Read Chapters 5 and 6 here

Read Chapters 5 and 6 here

Read Chapter 1 and 2 here.

Read Chapter 3 and 4 here.

Read Chapter 5 and 6 below.

Purchase Contracted Cowboy from the Feel-Good Fiction Boutique now!

Contracted Cowboy, Chapter Five:

Georgia walked with Logan back to the homestead, the mood between them light and easy. Her mind had completely blanked now that they were alone, but she finally seized onto a topic.

“Do you like dogs?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said. “I have two of ‘em.”

“What kind?”

“Oh, they’re just mutts. Rutabaga—we call her Roo or Ruta—is some kind of hunting dog mix. And Mortie definitely has some lab in him.”

She nodded, wishing she had a personal dog. “We have ranch dogs,” she said. “But I kinda want one who follows me around while I work and sleeps with me at night.”

“Is that so?” He gave her a curious look out of the corner of his eye. “My dogs are outside dogs. They don’t get the soft bed.”

“Poor things,” she teased, climbing the steps to the back door. “Okay, so Granny will want to meet you. This will be a tricky meeting too.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.” He seemed so relaxed, and Georgia marveled at that. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt calm and peaceful, the way his handsome face appeared to be.

She opened the door and went inside, calling, “Granny? We’re here to help with the sandwiches.” Through the mudroom in the back and around the corner, Georgia went on into the kitchen.

Granny was just pulling a tray of double-layered sandwiches out of the oven. “Here you go, Harley,” she said.

Gramps started grabbing the foil-wrapped bundles and tossing them into a bowl big enough to bathe a baby as if they weren’t hot at all. He’d definitely done some blacksmithing around the ranch during his time, and Georgia wondered if he had any nerves left in his fingertips.

“Granny,” she said. “Gramps.” She stepped right next to Logan, who’d stopped a few feet behind her. “This is my new boyfriend, Logan Locke.”

Both of her grandparents stopped what they were doing and looked at Georgia, and then Logan. Granny blinked but acted first. “Logan Locke. From the potato farm on the south edge of town?” She moved forward with the speed of a much younger woman. “I can see it is you. You have your daddy’s eyes.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Logan said, accepting her quick embrace.

“Harley, come meet Shipp’s boy. You remember Shippy, don’t you?” She waved at Gramps, and Georgia seized onto the name of Logan’s dad. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought to ask that, but she could get a bit more information from him as soon as they were alone again.

“Of course,” Gramps said, shaking Logan’s hand. “Your family is good people. What are you doing these days?”

“Oh, uh.” Logan cleared his throat. “Working around at the valley ranches. I’m hoping to get one of my own someday.”

Another piece of info Georgia should probably know about her boyfriend. She realized that she’d jumped into a deep pool, fully clothed, with no way to get back to the surface. She took a deep breath. It was okay. Fine. Granny and Gramps were smiling at Logan, and that was a good sign.

“Betsy might have a mental breakdown if we don’t get these sandwiches out there,” Georgia said. “So tell us what to do.”

Granny took over then, giving directions as she was wont to do. Georgia handed Logan a pair of oven mitts, and they started moving sandwiches to fill the bigger bowls.

“Rhodes is coming,” Georgia said, seeing her brother coming across the lawn. “He’ll help you with this last box of sandwiches and get you across the uneven ground, okay?”

“All right,” Granny said, and Georgia heaved the biggest bowl of sandwiches into Logan’s arms.

“Let’s go. Then Rhodes can hold the door for us.” She loaded up her arms with more sandwiches, and they headed out. Several times as she went down the steps and across the lawn and then the field where the tables and tent had been set up, Georgia thought she might go down. But she managed to stay on her feet and put the sandwiches where Betsy indicated.

After that, things really picked up as more and more people arrived. Georgia slipped her hand into Logan’s more for comfort than anything else, and surprise popped through her that this man she barely knew could provide that for her.

