The Cowboy’s Untamed Heart


Jamie K. Schmidt

Veterinarian Reba Keller has dedicated her life to ensuring her patients’ health and comfort, but when a prized bull under her watch becomes a pawn in a sinister game, Reba’s reputation hangs by a thread. Reluctantly, she asks the brooding, sexy cowboy she’s been avoiding for help.

Former rodeo star Shane Calland, may carry scars from his shattered career and broken engagement, but he’s poured his heart and soul into building a bucking bull breeding program he’s proud of. When tragedy strikes at the rodeo, Shane’s world teeters on the edge of disaster. With both of their careers on the line, Shane helps Reba’s investigation, confident he can resist his unwanted attraction to the pretty vet. 

But as they work together to unravel the rodeo’s secrets, the protective walls around their hearts start to crumble.

Enjoy an Excerpt →

Other Tule AuthorsYou'll Also Love:

More Tule TitlesYou Might Enjoy:

Start reading this book:

Chapter One

Reba Keller

Paris, TX—South Side Fair

Dr. Reba Keller loved the smell of fresh hay. She loved working outdoors and she loved animals. People on the other hand, well…people sucked.

“I don’t know why this has to be this way,” Karen said, standing way too close to Reba and the horse she was examining.

Reba wasn’t sure the woman’s name was actually Karen, but the attitude fit. She felt a little bad for all the Karens out there who didn’t deserve the internet moniker of being a privileged snot who only thought about themselves. But in Reba’s experience, there were more Karens out there than not. Or at least, they made their presence known more than the people who just wanted to go about their day and do their job until they could go home to their cat, dog, or potbellied pig.

At one point, Reba had had all of the above in her tiny apartment. But then her downstairs neighbor—another Karen—had complained that the pig sounded like she was wearing tap-dancing shoes at three o’clock morning, and Reba had been forced to find another home for her.

That was probably for the best, even though she missed Pig Bundy with all her heart, because Reba had given up her apartment a few months later after she had quit her job at Kilgore Veterinary Services.

Homeless and jobless, Reba had decided to take a break from the office life and got into her parents’ Winnebago to join the entourage for her baby sister LeAnn’s rodeo career. Her parents hadn’t let Reba take her dog or cat with them on the road. So her pets had stayed at their home in Paris, Texas, with her oldest sister Loretta. Reba missed them fiercely, too, but at least she was comforted by the fact that Loretta spoiled them rotten.

Before the UPRC hired her to look after the rodeo animals, Reba had earned her keep by taking care of LeAnn’s horse. Her small salary, though, had been contingent on LeAnn winning. Reba had supplemented her income doing freelance veterinarian jobs, which were more common than you would think on the traveling rodeo circuit. While she didn’t get to stock a lot of supplies—there wasn’t a lot of money for it or a lot of room in the RV—Reba was able to keep the cowboys and their horses satisfied with her doctoring skills.

“Why is this feed so expensive?” Karen asked, her voice strident and nasal.

“You’d need to ask the people who are selling it. I’m just the veterinarian. And if you think that’s expensive, wait until you see my bill.”

Karen’s head reared back as if Reba had slapped her.

“My husband is a rodeo star,” she said, with her hand over her heart.

“Good for him. His horse has kidney problems. You need a feed with low protein. Grass hay is preferable.”

“I thought the UPRC covered all medical expenses.”

After a year of traveling all over the country with her sister, Reba had been offered a permanent position with the UPRC, the new rodeo organization that combined the men’s and women’s rodeo circuits into one corporation. She was still feeling out the particulars of the job. But one of the perks was she didn’t have to deal with a lot of people. Today was an exception.

“No, ma’am, they don’t.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“You can take it up with the powers that be.” Reba glanced at her watch. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to check on a bred heifer.”

The heifer wasn’t anywhere near close to delivering, but it gave her an excuse to go to the farm exhibits of the state fair, and away from the rodeo arena.

“I want to speak to your manager,” Karen shrilled her species’ war cry.

