Reunited with the Cowboy
Pregnant and running scared, Grace Thomas turns to the one man she knows she can count on: rancher Brody Martin. The charismatic Texan promises to protect her, but she knows he'll never forgive her for breaking his heart and taking up with his former best friend. Given Brody's own unsettled past, Grace understands that the guarded cowboy needs time to trust her again. Yet as he helps her prepare for the baby's arrival, Grace knows she's found the perfect father for her child. But can she dare to dream of a second chance with the man she's never stopped loving?
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Brenda Minton lives in the Ozarks with her husband and three children. Life is chaotic but she enjoys every minute of it with her family and a few too many dogs. When not writing she's drinking coffee, talking to friends, or hanging out at the river with her family and extended family. visit her online at www.brendaminton.netExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The pounding on the front door roused Brody Martin from the deepest, most pain-free sleep he'd had in a good long while. He groaned, covering his face with his arm. No way was he going to the door. No way in the world was he waking up to go work cattle with Duke, his older brother, when it was miserable and pouring down rain outside.
He'd prefer dry and miserable inside to wet and miserable outside. It wasn't worth it. Ask his joints, they'd agree. At one month short of twenty-seven he felt as if those cattle they worked had trampled all over him.
Whoever had been at the door had stopped pounding, and he closed his eyes, ready to go back to sleep. The next thing he knew someone was outside his window yelling at him to wake up. When a hand hit the window, the dog came out from under the blankets, barking, ready to defend Brody and the house. Brody pulled the dog back and ordered it to hush. The white mop bared its teeth and crouched next to him.
"Brody, you've got to let me in. He's going to kill me."
It was a female voice, muffled through the glass, but obviously in distress.
No self-respecting man could ignore a statement like that. He shot out of bed and hurried as fast as his overused knees could take him to the front door. The dog raced ahead, barking. When he yanked open the door, the woman standing on the front step of the trailer, shivering in the cold rain, fell into the house.
She was on her knees, sobbing, and Brody didn't quite know what to do with her. Or if he wanted anything to do with her now that he knew who had woken him from a sound sleep. He pulled the door closed, gathering up sympathy as he did. He really wasn't a heartless cur. He just protected his heart a little better these days.
He managed to get down on the floor next to her, pushing aside the crazy white mop of a dog that crouched on its belly, licking her hand. When he lifted her face to get a good look, he let out a few words that would have gotten his mouth washed out with soap not too many years back. A purple mark on her cheek and a black eye marred her pale skin. Tears streamed down her cheeks. He'd known it wouldn't be good for her when she'd left him for Lincoln. He hadn't expected it to be this bad.
He pulled her close, gently touching the dark marks that marred her pretty face. He brushed short blond hair back from her eyes and waited. He might not be good for much, but he was good at waiting.
It took her a few minutes to calm down. As he stroked her hair, her breathing returned to normal and the tears dried.
"Lincoln?" he asked as she pulled away, brushing a hand across her eyes to dry the last of her tears. Lincoln Carter, his once-upon-a-time roommate, best friend and traveling partner. And the man who couldn't keep his hands off another man's woman.
Grace Thomas. Until last year, she'd been the woman Brody thought he might marry. Then less than a week after she'd broken things off with him, she'd been seen stepping out with Lincoln.
A real man didn't do that to a friend. But then a real man didn't hit a woman, either. That was a mighty big strike against Lincoln Carter.
"I knew his temper was bad. I shouldn't have..."
"Don't make excuses for him." Brody shook his head, thinking he'd heard it all when one of the toughest females he knew had found herself in a situation such as this and then tried to let the man off the hook with an excuse. It just went to prove that it could happen to anyone. Grace had a college degree, an educated and respectable family and backbone.
Lincoln could manipulate a snake out of its skin and make the serpent believe it was being done a favor.
"I'm not making excuses," Grace sobbed. "I just knew and I shouldn't have pushed. I shouldn't have..."
"I keep hearing you say you shouldn't have, but what about him, Grace? What about this?" He touched her cheek, barely making contact with the bruise, yet she still flinched. Her dark brown eyes flickered with pain and she looked away.
"I know." Her voice trembled on the acknowledgment.
"He shouldn't have touched you, and I'll make him sorry..."
He shook off the threat. It wasn't his place. Instead, he reached for the coffee table and pushed himself to his feet, grimacing at the pain that shot through his knees.
