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Hey, I get it. Nothing to be sorry about. Life is busy, especially at this time of year.

Sometimes I’m super jazzed about a book, but I don’t get to reading it for a while. Sometimes it takes a friend or two to remind me why I WANT to read it. Sometimes just a reminder email, and I go, “Oh, yeah! I’ve got that book! Let me open it right now!”

🙂 This can be any of those for you. No matter what, I want it to be EASY to read my books. Easy to find them on a variety of retailers, including libraries. Easy to find them in your country. Easy to read them anywhere you read – your phone, an eReader, on an app, in your web browser.

So if you have a few minutes, keep reading for the first couple of chapters of LAST CHANCE RANCH – that free book you got a few weeks ago!

If you can’t remember where you got it, you should be able to find it inside the BookFunnel app, or perhaps you had BookFunnel send it to your device…

Either way, enjoy this inspirational romance between a curvy heroine and a billionaire cowboy!

Last Chance Ranch - Chapter One:

Last Chance Ranch - Chapter One:

Scarlett Adams wiped her dirty hands down the front of her jeans, wondering what her life had become. She’d only been at Last Chance Ranch for two weeks, but it felt worlds different than the life she’d left in Los Angeles, only thirty miles away.

That couldn’t be right. Thirty miles?

She sighed and scraped her sweaty flyaways off her forehead. Surely this place was at least three universes from the life she’d known on Earth.

This was your choice, she told herself as she surveyed the room holding more stuff than she’d ever owned in her life. Yes, her mother had called her and said her grandfather needed help. And Scarlett had seized the opportunity to leave the city, something she’d been wanting to do since her divorce had become final.

No, she wasn’t wearing skirts and silks and heels anymore. She’d thought those things made her happy, but she knew now that they didn’t. Of course, neither did sleeping as late as she wanted, wearing jeans all the time, and cleaning out years of her grandfather’s hoard.

So maybe she hadn’t thought through this life choice as much as she should have. But how was she to know Gramps hadn’t thrown anything away since Grams had died? It wasn’t like Scarlett came out to the ranch all that often, despite the short distance from her previous apartment to this sprawling piece of land in the Glendora foothills, right at the base of the Angeles National Forest.

She was still in California—it only felt like she’d blasted off to the moon and was trying to organize it.

She picked up a jar with an unknown substance in it, hoping it was well-sealed and would stay that way. Probably something Grams had canned decades ago. Maybe grape juice. Scarlett wasn’t entirely sure, and she wasn’t going to find out. She’d rented an industrial-sized dumpster that she filled faster than the sanitation department would come pick it up. She’d made great progress on the ranch, getting the homestead cleaned out, as well as the three spare cabins that sat just behind the main house.

There were thirteen other cabins that sat near the entrance of the ranch, along with that robot mailbox she’d loved as a little girl. She smiled thinking about the contraption her great-grandfather had welded together and which her older brother had dubbed Prime, because he’d been learning about prime numbers in school at the time and there was only one robot mailbox like the one guarding Last Chance Ranch.

Those cabins had been empty for a while, and Scarlett hadn’t done much to them to make sure they were habitable. If she wanted to save Last Chance Ranch, she’d need to fill them with men and women willing to work. She’d need to find a way to pay those people. And she’d need to figure out how to get Gramps to let go of some of the stuff he thought he couldn’t live without.

Scarlett knew what he was doing wasn’t considered living. And she knew that what he couldn’t live without he couldn’t get back. Grams.

Another sigh left her mouth, and she gently set the jar of whatever-it-was in the wheelbarrow she was using to haul trash from what used to be a sun room to the dumpster. Oh, yes, this would be a sun room again, and she’d sit here with Gramps while he drank black coffee and she sipped chamomile tea. Oh, yes….

She dug back into the work, ignoring the sun as it continued to beat down on her. Item by item piled into the wheelbarrow until she tried to lift it and could barely do so. She hefted it into position and started for the dumpster, which was concealed on the east side of the homestead. That way, when the director for Forever Friends, the animal organization Scarlett had contacted to come see the facilities at the ranch, arrived, she wouldn’t see all the trash.

In fact, Scarlett was hoping to get all the trash off the premises before Jewel Nightingale showed up. Considering that the woman hadn’t even responded to one of Scarlett’s emails or phone calls kept her resting easy at night.