No matter what, Granny had been right. This family event was much better with a boyfriend, and Georgia put a smile on her face for her parents, her siblings, and everyone who worked the ranch.

She talked quietly with Logan, their heads bent together, as she learned the names of his parents—Shipp and Lucy. He told her more about the potato farm, more about his brothers, and more about himself.

“So no white meat during Thanksgiving, huh?” she asked.

“No, all the flavor is in the thighs.”

“Fascinating.” She really was fascinated by Logan, and she didn’t have to work hard at pretending she liked him. She did like him. And the strangest thing was, he seemed to like her too.

* * *

So let me get this straight. You’ve named all the llamas and pigs, but not the goats.

Georgia smiled at the text from Logan. She’d practically worn her thumbs to the bone with how much they’d texted this past week. That’s right.

Why not? You think goats don’t deserve to have names?

Fine, she tapped out. One’s brown and one’s white. Can I just call them Chocolate and Vanilla?

It would be better than nothing.

She laughed softly in the privacy of her own bedroom, the soft morning light coming through her blinds. She hadn’t gotten out of bed yet, and this kind of communication had become her new favorite.

What are we doing today? he asked her next, and Georgia sat up a little straighter against her mountain of pillows. They hadn’t gotten together every day since the Harvest Festival, but only a couple of times. Once for lunch at the pub downtown, which had the best baked macaroni and cheese in the world, and once for a quick cup of coffee at Fresh Brew. She’d run into one of her cousins on the street, and it had been a bit awkward.

She, at least, had introduced Logan. Andrew had stood there uncomfortably, and Georgia wasn’t sure what his girlfriend’s name was. But she understood awkward, and Andrew was actually one of her more normal cousins.

I have to work until five, Logan’s next text said.

Georgia didn’t get off the ranch much, and Logan had picked up a job in town working on a home remodel the owners wanted done before the snow flew in Quinn Valley.

What about working on the barn? she suggested. I did hire you to do that.

Sure, he messaged back. I’ll come up to the ranch when I’m done in town.

Maybe I’ll come down for tacos, she sent. I hear the taco truck will only do catering and to-go orders during the winter.

Let me know. I’ll come meet you.

And so Georgia got out of bed with a smile on her face, something that hadn’t happened in a while. She showered, got dressed, and went into her office to see what she needed to get done that day.

Now that the harvest was finished, they just needed to get the cattle out of the hills. Rhodes had put together the crew to go get them, and he’d been gone for a couple of days. She didn’t expect him or the cowboys back for another week probably, maybe longer. Then they’d have all their cattle in a central location for the winter, and the focus of the ranch shifted from outdoor things to indoor.

She found the paperwork for Knox’s hiring on her desk, and she sat down at the computer to generate the forms she needed him to sign. Rhodes had considered going to farrier school himself, but he couldn’t afford the time away from the ranch. Knox had recently completed the training, and he’d been working at three other ranches around the valley.

Georgia was glad Rhodes had hired him at almost the same time she’d “hired” Logan, because then her new position didn’t garner so much interest.

She completed that and then headed out, planning a stop at her grandparent’s cabin before she went into town.

“Hello,” she called as she opened the front door to their place. Her great-great-grandfather had built this cabin, and the three beside it, many years ago. It was affectionately known as Old Folks Row, as the Quinns who had dedicated their lives to the land and the family ranch lived in the cabins until they died.

A family cemetery lay about a hundred yards behind the line of cabins, and Georgia went there sometimes just to feel close to her family. Usually when she was lamenting that her last name was Quinn.

“There’s just so many of us,” she’d tell the headstones. “Don’t you get tired of it all?”

Of course, they never answered back. But she definitely thought some of them would agree with her. The family stories said that the same great-great-grandfather who’d built these cabins didn’t leave Quinn Valley Ranch for over two decades. He didn’t like going into town, and he didn’t like having people up to the ranch.

