The Tanner Brothers, Book 4

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Montana Born Books
The Tanner Brothers, Book 4
Release Date:

Jan 26, 2017

More From Anne →

The Cowboy and the Kid

by

Anne McAllister

Having a father is a big responsibility.
And finding him a wife is a challenge eight-year-old Becky Jones takes seriously. Ex-rodeo cowboy Taggart Jones is adamant. No marriage. Been there. Done that.

Not even if Becky’s dream candidate is her beautiful, blonde teacher, Felicity Albright, who knows about barrettes, patching up scrapes, and hates carrots as much as his daughter. Taggart’s still not interested. Much.

What’s a daughter to do? Becky’s nothing if not ingenious, and she’s determined to convince a stubborn Taggart and a bemused Felicity that they really have met their match.

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Having a father was a big responsibility.

Becky Jones knew that better than almost anyone. She’d been taking care of her father by herself—except for now and then, when Grandma and Grandpa and her dad’s best friend, Noah, lent a hand—since she was two months old, and she’d be eight in October. That was a long while.

Taggart—that was his name—was a pretty low-maintenance dad most of the time. He was thirty-two years old and in good health except for the pins in his knee and the occasional twinge left over from bull-riding days. He didn’t yell a lot or smoke or spit or chew—which was better than most of the dads she knew. He took off his boots when he came in the house, he washed the dishes almost every night, he kept his room pretty neat, and he let her make a mess in hers.

Also, he’d been around since she was born, and that was a big plus as far as Becky was concerned. It was certainly more than her best friend, Susannah, could say. Susannah’s dad, Noah, hadn’t even known he had a daughter until almost two years ago!

That seemed pretty careless to Becky, but she could hardly talk since her own mother didn’t get any prizes in the responsibility department. She’d got fed up and left Becky and her dad more than seven years ago and she’d never come back.

At least, once he knew Susannah existed, Noah Tanner had stuck around. He was even married to Susannah’s mother now. Susannah said he and Tess, her mom, were in love. Becky guessed they must be because they’d had another baby—a boy called Clay—right after Christmas last year and were going to have another baby this November! Pretty soon Susannah would have lots of brothers and sisters to share the responsibility with. With two parents, you’d probably need that.

Becky, however, was on her own.

Until two years ago that hadn’t been a problem. Before she’d started going to school full-time, Becky had gone down the road with Taggart from rodeo to rodeo, and she’d done a pretty good job taking care of him and keeping him out of trouble. Other cowboys got drunk and chased girls and raised heck, but not her dad.

“Taggart’s getting pretty settled these days,” her grandpa often said.

And her grandma always nodded and ruffled Becky’s hair. “And we know why, don’t we?” she would say, smiling at her granddaughter. “Because of you. You take good care of your dad.”

But Becky hadn’t been able to prevent the accident.

She hadn’t even been with him at the time.

She’d started first grade that fall, and she’d stayed with her grandparents while Taggart had gone down the road without her. Becky thought that was dumb. She’d always learned a lot going down the road. Hadn’t she learned to read by sounding out the letters on road signs? Couldn’t she follow a map almost as good as he could? But arguing was useless. Sometimes her dad was as stubborn as the bulls he rode. She’d had to go to school anyway. And he’d traveled with Noah all that fall.

But Noah hadn’t been able to prevent the accident either.

It had all happened in December almost two years ago, right after the National Finals Rodeo. Becky remembered how mad she’d been because she couldn’t go to that. She’d always gone to the Finals with him!

But he’d said, no, school was more important. Becky disagreed, and she had intended to tell him—after she gave him a big hug. She could hardly wait until he got home for Christmas.

On the day he was due to arrive, she’d bounced out of bed early, wondering if he was already there waiting downstairs to surprise her.

He’d promised to be at school in time for her Christmas program that morning. It would be just like him to get here early, he was so eager to see her. She knew he missed her as much as she missed him.

Besides, he was bringing her a big gold buckle this time because he was the new champion bull rider of the world! Naturally he’d be in a hurry for her to see it.

She had rushed to pull on her jeans and shirt. When she buttoned it wrong, she didn’t stop to do it over, so eager was she to race down the stairs and leap into his arms.

