EXCERPT: The Rebel Rancher by Donna AlwardThursday, June 7, 2012 13:00
I’ve been wanting to read Donna Alward ever since I picked up her One Dance with a Cowboy. The cover and the title hooked me. Alas, I haven’t been able to sit down with that one yet. So when I had a chance to read The Rebel Rancher to review, I wasn’t about to let it pass me by.
Ms. Alward gives readers two oh-so-very-likeable characters who have suffered through life in very different circumstances and who come together at this moment in their lives. They try to fight their attraction to one another because they’re so convinced a relationship between them won’t work, but when something is meant to be, the harder you fight, the more ground you seem to lose.
Ty and Clara have a difficult time with this discovery, especially considering their pasts and how they allow those memories to still rule their lives at times. When they’re together, though, whether it’s exploring what’s between them or in those moments of pushing each other away to keep hurt and heartache at bay, you can’t help but feel for them and cheer for them. This story is full of emotion, one that leads everyone around by the heart.
Unlocking the rebel’s heart
With his break-your-heart smile, Ty Diamond is trouble that Clara Ferguson shouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. The black sheep of the Diamond family, rodeo star and rebel, he’s got a reputation that should have Clara running scared – not straight into his arms!
Ty knows he needs to take it easy with Clara – her past has left her with a bruised heart and determined never to rely on a man again. But Ty isn’t all he seems – and his gentle side shakes Clara’s resolute independence to breaking point…
Now meet Ty and Clara…
Tyson pulled the tie from around his neck and rammed it into his pocket. The fall evening was cool and twilight was setting in. White solar mini-lights were twisted around the garden poplars creating a fairy-glow, and chafing dishes held the last remnants of the wedding feast. This was so not his scene. He’d far rather be enjoying a steak in a comfortable pair of jeans. But he’d promised Sam to see out the day and he’d do it.
He hadn’t expected the sudden hit to his pride just now, though. He hadn’t even had the chance to actually ask Clara to dance before she’d flat out refused. For the first time in as long as he could remember, his charm had let him down. It was humbling to a man who’d spent a good amount of his youth perfecting his way around women and with a consistent rate of success. Riding bulls and charming cowgirls was what he’d done best.
And Clara Ferguson had seen right through his act.
He shouldn’t take it personally, he knew that. Not considering her past. But he did just the same. The same way he did whenever someone slapped him on the back but offered Sam their hand. Always second best. Not that Sam had ever bought into the idea. He’d always insisted by word and deed that they were equal brothers.
Oh, he knew there were people who thought that there was some weird sibling rivalry thing between them, but they were wrong. It was why Ty was willing to come back now. For Sam. And deep down, for his dad, too. Virgil had always picked apart every single thing Tyson ever did. He’d never understood that Tyson loved this ranch as much as Sam. Trying to get the old man’s approval had been killing him, so he’d ventured out on his own years ago to save his sanity. To avoid saying things he might always regret.
Now he was back and already feeling suffocated. But it was time to stop running away. Time to take his place in the family – whether the old man liked it or not.
He frowned and checked his watch. He’d give it ten minutes, and then he was taking his dented pride and packing it in. Tomorrow the real work began – Sam would be gone on his honeymoon and the day to day running of Diamondback would be left to Ty. He was looking forward to the work.
The butting of heads with his dad would start too, he imagined. He rolled his shoulders, willing out the tension. Virgil had hardly spoken to him since his return two days ago, other than a few grunts and disparaging comments that Ty had, for the most part, ignored, more out of consideration for his mother – Molly – than anything else. He knew very well that Sam could do no wrong and that their father thought it was a big mistake to give Ty equal say in running the ranch. He was a damn sight smarter than his father gave him credit for. He always had been. And he intended to prove it. He had ideas. But first he needed to assess the operation and make a plan. Virgil considered Tyson unreliable, but Tyson knew all about calculating risks. He’d been doing it for years.