Things had changed over the years, as now all of Granny and Gramps’s four children came to the ranch every Thanksgiving for a big, grateful meal together. They got together at other times of the year too—namely the Fourth of July and Christmas, though those events weren’t held at the ranch.

But still, Georgia could see herself living on this ranch indefinitely, only going down to town to get groceries she couldn’t grow herself.

That, of course, would never happen, as she wasn’t going to inherit the ranch.

“Granny?” she called when she didn’t see anyone in the living room or the kitchen at the back of the house. Down the hall were two bedrooms and two bathrooms, but she didn’t hear any sound from that direction. She moved to the back door and looked through the window, immediately pushing the door open to go outside.

“There you are,” she said, putting her hand on Gramps’s shoulder as he sat in a rocking chair right beside the door. “She’s tearing out the garden?”

“Yep, time for fall,” he said in his wrinkled voice.

“I’m headed into town. Wondering if you guys need anything.”

“I don’t. Oh, yes, I do. I want some of that pistachio ice cream from the gas station. It’s the only place you can find it.”

Georgia grinned at her grandfather. “I’ll get it for you.” She moved down the few steps from the back deck and into the yard. “Granny,” she called. “I’m going to town. Do you need anything?”

Her grandmother waved her gloved hands at Georgia and shook her head. “I’m fine, dear.”

So Georgia went to town with two goals: tacos with Logan and pistachio ice cream.

* * *

Later that day, with her grandfather properly equipped with his treat, Georgia saw a red pickup parked near the chicken coops. It hadn’t been there when she’d returned from her lunch date, and her pulse picked up instantly.

Logan unfolded himself from the cab of the truck, already wearing a smile. One exploded onto Georgia’s face too, and she practically skipped over to him. “What are you doing here so soon?” They’d only had tacos together a couple of hours ago.

“Finished for the day.” He reached for her hand though there wasn’t anyone around to see. Georgia didn’t mind—in fact, her gaze lingered on his mouth for an extra moment as her fantasies about what it would be like to kiss him bloomed to life in her mind.

“You said we could work on the barn.”

“Oh, right.” She started walking in that direction, a lightness in her step that could only be attributed to the man beside her.

“Do you like living on the ranch?” he asked, and the question sent a shiver of surprise through her.

“Yeah,” she said. “I love the ranch.”

“But you won’t inherit it.”

“No, but I can work here for a long time.” She glanced at him. “Have you started looking for a ranch of your own?”

He laughed, but it didn’t contain a lot of merriment. “No.”

“Why not?”

He peered at her for a moment and then looked forward again. “Do you know how much ranches cost, Georgia?”

She had no idea, but she sure did like the way he said her name. A slip of foolishness heated her face as she shook her head.

“A lot,” he said. “And I’m a seasonal worker, moving from job to job every chance I get.”

Georgia swallowed, her mind racing for something to say. “That reminds me,” she said a bit too loudly. “I have your first paycheck in my office. Let’s make sure you don’t forget it, okay?’

A frown marched across his handsome features before he said, “Okay.”

“What was that look?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.” She paused in the middle of the path and tugged her hand out of his. “Remember how we’re honest with each other?”

He exhaled heavily and removed his cowboy hat to wipe along his forehead. “All right, then. I told Knox about us. About you hiring me to be your boyfriend, and he questioned if I should get paid for that. So I’ve been thinking about it.”

Horror struck Georgia right beneath the ribs. “You told Knox about it?” She searched his face desperately, hoping and praying he’d say, Just kidding! Of course I told no one about this insane deal we’ve made.

“He already knew,” Logan said. “Well, I mean, he knew I wasn’t seeing you before the Harvest Festival. Knew I’d only been out to the ranch once for a job interview. He knows I’ve never been on a dating app.” He gazed down the path, over her shoulder, and Georgia didn’t like it one little bit.

“I had to tell him.”

She shook her head and pressed her lips together. “Is he going to tell anyone else?”

“He said he wouldn’t. We can trust him.”