He wasn’t there. Grandma and Grandpa were in the kitchen, standing real stiff and looking at each other for a long time before they looked at her. Then Grandpa had come over and put his hands on her shoulders.

“There’s been an accident, Beck,” he told her in his low quiet voice, the one he used when he was gentling his horses. Becky thought he looked the way he had when his sorrel mare, Cedar’s, twin foals died last spring. “A truck hit Noah’s van in the snowstorm. Your dad’s in the hospital in Laramie.”

“Hospital?” Becky knew all about hospitals.

That was where they’d taken her great-grandma before she’d died. It was where old Mr. Ennis had gone, too, and she remembered them burying him last Fourth of July. More recently it was where her friend Tuck McCall’s mother had been. She was dead now, too.

Becky felt like the time Tuck had hit her in the stomach with his football. Only worse. A million trillion times worse.

But when she asked, they told her her father wasn’t dead. He was in a coma. That was like sleeping, they said. Only sometimes, Tuck told her later—which nobody else would—you didn’t wake up.

All the time her dad was in the coma, Becky had had that football feeling.

“He’ll be all right, you’ll see,” her grandma had told her over and over. But Becky had seen the fear in her grandmother’s eyes and knew Grandma had the football feeling, too.

It wasn’t until the next day that he finally woke up.

Becky wasn’t sure she’d have believed it, even though her grandma was laughing and crying at the same time except Grandma held out the phone so that Becky could talk to him.

“D-Daddy?”

“Hey, Pard.” He sounded awful, like he’d swallowed Grandpa’s chew, but she knew it was him. No one else ever called her Pard.

She breathed again. “Daddy.” The football feeling was gone. She felt like she could fly.

“Sorry I missed your program, Pard.”

As if she cared about a dumb old Christmas program. “When are you comin’ home, Daddy? Soon?”

“Soon,” he promised.

“For Christmas?”

“You’d better believe it.” He sounded as eager as she did. “They’re not keepin’ me one minute longer than they have to. You can come and get me, okay?”

“’kay.” She gripped the receiver tightly, the way she would hang onto his neck if he were here. She listened to him breathing. It was the best sound she’d ever heard.

“Love you, Pard,” he said at last.

“Love you, too.”

Her grandpa took the phone back then. Becky ran out to the barn and climbed up on the top rail of Cedar’s stall to press her face into the sorrel’s mane. There, for the first time since she’d heard about the accident, Becky cried.

Sometimes, if she thought about it now, she could get scared all over again. She knew it had scared her dad, too.

Once he got better Taggart said he wasn’t ever leaving her again. He and Noah decided that going down the road was just too hard on family men.

They were both world champions. They’d proved all they needed to prove.

So they started a bull-and-bronc-riding school on the Jones ranch. Grandpa had the stock, and Taggart and Noah had the know-how. Now, a year and a half later, it was up and running.

Noah and Tess and Susannah had just finished building a house down the road. Becky and Taggart had lived with Grandma and Grandpa while he and Noah got things going. But three months ago Grandpa and Grandma had decided to try “city life” and bought a house in Bozeman, leaving Becky and her father on their own.

Most of the time they were fine, just the two of them.

But sometimes lately she wasn’t sure.

This past summer, for example, when they’d gone down to the rodeo in Cheyenne, and he’d been trying to win her a stuffed bear in the shooting gallery, he’d missed five times! Not because he wasn’t a good shot, but because he was busy watching some lady with tight jeans and long blonde hair!

Becky’s company hadn’t been enough the day they went over to the rodeo in Missoula, either. He’d been so busy talking to that barrel racer from Oregon that he hadn’t noticed how much soda pop and how many candy bars Becky had eaten. She’d been sick all night.

She’d thought maybe he was just distracted when they were traveling. She knew her grandpa had an old saying, something about “keeping them down on the farm . . .” Becky assumed he meant the ranch, but lately even at the ranch things had been strange.

Like tonight when they were having dinner at Susannah’s house. Becky and Susannah were playing chopsticks on the piano and she’d turned around to see if her dad had noticed how good she was getting. But instead of watching her, he’d been watching Noah kiss Tess. He’d had a funny look on his face, too.

