The Cowboy Way(5)

By: Anna Alexander

Chalk that up on the list for the morning that had been filled with a bevy of what-the-hells. When he had gotten his first real look at his face that morning, he about fell on his ass in disbelief. Silver streaks blended in with the sun-tipped blond strands of his hair. Deep creases were carved around his mouth, and a permanent furrow etched his brow. He was only thirty- five, yet his dull blue eyes said he had lived a life filled with too much pain.

God, he hoped that once he was back in familiar territory, the memories would race back like a stampede.

He snuck another peek at Greta. She was strung tighter than a guitar string, and the compulsion to place a comforting hand on her knee rode him hard, but he wasn’t certain if that maneuver would send them careening off the road, so he kept his hands to himself.

She sure did look pretty in a blue cotton blouse and hip-hugging jeans. Her hair fell in a chocolate waterfall over her shoulders held back by a black headband. The look was very wholesome, very rancher’s wife, but the richness of her dark eyes and the pout of her lips hinted at a passion he ached to become reacquainted with. He wanted to replace the uncertainty in her gaze with drowsy desire, which was definitely not an appropriate response, given the situation. It was probably for the best they had an extra rider in the car.

Behind him Mark, his foreman, shifted his tall frame in his seat. Trey was grateful to see one familiar face, but his presence effectively put a damper on any quality time with his wife.

Mark was his brother from another mother. As kids, he and Trey had worked together on the ranch every weekend and all throughout summer. Mark had been right by his side after Trey’s parents passed away soon after they had graduated high school. They had left the farm to a man-child who thought he had years to plan before that mantle of responsibility landed upon his scrawny shoulders. But together, he and Mark had worked the ranch until they knew the location of every tree, gopher hole, and rock formation. If his best friend was still working for him after all of these years, he must be doing something right.

Greta turned the SUV off the main road, and the earthy scent of dry hay became overpowered by the distinct and overwhelming aroma of cows. Many a city slicker turned tail and ran after that first inhale, but it was something Trey had grown up with. He drew in a deep breath and smiled. That bite of manure and dirt in his nose was so comforting, he sucked in another lungful with a long sigh.

Mark laughed. “I knew you’d remember the smell of cow shit. You’re the only sick bastard I know who would wear it as cologne, if it were possible.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” he groused, mindful of the pretty lady seated to his left.

They passed under a wrought iron archway that read “Sprawling A Ranch.” Split-wood rail fencing bordered the areas closest to the house, while barbed wire enclosed the rest of the rambling 15,000-acre spread.

“Welcome home, sweetie—Trey,” Greta said.

He wished she didn’t feel the need to curb her affection toward him. She probably thought he needed some space and time to readjust, which he could appreciate, but she was welcome to get into his space as much as she desired. If she wanted to call him “sweetie,” by all means, yes ma’am. If she wanted to touch his arm, or give him a hug, even press her lips to his followed by those lush curves…yeah, he’d need to pull the reins in on those lecherous thoughts.

The two-story ranch house stood sentinel in the middle of rolling green grass the same as it had for the last eighty years. The paint was fresher, but the swing that had been there long before he was born still hung the front porch, swaying gently in the afternoon breeze.

Parked next to the garage was a huge Ford F-350 Super Duty that made his jaw drop and a bit of drool collect at the corner of his mouth. Those babies had a 400-horsepower engine and were capable of over 24,000 pounds of hauling capacity. Huh, funny how he remembered those details. Still, the truck sure was a beauty. And way out of his league. When he inherited the ranch he had promised himself that one day, when the business started making a healthy profit, he would get the biggest, baddest truck there was, and that F-350 was it. Whoever owned that beast was a lucky SOB.

“That’s a nice-looking truck,” Trey murmured, struggling to keep the envy out of his voice.

Greta bit her lip, fighting back a grin. “I know. That’s what you said when you brought it home. And after every time you wash it, and wax it, and pull it out of the driveway.”

“That’s mine?” No way. He jumped out of the SUV to get a better look.

When his dad had run the ranch, they’d had enough money for the essentials but not enough to splurge on massive vehicles. Damn, he must be doing pretty well.

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