Series: The Govain Cowboys #3
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
Release Date: December 1, 2019
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Dylan’s heart lurches as his fantasy girl approaches the door to his father’s doctor’s office. He hasn’t seen Lennie Duncan since high school, and she’s only gotten sexier. Grinning like a fool he opens the door, and her cool gaze meets his. Damn, she still won’t give him the time of day. He tips his hat. It’s time to give her a reason to pay attention. There’s more than one way to make a girl fall in love with him.
Lennie struggles to push her father’s wheelchair up the sidewalk’s steep incline toward his cardiologist’s office. Despite his stroke, her father is still a big man. Maneuvering through the heavy door is always a giant pain. Before she can tackle it, the door swings wide, and Dylan Govain steps out flashing that confident champion bronc rider’s grin. He’s grown into a man and so handsome she could spit. Why does it have to be this cowboy who sets her pulse racing? The Govain-Duncan feud goes back generations, and their daddies hate each other. No good will come of encouraging this cocky cowboy, yet, despite the fact that her father would kill her if he knew, she wonders what it would feel like to have this cowboy’s arms around her.
Circumstances keep throwing Dylan and Lennie together and, despite their feuding families, sparks fly. But Lennie’s heart has been cruelly crushed before and the last person she’ll trust it with is a Govain. Besides, she’s responsible for running her family’s failing cattle ranch now and dealing with a man in her life is the last thing she needs. Dylan has wanted Lennie since grade school and he’s done with waiting. She’s in trouble and he’ll find a way to help, despite her aversion to everything Govain. But, can Dylan’s love overcome her father’s fierce grip on a 150-year-old feud? Find out in this edgy, yet gentle love story set in the beautiful expanse of a West Texas cattle ranch.
Dylan Govain dallied his rope to the saddle horn and slid his tall bay gelding to a stop in a cloud of dust. The calf hit the end of the slack and spun toward him. Pivoting his horse, he dragged the calf toward the cowboys who would brand and inoculate him. The youngest calves were too small for the big metal portable head gate that the cows and bull would go through for their shots and deworming,
The heat of the June sun penetrated the denim of his long-sleeved shirt and sweat pooled on his chest and back. He took a minute to remove his hat and wipe the moisture from his brow while the ranch hands went to work. The calf bawled loudly as the branding iron sizzled against his hide. The second cowboy gave him a shot. Before he was set free, the little bull calf received a quick spray of dewormer along his spine.
Dylan rode back into the herd, his eye already on another calf. He'd missed being horseback and the day-to-day chores of working cattle, but after four years of college and more classes to achieve his teaching certificate, he was finally home. He didn't plan on spending the rest of his life taking orders from his big brother, Caleb, who ran the 263,000-acre ranch now that his dad was semi-retired. Dylan had trained to teach Ag, Agricultural Education, to high school kids.
Teachers sure didn't get rich, but he felt a calling. If young people didn't learn the skills they needed to be successful at farming and ranching, the way of life Dylan loved would fade away. He wanted to do his part to motivate the next generation to choose living on the land as their future.
By the end of the afternoon, the herd had been inoculated and dewormed, and the fence panels were loaded and on their way back to the barn. Dylan hung back from the line of vehicles, letting the dust settle from the truck and trailer in front of him. A day like today left him tired out but satisfied. Sleep would come easily tonight.
Tomorrow he wouldn't be working on the ranch. His dad had his annual cardiology check-up, and Dylan was driving him. Roy said he could drive himself, but that wasn't happening. What if he got bad news? After Roy suffered a life-threatening heart attack years ago, nobody took the older man’s health for granted.
When Dylan got back to the ranch, he unsaddled the gelding and washed him off with the hose. The horse jiggled the skin on his back and sides where the water squirted him, enjoying his bath. After settling him in his stall for the night, Dylan headed into the house, ready for a cool shower before dinner.
