New York Times bestselling author Donna Grant rounds up the hottest cowboys in Texas in her latest novel of no-holds-barred passion.
Audrey Martinez is a veterinarian who has devoted her whole life to the care and protection of horseseven if doing so leaves her little time for meeting a man. Who would have thought that a strange case of criminal horseplay would lead her to falling deeply, wildly in love? If only the man who makes her heart race faster than a wild mustang would let his guard down, that is. . .
Caleb Harper is no ordinary cowboy. Sure, he wears his hat, boots, and jeans like a second skin, and displays an easygoing charm that comes from years of working on the ranch. But with his military background, and Army buddies at his side, he is tried-and-true Texas tough. Audrey knows she can trust a man like Caleb to help her save horses. But can Caleb trust himself to resist his attraction to Audreyor will the sparks of their desire end up getting them burned?
“A fantastic, first-class Lone Star romance.”
RT Book Reviews (Top Pick!) on The Christmas Cowboy Hero
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About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Donna Grant has penned ninety novels, novelettes, novellas, and short stories spanning multiple genres of romance including the exhilarating Dark King and Reaper paranormal series, the romantic suspense Sons of Texas series, the historical paranormal Kindred series, and the contemporary Heart of Texas series. She lives with her two children, a dog, and three cats in Texas.
Read an Excerpt
Audrey sighed as she removed the plastic gloves and ran a comforting hand over the too-still mare that stared blankly at the wall. The strawberry roan was a gorgeous specimen to behold, and it killed Audrey that the horse was ill.
"I'm going to help you, baby," she said softly, passing long strokes down the mare's neck.
Audrey pulled out her iPad and jotted down notes, including the symptoms she had seen in three other horses. The fact that none of the animals came from the same owner, and each had arrived at the auction house on different days meant that whatever was making the horses sick had happened at the auction house.
The mare didn't even swivel her ears as David Warner approached. Audrey looked over to the owner of the auction house. His stomach protruded, obscuring his belt buckle. He removed his cowboy hat, turning it around in his hands as he gazed anxiously at the horse with his hazel eyes. No one could fake that kind of concern for an animal.
He ran a hand through his thinning, graying, blond hair. His gray mustache twitched atop his lip like a long, thick caterpillar. "I'd hoped for good news, but I can see by your face that isn't going to happen."
Audrey closed her tablet and dropped her arms to her sides. She'd known David all her life and had always liked him. He loved equines and was well known in the community for coming to the aid of any horse in need. In fact, most of the animals in his barns were those he had rescued.
David's narrow-set eyes watered as he blinked at her. "Audrey, are you sure it's as bad as you feared?" "Without a doubt," she replied.
He dropped his head and looked away to hide his distress.
She walked to him and put a hand on his arm. "You need to speak to every employee. More importantly, you need to turn on the cameras you installed years ago."
"They don't work," David admitted, still gazing at the ground.
She frowned as she looked around to see if anyone was close. "Who knows that?"
Finally, he lifted his head to her. David shrugged helplessly. "Everyone."
Audrey closed her eyes, biting back an angry retort. She had to remember that David was a gentle soul. He'd married young and lost his wife just a few years afterward when she fell from a horse and broke her neck. Forty years later, he was still alone, preferring to give his time to the beautiful creatures he loved.
She shot him a reassuring smile because he'd do the same for her. "We'll figure this out."
"Knowing you're on my side is a huge relief. Thank you."
"Don't thank me yet. I've not found exactly what is happening to these animals. I need to rule out everything before I can give a definitive answer."
David replaced his hat atop his head. "You will. You have the same tenacity as your father."
The mention of her father brought back the ache in Audrey's chest that she'd lived with for the past year. She watched David walk away before turning back to the roan. Four horses were counting on her to heal them. After years of veterinarian school and learning every nuance of equines, she didn't like being stumped.
If she gave any of them the wrong medicine, it could do more harm than good. She didn't want to chance doing that until she knew for certain what was causing such a reaction in the animals.
Audrey looked at the stall. The wood was Southern Yellow Pine, an inexpensive and durable material that worked well for barns. David had applied a finish to help stop mold and splintering.
At least that was in this barn, which was used for injured horses or those just coming in to the auction house. Most of the animals were kept in the larger, covered corrals with steel fencing separating them.
If she hadn't been coming to the auction house her entire life and seen for herself just how well treated the animals were, she would test the wood from the stalls and even the metal of the corrals to see if something might have leaked into the horses' skin or tongues. Since only four of the twenty horses had been listless and refused to eat or drink, she didn't believe wood or metal had anything to do with it.
The food and hay, however, was another matter. Audrey let her gaze run over the other horses in the corrals. Why just four? That's what it kept coming back to. Four.
She squatted beside her bag and pulled out some supplies. After opening the alcohol-soaked gauze, she stood and wiped the jugular furrow of the roan while talking gently to the animal to keep her calm. She then pressed her thumb against the base of the horse's neck and felt the vein throb. The pressure also caused it to bulge, which made it easier to collect the blood.
