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Claimed by Her Cowboys
Author: Sam Crescent

 


Chapter One

 

 

“There isn’t anyone you haven’t pushed away or scared off,” Archie Wales said.

Gabe Cartwright stood up, tired of being singled out. He wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve. There wasn’t even a breeze to kill the heat. He looked at his friends and roommates, Archie and Vinny. They had all argued for many weeks about hiring a housekeeper. Personally, he didn’t want a fucking stranger walking around their house or anywhere near their shit. He worked hard for everything he had, and he did not trust easily.

“What are you babbling on about now?” He didn’t have time for this. There was too much to get done on a working farm without arguing about nonsense. Already, he noticed another fence that required mending, and they had orders that needed to be filled before sundown.

For so long, Archie and Vinny had been after him about hiring a housekeeper. It still hadn’t happened. Most of the people who previously applied were only after easy work. He had yet to hire anyone he could trust.

“Well, we have a winner, thank you very much. The pretty little Annalise has applied, and she also brought tester cookies. Not even you can disagree with this pick.” Archie held up a single cookie, and Gabe couldn’t argue. They did look tasty, but he wasn’t easily swayed by food.

He was the current cook on the ranch, and the boys were used to one thing, steak and potatoes. That was all. He didn’t need to learn to cook anything else.

“Come on, man, you have got to try these. They’re so good. They’re going to give you wet dreams.”

“Not happening,” he said, bending down to fork the straw from one pile to another. He noticed out of the three of them, he was the only one working. “If you want to get this job done today, and get an early night, hurry up.”

Vinny chose that moment to laugh. “Come on, we work our asses off all the time. And you’re the one working harder than anyone else—cleaning, cooking. It’s work you don’t need to do. We can afford to hire, Gabe.”

“We’ve got up to five ranch hands already.”

Gabe knew they were well off. After all their hard work, ranching was finally turning a profit, a pretty healthy one, but he wasn’t about to tell the guys it was because of a few investments on the stock markets that had kept this place open.

He, Archie, and Vinny had been best friends since they were kids. All of them came from deadbeat families, with drunks or addicts as parents. Gabe got his work ethic from not wanting to end up like his dad, not by example.

Together, they had joined as a unit. Just the three of them, working two and three jobs at a time to help get a down payment for this place. Even as a kid, the Hollington Ranch had been in disrepair. They would sneak off to the ranch for a place to hide while their parents were having one of their benders. Mr. Hollington would leave out snacks and sodas, along with blankets and cushions. He never said anything to them. Never told them off nor called the cops. He was a good guy.

The news of his passing had hit them all hard, and even though they weren’t invited to the funeral, they each went and paid their respects. The ranch went up for sale, but no one bought it until they did.

It had taken a lot of years, hard work, and love, but the ranch house was back in impeccable condition. The land once again had cattle, and they had expanded to allow horse boarding, cash crops, as well as renting out small animals for kids’ events. They may be simple cowboys, but their entrepreneurial spirit got them where they were.

Ranch life was busy most of the time, and if he was honest with himself, Gabe preferred it that way. Too much time in his head was never a good thing.

A housekeeper would ruin the peace they’d taken years to find. At the same time, steak and potatoes had long lost its appeal. The cookie Archie ate had looked good.

“Let me try one of them,” he said.

Archie tossed the bag in his direction, and he caught it, not surprised to see there was only one left.

After taking it out, he took a bite, and fuck him, he’d never tasted anything so good. It was sweet, but not too sweet. Each bite seemed to have just the right amount of chocolate chips in it. There was even a hint of salt that he loved.

“Damn,” he said.

“She’s a good cook, but she’s willing to come in and cook for us for a full day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She’ll also work on a trial basis,” Archie said.

Gabe finished the cookie in two bites, and the moment he swallowed the last mouthful, he mourned his cookie. This was ridiculous. He was a grown man. He didn’t get sad over baked goodies.

“Give me more details.”

Vinny coughed, and Gabe glared at him. The fucker never knew how to hide a laugh.

“She’s thirty years old. Has really nice red hair, green eyes. Never been married. Isn’t in a relationship. She’s really sweet and is just looking for a job with housing. Her current apartment has been sold for a renovation, but because of the cost, she can’t afford to keep it. She is also the hot, curvy woman who works at the diner three times a week.”

“Curvy Red?” Gabe asked.

He rarely went into town, but when he did, he always chose to eat at the diner, and he’d recognized the curvy red waitress at the bar. Who hadn’t?

His gaze had been drawn to her uniform, which was a size too small for her lush frame. Damn it.

Every time he was served by Curvy Red, he’d been hard as fucking rock. He didn’t want any distractions, but if she failed a trial run, he’d finally get Vinny and Archie off his back, and that was well worth it.

“Call her in.”

****

Archie was excited.

They had tried keeping a housekeeper a couple of times, but it had always ended in disaster. One had promised to be a good cook and had given them all food poisoning. Another tried to feed them nothing but vegetables and later told them they didn’t know how to cook at all. Then there was the one who had tried to rob from them, and they ended up getting the sheriff involved, and that had been the final straw for Gabe. After that, no more housekeepers, and they’d all lived on a diet of diner food, and steak and potatoes.

He hated steak.

And potatoes.

He also hated watching Curvy Red at the diner, wanting to ask her out but never having the nerve. He was forty years old yet still felt like a skinny, awkward teen when he was around her. Most of his childhood memories were of getting beat up and trampled on as the school runt—until he grew up and began lifting weights. He never seemed to stop growing once he hit his early twenties, and now he was bigger, taller, and stronger than all the boys he’d once grown up with. Still, those fucking insecurities ran deep, and he couldn’t muster up the nerve to ask out Curvy Red.

When he saw her application, he’d immediately called her and started to ask questions.

Opening the door to her now, he offered her a smile. She held on to her bag like a lifeline, and he noticed her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. Was he that imposing?

It was strange what he noticed about this sweet woman. She was thirty years old, and from what he could tell, never had a boyfriend. The apartment building where she lived was a piece of shit. He knew as he’d grown up around there. Diapers, used condoms, and even syringes littered the floors. It wasn’t a good place to live, but it was cheap. Since she was being evicted, he assumed the building was being knocked down and rebuilt into overpriced condos. It would be no surprise. The town wanted to bring new investments and opportunities to the community, calling it gentrification.

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