As he opened the front door, baby talk came from near the stairs, and soon his little niece Abi came toddling around the corner.
Her face lit up, and she raised her arms, running toward him. "Dilwan, Dilwan."
He laughed and stooped to pick her up. "How's my pretty girl?" Planting a kiss on her soft cheek, he continued into the family room.
His sister-in-law, Eve, smiled, her phone to her ear. "Okay. I'll see you in a few minutes." She hung up. "Well, someone found her favorite cowboy."
Dylan laughed. "She sure did. Met me at the door."
"When she saw I was on the phone, she scooted out of here. I figured she couldn't get in much trouble while I talked to Caleb for a second."
He knelt and put his niece down. "I stink. I need a shower."
Abi clung to him and cried.
Laughing, he peeled her little fingers from his shirt and gave her a kiss. "I'll be back in a jiffy, sweetheart."
Eve picked her daughter up and hugged her, and the tot quieted.
Abi got her fair hair from her father and had huge blue eyes. It was obvious that the little girl would grow up just as gorgeous as her tawny-haired mother though Eve had striking golden eyes. Caleb would have his hands full when his daughter took an interest in boys.
Dylan eventually joined the family at the dinner table. His parents had given up the Govain family residence to Caleb and Eve when the two married and had built a retirement garden home a short distance from the main house. Eve had invited his mother, Millie, along with his dad for the evening meal. Dylan gave his mom a peck on the cheek. "Hey, how was your day?"
"Fabulous. I didn't do a thing but read my romance novel, and I don't feel a bit guilty. A woman has to take a day off once in a while."
He grinned. "I'm glad you're taking care of yourself, Mom. You should take a day to relax more often. You're retired, too, you know."
Though his dad still went out on the ranch every day, he was never horseback, and he left the overall management to Caleb. This setup had been a hard transition for Roy after his heart attack, but a necessary one.
"So, Dad, I'll pick you up at ten tomorrow."
"I don't see why I need to keep going back to the damn cardiologist when I'm feeling just fine," Roy grumped.
"Don't even think about backing out of this appointment, Roy Govain," Millie said firmly. "You promised you'd take care of yourself, and I'm holding you to it."
"I'm going, I'm going." Roy gave a long-suffering sigh and shoved a bite of steak in his mouth.
Millie smiled and rubbed his shoulder, the affection between them obvious.
Dylan hoped his eventual marriage would be as happy as the one his parents shared. His father had been a wild cowboy far longer than most young men, but Millie had tamed him. Theirs was a relationship based on love and mutual respect.
After dinner, when he said goodbye to his parents, Dylan couldn't help but notice how they'd aged in the past few years. His father had stayed a bachelor until he was thirty-four, and his mother was seven years younger. Though Caleb and Adam came early on in their marriage, Dylan was way younger than his nearest brother, Adam. Somehow, Dylan couldn't get used to the idea that his parents had gotten old. He gave his mother an especially-gentle kiss goodbye and hugged his father before closing the door behind them.
* * *
Lennie Duncan eyed the fast-approaching door to the cardiologist's office. It was a royal pain to maneuver through.
Before she could decide whether to back in or ask her father to grab the door, Dylan Govain opened it and stepped outside. "Let me get this for you." He smiled as he held it wide enough to allow her father's wheelchair to enter.
She pressed her lips together and nodded her thanks, her heart pounding at the sight of the good-looking cowboy. Dammit, why did she always react to him this way? The Govains were persona non grata to the Duncans due to a land dispute between their great great-grandfathers which still caused problems for the Duncans today. The old saying that time heals all wounds definitely did not apply in this instance.
Roy Govain gave her father a curt nod and looked back down at his magazine as she rolled her dad up to the receptionist's window to check him in.
Her father huffed and turned away. There was no love lost between the two men.
After signing her father's name, Lennie wheeled him to the opposite side of the room and sat beside his chair.
Refusing a magazine, her father stared out the window, obviously irritated to share the room with the Govains.
