The Rancher’s Lost Bride


Roxanne Snopek

Leila Monahan is creating her dream family, but when her fiancé gets cold feet, she sends him packing. A sperm bank would be easier but first, she’ll take a DNA test. She doesn’t care about finding her birth parents, but her future children might. The surprising results are nothing to the shock of seeing her first true love back in town, with an eight-year-old daughter.

Sawyer Lafferty loved Leila, but her desire to get married—at nineteen!—sent him running. Before settling down, he wanted an education and opportunities. But those, and any future with Leila, vanished with the unexpected arrival of his baby girl. Now a single dad with full custody, he’s come home to manage Grand’s new therapeutic riding stable and rebuild his life.

Leila is gutted to learn that Sawyer wanted a family after all—just not with her. But little Piper quickly captures her heart, and when Sawyer shares the circumstances of his marriage, the spark they once had flares back to life, but is it enough to sustain them? Or will the secrets and lies surrounding them douse it forever?

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Livingston, Montana

Joseph Patrick Malone stood just outside the gate to the arena, sweating. The building had been built in the ’50s and nothing about it, the ventilation especially, had improved in the ensuing the three decades. Hot summer dust rose around him, and the air was filled with the earthy odors of livestock and sawdust, and the cheers of rodeo fans.

He was having an excellent season. The last bull he’d drawn had been a high scorer, a real live one with some big moves, and JP had stuck it out. The sound of the buzzer as he leaped to safety, followed by screaming applause, still rang in his ears as he walked through the arena to the sea of trailers out back. Maybe he’d go out with some of the guys, to celebrate.

“Nice ride,” said a voice behind him.

He turned to see a cute, curvy blonde in snug jeans and a Western shirt. Smooth, tanned skin glowed at her neckline and enough snaps were undone to reveal a hint of creamy cleavage.

“Thanks. I got lucky.”

“You’ve got skill,” she corrected. “You been doing this long?”

He shrugged and continued toward the exit. She had an eager gleam in her pretty eyes, but he wasn’t interested in starting a conversation with a buckle bunny too young to know better.

“I’m Heather,” she said, keeping pace with him.

“I’ve got to feed my horse, Heather.”

“I’ll help you. He’s beautiful. I watched you ride. He’s got a great eye.”

JP glanced at her in surprise. “You know cutting horses?”

“Everyone around here knows cutting horses.”

He’d learned late and fast; no one, where he came from, knew anything about horses. Imagine if he’d have been brought up in this world. He could have been a star.

The outdoor air was cool and fresh, touched by the scent of approaching autumn. The crowds had begun to drift out of the building now that the main events were over. It was quiet on this side of the building, just tired competitors tending to their animals before they went out to find whatever they needed to ready them for tomorrow’s events.

“What does JP stand for?” Heather asked.

He kept walking.

“Don’t you have a last name? Or is it a stage name, like Cher?”

He turned. “Won’t your parents be wondering where you are?”

Her smile faded. “I’m nineteen.”


“What do you care?”

He rolled his eyes. “You’re coming on like a freight train, Heather. You think that’s smart? It’s not. It’s goddamn stupid. You’re lucky I don’t haul you into my trailer and—”

“Why don’t you?”

He gaped at her. Part of him was kicking himself. She was here, who knew why, as ready and waiting as any girl he’d ever seen, and he couldn’t let himself partake.

“I don’t know you.”

“I’m Heather Hudson. My mom always called me Honey, but she’s gone now. I’m from Sweetheart. I live with my dad, but I’m saving up for a place of my own, somewhere with good light and space, where I could have a cat. I work in a diner, but I’m really an artist. Or, I’m trying to be, at least. Is that better?”

Something about her intrigued him. He hadn’t seen her flirting with anybody else. Maybe she really did like him, in particular. For some reason.

“No. What do you see happening here, Heather?”

She tipped one shoulder. “We’re getting to know each other. That’s nice, isn’t it? I don’t know a lot of nice guys.”

“I’m not a nice guy.”

“I think you are. I’ve watched you. You’re polite. You don’t lose your temper. You’re good to your horse. That means something.”

They’d reached the trailer. Aramis gave a low whuffle, nudging Malone for his oats. JP stepped away from Heather, secured the horse in the shade, made sure his water was fresh and cold, and tossed him a flake of alfalfa. This girl reminded him of Lizzie, but the feelings she stirred in him were in no way brotherly.

“It means nothing.”

It had been too long since he’d been in the company of anyone other than men and boys like himself, rough, gruff, grubby cowboys not given to conversation. They weren’t friends; they exchanged information, brief words of commiseration or briefer congratulations. They were competitors in the saddle, at work or at play, and they never forgot it. There was no room for softness.

She stepped closer to him and ran a finger down the placket of his shirt. “You’re a good guy, aren’t you, JP?”

He grasped her hand, tight enough to make her eyes flicker. “I’m not. You need to leave. Now.”

End of Excerpt

The Rancher’s Lost Bride is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-961544-91-8

February 13, 2024

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