|Your cart is currently empty|
Strong-willed and defiant, she rebuffs his attempts to contact her, and hoping time and distance will mend her broken heart, she accepts an offer from an exclusive dude ranch several hours away. Shortly after she arrives, she is alarmed and distressed to discover that Caden is the trainer who supplies the horses.
Bridget is in for a second surprise. She is unaware that Caden has a dominant, salacious side, and is a strict disciplinarian. Finding her alone and still unwilling to hear what he has to say, he pulls her over his knee.
"You never let me explain what you saw. You just jumped to conclusions, and I'm gonna spank you until you agree to sit quietly and listen."
Will Caden's hot hand make her pay attention? Will the spanking spark her body as his romantic love sparked her heart? Will the love and passion they had once shared be rekindled, perhaps even inflamed when the truth of Caden's true nature is revealed?
And what about the exclusive dude ranch? The celebrity clients and the other staff members? What temptations might be there in the isolated, luxury paradise called Dudley's Dude Ranch?
Bridget stared out the window at the approaching signs of life. After three hours on the road, the bus was nearing the outskirts of the small town. It had seemed like three days, and felt far away, very far away. The paperwork had warned there was no internet, and cell service was spotty at best, but that’s what had sold her. It was exactly what she wanted. A place where Caden couldn’t find her, and he wouldn’t be able to reach her. What better place than a dude ranch in the middle of nowhere?
Pulling a scrap of paper from her pocket, she read the instructions for the umpteenth time. She had no desire to make a mistake and find herself waiting in the wrong place.
Second stop once you’re in the town. Corner of Elm and Fifth. Wait outside Billy’s Diner for a white van. Driver’s name is Ed.
Returning her eyes to the window, she saw some modest but well kept homes, and as the bus slowed down and rolled to a stop, she knew she’d soon be out on the street waiting for her ride.
This was a good idea, a very good idea. I don’t know how this place heard about me, but I want to thank whoever it was that gave them my name. What a relief it will be to have a change of scenery, and not have to worry about running into Caden.
The Application For Employment had arrived uninvited, waiting in her mailbox when she’d returned from the barn late one night. She worked as an assistant trainer, though her boss was constantly away at horse shows, and new clients often thought Bridget was the one in charge. Tired and suffering from a broken heart, the contents of the elegant envelope was a sprinkle of sunshine in the grey sadness that had become her life.
“Word has reached us that you are an exceptional horse handler and trainer. We are seeking a qualified individual for the summer, with the possibility of long term employment for the right candidate.”
There had been a three page, full color brochure enclosed. It was called, Dudley’s Dude Ranch, and she’d pondered the name. The exquisite facility offering horse back riding, tennis, a magnificent pool area, and first class accommodations, wasn’t like any dude ranch she’d ever seen. As tired as she was, she’d immediately sat down and filled out the questionnaire, enclosed some photographs of herself riding, and sent it off the following morning. When the call came in just four short days later, and the owner, Richard Tate, had offered her the position, she was overjoyed.
She could finally escape running into Caden, hearing Caden’s voice mails, and seeing his text messages.
Caden was a horse-trader and trainer. An important, successful horse-trader and trainer, but he was also a cowboy who had a reputation for being a ladies-man, and the minute she’d laid eyes on him she could see why.
Blue eyes blazed from under dark brown hair that fell in shaggy layers around his head. A physique that came from riding and working with horses every day, and thick lips that offered a crooked smile, one that gave him a wicked, playful look, but it was his demeanor that tied up his package into one crazy, hot, compelling cowboy. �
He oozed confidence. It was tinged with arrogance, but on Caden it only made him more alluring. That, and the fact that no woman had been able to pin him down, had made him the mouth-watering candy that all the girls wanted. Against the advice of her friends, she’d dated him, and she had fallen hard. As predicted, and to her fury, he’d broken her heart.
As the bus pulled back on to the road, Bridget swallowed the hot lump at the back of her throat. That’s how it happened. She’d be perfectly fine, Caden the furthest thing from her mind, then, boom! A wave of emotion, and the heavy tears threatening to break. Clenching her fists, she grit her teeth and refused to succumb.
Thank goodness I’m away from him. It was impossible at home. I won’t be jumping every time the phone rings, or disappointed that there are no emails from him, and at the same time freak out when there are. By the time I leave here I’ll be cured. Distance, that’s what I need. Miles, and plenty of them. Who knows, maybe there’ll be a hot, sexy cowboy at Dudley’s Dude Ranch waiting to sweep me off my feet.
The bus traveled at a slow pace, too slow for Bridget. She was aching to get off. Her shoulders hurt, her back hurt, and the air in the coach was stale. The granola bars she’d brought for the journey had been consumed, but if she ever saw another one again it would be too soon. She wanted real food and a decent cup of coffee.