He extended a hand to the woman kneeling on his floor and she took it, allowing him to help her up. She was a tiny thing, a tough-as-nails cowgirl. She had a lot of sense, except when it came to Lincoln. He still couldn't figure out why or how she'd gotten tangled up with the other man.
"I'm not making excuses anymore, Brody."
He didn't say anything, just led her to the kitchen that connected to the living room of his trailer. He pulled a bag of corn out of the freezer and handed it to her. She thanked him quietly and held it to her eye and cheek.
Because he didn't know what else to do, he started a pot of coffee, then took eggs out of the fridge. A quick look inside the appliance and he also found bacon.
"Are you hungry?"
She nodded. She'd taken a seat at the bistro-style table that he'd bought because it fit the small space in the single-wide mobile home. The trailer was his personal space on the Circle M Ranch, a ranch that had been in the Martin family for more than a hundred years.
He'd had the trailer set on a foundation a good walk from the barn and from either of his brothers. He wanted to be here, but he didn't want to be under their thumbs. Because Duke and Jake had helped to raise him after their mom skipped out on them some twenty years ago, they thought they still had the right to tell him how to live his life.
They didn't get that he needed space.
He'd really hoped once Jake married Breezy and got down to the business of raising the orphaned twin nieces they shared, and had a baby of his own on the way, he would be too busy to involve himself in Bro-dy's life. It hadn't worked out that way. Now both Jake and his wife, Breezy, were in Brody's business. And then came Duke and his soon-to-be wife, Oregon. He couldn't forget their daughter, Lilly. Thinking of his precocious twelve-year-old niece, Brody had to smile. Family wasn't all bad. It just meant not having a lot of time to himself.
If his sister, Samantha, would come home, she could pull some outrageous stunt and get them all off his back.
Brody found a skillet and placed it on the back burner of the stove. He started frying the bacon and then he cracked a few eggs in a bowl, stirred in a little milk and a handful of cheese. He couldn't cook much, but he could make decent bacon and scrambled eggs. Toast wasn't too far out of his league, either.
"When did it start?" he asked the woman sitting at the table.
"Almost from the beginning. At first it wasn't like this. A bruise on my arm or wrist, grabbing me a little too tightly. He was careful that Aunt Jacki didn't see."
He nodded, because he didn't know what to say. Grace had been living with her aunt Jacki when he met her. It had been her summer to find herself, she'd told him. Jacki Thomas had helped her do that, he guessed. As far as he could tell, Jacki was the black sheep of the upstanding Thomas family.
"And you thought he was someone you wanted to keep dating?" Brody couldn't help but ask, knowing it sounded more like a snarl than a civilized question.
When she didn't answer, he chanced a look at her. She wiped at her eyes and nodded. "Oh, Brody, I'm so sorry."
Not much he could say to that, so he shrugged and went back to cooking. If he spent too much time looking at her, he'd get all stupid and heartsick again. He'd start thinking about that ring he'd never given her. Start remembering all the dreams he'd had for the two of them. That had been his mistake, making plans when she hadn't been interested in anything long-term. Not with him anyway.
Young and stupid. Yep, that description fit him perfectly. If he gave her a chance, no doubt she'd apologize. Make excuses for why she'd left him. And he'd let her off the hook. The bacon sizzled in the pan, the aroma waking him up a little. He poured two cups of coffee and set one in front of her.
"Have you called your folks?" he asked as he headed back to the skillet and the bacon.
"No. They're out of the country. They're on a medical mission trip in South America for the next year."
He kept his back to her, his attention focused on the pan. "What about your grandparents? Or Aunt Jacki?"
"Aunt Jacki went to Florida for a few months. I didn't want to be there alone when Lincoln came looking for me. And my grandparents went to Africa for a month with a group from their church."
"What do you want from me, Grace?"
She didn't answer. When he turned away from the stove she was staring at the floor, her shoulders slumped forward. The dog had managed to get her attention and now slept in her lap. Brody's heart caved a little.
He had a hard time being strong around women, especially this woman. And weak was the last thing he needed to be when it came to Grace Thomas.
"Grace, I can't help you if I don't know what you want."
"I need a place to stay. Somewhere he can't find me. I tried breaking up with him a few months ago but he keeps calling. He won't stay away from Jacki's." Her eyes closed and tears slid down her cheeks.