“They’re making up for lost time,” Susannah had explained. “Newlyweds do that.” She’d giggled.

Becky had, too.

Taggart didn’t even smile.

Becky left Susannah playing the piano and slid off the bench to go where he stood propped against the windowsill. She leaned back against his legs and felt his fingers settle on her shoulders and tighten until they almost hurt. She reached a hand back and touched his. His grip eased and his fingers covered hers. His thumb rubbed the back of her hand.

Later that night when they were driving home she had to ask him three times if she could drive the truck through the gate when he opened and closed it.

“Huh?” he said at last. Then, “Sure if you want to.” But it seemed to Becky as if he’d barely heard. He didn’t even tell her what a good job she did when he got back in the truck. He didn’t seem to notice at all.

“Are you missing Julie?” she asked him finally when he was tucking her into bed. Her mother, she meant. She never called her Mommy because no one else ever had.

Her dad blinked, then frowned. “Missing Julie? Of course not. What the heck brought that on?”

Becky gave a tiny shrug and scrunched back into the pillow. “Dunno. I just . . . wondered.”

He looked at her narrowly. Then he shrugged, too. “Don’t be stupid.” Then he ruffled her hair and dropped a kiss on her lips. “Night, Pard.”

Becky’s arms came up and locked around his neck, tugging him down for another harder kiss. “Night,” she said fiercely.

When he left, he winked at her. And she smiled, thinking she was imagining things, and that everything was going to be all right.

But when she woke up again a few hours later, she could hear the television on. Unless he was watching cartoons with her or videos of bull rides, her dad almost never watched TV.

Curious, Becky crept downstairs.

He wasn’t watching cartoons—or bull riders. He was watching a movie. Not even a car-chase movie which, as far as she knew, was the only kind he ever watched. On the screen she saw a man and a woman talking, arguing. Talking some more. And then, when the music got really soppy and the lady sniffled and wiped her eyes, they started smiling at each other. And then they were touching. And kissing. A whole lot of kissing.

Taggart flicked the remote. Becky figured he’d shut it off. She was wrong. He played it back and watched it again. And again.

For a long time, even after he shut it off, he didn’t move. He just sat there, his hands in his lap while Becky crouched on the steps, watching. Then at last, he got up—real slow, like when all his muscles hurt from bull-riding – and walked to the window. He stood with his hands tucked into his pockets and stood staring out into the darkness.

Finally he turned, and Becky got a glimpse of his face for the first time. He looked like Tuck had hit him in the stomach with his football. Hard.

“What you need is a mother,” Susannah said.

It was two mornings later and they were walking up the road toward the gate where the school bus stopped. It was the first day of school and, as a treat, Taggart had allowed her to spend the night with Susannah so they could walk to the bus together.

He seemed to remember that having a friend on the first day always helped, even if you’d been going to the same school your whole life. He was good about things like that, so Becky wanted things to be good for him, too.

But a mother? Becky looked at Susannah. “What for?”

“You know what for.” Susannah gave her an impatient look and tossed her long dark hair. Susannah was a year older and she knew a lot. Now she rolled her eyes significantly.

“Oh,” Becky said. “That.”

Actually she didn’t know a lot about that. Not when it had to do with men and women anyway. She knew plenty about bulls and cows. She’d seen artificial inseminations. It seemed like a good idea to her—less messy. She didn’t know how her dad felt about it. She didn’t think it was something she ought to ask.

“I’m not sure I want a mother.”

“Why not? What’s wrong with a mother?” Susannah sounded offended.

“I don’t know. I haven’t ever had one, have I? Well, not for long anyway.” Becky shifted her backpack from one shoulder to the other and scuffed the toes of her cowboy boots in the dirt as they walked.

“I guess not,” Susannah said, contemplating Becky’s mother’s desertion. Then she said, “But you know mine. You like her, don’t you?”

Becky nodded. Sometimes she envied Susannah her mother. It had been different when her grandmother was around the house, but now that Grandma was in Bozeman, no one ever baked cookies or canned tomatoes or bought new barrettes for her hair.