The hired band whipped the crowd into a frenzy with a fast-paced polka and Ty checked his watch again – only a minute had passed. It had been a mistake to go after Clara, too. He’d been waylaid into the bouquet and garter catching, but when he’d gone in the house and realized she was locked in the bathroom he’d been alarmed. He knew what Butterfly House was about. He’d felt her fingers tremble in his when they shook hands and had been automatically transported to a day three years ago when he’d interrupted a situation.
All he’d wanted was to reassure her that Diamondback was a safe place…and then she’d run into him, he’d put his hands on her and everything he’d planned to say evaporated. The shocking thing was for a moment he’d thought she’d felt it too, when the air hummed between them in the kitchen.
It wasn’t the first time he’d been wrong.
The music changed and a movement caught his eye. Clara, in her sage-coloured dress, tugging a shawl closer around her shoulders against the fall chill. She’d be leaving now, then, he thought, and scowled. He’d been an ass, trying to flirt with her. He hadn’t mastered the art of polite chit chat and other social graces. Until tonight, they hadn’t been required. How did a guy talk to a woman who was in a situation like hers, anyway? He’d done the only thing he knew how – and came off looking like an idiot. What had he been thinking, asking her to dance?
Clara didn’t go around the house to where the cars were parked. Instead she crossed the grass towards the crowd. She looked up and around the throng until she met his eyes, and her gaze stopped roaming. His heart gave a sharp kick in response – a surprise. Frightened girls with innocent eyes were so not his type. He was more into confident women who hung around waiting for the bull riders with the big belt buckles. Girls who were only in it for their own eight seconds and no further commitments.
There were at least a dozen reasons why he should stay clear of Clara Ferguson. He could list off the top three without blinking: she had too much baggage, she worked for the family, and he’d only cause her trouble.
But she kept coming, her glossy walnut curls twisting over her shoulders like silk ribbons. The cut of her dress was simple and quite conservative, skimming down her figure and showing her curves without revealing much skin. The effect was sexier than it should have been, he realized. She was nothing like the women he dated. Maybe that was why he was noticing her today, but this was as far as it would go. Noticing. And he didn’t even need Sam’s earlier warning to tell him so.
She stopped in front of him and her chest rose as she took a deep breath. He realized he was holding his and slowly let it out. “Clara?”
She gave him a smile so sweet, so fragile, that it frightened the hell out of him.
“Would you like to dance, Tyson?”
A good puff of air could probably have knocked him over. He stared at her for a good five seconds until her smile began to waver and uncertainty clouded her dark blue eyes. He wasn’t sure why, but something had prompted her to change her mind, and he sensed it had taken a lot of courage for her to come out here and ask.
So what was he supposed to do now? She’d been very clear about not wanting to dance – particularly with him. She’d pulled away from him twice now and if they danced he’d have to touch her. In several places. Odd, but that thought fired his blood more than anything – or anyone – had in weeks.
But he got the feeling that if he declined it would be about more than refusing a simple turn on the floor. “I thought you didn’t want to dance.”
She lifted her chin. “I changed my mind. But if you don’t want to, that’s fine.” She started to turn away.
“I didn’t say that.” Hell, he might have blown it the first time but she was here now, right? Something had brought her back out here tonight.
She paused, looked over her shoulder at him. Like she wanted him to believe she was in control. He knew better. She had no idea what she was doing. He should walk away right now – it would be better for them both. This whole day had him out of his comfort zone and Clara was waiting with her sweet, sad eyes for his answer.
He held out his hand and waited. Just because he wasn’t a gentleman ninety percent of the time didn’t mean he couldn’t fake it.
She put her hand in his and he felt the tremor against his palm. Goddammit. He was so not good at this sort of thing. He was used to a not-so-subtle pressing of bodies on the dance floor. An invitation and a promise of things to come. Clara wasn’t like that, was she? She was as flighty as a scared rabbit. Innocent.
