, then footsteps. Her best friend ran out to greet her, grinning widely, baby on her hip, her shaggy dog squeezing ahead of her.
"Hey, Mistral." Des squatted to let the dog get her sloppy greeting out of the way. "Long time no see, my hairy girlfriend." She also used the time to prepare herself for Rory's unerring ability to see behind her defenses.
"Mistral, enough." Rory spoke with authority, and the chocolate-colored dog obeyed immediately, but not without whining.
"Honestly, four years of training and it's ruined the minute she sees you."
"Hardly!" Desiree laughed. "She knows what you want before you want it! But I don't care. I love to be loved." She shooed the dog away and stood up. "Aurora McAllister-Granger, I thought having a baby made women all fat and frazzled. How is it that each time I see you, you look better than ever?"
"You're such a liar! I love that about you." Rory gathered her into a tight one-armed hug. "Nursing melts the weight off. I can barely eat enough to keep up. And you want to see frazzled? Wait until about midnight, when this little piranha flips her switch and starts screaming nonstop."
Desiree kissed the baby's face, then pulled her from her mother's arms. "Not my little Lulu, I don't believe it. Come on, honey, let's get you out of this draft before you catch your death. Auntie Des won't let her only godchild get pneumonia. Your spots aren't even totally gone yet!"
"Please. Winter's barely started. Besides, we rancher girls are tougher than that." Rory paused, and her voice softened. "Des, I'm so glad to see you!"
"Even though you're still living in a construction zone and your baby just got over the chicken pox and the last thing you need is a friend in the grip of a major career crisis?"
"My door is always open to you, Des, you know that." She should have known Rory would recognize the panic that bubbled just below the surface. "Carson! Look who's here!"
Rory led Desiree through the front room to what would soon be a spectacular gourmet kitchen. Rory's cowboy husband straightened up from the sawhorse and slipped off his work gloves, a grin spreading over his face.
He slapped his hands against long, denim-clad legs, sending clouds of sawdust everywhere, then opened his arms for a hug. Des returned the embrace, squishing Lulu between them, happy to admit she'd been 100 percent wrong about Carson. Rory's marriage might have had an unconventional beginning, but Des had never seen her happier.
Even living out here in the freaking wilderness.
"Thank God you're here," he said. Then his voice grew somber. "I mean, I'm sorry for what you're going through right now, don't get me wrong. But the Gambles are really having a rough time."
"I might not be able to help." Panic bubbled again, accelerating her heart rate. "I'll do what I can, but persistent brain injuries are tough. I don't want to disappoint them."
"Des," Carson said, "this family is about as low as one can get right now. The closest rehab is four hours away. Marnie can't get him in and out on her own, and even if Zach could afford the time to drive him there—which he can't—their HMO has given them the boot. You're his last hope."
"Well, he'd have to be desperate, wouldn't he?" She winced at her own pathetic attempt at levity.
"No one who knows you believes Tina's story, Des."
"True or false isn't the issue," she said, hating the bitterness she heard in her voice, hating that she cared so much what people would think. What Zach would think.
Carson and Rory exchanged glances and suddenly she understood.
"You haven't told them!" A tiny, traitorous part of her heart leaped, grateful that Zach wasn't privy to her humiliation.
"We gave them the broad strokes. The details don't matter." Rory shrugged. "They need what you have to offer, and you're free to give it. Someone else's lies don't change the facts."
"I hate to say it," Carson added with a grimace, "but she's right. Zach's not exactly thinking straight these days. Let's not give him something more to chew on."
"Besides," Rory said, "once he sees you at work, he won't care about that ridiculous complaint. He'll know the truth."
"If you say so." She'd have to make damn sure she impressed him before he found out, then. No pressure or anything.
"And who knows." Rory patted Desiree's shoulder. "You might find that the country life suits you. Home is where the heart is, as they say."
Des snorted. "Home is where the espresso is. Remind me, where's the closest Starbucks?"
"You won't care after you taste my coffee." Carson dropped a kiss on Rory's cheek, then one on his daughter's fuzzy head. "Go on, ladies. You've got lots of catching up to do. I'll be another hour or so."
"You sure?" Rory lifted one hand to his cheek. The quick, casual exchange held so much intimacy that Des had to look away.
"God. Get a room, will you? Gimme Lulu's bag. We'll meet you in the guesthouse, Rory."
"I'm coming, I'm coming," Rory protested with a laugh. But first she grabbed her handsome husband around the neck and reached up to give him a proper kiss.
Des zipped up Lulu's jacket and held the child close as envy ripped through her. "I'm sorry, preciosa, I had no idea they were torturing you like this. I'd have rescued you earlier."
But as she made her way back over the snow, the sweet-smelling bundle clutched tightly against her, her arms were trembling, and not just from the cold.
