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Read Chapters 13 and 14 here

Read Chapters 13 and 14 here

Read Chapter 1 and 2 here.

Read Chapter 3 and 4 here.

Read Chapter 5 and 6 here.

Chapters 7 and 8 are here.

Chapters 9 and 10 are here.

Chapters 11 and 12 are here.

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Contracted Cowboy, Chapter Thirteen:

Georgia cleaned out the gingerbread house cabin alone, having volunteered just so she’d have something to do to get her out of the homestead. Robyn had won, of course, almost by a landslide.

The family party at the restaurant had been almost insufferable, but Georgia had survived by sticking close to the table with all the drinks and hanging out with Cami and Ivy. Only a couple of people had asked her where Logan was, and her sister and her cousin had dispatched them on some random task to get them off the subject.

The whole family knew about the break-up now, but it didn’t matter anymore. The holiday parties were all over, except for one last ranch dinner tonight. It was only her branch of the Quinn family, and none of them had a significant other, so Logan would’ve stuck out anyway.

Everyone who’d wanted to keep their gingerbread house had come to get their craft already, and Georgia had said she’d take care of the rest. So the big black garbage bin was full of broken houses, and she’d just finished taking down all the tables. She’d need to borrow a ranch truck to get them back to the party rental store, but she was going to do that after Christmas.

Finished, she pulled her coat back on and headed outside. She’d been to visit the Quinn family cemetery a few times in the past couple of weeks, but she went again. Her favorite headstones were the oldest ones, from many years ago.

“Hello, Grandma-great.” Georgia smiled down at the grave marker and kept walking. Her steps were slow, measured, so she could find the things she wanted to say. “How did you and Jerry meet?”

She didn’t know all the stories of her ancestors, but she wished she did. She could probably ask Granny, who probably had a half-dozen albums and books that had all the pictures and stories Georgia could want.

Though it was Gramps’s family line, Granny was really into the genealogy of the Quinns.

“I bet you didn’t have problems,” she said to Jerry’s headstone. “Or maybe you did, but you knew how to fix them. I don’t know what to do.”

Logan had texted several times the first week after their break-up, but he’d stopped after the family party last week.

“It’s Christmas Eve,” she said to the next buried couple. “Family dinner tonight. I miss Logan.” Where those words had come from, she wasn’t sure. She hadn’t thought them before they’d slipped from her mouth.

But she couldn’t make it through another relationship where she was constantly paranoid about where her boyfriend was, or who he was with.

“I should get back to the homestead,” she said. “I have a pot of chicken noodle soup to make.” She kept her hands deep in her pockets as she held onto the sense of peace and quiet in the cemetery.

She made it to the end of the row and down the next, her breath steaming before her. “Well, I love you guys,” she said to her family before making her way to her car parked out front and going back to the homestead.

And she did love her family, though some of them were a bit on the quirky side with crystal healing and palm reading. She supposed she could be considered just as eccentric for the way she talked to dead people and pigs.

Inside the homestead, it was clear both kitchens were being used, as it smelled like bacon as well as pumpkin pie. Rhodes stood in the kitchen with an apron around his waist, mixing the bacon into cream cheese, corn, and garlic.

“How’s the corn and bacon dip coming?” she asked.

“Ready,” he pronounced with one final stir. He put a lid on the huge measuring bowl and slid it into the fridge to chill. “I’ll get out of your hair.”

“Thanks, but you can stay.” She honestly didn’t want to be alone, and Rhodes was actually good company.

“I’ve got to go help Dad finish the wall in their house,” he said, flashing her a smile. “And then I’m going to go down to the entrance and get Grams and Gramps. One of the cowboys told me the llamas and pigs needed more hay.”

“All right. I’ll take care of them when I’m done here.” Georgia put on her own apron and got to work on the soup. An hour later, it was finished and ready, and she escaped the heat of the homestead, which would be full in only another hour.