“Knock yourself out,” Reba said, glad that she wasn’t working out of a veterinarian’s office anymore.

“I find you very rude,” Karen said.

“I’ve heard that before,” Reba said over her shoulder. And in this very town, as a matter of fact. Paris, Texas, her old stomping ground. Her parents still lived here.

Three years ago, when Reba had worked at Kilgore Veterinary Services, Karen could have been one of her clients. If the rodeo had come to town and her cowboy husband was wondering why his horse had been acting lethargic, Reba might have been the vet on call who checked out the ulcers on the horse’s tongue.

Reba had been in charge of the large-animal exams at that time. Dr. Kilgore specialized in domestic pets like dogs and cats, and also in being a misogynistic jerk. He was a man-child in a white lab coat who threw temper tantrums as often as he threw pens and other objects. To say it was a toxic work environment would have been an understatement, but Reba had loved her clients—even if she hadn’t liked their owners. Crammed into the tight office space, Reba would have had to sit on the other side of the counter and take Karen’s bad attitude with a smile.

“Don’t you walk away from me,” Karen shouted after her.

Nope, Reba didn’t miss her old job at all. She didn’t miss the customers, nor the antiseptic smells and the industrial cleaner that burned her nose so badly, she couldn’t imagine how the animals with their keener sense of smell could tolerate it.

What she did miss was her patients: pregnant kitty cats, taking porcupine quills out of hound dogs’ snouts, delivering calves, vaccinating horses, and doing the other daily treatments that all types of small and large animals needed.

Reba certainly didn’t miss her boss’s fits when the jars weren’t put back in the exact order he wanted them to be in. She might have understood it if he wanted them in alphabetical order or grouped by medicine type. But no, he had his own system. It didn’t make sense to anybody but him. Once you learned it, you knew it, but it wasn’t intuitive. And sometimes when you got busy, shit happened. Then the whole office suffered.

“How did you fucking graduate college?” Dr. Kilgore would rage. He was an equal-opportunity screamer. He’d yell at the receptionists, the vet techs, and even the other doctors in the practice. One by one they all left. Reba had stayed for the animals, not for him, but when he launched a jar against the wall and a piece of glass sliced at her face from the blast, she knew she had to get out.

He had been apologetic, but it had been too late. And after being given a generous termination bonus and the promise of a good recommendation, Reba decided not to take him to court or have him arrested. But the workplace violence that she had experienced made her very wary of working in close, confined spaces, especially with loudmouthed doctors. That was why she liked working the UPRC rodeo events. It was mostly wide-open spaces.

Dr. Kilgore had always been second-guessing her, too. He was a micromanager, a control freak, and a narcissist, the trifecta of asshattery. It had taken Reba a long time to stop questioning her decisions. Sometimes, she still heard him in the back of her head when she was faced with a tough decision or a more complicated diagnosis.

Reba’s phone rang just as she entered the barn where the heifer was waiting her turn at auction. Expecting it to be one of her sisters, Reba was surprised that it was Diane Brolin, the coordinating supervisor of the UPRC veterinarians, and her boss.

“That was quick,” Reba said.

“Were you rude to Vanessa Sunderland?”

“Depends. Is Vanessa a twat?” She could almost picture Diane closing her eyes and shaking her head.

“Please don’t use language like that.”

“I didn’t call her that to her face.” And Reba thought she should be given a fucking medal for that.

“She’s pretty steamed at you.”

“She’s got her panties in a wad because the renal feed is double the cost of the crap feed they’ve been giving Starshine.”


“I didn’t name the horse,” Reba said, rubbing the head of the heifer as it came to greet her.

Diane let out a huge sigh. “I need you to apologize.”

“I’m sorry,” Reba droned.

“To Vanessa, not to me.”

“I don’t have time for this shit.” Reba didn’t mind apologizing when she did something wrong, but being made to dance for the whim of another entitled jerk was not helpful to her recovery—at least that was what her therapist kept trying to hammer into her. “She was an entitled bitch.”