Tess did all those things. She was also good with Band-Aids when you skinned your knee. Taggart believed in toughing it out. They didn’t have a Band-Aid in their house. He wasn’t much good at barrettes, either, though he could braid well enough.

It came from making bull ropes, he’d told her. Becky doubted if mothers learned that way, but she didn’t suppose it really mattered. And he did try.

“Well, then,” Susannah went on, “you’ll just have to get yours back.”

Becky looked up, startled. “Get Julie back?”

“If that’s her name. Why not? I got my dad, didn’t I?”

“It’s not the same. I mean, he didn’t even know about you, so you can’t blame him for not being there. But Julie knew . . . about me, I mean—” she said this last part with difficulty, because it always made her feel funny somewhere in the middle of her stomach “—and she left anyway.”

Susannah kicked a rock. “She was a jerk.”

Becky thought so, too, but she felt obligated to say what her father had always told her. “She just couldn’t handle things. Daddy says she didn’t know what she was getting into marrying him. The rodeos and the ranch and all. She was from New York City,” she explained.

“That’s no excuse.”

“No.” Becky agreed with that. “Well, you can see why I don’t want her—if I’ve got to find a mother, I mean.” Becky kicked the rock Susannah had kicked. They followed it up the road, taking turns.

“Then we’ll find you another one.”

“I’m not having Kitzy Miller!” Kitzy Miller worked in the Minimart. She chewed gum, a pack at a time, had zits but called them freckles, and practically drooled on Taggart’s boots whenever they stopped to buy gas or milk or bread.

There was no doubt in Becky’s mind that Kitzy Miller had her eye on Taggart—and no way on earth was she going to have Kitzy for a mother!

“Definitely not Kitzy Miller,” Susannah agreed fervently.

“Then who?”

They looked at each other hopefully, but neither could come up with another name. There were not a lot of unattached women in Elmer, Montana.

Becky kicked the rock. “Miss Setsma’s nice.”

“Miss Setsma’s old as your grandma!” Susannah said about their piano teacher. She gave the rock an extra hard kick. “What about Brenna Jamison? She’s young—and she’s pretty.”

Brenna Jamison lived up the valley on the biggest ranch around—when she was home—which wasn’t often. Mostly she was somewhere else doing art. She was a very famous painter, and she only came home when her daddy, old Otis Jamison, required what Taggart called, “A command performance.” There didn’t seem to be very many of them.

“I don’t think so,” Becky said. “I mean, she’s nice . . . but I don’t think she wants to stay around here.”

They’d reached the gate where the bus stopped, and they pulled it open far enough to slide between the posts without having to undo the wire that held it fast. The bus was just coming over the rise.

“Tuck might know somebody,” Susannah said.

“I know everybody Tuck knows,” Becky said glumly. Tuck had been her best friend before Susannah came. Now he was nine and couldn’t always be bothered with her. “There’s no one else.”

“Then we’ll pray.”

Becky’s eyes widened. “Pray?”

“Why not?” Susannah said as the bus stopped and they climbed on. “It worked for me.”

Probably because Susannah was a lot better person than she was, Becky thought, slumping in her seat. The bus started up again, and Becky stared out the window as it rumbled its way toward town. Susannah probably never climbed trees her daddy told her not to, and she always studied her spelling words, and it was even possible that she ate all her carrots. Becky hated carrots.

Would a mother make her eat carrots?

Maybe she could pray for one who would not. That might be worth a shot. She screwed her eyes up tight and sent a prayer winging heavenward. The bus wound up the hill and down, then up another and down. It stopped. Becky kept praying, unsure how long she was supposed to keep it up. The bus began its journey once more.

“You got a pain or somethin’?”

Becky’s eyes popped open. A sandy-haired, freckle-faced boy was staring at her. “Hi, Tuck. I’m prayin’.”

He looked dubious. “You? For what?”

Becky hesitated, unsure whether she was supposed to tell or not. Was it like a wish that didn’t come true unless you kept it a secret? She would have to ask Susannah, but she was leaning over the seat in front, talking to Lizbeth Caldwell. Becky certainly wasn’t going to betray her ignorance in front of Lizbeth!

