“A lovingly written modern-day fairy tale with complex characters and a well-earned, satisfying ending.” - Kirkus Reviews
From New York Times bestseller Victoria James comes a poignant and heartfelt romance that wraps you in a warm embrace...
Eight years ago, Tyler Donnelly left Wishing River, Montana, after a terrible fight with his father and swore he’d never return. But when his father has a stroke, guilt and duty drive him home, and nothing is as he remembers––from the run-down ranch to Lainey Sullivan, who is all grown up now. And darn if he can’t seem to stay away.
Lainey’s late grandma left her two things: the family diner and a deep-seated mistrust of cowboys. So when Tyler quietly rides back into town looking better than hot apple pie, she knows she’s in trouble. But she owes his dad everything, and she’s determined to show Ty what it means to be part of a small town...and part of a family.
Lainey’s courage pushes Ty to want to make Wishing River into a home again—together. But one of them is harboring a secret that could change everything.
Each book in the Wishing River series is STANDALONE:
* The Trouble with Cowboys
* Cowboy for Hire
About the Author
Victoria James is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance.
She is a hopeless romantic who is living her dream, penning happily-ever-after's for her characters in between managing kids and the family business. Writing on a laptop in the middle of the country in a rambling old Victorian house would be ideal, but she's quite content living in suburbia with her husband, their two young children, and very bad cat.
Read an Excerpt
Ty Donnelly would rather be knee-deep in cow manure than back in his hometown of Wishing River, Montana.
He pulled his trusty Chevy into an empty parking spot outside Tilly's Diner, a long-standing town landmark, and sat still for a minute. Steady rain hammered against the roof of his truck and streamed down his windows as he peered out at the familiar sights of the town he hadn't seen in eight years. It was too early for stores and most businesses to be open — except Tilly's. Some things didn't change.
They probably still had the best coffee, the best breakfast, and the best gossip on Main Street.
He'd never been one for nostalgia, but it crept up his arm like a fast-moving spider, startling him. It was the damn town. It held too many memories, too many friends, too many secrets. He should just keep on going to the ranch and face everything he was hiding from. But after driving all night, he needed a coffee. Or maybe he needed an excuse to delay seeing his father. Even facing a diner full of gawking townspeople was more appealing than seeing his father.
Their final day together, his father's last words to him had changed his entire life, and he'd been running from them for eight years.
Hell. He ran his hand through his hair and glanced over at Tilly's again before putting on his cowboy hat and finally pushing his door open. Cold rain soaked him as he ran up the steps to the diner. He pulled the door open, and a blast of warmth and a good dose of reality greeted him as he stepped inside. His past slapped him in the face, a little too harshly for a guy going on no sleep. Flatware clanked against dishes, and the animated conversation dwindled to that of a whispering brook. He walked forward, sure to keep his head up but eye contact to a minimum in the packed diner.
Making his way around the round tables with their vinyl-backed chairs, he gave an occasional nod and tip of his hat but made sure not to stop. By the time he reached the long counter at the far end of the diner, he felt as though he'd walked through fire. He took a deep breath and held on to it for a moment as he recognized the man sitting at the counter. Dean Stanton. One of his former best friends — and now his father's doctor. He hadn't expected to see him this soon.
"Dean," he said, bracing his arms on the counter. Dean gave him a nod like he was a stranger. He hadn't seen him in eight years and hadn't had any contact until Dean had called, telling him his father had suffered a stroke. He could still hear the censure in his friend's voice. Dean had also made it pretty clear he was calling as his father's doctor, not as his old buddy. He looked the same — older, sure. Judging by his clean-shaven appearance and expensive-looking clothes, he seemed like he had his life together, too. Ty was the one still in faded jeans and an old cowboy hat.
He kept his eyes trained on the kitchen door and sure as hell hoped Tilly would come out of there soon, because he needed a coffee and then he needed to get the hell out of Dodge. When the door swung open a minute later, it wasn't Tilly. He didn't know who the waitress was. He may have been driving all night, his eyes sore and tired, but there was no stopping the instincts he was born with as he gazed appreciatively at the woman in front of him. Her honey-colored hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she had familiar, large chocolate-colored eyes. She was wearing a T-shirt with Tilly's scrolled across the front, the shirt clinging to very nice curves. Her jeans were dark and showed off nicely rounded hips. When his eyes traveled back up her curvy length, her brown eyes were on his, and any of the warmth he'd detected was replaced by an unapologetic disdain.
"What can I get you?" she asked, now wiping the counter and not making eye contact with him.
"Large coffee to go?" He ignored the various glass-domed cake stands filled with muffins, doughnuts, and pies, even though he hadn't eaten in twelve hours. Tilly was known for the best and freshest baked goods for miles. He just wasn't in the mood for eating.
She didn't actually give him an answer, only sort of gave a nod. He noticed she glanced over at Dean before grabbing a white paper cup and pouring the coffee. She handed him the drink and a plastic lid. "That'll be a dollar and fifty cents. Cream and sugar are over there," she said, pointing to the far side of the counter.
He laid the correct change out in front of him. "How's Tilly?"