“And now you think I shouldn’t pay you.”

“I don’t know what to think.”

If Georgia were being honest with herself, she didn’t either. “Well, you’ve done everything I’ve asked, and that deserves a paycheck. That’s what I think.”

His eyes found hers again, and that surge of electricity flowed freely between them. In one, swift movement, he swept her into his arms and held her against his chest. Everything inside Georgia tensed for one, two breaths, and then she melted into the strength of Logan Locke.

“All right, then,” he whispered. As quickly as he’d embraced her, he stepped back, clearing his throat. “Let’s go work on that barn.”

Georgia walked beside him, every cell in her body alight and burning with a new fire. And she knew she was treading on dangerous ground.

She was in very real danger of having the best holiday season of her life.

And in very real danger of losing her heart.

Contracted Cowboy, Chapter Six:

Do you ever feel like your life is just passing you by?

Logan looked at the words on his phone and thought about them.

Of course, he sent back. I’m thirty-six-years-old and have nothing to show for it. You, at least, have a ranch and all those llamas.

His defense mechanism of playing things off as a joke had helped him through the last few weeks with Georgia. Every time he texted with her, every time he saw her, he felt like he was trying to climb a massive mountain of loose sand. He’d never reach the top, no matter how hard he tried, and he was constantly losing ground.

She was beautiful, and smart, and hardworking. She was easy to talk to, and had soft hands, and a good heart. If Logan had met her naturally, at the hot springs, or maybe as he threw a ball to his dogs in the park, he’d have gotten her number and done exactly what they did now.

Hold hands with her around the ranch. Grab coffee and chat. Eat tacos while the wind whipped around them, reminding them that it was almost winter in Quinn Valley. Talk more than work in the barn, so that it was still unfinished.

And tonight, they were going to the Halloween Food Truck Rally, which drew out almost all fifteen thousand Quinn Valley residents. Not really, but it felt that way to Logan. Nothing from the trucks was worth waiting in line for a half an hour, but Georgia had been excited about going.

And what made Georgia happy made Logan happy.

He’d collected three checks from her, and it was the easiest work he’d ever done. Because it wasn’t work. Sure, she’d been upset about him telling Knox about the true nature of their relationship, but even his brother had commented last night about how much happier Logan had been the last few weeks.

“You’re not falling for her for real, are you?” Knox had asked, and Logan hadn’t been able to vocally say no. So he’d shook his head, when really he wanted to nod. Confess to Knox, that yes, he had real feelings for Georgia.

Speaking of llamas, her text came back. What are you going to be for Halloween tonight?

Logan hated Halloween. His mother had never bought him a good costume growing up, so he’d always been left to piece together whatever he could. Going to school as a potato farmer or a bum was about what he could do, and he’d always been scoffed at or ignored. Which was honestly fine.

Do I have to dress up?

It’s Halloween, she said, like that explained everything.

I’ll wear my cowboy hat, he said.

Oh, so you’re one of those people.

Yes, he said. Whoever they are. He’d slept less the last few weeks than he ever had, and he’d had to call the phone company and get unlimited texting for how much he and Georgia had been communicating. He hadn’t seen her in a few days, and he just wanted to see her. Not some goblin or witch or bloody vampire.

What are you going to dress up as? he asked.

Oh, I hate Halloween, she said. His pulse skipped, and his heart expanded a couple of degrees. He and Georgia didn’t have a ton in common, but enough to keep their conversations going. She was fiery where he was more laid back. She was by the book, everything lined up in ninety-degree angles, and he left his shoes by the back door wherever they fell.

She rose early and went to bed early, and Logan was a night owl. But they both liked coffee, and animals, and it seemed, each other.

And now, they both didn’t like Halloween.

I’ve never liked you more, he typed out and stared at the words. Could he send them? What would she think? He’d held her hand plenty of times, and there had been that quick hug last week…. He was still thinking about holding her in his arms and how right it had felt. How she’d completed some part of him he hadn’t known was incomplete.

