Excerpt: Her Rebel Cowboy

Excerpt: Her Rebel Cowboy

So, yeah, apparently there was a reason why people read novels instead of actually trying to experience the life they were reading about.

Because fantasies had no place in real life. Ever.

Especially fantasies that involved romantic, soul-enriching excursions to ranch country out west.

Noelle had been dreaming about cowboys and the Wild West since she was a kid, and not a single one of those fantasies included driving her rental car off the road and into a flooded ditch during a thunderstorm. Granted, she’d been driving slowly when she’d hit the brakes to avoid a coyote, and the slide down the embankment had been gentle and danger-free, but that didn’t change the fact that her car wasn’t getting back on the road by itself. And the part about not having any cell service? Yeah, that hadn’t made it into even a single fantasy, and for good reason apparently.

Because it kind of sucked.

Noelle sighed, resting her wrists on the steering wheel as she watched the rain hammer onto her windshield. The din of pounding rain sounded like a herd of cattle stampeding across her metal roof, which, again, wasn’t exactly how she’d envisioned her first cattle experience.

She’d been sitting in her car for two hours and six minutes, and not a single car had driven by. Not one. She was on some dirt road, not that far from her destination, and apparently, none of the other residents of Eastern Oregon had any business along this particular stretch of road.

So, yay for finding a place where she wasn’t going to be harassed by having to deal with people, right? Go her.

She glanced at the dashboard on her car. Almost seven o’clock. It would be getting dark soon, and she so didn’t want to spend the night here. She looked again at her directions. How much farther could the ranch be? She was almost there. She could sit there in the car until someone found her clean-picked skeleton, or she could use her body that she was lucky enough to have, and hike the rest of the distance.

The idea of hiking made energy hum through her, a surprising burst of energy that she hadn’t felt in a long time. It made her feel powerful, no longer a victim. Taking action felt so much better than waiting to become roadside carnage. Grinning, she quickly leaned into the back seat, dug through her bags for her hiking boots and her raincoat. Within five minutes, she’d changed her shoes, zipped the ranch house key, her phone, the directions, and her wallet into the inside pocket of the coat, and chowed a granola bar.

Thunder rumbled just as she was reaching for the door handle. She hesitated for a split second, then looked around at the car. Another prison, just like her apartment. Suddenly, she couldn’t take another second of it. She had to be outside. She had to be moving. She had to be breathing in fresh air. Now.

So she shoved open the door, stepped into six inches of muddy, raging water, and got out. The wind hit hard, and the rain thundered down, and she realized it was really brutal out. She hesitated, one hand on the door frame, suddenly unsure what to do. What if it was longer than she thought to the ranch? What if she got lost? There was literally no one to come to aid. No cell service. No cars going past. But, there were coyotes, or at least one. They didn’t attack people, though, she was pretty sure. Crap. Was she a total fool to get out of the car and start hiking? Or would she be a bigger fool to sit in her car until someone came past?

Probably hiking was the worse choice.

But dammit. She didn’t want to sit around anymore. She wanted to move. To live. To feel her body work again.

Screw it.

She was hiking.

With a renewed sense of power, she slammed her door shut and headed up the embankment toward the highway. She made it halfway up the incline, then she felt her boots start to slide. She yelped, and fought for purchase, leaning down to brace her hands on the ground, but as she stood there, her feet slid all the way back down, she lost her grip and landed on her knees, and rode the muddy gravel all the way back down, landing with a sploosh in the muddy river that had trapped her car.

Noelle looked up at the ten-foot embankment of mud and gravel, and suddenly, she started to laugh. Oh, God. This was too insane. Her first day of replenishing her soul, and she was trapped by a hill of shale and mud? Energy rushed through her, a fire that made her entire body feel stronger than it had in years.

She backed up several steps, set her gaze on her goal, and then charged the hill. She made it halfway up again, and then her boots started to slide. She lunged forward, digging her hands into the mud as she fought to scramble up the side. She made it another few feet, sliding backwards almost as often as she made it forward.

Her breath was heaving in her chest, and she fought harder, her feet sliding down almost as fast as she was able to take a step forward. Rain poured over her, running down her neck and under her coat, and mud coated her hands to her wrists. Her jeans were soaked, there was cold mud oozing over the top of her boots, and her hair was glued to her cheeks by the mud and the rain. She was filthy, soaked, exhausted, and hadn’t felt so alive in years. Grinning even as her fingernails were scraped by the gravel, she fought against gravity. Inch by inch, she scrambled higher, until she was almost at the top…and then her feet started to go again.

