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Wild Ride Cowboy: A Copper Ridge Novel


He was perfect in every way.

Clara Campbell didn’t even bother to hide the look of longing she knew was currently etched on her face. Asher was facing away from her anyway, working on making a cappuccino behind the bar—for her—so he wouldn’t notice if she spent a little while admiring the elegant way he moved while he steamed the milk.

Okay, maybe most people wouldn’t be applying words like elegant to the process of steaming milk. But in her mind, Asher could do no wrong, and ev­erything he did was poetry. Including his work as a barista at Copper Ridge’s newest artisan coffeehouse, Stim. Which was little more than a hole in the wall in the building down near the sea that used to house Rona’s diner.

The diner had closed a few months back and had since been bought, gutted and remodeled to fit sev­eral new businesses that were geared toward the in­flux of tourists that had been passing through Copper Ridge, Oregon, in increasing numbers over the past few years.

It was perfect for Clara since Stim sat along the coastal highway, right at the turnoff she took to head inland to Grassroots Winery, where she was working part-time—and it gave her an excuse to see Asher every morning.

Too bad she didn’t like coffee.

But sacrifices had to be made for love.

And she did love him. Well, as much as you could love a guy you hadn’t so much as gone on a date with.

She’d met Asher at an open-house event the winery had hosted as something of a relaunch of the brand, when Lindy, the owner, had officially gained full ownership after her divorce.

He’d walked into the converted barn, where Clara was serving drinks, and it had been like a light shone down on him. Even in the crowd of people he stood out to her.

From there she’d found out where he worked and developed a fake coffee habit. Which made her sound a little like a weirdo as things stood now, but would be a charming story to tell later if things worked out.

“Here’s your cappuccino, Clara.” Asher turned and passed the coffee across the counter. There was no lid on the white paper travel cup yet, which gave her a moment to admire the heart he’d traced into the foam. Okay, it was kind of a fern. But like…a heart-shaped fern. And either way it made her own heart skip a few beats.

“Thank you,” she said, doing her best not to blush when she looked directly at him in all of his man-bunned glory.

He was lean and rangy, wearing a T-shirt for a band she’d never heard of and would probably hate if she did. But she liked the look of the shirt, so she didn’t really care about the band. Plus, it was nice to listen to him talk about music and how every popu­lar song had the same three chords. Sure, afterward she got into her truck and put on the popular country music station, but he was passionate. She liked that.

Even if her tastes were regrettably mainstream.

She loitered at the edge of the counter for a mo­ment. She was running early for work. She’d built in extra time for this stop, so she could afford to lin­ger a little.

He lifted his brows, his dark eyes questioning. She would answer any question he wanted. “Did you need anything else?”



“Okay.” Then he turned around and began clean­ing up the drink station. She let out a long, slow sigh. She really didn’t have a reason to linger.

Slowly, very slowly, she added one sugar packet to her coffee. Then another one. Then a third. All while watching Asher. She wasn’t going to drink the cof­fee so it didn’t really matter what it tasted like. And since she wasn’t going to drink it, she wasn’t going to stir the design away either.

Reluctantly, she covered the coffee with a white to-go lid then turned to walk out the door. She didn’t make it very far, though, because she ran right into a brick wall.

Well, it wasn’t really a brick wall. It just felt like one. Large, hard and uncompromising. But breath­ing. Which brick walls definitely didn’t do.

“Clara Campbell. Fancy meeting you here.”

Clara blinked and stared up into Alex Donnelly’s forest-green eyes and felt a strange response that seemed to originate in her stomach and travel up­ward to her chest, where it twisted, hard and sharp.

After looking at Asher, his understated physique and much softer brown gaze, the sight of Alex was jarring. Too intense. Too masculine. Too a lot of things.

His dark hair wasn’t military short anymore. It was long enough to hang into his face. He pushed it back off his forehead and again, something twisted, low and deep inside of her.

And then it wasn’t only his features that seemed too sharp. It was seeing him at all. She had been stu­diously avoiding him ever since he had moved back to Copper Ridge. If ever she’d caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye, she’d gone the other way.

The last time she’d seen him up close had been at Jason’s funeral.

Pain washed through her, canceling out all of the good Asher feelings from only a moment before.

No wonder she’d had such a strong, immediate re­sponse to the sight of Alex. The man was dragging a bunch of her baggage in with him. Another thing she liked about Asher. He was separate from her life. From her pain.

Alex was all wound up in it.

“Hi, Alex,” she said, clutching her coffee cup tight, the warmth bleeding through to her palms. Which she was grateful for at the moment since her stomach had gone ice-cold at the sight of him.

“I’ve been meaning to stop by,” he said.