In the end, he decided to send the text. If anything, it would give them something to talk about as they wandered the fair that night, searching for something that was less greasy than the booth beside it.

See you tonight, Georgia’s text came in, and Logan sighed.

“What was that?” Knox asked as he came into the kitchen where Logan’s cold cereal had gone soggy long ago.

“Nothing,” he said, flipping his phone over. His brother saw the movement and lifted his eyebrows.

“Yeah, nothing named Georgia.”

“Maybe.” Logan got up and rinsed out the gross cereal. “Is it bad if I like her?”

“Of course not,” Knox said, nodding to the refrigerator. “But you haven’t cashed any of the checks she’s given you.” He didn’t say anything else, because he didn’t need to.

Guilt gutted Logan as he looked at the three slips of paper hanging on the fridge. “I’ll talk to her about it.”

“I mean, most women don’t pay their real boyfriends to hang out with them.”

“I know,” Logan said, plucking his hat from the hook beside the fridge. “I have to go. I’ve got a job out near the hospital in Riston today. And Georgia and I are going to the Food Truck Rally tonight.”

“I’ll be there too,” Knox said. “Maybe I’ll see you.”

Logan doubted it, what with how many people showed up to this thing, but he nodded and slipped out the back door. He threw the tennis ball for Roo and Mortie a few times, and then he got behind the wheel of his pickup.

He was good at construction, and he liked the way it made his muscles burn and bunch. Fitting things together and paying attention to every step he made on a rooftop kept his mind occupied so he couldn’t think about Georgia.

All too soon, though, it was time to meet her at the Food Truck Rally, and he turned onto the street which housed the fairgrounds, where tonight’s activities would take place. The event wasn’t as big as the Eastern Idaho State Fair held in Blackfoot each year, but it would have little carnival games for the kids, and every food truck within a hundred mile radius had probably pulled in hours ago.

A Ferris wheel towered before him, along with a couple of other bigger rides typical of a small-town celebration. He parked down the block quite a ways, remembering the feel of an autumn night at the fairgrounds.

He pulled out his phone to send a message to Georgia. One thing they’d talked about was telling each other things as they remembered them, no matter when or where they were. He sent, Just got here. Did you know I rode the rodeo circuit for a year? I don’t think I told you that.

I did not know that. Meet me at the lemonade stand just inside the gates.

After a brisk, ten-minute walk, Logan paid his ten bucks to get into the Food Truck Rally. The money went toward the candy parade the organizers would have later, as well as clean-up costs at the fairgrounds after tonight ended.

Logan spotted Georgia at the lemonade stand—and she wasn’t alone. His heart beat a bit faster at the sight of her curves in those tight jeans and that black sweater with a bright yellow crescent moon on it, as well as the fact that it looked like he was about to meet another Quinn.

She’d managed to keep him away from them, claiming she wasn’t overly fond of her last name. He still needed to ask her about that, but it hadn’t come up in their chats yet.

“Hey, beautiful,” he said, sweeping into her personal space and sliding one arm around her waist while he bent down and pressed his lips to her forehead. He drew in a deep breath, getting the floral, soapy scent of her hair, and then turned his attention to the other woman standing beside Georgia.

Logan grinned at her and extended his free hand. “I’m Logan Locke.”

“Oh, so this is who Georgia’s been hiding.” She looked at Georgia with as many lights in her eyes as Christmas trees had. “You secret-keeper.”

Georgia laughed and indicated the woman. “This is my cousin, Raina. She’s a massage therapist, and she works miracles on my tired back.”

“You have a hump,” Raina said. “From sitting at that desk all the time.”

“Raina,” Georgia said in a teasing, warning voice. “Logan and I are still getting to know one another. Don’t be telling him I’m a hunchback.”

