Read Chapters 7 and 8 here
Chapters 7 and 8 are below.
Contracted Cowboy, Chapter Seven:
Georgia could’ve handled seeing almost any of the Quinns at the Food Truck Rally. But Aunt April? She was the family redneck witchdoctor, and that was not overstating it.
She rushed at Georgia, her long skirts flowing behind her the same way her red-from-a-bottle hair did. She gripped Georgia’s face in both hands and kissed both cheeks, something that allowed the energy to flow properly. Or something. Georgia had stopped listening to Aunt April’s stories about herbs and oils when she was six years old.
“I had a feeling I’d see you here tonight,” her aunt said. “My gut, it never lies.” Her gaze moved to Logan, and Georgia had the strangest urge to step in front of him as if he needed protection from her aunt.
“This is my boyfriend,” she said, the words flowing evenly from her mouth. “Logan Locke.”
“Logan. Locke.” Aunt April said each name like it held the meaning to life’s secrets. She shook his hand, grasping it and not letting go. She turned it over so she could study the lines there, and she said, “Oh, look at that.”
Logan managed to get his hand back, and Georgia put a plastic smile on her face. “What are you doing here? Where’s everyone else?” Aunt April did love her kids, and that branch of the Quinn Family seemed to do a lot together.
“Oh, they’re off getting funnel cakes,” she said. “I had the strangest urge to wander down this way. Now I know why.” Her bright, beaming smile took up her whole face. “So tell me about you two. How long have you been dating? You didn’t bring him to the summer picnic.” She hooked her hand through Georgia’s elbow, and she glanced at Logan.
His smile looked pained, and she almost started laughing. “Oh, Auntie. Let’s save all the questions for the big dinner at Thanksgiving, okay? I promise Logan and I will sit by you.”
“Big dinner at Thanksgiving?” Logan whispered, his breath cascading over Georgia’s ear and neck, making her tremble with delight.
“Oh, there’s Roxie. I have to run. So good to see you both.” She kissed them both this time and ran off, leaving Logan looking like he’d just been hit with a dump truck.
“And that’s my aunt,” Georgia said. “There are several more where she came from.”
“Wow,” he said, still staring after her.
“Indeed.” Georgia “So we obviously need to go over the calendar.” She wanted to return to what he’d said before Aunt April had interrupted them, but she didn’t know how. She couldn’t just say, “I like you too, and hey, I’d love to be your real girlfriend.”
“So there’s the pie baking weekend coming up,” she said. “It’s traditionally the second weekend in November. All the women get together to bake the pies for the big Quinn Family Thanksgiving feast. It’s held at the ranch every year, on Thanksgiving Day. We eat promptly at one o’clock. The men play turkey toss in the morning, and the afternoon is open for whatever.”
“Literally, turkey toss,” she said dryly. “My dad buys a few extra turkeys, and they go out in the snow and toss them around like footballs.” She barely refrained from rolling her eyes. Perhaps Logan would like something like that. “They come in smelling like wet dogs and tracking snow and slush everywhere.”
“Sounds interesting,” he said, and she couldn’t tell if he really thought that or not.
“We have the gingerbread house contest at Thanksgiving too,” she said. “Everyone who wants to can build a house and put it on display in one of the cabins at the ranch. Throughout the weeks from Thanksgiving to the big family dinner in December, you go into the cabin and vote for your favorite house. No one in my family has won in years.”
“Who wins?” he asked.
“Oh, Robyn’s been taking home the blue ribbon for a while. She’s like this Pinterest queen, and she knows things about glue guns the rest of us have never heard of.” Georgia laughed. “I actually like Robyn a lot. She’s very talented.”
“Oh, so your family isn’t all bad.”
“I never said they were all bad. I said sometimes the holidays can be hard with a million Quinns running around, vying for prizes and dinners and attention.”
He brought her close to him, and Georgia went willingly. “So you want the prizes, the dinners, and the attention. Is that it?”
She gazed up into those gorgeous green eyes, falling into them for a moment. “Something like that,” she said a bit breathlessly. Had he heard that in her voice?
“All right,” he said. “I think I can make that happen for you this year.”
How he was going to do that, she had no idea. All she knew was that she wanted him by her side for all the craziness ahead. And if that wasn’t crazy, Georgia wasn’t sure what was.
* * *
Any insane exes in your past I need to be aware of? she sent the next morning before she got out of bed.
Ha ha, Logan messaged back. I didn’t date a whole lot. A girlfriend here and there. Nothing that serious. Nothing recent.