There were only a few passengers left, and grabbing the seat in front of her for support, she stood up and stared out the wide front windows of the bus. The main street was just ahead, and flopping back down she pulled her sweater from her large hobo bag and threw it around her shoulders. It was late in the day, the sun was setting, and though she’d brought several jackets they were packed away in her suitcase. The bus began to slow, and staring out her window she saw the diner. It was her stop.
“Thank goodness,” she muttered. “I didn’t think I’d ever get here.”
Doing a last minute check to make sure she had everything, she zipped up her bag and let out a heavy breath. Three months to find herself, three months of nothing but horses and open spaces, three months of peace. Three months of a Caden-free zone. Climbing off the bus, she stood patiently as the driver pulled her bag from the luggage compartment.
“You sure this is the right stop?” he asked as he placed the suitcase next to her.
“Positive. I’m going to step into the diner for something to eat before my ride gets here.”
“Take it easy, nice havin’ you on board.”
“Thanks,” she smiled, I wish I could say the pleasure was all mine, but it wasn’t. Not even close.
Turning around she studied the diner. Like most, bench seats lined the window, so leaving her suitcase where she could watch it, stretching her arms above her head as she walked, she pushed through the door and moved inside. The delicious aroma of fresh baked pies was wafting through the air, and finding the restaurant virtually empty, she didn’t wait to be seated, but walked directly to the booth with the best view of the street.
“What can I getcha?”
Looking up she saw a middle-aged woman with orange hair and a large smile.
“Pie, some kind of pie,” Bridget replied, “and coffee. I’ll bet you have great coffee.”
“We don’t get many complaints,” the woman smiled.
“I’d like to pay for this now. I’m expecting a ride and I’ll have to bolt when it arrives.”
“Sure, here you go,” the waitress replied scribbling out a check and placing it on the table.
Bridget watched her head back to the kitchen, and pulling some dollars from her wallet she left enough to cover the total, along with a hefty tip. Tired from the tedious journey she felt a yawn coming on, and leaned back against the back of the bench seat.
I’m beat. Why would sitting on a bus for three hours make me so tired?
Picking up the menu, she began to browse while keeping a watchful eye on her suitcase, and as she read through the entrees, she wanted to try them all.
“Man, this looks good,” she muttered eyeing the photographs of chicken fried steak, cheeseburgers, and chicken and dumplings.
“Here you go, hon.”
Bridget smiled as the waitress place a deep bowl with a large helping of apple pie in front of her.
“Wow, that smells amazing,” she exclaimed.
“Your coffee,” the waitress continued taking a mug off her tray, “and here’s a dish of vanilla ice cream on the house to welcome you to town.”
“Thanks, that’s so kind. I’m Bridget.”
“I’m Ruby. Yes, it’s the hair. I was told I arrived on this earth with a huge mess of red hair, so they had no choice but to call me Ruby.”
“What a great story,” Bridget laughed. “Thanks, this looks great.”
“I’ll leave you to it. Hope you get to finish before your ride gets here.”
Slicing her fork through the crisp crust, she spooned it into her mouth and rolled her eyes.
My gosh, this tastes home-made. I have to come back here for dinner some night.
Finding the coffee as good as she expected, she downed it quickly, and half-way through her pie and ice cream, Ruby returned to refill her cup.
“Whatta ya think?” the waitress asked.
“I think this is a gold mine waiting to hit the supermarkets,” Bridget replied enthusiastically.
“Glad you like it. Jeb, that’s the owner and cook, he makes everything himself.”
“Tell Jeb he has a new fan.”
“I sure will. He loves to hear from a happy customer.”
Glancing at her watch, Bridget stared down the street for any sign of the white van. It was late, not that she minded, she’d enjoyed her pie and ice-cream, but she was starting to worry. A few minutes later, as she downed her last swallow of coffee, she saw a blue and white Sheriff’s car moving slowly down the block, and when it pulled up to the curb next to her suitcase, she jumped from the booth, waved a thank you and hurried out the door.
“That’s mine,” she called as the sheriff stepped from his car to study it.
“Not real clever, leavin’ a suitcase out like that. You had folks around here worried.”
“I did? I’m sorry. I just got off the bus and it was too much of a pain to lug inside the diner.”
“Uh, yes, my name’s Bridget Cooper. I’m going to be working at Dudley’s Dude Ranch. I’m just waiting for the van to pick me up.”
“I hate to tell you, but you’re in the wrong spot.”
“What? No! I have the instructions right here,” she declared, a wave of panic sweeping through her, and digging into her pocket she pulled out the small scrap of paper.
“See? It says, second stop once you’re in the town. Corner of Elm and Fifth. Wait outside Billy’s Diner for a white van. Driver’s name is Ed.”
“Miss Cooper, this isn’t Billy’s Diner. This is the Roadhouse Diner. The second stop is the next one, about a mile further down.”
