The Wentworth Cowboy Billionaire Series:
Book 2 Preview
The Wentworth Cowboy Billionaire Book 2: The Lonely Cowboy is coming on Jan 10, 2021–available for pre-order now!
My name is Lena, and I’ll be your server today.” I tried not to look at the man sitting at table four as I seated two new customers.
It was a slow opening at the Tombstone Bar and Grill, probably why they only had three of us on the shift. I took care of the eight tables on the patio while the other seasoned waitress, Therese, wrangled the new girls to cover the tables inside. It was already getting hot, and the misters were going strong.
I kept busy filling the catsup bottles between orders while keeping one eye on the mystery man sitting at table four. It was the table right next to the gate bordering the patio. He looked to be in his early thirties with a broad, square jaw and a rounded bottom lip that kept drawing my attention. Despite the other chiseled features of his face, the curve of his lips was soft, almost pretty.
As he looked over his menu, his eyebrows pinched together in thought, occasionally sipping his ice water. I wasn’t normally into the rugged cowboy types – I liked a man in a business suit – but there was something about this guy that made it hard not to stare.
A thick layer of dust covered his white t-shirt and jeans, his cowboy boots, his face… everything. He sort of looked like he’d been rolling in the dirt, and I could only guess that his hair was a dark brown underneath all that dust. He was clean-shaven with his hair cut short on the sides while leaving a couple of inches on top.
I imagined what it would be like to brush my thumb across those lips. I’m such a creep. When his water glass was just about half empty, I picked up my pitcher and hurried over.
“Rough morning?” I smiled as I filled his glass.
“What gave it away?” He grinned back at me, running a hand through his hair. The spray showering down from the misters strung along the lattice had started turning the dust on his face to mud.
“You look like you lost a fight with a prairie dog.” I chuckled, handing him a clean hand towel.
“Not quite.” He smiled, accepting the cloth and wiping his face. “A horse, actually. I picked him up at auction. Not too fond of people.”
“Oh no.” I frowned. “Did you get more than you bargained for?”
“Eh, I haven’t given up on him yet.” The cowboy shrugged. “What’s good for breakfast here?”
His big brown eyes made me feel like melting right there. I hadn’t eaten meat since the sixth grade, so I was probably the least qualified person to tell a cowboy what he might like off our menu. He would laugh in my face if I told him to try the vegan breakfast quesadilla, so I improvised.
“Um…” I pulled out my notepad from my back pocket. “I’ve heard the Southwest Omelet is pretty good. Our cook can also whip up a pretty decent stack of buttermilk pancakes.”
“Well, I think I’ll go with the omelet, please.” He gave another warm smile as he handed me the menu.
My heart deflated a little as I caught sight of the gold band on his finger.
Married… Of course, he is.
Exhaling a disappointed sigh, I made an escape from the sun into the shade cast from the side of the building. Nudging the screen door open, I headed to my work station. Men like that don’t grow on trees. I entered his order, jabbing each button with a forceful push.
One of my other customers, having just finished up, waved at me as he headed out to the parking lot. I rushed over and collected his dishes, coming back and wiping the table just in time to see an older man in dingy, worn clothes wander up from the sidewalk and enter through the side gate of the patio.
A dark leathery tan blanketed his sharp features, which contrasted the thinning white wisps of hair across his face. Pulling off his beanie, he timidly approached and brought with him the sour smell of old sweat that hit me in the face.
His parched lips looked like they might crumble when he parted them to speak. “Excuse me, ma’am. Could I trouble you for a glass of water?”
I already knew what my manager would say. He’d remind me of the time I let a homeless lady use the bathroom and she made a huge mess. But as my eyes drifted from his nicotine-stained beard up to his sunburnt forehead, I made my decision.
“Come have a seat, right over here, sir.” I guided him over to the table furthest from the others. There was a shaded table that you couldn’t see from inside unless you really tried. Hopefully, the potted palm tree would hide him just long enough for him to have a meal and slip out unnoticed by my manager. I set the menu down in front of him.
“Oh no, miss, I’m sorry–” He held his hands up, fending off the offering.
“I’ll be right back with that water,” I interrupted, pulling a twenty out of my apron and setting it on the edge of the table. “Do you want lemon?”
His eyes sheened over with tears.
A knot formed in my throat as I took his order and headed to put it in the kitchen just in time to pick up the cowboy’s omelet. After getting into some trouble in high school, I split my community service hours between an animal rescue and a homeless shelter. Since then, I’ve committed to helping those in need the best I can.
“Here you go.” I set the steaming plate down on the table in front of the cowboy with one hand and filled his water glass with the other. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
“That was kind of you.” His eyes shifted briefly to the man at table nine.
“Be the change and all that.” I felt the tips of my ears turn red as I waved my hand, trying to downplay his compliment.
I locked eyes with Therese, who was staring out the window–the only possible vantage point where she could see the man I seated at the corner of the patio.
“Shit,” I muttered under my breath, not even worrying about swearing in front of a customer.
The cowboy blinked. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah.” I shook it off. “Yes, sorry. Can I get you some Tabasco or anything?”