She read over his text, her first feeling disbelief. Logan was drop-dead gorgeous, and the man could do almost anything with his hands. How did he not have a date every other night? Maybe for the same reason she hadn’t been able to catch anyone’s eye. Well, for her there were two reasons. She was a Quinn, and everyone in town knew her. Two, there weren’t that many eyes to catch.
So how had she missed Logan all these years?
The name was right there on the tip of her tongue, and she realized once again how much she’d lost because of her attachment to a man who wouldn’t commit to her.
What about you? he asked, and Georgia should’ve seen the question coming. She took a deep breath and started tapping. Her thumbs flew across the screen as she told him about Simon and the four-year relationship that had left her contemplating becoming a nun.
Well, I’m glad that didn’t happen, he sent, his response to the whole story somehow exactly right.
Are you up for a long drive this weekend? she sent him.
She laughed quietly. I have to go get all the cookies for the family plates. It’s down in Utah, a little over an hour to this big cookie factory. Might be fun to go together.
She hadn’t planned on asking him to go with her. But she also hadn’t planned on experiencing anything but frustration when dealing with the man she’d hired to basically be arm candy.
I just want to be your real boyfriend.
Georgia could still hear his words in her head, and she needed to let him know that was a real possibility. But an idea for how to tell him hadn’t come to her yet. Perhaps a long drive together would spark something.
Sure, he said. Are you driving?
Yep, she said. So tell me where to come pick you up.
Georgia looked forward to her drive with Logan all week, and when she finally pulled up to the simple, two-story house in a quiet neighborhood, her nerves felt like someone had put them through a wood chipper.
His red pickup sat in the driveway, and as she got out, she pulled her purple parka tighter around her. It hadn’t snowed yet, but the sky was threatening to do just that today.
From the back of the house, a dog barked, and Logan’s laughter followed. Georgia paused to soak it in, because it was a wonderful sound that penetrated her heart and made her smile.
“Come on,” he called, and the barking intensified. Bypassing the front door, she walked past the red truck and toward the backyard. She crept up so she could have a moment to observe him with his dogs. Her first view was of him bent over, scratching their heads while a bright orange ball sat at his feet.
He picked up the ball and both dogs sat at attention, the black one quivering with excitement. Logan launched the ball, and both dogs went after it.
“Mortie, let her get it!” Logan called, and Georgia remembered that he was the black dog. He did not let the smaller, brown dog get the ball, and galloped back to Logan with a huge doggy smile on his face.
She stepped, which shifted some dirt under her foot. The brown dog—Roo—looked her way, yipped and dashed right toward her.
Logan turned, and Georgia had half a second to meet his eyes before she had forty pounds of dog flesh in her face. “Hey, girl,” she said, rubbing the dog’s head and back. “Oh, you’re just as fast as that Mortie, aren’t you? Yes, you are. Yes, you are.”
By then, Mortie had arrived, and he barked at her as he jumped up on her thighs. Bark, bark.
“Mortie,” Logan said. “Four on the floor. Quiet.”
Georgia had never seen a dog do exactly what someone said, exactly when they said it. But Mortie did. He whined as he settled on all four paws and sat. His tongue hung out of his mouth, but he didn’t bark.
“Good boy,” Logan said as he approached. The dog looked at him for approval, and Logan trailed his fingertips across the top of the dog’s head.
He’d never been more attractive to Georgia, and his smile had never been more beautiful. Before he could take another step, she did, moving right into him and lifting both hands to cradle his face.
She caught a momentary look of surprise before she let her eyes drift closed and touched her mouth to his.
Fireworks exploded down her throat, and she suddenly wanted to stay welded to him forever. Their kiss deepened, and Georgia didn’t mind one bit. She finally pulled away, her face on fire and the reasonable side of her catching up to what she’d just done.
The cold air felt good against her heated skin, and she glanced up at Logan, wondering how he’d take this new development.
“You’re never paying me again,” he whispered just before kissing her for a second time.
Contracted Cowboy, Chapter Eight:
Logan had spoken true when he’d told Georgia he hadn’t been in a serious relationship for a long time. As he kissed her, he realized he’d never been in a serious relationship period. Sure, he’d kissed other women, but it had never been like this.
This made his head swim. This made his heart hammer in his chest. This made him never want to kiss another woman.
Georgia giggled and ducked her head, giving Logan a moment to just breathe. He wasn’t sure what he’d done to elicit such a wonderful thing from her, but he didn’t care. He just wanted to kiss her again.