Audrey kept talking to soothe the animal while she inserted the needle into the vein and began to draw the blood. Once she had enough, she withdrew the needle and placed another alcohol-soaked pad over the injection site to stop the bleeding.
The roan jerked her head up and tried to shy away at the contact. Audrey quickly removed the gauze and gently massaged the area while humming a gentle tune. It took only a few seconds for the horse to calm once more.
Audrey spent another few minutes with the mare before she repeated the process another three times with the other ill horses. Audrey marked each tube carefully and put them all into her bag.
But she wasn't finished. She chose four random horses and drew their blood as well for comparisons. One way or another, she was going to figure out why the equines were sick.
It physically hurt Audrey when an animal was in pain, and she couldn't help them. There was no way she was going to rest until she got to the bottom of the issue.
And learned what — or who — was doing this to the horses.
Audrey didn't believe that David was involved in any way, but she couldn't be so certain about any of the others he employed. David had a good heart and was always giving jobs to those in need. While he had the patience of Job, the moment he even suspected that anyone might think of harming the animals, they were fired.
The mystery of the ill horses took precedence over anything else Audrey had. She walked into the blazing heat and squinted from the bright sunshine. As she made her way to her SUV, she churned everything round and round in her head, hoping that she might be able to somehow figure out the mystery.
Just before she got into her vehicle, she paused and turned her head to the long, metal building David used as his office. She closed the door and tightened her grip on her bag as she walked through the gravel parking area toward the structure set off to the side.
She walked in to find David sitting as he leaned his arms on the desk, his gaze directed out the window to where the horses were. Audrey quietly closed the door behind her.
"I've had this business for over thirty-five years," he said in a voice filled with hurt, anger, and worry. "In all that time, only one horse has died while in my care."
Audrey inwardly winced at the reminder of that horrible day. She had been with her father and David when they found the gelding lying unmoving on the ground. The death had been natural, but David had never gotten over it.
His hazel eyes swung to her. "Do you think someone is doing this? Do you think they want to hurt the horses? Or could they be after me?"
"I don't know anything yet, and I'd hate to speculate."
He swallowed as he nodded, looking away. "Of course, of course. I didn't mean to put you on the spot."
"You're worried. It's perfectly all right for you to feel a whirlwind of emotions right now."
David blinked rapidly and went back to looking out the window. "I'm going to stay here with the horses until all of this is figured out and they're better."
"That's probably a good idea. I have some tests I want to run on the blood I've drawn. I'll be back as quickly as I can."
He didn't appear to hear her as he continued looking out the window.
Audrey licked her lips and took a step toward the desk. "David."
"Hmm?" he said as he glanced her way.
"You need to get the cameras working. And do it without anyone else knowing."
He bobbed his head slowly. "I know someone I can call that might help."
"Good. Get it done today once everyone has gone home. Also, I'm going to send Maddy over to help you keep an eye on the horses until I get back."
David's head swung to her as his brow furrowed. "Audrey, you need to be careful. You work exclusively for two well-known ranches. If they find out you're helping me, things won't go well for you."
"They can kiss my ass," she stated. "Besides, they don't need to know about this."
"I never should have asked you to come."
"Stop," she told him. "I'd be pissed if you hadn't called. Now, I need you to trust me. I also need you to promise me the cameras will get repaired."
He blew out a breath, exhaustion evident in the droop of his shoulders. "I will. You have my word."
"Good. I'll be back."
Audrey shot him a smile and turned on her heel. In moments, she was back in the heat, walking to her vehicle. She glanced toward the red pickup truck that rolled to a stop next to David's office.
She didn't recognize the vehicle, but then again, she didn't spend as much time at the auction house as she used to. Maybe if she had, she would have a better idea of what was going on with the horses. She'd focused on her career and let this — among other things in her life — fall by the wayside.
After she was inside her SUV, she glanced over at the other vehicle and spotted the outline of a cowboy hat through the tinted windows. It wasn't until she started up her engine that the door of the red truck opened, and a man stepped out.
He was talking to someone inside the truck, so she didn't get to see his face. She put her SUV in reverse and backed up before driving away. A quick look in her rearview mirror showed her nothing but a lean-framed body walking in the opposite direction. Even in the mirror, there was no denying the finely shaped ass. Too bad she hadn't gotten a look at his face.
She snorted. As if she'd do anything about it. Nothing was more important than her career. It had been the only thing that mattered for a while, and then it became a habit that was impossible to break.
There was a clinic at each of the ranches she worked for, but Audrey also had one of her own. That's where she headed to test the blood. She didn't want anyone to know what she was doing, mostly because she didn't trust anyone.
Audrey noticed her sister's car at their house as she drove past it to park in front of the building she had built for her private practice. It had begun as storage for extra products and equipment, but it hadn't taken long for her to turn it into a mini-clinic for neighbors and friends.
She shut off the engine and opened the door. With her bag in hand, she turned to get out of the truck and found Maddy standing there.
"Dammit," Audrey gasped in surprise. "I hate when you do that."