Reba’s job at the UPRC was to make sure that all the bulls, horses, and other livestock remained healthy during the rodeos. It wasn’t supposed to be catering to the wives of the rodeo cowboys. She loved this job and was so thankful that she was able to be a vet without having to go back to the office environment. She just hated when the real world—and the Karens—tried to muscle in on her happiness. What was worse, her boss would take Karen’s side. But Reba should be used to that by now.

Nowadays, Reba kept to the background during the events, content to let her bull-riding, bronc-busting baby sister, LeAnn, get all the attention. Her other younger sister, Dolly, was also front and center at the rodeo. Dolly was a marketing genius and a social media influencer queen who gathered up all the social media frenzy and directed it to the rodeo’s “Next Big Thing.” Luckily, that was never Reba or any of the other people running the rodeo behind the scenes. And that was just how she liked it.

“Reba,” Diane warned.

“Look, how about I get Dolly to comp her a VIP package and a bucket of beer?” Reba’s sister Dolly worked public relations for the UPRC, so that shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience.

“I suppose that will be all right. I’ll have Vanessa pick up the passes at the announcer’s booth in an hour.”

“Great.” Reba would owe Dolly one, but that was worth not having to see Vanessa/Karen’s superior look of triumph. Reba hated people who didn’t look after their animals properly. It was even worse if they had the money to do so, but they cheaped out instead. Maybe she’d ask Dolly to put a dead bug in the beer. Or even better, a live one.

“Also, Lou Porter and Shane Calland have just checked in.”

“Already?” Reba frowned. Their bulls weren’t due for testing until ten a.m. It was a little after eight now.

Lou Porter owned a herd of bulls that the men’s rodeo organization had used before the merger. He was part of her family, sort of. He was Dylan—LeAnn’s husband’s—uncle. He was a good guy who took care of his animals. Reba had never had a problem with any of his stock.

Shane Calland and the Viking Ranch, however, were brand new on this circuit. The only thing she knew about Shane was his reputation. About five years ago, he had been a champion bull rider and bronc buster. He had been hot shit, both on and off the circuit. Everything she had heard about him pretty much guaranteed that they weren’t going to get along. With any luck, he wouldn’t even notice her as anything more than an inconvenience to his day. She wasn’t a stacked buckle bunny. She wasn’t a rodeo princess. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and she had absolutely zero patience with a man who thought he was God’s gift to women just because he could go eight seconds on a bull.

“Yeah,” Diane said. “I figured you’d want to get a jump on the exams and have the rest of the morning free.”

That didn’t sound so bad. It would give her some time to check in with LeAnn and her horse, Garth. “All right. I’ll head over to the bullpens now.”

Being from Paris, Texas, she knew her way around the fairgrounds. When they were kids, she and her sisters had looked forward to this event all year. It was Christmas, summer vacation, and their birthdays all rolled up into one. Reba would be involved with her 4-H projects. Even back then, she preferred animals to humans. Loretta would be hoping for a blue ribbon for her painted landscapes or photos she had taken of the rodeo. Dolly would be doing interviews for her podcast with anyone who would talk with her. And, of course, LeAnn would be barrel racing.

As Reba made her way to the bullpens, she recognized a few faces, but kept her head down and avoided getting close to them. She hated small talk. Reba never knew what to say to acquaintances or people who didn’t want to know the real answer to the question, How are y’all doing?

Reba had been better, but she had also been worse. When she had been worse, no one had wanted to hear about it. So, she had kept her mouth shut and carried on. Eventually, it had gotten better, but she had never forgotten her so-called friends who didn’t want to hear about how she hated when she heard loud voices or still flinched when someone dropped a plate in a restaurant because of what had gone down at her last job.

It also wasn’t out of the question that someone from Kilgore Veterinary Services might be around, and she definitely did not want to stroll down that particular memory lane. This was the hometown rodeo and town fair weekend, so they were bound to be here. Still, they’d be with the small animals being judged for blue ribbons and best in fair, rather than with the animal athletes that the UPRC hired for the shows.

