He'd come home
Getting a job at the Rocking C Ranch was the best thing that could have happened to Sabrina Gonzalez and her younger nephew. Until her employers suspicious son came home. Now all she had to do was keep the handsome cowboy from uncovering her secret....
...to catch a thief
Jared Clayton needed to find out who'd been ferreting funds from his adoptive mother. Her new bookkeeper was the likeliest suspect, even if Sabrina didn't look like a common criminal. The soft-spoken beauty was awfully tempting, but Jared had already been down that road. Until she showed the tough-as-cowhide Texan something he didn't even know he possessed: his tender side.
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February 29, 2008
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Excerpt from Romancing the Cowboy by Judy Duarte
"I need to talk to you about Edna." At the sound of Doc Graham's age-worn voice over the telephone line, Jared Clayton's gut clenched and his chest tightened. This, he suspected, was the moment he'd been dreading. The call he and his two brothers had known would someday come.
He'd been sitting in the worn, tufted-leather chair in his study, the ledger spread across the polished oak desktop, when the phone rang.
Edna Clayton, who was known as Granny to most folks in the small Texas community of Brighton Valley, had adopted Jared when he'd been a gangly adolescent. At the time, he'd had nowhere else to go except the county home for boys.And for the next twenty years, the elderly widow had been the only real mother he'd known.
Jared waited for the small-town physician to tell him the reason he'd called. Instead, Doc asked, "How long has it been since you visited the ranch?"
"A year or so." Jared made of a point of spending the major holidays with her and whichever brother could make it, although he'd missed being home last Christmas, due to a crisis on his own ranch--a divorce that had caught him completely by surprise. "But I call regularly."
Oh, yeah? a small voice asked.
When was the last time he'd picked up the phone to chat with her, to ask how things were going?
A couple of weeks, he suspected. Or maybe a month.
Guilt rode him hard. He hadn't meant to let it go that long. And the fact that he'd been so damn focused lately--first on his divorce, then on his seriously injured brother--didn't help. At this point, neither Jolene nor Matthew seemed to be a good enough excuse.
"When did you talk to her last?" Doc had been Granny's best friend for as long as Jared could remember, but this was the first time Jared had felt as if he'd been called on the carpet by the man. Or maybe it was his own guilt doing a number on him.
"I meant to give her a call this evening," he lied, thinking he ought to actually schedule the time on his calendar so this wouldn't ever happen again. He'd make a point of checking in with her weekly, if not daily.
"It's just as well that you haven't yet done so."
"Why? What happened?"
"At this point? Nothing, but her memory is failing, and she's been having some health problems."
"Like what?" At seventy-nine, any number of things could wear out or go haywire. Maybe Jared ought to bring her to his ranch to live with him so he could keep an eye on her, but she'd always been so independent and set in her ways. And the old Granny, the one who'd raised him, would never agree. He'd have to hog-tie her and throw her over his shoulder in order to convince her to leave the Rocking C, the only home she'd had in nearly sixty years.
"I can't seem to control her blood pressure," Doc said, "even with medication. She has a heart murmur, and I'm afraid she may not have much time left."
A stab of grief shot through him, stirring up his memories--the good ones. Granny and his adopted brothers, Matt and Greg, were the only family he'd ever really had.
"Since I doubt Edna will let you boys know what's going on, I thought I'd better call."
Jared couldn't help thinking that Granny's heart had worn out over the years. The idea wasn't founded upon medical science by any means, but it seemed as though all the good deeds and charity work she'd done over the course of her life had finally taken their toll.
For as long as folks in BrightonValley had known her, Granny had been taking in strays of all shapes and sizes-- human ones, as well as the four-legged variety.And Jared thanked his lucky stars that he'd been one of them.
He had his own spread now, nearly a hundred miles away, but that didn't mean he didn't love her dearly. Granny was the only woman who had always come through for him and never let him down--one way or another.
"Give it to me straight, Doc."
"Well, I think she needs to go into Houston and see a cardiologist, but I've never seen a woman so dang stubborn in all my life." Since Doc had attended the local high school with Edna and was pushing eighty himself, that was saying a lot.
"Is she all right living out on that ranch alone?" Jared asked, thinking that they might need to hire a nurse to look after her if he couldn't talk her in to moving in with him.
"She's not alone," Doc said. "That's another issue completely. Right now, she's got a full house."
"What do you mean?" The last time Jared had gone by the ranch, the only ones living there had been Granny and Lester Bailey, the foreman, plus a couple of newly hired greenhorns who tried hard but didn't know much about cattle. Thank goodness the other hands knew what to do without being told. "Who's she taken in now?"
"A whole passel of women, one of whom looked pregnant to me. And there's at least one kid."