Sweet Home Cowboy
Book 3 in the Jasper Creek Series
The Hathaway sisters might have grown up apart, but when they agree to move to Jasper Creek, Oregon, and revitalize their grandfather’s farm together, it seems a straightforward decision. Until they meet their neighborhood cowboys…
Sweet-natured Teddy has never met a man worth taking a risk on, until now. Tomboy Joey has more affinity with farm equipment than men, until a brooding cowboy changes her mind. Prickly baker Georgie can’t resist the temptation of the most forbidden cowboy of all, and sparks fly between ceramicist Elliot and the grumpy single-dad rancher next door.
The sisters’ feelings are anything but simple, but with the love and support of each other, they discover that a cowboy might be the sweetest thing of all about coming home.
Sweet Home Cowboy
The cowboy next door was pounding on his fences again.
Sadly not a euphemism.
Elliot Hathaway was beginning to think he was doing it at her.
She blew out a breath and tried to center herself the way she always did. Clay. Her hands. Whatever the wheel before her brought into being—
But the pounding got loud. Again.
Elliot had been doing her best to ignore it. But every day that the racket went on, she lost a little more of her center. And her cool. And she hated losing either—it reminded her a little too strongly of her chaotic childhood. Still, she did not intend to take this kind of daily provocation lying down when her only sin was being a granddaughter of crusty old Jack Hathaway and thus entitled to the land her brand-new pottery studio sat upon.
The land everyone knew Grandpa Jack’s too-cowboy-to-live neighbor had been planning to buy himself.
If the remarkably grumpy Colt West wanted a war, well. Elliot was prepared to wade right in, guns blazing.
“Not real guns,” she corrected herself out loud, because she didn’t need to put that kind of negative energy out there. “Obviously.”
She blew an errant strand of her dark hair out of her face as she worked the clay on the wheel before her, her gaze trained out the window on the gorgeous Oregon field that stretched out toward hills bright with spring green. Promising a serenity she wanted very much to feel.
Despite the endless pounding.
Elliot tried to focus on the pretty view. This part of Oregon was very different from Portland, up north, which she supposed was more her home than anywhere else. She’d not only gone to school there but had kept what few things that didn’t travel with her in a storage unit on the outskirts of the city after graduation. She’d spent the three years since wandering. Crisscrossing the country from craft fair to kiln seminar to communities of clay enthusiasts, wherever her trusty van could take her.
She’d seen a great many of the country’s most beautiful places, but she thought this particular view was her favorite. This sweeping view from this particular spread of land, because it was hers. Or close enough. She and her sisters, all raised apart from each other by their respective mothers—or, in Georgie’s case, her half brother—had finally gathered in one place the way they’d dreamed since the day they’d finally met. This place, deep green everywhere, with forests on the mountains and fields of rich, fertile earth. Sweeping lines of cherry and plum trees, blossoming pink and white this time of year, marking the one-lane roads that chased clear blue rivers through the valley of pear orchards, vineyards, and meandering fields. Graceful lilacs and plucky jasmine grew everywhere, spilling their sweetness into air that always seemed washed clean and blue.
This was the home Elliot had always secretly wanted.
She’d known it the moment she’d seen it on the first trip her fiercely protective mother had allowed her to take here, to meet her grandfather with the half sisters she’d only just met the previous summer. She’d dreamed of it ever since. And when she and her sisters had vowed to move here and take over the parts of the land their crotchety old grandfather couldn’t handle any longer, she’d been sure that when she drove herself and all her things here, she would know that she was home at last.
And she had. That sparkling sense of homecoming had been confirmed when she’d driven down these familiar country roads in the van that had been her world, towing her life and her kiln toward the ramshackle buildings that were hers now. Theirs.
Hers and her sisters’ at last.
The old main house might have been falling down, but they’d patched it up with love—and the hands-on craftsmanship they all possessed in their own ways. The barn they’d made the center of their new farm stand business had been a mess before they’d got it into good enough shape to open, but they were still making it prettier and more inviting by the day. And when Elliot wasn’t working on the communal projects that made up the heart and soul of Four Sisters Farm, she’d set up her own pottery studio in one of the outbuildings.
Her very first pottery studio. Not mobile. Not removable. A roof overhead and four walls, all hers.