“I’ll tell you later,” she promised Tuck, partly for fear of jinxing a prayer she had no very great hopes for anyway, and partly because she knew Tuck would think she was out of her mind if she told him.

“A stepmother? You’re prayin’ for a stepmother?” he’d scoff. “Like Cinderella’s?”

No way. She didn’t want that! She wasn’t sure what she wanted—besides no carrots. She tried to think about it. It would have to be someone who’d appeal to her dad, she guessed. Someone pretty who looked good in jeans would be a start. But then, she’d also have to be fun to have around. And she’d have to know about barrettes and Band-Aids, and it would be good if she could bake cookies and didn’t care if kids got dirty sometimes or fell out of trees they weren’t supposed to climb in the first place. They needed someone who would love her and Taggart both.

A pretty tall order since her own mother obviously hadn’t.

Becky thought it was asking an awful lot—even of God.

And then the bus stopped and she got off and walked into her class – and saw Miss Albright.

They were following her again.

If she stopped, ostensibly to stare at the display of nails, screw drivers and wire cutters in Gilliam’s Hardware, Felicity could see them reflected in the glass as they ducked behind the dusty Dodge pick-up truck parked beside the curb. It was the third time this week, the tenth time this week she’d found herself being tailed by two little girls.

Becky Jones and Susannah Tanner.

Her students.

If she were still teaching in Southern California Felicity thought she might have understood. There in the midst of the anonymous urban sprawl, stalking had sometimes seemed a way of life.

But here? In Elmer, Montana?

By a pair of third- and fourth-grade girls?

Felicity wondered if she was losing her mind. She didn’t think so. In fact, for the first time in two years, she’d begun to think she’d finally recovered it.

Moving to Elmer had been the start. She had come last month when she’d inherited Uncle Fred’s house. It was a completely unexpected windfall. She hadn’t seen Uncle Fred since she was ten years old and she and her mother had come to visit him for two weeks in the summer.

He’d been the eldest of her grandfather’s brothers, the one with the wanderlust. He had traveled everywhere on the globe before finally settling in Elmer and taking over its small newspaper. When she came that summer, he had let Felicity help him print it. Those two weeks had been among Felicity’s fondest memories.

They had apparently been among Uncle Fred’s happiest, too, for in his will he left her his house and everything in it—lock, stock and printing press.

Felicity had been flabbergasted. And yet, at the same time, she’d seen it almost as a godsend, coming as it had two years to the day after her husband Dirk had been killed.

Dirk. Dear, wonderful Dirk. A graduate student in music, Dirk Albright had been a talented cellist—a gifted musician, but an even more gifted teacher. He and Felicity had grown up in the same small Iowa town. They had gone to high school and to university together. When Dirk won a graduate fellowship at UCLA, they’d married and moved to California together.

“I don’t want to go without you,” he had said to her. “Please come.”

And over her family’s objections, she had. She’d never considered doing anything else because she’d loved Dirk as desperately as he loved her.

They lived on a shoestring budget in a tiny apartment above a garage in Westwood. They ate macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches seven nights a week, and thought they were the luckiest people on earth. Felicity drove an hour and fifteen minutes each way to the school where she taught. But Dirk could ride his bike to the university. What little they could save, they put toward the house they’d buy someday wherever Dirk got a college teaching job. They had plans, hundreds of them. They talked about them every night.

And then one afternoon after school Felicity had looked up to see a policeman standing in the doorway to her classroom. Gently, quietly, he told her that Dirk was dead.

Riding his bike home from class as he did every day, he had been hit by a car.

“He never knew,” the policeman said. “He didn’t suffer.”

Felicity did. For the past two years she had mourned her lost husband, her lost hopes, her lost dreams. Everything she had hoped to be had depended on her life with Dirk. In the space of a single moment, she had lost it all.

“Come home,” her parents urged her. “Come back to Iowa.”

But she couldn’t. There were too many memories there. Everywhere she’d turned she would come face-to-face with the past she and Dirk had shared. “No,” she told them. “I’ll stay here. I have my job. I love my kids. I’ll survive.”