"Dead," she said, walking away with the carafe of coffee in her hands. Damn. He hadn't expected that. He'd kinda assumed Tilly would always be here. He glanced over at the waitress again, studying her profile as she refilled Dean's cup. Hell. He knew her. Tilly's granddaughter. She'd always been at the diner with her grandmother. As a little kid and then later as a teenager. Now she'd turned into this gorgeous woman. It was well known that Tilly's daughter had saddled her with her baby and taken off. No one really knew much about her after that.
It was sad to hear Tilly was gone. She had always had a warm smile and a kind word for him. So maybe some things did change.
He put the lid on his steaming coffee and turned around, no need for cream or sugar. Of course, the entire damn restaurant was still staring at him like a lame cow being judged at the county fair.
Pushing open the front door with his palm, he jogged out to his truck, happy to be away from there. Now the last thing separating him from his past was the drive to his father's ranch. He pulled out of his parking spot and drove down Main Street, Wishing River.
Eight years and barely a thing had changed.
The old buildings still had that charm that beckoned tourists and artists, especially during the summer and fall. But this wasn't his home anymore; that much was clear.
He made the drive out to the ranch in record time, the need to get this over with encouraging him to drive faster. The winding country roads were virtually empty, and the rugged beauty of the land hit him — as a kid he'd sworn he'd never leave Montana. Wishing River was nestled between the jagged peaks of the Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the Sapphire Mountains to the east. The valleys held the fall foliage like a secret prize from the other areas of Montana that couldn't boast the range of color they had here.
The rolling green hills, the towering trees, the pastures, the wide-open sky, they were as familiar to him as breathing. But something wasn't right.
Easing his foot off the gas, he slowed as the old three-rail wood fence bordering his family's sprawling ranch came into view. A couple of the posts were down, some in need of maintenance, but it was fall, and that's when all the maintenance usually happened around the ranch.
He pulled into the long gravel drive, dust and pebbles kicking up behind him, and he didn't bother avoiding the potholes, the mud splashing onto his already filthy truck. The pit in his stomach seemed to grow exponentially, knowing his mother wasn't at the door, knowing his father ... was ill.
Once parked, he grabbed his keys and coffee and went to face his past.
His boots crunched against the gravel, and he took a deep breath. The red barn in the distance was just screaming for a coat of paint, and he couldn't make out any movement around there or the bunkhouse way in the distance, but he knew all the cowboys were out by now. He was the only one not working this time of morning.
The large, sprawling covered porch didn't have a single plant. The paint was chipping on the railing and spindles, and the shutters and windows looked like they hadn't been cleaned in years. His mother would have been mortified.
He rolled his shoulders as he stared at the faded red front door. He gave a knock and then walked inside. The smell of coffee greeted him as he did a quick survey from the front rug. The house was the same. Except it didn't have that welcoming, shiny clean feel from when his mother had been alive. Now it was obvious a bachelor lived here. The curtains weren't drawn, there was a fine layer of dust, and no fresh flowers.
"Is that you, Tyler?" Heavy footsteps approached, and he stood like a stranger in his childhood home.
"It is," he called out.
Mrs. Busby — one of his parents' close friends — appeared from the door to the living room. "Well, aren't you a sight for sore, sad eyes?"
He took off his hat and smiled. "Hi, Mrs. Busby."
Her hand was on her chest, and she gave him his first smile since coming home. "It's been a long time, child. I'm so happy you're here. I prayed for this, for you to return to Wishing River. You are just what your father needs. Better than any kind of medicine."
He swallowed down the lump in his throat, along with a hefty dose of guilt. He wasn't so sure he was going to do his father any good, but he was facing his responsibilities. His father was now his responsibility. All of it was. He owed it to him; despite everything, the man had raised him, and now it was his turn to take care of his old man.
"Well, I hope he agrees," he said, shoving his free hand into the front pocket of his jeans.
"Of course he does," Mrs. Busby replied, placing her hands on her hips. The older woman was almost exactly how he remembered her, maybe a little wider in what had already been ample hips.
"How's he doing?" he asked, feeling awkward in his childhood home.
She stepped out into the hallway, shutting the French door that led to the living room, where he assumed his father was sleeping. "He's stable. It could have been much, much worse. I'll let Dr. Stanton fill you in when he comes tonight for his daily visit."
Dr. Stanton — aka Dean. How the hell had his friend gone from troublemaker to doctor? But he'd always known Dean was going to do big things. He'd come from a long line of doctors and successful ranchers, and the guy had never strayed from his goals, no matter the amount of trouble they'd gotten themselves into as teens.
He stared down at his worn boots for a second as a wave of insecurity washed through him. "Dean comes every night?" She nodded, her oversize gray curls standing still despite the motion. "Yes. On his way home from the office, he stops in and checks on your father."
Ty gave a nod. "You mentioned on the phone that you have a nurse who comes by?"
"Yes, yes. Two different nurses, one for morning and one for night. I usually drop by in the morning before church. But I'm only a phone call away, and if you need anything, you call me. We've rented a hospital bed for him so he can rest comfortably, and it helps with sitting up and such."
"Thank you," he said, following her into the kitchen when she motioned.
