Last year I received the second best call I’d ever gotten from my editor (the best call ever was my first contract offer)! She offered me the opportunity to be a part of a six author continuity. What’s that you ask? It’s a series of six books that are interlinked and their plots and stories build on each other. Each story is written by a different author. I immediately jumped at the chance only to discover that five out of the six authors involved in the continuity were bestsellers.
Guess which author was the odd man out?
To say I was intimidated to write this story is putting it mildly.
I was terrified. Not only was I writing a book in a series with five amazing authors, but my hero was a Texas Ranger. For my day job I’m an office worker at a law enforcement organization and have always stayed away from writing about lawman because of it. However, I immediately connected with Ranger Heath Grayson.
Heath’s father was a Texas Ranger who lost his life in the line of duty. Josie Markham is a pregnant widow. Her husband was a state trooper who also lost his life on the job. Because of their losses, neither are interested in getting involved in a relationship. But Heath’s investigation into the cold case of his father’s murder brings him directly into Josie’s path and the boys at the residential ranch run by the Lone Star Cowboy League will stop at nothing to make sure Josie and Heath end up together.
The Ranger’s Texas Proposal releases in November. It’s the second book in the Lone Star Cowboy League: Boys Ranch series, with a new book coming out every month October – March. It was difficult to decide what part to share, but I ended up landing on when our hero and heroine, Heath and Josie, first meet:
Right when Heath was about to turn toward the cabin, he spotted a petite woman coming out of the barn struggling as she huffed and puffed behind a creaking wheelbarrow.
His long stride ate up the distance quickly. “Here. Let me help.”
The woman set down the handles, balanced the wheelbarrow in the soft earth near a grassless pen and swiped sweat from her forehead. One of her fingers poked through a hole in her worn-out work gloves. The nail polish on it was chipped, but purple. Her hair color fell somewhere between red and brown. She had it pulled up, but it must be long to make that gigantic bun on her head. He never understood how women were able to get it to look that way, all piled on top… Didn’t it hurt? Wasn’t that much hair heavy?
The woman—Josie Markham, according to Flint—set her hands on her hips and scowled at him as if Heath were a spider on her wall. “What can I do for you, Officer?” Her tone said she didn’t really want to do anything for him. Ever.
He raised his eyebrows.
She heaved a sigh. Her cheeks were flushed from exertion. She grabbed at the collar of the light green shirt she wore, fanning it to cool herself down. “White hat. Boots. White starched shirt. And that belt’s the type they only issue to Texas Rangers.” She gestured toward his holster. “I hope you weren’t trying to be undercover.”
“Good eye.” He extended his hand. She narrowed her gaze but shook it. “Heath Grayson. I’m a friend of Flint’s.”
In the space of a heartbeat, her hesitant expression vanished and was replaced by wide-eyed concern. “Did something else happen at the ranch?” Her lips parted to suck in air and her skin went paler than it was naturally a moment ago. Josie had one of those the rare types of faces that didn’t age—she’d look young forever. Even though she was probably nearing thirty, she could pass for eighteen.
She shifted from around the wheelbarrow. “What are we waiting for? If something’s wrong, let’s go.” She started toward her truck.
Once she moved away from the wheelbarrow, he saw her stomach. Pregnant. Very pregnant. That fact wasn’t a maybe or a possibly—it was a certainty. Flint had mentioned Josie was widowed, but he’d left out the little detail that she was with child. So, a recent widow.
Had she been in the barn alone…doing chores?
Heath imagined his sister Nell. She’d been married to a fireman a few years back. Bill. A loser. He’d cheated on Nell and left her alone, pregnant with their daughter, Carly. Even the reminder of the man caused Heath’s hands to bunch into fists. Heath had always wanted to march up to Bill and give him a piece of his mind, but Nell had forbidden any such nonsense. His younger sister was a strong, determined woman. The set of Josie’s chin hinted that she might have that in common with Nell.
“Let me help you with your chores,” Heath said.