She stepped onto the back porch and heard one of her beloved pigs oinking. She remembered what Rhodes had said about the hay. Unconcerned, but with a smile on her face, she went down the steps and started toward the pasture where her pigs were.

She was almost there when she heard the hammering. Her steps slowed and stopped, her head swiveling from Columbus the squealer to the doorless entrance to the barn. Maybe she’d imagined the sound, but there it came again.

Strong, steady thwacks of the hammer, from someone who knew what they were doing. Georgia’s heartrate picked up at the same rate as her anger. Who was in her barn?

She lifted her chin, her determination filling her. Inside the barn, all her pomp fled at the sight of Logan Locke on the ladder, working to put in the footings for the hay loft.

He wore jeans, a T-shirt, and a vest, as if that clothing was warm enough for winter. He was rugged and handsome, and everything Georgia wanted in her life.

It was as if every experience they’d had together over the past few months streamed through her mind in only a few seconds. She remembered his laugh. How easy the conversation between them had been. How warm his hands were. How safe and secure she felt with him.

How much she loved him.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, nowhere near the bark she’d been going for.

Logan looked at her, his vibrant green eyes drinking her in. “Finishing the job I was hired to do.”

“Logan.” She didn’t know what else to say.

He picked up another nail and added another board to the loft, hammering it surely in place with a few hits. “That woman in the pictures is Carol Anne. We dated about four years ago, and she skipped town in the middle of the night.”

Another board, another glance in her direction, more hammering.

“Seeing her at the hot springs was a shock. Did you know I’d actually called the police when she’d disappeared?” He shook his head. “Talk about embarrassing.” He continued to place boards and secure them in place.

“The first time we spoke, you were there and saw it.” He looked right at her. “I’ve never lied to you. There is nothing between Carol Anne and me.”

Georgia found herself nodding, because he spoke in a strong, sincere voice. “Cami had pictures,” she said.

Logan climbed down off the ladder and put the hammer on the workbench. “I realize that. But they’re innocent. Once she’d apologized, we talked a little bit. She gave me a hug for forgiving her. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going on with her.” He took a few steps toward Georgia. “I’ve never lied to you, and I’ve never cheated on you. Georgia.” He took her hands, and she was too numb to do much more than think. “Georgia, please believe me.”

Logan was here. Finishing the barn. Saying all the right things—and she did believe him.

“Georgia, I’m in love with you, and I’ll do anything I have to in order to get you back.” He gazed down at her, and she felt the truthfulness of his words all the way down in her toes.

“Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it,” he said.

“Well,” she said, swallowing. “First, you’re going to kiss me, and then we’re going to finish this barn.”

Contracted Cowboy, Chapter Fourteen:

Logan couldn’t believe talking to Georgia had been as easy as it had been. He knew they still had some things to work out, but as he bent his head toward Georgia, he thought he could handle whatever discussions they still needed to have.

He touched his lips to hers gently, seeking permission, and she sighed into him. Encouraged by what she’d said and her reaction, he kissed her again, holding on longer and really letting her know how he felt.

He did love her. He wanted her to know, and while he’d said it, there was nothing like feeling it.

The best part of this whole scenario was that she kissed him back. She hadn’t said those three little words, but Logan felt them way down in his soul.

When he finally came to his senses and pulled away, he felt like he was complete again. “I’m really sorry,” he whispered.

“I know you are.” She opened her eyes, those beautiful hazel pools he loved so much. “I am too. I over-reacted, I know that. I do. I just….” She trailed off, and Logan pressed his forehead to hers.

“You don’t have to explain.” He’d never had anyone cheat on him before, and he wasn’t quite sure he could imagine it, but he was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. Trying to imagine how he’d feel if she’d been unfaithful to him behind his back.

He couldn’t quite envision it, and he was glad for that, but he could try to be empathetic and kind to her as she worked through some things.

She exhaled and backed up, tucking her hands into her coat pockets, glancing around. “Logan,” she said. “You’ve been here longer than a day.”