“What? No, no, no. Oh, my, God. I can’t believe it. I was so anxious to get out of that stupid bus. I saw the diner and got off. I didn’t think there’d be two diners in such a small town. It never even occurred to me. Oh, no, what am I going to do?”
“Most likely Ed will be gone by now. He’s usually there when the bus rolls up, and it was right on time.”
“Dammit,” she groaned feeling the threat of frustrated tears.
“Hang on now, don’t panic. I’ll put your suitcase in my car and we’ll go back inside. You can use their phone. We’ll let them know you’ve arrived, and I’ll take you out there.”
“Seriously? Thank you, Sheriff, so much!”
“No problem. Call me Bill.”
“Wow, thanks, Bill, that’s so kind of you.”
“It’s gettin’ dark. Most folks here are decent, but there are a few larrikins runnin’ around. You don’t wanna be standin’ around on the street corner.”
“But it’s so calm here, so peaceful.”
“Yeah, it is, but you never know. Prevention, that’s better than any cure,” he declared lifting her bag into the back seat of his car. “Come on, let’s find out what’s what.”
As the sheriff had predicted, Ed had been waiting when the bus had arrived. Only one passenger got off, and it was young man.
“I’m so sorry,” she apologized.
“We’re all sittin’ havin’ supper right now, but I’ll be there soon.”
“Where would you like me to wait?” she asked.
“Here, give me the phone,” the Sheriff smiled.
Handing him the receiver, Bridget stood back and leaned against the wall.
“I need to make a run out there anyways,” the Sheriff said. “I’ll drop her off.”
“That’s real good of you, Bill,” Ed said gratefully. “I appreciate it.”
Hanging up the phone, he thanked Ruby, then walked with Bridget out to his cruiser.
“I’m so embarrassed,” she mumbled. “What a way to start a new job.”
“It’s not the first time. They tell people, the second stop, but they should say, the second diner,” he said as he opened the car door for her. “I’ve suggested that to them time and again.”
“Really? I’m not the only who who’s done this? I’m so relieved to hear that,” she said climbing into the car.
“Try not to worry too much. You’ll settle in. They’re a nice bunch out there. They’ve got some real good horses, and it’s a beautiful place,” he remarked settling behind the wheel.
“That’s what I heard. They don’t have a website, so I could only go by what I was told on the phone and saw in the brochure.”
“If you need anything, you call me,” he grinned reaching into his breast pocket. “Here’s my card.”
“Bill, my Knight in a Shining Sheriff’s car,” she laughed. “I’m glad I left my suitcase out. It wasn’t a stupid thing to do after all.”
“Not this time anyway,” he chuckled.
“How far is this place?” she asked as a long yawn swept through her.
“About twenty minutes. Sit back and relax. You must be tuckered out.”
“Thanks, I am.”
Resting her head between the door and the headrest, she closed her eyes, and though she was aware of the hum of the tires, and the occasional squawking of the sheriff’s radio, she fell into a soft doze. When the car rolled over a bump and began to slow down, she blinked open her eyes.
“Are we here?”
“Yep, we are. Dudley’s Dude Ranch.”
Glancing out the window she saw the large, upscale two-story colonial home. Painted white and blue with three gables on the second story, it was as elegant and as impressive as the brochure had suggested. A circular driveway swept around a multi-colored lit fountain, and as Bill began rolling to a stop, a tall, lanky man stepped out the front door to meet them.
“I can’t believe this place,” she mumbled.
“This is a first-class operation,” Bill said looking at her astonished face.
“I saw the pictures, but it’s even grander than they show,” she remarked as she picked up her hobo bag from the floor in front of her.
“Dudley’s Dude Ranch caters to the rich and famous,” Bill said. “They come out here to get away from things.”
“I did know about that, it’s one of the reasons I’m here, to get away, I mean, but I honestly didn’t expect this.”
“You’ll probably be in one of the cabins out back. There are half a dozen of ‘em, and they’re all miniature versions of the house.”
“I’m suddenly feeling a whole lot better,” she smiled.
The tall lanky man opened her door, introduced himself as Ed, and as he pulled her suitcase from the back seat, she turned back to the sheriff who had rescued her.
“Bill, I owe you. Will you let me buy you dinner at the diner when I get a night off?”
“That’s not necessary, I’m glad I could help.”
“Thanks again,” she smiled, and closing the car door she followed Ed into the house.
“Richard Tate has already retired for the evening, but he’d like you to meet him in his office at eight-thirty in the morning,” Ed said, his manner polite and friendly. “If you’re hungry, dinner’s still on. When there are no guests the staff can eat in the dining room, otherwise you have a kitchen in your cabin.”
“I had some apple pie at the diner, but yes, please, I’d love some dinner.”
He led her down a hallway and through a door into a large dining room, and as a group of smiling faces looked up at her, she felt herself relax.
Wow. This is so much better than I thought it would be. What a relief. This is going to be a great summer.