Oh, and all this physical labor. That certainly had her sleeping like a baby in a way her marketing executive job never had.

She passed a half a dozen cars and trucks on her trek from Gramps’s place to the garbage container, and she had no idea what to do about those. Gramps claimed none of them ran, and Scarlett certainly didn’t have the skill set to fix them. She could probably sell them and get some much-needed cash for the ranch if she could get any of the engines to turn over.

“At least Gramps has all the keys,” she muttered as she approached the trash bin. She couldn’t lift the wheelbarrow up and over the lip of the dumpster, so she’d been throwing items in one at a time, or shoveling them in with a strong, plastic snow shovel she’d found in one of the barns.

How Gramps had ever bought a snow shovel in California, Scarlett wasn’t sure. But it worked great to get trash up and into the container.

In the distance, dogs barked from their runs in the area of the ranch Scarlett had affectionately called the Canine Club. Gramps loved the dogs too, and he spent most of his time with them on the north side of the ranch. When she’d asked him how many dogs lived on the ranch, he’d said, “Maybe twenty.”

“Maybe?” Scarlett hadn’t meant to screech the word. “You don’t know how many dogs live here?”

“There’s at least twenty,” he’d said again. And so, when Scarlett’s muscles screamed at her to stop using them so strenuously, she’d go out to the different regions of the ranch—Canine Club, Feline Frenzy, Horse Heaven, Piggy Paradise, and LlamaLand—and document what lived there. What breeds, if she could figure it out. How many dogs, cats, llamas, horses.

She’d searched on the Internet and asked Gramps dozens of questions about what the animals ate and how he paid for the food. He seemed to have a schedule of volunteers coming out every day, seven days a week, to walk dogs and play with cats.

Oh, and the ranch had come with exactly one cowboy—a man named Sawyer Smith who gave horseback riding lessons on Saturday mornings, took care of the horses and cattle, and managed the majority of the crops on the ranch.

Scarlett had hardly ever seen Sawyer in the two weeks she’d been at Last Chance Ranch, and that was just fine with her. At forty-three-years-old, she was not interested in another romance. Nope. Not happening.

She finished unloading the last of the trash from the wheelbarrow, the thought of returning to go through more garbage almost so depressing she could fall to her knees. But she didn’t. She kept her back straight and clapped her work gloves together, sending dirt and dust into the air.

The dogs were really barking up a storm.

Scarlett left the wheelbarrow behind as she stepped onto the dirt lane in front of the homestead and started down it. Another road forked to the left a ways up, and that led to Canine Club and several barns where the goats lived.

If she were being honest, goats terrified her, and she’d never been happier to have brought a friend with her to the ranch. Adele Woodruff had worked in the city with Scarlett, and she’d needed a fresh start somewhere with less smog—and less likelihood of a debt collector showing up while she was trying to answer phones. Adele lived in the cabin right next door to Gramps, and she’d been tending to the goats, claiming she had a great way to start bringing in cash for the ranch.

She wouldn’t tell Scarlett what it was though, but she worked in the pastures and goat arena for hours with the animals.

Scarlett didn’t see her as she passed the cat houses and entered the Canine Club. “What’s going on?” she asked Annie, a white bulldog mix who seemed to be the matron of the club. “Where’s Gramps?”

She opened the gate and entered the dog community, where she’d documented a whopping twenty-six dogs lived. “Maybe twenty” had been way off, and the budget to feed and care for these dogs exceeded what Gramps brought in from his social security and Grams’s death benefit.

Scarlett really needed the partnership of Forever Friends, and she needed it quickly. After deciding she’d call Jewel again once she got back to where she could wash her hands, Scarlett pushed her fear away.

She had a lot of savings, and while she’d lost a lot in the divorce, it wasn’t all monetary. She wouldn’t allow herself to think of Billy and Bob for more than a moment. A quick whisper of thought, and then gone. It hurt too much that she didn’t have her own fur babies with her on this ranch where twenty-six other dogs lived. Billy and Bob would’ve loved the Canine Club, and they should’ve been there with her.

“Gramps?” she called, the moment where she thought of her own dogs over.

He didn’t answer, but a distinctly male voice said, “Hey, do you own this place?”