"You don't have to thank me. Your father and I go way back," she said. He knew they did. When Mrs. Busby's husband had been alive, the couple would often come over and have dinner or drinks with his parents. They had all been best friends. He could still remember hearing laughter into the late hours of the night. He hated thinking how things changed, how quickly time passed.
"I'd offer you coffee, but I see you already picked up a cup," she said, placing her empty mug into the dishwasher.
"It was a long night." He glanced in the direction of the living room, dreading having to go through with this but wanting to get it over with now. "Is he sleeping, or can I go see him?" Walking forward, she placed a hand on his arm. "Of course you can. Now, don't expect him to be ... like the man you remember. Martin is holding his own, and Dr. Stanton said he's very lucky that Lainey found him when she did, or it could have been much worse."
He cleared his throat. "Lainey?"
She angled her head. "You remember — Tilly's granddaughter?"
The image of the gorgeous blonde with the pissed-off gaze flashed across his mind. "Yeah. Right. Lainey. Where ... did she find him?"
She shook her head and then did the sign of the cross, her dark-brown eyes filling with tears. "By the fence close to the road. I think he was trying to fix it. Apparently, he was unconscious when she found him, called the paramedics, and they coached her on what to do until they arrived. That sweet girl rode in the back of the ambulance with him and didn't leave his side." She sniffled and produced a handkerchief from those velour pants and blew her nose loudly.
Staring down at the top of her gray head, not capable of words yet, his mind flooded with questions and guilt and images of his father unconscious outside. Fixing the damn fence. There should be hired help for that. When he left eight years ago, there were thirty-five employees — any one of them could have done it. He should have done it. He should have been the one to help him, to be by his side in the ambulance. "He's in the living room?"
She nodded. "We did the best we could, finding a spot for him on the main floor. We figured that'd be the best place, since there's a door for privacy and it's close to the washroom. It's not perfect. Of course the house isn't exactly welcoming; I'm sorry for that. My arthritis is bad in the fall and winter, and we haven't really had time to get the place all spick-and-span."
"Don't worry," he said, wincing at the harshness in his voice. He tried to speak softly. "You've done more than enough. I can take it from here."
Her eyes softened, and she smiled at him with such sympathy and acceptance that she reminded him of his mother. She reached out and patted his arm again. "Oh my dear, we aren't going anywhere. You're going to need us. But I'm happy you're home to take the lead ... And your father needs you, Tyler."
He swallowed hard against the emotion simmering inside. "Does he know I'm here?"
Her full cheeks reddened. "I ... didn't know ... I wanted to wait until you had arrived. I didn't say anything."
A pit formed in his stomach. She hadn't believed he'd come home. He gave her a nod. "That's fair enough. I understand. I, uh, I guess I should go see him," he said, looking toward the door.
She squeezed his arm. "Tyler, he's not the same man. He can't speak. He can't stand. He can't use his arms to eat or drink."
He was biting down hard on his back teeth. "Okay."
"The day nurse is Sheila; she's just on a call in the office. I always tell her to take a little break when I come and visit. She'll get him all washed up for the day. He's already had breakfast. Sheila stays until seven. That's when Lainey gets here. She usually stays for an hour, brings him dinner, until the night nurse, Michelle, comes in. Oh, and of course Dr. Stanton drops in after work, so anywhere between five and eight at night."
So the entire town was taking care of his father. Except him. He didn't bother asking why Lainey was bringing him dinner when he knew there was a cook in the bunkhouse for the men.
"I should probably get in there."
She nudged him forward. "I'll leave you two, then. You won't be on your own long. All our numbers are on the fridge in case of anything. I'm here if you need me, Tyler."
"Thank you," he said, forcing a smile. "I really appreciate what you've done."
She waved a hand. "Don't have to thank me — that's what friends are for. Now go on and say hi to your papa. I know seeing you will cheer him up."
Standing there, watching her gather her purse and keys, he desperately tried to figure out what the hell he was going to say to him. Eight years ago, his father had stood tall and proud. He'd been fit, the ranch keeping him active and strong. But the death of his wife had brought the man to his knees, and it had been the first time Ty had seen his father as something other than invincible — and then everything had unraveled after that. After his mother had died, he realized just how tenuous their relationship had been. But it wasn't until that last night, that last argument, that he realized why his father could let him go.
Tyler rolled his shoulders, braced himself, then slowly walked over to the living room door. Regardless of their argument, he owed his father. Tyler had always considered himself a pretty rational person, but the situation with his dad, his emotions about everything were irrational, and he didn't like that. He didn't like being at the mercy of his feelings.
He gave the door a knock and then opened it.
Nothing could have prepared him for seeing his father like this. He was lying in the hospital bed, his once-strong face now weathered and hanging loosely on one side. His eyes were closed. His hair had thinned out, the gray having given way to the white. He wasn't the man Ty knew. His father was strong. This man lying in the bed was broken.
He blinked, forcing the emotion away, not letting himself dwell on it, the passage of time, the stroke, the regrets.
Walking forward a little, he cleared his throat. "Hi, Dad," he said.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Trouble with Cowboys"
Copyright © 2019 Victoria James.
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.
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