Cross-posted from Romance Writer Sara Walter Ellwood.
Welcome to another Freebie Friday. This is from my yet-to-be published Butterfly, Book 1 of The Cowboys of Colton, a contemporary Western romantic suspense….chock full of family feuds, lies, and secrets…and even a little murder too…
I’m really excited because this book has been requested by Lyrical Press…. Keep those fingers and toes crossed that they decide to give it a go and contract it…
If you’ve been following the past couple Six Sentence Sundays, I’ve been featuring sippets from this book.
Dylan is the town drunk, but he also served 13 yrs in the Army, the last stint as the commander of a Special Forces Team in Afghanistan. During the hunt for Bin Laden, his team fell into a trap and he blames himself for the deaths of the soldiers he commanded. But his qualifications as a carpenter and as having a degree in ag-business makes him more than perfect for Charli’s ranch–if she can help him get sober and stay sober.
Charli is new to Colton and has purchased the rundown Blackwell Ranch. She’s an heiress to a fortune from her grandfather’s farm equipment manufacturing firm, but she has a past she wants to keep buried.
Leon is the oilman next door. His ranch borders Charli’s and is richer than Midas… But Charli has something he desperately wants and it’s not just her body. He’s also Dylan’s step-uncle… Leon’s mother was married to Dylan’s Grandfather–and he got the ranch that should have belonged to Dylan’s mother when the grandfather died. Do I need to say family feud?
This excerpt comes from Chapter 3. Charli is working in her weed and vermin infested garden when her new manager shows up for his first day on the job.
The Snake in the Garden
Shielding her eyes with a gloved hand, Charli smiled. “Hi. You’re here. Good.”
Dylan stopped under the cherry tree and took in the entire yard with one sweeping glance. His inspection also included her, and something fluttered in her belly. “My sister told me you wanted to see me.”
“Yes. You’re hired, and I’d like you to start today.” She pointed behind her. “There’s a snake in the lake over there. It couldn’t be too far from the edge. I want you to kill it. Then I’ll show you around.”
His lips twitched in that ghost of a smirk. “It was probably a little blotched or broad-banded water snake. They’re harmless and common.”
“Little? The thing was a good four feet long. And no snake is harmless.” When the meaning of the rest sank in, she shivered as the blood drained out of her face. “Common?”
“Yep.” He pushed back his dark brown Stetson, revealing some of his similarly colored short hair. “Water snakes are very common in this part of Texas. When I was a kid, I’d catch them from here and let them loose over on my granddad’s place to torment his wife.” His eyes twinkled at the memory. “Jock loved to watch me” he said referring to the previous owner of her ranch. “But if the one you saw is four feet long, it’s probably a cottonmouth.”
Charli glanced at the lake again. “Kill it. I don’t give a damn what kind of snake it is.”
He shook his head, and his lips twitched further into a genuine lopsided grin. She didn’t even care he was making fun of her because he was gorgeous when he smiled. The hard angles and plains still provided structure, but now small crinkles added life to his silvery eyes and a small dimple formed in his left cheek. The flutter in her stomach his assessment of her had started just got worse.
“No. And I doubt it’s a cottonmouth.” Dylan picked up a hoe from where she’d dropped it. “I’ll show you how harmless they are.”
He went to the edge of the water. Dylan prodded around in the overgrowth of cattails by the limestone lip. Charli jumped when he pulled the snake out of the water. It twisted around the end of the hoe.
He looked over his shoulder at her. “This little guy’s a blotched water snake. I’m not killing it. Or any of his buddies in here either.”
“It’s a damned snake! Get rid of it. Now!” Dear Lord, was the man nuts?
Dylan chuckled, the sound more than a little rusty as it drifted to her across the yard. “You aren’t really afraid of this fella, are you? This guy’s as harmless as a frog.” He shook the snake off the hoe and probed around in the water for a few feet. Turning, he headed back toward her through the high grass and weeds. For a guy with a limp, he moved fast.
