Series: Lassoed Hearts Series #3
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
Release Date: May 3, 2022
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Handsome billionaire Watt Van Horn is ready to get back to his cowboy roots. Returning to Sagerton, Texas for the first time in years, he has big plans for his family’s historic Rocking Bar S cattle ranch, where he used to spend summers as a boy. Watt’s biggest surprise is Caitlin Peterson, the ranch foreman’s daughter, now a gorgeous and accomplished woman—and full-time manager of the ranch’s business side. They knew each other as kids, but never as well as Watt would have liked. Caitlin’s father, John Henry, saw to that.
Caitlin has always known that her place is on the Rocking Bar S. Her family has held the ranch management position for four generations, and her business acumen, honed by a college degree in agribusiness, is essential to the ranch’s smooth running and profitability. But Watt himself is off limits. Caitlin’s father always warned her not to mix with the boss’s family. That was never easy, and it’s even harder now, with the sexy and powerful Watt setting her pulse racing the instant she sets eyes on him.
Before long, Watt is flying Caitlin to Europe on his private jet, wowing her with travel, concerts and exotic dinners—and with the way he seems to understand her every want and need. Falling in love has never been more wonderful. But with her own family legacy and her father’s expectations, there’s a reckoning yet to come.
Cruel fate, an unbearable tragedy, intervenes and any chance at a future with Watt vanishes--unless Watt, an unequaled problem solver in business, can put those skills to bear and find a way for the two lovers to be together.
Watt Van Horn followed his security detail down the steps of the Gulf Stream G650ER, his private jet which was his usual mode of transportation as CEO or Chairman of the Board of four of his family’s many holdings. The grey tarmac of the small Abilene, Texas airport was already scorching on this beautiful day in early May.
“There’s the car.” Benton Eastman, his thirty-two-year-old personal assistant, descended on Watt’s heels.
Watt glanced up, noted the limo now speeding toward them across the airfield, then looked at his Lange and Sohn watch. “Remind me exactly how long it takes to drive to the ranch?” When he was young and headed there, he’d never paid much attention.
“Approximately fifty-five minutes.” Benton came abreast of him as the limo pulled to a stop.
Jim Stanley, a tall, muscular man who’d served as Watt’s head of security for years, approached the car and scanned the interior as the driver got out. After a brief conversation with the man, Jim nodded to Watt while the driver moved to open the vehicle’s back door.
Jim sat in front while Benton joined Watt in the spacious rear compartment. The big car pulled smoothly away from the plane as Watt checked his phone. After a moment, he glanced at Benton. “What’s the latest on the Microcorp deal?” Van Horn Microcorp was the company that he’d been made CEO of just last year, and he was still working hard at instilling changes in the organization to boost its profitability.
“So far, so good. I’ve set up a time for you to meet with the Ormican team next week.”
Watt nodded and resumed scrutinizing his phone. Benton went through Watt’s emails before sending only the most important on to him, yet his inbox was still full whenever he had time to scan its contents.
Glancing at his watch again, he searched his contacts and dialed the number that Benson had recently added to his phone.
“John Henry,” a deep, gravelly voice barked.
Watt smiled, remembering well the gruff ranch foreman on the other end of the line. “Good morning. This is Watt. We’re about forty-five minutes out. Can I meet you at the office?”
“I’ll be there.” Watt’s smile widened at the man’s curt response. The guy hadn’t changed a bit. John Henry had been like an aloof father figure to him during the summers he’d spent on the ranch while growing up.
“See you soon.” Disconnecting the call, Watt looked out at the land speeding by his window. Dotted with the occasional oak or mesquite tree, it was mostly made up of native grass and scrub brush while groups of cattle grazed in the distance.
He hadn’t been to his family’s 400,000-acre historic cattle ranch in so long that he couldn’t remember his last visit. Guilt sent a sharp pang to his chest. His Uncle Kurt, who’d lived his whole life on the ranch, had dropped dead of a heart attack two weeks ago at the age of fifty-eight. All Watt could think about were his broken promises to go see the man who had taught him that never giving up was its own reward. That being tough mattered. More importantly, his uncle had also taught him to respect and value the lives of animals. None of the cowboys ever treated the cattle or ranch dogs harshly.
He’d miss his favorite uncle and deeply regretted that he hadn’t made time to visit him despite the fact that Kurt had called him several times a year. Watt massaged his temples. There always had seemed to be something more important. A critical business appointment, an overseas board meeting. Their calls had always ended with Watt telling his uncle that he’d come see him soon, but that visit had never materialized. And now Kurt had left Watt his half of the ranch. Watt’s mother owned the other.
Benton interrupted Watt’s troubled thoughts. “I just sent you something from Americo.”
Watt frowned. “I’ll check it out.” He hadn’t planned on going to Dallas this trip where his family’s company, Americo States Oil, was headquartered. His responsibilities there included being Chairman of the Board.
He scanned the email briefly. The matter could wait.
