His Christmas Cowgirl

By: Alissa Callen

A Wildflower Ranch Romance

Chapter One

“No way.” Peta Dixon’s breathless voice filled the pickup truck cabin as she frowned at the single light, shining from within the Bluebell Falls ranch house. “He wouldn’t dare.”

She eased her foot off the gas pedal and gravel crunched under the slowing truck tires. The dark shape of an owl flew past but her attention didn’t waver from the glow of pale light spilling into the night from a second story window.

There was only one man brazen enough to move into her home while she was away overseas. Her temporary ranch foreman. Garrett Ross.

The pickup rolled to a stop and she studied the lifeless foreman’s house that loomed beyond the bunkhouse to her left. The owner of the arrogant voice that had drawled along the international phone line had done more than ignore her ranch instructions. He’d disregarded where he was supposed to live.

Chin lifted, she pushed open the truck door. She hadn’t been given a boy’s name for nothing. She’d spent her life proving she was equal, if not better, than any man. The cowboy her injured foreman, Hal, had organized to replace him had just spent his last night in the main ranch house.

She took a calming breath, savoring the scent of pine trees and wood smoke. She’d enjoyed seeing what was beyond the Montana mountains but it was good to be home. The chill of late fall brushed over her skin and she shivered as she drew the thin, white bolero over her bare shoulders. It had seemed a good idea at the time to wear a pretty dress home on the airplane. The shock on her father and brother’s faces when they saw her wearing something other than Wranglers, worn boots, and a western shirt had made her smile.

But her lips didn’t curve at the memory. Instead she turned and strode towards the ranch house, the wind tangling her dress around her legs. She stopped to bunch the silken material in her hand. She might have discovered her feminine side while in Europe with her younger sister, Kendall, but Peta hadn’t yet mastered the art of walking like a lady.

She reached the house and paused on the bottom step to catch her breath. It wasn’t only her appearance that had changed over the past month, her fitness had, too. And not in a good way. The lack of physical work and a fondness for sugary, French pastries had added an unfamiliar fullness to her usually lean curves. She didn’t envy poor Scout when she next rode her.

Peta released the skirt of her dress and the soft fabric brushed against her ankles. With her breathing now even, she pushed open the heavy door of the historic ranch house. Precious childhood memories greeted her. The warmth of her mother’s smile, the tight hug of Kendall’s small arms and the cheeky flash of Rhett’s grin. The disapproval of her father’s hard stare.

But such a memory no longer had the power to hurt her. While time had stolen her mother it had also softened her irascible father. There were days now when he even laughed. Time had also brought Rhett happiness with Ivy and, if all was going well with Kendall tonight, time would have brought Brent back to her.

Peta lifted a hand to rub at her tight temple as she headed toward the dimly lit kitchen at the back of the house. Time might not have gifted her with a similar happiness but she could no longer let the loneliness that tainted her dreams distract her. She’d shared stolen kisses on an Italian beach and flirted with suave-talking Frenchmen, and still her heart remained untouched.

Now she was home, it was business as usual. There’d be no chance to listen to her yearnings. She had a ranch to run and a fall roundup to complete. Her pace quickened toward the kitchen doorway. And right now she had a too-big-for-his-boots cowboy to transplant back into the foreman’s house.

She stepped into the kitchen, lit only by the range hood light, and stopped. The empty room smelled different. A faint and unfamiliar scent of masculine aftershave lingered. Whoever this Garrett was he liked to smell good. She ignored the appreciative sigh of her senses and shook her head. Hal had been with the ranch since she’d started high school and she trusted the wise and savvy old foreman with her life. But what had he been thinking when he called in a favor and asked Garrett to fill in for him until he was back on his feet?

Five minutes into her first phone call with Garrett, he’d cut her off, not giving her a chance to run through her to-do list. He’d made it clear he had everything under control. She was the first to admit she was a bossy and willful firstborn but she’d never had a problem working with any cowboy. She also liked to think she was reasonable and fair, a team player. She didn’t ask anyone to do what she wasn’t prepared to do herself.

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