So when she approached the pens where the bulls were waiting for testing, Reba froze in her tracks when she saw Dr. Kilgore leaning against the fence post talking to Lou. Why was Lou hanging around with a jerk like Dr. Kilgore?

Unfortunately, Kilgore turned to see her just as she was about to make her escape.

His face opened in a bright smile, and he said, “Reba Keller, is that you?” As he stepped forward, Reba took three quick steps back and slammed into a hard object.

Whirling with her hands up, ready to defend herself, she was surprised to see she had crashed into Shane Calland. Where the hell had he come from? She was usually much better at noticing her surroundings.

“Easy there, girl,” Shane said.

Reba bristled, forgetting about Kilgore for a second. She put her hands on her hips. “Do I look like a girl to you?”

She hadn’t meant to start something, but her toes tingled at Shane’s long, slow look. She felt his gaze from the top of her head right down to the tips of her toes. She had to admit, it wasn’t a hardship to look at him. She could see why he made the women who followed bull riders at the rodeo a little nuts.

He had sandy blond hair that was cropped tight to his skull, and flinty gray eyes that stared at her with an unyielding expression. He had a strong jawline, sensuous lips, and tanned throat that led down to a muscled chest that his cotton flannel shirt did nothing to hide. She allowed her gaze to dip briefly at his tight blue jeans, but then immediately went back to his eyes so he didn’t catch her leering at him. It was a good thing he was rumored to be obnoxious, because if he decided to be charming, Reba might have been in trouble. She liked cowboys, but only the traditional ones that said ma’am, dipped their hats, and treated women respectfully. Lately, those types of cowboys had been few and far between.

“No, ma’am,” he drawled, tipping his hat at her.

Uh-oh. Reba felt a zing of attraction right down to the tips of her muddy boots.

Unfortunately, that distraction allowed Dr. Kilgore to come up close and Reba felt claustrophobic, trapped between the two men. She hurriedly sidestepped and moved behind Shane. It galled her that she was using him as a shield, but it was either that or run away like a scared little girl.

“Is there a problem?” Shane said, quiet menace in his voice.

Normally, the tension in his voice would make her uncomfortable, but somehow coming from Shane it didn’t seem as threatening as when Kilgore did it.

“Reba and I are old friends,” Dr. Kilgore said, smiling and showing off his perfect white teeth.

Reba resisted a shudder. He thought he was charming. He wasn’t. And to make matters worse, he had wandering hands. Not that anyone believed her.

Reba wished she was full sass like her sisters LeAnn and Dolly. LeAnn would have told him in no uncertain terms that he was no friend of hers. Dolly had a caustic wit that would have eviscerated Kilgore where he stood. Instead, she swallowed hard and kept Shane in between them.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

It wasn’t much, but Reba was glad her voice didn’t shake. She no longer had to be afraid of Kilgore, she told herself. They were not alone in his office. He wasn’t angry. She no longer worked for him. Not to mention there wasn’t anything around for him to start throwing at her. Still, her fingernails were digging half-moons into the palms of her hands, and she was sick to her stomach.

“I have a nephew who’s trying his hand at bull riding today. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Keith Kilgore?”

Reba didn’t pay attention to the rodeo cowboys, but maybe Dolly would know who he was. It was Dolly’s job to promote these guys on the social media accounts of UPRC. If he was anything like his uncle, she’d make sure to stay far, far away from him.

“No,” she said quietly when it seemed like Kilgore was waiting for an answer.

Not Kilgore’s favorite word. No, I don’t want a backrub. No, I don’t want to go out for drinks after work. No. No. No.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“My sister, LeAnn, competes in the UPRC, too.” It wasn’t the complete story, but she didn’t want to give Kilgore any information about her life. Otherwise, he might take it upon himself to come to the rodeos to see her. He had hated the fact that Reba didn’t think he was as wonderful as he thought he was. After the incident, he kept trying to make it up to her by sending her flowers and trying to get her to go out for coffee so he could explain and ease the tension between them.