Logan laughed with the two women, and they started to walk through the rally. “What are we looking for tonight?” he asked. “Fried stuff? Desserts? Salads?” The Food Truck Rally really did have everything, including the famous taco truck that was a permanent part of Quinn Valley now.

“I want one of those all-in-one waffle things,” Georgia said. “Have you heard of them?”

“Enlighten me,” he said, his arm around her waist comfortable and shooting sparks down his spine with every step. Could she feel it too? Could she have real feelings for him? Or was she pretending because her cousin was with them?

But what about all the times when you’ve been alone? his mind whispered. All the texting. All the getting to know each other stuff. Was that all a ruse so the times when they needed to be a couple, it would seem like they really were?

“It’s a waffle cone,” she said. “Like an ice cream cone, but not sweet, and not so crispy. Then they put in fried popcorn chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and cover it all with gravy. You eat it like an ice cream cone.”

“I’ve had them,” Raina said. “They’re delicious. We have to find that truck.”

Logan thought it sounded good too, but he was sure the line would be forever long at a place like that. Sure enough, several minutes later, they rounded a corner to a long line, and Georgia said, “There it is. Chicken Cones.” She glanced up at Logan with a giddy expression on her face. “Let’s get in line.”

“All right,” he said, smothering his sigh. After all, he hadn’t had to dress up. His arm was still resting on Georgia’s hip. And she was the most beautiful woman at the rally that night. He could wait in a line for a chicken cone if he had to.

An hour later, Raina had spotted someone she wanted to talk to, they’d gotten their all-in-one chicken dinners, and Logan was starting to wonder if he could kiss Georgia that night.

“So I have a question for you,” he said to keep his mind on less imaginary things. “Why don’t you like being a Quinn?”

He and Georgia walked slowly down one of the less busy rows, especially now that the main dinner time was over. The night bordered on the outer edge of cold, but the stars in the dark blanket of sky above them were beautiful.

“There’s just a lot of us,” she finally said. “And a lot of expectations.”

He nodded. “Sometimes expectations aren’t a bad thing.”

“I know.” She stepped in closer to him and laced her fingers through his. “I expected the holidays to be hard this year, because I’ve had a boyfriend for the past four years, but we broke up in January. So.”

“Ah,” Logan said, another piece of the puzzle fitting into place. “That’s why you hired me.”

“One of the reasons,” she said. “Going to family things is easier for me when I don’t have to worry about who I’m going to be sitting by, and if I’ll want to talk to them. With a boyfriend, I know all of that.”

“So you’re a control freak,” he teased.

She giggled but it only lasted a moment. “Yeah,” she admitted. “I think I am.”

“Better than a drifter, I suppose.”

She took a couple of hurried steps in front of him and stopped. “Is that what you think you are?”

“I don’t know.” Logan gazed down at her, his thoughts scattering in a dozen different directions. “I like you, Georgia.”

“I like you too, Logan.”

“No, I mean—” He cleared his throat. “I haven’t cashed any of the checks you’ve given me. I don’t want you to pay me to be your boyfriend. I just want…to be your boyfriend.” His mouth felt like he’d swallowed cotton. People walked by them on both sides, and he somehow couldn’t hear anything outside of the bubble of him and her.

She blinked, her face one of perfect shock.

“Say something,” he said, almost desperate for her to confirm that the feelings between them weren’t one-sided.

“Georgia Quinn!” someone called, and the spell between them broke. She turned to look over her shoulder, and Logan’s gaze followed hers to see who’d called her name.

She tucked herself into his side, muttering, “You’re about to find out why I don’t like being a Quinn.” Then she said brightly for the whole world to hear, “Heya, Aunt April!” like she was the happiest woman in the world to see her aunt.

And Logan’s confusion and frustration only grew. Because if Georgia could pretend that well, maybe everything between them had been a complete farce too.

Purchase Contracted Cowboy from the Feel-Good Fiction Boutique now!

jQuery('.uk-margin-medium-bottom:contains("View Datails")').text("View Details");