“This is fine, just like it is.” He nodded. “Thank you.”
Therese disappeared from the window, but I kept cleaning up the two recently emptied tables.
“Hey, Lena…” My manager appeared in the doorway. “Could I talk to you real quick?”
“Yeah, Marcus, I still have a couple of tables.” My heart raced, but I tried to look calm. “Can you give me a few minutes? I’ve got biscuits and gravy that’ll be up in just a…”
“Therese!” He snapped his fingers, and she appeared out of nowhere like some kind of bleach-blonde genie in cutoff denim shorts. “Cover Lena’s tables for a minute, will you?”
“You got it, boss.” She flipped her blonde ponytail in my face and practically skipped over to the cowboy’s table. “Now,” Marcus ordered, turning to walk back inside.
I clenched my teeth, following him back into the office. He sat down behind a desk covered in receipts and rubbed his temples.
“What’s the problem?” I cut to the chase.
“Look, Lena.” He paused, sighing. “You’ve got a huge heart.”
“Thank you?” My eyes shifted away for a second. Not a good start.
“Close the door, please.” He sat back in his chair.
I did as he asked.
“I thought we learned our lesson about letting transients into the restaurant.” He laced his fingers together, resting his hands on his beer belly. “We don’t run a soup kitchen.”
“If you’re talking about the old guy at table nine, he’s a paying customer.” I thumbed in the direction of the patio.
“Come on, Lena, we can’t keep doing this…” He stood up and walked around the desk, facing me as he placed his hands on my shoulders. “If you want to help people, you’re going to have to do it on your own time. Go volunteer at a homeless shelter or something.”
I stiffened as Marcus’s coffee breath forced its way into my nostrils.
“I don’t understand.” My chest tightened. I thought back to my work at the shelter, remembering how one of our regulars died from heatstroke because we were so overcrowded we had to send him away. “He came in here to buy food. Our business is selling food; it’s not like we have a dress code.”
“Sweetheart, even if you don’t agree with our policies, you at least need to follow them.” Marcus clapped his palms together. “Go ahead and take care of your customers, but next time some random hobo stumbles in from the sidewalk smelling like piss, you need to boot ‘em. Do you understand?”
A lump formed in my throat, and all I could do was nod. I turned to walk out, placing one hand on the doorknob.
“I’ll have you sign your write-up later,” he muttered.
“Sounds good.” I forced a smile into my voice, turning on the waitress charm before setting foot back into the main lobby. I picked up the biscuits and gravy from the window and set them down in front of the old man, who frowned up at me.
“Sorry if I got you in trouble, sweetheart.” He eyed the plate. “Would it be better if I took it to go?”
“Don’t be silly.” I forced a soft smile. “You enjoy your meal.”
It irritated me when men called me sweetheart. Or rather, when Marcus did, but his tone was that of a grandpa. When Marcus said it, he was intentionally condescending, and I could tell the difference.
Therese stood by table four, with her hip sticking out, talking a mile a minute at the cowboy who waited politely to continue eating his omelet.
“Thanks for covering my tables, Therese.” I waved.
“You got it, sugar.” She winked at me like she’d done me some kind of favor before heading back inside.
That bitch, I seethed. She thinks she can work her way into management by kissing Marcus’s ass. How has she not figured out that sexist piece of shit has no intention of letting any of us move up?
I spent the next few minutes filling and refilling my only two customers’ waters and trying to talk myself out of throwing a glass catsup bottle through the window. The old man finished his food, excusing himself unceremoniously leaving the twenty for me to cover his bill. I collected the money and went back to the cowboy.
“Thank you kindly.” He picked up his hat and handed me a few bills; the one on top was a five. “You have a good day, ma’am.”
I’d never really been attracted to a Southern accent before, but that drawl in his voice, coupled with those good-old-fashioned manners – it made me sad he wasn’t single.
“You, too.” I tucked the money into my apron without counting. “Don’t get rolled in the dirt again.”
“No promises.” He gave a half-smile, tipping his hat before exiting the gate to the parking lot.
“Lena.” Marcus snapped his fingers twice. “I got something for you to sign, sweetheart.”
I already knew I was getting written up – I was expecting it. I have no idea what came over me as I walked back into the office. All I knew was that Marcus had called me sweetheart for the las
Lena. I think she said her name was Lena. I got into my truck and closed the door behind me.
She hadn’t made a big show of buying that guy’s lunch. That honestly impressed me more than the act itself. Everyone in my social circle was involved in at least one charity. And they never missed out on a photo-op to show off how much they’d done to make the world a better place.
Her smile… It was so sweet. I didn’t even mind the tattoos that covered her arm from shoulder to elbow. Yeah… I could definitely stand to see more of that smile in my life. My eyes fell to my wedding ring, and I let out a heavy sigh. As soon as she saw that, she backed right off.
I may as well be wearing a SOLD sign around my neck. If I didn’t insist on wearing it, I’d be liable to find a nice girl… I could ask to buy her a coffee. Or at least get her number. If I could just take off this ring, well, maybe…
I softly spun the ring on my finger and started to pull it off when guilt kicked me in the gut, and I stopped myself.