No. Hell no. Not then. Not now. Not ever.

“Reba, here, works for the UPRC. She makes sure all the bulls are in tip-top shape and haven’t been tampered with,” Lou said proudly.

She bit back a groan. Thanks a lot, Lou.

“Reba used to work for me,” Kilgore said. “I was sad to lose her.”

He was sad to lose a doormat who worked overtime for free, to make sure that he didn’t explode all over the place Monday morning. If an exam room wasn’t pristine or work paperwork hadn’t been done precisely how he wanted it to be, he made everyone’s life a living hell.

“You should get going,” Reba said. At his upraised eyebrows, she felt a flash of the familiar fear, and steeled herself against it. He couldn’t hurt her anymore, especially with Shane’s solid presence in between them. But self-preservation kicked in and she modified her statement with, “The bull riding is about to start. You don’t want to miss your nephew’s ride.”

She hated that she experienced a flash of relief when Kilgore’s face cleared, and he nodded. “Yeah, I’ve been shooting the bull for too long, so to speak. Lou, it was nice seeing you again.” He nodded to Reba and as he came around Shane, Reba took a step to keep Shane between them. “Reba, if you want to grab a drink while you’re in town, the number is still the same.”

You’re the reason why I hate people.

“Good to know.” She nodded again, not feeling brave enough to tell him to go to hell. Didn’t they say that discretion was the better part of valor? Even if it did make her feel like a cowardly little wimp. She barely noticed that Lou had moved off into another area, leaving her alone with Shane.

“If you want, I can hang around and make sure he doesn’t come back,” Shane said.

For a ridiculous reason, tears pricked at the corners of Reba’s eyes and she looked away, blinking rapidly so that he didn’t see them. “That’s really kind of you, but I’ll make myself scarce. I don’t usually watch the rodeos anyway. And he has no business being back here. I’ll keep an eye out for him. If he comes back, I’ll…” Hide, like she’d been doing for the past three years. “Go the other way,” Reba finished lamely.

“I’ve got nothing better to do,” Shane said. “Why don’t I stick around anyway while you take a look at my bulls?”

“Suit yourself.” Reba went over to investigate the bulls in the pen.

Ever since the fiasco with Hickory Livestock using performance-enhancing drugs on their bulls, the UPRC wanted to make sure that none of the bulls that were provided to them were tampered with before the events.

As she walked next to Shane, she couldn’t help noticing that he walked with a limp. She wondered if a bull had ended his career. Reba wished she had Dolly’s gift of the gab. Dolly wouldn’t think twice about grilling him on every little detail. Reba preferred fading into the background. But she felt she owed the cowboy to be more engaging and polite. After all, he had saved her from Dr. Kilgore’s bullshit.

“So tell me about your bulls,” she said.

It was the only small talk that she felt comfortable engaging in. Animals were her favorite subject, after all. And it made talking to a great big hunk of a cowboy a little easier.

“We don’t drug them,” he said shortly.

Or not.

“I didn’t say you did,” she replied, testily.

“And yet here we are. Every time you people stick a needle into one of my animals, it’s a risk you’re going to damage them. All it takes is for the bull to move at the wrong moment.”

Fuck you. This was what happened when she tried to be personable. She should know better by now to stop engaging with people who didn’t want to believe that you were doing the right thing. Reba stopped trying, and just got down to business. Unfortunately, she was acutely aware of him standing close by, but at least it wasn’t in an uncomfortable way. He really was good-looking. Too bad he was an asshole.

Maybe asshole was too strong of a word. He had stepped up when Kilgore did his creepy stalking thing that he always did. Reba would bet cash money that he would have tried to hug her if she hadn’t kept Shane’s big body between them. She grudgingly admitted that having a large, muscled cowboy on her side had its uses.