"He isn't going to come after you, is he? You're gone and he's probably feeling fortunate that you didn't press charges."
"I did press charges. He's in jail. And when he gets out he'll be furious."
Brody smiled, imagining his old friend in the slammer. "Well, that ought to teach him. Good for you, Gracie."
"You haven't called me that in a long time."
"Yeah, well, it didn't seem right to call you that once you decided to leave me for my best friend."
He fixed her a plate of cheesy scrambled eggs and bacon. When he put the plate in front of her she turned green, covered her mouth with her hand and ran down the hall to the bathroom.
He had a real bad feeling.
The nausea eased, and Grace leaned back against the closed door of the bathroom. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. She had made some bad choices in her life, really bad choices. But Lincoln had been the worst ever.
She didn't know how she'd become this person, forgetting herself, what she wanted out of life and who she had always known herself to be. She'd lost her way. That was what her granddad would say. Her life had been easy, smooth sailing. And then Lincoln had ensnared her.
A light rap vibrated the door. "You okay in there?"
"Oh, yeah. Wonderful." She stood and turned on cold water to splash her face. He knocked again. She reached for a towel, wiped away the dampness, then stood there with the towel against her cheeks looking at the stranger in the mirror. A stranger with her eyes but with marks left by a man who had no right to do this, to take the best part of her and turn her into someone she no longer recognized.
She shouldn't have stayed in the relationship. She should have walked away the first time. If anyone had asked her a year ago if she'd ever let a man hit her, she would have told them she'd make sure he regretted it if he tried. But Lincoln had hit her. More than once.
For a while she'd stayed in the relationship because Lincoln had a way of convincing her he loved her and that she could change him. And then she'd stayed because she'd been afraid to leave. He'd convinced her that the abuse was her fault and that she needed to change.
When she finally had walked away, he hadn't been willing to end things. Tonight she'd made the mistake of opening the door and he'd pushed his way in.
She was going to find herself again. Calling the police had been the first step in that process.
"Want me to feed the eggs to the dog?" Brody asked through the paper-thin door. She could imagine him out there, forehead against the door, hand on the knob.
"No, I'm good. Please don't let the dog have my breakfast."
She opened the door, trying hard to avoid looking at the man standing there so casually, leaning against the wood-paneled wall. While his stance said casual, he would never fit that description. At six feet with blue eyes that tripped a girl up and dark hair that she knew to be soft beneath her fingers, Brody Martin could be lethal. His cowboy charm fooled a girl. No, he fooled a lot of people with that good-ole-boy act.
He shifted away from the wall and his steady gaze held her in place. She looked away at first, her hand going to her cheek. Feather soft his hand touched her arm. She flinched but didn't mean to.
She nodded but couldn't form the words to assure him. If she spoke out loud, she'd cry. If he said anything, she'd cry harder. If he touched her, the dam would definitely break, and she'd probably never be able to get control again.
He gave her a long look and kept his distance.
"Let's eat before that mutt gets our eggs. She loves 'em." He motioned her to walk ahead of him.
She poured herself a fresh cup of the coffee. Now that her stomach had settled, she thought she could keep it down. She needed it. She'd been awake all night. Through the kitchen window she could see that it was morning now. Not a sunny morning, but dreary like the night that had just passed. The world was gray and a steady rain fell.
Brody walked up behind her. He took a plate off the counter and handed it to her. She watched him limp to the fridge. He didn't say anything. He pulled out a jar of salsa and limped back to the table.
"Your knee isn't better?" she asked him as she sat.
He sat across from her. "Nope."
"You've been like that since the surgery or before. You're worse now than you were when..."
He looked up, his blue eyes accusing. She glanced away, unsure how to continue.
"Yeah, there are a lot of ways I'm worse off than I was then. Thanks."
"I didn't leave you for Lincoln." She at least owed him that explanation.
"You broke up with me, and the next week you were with Lincoln."
"I know." She closed her eyes, thinking back to all that had come between them. Her fears of getting too serious when her time in Stephenville was limited. His overwhelming need to keep her close. She hadn't been ready for his kind of serious.
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Book Description Love Inspired. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0373818580 . Bookseller Inventory # LCH5226MGLVAM061417O0525P
Book Description Love Inspired, 2015. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110373818580