The first two books in my Redheads & Ranchers series, JENNY’S VOICE and HUNTER’S PRIDE are currently available at your favorite online bookseller. These days, I’m busy working on the third and final book of this collection of stand-alone contemporary steamy romance novels.
In ANNA’S HEART, Anna Graves works hard helping to run her family’s Wyoming dude ranch. Still reeling from the tragic loss of her smokejumper fiancé in a horrific wildfire, she’s content to hide from the world as she teaches horseback riding lessons to tourists by day and reads smutty romance novels by night.
When world-famous Scottish actor Angus McGregor needs to brush up his cowboy skills in preparation for his starring role in a new Western, he heads to Sweetwater Ranch in the boondocks of Wyoming. He’s immediately fascinated by Anna, who won’t give him the time of day. Can he break down the self-protective wall she’s built?
Here’s a little teaser from ANNA’S HEART.
After lunch, Anna led her first beginners’ riding class of the new session. This time around, she had six eager young riders between the ages of five and twelve, and for two hours, she led them through their paces. By the end of the following week, each student would be able to groom and saddle his or her own horse, and they’d be competent enough to participate in the overnight trail ride and camp-out with their families.
When her riding class was over, Andy helped her untack her horses, and they worked together to feed and water the entire stable of fifteen equines.
“Guess that actor guy isn’t coming,” he commented as he and Anna left the barn and headed for the lodge.
Anna shrugged. “I guess not.”
“Simone was really looking forward to meeting him.”
“Maybe you should be relieved,” she grinned at her brother wryly. “Sounds like she might decide to just ride off with Angus McGregor.”
Andy held up his hands in mock surrender. “I just want to keep the pregnant lady happy.”
“Hang in there, not much longer now,” Anna observed. “Just a few more weeks.”
When they entered the lodge, several of Anna’s new students ran to greet her.
“Anna! Anna! This is my mom and dad!” cried the youngest of her students, a tiny towhead blonde named Ariel.
Anna grinned broadly. “Hi, Mom and Dad. It’s nice to formally meet you.”
The mother smiled. “She can’t stop talking about riding Rocket.”
“We named him Rocket kind of ironically. He’s really slow,” Anna laughed, thinking affectionately of the old bay.
“Well, Ariel had a good time. We’re excited about the camp-out at the end of next week,” the father said.
Anna nodded. “That’s usually the highlight of everybody’s stay.”
Across the room, Vanessa waved to Anna. “If you’ll excuse me,” she offered before heading off to find out what her mother wanted.
“A flyer came in the mail today. Founders’ Day is next week.”
Anna frowned slightly at the brightly colored page her mother thrust into her hands. The bulk of the page was a vintage photo of Main Street in Crystal Springs, overlayed with jaunty graphics declaring the annual Crystal Springs Founders’ Day celebration.
Back in the late 1860s, the nearby town of Crystal Springs had sprung up practically overnight as a mining boomtown. The coal vein had played out by the middle of the following century, but the small town was proud of its heritage. Each summer, they celebrated what they thought of as Founders’ Day with a parade down Main Street followed by a giant picnic, and capping off the evening with a family-friendly town dance.
There was a time when Anna looked forward to the annual event. Now, she scowled at the announcement.
“I’d like that put on the bulletin board on the front porch,” Vanessa said. “I’ll mention it at dinner, but I want to make sure all the guests know they’re invited to attend.”
Anna nodded and headed toward the front door.
“And Anna?” her mother called after her.
She stopped and turned around.
“I expect you to go this year.” Vanessa arched an eyebrow, daring her daughter to argue.
Anna stalked back to the reception desk. “I don’t want to go. Why do you insist that I go?”
“Because it’s time you started getting out, meeting people.”
Swallowing her rising irritation, Anna gritted her teeth. “I meet people.” She waved toward the guests wandering through the lodge’s lobby. “They’re all people.”
“You know what I mean.”
Huffing in frustration, Anna turned on her heel and headed back toward the door.
“You will go. I don’t want to hear any more about it.”
Wordlessly and without turning around, Anna waved the flyer in the air and marched out the door. Opening the glass front of the bulletin board, she silently fumed at her mother.
For fuck’s sake! I’m twenty-fucking-six years old! I don’t need to be told what to do and how to do it, where to go and when. I make my own decisions. Besides, there are always things that need to be done around the ranch. Everyone can’t go gallivanting into town. Somebody has to stay back and hold down the fort.
Part of her told her she was making way too much out of her mother’s request that she attend the celebration in town. But the rest of her was in no mood to be reasonable. She tacked up the flyer and closed the protective glass door, deciding she’d go remind her mother about the need for someone to stay behind during the festivities.
She turned abruptly and ran headlong into something solid. The next thing she knew, she and a tall red-haired man landed in a tangled heap on the front lawn.
“Oof,” he managed as he lay gasping for air.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you standing there.” Anna scrambled to her feet and reached down to help the man stand.
Slowly, he allowed her to pull him up. Green-tinted Rayban aviators askew and a pair of bags strewn on the grass, he coughed slightly as he straightened to his full height.
Anna figured he had to be well over six feet tall, maybe as much as six and a half feet, judging by the way he towered over her five-foot-four frame.
“Are you okay?” she asked him.
He nodded, reaching to straighten his sunglasses and run his fingers through his red hair. “Aye, had the wind knocked out of me is all. And that’s a fine welcome, I must say,” he replied in a thick Scottish brogue.
Feeling her cheeks color, Anna reached to brush the dirt off the man’s sleeve. “I’m really sorry! It was totally my fault. I should have been watching where I was going.”
“Aye, you should have,” he grinned wryly, “but then I’d have missed being tackled by a bonnie lass such as yourself. Do you play rugby, perchance?” His laugh was hearty, almost infectious.
Mortified, Anna started to gather up his belongings, but he stopped her with a gentle hand on her arm. “I’ve got my bags, thanks.” He hoisted a large leather duffel bag onto his broad left shoulder and picked up a matching suitcase. “I have a reservation for McGregor. Do I check in here?”
“Um, yes,” Anna nodded. “Just this way.” Still blushing, she led the way up the front steps and into the lobby. With a pair of tortoiseshell-framed readers perched on the bridge of her nose, Vanessa Graves stood at the check-in desk efficiently tapping something on a keyboard. When she looked up and saw her daughter with their new guest, she smiled brightly.
“Mr. McGregor is checking in,” Anna said meekly, wishing she could melt through the floorboards.
“I’d be happy if you’d just call me Angus,” he said quickly.
“I’m Vanessa Graves. Welcome to Sweetwater Ranch, Mr. M–Angus,” Vanessa greeted him. “We’re happy to have you here.”
“I’m happy to be here. You have a lovely ranch, from what I’ve seen so far.” He glanced Anna’s way and she blushed furiously.
Mrs. Graves turned and retrieved a brass key from an old-fashioned wooden key rack behind the front desk. “Here you are. Cabin 6. Anna will take you there.”
She handed him the key and smiled cordially. “You’ll find a folder in your cabin with this week’s schedule. Once you settle in, I hope you take the opportunity to explore the ranch. And dinner is here in the dining room at 6:00.”
While Anna silently shot daggers at her mother, Angus’s full-wattage grin was charming. “That sounds perfect. Thank you, Mrs. Graves.”
He turned and looked at Anna expectantly.
“Oh, um, right this way.” She turned, shooting one last glare at her mother, and led their new guest back outside.ANNA’S HEART by Pandora Spocks