* * *
Zachary Gamble told himself that the rest of his own work could wait until tomorrow, that Carson needed him more right now, that he was only being a good friend.
But as he pulled his pickup around the guesthouse to stop in front of what would soon be the new lodge, he suddenly became aware of muscles in his abdomen and chest letting down their guard, allowing air to rush in. He dropped his head and closed his eyes, relaxing for the first time that day.
The real reason he'd fled Twinridge was that if he spent another minute—another second—within earshot of his mother, he was at serious risk of becoming a howling lunatic. The effort of holding them all together was more than he could bear right now. Here, he could be himself. Here, he could breathe.
That wasn't the only reason he'd rushed to Three River.
He opened his eyes, got out of the truck, and looked over his shoulder.
That was the little white sports car he remembered. Trust Des to drive something impractical like that, out here in the dead of winter. Someone should confiscate her keys before she killed herself.
"Looking for someone?" Carson leaned against the lodge door, arms crossed, an irritating smirk on his face.
"Finished early." Zach elbowed past his friend and surveyed the stacks of hardwood that would soon cover the floor. "I figured you could use me. I was right."
Carson looked at him through narrowed eyes, then tossed him a tape measure. "Here. You can cut the boards for the hallway."
For ten minutes or so, they worked with only the tinny sound of a banged-up transistor radio to break the silence. Finally Carson straightened and rubbed his wrist against his forehead, leaving a streak of sawdust.
"Celia moved back yet?" he asked.
At the mention of his sister, Zach felt the tension return to his chest. Celia was in her final year of veterinary college, the only thing she'd ever wanted to do.
"She okay with that?"
"She doesn't have much choice, does she?" Now not only could they not afford her tuition or room and board, but they needed her to work. "She'll have to redo the year, anyway."
"Yeah, you and me both."
"You sure you're okay?"
Zach was so sick of sympathy, so sick of people not knowing what to say, so sick of everyone checking up on him and his family, that he bristled. "I'm fine."
Predictably, Carson ignored his tone. "Of course you are. Your truck flipped a half-dozen times, your brother's dead, your dad's in a wheelchair, your business is circling the drain, but you're fine."
"You're an asshole."
"You're an idiot."
Normalcy restored, they resumed working. Carson had been friends with Cale, too. Maybe that's why he could say things to Zach that no one else would dare utter.
Of course, he never knew when to quit.
"I know you're really here for Des." Carson tilted his chin in the direction of the guesthouse. "She's with Rory. Go say hi. And oh, while you're at it, would you please end this crazy self-imposed vow of chastity? If you won't do it as a favor to me, your friend, who has to endure your foul temper, then do it for the pharmacies in the greater Lutherton area, who rely on you relying on them for all your condom needs."
"What are you talking about? I'm getting as much action as ever," Zach lied. "I'll finish this section first. Besides, I'm sure the women want to visit."
But before he could procrastinate any longer, he heard the unmistakable sound of her high-heeled footsteps stomping up to the lodge. She thumped the snow off against the porch railings and then pushed open the door.
Zach froze, the board in his hand poised motionless. The cold air had whipped a blush to her cheeks and the tip of her nose. Those big dark eyes peered out from the mass of even darker curls spilling over the collar of her coat.
Snow White, all grown up and sassy.
"Hey, Zach. I thought that was your truck."
She lifted her hair away from her neck with both hands and attempted to smooth it over one shoulder. The board slipped from his hand and bounced onto the floor with a clatter.
"Des ..." As she moved her arms, the opening of her coat gaped, just enough for a glimpse of the curves beneath, and he couldn't remember what else he was going to say.
"I wanted to tell you how sorry I am about your brother, and your dad's injury. I couldn't believe it when Rory told me. You weren't hurt, though?"
Excerpted from His Reluctant Rancher by Roxanne Snopek, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2013 Roxanne Snopek. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read the first book in this series and loved it. I didn't expect to like this one, because the heroine is annoying. But once I got to know her, I LOVED her! And Zach? Well, I already loved him, so learning about his past only made me love him more. An emotionally compelling story. Bring tissues.