Reba collected blood and urine samples from each of Shane’s bulls while they were still confined in their trailer. It made it easier to avoid horns and hooves if they got into a temper. When she went back to the lab, she would run the results to make sure that not only there weren’t any drugs in their system, but also to make sure that the bulls were healthy and didn’t have any transmittable diseases that could affect the other livestock.

Normally, Reba would be annoyed at having someone watch over her while she worked, but Shane was damned sexy and, even better, he any didn’t feel the need to fill out the silences with inane chatter. And while part of her hated that she was comforted by having a big, strong man standing next to her, another part of her started to relax and feel safe for the first time in a long while. Reba bet that if she rubbed her cheek on his arm, the cozy flannel would make her feel sleepy.

What the hell was wrong with her?

Reba deliberately took a few steps away from Shane before she did something stupid like cuddling up to him. Seeing Dr. Kilgore again had really thrown her for a loop. She hadn’t realized how very much afraid she still was of him. Reba had thought she had put it all behind her. It had been three years ago, for Pete’s sake. Three years since she quit. Three years since he threw the jar. Three years since he grabbed her and kissed her. Three years since no one believed her when she reported him to the veterinarian board.

Reba put a hand on her stomach and willed herself not to puke.

She had shoved Dr. Kilgore away and would have cracked him one across the face if she hadn’t been so afraid of him. Reba hated herself that she hadn’t punched his fucking lights out. She ran instead and never went back.

And for the last three years, she had kept running. At first, from rodeo to rodeo and then from any cowboy who wanted to go out for drinks. She hadn’t even gone out to a movie with a guy. Reba had kept picturing Dr. Kilgore’s slimy embrace and it had spoiled any thoughts of romance.

She had thrown herself into her job instead of dating. And now, three years later, she was more settled in her career. Sure, she still moved around a lot. But she worked for a new company that allowed her to use her skills as a vet without being crammed into an office. She really loved working for the UPRC, especially when it had allowed her to concentrate on the animals instead of customer service. It was a lonely life, but at least it was safe. Or had been safe, until Dr. Kilgore decided to show up and throw a bomb into her careful existence.

Being a workaholic and a homebody had paid off, though. She seldom thought about that gross kiss. To be fair, she seldom thought about kissing at all. And Reba realized that was a damned shame. She had liked kissing. It didn’t seem right that Dr. Kilgore took that away from her. She hated that he still had power over her.

Reba glanced over at the bull-riding pens. She should channel her inner Dolly and march over to the stands and tell Dr. Kilgore that she wouldn’t be having coffee or anything else with him ever again. And if he put his hands on her, she would deck him.

Maybe she could ask Shane Calland to stand at her back, just in case.

As Reba collected the samples that she needed, she made sure she followed the procedures to the letter. The UPRC was adamant about these new protocols after Hickory Livestock doped up a bull and made it more aggressive last season. It could have gotten LeAnn seriously injured. It had only been a matter of chance that instead of LeAnn being on the bull, it had been another bull rider. Luke “Mick” Mickelson’s leg had never been the same after his wreck.

After she finished up, she turned to Shane and said, “I appreciate your company, but I’ll be all right from here on in.”

“How do my bulls look, Doc?” he asked.

“So far so good. The office will run the drug test and we should have the results back later today, but based on what I see, there shouldn’t be a problem.” His animals looked healthy and clean. They were expensive animals, and it was good to see that Shane respected them.

He nodded and walked away without another word. She supposed other people would find that curt and abrupt, but as she watched him walk away with his slight limp, she recognized that he had just been done with the conversation. She guessed she could appreciate someone not wasting her time with small talk.

It let her get back to work that much more quickly.

Still, her gaze lingered on his strong back and Reba wondered if she should have offered to buy him a beer or something for sticking by her.

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping June 4, 2024

The Cowboy’s Untamed Heart is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN: 978-1-962707-41-1

June 4, 2024

→ As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. We also may use affiliate links elsewhere in our site.