As many of you know, I’ve been slowly dipping my toes into independent publishing. I still love writing for Harlequin, but I couldn’t pass up the wonderful opportunity to join some of my Inspy Romance author sisters in bringing about this brand new Christmas bundle.
Enter my very first adorable, stuttering, VR-glasses-wearing geek hero Cameron Flynn, who tends to blurt out whatever is in his head—especially around his pretty nextdoor neighbor Maisey Gray.
As you know, I generally write alpha cowboy heroes, so Cam was a big diversion for me. I don’t do geek heroes, partially, I think, because I’m not attracted to them in real life. (As an aside, this is also why it’s so hard for me to write blond-haired heroes. I’ve always and forever been attracted to the dark hair/blue eye combination. ALL my heroes would have dark hair and blue eyes if I had my way.)
Most of the time my stories come in bits and pieces, but from the moment Cam opens his door to Maisey, staring back at her from his VR glasses, I knew how this story was going to go. I saw the adorable six-year-old twins Cam had just become guardian of. I not only saw Maisey’s family (four heroines!) but knew all of their stories. I knew Cam would be wearing VR glasses on the cover–consequently, I knew it had to be an indie book, so I could make my own cover decisions.
And speaking of covers–those horses at the bottom? They are my sisters horses from Happy Haven Farm & Sanctuary. For real!
I couldn’t write The Cowgirl’s Christmas Gift fast enough.
Here’s an excerpt:
Maisey Gray stood stock still, her posture relaxed but her heart racing.
Though her sweetheart’s focus was pinpointed on her, he moved forward with hesitant steps.
As he approached, Maisey’s heart expanded until it nearly burst. She couldn’t help but smile when his breath fanned her cheek. It seemed like she’d been waiting forever for him to make a move.
And now, finally, that precious, beautiful moment was here.
“I love you, big guy,” she whispered.
In response, the center of her world whickered and nudged her shoulder with his muzzle.
“That’s it, Scotch. You can trust me. What a handsome boy you are.”
She’d been standing in the middle of the corral for the better part of the day, just as she had done for several days hence, quietly letting the untamed palomino quarter horse become used to her presence. Now, it looked like her patience with the skittish gelding might finally be paying off.
The horse snuffled her palm, becoming familiar with her scent.
Wild from birth, Butterscotch, or Scotch, for short, had been rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management and had been kept for months in an overcrowded pen with no shelter from the elements. His ribs poked through his sides like a xylophone and his prominent hipbones jutted upward. His once-beautiful coat was thin, dull and patchy.
Poor guy. It was no wonder he didn’t trust humans. He’d been given absolutely no reason to do so.
The specialized feed Maisey provided for him was slowly starting to make a difference in the lackluster sheen of his coat and he’d filled out a little, though he had a long way to go. Once Scotch trusted her enough to touch him, she’d be able to brush him and rub him down, get his hooves filed and have him properly vetted.
Scotch was blessed. Maisey had picked him out of the huge BLM herd and brought him to the ranch to work with and transform. Far too many other horses wouldn’t be so lucky.
But here at Last Chance Ranch, Maisey and her three younger sisters did what they could to make a difference in as many horses’ lives as possible.
It was more than just their livelihood. It was the Gray sisters’ family passion, and had been all their lives.
In nine short months, Maisey and Butterscotch would be headed for the Casper Comeback Challenge in Casper, Wyoming—an opportunity not only to show off her horse training skills, which was her day job and how she made the money to save wild horses—but to find Butterscotch a wonderful forever home through the auction that followed the competition. Ranchers from all over Wyoming and even farther came to watch the well-trained horses show off their newfound skills.
It was all very exciting, especially for someone like Maisey who’d been born with the urge to compete pulsing through her veins. But the first step in the process was to get the once-handsome gelding warily sniffing and snuffling her hair to trust her.
Comeback challenges weren’t for the faint of heart—not for the horses, and most especially not for the trainers. Most took place over the course of a year, but Casper’s Comeback Challenge was unique in that the horse trainers only had nine months to create a lasting bond with their equine partners. It took every bit of Maisey’s spare time and patience to coax wild kill-lot horses into believing in themselves again, and more than that, to believe in the goodness of humanity when they’d experienced so little of it.
Scotch whickered and lowered his head, nudging her shoulder again. Clearly he could smell the apple slices she had waiting in her pocket.