Returning his attention to the window, he tried to imagine what John Henry would look like after all this time. Would the man’s charcoal-black hair have turned gray? Would his bearing still be military sharp though he’d never spent a day in uniform? The man was a deft hand with the cowboys, knowing how to get the best from them while keeping firm discipline among the men of varied personalities and ages. John Henry was something of a legend around Haskell and Stonewall counties.
Watt, in his conversations with his uncle over the years, had made occasional inquiries about Caitlin, his childhood friend and John Henry’s only child. The foreman had raised his daughter on his own since the passing of her mother when the little girl was only three. Watt had learned that she’d attended college after high school and then had returned to the ranch. Apparently, Caitlin had been helping his uncle with the books.
Watt had never forgotten how much he’d cared for her. Caitlin had been sweet and yet tough as a boot. Her father hadn’t been keen on them playing together, though, much to Watt’s disappointment. Would she still be living at the ranch?
His assistant immediately gave him his full attention. “Yes?”
“I’d like a runway put in at the ranch that can accommodate the jet, along with a modest hangar. Of course we’ll pay to expedite the process.”
Benton nodded. “I’m on it.”
“Also, check with the Ford dealerships in Abilene. Buy a fully-loaded ton truck and have it delivered. I’ll drive it when I’m there and when I’m not, John Henry can use it.” He thought for a moment. “I’d prefer black, but as I’m in a rush, any color will do.”
When they arrived, Watt had the limo drop him off at the office. Benton and Jim went on up to the main house with the luggage to prepare for Watt’s arrival. The split-log office hadn’t changed much, looking like it could weather any storm. He swung the door open, expecting to see John Henry seated at the desk across the room.
He sucked in a breath in surprise as his gaze took in the sight of a gorgeous auburn-haired woman with the most amazing hazel eyes. He looked closer. They were more green than hazel. With a jolt he recognized her. “Caitlin?”
The corner of her mouth tilted up. “Hello, Watt. Dad’ll be here shortly. I can go over a few things with you while we wait if you like.”
“I’m sorry, do you work here in the office?”
With a slight frown, Caitlin said, “You didn’t know? I’m the office manager and have been for several years, ever since I graduated from college. I thought surely that your uncle would have told you.”
She appeared worried about his reaction so he smiled. “Hey, it’s fine by me. Uncle Kurt said that you were helping out.” He glanced around the room. Dust motes shone in the sunlight coming through the window. Filing cabinets ran along part of one wall and comfortable chairs sat across from the desk. Familiar Western prints hung in several places. “It hasn’t changed much.”
Her gazed roved around the room. “Not much changes on this ranch, I guess.”
He sat down across from her. “What would you like to show me?”
She raised her brows. “Tell me what you’d like to know. Are you interested in the financials, or the head counts?”
He shrugged. “Right now, just a broad overview. How about we look at specifics tomorrow?”
“Not a problem.” She tapped on the keyboard a moment. “We have eight cowboys working at the present, and we’re looking to hire two more.”
He nodded, his gaze taking in every detail of her shining hair, the sun glinting off the copper waves curling around her shoulders. Her perfectly straight nose complemented the curve of her cheekbones and feminine sweep of her jaw. Long lashes rose above those wonderful eyes. He remembered being drawn to her when he was a boy, but this gorgeous vision before him took his breath away. And her obvious intelligence made her even more attractive.
She continued her report, giving him the total number of cattle on the ranch, then she told him the status of the available water and grazing and how the crops they were growing for hay were doing.
He watched, fascinated, as her long, slender fingers raced across the keyboard. Her hands appeared strong, capable, and he had no doubt that she could do any chore she wanted to on the ranch.
Her fingers stilled and she looked over at him. “Do you have any questions?”
“That’s good for now. I’d like an in-depth look at the books tomorrow. Let me talk to your father first and see what he has in mind for me. Benton will set something up with you after that.”
She nodded. “Sounds good.”
He stood but was reluctant to leave her. With a sheepish grin he asked, “Do you remember the day I got bucked off that dapple-gray gelding?”
She bit her bottom lip to keep from grinning. “That’s a little hard to forget.”
He laughed. “I knew you were watching from the corral fence and I wanted to show off. The horse was just green broke, and your dad told me that choosing him for my mount that day wasn’t a good idea. I figured I’d look good on such a beautiful horse, and I wanted you to notice me.”
She laughed, then covered her mouth, her eyes dancing with mischief. “Oh, I noticed you, all right.”
He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was lovely when she laughed. “Hitting the ground hurt like hell but I’d have died before I limped.”
She shook her head. “Thank goodness my dad forbade you to get on him again. I know you’d have done it.”
Watt grinned. “Of course I would have. You were sitting up there watching me.”
“Do you ever ride where you live now?”
He sighed. He seldom had time to relax. “My mother keeps a small stable of horses, but I never seem to find the time to ride.”
“That’s too bad.” Her gazed moved past his shoulder. “Here’s Dad now.”
Watt turned and thrust out his hand as the door swung open. “John Henry, great to see you.” But as he headed out the door with the ranch foreman, his mind was still on the beautiful woman at the desk. He was definitely going to get to know her better.
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