“So I guess you’re not my pretend boyfriend anymore,” she said.
“I’d really like that.” He grinned at her.
“I have something else to confess,” she said.
“Oh, boy. Lay it on me.”
“I needed a new boyfriend to make my previous one jealous. He’d moved on already, and I hadn’t, and I didn’t want him to think that after ten months, I was still hung up on him.” She finally lifted her gaze to his. “I’m sorry.”
Logan looked into those beautiful eyes and held her close. “Are you still hung up on him?”
She cocked her head to the side as if she was really considering it. “You know what? I don’t think I am.”
Logan wasn’t entirely convinced, but they were three weeks into their relationship. He could give her more time. “So we’re driving for cookies today.”
She startled and said, “Yes. Yes, we are. We better get going.” She led him to her car, and he moved the seat back before he got in on the passenger side. His news felt like it might burst out of him, and he worked to keep it in until she had the car on the road, heading south.
“So, I looked at some ranches online this week,” he said, trying to be ultra cool and casual.
Georgia sucked in a breath and then let out a little squeal. “You did? That’s great, Logan. Tell me about them.”
And because she was so easy to talk to, he did. “There’s only two, and they’re like, ten times smaller than Quinn Valley. But I think they’re a size that I can manage on my own.”
Georgia didn’t immediately volunteer to help him run the ranch, though she’d said plenty of times that she did that for her family operation. He didn’t really expect her to—well, maybe in his dreams.
“Cattle operations?” she asked.
“Yes, both of them. I haven’t quite made the calls to see them yet.”
“Why not?” She glanced at him and then back to the road as rain started to splash against the windshield. “Oh, it’s going to snow today.”
“I think you’re right,” he said. She didn’t seem concerned, and she kept driving, so Logan didn’t worry too much about it either. The weather had distracted her from why he hadn’t made any phone calls about seeing the ranches he’d looked up online.
The truth was, he wasn’t sure he could run a ranch. He’d never done it before, though he had worked almost every job there was. He wasn’t sure he could qualify financially. He wasn’t sure if Knox would want to go in on the ranch with him.
There were too many unknowns, and Logan had gotten overwhelmed pretty quickly. Just looking at the online listings had almost taken an act of God. He watched the wintery landscape go by in silence, wondering if Georgia liked winter outdoor activities. That seemed like a safe topic, so he asked her.
She groaned and shrugged. “I mean, we have a pond and I’ve been known to go out and ice skate. But other than that, I could do without the snow.”
“So no skiing or sledding or anything.”
She laughed and reached over to take his hand in hers. “I’m not sure if you know how old I am, Logan. No way I can get up and down on an inner tube and slide down a mountain. That’s called insanity, and that’s why little children do it.” She giggled again, and Logan couldn’t help joining in.
“What about you? You enjoy winter sports?”
“Not really,” he said. “It makes for a muddy construction site and not many jobs in the ranching world.”
“And yet, we live in Idaho, where it snows for like, half the year.” She shook her head, still chuckling.
“And we think children are insane,” he said. “But I’d go ice skating with you.”
“Yeah?” She glanced at him again. “I think I’d like that.”
The rest of the drive was filled with easy talk about the family tree cutting ceremony, which he would be attending, of course. The Customer Appreciation event at the hot springs in December, where he volunteered every year. And how she really wanted a dog of her own.
Then they walked around a teeny tiny cookie store and put bag after bag of gingerbread men in their cart. Then a few more bags of sandwich cookies with chocolate in the middle. Some with mint. They probably had fifty bags of cookies by the time she declared they were done.
“What do we do with all of these?” he asked. He realized he’d said “we” as if he was part of her family holiday traditions, but the truth couldn’t be more different.
“These are for the tree cutting,” she said. “We serve tea, coffee, and hot chocolate with the cookies once we get back to the ranch. Then we all decorate the tree in the homestead, and go over to my grandparent’s place, and decorate a smaller one there.”
“That sounds nice,” he said.
“It is nice,” she agreed.
“So maybe you don’t hate your family traditions.”
“No,” she said slowly as she started loading the cookies up onto the check-out counter. “I guess I don’t.”
“At least you have them,” he said, helping her put the bags up where the cashier could see them.
“You don’t have family traditions?” she asked.
“I mean, one or two. Stuff like putting up the tree the day after Thanksgiving. And opening a pair of pajamas on Christmas Eve. Of course, my family is much smaller than yours.”
“Well, everyone’s is,” she said with a smile. She didn’t seem like she cared that he was tradition-less, but Logan felt like he hadn’t really started experiencing life until he’d met Georgia.