Home sweet home, she liked to think—a lot—every time she looked around at what they’d made here this glorious spring, because it was perfect.
Except for the ornery cowboy right in the middle of it all, hammering away up and down the length of the property line all the freaking time.
And he wasn’t very good at whatever he was doing, obviously, because he seemed to need to keep on doing it. All day every day.
Elliot knew the moment the damp mound of clay between her palms surrendered to her mood. It caved in on one side and she took her foot off the pedal of her pottery wheel, sighing.
That was what she got for letting her mind wander instead of connecting to the clay.
She took her time getting up, washing off her hands, and cleaning up her workspace. When she finished, she made herself a huge mug of coffee in her tiny kitchenette, because it might be midafternoon but she’d barely been up for two hours.
She could get up at the crack of dawn like her sisters, but mostly she let her body tell her what it wanted. And she was an artist, meaning she was often a night owl. A slave to the muse—
But the hammering kicked in again then, making her grit her teeth and grip her mug—one she’d made herself, with a pretty blue glaze that reminded her of a few sweet weeks near Chesapeake Bay. She set it down before she crushed it.
Elliot had been ignoring the cowboy problem. Hoping he would go off and do other cowboy things, whatever those were. She had complained about him. She had reenacted various disruptions for her sisters’ amusement, but had always claimed it wasn’t worth a confrontation.
It felt worth it today.
She wanted to call in the cavalry—because everything was better with her sisters—but the farm existed in a cell service black hole. If she wanted backup she would have to go collect it, and she was ready to deal with Colt West now.
And Elliot lived her life to the beat of her instincts, always.
So she didn’t dither. She didn’t change out of her clay-spattered overalls, pay any attention to the mismatched patterned socks and Birkenstock combo she was rocking, or do anything to the wildly untamed hair that was mostly tied back in one of her ancient bandannas.
She marched out the door of her studio and headed straight for the fences.
It was a lovely early April afternoon outside. And as she walked toward the property line, it was tempting to forget her mission. The birds were singing as if they were competing with each other, the competition somehow creating a chorus that rose and fell with the sunshine, spinning around and around on the breeze. Elliot wanted to sing along with them.
She tilted her face back as she moved, happy to feel the grass beneath her feet and the warmth on her face, as if she was a part of that blue sky.
But as she drew closer to the edge of her grandfather’s property, the noise grew louder. There was the usual, ubiquitous pickup parked at an angle beneath the canopy of a leafy tree on the other side of the fence line, but her foe wasn’t in it. She scanned the area until she saw the figure responsible for the ruckus.
The cowboy in question had his back to her as she approached, and Elliot came very close to tripping over nothing as she registered what she was looking at.
Colt West, the grumpiest neighbor of all time, was stripped down to his Wranglers.
Elliot about swallowed her tongue.
She had seen Colt before, but it had always been from a distance. Scowling from beneath his Stetson. Cantering about on one of his horses. Peering suspiciously out the windows of his pickup if they passed each other on the same dirt road that led to both their homes.
And somehow, in all those distant not-quite-interactions, Elliot had somehow missed the fact that the man was smoking hot.
Maybe there was something to all this carrying on with the fences. Someone ought to alert the CrossFit community, because the man was…mouthwatering.
She drifted closer, coming to a stop only when she reached the end of Hathaway land. And she knew it was the end of their land because there was nothing subtle about the fences Colt spent so much time working on.
And then Elliot…just stood there, not sure what her plan was. Maybe she was in shock. It suddenly felt a lot more like summer. That hot. That breathless.
She wondered why, in her lifelong pursuit of the most sublime intersection of form and function, she’d never more closely considered the glory of a male back. Acres of faintly golden skin stretched over an array of hard, long muscles. The way it all seemed to shimmer on its way down to narrow hips, a very fine backside, strong legs, and cowboy boots.
Elliot felt the urge to giggle, and wished her sisters were here with every part of her, so they could partake in this particular moment of awe and wonder.
And sure, if the situations were reversed, she might not take kindly to looking up from her business to find some man gaping at her. Then again, if it was this man, she might take to it just fine. She had the sense that Colt West, apparently built rangy and tough and delicious, could take it. So she stood there while her heart did profoundly silly things in her chest, taking note of the fact that it appeared her neighbor spent a whole lot of time wandering around shirtless, because he had no farmer’s tan to speak of. It seemed critically important that she know this information.