“That’s really okay,” she said, and she meant it. More than okay. Jason’s death meant that she was alone. Both of her parents were already gone. They’d had children later in life, and when her mother had gotten sick, her father had done everything he could to make his wife comfortable as her health declined. She’d died when Clara was twelve. And there had been no amount of preparation that could soften the blow. No amount of expectedness that could have made it feel less like a giant, ugly hand had reached into their life and wrenched the beauty out of it, leav­ing nothing but a dark abyss.

Their father had thrown himself into work. Into the ranch and into drinking. He’d tried to be there for his kids, but it had been too hard for him to look at them sometimes. And Clara could understand. It had been hard to look at him too. Hard to look at him and see the grief, stark and horrible on his face.

And then he’d died of a heart attack when Clara was seventeen, the stress of caregiving and loss too much for his body.

And now Jason.

A black sense of humor honed out of necessity—since a good portion of her life had been very dark indeed, and she’d had to find ways to laugh—forced her to wonder if she should look out for stray light­ning bolts.

Whatever the reason—hex, divine intervention or plain bad luck—the Campbell family hadn’t been very long-lived.

So now Clara was alone. And really, she wanted to get to the business of being alone. She did not want to deal with Alex’s dutiful presence. Because that’s all it would be. He and Jason had been in the military together, they’d been friends and brothers in arms.

She had a suspicion Alex had even been there when her brother was killed. So of course the guy felt some sense of… Something. A desire to make sure she was okay. The need to check on her and the ranch, and whatever else.

But she didn’t need that. She didn’t need anybody coming into her life and carrying a portion of the weight for a limited time. She wanted to get on with that permanent, hard stretch that was the rest of her life.

She didn’t want a false sense of ease. That would only make it all the harder when she was alone again.

“It’s not okay, actually. We have some things we need to discuss.”

Clara looked down at the top of her coffee cup and wished that she hadn’t put the lid on, so she could make a show out of studying the milk-froth fern. “Oh. Do we?”


She looked at the clock on the wall and regretta­bly she had time.

Time she had built in so she could make conversa­tion with Asher if he’d been in the mood to make con­versation. Not so she could hassle with Alex and the myriad emotions just looking at him made her feel.

“Well, I’m on my way to work,” she said, edg­ing around his masculine frame and backing toward the door.

“You have a job other than working at the ranch?”

She should have known the big, muscly soldier wouldn’t take hints well. “Yes,” she said. She didn’t elaborate.

“Where at?”

She made an impatient sound she didn’t even try to cover up. “Grassroots Winery.”

“I haven’t been out there yet. Maybe I should check it out.”

Rather than answering, Clara lifted her cup to her lips and absently took a drink. She grimaced, barely stopping herself from spitting out the hot liquid. It was still bitter, with a kind of sickly sweet flavor running over the top of it. Compliments of that extra sugar she had dumped into the cup to linger over Asher a little longer.

She really, really didn’t like coffee.

Alex treated her to a strange look.

“It’s strong,” she said, gesturing with the cup. “Just the way I like it.”

“Glad to hear that.”

“Well—” she waved her fingers “—bye.” She con­tinued walking past him, heading out the door.

Much to her chagrin, he followed.

She paused, turning slightly in the gravel parking lot. “You didn’t get your coffee.”

“I actually wasn’t there for coffee. I don’t like places like that.”

“Why not?”

“You can only get one size. What the hell is up with that? I don’t need some hipster giving me pre­scriptive coffee. I don’t need to be told the way they think coffee must be served to be better. I need it the way I want it.”

He stopped walking, crossing his arms over his broad chest. He was wearing a plain, tan-colored T-shirt and a pair of dark jeans. Somehow, even out of uniform, he still looked like he was in one.

“Why did you stop in then?”

“I saw your truck outside.”

She frowned. “You acted surprised to see me.”

“No,” he said, “I believe what I said was ‘Fancy meeting you here.’”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, you knew how I would take it.” A strange sense of disquiet stole over her, a feeling of creeping tension.

“I tried to call your cell phone,” he said.

She blinked. “How did you get my number?”

“It was on some paperwork I got from the attor­ney’s office. It looked like something we both should have had copies of.”

Right. Paperwork that was probably sitting un­opened in a pile on her table. To go nicely with the messages from the lawyer she’d been avoiding. He’d tried to talk to her at the funeral too. But she hadn’t been able to handle it. Because then they’d be talk­ing about her brother’s estate. Which was what your possessions turned into when you were dead.

An Estate.

She’d had to discuss her mother’s. Then her fa­ther’s. She’d had the feeling she’d crawl out of her skin talking to anyone about her brother’s. It was stu­pid, and she knew it. Ignoring bills didn’t mean they didn’t need to be paid. Ignoring a lawyer wouldn’t make Jason not dead.