* * *
Another week passed, and Logan couldn’t wait to see Georgia again. He’d kissed her outside his house again before she’d taken herself, her car, and all those cookies back to the ranch. But he hadn’t seen her that week at all, because he’d been working on a construction crew that started at dawn and worked until dusk.
He was tired and muddy by the time he got home, and all he could do was throw the ball for the dogs a few times before hurrying in out of the cold and stumbling into the shower.
The force of texting was strong between them, but he wanted to see her. Hold her hand. Kiss her, kiss her, kiss her.
This Saturday, though, she was baking pies with her sisters, aunts, and cousins, and no one else was bringing a boyfriend. Or a male at all. So he’d been uninvited from the all-female pie baking marathon, but he could still show up at the ranch.
Knox would be out there working in the stables, and Logan had decided to tag along. He tossed his ice skates in the back of Knox’s truck and climbed in the passenger side.
“Ready?” he asked.
Knox was one of those slow drivers, so it took almost a half an hour to get out to the ranch. He kept the radio on the country station, which satisfied Logan, and he hadn’t said anything about Georgia or the paid boyfriend gig in over a week.
“Seeing Georgia today?” he asked as he pulled under the Quinn Valley Ranch sign.
“Yes,” Logan said. “And you should know that she’s not paying me anymore.”
“Yeah, I figured,” he said. “You ripped up those other checks, and I might have seen you kiss her last weekend.”
Logan’s pulse jumped over itself, but he wasn’t embarrassed. “For the record, she kissed me first.”
“So that wasn’t the first time.” Knox chuckled. “Nice, Logan.”
“What? It’s a mutual thing. She likes me, hard as that might be to believe.”
“It’s not hard to believe,” Knox said, looking at him and not the road. “Why would that be hard for me to believe?”
“Nothing,” Logan said, though his answer didn’t really fit the question. His twin had always had more success with the girls, and Logan had always felt overshadowed. He’d never told Knox that—never told anyone—and he wasn’t going to start now.
“I’ve got my eye on someone,” Knox said.
“Oh, boy,” Logan said with a grin. “Is that all I get?”
“Yes, because you’ll mess it up for me.”
Logan watched his brother, who suddenly needed to study the parking spaces like there weren’t a dozen in front of the stables where he’d be working. “Where could you possibly have met a woman?” he asked. Knox worked on ranches, and they were primarily staffed by men. The brothers went to church together, but they’d never had any success with converting a woman there into a girlfriend.
So who had caught his eye?
He parked and got out of the truck—a little too quickly in Logan’s opinion—and went into the stable without waiting for his brother. All at once, Logan knew who it had to be.
One of Georgia’s sisters. There were three of them out here, all single. So which one was it?
He didn’t ask but tried to be as helpful as possible while Knox worked on the shoes for the horses in several of the stables. Hours later, Georgia finally joined them, a hint of cinnamon about her.
“Hey, there,” he said with a smile. He drew her into his arms and faced his brother. “I’m going to go, okay?”
“Yeah, go,” Knox said, hardly looking up. Logan couldn’t be sure, but he thought his twin’s face was a bit flushed, but that could’ve been from all the hammering.
A dry snow fell outside, and Logan stopped by Knox’s truck to grab his skates. “How far is this pond?”
“Oh, we’re not walking,” she said, nodding toward the ATV parked beside the truck. “It’s not far, but there’s way too much snow for that.”
It had been dumping on Quinn Valley, and it was especially deep out here at the ranch, because they were higher in the hills.
She got behind the wheel of the ATV, and Logan sat in the front seat this time. It almost seemed too cold to be outside, but they arrived at the pond and put on their skates. As soon as he got moving around a bit, his muscles warmed up.
Georgia could skate much better than he could, and he fumbled around like it was the first time he’d put on blades. They laughed, the snow fell, and Logan wondered if he was falling in love with her the same way the flakes drifted to the ground.
She glided toward him and grabbed onto his shoulders, giggling. “You’re not bad, cowboy.”
“Are you kidding?” he asked with a chuckle. “I’m terrible.” But he sure did like holding her in his arms, their bodies creating a bubble of heat in the chilly atmosphere. He gazed down at her, tilting his head down to kiss her. He’d never been happier to have answered a help wanted ad.
He hadn’t seen any weird Quinn family drama yet, but the biggest activities were still to come. Logan decided he didn’t care. If he had the opportunity to kiss Georgia, he could deal with a little drama.