“Every day this week,” he said. “I’m almost done.” In fact, the loft and the ladder up to it were all that remained. “I wanted to finish it for you for Christmas. Then I was going to come knock on the door and tell you.”

Her eyes met his. “How did you do this without me knowing?”

He chuckled, his eyes tracing all the things he’d finished, from the shelves along the door, to the door itself, to the almost-finished loft. “I honestly don’t know. That hammer is loud, and I haven’t tried to be quiet. Rhodes caught me on the first day.”

“Rhodes?” She faced him again.

“Yeah, he said he wouldn’t say anything.”

“He told me the animals needed more hay down here.” She strode through the door to the fence. “He’s such a liar.” She returned to the barn, her eyes flashing with that fire Logan liked so much.

“You think he told you that to get you down here?”

“That’s exactly what I think.” She smiled and started laughing, and Logan did too.

She sobered and turned toward the doorway again. “I haven’t come out to see the pigs for a few days,” she said. “They reminded me too much of you, actually.”

“Oh, now no one wants to hear that.” He laughed again, stepping over to her. “I did a door here that slides,” he said. “Instead of swinging open and closed. Takes up less space, and I thought the shelves here would be nice for feed or equipment or supplies.”

“They are nice.” She leaned into him. “I suppose you want to know about Simon, right?”

“Only what you want to tell me, sweetheart.” Logan had no idea how to help Georgia, but he’d do his best.

“Maybe another day,” she said. “It’s Christmas Eve, and I just want to enjoy it with my boyfriend.”

Logan had never heard better words, and he went with Georgia as she moved back outside to her beloved pigs and llamas. They stood there until she said she was cold, and then he went into the homestead with her.

He’d only been here a few times, and once it had been full of people. The other times, he’d just picked her up and they’d left. But today, she gave him the full tour, including her office, which screamed about her organization and obsession with things being straight and even. Now that he knew her better, he understood her need to ensure that everything lined up just-so.

She wasn’t perfect, but what she could control, she tried to make that way.

Logan wasn’t perfect either, and he stood in her office, wanting to give her the world. “When my mom and dad were dating, they had a fight,” he said. “My dad knew he was going to be a potato farmer, and that life wasn’t exactly what he thought my mom wanted.”

He wasn’t sure why he was telling her this, only that he wanted to know where she really stood. “I don’t even have a potato farm, Georgia. Look at this office. Look at what you have. I can’t give you any of that.”

“Of course you can,” she said.

“How do you think I’m going to do that? Rhodes is going to inherit this place. Maybe his new wife will want to run it. Or he will. I mean, I know what you do is valuable.” Logan paused for a moment, some of his insecurities and fears coming out in his voice.

“Maybe we should buy a ranch of our own,” she said. “I know that’s what you want, Logan.”

“I’m scared,” he admitted.

“Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith,” Georgia said. “You don’t even know if you can afford a ranch, because you’ve never gone and talked to someone.”

“Dinnertime!” a woman called, and Logan turned from the doorway. The other Quinn siblings started filling the kitchen, along with their parents, and Rhodes came in a moments later with his grandmother and grandfather.

With just the nine of them, plus him, they could fit at the regular dining room table, and Logan stood back and watched as everyone started putting their culinary contributions on the counter.

Rhodes had made corn and bacon dip, much to his grandfather’s delight. Betsy, the self-proclaimed chef, had done a brown-sugar glazed ham, while Cami had made a cheesy scalloped potato to go with it. Georgia had crafted chicken noodle soup, and Logan knew what he’d be eating. And Jessie had made honey wheat bread.

It wasn’t classic Christmas fare—well, maybe the ham was—but it was exactly what Logan expected from this family. He loved them all, and he could hardly believe he might have a shot at becoming one of them.

“Logan,” Betsy said with more surprise in her voice than he thought necessary. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh,” Georgia said, stepping out from behind the kitchen counter. “Everyone, Logan and I made up. He’s here for dinner.” She beamed at him, and Logan could only smile back, especially as everyone welcomed him back.