Maisey laughed gently as she removed an apple slice and fed it to the magnificent creature before her. Her heart rose in delighted thanksgiving to bless God for being allowed to take part in this miracle.
Any amount of patience and work was worth this moment when human and horse first met and bonded on the same level.
“Yee-haw!” came a high, shrill voice from around the corner of the barn. “I’m gonna get you! You can’t get away from me. I run way faster than you!”
Scotch’s ears immediately went flat back against his head and he bucked and whinnied away from Maisey, the whites of his eyes displaying sheer terror from the sound. A moment later, he bolted for the far end of the corral.
Butterscotch didn’t look like he was going to stop in time, but at the last moment, he planted all four hooves and skidded to an abrupt halt before the gate to the outside pasture. Maisey’s heart was hammering. He could have seriously injured himself.
Maisey whirled around, fury pounding through her veins. She clenched her fists and huffed aloud, fuming. Whatever neighborhood children who’d wandered onto her property had just cost her two full weeks of work and had set poor Butterscotch back by at least that much time or more.
She stomped toward the noise just as two rambunctious blond-haired little boys darted from around the corner of the barn, both laughing and carrying on in a pitch that would frighten the most docile of horses, never mind a wild gelding just learning to trust people.
The boys were evidently playing a game of chase. The first little boy had his index fingers pointed up on either side of his head next to his ears like—antennae? Was he pretending to be a very noisy alien?
No, Maisey realized as she observed the second child, who chased behind the first whirling a homemade lasso forged from a piece of old rope.
A cow. The first boy was pretending to be a cow.
And the second equally raucous child was the cowboy trying to wrangle his friend with a rope.
No—not a friend. A brother. An identical twin, if she wasn’t mistaken.
She’d lived here at Last Chance Ranch in Hope, Wyoming all her life. The blink-and-you-miss-it town didn’t even have a traffic light. Though major Interstate 25 slashed through the countryside mere miles away, Hope didn’t even garner a dot on map.
Maisey had lived here at the ranch her whole life but she’d never seen either one of these children before.
The prime ranch land just to the east of their property had been up for sale for over a year now, and Maisey and her sisters would have loved to have picked it up to expand their holdings, but despite being in the middle of Nowhere, Wyoming, the plot was way out of their price-range, mostly due to the ridiculously-oversized mansion which had been built on the land.
The ranch had been owned by a Hollywood movie star as their second, third or maybe even fourth getaway home, but they’d rarely if ever visited the place. Maisey didn’t even know which actor had built the gargantuan monstrosity in the first place. She’d certainly never heard of anyone living there. In any case, the land hadn’t been cared for and was neglected and overgrown.
Surely, she would have heard if someone would have moved in there.
Wherever these two very rambunctious little boys had appeared from, they were currently running around her barn frightening her horses.
“Hey. Hey, you,” she shouted, not wanting to further frighten Butterscotch but knowing the boys would not hear her unless she raised her voice. “You two. Stop right where you are.”
The two boys’ already enormous blue eyes grew as big as saucers when they caught sight of the incensed woman barreling down on them. For a moment she thought they were going to make a run for it, but instead they screeched to a halt, dust clouding at their heels.
“What, exactly, do you think you’re doing running around here like that?” she demanded, and then realized she was probably scaring the living daylights out of the boys. She had zero experience with little kids. She couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how old they were.
One little boy smirked at her. The other’s eyes filled with tears.
She cleared her dry throat and tried again, attempting to soften her tone.
“Who are you and why are you running around my barn?”
“Silas,” said the cow.
“Sebastian,” said the cowboy.
“And?” Maisey prodded when neither of them answered the second part of her question.
The boys exchanged glances and both sets of blond brows furrowed in confusion.
“You’re on my land,” she explained, crouching down to their eye-level and tipping her hat back so they could see her eyes. “It’s private property.”
Silas dropped his gaze and dug the toe of his boot into the ground, kicking up dust.
“What’s that?” Sebastian asked, clearly the spokesperson between the two boys. He smiled, revealing adorable double dimples.
They might have frightened Butterscotch with their noise, but it was obvious their trespassing was unintentional.
“When you came around the side of the barn screaming like that you frightened my horse,” she explained.
Silas’s face turned cherry red. He elbowed his brother.
“Sorry,” Sebastian said, although in Maisey’s opinion, he didn’t really look it.
“Where’d you guys come from?”
This time Silas spoke up first.
