The cowboy's lady?When Tori took a job at the Rocking C ranch, nobody told her an ornery cowboy came with it. As a former nurse, Tori knew she could help Matt Clayton get back on his feet. The only obstacle was the injured bronc rider himself... An accident may have ended his rodeo career, but Matt wasn't one to back down from a challenge! Now one bossy redhead was about to meet her match! But Tori was hiding something. Would Tori's secret force her to leave Matt and the feelings he was awakening in her? Or could love work its healing magic on them both, making this a homecoming neither would forget?
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May 31, 2008
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Excerpt from In Love with the Bronc Rider by Judy Duarte
Tori McKenzie slapped her hands on her denim-clad hips and studied the twenty-six-year-old man sitting before her, defiance etched in bold strokes across his handsome face.
She'd taken all she could stand from Matthew Clayton, and even a softie like her was bound to explode sometime. "Are you immune to the feelings of others? You've made the poor cook cry three times this week. And she doesn't deserve it."
The afternoon sun slanting through the window highlighted strands of gold in Matt's uncombed, chestnut-colored hair. If he'd been going for the rugged, sexy look, his tousled locks and unshaven appearance would be enough to cause a flock of buckle bunnies to swoon.
But Tori knew better than that. Matt didn't seem to care about anything these days. Not even his appearance.
If she hadn't been a registered nurse once upon a time and sworn to promote healing, she would have ditched this thankless assignment the moment Gran-ny--Tori's employer and Matt's sweet, elderly mother--had suggested it.
As it was, now she was stuck trying to get through to the stubborn man who refused to let anyone break down the walls he'd put up.
"I just want to be left alone," he said. "Can't you and the cook get that through your pretty little heads?"
Tori wasn't prone to violence, particularly when the target was a man who'd been confined to a wheelchair following a tragic car accident, but she had a growing compulsion to grab him by the scruff of his shirt and shake some sense into him.
Instead she muttered, "A lot you know."
Matt relaxed his rebellious pose, allowing himself to sit easier in that chair than a former rodeo cowboy ought to. "Now, listen here, Red--"
"Don't call me Red." He couldn't know that the childhood taunt still rubbed her the wrong way, and telling him might actually make his mood worse, but her patience had run thin today. "You have no idea how old that nickname has gotten or what negative connotations it holds for me. Call me Tori. Or Ms. McKenzie, if you prefer."
"All right." He crossed his arms over his chest. "Then Miz McKenzie it is. But either way, I'm still not interested in your help or your sympathy. And you can pass that info on to Connie, too. She was hired to cook, and you signed on to clean the house and do laundry--not babysit me. So go peddle your damn TLC elsewhere."
"I have nowhere else to peddle it." And that was the truth. Tori had left her job at the hospital and had no intention of applying for another position elsewhere--at least, not in the near future.
Nor was she ready to provide references and offer any explanations.
She wasn't sure what had gone down in her personnel file after her brother's foolish crime, but she'd been officially reprimanded about it.
And the entire situation had been embarrassing-- painfully so.
Someday she'd go back to nursing, she supposed. But right now, she was still licking her wounds.
"Well, I don't need your golly-gee, everything's-turning-up-roses attitude," Matt said. "So why don't you find something else to do and leave me alone?"
"Because I need your help."
His brow furrowed and his right eye twitched. "What do you want me to do? Reach something for you? Maybe run out to the barn and saddle a horse so you can go out riding?"
"Actually," she said, "your mother's birthday is coming up in a few weeks. And I need help planning a party."
He blew out a snortlike breath. "I don't do parties."
"She's going to be eighty." Tori made her way toward his wheelchair, as though they'd broached some kind of friendship when that couldn't be any further from the truth. "And you and I are going to figure out a way to surprise her."
"Good luck with that. People in town have been trying to plan celebrations behind her back for as long as I can remember, and she always catches wind of it. No one surprises Granny."
"You and I will."
He reached over to the lamp table and took a glass of amber-colored liquid, which could be either melted-down iced tea or whiskey.
She suspected it was the latter, although she couldn't be sure unless she got close enough to catch a whiff of his breath.
"I told you before," he said. "I don't do parties."
"And I told you, Granny is going to be eighty in a few weeks. That's a very big deal. Do you realize this could be the last birthday party she ever has?"
"Don't say that!" His words came out sharp, abrupt. And his response was the first sign of any tender feelings he might have bottled up with all that grief he'd undoubtedly suppressed.
Good. That meant she was making progress. So she was glad she'd thrown out her ace in the hole--his deep love for and devotion to the woman who'd raised him.
Granny had been a childless widow who was pushing sixty when she adopted Jared, her oldest son. Matt, the youngest, had come next, followed a year later by Greg, whom Tori had never met.