Younger by three years, Maddy was a free spirit. She couldn't settle on a career, so Audrey paid her to work as an assistant.
"I know that look," Maddy stated with a raised brow.
Audrey wished she could pull off the messy bun, baggy sweatpants, and graphic tee look as well as her sister did. But Maddy had the tall, thin frame of models and could wear anything while still looking beautiful. She literally rolled out of bed looking gorgeous.
Maddy took the case from Audrey's hands. "What happened?"
Audrey slid out of the truck and closed the door before walking toward the clinic. "David has four sick horses, and I have to figure out how they're getting ill."
"What do you need from me?"
Maddy might have her head in the clouds most days, but she was also someone Audrey could always depend on.
"I need you to go to the auction house and stay with the horses until I get back. David isn't taking this well."
"On it." Maddy shoved the bag at Audrey and spun to hurry away. Then she called over her shoulder, "There's food on the table. You better eat it."CHAPTER 2
Some days, nothing in particular screamed "wrong," yet the feeling hounded Caleb. Inevitably, his intuition ended up being right.
And he'd had a hunch since the moment he opened his eyes that morning.
"Want to tell me what you're thinking in that head of yours?" his brother, Brice, asked from the passenger seat of the truck once they reached the auction house.
Caleb watched a woman stride from the metal office building and climb into a charcoal gray sport utility vehicle. He couldn't take his eyes from her, and years of training in the military had him cataloging her straight black hair pulled into a ponytail, as well as the black bag she gripped as if it were a lifeline, despite its apparent weight. He eyed the plain, white button-up shirt she wore with the sleeves rolled to her elbows, the hem tucked into the waistband of a pair of jeans encasing trim legs he wouldn't mind wrapped around him. Her brown boots were well worn with the heels in need of repair.
This was no wanna-be cowgirl. This woman lived and worked the life.
"Caleb," Brice said, thumping him on the earlobe.
Caleb swatted his brother's hand away and glared angrily. "You know I hate that."
"Then answer me."
Caleb rolled his eyes and opened the door to get out, the same time Brice did. "I was about to."
Caleb shut his door and walked around the front of his truck to meet Brice. "You know, I don't kick your ass on a regular basis because I don't want to make you look bad in front of Naomi, but I'll be happy to change that."
"As if you could," Brice said with a snort as he took the two steps to the office door.
The sound of tires rolling on rock drew Caleb's gaze. He looked over his shoulder to see the woman driving off. He didn't know why, but he really wanted to know who she was. It wasn't because she had nice legs and he liked the sway of her hips as she walked. It had to do with the niggling feeling that had plagued him since he opened his eyes that morning.
"Seriously. What's going on?"
Caleb shook his head as he shrugged. "I don't know."
"Something has your attention. That makes me take notice. Because while I'm loath to admit this and make your already bloated ego bigger, your intuition is normally right on the money."
"Yeah." Caleb swung his head back to his brother. "I just wish I knew why that woman piqued my interest."
Brice's lips curved into a smile. "Perhaps she got your attention for another reason."
"She was a looker."
Brice raised his gaze to the sky and blew out a breath as he removed his sunglasses. He then locked his pale blue eyes on Caleb. "You couldn't see shit from just her profile."
"Obviously, they didn't train you right in the Marines, big brother, because I saw all I needed, to know how attractive she is."
"A woman is more than boobs, legs, and ass," Brice stated flatly.
Caleb grinned as they started toward the office. "Maybe to you."
"You're never going to change, are you?"
The teasing was gone. Caleb saw the shift in his brother's demeanor. Ever since Brice had fallen in love and married Naomi, he expected Caleb to follow suit.
Caleb didn't have the heart to tell Brice that while Brice might have gotten past his abandonment issues enough to marry, Caleb never would. Not after what he'd gone through.
Hell, their sister, Abby, seemed to have come to terms with his decision.
But not Brice.
"Don't," Caleb warned dangerously. This wasn't a conversation he ever wanted to have. "Just because you got hitched, doesn't mean everyone needs to."
"You have a different woman every time I turn around. I think you've slept with everyone in this county."
Caleb hooked his thumb over his shoulder, motioning back the way the woman they'd been discussing had gone. "Not everyone."
Brice narrowed his gaze, showing his irritation before he jerked open the door to the office and turned away. Their conversations had been the same of late — Brice attempting to urge Caleb to settle down, and Caleb telling Brice no. Then his brother would get angry and storm off. Except, this time, he couldn't.
Caleb followed his brother into the office, the cool air from the A/C washing over them. He came to stand beside Brice, both of them noticing how distracted David was since the man didn't seem to take note of either of them.
They exchanged a look. Caleb shrugged.
Brice cleared his throat. When that didn't work, he called out David's name.
The older man turned his head to them, his narrow-set eyes widening when he spotted them. "Gentlemen," he said, though his smile was forced. "I forgot about your appointment this morning."
"Is this a bad time? We can come back," Caleb said.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "My Favorite Cowboy"
Copyright © 2019 Donna Grant.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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