Lennie glanced at Dylan out of the corner of her eye. They were the same age so he must be through with college, too. Crap, he was hot. Though not as tall as his older brothers, his six-foot frame was all handsome cowboy. Soft brown eyes tried to catch her attention, though she kept lowering hers beneath her lashes. Word was he could have gone pro with his saddle-bronc riding, but chose to pursue teaching instead. Wait until the gossip mill found out he was back. Tongues would wag and women would primp in front of mirrors. But she sure as hell wouldn’t be one of them.
A nurse opened the back-office door and called Roy's name. Dylan glanced her way, then stood. Before following his father through the door, he looked over his shoulder. "Nice seeing you, Lennie." Grinning, he closed the door behind him.
He was so damned confident. But hell if her heart didn't pick up its beat. She clenched her teeth and grabbed a magazine. Why did it have to be this guy, the one person who was off limits, that made her pulse race? No man had done that for her since she broke up with Nic at A&M. Dylan had always gone out of his way to speak to her in school though she hadn't given him the time of day. What was the point? Her father would never have allowed her to date a Govain.
She flipped through the pages of the magazine without really seeing them. Dylan had been an outgoing, confident guy in school and outrageously good at bronc riding. He went to the high school national finals every year and had taken the buckle and saddle his senior year.
He'd had his choice of girls back then, which made it all the more surprising that he tried to connect with her so often. He even asked her to their junior prom, though he said it jokingly, and she didn't think he was serious. How could he have been serious when he knew the way their fathers felt about each other? However, she'd always wondered, had he been sincere in his invitation?
The back-office door opened, and the nurse called her father's name. As the woman led them down the hallway, the doctor entered a room on the right.
Dylan caught her eye from inside and nodded, a smile creasing his handsome face.
She returned the smile without thinking then mentally kicked herself. That cowboy didn't need to be encouraged. Following the nurse into a room, Lennie put Dylan Govain out of her mind. Her father, his stroke, and whether he would get better were all that mattered now.
* * *
Dylan drove home from the cardiologist's office, his thoughts racing. Seeing Lennie there was the last thing he'd expected. Once they had some privacy back in the treatment room, he’d asked his father why Lennie's dad was in a wheelchair. His father explained that Evan Duncan had suffered a serious stroke several months before. Dylan had noticed that part of Evan's face sagged, and his hand curled in on itself. His prematurely-aged face was heartbreaking. Evan couldn't be more than fifty. Roy had said that, as far as he knew, Lennie was running things at the ranch now.
Dylan reached over and patted his dad's shoulder. "Glad you checked out okay today. I want you around for a long time to come."
Roy nodded. "I plan on it, son."
Poor Lennie. She must be heartsick over her father's illness. How was she holding up with handling everything at the ranch on her own? She would have just graduated, too. She'd attended A&M while he'd gone to Stephenville to Tarleton State.
Lennie was as gorgeous as ever. She still let her shoulder-length blonde hair hang naturally and bangs framed her blue eyes. Instead of downplaying her mouth, the plain gloss she wore made her full lips more kissable. He'd wanted her since high school but his feelings weren't returned. She rebuffed his every advance, and yet he couldn't help himself—he’d kept trying. She'd had a sweet reputation—was a good student and kind to others. To everyone except him. He grimaced.
Couldn't they put this stupid feud behind them? Wasn't nearly 150 years long enough? The men who had caused it were long in their graves, as were their sons and the sons who came after them. It was time to let it go.
Maybe he could talk to Lennie about it. They could be friends, at least. He wanted more than that, of course. He'd always wanted more than friendship with her. But being friends was a start. Now if he could only get his hands on her cell number. He sure couldn’t call the ranch. Not with that daddy of hers. Getting that cell number would take some work.