She did. She got through the next school year by submerging herself in her work, letting it consume her. If she didn’t stop, she didn’t have to think, to plan, to face life more than a day at a time. That was enough.

Then, a little more than a year after Dirk’s death, her friend Lori said, “Listen, Felicity. . . I have a friend I’d like you to meet.”

A man, she meant.

Felicity knew Lori meant well, but she wasn’t interested. She didn’t want to know that his name was Craig, that he was an aeronautical engineer who lived in the same apartment complex as Lori, that he liked music and surfing and playing basketball.

“I can’t,” she said.

“So, maybe he’s not the right one,” Lori said philosophically. “I know another guy, a friend of my brother’s.”

But Felicity wasn’t interested in him, either. There were other men over the next few months—men Lori found for her, men her brother, Tom, and her sister, Cassandra, asked to drop by while they were in L.A. There were even some men who found her without any help from anyone at all. Nice men for the most part.

But they weren’t Dirk. Felicity wasn’t interested.

“You can’t mourn him forever,” Lori told her. “He loved you. He wouldn’t want you to stop living, you know.”

Felicity knew that. Intellectually she could nod her head and agree with everything Lori said. But she couldn’t make herself show any interest in men. The very thought of dating again left her numb, as if her feelings were encased in ice.

“There are a million eligible men in Southern California,” Lori told her impatiently one night. “There must be one who’s right for you.”

But if there was, Felicity didn’t care. She had no desire to look for him. And she wished everyone else would stop looking, too.

But they didn’t. So, when news of Uncle Fred’s legacy dropped into her mailbox like the proverbial roast duck and Felicity remembered those few carefree days of childhood joy, the memory translated itself into a desire to go back once again.

Why not, after all? She had nothing to keep her here.

“You’re going where?” Lori demanded.

“Elmer, Montana.”

“You’ll be back,” Lori predicted.

“You’re not serious,” all her other friends said.

But once she’d arrived in Elmer, Felicity’s chest expanded, her breathing deepened. She felt, as she looked around at the tiny higgledy-piggledy town, the high mountains and the big, big sky, as if that first deep breath had finally cracked the ice. The pain and subsequent numbness she’d lived with since Dirk’s death, began almost imperceptibly to fade away.

Felicity had looked around the town and smiled at its prosaic name. Nestled against the foothills of the Bridgers, looking across the fertile Shields Valley toward the impressive, mysterious Crazy Mountains, Elmer had, to Felicity’s way of thinking, been misnamed. It should have been called Eden—or Paradise.

“You haven’t seen it in the winter,” Polly McMaster, who ran the post office, said.

But Felicity was actually looking forward to winter. The sameness of Southern California seasons was one of the things she had never got used to. “I grew up in Des Moines,” she replied. “I can hardly wait.”

Polly had looked sceptical, but Felicity knew it was true. And she felt alive here for the first time in two years. She went back to California just long enough to resign from her job and pack her things.

“You’re kidding,” Lori said.

Felicity shook her head and kept packing.

Lori watched, then sighed philosophically. “Well, fine. Maybe you’ll meet a cowboy.”

Felicity looked at her, askance. “A cowboy?”

“This is Montana, isn’t it?”

But Felicity hadn’t met a cowboy yet. She had met most of Elmer’s other 217 inhabitants, though. Their sympathies had been immediately engaged by the pretty young widow Fred Morrison had left his house to, and they thought she was a right smart lady when she preferred Elmer to Southern California. It wasn’t long before Maudie Gilliam was bringing her gooseberry pies and Howie Ward was fixing her window screen and two old schoolteachers called Cloris and Alice were inviting her out for meatloaf at the Busy Bee, and old Mr. Eberhardt stumped over every afternoon with yesterday’s Bozeman Chronicle so she’d have a big-city newspaper to read.

“Fred always liked to keep up,” he told her.

“So will I,” Felicity had assured him. She could read the want-ads, she thought, and look for a job.

Serendipitously, a job found her.

Polly’s sister, who had been the third- and fourth-grade teacher in Elmer’s seventy-six student school, discovered in mid-August that the long-hoped-for baby she was expecting was actually going to be triplets.