Scarlett spun toward the voice to find a tall, dreamy man wearing a cowboy hat and holding a leash.

“Scooby?” she asked, sure this man’s name wasn’t the cartoon character. “What are you doing with my dog?” Anger and iciness was the only defense she’d have against this man, she could tell.

“He was out on the road,” the man said, glancing down at the big brown boxer. “Hound managed to make friends with him while I got the leash on.”

Scarlett noticed the golden retriever at the man’s side—no leash required. So he had enough charm to make dogs do things according to his command. Of course he did. Scarlett felt his charisma and charm tingling way down in her toes.

“I wasn’t sure if he came from up here or not. I just followed the sound of all the barking.”

“He belongs here,” Scarlett said, stepping forward to take the leash from him. “Scooby, you’ve got to stop digging under the fences.” And not just because Scarlett struggled to fill in the holes.

“I’m Hudson Flannigan,” the man said, reaching up with his now-free hand to lift his cowboy hat and push his hair back. He had dark sideburns and at least three days’ worth of a beard to match his salt-and-pepper hair, and Scarlett’s heart betrayed her by sending out a couple of extra beats.

He was her age.

So what? she asked herself in a harsh mental voice. She was used to looking for and finding details no one else did, and this man clearly hadn’t bathed in a couple of days. Probably as long as it had taken to grow that sexy scruff.

She gave herself a mental shake as she found the tattered cuffs on his jeans, the well-worn cowboy boots, the soft sparkle in his eyes. And the hint of grease under his fingernails.

“I noticed your mailbox on the way in,” he said, that voice like melting butter.

“What of it?” she asked, trying to keep a grip on Scooby, who probably weighed as much as she did. She almost scoffed out loud. That so wasn’t true. She was no lightweight, and though she’d lost ten pounds since coming to the ranch and starting the physical labor, she was easily still a size fourteen.

“It looked like it could use a tune-up,” he said. “Some of the pieces need to be welded together again.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “And I suppose you’re just the man to do it.” Did he wander the foothills, looking for jobs?

“I could,” he said. “I’m a master welder and I’m not bad with horses either.” His dog laid down, his tongue out like this was the most boring conversation on the planet.

An idea formed in Scarlett’s mind. She definitely needed help with the horses. She’d been tending to them every morning and evening, but she had no idea what she was doing. “We have sixteen horses here at the ranch,” she said. “I have a guy who does riding lessons on the weekend.”

Hudson nodded and touched the brim of his hat as if to say, Point taken. You don’t need me.

“I can’t pay you much,” Scarlett said quickly. “But I have a clean cabin you can live in. Hound too. And you can fix that mailbox, work with Sawyer in Horse Heaven, and….” She cocked her head, sure she was right about him. “How handy are you with cars?”

Last Chance Ranch - Chapter Two:

Last Chance Ranch - Chapter Two:

If Hudson Flannigan had been doubting why he’d turned up this obscure road when he’d heard a dog bark, he quit the moment that auburn-haired beauty asked him how handy he was with cars.

“I do all right,” he said evasively. He didn’t need to go showing his whole hand at once. He also couldn’t help the steady prayer that started in his head and wouldn’t stop.

Please, please, Lord. I need this job. Please help me get this job.

Over and over the words looped through his mind. Of course, if God cared all that much about Hudson, his marriage of ten years wouldn’t have fallen apart. Or at least the Lord would’ve given him a clue that his wife was being unfaithful. Or maybe the fact that Hudson had lived so long in unknowing bliss had been more merciful of the Lord. The jury was still out on that one.

And Hudson had been down and out since the divorce, almost a year ago now. He hadn’t stayed in one place longer than a couple of months, and the constant travel was tiring.

The woman nodded toward his hands. “Looks like you’ve worked on one recently.”

“Just my truck,” he said, wanting to hide his hands.

“Well, I’m Scarlett Adams, and I’m running this ranch with my grandfather. He’s got at least six vehicles on the property that need fixing, and if you do it, I’ll split the profit with you.”

Hudson’s eyebrows went up. “What kind of split?”

“Eighty-twenty,” she said without missing a beat.

He scoffed, almost offended but enjoying this game with Scarlett too much. “You’re joking, right?”

“We own the vehicles. They just don’t run.”

“Which makes them useless,” he said. “I’ll go…eighty-twenty in my favor.”