“Earth,” he proclaimed proudly, brushing away his tears and grinning from ear to ear.
“Um—” Maisey stammered, feeling very much as if she was having an entirely unearthly encounter here. “No, that’s not what I meant. I was fairly certain when I first saw you that I was dealing with earthlings. What I was asking is if you live around here somewhere. Are you visiting relatives?”
Silas’s enormous blue eyes welled with tears. Again. It appeared to Maisey that nearly everything she said prompted the sweet little boy to cry, and it made her more uncomfortable than ever. If she hadn’t already known she wasn’t good around children, this would have proven it.
Sebastian’s eyebrows pinched together over his nose. He squared his shoulders and frowned. “Mommy is in jail.”
Maisey groaned. Oh, dear, had she ever stepped in it this time.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized softly. “So you are living with…?”
She left the end of her sentence dangling, hoping one of the boys would fill it in for her.
“Uncle Cam,” Sebastian supplied. “He’s Mommy’s brother.”
“I see. And your Uncle Cam lives…?”
The dangling sentences approach appeared to be working for her.
“In this ginormous house,” Sebastian said. “The biggest one in the world.”
“Yeah,” enthused Silas, still dabbing at his tears with the back of his hands. “It’s got fourteen million bedrooms and TVs everywhere.”
“And there’s this huge stove where Uncle Cam makes us pancakes every morning for breakfast,” said Sebastian.
“Pancakes with faces on them, or made with animal shapes,” Silas enthused.
Cam? Cameron? Maisey searched her mind but wasn’t familiar with the name. And yet the house the boys were describing almost had to be the ranch to the east of them, especially because the boys would have had to have walked from wherever they’d come from, and the ranch to the east was definitely the closest.
“Do either of you know how to get back to your uncle’s house?”
Both boys looked around and then at each other. They shook their heads, their eyes widening as they realized just how far they had wandered off.
She sighed. “Give me just a minute and I’ll take you home. I’ll have to round up Scotch first. You boys stay right there and don’t move a muscle, understand?” She pointed at the ground beneath their feet.
The boys nodded gravely. Maybe they were starting to realize just how much trouble they were going to be in. Their Uncle Cam was no doubt frantic with worry by now, not being able to find the boys. She’d be pitching a fit if her nephews disappeared. Not that she had any nephews, since all three of her sisters were single.
Getting Scotch turned out into the pasture ended up being not quite as difficult a task as she’d thought it might be. The gelding was standing calmly in the far end of the corral and didn’t hesitate to go through when she opened up the gate into the pasture. He displayed only a moment’s skittishness as he ran by her and she closed the gate behind him. Hopefully she hadn’t lost all the time and effort she’d put into him to get him to trust her. She’d give him some time to settle and enjoy the open pasture before she tried working with him again.
At the moment, she had other concerns—like returning two precocious children to their erstwhile uncle. He must be anxious about the kids by now.
Her truck was a single cab and she had no idea if the boys were allowed to ride in the front seat or if they needed booster seats, so she nixed the idea of driving them anywhere.
Nope. Looked like they were going to have to hoof it, and it was a good two mile walk.
“Let’s go, kiddos,” she told them. “I’m sure your Uncle Cam is worried about where you are.”
Which made her wonder about a man who would allow his nephews free rein to run off and play wherever they pleased. Hadn’t he given them clear boundaries? Being new to the neighborhood, they could have easily gotten lost.
In a way, they had gotten lost, since they didn’t know the way back to their uncle’s house. It was a good thing Maisey had found them when she did, even if it had been at the cost of setting her time back with Butterscotch.
Whoever this Uncle Cam was, he was rich. Even approaching the giant mansion unnerved her. What kind of man lived here? Did he have maids and a butler? A full-time house and grounds staff to keep up the place?
There was one thing she knew he did need post haste, and that was a nanny for these two rambunctious little boys.
Maybe he was another Hollywood superstar, someone she’d immediately recognize off the big screen. Probably some snooty A-lister who wouldn’t give her the time of day.
She wouldn’t know until she knocked.
And he was going to listen to her, whether he wanted to or not, because she had a few things to say to this mystery man.
And that’s just the beginning! My story, along with the other seven authors, is now available for only $0.99 or you can read it for free if you are on Kindle Unlimited. I’m so excited for you to enjoy the whole set! Buy A Christmas to Remember here: http://bit.ly/CTRIR101518