“Maybe it is as harmless as a frog, but I don’t like them much either.” When he stopped at the edge of the garden, Charli backed up a step, and her feet tangled in the vegetation. With an ompff, she landed on her backside in the middle of a clump of weeds, bluebonnets and, amazingly, yellow daffodils.
Dylan laughed and held his hand out to her, which she ignored. With a shrug, he hooked his thumbs into the pockets of his jeans. “When I was on a mission in the South American jungle, pythons the length of my pickup would come into camp. We didn’t have to worry unless we woke up in the morning with our feet in the mouth of one.”
She widened her eyes. Was he serious?
He snorted and shifted his stance. “Of course that was better than our heads being swallowed first.”
“Oh…Oh!” She struggled to her feet and brushed at her jeans. “If you aren’t careful, you’ll be fired before you even get started. I want that snake and any of his ‘buddies’ removed from my lake.”
“I’m not killing the snake.” He put his hands on his hips, narrow hips that drew her eyes to the way his jeans fit powerfully built legs. “If it was a cottonmouth, I would, but the water snakes keep down the populations of more unsavory critters like mice and rats.”
“My, my, if this isn’t a scene right out of the Bible.” A smooth voice drawled from the opposite side of the flowerbed by the gate.
Both Charli and Dylan turned to Leon Ferguson standing on the stone walk. She hadn’t heard him drive up the driveway, and considering the thin line Dylan’s mouth formed, he hadn’t heard him either.
Leon had his hands in the pants pockets of his dark gray designer suit. His white Stetson cast his brown eyes in shadow.
“Ferguson, what are you doing here?” Dylan barked.
Leon ambled toward them on the stone path. “I’m saving a young maiden from torment. What are you doing here, playing the part of the devil?”
“I’m Miss Monroe’s new manager.” The deadly edge of Dylan’s voice matched the flintiness of his eyes. “If there’s anyone to save the young maiden from, it’s you.”
“Mr. Carter, please.” Charli turned to Leon. “Leon, is there something I can do for you?”
He smiled, showing off perfect white teeth in a face handsome enough to belong to an actor. “I was just passing by on my way home and decided to stop. How are the boys working out?”
Dylan’s stance widened and his hands flexed at his slides. “What boys?”
“Charli and I have entered into a business arrangement.”
She lost the battle with the urge to wrap her arms around herself. As much as she appreciated Leon’s kindness, respected him, and was even a little attracted to him, something about him didn’t set right with her. He represented her peers in the community. According to Mrs. Pratt, besides the Cartwrights, she and Leon were undoubtedly the wealthiest residents in the county. No one in Colton could learn about her past. It would ruin her, and Leon, no doubt, had the means to dig up the dirt.
“Really?” Dylan stepped closer to her in a protective manner. The whisky he’d drunk that morning tainted his breath as the warmth of the exhalations tickled her cheek. “What kind of business arrangement?”
Charli could protect herself. Dylan Carter wasn’t any safer than Leon Ferguson. Stepping away from Dylan, she forced her arms to her sides. “Mr. Carter, I can handle this.”
She faced Leon. “I’m amazed by how much the men got done since starting on Monday. The foreman told me last evening they’d be reseeding another fifty acres for hay this morning. And they have the corrals fixed and started on the fencing in the north pasture.”
“Good, good.” He glanced at Dylan. “I’ll be going unless you need a more reliable exterminator. I couldn’t help but overhear about your snake infestation. I can give you the name of the company that has gotten rid of the snakes in our lakes over on Oak Springs for years.”
Although he presented the perfect solution, she didn’t the like way Leon had looked at Dylan as he said the word “exterminator.” “No, Mr. Carter is quite capable of getting rid of the snake.”
“Oh, I’m sure he is.” Leon tipped his hat. “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you, Charli.” Dylan’s jaw tightened as his uncle glanced at him. “Dylan, it’s good to see you up among the living again.”
Leon headed back to his Porsche. With no pretense of lowering his voice, Dylan said, “Now, there’s a snake no one wants in their garden.”