The next afternoon, Dylan parked his truck in front of his family's grand historic home and headed inside. Checking out the herds didn’t take full concentration, so he made good use of his time contacting friends and friends of friends, and had come up with Lennie's number. Though homes and ranches were far-flung, people in the surrounding areas were actually a close-knit community. Now he wished he knew how to call Lennie without her getting mad.
That evening, his parents came to the big house for dinner. As everyone dug into the wonderful meal Annie had prepared, his mother asked, "When do you start your teaching job?"
He cleared his mouth with a swallow of sweet tea. "Kids don't go back to school until the first week of September, but teachers start back the third week of August."
His mom searched his face. "You nervous?"
Being a first-year teacher, all sorts of things could go wrong. "Maybe a little, although Andy gave me such an in-depth run-through those two days I spent with him in May I feel like I have a handle on things." Andy, newly retired, had taught high school Ag for 30 years, and was now moving to San Antonio to be close to his youngest grandkids.
"I'm so glad you got the job, honey." Squeezing Dylan's hand, her blue eyes were full of a mother's pride.
He laughed. "They hired me in self-defense since I started bugging Andy and Dave for the job my senior year in high school." Once Dylan had started college, he’d sent his old Ag teacher and Dave, the high school principal, a copy of his grades each semester along with his continuing commitment to fill Andy's job when he retired. "I got good grades, and my Ag professor wrote that letter of recommendation for me, too." He took a drink of tea. "Honestly, I don't know what I would have done if they hadn't given me the job. Working as the local Ag teacher has been my dream for so long that I never planned for anything else."
Taking another bite, he caught his mom's eye and changed the subject. "What do you know about Lennie Duncan?"
His mom raised her brows. "I'm not sure what you mean, son."
Dylan swallowed the food in his mouth. "I'm just saying, I've been away at school for four years. What's going on with her?"
His mom smiled knowingly. "I see. Things were pretty rough at the ranch for a few months after her father's stroke. Lennie was still in college. The ranch hands stepped up and, somehow, they managed. Your father offered to help but Evan wouldn't hear of it, of course. Now that Lennie's back home, I hear things are running more smoothly."
Dylan nodded. "Anything else?"
Millie grinned. "She's not seeing anyone as far as I know."
"Oh." Eyes on his plate, Dylan took another bite. That was just what he’d wanted to hear.
"Why all this interest in Lennie?"
He looked up. "I saw her in the cardiologist's office with her dad."
Millie shook her head. "You could have asked her how she was doing."
"Not with her dad around. Evan would skin me alive."
"Over my dead body," Roy said hotly.
Millie sighed. "This damned feud. I'm so sick of it. The poison it spews on these two families just goes on and on."
Dylan laid his silverware across his empty plate. "My feelings exactly. I wish we could forget about who took whose land."
"Tell Duncan that. I'd gladly put it behind me," Roy said grimly.
Millie said quietly, "In all fairness, it's his family that feels it was shorted."
"I can't help it that his forebearer was too stupid to pay for the land he wanted, can I?" Roy retorted. "Our ancestor got there first and paid, fair and square."
Millie didn't let it go. "But was it really fair? The Duncan's had already marked it for their own. That's the story, anyway. The 40,000 acres would have made a huge difference in the running of their spread. They were left with only 21,000 acres. When you compare the large size of our ranch, 40,000 disputed acres was a small amount of land for the Govains to haggle over."
Roy pressed his lips into a line. "The Duncans should have gone in to pay for it if they wanted it. It's the way the system worked. They didn't, and we bought it. End of story."
Dylan huffed loudly. "End of story except for 150 years of hard feelings and feud."
Roy scowled. "Evan is a bitter man. He'll never let it go."
Dylan shoved back his chair and stood. "Maybe he won't, but I hope Lennie will. It's time the Duncan-Govain feud ended."
Roy tossed his napkin on the table and made a rude noise. "Good luck with that."
As Dylan strode out of the room, he made a promise to himself. He would make his own luck. He'd find a way to talk to Lennie and hope like hell she welcomed the conversation.
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