“Crap!” She lunged for the top of the embankment, and just missed it…and started to slide back down again–

A strong hand suddenly grabbed her wrist, jerking her to a stop mid-slide.

She looked up quickly to find a drenched, muddy cowboy in a long jacket, a dripping cowboy hat, and icy-blue eyes staring down at her, his fingers locked around her arm.

Noelle froze, shocked by the sight of him, by the way her belly leapt, by the sudden heat rushing through her body. Dear God, he was straight out of her teenage fantasies. A hot cowboy coming to her rescue?

No, not hot. Calling him hot was like kind of like calling a wild, fully grown male mountain lion a cute little kitten. It was a supreme injustice to both the lion and the kitten. The man before her was pure, rugged male…the kind of male that made her want to drop everything, sprint over to him, and surrender every aspect of herself to his raw masculinity.

There was something about the way he was standing there with his duster flapping in the heavy wind, his legs braced against the weight of her body, while the rain dripped off his hat that was just so primal. Delicious. Surreal. Hot. Like he was made of testosterone, old West charm, and danger…with just a hint of cocky arrogance curving his mouth so seductively that a shiver went down her spine that had nothing to do with the fact she was soaking wet and closing in on hypothermia (yes, it was fifty degrees, but hypothermia wasn’t choosy, was it?)

She couldn’t quite believe how good it felt to stare at a man and notice how wide his shoulders were beneath his black jacket, or the way his quads bulged beneath his jean-clad thighs as he braced himself, as if his body was made for a life of outdoor roughness. She took a deep breath, wishing that he was close enough for her to catch a scent of him, a heady masculine scent that would make her stomach curl and her belly flutter like it had back when she used to feel alive. But all she could smell was the damp earth, the fresh rain, and the murkiness of the swampy river she’d just waded through…which was just as well. One more assault to her senses would likely send her romantically barren soul into testosterone-induced shock.

He lifted one eyebrow slowly, amusement flickering in his eyes, and suddenly, she realized she was gawking at him. Like, literally gawking. Heat flooded her cheeks, but she had nowhere to hide, nowhere else to look, not when it was his grip on her arm that was keeping her from tumbling back down the embankment to the muddy, bubbly water.

“Ready?” His voice rolled through her. Deep. Masculine. Rich. Her stomach literally vibrated in response.

“Ready? For what?” She had no idea what he was talking about. All she could think of was how kind and warm he sounded, a hint of gentleness in his voice that contrasted so sharply with the strapping strength of his frame, and the ease with which he was keeping her from sliding down the hill.

The amusement in his eyes deepened. “For me to haul you up here so you don’t slide down again. I can let you go, if you prefer.”

“Oh, right.” She’d totally forgotten she was still standing at a forty-five-degree angle, several feet below him, on an embankment that was becoming increasingly unstable in the heavy rain. “Hauling me up would be fantastic, thanks.”

He flashed her a grin so devastatingly charming that she forgot to breathe, and then he stepped back, using his body to counterbalance her as she scrambled up the last few feet and over the edge. She landed in front of him, her boots thudding on the even ground…and she realized that he was even more solid and tall when she was on his level than he’d looked when he was above her.

For a long moment, she didn’t move, and neither did he. His hand was still locked around her arm, and she didn’t pull away. They just stood there, the rain hammering down on them, sliding over her face, and down her neck.

She was close enough now to see the heavy whiskers on his face, a beard that he didn’t quite allow to grow in. His jaw was hard and strong. His face angular. And his eyes…she forgot about everything else but his eyes. They were deep, turbulent crystal blue that were so intense they literally took her breath away with the intensity burning with them. She knew then that he wasn’t simply a sinfully hot cowboy. He was more, something infinitely more complex, burdened by a weight so raw that he made her heart speed up. This man was alive, fermenting with power and passion that made her heart clench.

God, how long had it been since she’d felt alive like that?

His gaze traveled over her, across her face, over her muddy, soaking body, moving with a languid interest that made heat burn in her belly. His gaze flicked to her car, angled down in the ditch, and then back to her. “City girl?”

The way he said it didn’t sound like an insult. It sounded like a seduction that made him promise to show her exactly how wild the cowboy life could be. She nodded. “Boston.”

“Boston.” He repeated the word, rolling it ever so slightly with a cowboy twang that made her belly tighten. “So, you must be Noelle Wilder.” His gaze settled on her face. “I’ve been expecting you.”

 

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