Her mother stepped over to him while he waited in line and said, “It’s good to see you, Logan.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“How’s your mother?”

“Doing great.”

“You know she and I play bunko every month, right?” The way Georgia’s mother looked at him, Logan had a feeling that something very significant was being said.

“I did not know that.” He picked up a slice of bread, which still felt warm. “Seems like you’d know how she’s doing if you see her all the time.”

“Yes, well, we’ve been worried about you and Georgia.”

Logan ladled soup into his bowl. “Are you telling me…what are you telling me?”

“My family likes to meddle,” Georgia said. “It’s usually Granny, but I have to say, Mom, you’ve done a fine job.”

“I do not meddle,” she said, her voice a bit haughty. “I simply suggested to Lucy that she talk to you about…talking to Georgia.”

“To be fair,” Logan said. “Georgia is a little scary.” He whispered the last few words, which caused her mother to laugh and Georgia to say, “Hey.”

“I’m kidding,” Logan said. “Kind of.” He ginned at her and took a seat at the table next to Betsy. “So are you and Knox dating?”

“What?” She scoffed. “No.” She was much better at fibbing than Knox, as her face didn’t even turn red. “He’s the farrier and I see all the cowboys when they come to the homestead for meals.” She immediately turned to Jessie and asked her something, so Logan let the subject drop. At least for now.

After dinner, he and Georgia cuddled on the couch, and he thought about looking up some more ranches, really doing the leg work he needed to in order to have all the facts. “I think I’m going to go talk to someone about buying a ranch,” he said. “At least then I’ll have all the information and can make an informed decision.”

“I like that idea,” Georgia said.

Logan did too.

* * *

Six months later:

“I don’t know,” he said, the Idaho summer wind pulling at his cowboy hat. He put one hand on top of his head to keep the hat in place. “Which one do you like better?”

Georgia, hatless, squinted out at the horizon, which was still the ranch they’d come to visit. “I like this one best,” she said. “Number one, it’s still in Quinn Valley, and number two, it’s bigger.”

“The homestead needs a lot more work,” he said. “And did you see that yard?” He shook his head. This wasn’t anything like Quinn Valley Ranch, with its sprawling green lawns and perfectly manicured roads. Even the gravel stayed where it was supposed to on her family’s ranch.

“So we’ll fix it up.” She put her arms around him. “Together. It has more cattle, and there’s even a pasture for all my llamas.”

He chuckled though part of him was still nervous. “It’s the pigs you care about, sweetheart. Don’t think I don’t know that.”

“We’ll have to build a barn for them,” she said. “They have a lot of special dietary needs.”

Logan grinned at the gently waving grasses, this patch of earth something he could afford and something where he and Georgia could build their family, their future, together. “I think I know how to build a barn,” he said.

“Then I think you—we—should get this one.”

Logan had wanted to have somewhere to call his own before he and Georgia took the next step in their relationship. That, and she needed more time to really trust him. They both needed time to understand that their relationship was real and could be lasting.

Logan knew it could be, and if he could get this ranch, he thought he might finally have everything he’d ever wanted.

But he needed her too, so he turned toward her and asked, “So this one?”

“This one.” She gazed up at him and smiled.

“And Georgia?” he asked.

“Yeah?”

“How do you feel about getting married?”

Shock paraded across her face, especially when Logan dropped to his knees and started fumbling in his pocket for the ring he’d carried with him everywhere for the past two months. “I think we should start some of our own family traditions,” he said. “And there’s no one I want to do that with other than you. Will you marry me?” He held out the ring, hoping the wind didn’t try to steal it from his fingers.

She stared at it and then him, finally taking a breath. “Yes,” she said as she exhaled. “Yes.” The second time she said it, the word was practically a shriek. She squealed and laughed as Logan slipped the ring onto her finger, got to his feet, and kissed her.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you too, cowboy.”

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