She gaped at him, those beautiful eyes like pools of pond water he could dive into and swim around in. When she started laughing, Hudson smiled.

“You’re a funny guy,” she said, still giggling and still holding onto that boxer like she was trying to choke him.

Hudson stepped forward and took the leash from her. He let it slacken and hang at his side, saying, “Stay, Scooby.” The dog stayed. “I’ll just help you get him back inside then,” he said. “I didn’t own and operate my own mechanic shop for twenty years to fix someone else’s cars and not get paid for it.”

He moved past her, hoping she’d counteroffer. A place to live out on this beautiful land sounded mighty appealing.

Please, he thought again, wishing the last time he’d been to church wasn’t a month ago. But surely God understood why Hudson hadn’t gone. It was hard when people asked where he lived and he couldn’t give them an address.

He tried opening the door to the building she’d been standing in front of, but it was locked. Just like last time he’d tried. Maybe this gorgeous woman had distracted him too much.

“It takes a key card,” she said, squeezing in beside him and swiping a card in front of the reader. The door clicked, and she gestured for him to go in.

He did, his head swimming with the strawberry scent of her hair. She was dirty too, and somehow that added to her allure. “Where do you want him?”

“Over here.” She stepped over to one of the empty pens in the circular room. With ease, she pulled the bolt up and the gate swung in.

Hudson unclipped Hound’s leash from around the other dog’s neck and said, “Go on.” Scooby moved into the pen, and Scarlett locked him inside before facing Hudson again.

“Fifty-fifty,” she said.

“I want to see the cars,” he said.

Her eyes blazed with fire that wasn’t entirely angry, but that he knew would burn him just the same. And he didn’t mind. In fact, he thought he might like to be torched by this woman.

No, you don’t want that, he told himself. He’d been operating on half a heart since Jan’s betrayal. He hadn’t been able to go home, as his mom loved Jan as much as him. In fact, since the divorce, she’d hosted a birthday party for his ex-wife and they still played Bunko together monthly.

Hudson had always been a disappointment to his horse-training father, who didn’t understand how any son of his could be content with being a mechanic. So Hudson had wandered from San Diego to Sacramento, looking for odd jobs, anything that would fill the tank in his truck and get him something to eat.

Another day. Another dollar. Another job.

“Fine,” Scarlett clipped out. “Come with me.”

“C’mon, Hound,” he said as he followed the curvy woman back outside. The view was certainly better than any he’d had in a while, and he found another smile forming on his face.

His pulse seemed to start with the pleadings, every beat pushing out a please-please. Help-me. Please-Lord.

Scarlett marched down the road, Hudson matching her stride for stride. “There’s a couple of trucks,” she said. “Four cars, and that’s all in the main yard. There’s tractors and stuff in the equipment shed, though Sawyer says those run okay.”

“And do they?” he asked.

“I don’t really know,” she said. “I think everything around here needs a lot of attention and a good cleaning, the vehicles included.” She shot him a look out of the corner of her eye that he wasn’t sure if it was a glare or just a glance. “I’ve only been here for two weeks, and Gramps…well, Gramps is eighty-one-years-old, and a hoarder.”

Compassion ran through Hudson. She was stepping into a situation she couldn’t control. And making the best of it. Hudson had some experience with that, and he knew what kind of grit and determined spirit a person had to possess to do it.

“There they are,” she said, going around the corner of the house and stopping.

He paused too and took in the row of vehicles in front of him. The trucks were old—older than him, and maybe as old as her grandpa. If he could get those running, they’d fetch a lot of money.

The cars seemed to be old sedans, nothing important or all that note-worthy. But if they ran, and the upholstery was in good shape, he could get a few thousand for them. People bought cars like that for their teenagers all the time.

The numbers added up in his head, and he’d take fifty percent if she’d give it to him. He said, “Those cars aren’t worth anything. The trucks, maybe. Seventy-thirty.”


“For me?”

“For you.”

Hudson peered at the row of vehicles like he was really thinking about it. Several long moments passed, and then he said, “Deal.”

She turned toward him, that long dark red hair swinging in its ponytail. “Deal.” She extended her hand and he took it, ignoring the fizz of attraction now simmering in his bloodstream.

They shook hands, and she said, “I’ll get the paperwork drawn up. Do you want to see the cabin?”