She felt compelled to fan herself, but restrained the urge.
“I told him he was making too much noise,” came a voice, and Elliot felt a streak of something it took her a beat to realize was embarrassment. “He always makes too much noise.”
Elliot felt exposed then, and looked around a little bit wildly until she found the speaker.
A young girl was sitting in the shadowed pickup truck. She must have watched Elliot walk toward her. And had obviously then also seen Elliot stop still and stare at Colt.
She didn’t really believe in embarrassment, because she was opposed to shame, but there was no pretending her cheeks weren’t a little red as she gazed at the girl who’d seemingly appeared from nowhere to hang out the rolled-down window of the truck. Elliot decided to blame Colt for that unwelcome response too.
“He spends too much time alone,” the girl continued with a measure of stern authority that made Elliot’s lips twitch. “I keep telling him that makes him unfit for being around other humans.”
The girl leaned out the window, and Elliot revised her initial impression of perhaps a ten-year-old upward to something a little more firmly preteen. Adolescence was clearly coming for this girl, all awkward limbs, dark hair in braids, and a spray of freckles across cheeks still rounded with youth. Everything about her, from her sulky mouth to her intent gaze screamed that she was on the cusp. Elliot wanted to sketch her immediately. She reached into the deep pocket of her overalls to pull out her pad. She fished out her favorite pencil from where she’d used it to spear her hair into a messy bun behind the bandanna, and shook the fall of it back as she quickly got her pencil dancing across the paper.
“What you doing?” the girl asked.
Elliot looked up to find the girl staring back at her, something like apprehension on her face. But she could see it was mixed in with a painful sort of hope.
And her heart thumped so hard it hurt, because Elliot could remember what that felt like. Poised there between girlhood and womanhood, awkward and unsure, and so desperate to be something.
She knew that if she told this girl the truth, that she was absolutely gorgeous in every possible way, the girl would scoff at it. And think Elliot was a liar, which, as she recalled, was the worst thing a person could be when she’d been this girl’s age.
“You have a fascinating face,” she said instead, matter-of-factly. She leaned onto the fence—noting, despite herself, that it really was expertly constructed because it wasn’t flimsy in the least—and turned the pad around so the girl could see it. “See?”
And as she watched, the suspicious look on the girl’s face melted away to something like wonder. “That looks like me.”
“You have good lines,” Elliot told her briskly. “You’re lucky, of course. Not everybody does.”
It was only when the girl’s face cracked wide open into a smile, and Elliot returned it, that she realized something had changed.
It took her moment to work out what.
She could hear the birdsong go straight up toward the sky. She could hear the rustle of the breeze high up in the tree.
There was no noise. No hammering.
And for some reason, a sense of deep foreboding swept over her, as if the sun had dipped behind a cloud. But Elliot could see that the sky was as bright and blue as ever, stretching from one green mountain range on one side of the valley to the higher, still whitecapped range on the other.
She turned, very slowly, and sure enough, Colt West was staring right at her.
From all of five feet away.
And nothing could possibly have prepared her for the man at close range.
Because he tipped back his Stetson and there was that chest, and she felt as if she was tumbling, head over heels, from some great height. When she could feel perfectly well that her feet were on the ground and she was leaning against the fence he’d built. It didn’t seem to make a difference.
He was beautiful.
His eyes were dark, his mouth was firm, and she thought she could feel his cheekbones beneath her hands like ridges in clay. Or maybe she had never wanted to feel anything quite so badly in her life. And she was famously tactile.
She thought: this is a man.
To be distinguished from the great many males of the species she had observed in her time. None of them had claimed their space like Colt West did, as if he was as much a part of the land as the tree that arched above them or the mountains in the distance. He held himself as if he knew exactly who he was and exactly where he stood in the grand sweep of the universe, and looking at him made Elliot feel something like flustered.
Or maybe reckless.
Like he was a different kind of homecoming.
And Elliot had the distinct impression, a lot like a kick to the stomach except much, much hotter, that she would never be the same again.
End of excerpt
Sweet Home Cowboy
Sweet Home Cowboy
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