“She has to take it easy,” Polly had told Felicity when she came to get her mail. “Stay flat on her back. And the babies aren’t due until January.”

So Felicity had a job.

And – for some unknown reason – two little girls tailing her.

She stopped as usual in the post office to pick up her mail. When she came out they were still there, one dark head and one light brown, peeping over the hood of a pickup. Felicity smothered a smile and turned up Apple Street, heading home.

Two small girls ducked and bobbed along behind.

They only came halfway down the block, just far enough to be sure that she was going into her house. When Felicity peeked out again moments later, they were gone. “What are you two up to?” she murmured as she let the curtain fall.

At first she had thought they had questions they were too shy to ask in class. Now she knew better. Susannah, a fourth grader, never seemed to have questions about anything, and every piece of work she turned in was excellent. Becky was a different story.

Not shy at all, Becky had all sorts of questions. Work was another matter. A third grader with bright green eyes and a quicksilver smile, Becky Jones had done absolutely nothing in three weeks.

Nothing – except every day wear spurs to school.

“They missed the bus again?” Taggart scowled when Noah stuffed his cell phone in his pocket and ambled back to the corral to report the conversation he’d just had with his daughter. “How many times this week is that?”

Noah shook his head as he slapped paint on the fence. “Three. And three last week. You reckon Orville is takin’ off the minute the bell rings?”

“Naw. He’s been driving that bus since I was on it. Naw, it’s gotta be that new teacher of theirs. She must be keeping ’em after.”

“Susannah never does anything to get kept after school!”

“Takes after her mother, does she?” Taggart grinned. “Well, she will if she hangs around with Becky long enough.”

His daughter wasn’t a bad kid, just a challenging one. He figured it must run in the family. His dad always said Taggart had made “interesting” for his parents. He supposed it was only fair that Becky made life interesting for him.

“So, who goes and gets ’em today?” Noah asked.

“Oughta make ’em walk,” Taggart grumbled, but he set down his brush and headed for the truck. “I’ll go.”

“Want to get a look at the teacher, do you?” Noah grinned.

Taggart looked at him blankly. “No, why?”

Noah shoved his hat back. “Susannah says she’s a looker. Long blonde hair, deep blue eyes. Didn’t Becky tell you?”

“Becky wouldn’t notice.”

If it didn’t have four legs—or eight—his daughter didn’t know it was there. Becky noticed frogs and spiders and mice. She played with cats and puppies and colts. She didn’t pay the least bit of attention to people—unless they were riding on horses. Or bulls.

He doubted if she even knew her new teacher’s name. And it would certainly never occur to her to tell her father that the woman was pretty.

Not that he’d be interested if she did.

Taggart Jones might have a wistful hormonal twinge every now and then—hell, what thirty year old man in possession of all the right hormones didn’t?—but he could handle them.

Far better than he could handle another marriage.

So what if Noah and Tess were disgustingly happy in theirs? So what if both Noah’s brothers, Tanner and Luke, and Taggart’s good friend, Mace – all well married – were as pleased as pigs in mud? That didn’t mean he would be, even if he found someone he was ga-ga over.

Which he hadn’t. Wouldn’t. Because, damn it, he wasn’t looking.

Oh, maybe he allowed his eyes to follow a pair of long legs and a curvy bottom in a pair of tight jeans from time to time. And maybe he’d wondered sometimes what it would be like these days to kiss a girl over the age of eight. But those were his hormones talking, not his common sense.

Taggart’s common sense told him that he’d had his shot with a woman and he’d blown it—big time. It had taken him less than a year to drive Julie away. He didn’t imagine another would want to hang around any longer than she had, even though he wasn’t going down the road all year long any more.

He had other drawbacks now—like an almost eight year old girl.

Not that he personally considered Becky a drawback. As far as he was concerned, his daughter was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

He might not think too highly of Julie in other respects, but he thanked God every day for the daughter she’d given him.

And since she’d hated him and their life so much, he even thanked God that she’d left. He did it again now as he started up the truck and headed toward town.

He and Becky were doing fine just the way they were.

End of Excerpt

The Cowboy and the Kid is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN:

January 26, 2017