* * *

An hour later, Hudson filled Hound’s bowl with fresh, cold water from the hose on the side of his new cabin. He left the dog to drink as he went up the back steps and into the cabin Scarlett had let him choose for himself.

There were thirteen almost identical cabins here at Last Chance Ranch, and he’d chosen the one in the corner of the U-shaped arrangement. It had a bigger yard for Hound, and a row of huge oak trees along the grass that would shade his place from the setting Western sun.

“Thank you,” he whispered to the empty room, the kitchen on his right, dining room on his left, and living room in front of him. The cabin was a box, with a hallway that led to a bedroom and a bathroom on the other side of the kitchen. So not somewhere he’d live and raise a family, but for him and Hound, it was perfect.

Absolutely perfect.

It had running water, which meant he could shower every day. A washing machine and dryer took up space in the bathroom, which meant he could wash his clothes whenever he wanted. There was a single couch in the living room, a table with two chairs in the dining room, and a bed, so he didn’t have to live in the back of his truck with the camper shell anymore.

His was full-size, and he could stand up almost all the way right in the doorway. If he wasn’t so tall, he’d be fine. His bed sat at the back of the truck bed, and he passed a kitchen with a microwave, sink, and two-burner stove on his left to get to the bed. He had plenty of storage for his stuff, and a bench he could sit on to put on his boots. But no toilet. The shower had a twenty-gallon tank that stayed hot when he decided to use it. He also had a built-in heater and air conditioner in the shell. Not that he needed the temperature regulators in May in California. He had used the heater a few times on rainy days in the winter, especially farther north.

He’d been eating a lot of microwaveable meals and canned foods, already prepared things like granola bars and bags of chips, and as he gazed at the full-sized stove and oven in the kitchen of this cabin, he thought he’d died and gone to heaven.

He could cook. He could do laundry. He could bathe. Hudson had never been happier, and he bent to retrieve his backpack so he could get out his charger, plug in his phone, and get it powered up while he showered. Then he’d call his brother Brent and tell him all about the stray dog that had provided him the opportunity to be proud of himself again.

After all, in the course of the last couple of hours, he’d gotten a job. A place to live that wasn’t on wheels. And a pretty redhead who kept popping up in his mind’s eye, despite her frosty reception of him.

He frowned into the warm spray of the shower—his best bath in months, by the way. He wasn’t looking for another girlfriend. His heart and life had been through the shredder lately, and he just needed something stable to figure out how to be the new Hudson now that he wasn’t part of a couple.

The past year had been one of great learning for him, but it was mostly how to be by himself. He wasn’t sure who he was without Jan, or how to be that person in a permanent place. It was easier to be a good person and be kind when he was just passing through.

Now, though, he’d have to figure out how to be kind and good and Christ-like when he saw the same people day after day.

Refreshed from his shower, he went out to his truck and got his welding tools together, determined to get his first job on this ranch complete. When he opened the front door, he found Scarlett coming up the steps with an older gentleman on her arm.

With her eyes down, she didn’t see him immediately, so he said, “Hey, let me help.” He moved to help her grandfather up the steps, and the old man looked up with pale blue, watery eyes.

“Gramps wanted to meet you,” Scarlett said. “He said Scooby is his favorite dog, and he’s just so grateful you found him and brought him back.” Her voice carried a measure of sarcasm and she rolled her eyes halfway when Hudson looked at her.

“Oh, it was no problem,” Hudson said, his kindest voice employed. He smiled at Scarlett and then her grandpa. “I’m just glad I found where he belonged.” He looped his hand through the old man’s arm too and steadied him as he moved up the steps.

“Gramps, this is Hudson Flannigan. He’s going to fix up all the vehicles on the ranch.” She beamed at her grandfather and then Hudson, the brightness of her smile fading a bit when their eyes locked.

But for Hudson, his whole soul lit up like a solar flare, and he had a hard time tearing his eyes from hers.

“Good, good,” her grandfather said. “That lawn mower stopped working a few weeks ago, too. Maybe he could look at that.”

“I could,” Hudson said as a feeling that he’d just signed on for a heck of a lot more than he’d thought. This ranch needed a lot of work—it was called Last Chance Ranch, after all. And Hudson definitely felt like he was on his last chance.

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