But once she talked to him, it would all feel final. And she couldn’t handle that. She was barely keep­ing her head above water. She was dependent on her routine. These quiet mornings where she got coffee she didn’t want to drink from a man whose whole being made her feel…happy. If only for a few mo­ments. Then she would go and work at the winery showroom until closing time, enjoying being sur­rounded by people. Then she’d head home. Home to her empty house, where she would do any chores that needed doing before she fell into bed, passed out, didn’t dream—if she was lucky—and repeated the whole thing the next day.

Maybe it was denial. But she deserved a little de­nial.

Alex was interrupting her carefully orchestrated coping mechanism. She didn’t like it. “You took my phone number from a piece of paper?”

“I told you, I need to talk to you about a few things. I assumed you knew some of this—I thought an ef­fort had been made to contact you.”

Her cheeks got hot, and she went prickly all over. Efforts probably had been made, but she just hadn’t been able to cope. Which made her feel small and humiliated. She hated it.

Alex continued. “Your brother had a will.”

She didn’t want to do this. Not here. Not now. She couldn’t talk about Jason. She couldn’t talk about his will. She couldn’t deal with this. “I have to go to work,” she said.

She was going to deal with all of this—Alex, Ja­son’s will—someday. But not today. She just didn’t want to do it today.

“What time do you get off?”

“Six. But I’m going to be really tired and I…”

“Why is your phone turned off, Clara?”

She blinked hard, and yet, no matter how much she wanted him to disappear, no amount of blinking accomplished it. “It’s not a big deal. I don’t use my phone.” She wasn’t paying her bills. That was the truth. There was some money, it wasn’t like she was destitute. But there was something about dealing with the mail right now that felt overwhelming. Envelope after envelope, cards, condolences, bills addressed to Jason like he wasn’t dead. Like he could come back and open them.

He couldn’t. He couldn’t do anything.

“I’ve been busy,” she said. “I forgot to pay the bill. That’s all.”

She wasn’t going to admit her mail gave her anxi­ety. What kind of twit had mail anxiety?

Well. She did.

“And if I come to your house at six tonight are you going to be there? Or am I going to have to stalk you at your favorite coffee place again?”

She frowned. “Come to think of it, it’s a little bit weird that you were able to find me here.”

“Not really. I saw you here yesterday when I drove into town. I took an educated guess this morning and decided I would stop in. It’s pretty lazy stalk­ing, all in all.”

“Lazy stalking isn’t really less disturbing than en­ergetic stalking.”

“You can avoid all future stalking if we could just talk now,” he said, his expression suddenly turning serious.

“No,” she said, the denial coming out quickly.

She really couldn’t deal with this now. She couldn’t deal with discussing Jason in the past tense. Couldn’t deal with talking about his will in a parking lot. Couldn’t face looking at all the things her brother had left behind, his worldly possessions, which no longer belonged to him because he wasn’t part of the world anymore.

Hell, she couldn’t open a damn phone bill. She wasn’t going to do any of the rest of this.

“Then we’ll talk later. If I have to camp out in your yard, we’ll talk later.”

Then he turned and walked back toward his truck, leaving her standing there with her cappuccino.

She took another sip. “Dammit!”

She forced herself to swallow it, rather than spit­ting it out into the gravel, on the off chance Asher was watching.

She had to get to work now, she couldn’t worry about Alex. Whatever he had to say to her, she would take care of it then. Her life had already been rocked beyond recognition in the past couple of months. There was nothing Alex Donnelly could say that would bring it crumbling down now.

Very few people would call Alex Donnelly a cow­ard. He had dodged gunfire, survived a rain of mor­tar shells—more than once—and worn full tactical gear in arid heat that could practically bake a loaf of bread, or a man’s brains for that matter.

But he had been a little bit of a coward when he’d allowed Clara Campbell to put off their conversation about her deceased brother’s will.

The fact of the matter was he had been a coward for the past couple of months that he’d been back in Copper Ridge, and had avoided having the conver­sation with her at all. He’d had his excuses, that was for sure.

Some of them were actually valid. Like the time he’d put into investigating the legality of what her brother had asked him to do. And then the time spent going over the letter Jason had left. The one that clari­fied just why he wanted things this way and made it impossible to deny him.

Still, Alex had waited to talk to Clara, even after that.

At first, it had been out of deference to her grief. And after that, because he was trying to get his feet underneath him at the Laughing Irish ranch, which he worked at with his brothers.