No… I’m not ready to throw Angie’s memory away. Not yet.
Sixteen blissful years of marriage, not to mention the two when we were just a couple of teenagers in love. I wasn’t going to find that feeling again, not if I looked for a hundred years. You get one shot at happiness in life, and I’d had mine.
As I drove back to the ranch, I thought about those warm brown eyes, legs that went on for days, and the smile that made me forget what a shit day I’d had.
No sooner did my ass hit the saddle than that horse lost his friggin’ mind. The world spun around me as he bucked and whirled, pinning my leg into the metal corral panel. I held on, knowing the last place I wanted to be was on the ground with an angry horse looking down at me. I played out the whole scene in my head.
It hadn’t been more than a minute before I ended up on the ground. Scrambling to my feet, I raced out of his reach, but he didn’t try to come after me, to my surprise. That’s probably what gave me the false sense of confidence that prompted me to give it another shot.
Needless to say, in our battle of wills, the horse had won – both times. For my troubles, I ended up pissed off, bruised up, and covered in red dirt. The day had definitely not gone the way I’d hoped.
I took a deep breath as I pulled up next to the barn and put my truck in park. I’m not ready to give up on this damn horse. I nodded to my reflection in the rear-view mirror, got out of the truck and strode back to the corral. Now that I’ve got a half-decent meal in me, maybe I can outlast him.
Sixteen hands. Black Andalusian… Twelve-hundred pounds of bad attitude. I’ll never forget my first day working with him. I rolled up my sleeves and took a deep breath. Before I ever set foot in the corral, I could tell that I had my work cut out for me. He’d spent who knows how long in a dark stall after his previous owner passed away, and this guy clearly wasn’t too keen on being confined or transported.
As soon as I came close to the edge of the corral, his ears laid flat against his head, nostrils flaring as he snorted, rearing his head up with wild eyes as if to say, Just try me, buddy.
“It’s anyone’s guess what kind of life the poor guy had.” Frank wiped the sweat from his brow. “But I can’t imagine it was easy.”
“I get the feeling you’re right about that.” I sighed, tracing my fingers over the scars on the horse’s hide.
“It’s hard to believe that people have been taming and riding horses for the last five thousand years, and we still manage to screw it up.” Frank shook his head. “Black Andalusians are probably the most agreeable horses on the planet… Except for this bastard.”
“Come on, Frank…” I snorted. “Horses have millions of years of instinct telling them that we’re dangerous. Think about the horses in those cave paintings.”
“What about ‘em?” Frank furrowed his brow.
“They’re shown right alongside all the other animals men hunted for meat,” I pointed out.
“I never met someone who ate horse.” Frank squinted into the sun. “Seems wrong.”
“Well, he doesn’t know that. The point is, they have every reason to be scared of us,” I explained. “Plus, there are plenty of assholes who mistreat ‘em, just ‘cause they can. Case in point.” I gestured to the horse.
“I hope the guy responsible for this is rotting in a special circle of hell.” Frank spat on the ground. “No excuse for a man to treat an animal like that.”
I nodded in agreement. Frank loves horses just as much as I do. That’s why I bought this place and hired him to look out for the hard-luck cases, the horses that have been through so much that they might not have a future ahead of them.
It took months to get this horse healthy. The stronger he got, the more we realized this would be harder than we’d initially expected. His vet visits always involved sedatives. Biting or kicking was the least of our worries. The only time he was happy was when he was out in the open and far away from people.
After some time, he’d finally developed a sense that I didn’t want to hurt him. He’d grown used to the sound of my voice, to my presence, and my touch. He even came up to me, knowing that I always had treats for him in my pockets.
“I think your voice calms him down,” Frank said as he helped me adjust the saddle on my new friend.
“That’s probably because I talk to him more than I do my kids,” I joked. But there was a lot of truth in it.
I should be focusing on Vera and all the trouble she’s been getting into. I knew, but I pushed the thought from my mind.
That had always been Angie’s department. I knew I worked too much, and even when I was around, I didn’t know how to talk to the kids. Especially my eldest daughter. They needed someone that could be there for them twenty-four-seven. I had too much going on with the ranch and the business to babysit them all day, but it would be irresponsible not to make sure they had someone to keep them in line.
Frank sighed. “Come on, Dan. You’re too hard on yourself.”
“It’s not something I’m proud of.” I steadied my nerves as I ran my hand over the horse’s muscular shoulder. “But it’s the truth.”
Horses seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to certain things. If he was going to trust me, I needed to walk into that corral as honest a man as I could be.
“I know I’m not perfect.” I stroked the horse’s face, remembering when he first started letting me brush him. “But no matter how ornery you are, I know you want to trust somebody.
He knickered softly.
So much work had gone into earning this animal’s trust, and I just wanted the satisfaction of knowing that I’d accomplished what I set out to do before turning the job completely over to Frank.
“What do you say we give this one last try?”
This was it… the moment of truth.
Placing my foot in the stirrup, I took a slow deep breath. Hanging onto the saddle horn, I put a little weight down, and he stirred, sidestepping a few inches.
“Easy…” I whispered. “It’s gonna be okay, I promise.”