Ty led her to the dance “floor” – an expanse of even ground in front of the band. As a waltz began, he put his right hand along the warm curve of her waist and clasped her fingers lightly in his left. He had no idea how close to get or if he should say something or… A cold sweat broke out at the back of his neck. Wasn’t it hysterical that a man like him was suddenly so unsure what to do?
She’d gone quite pale, so he let go of her waist and put a finger beneath her chin.
Her last partner had abused her – Sam had said as much as he’d issued the warning to tread carefully. Now, as she tensed beneath his chaste touch, he felt an immediate, blinding hatred for the man who had damaged such a beautiful creature, followed by something unfamiliar and unsettling as he realized he was feeling unusually protective.
He lifted her chin with his finger and said simply, “You make the rules.”
Emotions flooded her eyes – what he thought was gratitude and relief and maybe even a touch of fear. He was not a particularly good man, and he was certainly not good enough for her, but he wasn’t cruel or oblivious. So he waited for her to clasp his hand in hers again before he made his feet move, taking her with him around the dirt floor, making sure there was lots of space between their bodies.
They made small steps around the dance area, neither speaking but Ty felt the moment she finally began to relax in his arms. He wanted to pull her closer, to nestle her in the curves of his body, feel her softness against him, but he kept a safe distance, honouring his word to let her take the lead. Clara wasn’t like other women. There were different rules to be followed. Hell, usually there were no rules.
The first song finished and led straight into another. There was only a pause in their steps and then, by some sort of unspoken agreement, they moved as one again, swaying gently to the music. Her breasts brushed against his jacket, an innocent whisper of contact that he normally wouldn’t notice but right now sent his blood racing. Her temple rested lightly against his chin and the floral scent of her shampoo filled his nostrils. There was something inherently sweet about Clara and he did not normally have a sweet tooth when it came to women. But he couldn’t deny that what he was feeling was attraction. Arousal. As the fiddle scraped in the background, his lips nuzzled against the soft hair at her temple and his eyes closed, drawing in her scent that reminded him of his mother’s Lily of the Valley. Her skin was warm and soft and tasted like summer.
The song ended and Ty stepped back, shaken.
But worse than that was looking down at Clara and seeing her eyes swimming with tears. A quick survey showed him that several people were watching them curiously, and why not? It was no secret that Clara was a resident at the women’s shelter and Ty knew his reputation – quite intentional when all was said and done. The cocky, confident rebel image was a lot easier to maintain than the truth, after all.
But Clara didn’t deserve the gossip or the prying eyes. To his dismay a tear slipped out of the corner of her eye and down her cheek.
“Let’s get you away from here,” he murmured, squeezing her hand, feeling instantly sorry he’d let things go as far as they had during the dance. In another time, another place, with another woman, that sort of soft kiss would have been nothing. But here… he’d forgotten himself. The best he could do now was get her away from the gossip.
Her eyes widened at his suggestion. “Away…as in…” He watched as she swallowed.
“Away from busy bodies,” he said quietly. “I promise you, Clara, you don’t have to be afraid of me. I won’t hurt you.”
She pulled her hand out of his and her face paled. She seemed oblivious to the inquisitive stares of the wedding guests as she stumbled backwards.
“I’ve heard that before.” The words sounded jerked from her throat, harsh and disjointed. “This was a mistake. A horrible, horrible mistake.”
She turned on her heel and ran off, dashing out of the garden as she rushed to the house. Her shawl fluttered out of the crook of her arm and settled on the grass. Ty was left standing in the middle of the dance area feeling like a first class fool.
He walked over to where her shawl lay on the cool grass and picked it up, running the soft fabric through his fingers.
He’d spooked her big time. It was probably just as well when all was said and done. But now he had an additional reason he wished he hadn’t promised Molly he’d move back in to the ranch house. He wasn’t sure what would be worse – the awkwardness with Clara or the antagonism between he and his father.
She was afraid of him.
The next few months were going to be hell.