Frankly, after losing his best friend and his grand­father, he’d had enough to deal with without adding Clara to the mix. But it couldn’t be avoided any­more. And when he had discovered her cell phone was turned off, he’d felt guilty for avoiding it as long as he had.

Clara must be hurting for money. Enough that she had taken a job at Grassroots Winery, and was let­ting bills go unpaid.

He’d expected her to call if things were that bad. Hell, he’d expected her to call period. But the way she’d acted at the coffee shop, it didn’t seem like she’d spoken to anyone about the details of Jason’s will.

Now that he thought about it, if she had, she prob­ably would have come at him hissing and spitting.

She might still. But she was late.

Alex pushed his cowboy hat back on his head and looked at the scenery around him. The ranch was small, and so was the ranch house. Rustic. From his position on the front porch—which was squeaking be­neath his cowboy boots—he couldn’t see the highway.

Couldn’t see anything but the pine trees that grew thick and strong around the property, standing tall like sentries, there to protect the ranch and all who lived there.

“Well, you’re doing a pretty piss poor job,” he com­mented.

Because damned if the Campbells hadn’t been through enough. But he was here to make things eas­ier. He knew—was one hundred percent certain—that Clara wouldn’t see it that way initially. But this was what Jason had wanted, and he knew that Jason had nothing but his sister’s best interests in mind when he’d made out his will.

Alex owed it to his friend to see his last wishes carried out. No question about it.

He took a deep breath, putting his hands on his narrow hips as he turned a half circle to take in more of the property. The driveway needed to be graveled. It was slick and muddy right now, even though it had been a few days since it had rained.

There was a truck and a tractor that Alex would lay odds didn’t run, parked off in the weeds, looking like metal corpses left to rust into the earth.

The place needed a lot of work. It was too much for him to do by himself, let alone one woman. One grieving woman who was having to work part-time on top of doing the general ranch work.

He figured at this point the place wasn’t really functional. But he was forming some ideas on how to get it working again. On how to make sure Clara hadn’t just been saddled with a millstone.

Or, more accurately, that he hadn’t been.

The center of the sky was dimming to a purplish blue, the edges around the trees a kind of dusty pink by the time Clara’s truck pulled up the long driveway into the house. She stopped, turning off the engine, staying in the vehicle. She was looking at him like she was shocked to see him, even though he had told her he would be there.

He shoved his hands in his pockets, leaning against the support for the porch, not moving until Clara got out of the truck.

She was such a petite little thing. And she had defi­nitely lost weight since he’d seen her a few weeks ago. He couldn’t imagine her taking on a place like this, and suddenly he felt like the biggest ass on the planet. That he had stayed away because she was going to be angry, when she had clearly been here working her knuckles to the bone.

Jason had been clear on what he wanted. The fact that Alex had screwed it up so far seemed just about right, as far as things went.

“Big wine-tasting day?” he asked.

Clara frowned. “No. Why?”

“You’re home late.”

She raised a brow, then walked around to the back of the truck and pulled out a bag of groceries. “I had to stop and get stuff for dinner.”

“Good. You do eat.”

She frowned. “What does that mean?”

“You’re too skinny.” He felt like a dick for say­ing it, but it was true. She was on the sadness diet, something he was a little too familiar with. But he’d learned not to give in to that in the military. Learned to eat even when his ears were ringing from an ex­plosion, or the heat was so intense the idea of eating something hot was next to torture. Or when you’d just seen a body, bent and twisted under rubble.

Because food wasn’t about enjoyment. It was about survival.

A lot like life in general.

Clara Campbell needed help surviving. That was clear to him.

Clara scowled even deeper as she walked toward him. “Great. Thanks, Alex. Just what every woman wants to hear.”

“Actually, in my experience, a lot of women would like to hear that.” He snagged the paper grocery bag out of her arms as she tried to walk past him. “Spa­ghettiOs? What the hell is this?”

“I call it dinner.”

“Sure, for a four-year-old.”

“I’m sorry they don’t live up to your five-star mili­tary rations. But I like them.”

She reached out and grabbed hold of the bag, try­ing to take it out of his arms.

“Stop it,” he said. “You’ve been working all day. I’m going to carry your groceries.”

She bristled. “You’re insulting my groceries. I feel like you don’t deserve to carry them.”

He snorted, then turned away from her, jerking the bag easily from her hold. “Open the door for me.”

“I thought military men were good at taking or­ders,” she said. “All you seem to do is give them.”

“Yeah, well I’m not in the army now, baby.” He smiled, and he knew it would infuriate her. “Open the damn door.”

Wild Ride Cowboy: A Copper Ridge Novel
by by Maisey Yates

  • Genres: Fiction, Romance
  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HQN Books
  • ISBN-10: 0373803648
  • ISBN-13: 9780373803644