Josie’s jaw dropped. “What about the boys ranch?”
“The ranch is fine.”
“Why didn’t you say so? You about gave me a heart attack.” She laid her hand on her chest and took a few deep breaths. Then her eyes skirted back up to capture his. “If the ranch is fine, why exactly are you here, then?”
She fanned her face and dragged in huge amounts of oxygen through her mouth as if she was having a hard time getting it into her lungs.
Now he’d done it. Gone and gotten a pregnant woman all worked up. Did he need to find her a chair? A drink of water? Rush her to the hospital? What a terrible feeling, being out of control. It was disconcerting. With his training as a Ranger and his years as a state trooper before that, he was far too used to knowing what to do in whatever situation he was placed in.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” He took hold of her elbow and steered her away from the barn, toward the cabin. She felt so small and breakable. There wasn’t much meat on her arm. “What do you need?”
“I’m fine. Just fine.” She laughed. “You should see your face, though.” She pointed up at him and covered her mouth, hiding her wide grin. Her warm brown eyes shone with mischief. “Now you look like you’re the one having a heart attack. Relax there, Officer. It was only a figure of speech.” Her laugh was a high sound, full of joy. Josie laughed with her whole self, without holding anything back.
Heath wanted to hear it again.
She even smelled nice—a mixture of sunshine from the outdoors and something sweet, almost like the scent that used to drift through his childhood home when his mom was making caramel chews.
“You still haven’t answered my question.”
Had she asked him something? Heath scratched his chin.
Josie crossed her arms, resting them on top of her protruding stomach. “So, then, Heath Grayson, Texas Ranger, what brings you to my ranch?”
He toed his boot into the parched earth. How on earth was this tiny woman making him feel as if he was the one under questioning, not the other way around? Off-kilter. That was the way to describe how he felt.
“Flint wants me to speak with you about the incident last night. About the calves.”
“Funny.” She inclined her head. “I didn’t take this for something that required the intervention of the Texas Rangers.”
“You’re right. This isn’t exactly official business.” He made finger quotes around the last two words. “I’m on vacation. Only doing Flint a favor.”
“Ah, so you’re a do-gooder, then? The married-to-the-job type. Poking around for petty criminals on your off time?” The tug of her lips let him know she was teasing him again.
Silence usually worked when he was locked in a room with his worst offenders. Perhaps the trick would get the firecracker that was Josie Markham to stay on track, as well. Heath locked his jaw out of habit.
“Okay. I see. That’s your confession look.” She pointed at his face. “That’s the stern one that gets the bad guys to give in. Fine. Be that way.” She pulled off her gloves and wiped her hands on the thighs of her jeans. “Well, let’s get it over with quickly, then. I’ve got a lot that needs to get done today.” She jutted her thumb over her shoulder, pointing at the barn.
Heath’s gaze traced back over the patched-together ranch. If Josie was all alone, she needed help. That should take precedence over an investigation about some loose cows. It wasn’t exactly like anyone was in immediate danger. Not from what Flint had shared.
Unlike the danger that had plagued the boys ranch fifteen years ago.
“How about I go ahead and help with your chores first?” Heath crossed his arms and widened his stance, ready for the fight he was sure this woman would put up. He’d spent enough time on his uncle’s ranch over the years, especially after his father’s death, that Heath knew his way around a barn and wasn’t shy when it came to manual labor. He was just as much at home mucking stables as he was on the shooting range.
Her lips pinched as if she’d bitten into something sour. “Absolutely not.”
No one could say he wasn’t a good judge of character.
Josie blew out a long stream of air. “Listen, Officer Grayson—”
“Heath is just fine.” He took a half step closer.
“Heath, then.” She patted her hair. “I make it a point not to spend too much time around lawmen anymore.”
Since The Ranger’s Texas Proposal takes place during Thanksgiving, I’d love to hear about what you’re thankful for as well as what your family does for Thanksgiving. I’ll be giving away three copies of The Ranger’s Texas Proposal to people who comment today!