Jessica Ledbetter had worked too hard on her family's Colorado dude ranch, the Lazy L, to roll over and play dead when Jim Bradford showed up as the new manager. The former power broker from New York City was darkly handsome in his custom suit and tie, but downright devastating in tight jeans and Stetson.
Once back in the saddle after a decade in the city, Jim--a native Texan, took the reins and steered the operation, roped in the guests and even tamed Jess's uncooperative brothers. But the Lazy L was her legacy. Jess couldn't let it fall into the hands of an outsider. No matter what those hands did to her...
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April 07, 2008
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Excerpt from Runaway Cowboy by Judy Christenberry
James Bradford stepped out of his black Mercedes and surveyed the Lazy L. The dude ranch was nestled in a lush valley, beneath the majestic Rocky Mountains near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Through his expensive shades, he could see the corral in the distance. He could also hear the happy laughter of people. He took a deep breath of clear, crisp air.
"Not bad," he muttered. Now he just had to see if the offer of work was still good. The ranch's owner, Cliff Ledbetter, had offered him the job because Cliff was old friends with Jim's uncle. Jim had met Cliff several times. But he was interested in the job because he wanted out of his current position as a stockbroker working on Wall Street. He'd made a lot of money, but not enough to buy and set up a ranch of his own.
He could get back to the life he wanted by coming here.
He entered the large house that looked to be the main building. Removing his shades as he entered, he immediately spotted a young woman seated behind the counter at a desk.
He could've said "not bad" about her, too, but he didn't want to be rude. "Hello," he said instead.
The dark-haired woman looked up in surprise. "Good morning," she said as she got up. "How may I help you?"
He returned her smile. "I'm looking for Cliff Led-better. Is he available?"
"Yes, of course. He's at the corral just behind the house."
"Thanks." He turned to go out the front door.
"It's closer if you go out the back door. Just go down the hall behind the main staircase."
"Thank you. I will." As he walked down the hall, he smiled at the thought of the remarkably beautiful woman in the front office. Getting to know her would be his first priority.
Right after he moved in.
AFTER THE STRANGER HAD walked away, Jessica sat back down at her desk. Who could the man be? Her grandfather didn't have that many callers, other than his friends from the valley, and she knew all of them. Besides, they all dressed in jeans and boots, not in what looked like a custom-tailored designer suit and leather loafers.
The man was more her age than her grandfather's. Not that she was looking for a man right now, good-looking or not. "Jessie? Where are you?"
She recognized her brother's growl. "I'm at my desk, Pete. What's wrong?"
"This can't be true!" he ranted as he came around the corner.
"What can't be true?"
"This cattle drive you offered the customers!"
"Pete, don't you remember? We talked about it."
"Not this week! We're doing roundup! I can't have a bunch of inexperienced riders wandering around on horseback! It's not safe."
After shuffling papers, Jessica asked, "Is this the only week you can do roundup? Because I have a larger group of guests requesting a cattle drive next week. It's what we do, Pete. Show people how to be a cowboy."
"I don't think we'll be finished by next week."
Jessica covered her face with her hands. Then she looked up. "Pete, this is why we had those meetings when we were planning out the summer season--to schedule certain activities for our paying customers."
"That's not my fault! I had a lot on my mind!"
Jessica was so frustrated with her oldest brother she was tempted to scream. "Pete, you're not thinking! Our reputation will depend on what people say about their time here!"
"Hey, kids, I want you to meet someone," an older voice called out, interrupting their tirade.
Jessica halted the argument mid-stride, but it wasn't easy. She looked up to see the dark-eyed stranger she'd admired before walking with their grandfather. She managed a smile.
"This is James Bradford. He's going to work here."
Jessica stared at the man, momentarily speechless.
Pete obviously wasn't. "He is? You a cowboy?"
"I was at one time. Going to be again," the man said.
Jessica finally found her voice. "Granddad, what do you mean?"
"Jim is Tony's nephew. He'll be great."
"Who's Tony?" Jessica asked. She didn't mean to be rude, but she needed the facts.
"He's the guy I go fishing with down in Texas. Remember? We were in the navy together."
Holding her smile in place when she wanted to scream, she nodded at the man. Pete just stood there stone-faced.
"What are you good at?" Pete asked, still eyeing him.
James Bradford remained silent.
Both Pete and Jessica stared at their grandfather.
"You're not going to like this, but I hired Jim to run the ranch. You all will report to him," Cliff Led-better said.
Dead silence filled the room. Then both Pete and Jessica started to protest, loudly, to their grandfather.
Mr. Bradford raised a hand and calmly said, "May I suggest we take this discussion somewhere that the guests can't overhear?"
Guiltily, Jessica looked around. He was right, of course, but she didn't like a stranger pointing out the obvious.