Reviewed for Read Your Writes Book Reviews by Kim I will be the first to admit...in the beginning this book did not grab my attention and keep me captivated. But when I finally got sucked in, it truly became a page turner. If you read the first book in the series, THREE RIVERS RANCH, then you know there was an attraction between Desiree and Zach. This is NOT the story I pictured for them. Roxanne has taken Zach to the brink, just stopping short of pushing him over the edge. Desiree Burke and Zachary Gamble are the MOST unlikely couple. She’s a city girl with a fancy little sports car, who’s addicted to Starbucks, and considers not wearing her Louboutins pure torture. Zach, on the other hand, is a pickup driving kind of guy. He’s single-handedly taking care of his family’s farm. Zach wears old denim jeans, cowboy boots, and let’s not forget about his chaps. These two do have something in common...They love their best friends Rory and Carson Granger like crazy. But Des and Zach have more in common than just their friends. Each bares the scars of being orphaned as kids. Des’ mother died when she was eight. Zach was adopted by Marnie and Joe Gamble as an infant, when they thought they couldn’t have children of their own. Des bounced from foster home to foster home. Zach went on to become the older brother of Cale and Celia, the Gamble’s biological children. Des’ mouth and attitude gets her in trouble at work and she is forced to take some time off. During her “sabbatical”, Des returns to Three Rivers Ranch to help out Zach’s father, who is in desperate need of a physical therapist, after a deadly car accident. Desiree and Zachary butt heads like no one else. Their battles eventually become love. But in the midst of everything, Des manages to help heal the broken Gamble family, including its beloved son. Zach and the residents of this small town offer Des the one thing she’s wanted her whole life....a family. I’m going to have to warn you, the book will make you cry, if not pull at your heartstrings. So be prepared! Source: NetGalley
Des and Zach's story was everything I had hoped it would be. Looking forward to finding out who this missing brother Mitchell really is ....
You really never know yourself until you’ve been tested or in Zach’s case a very tragic accident has changed your life forever. It’s like I felt the emotions of these characters jump off the page, and I have to say Roxanne did one amazing job. Not many can make you feel the way Zach does with survivor’s guilt, how Desiree is afraid of losing the life she worked so hard to create for herself. It really makes you wonder how you yourself would handle that type of situation, or maybe you have and this could hit close to home.
This is a good heartfelt romance. I haven't read book 1 and still got they story. I found myself cheering Des and Zach on throughout the book. There were times I wanted her to smack him for being hard headed. He made it difficult for her to love him. Even with the stress and his bad moods Des found herself feeling more at home on the big ranch. She realized she was fighting to save it as much as the family who owned it. Thank you to Entangled Publishing and NetGalley for allowing me to read.
His Reluctant Rancher is an enjoyable and entertaining romance. Roxanne Snopek does an excellent job of taking the struggles in life, mixing it with sizzling chemistry and sexual tensions, adding a little sass, humor and drama, and coming up with an amazing story. A story of healing, family, responsibilities, physical attraction, and love. Her use of characters throughout the book, both main and secondary, adds depth and richness to the storyline. She takes situations that usually travel a dark path, and steers them in a direction which brings out the good that comes of them. The heroine, Des, a woman with patience, compassion, and plenty of sass, has to deal with not only her commitment issues and insecurities, but the hero’s insecurities as well. The hero, Zach, a man with a strong sense of familial obligation, has to deal with his errant sense of guilt while trying to fight his attraction for Des and find justification for his actions. The characters are believable and well-liked and draw you into the storyline as they struggle on their path of falling in love. The story is well-written, the plot solid, and the writing flows. It kept me thoroughly entertained from the first page to the last. This is a love story that anyone who likes romance should not miss. I received a copy of this book from Entangled Publishing in exchange for my honest review. Janna Shay Author of Fair Play
His Reluctant Rancher His Reluctant Rancher is a fantastic story about healing, falling in love, and finding your footing again. Full review at BookTrib or RomanticReadsandSuch.
Reviewed by JoAnne Book provided by the publisher for review Review originally posted at Romancing the Book His Reluctant Rancher is a heartwarming, feel good and fast paced story that took me through a lot of emotions – laughing, crying, sorrow, fear, determination and happiness. I could feel the romance and love of numerous couples in the story. Marnie and Joe’s love for each other shown through as well as Rory’s and Carson’s for each other. Desiree (Des) and Zach had a powerful chemistry and it led to interesting happenings when each let the other in. They both held so much distrust and sadness inside that they couldn’t figure out how to let it go and let someone in – whether friend or family. The descriptions of the snow, ice and the storms made me feel cold to the bone. The descriptions of the horses, the cattle, the ranch, the cats and the Gamble home made me feel as if I was there. I could feel the struggles Joe endured in his therapy in order to try and regain his strength after his accident and I could also feel Zach’s weariness, tension and discomfort of having to carry the full load and responsibility of the ranch all alone on his shoulders. At every turn he questioned himself just as Des questioned her therapy program and exercises that she was using while working with Joe. The townspeople were an interesting bunch and kept everyone on their toes. It’s a place where I wouldn’t mind living and calling home. Snopek is a new to me author and I hope to revisit Three River Ranch and meet up with Des, Zach and the others sometime soon. Give His Reluctant Rancher and Snopek a try. You’ll be glad you did! Favorite Quote: Warmth flooded the cold places in her heart. Then she glanced at Zach. The pain and fear smoldering in those dark depths choked the joy from her throat.