Montana Hearts: Her Weekend Wrangler (5 page)

BOOK: Montana Hearts: Her Weekend Wrangler
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“ ‘You won’t know if you don’t ask,’ ”
said, quoting one of her own famous lines. “The Tanners have helped us in the past when you weren’t around. Good-­hearted boys.”

“If you say so.” Bree didn’t think her grandma knew what the Tanners said behind their backs when they didn’t think anyone was listening.

Grandma pulled off her gloves. “Luke and Delaney, you keep working. Bree, you follow me into the house. There’s something
I want to give you.”

Relieved by the change of subject, Bree walked with her grandma through the back door of the house and into the kitchen.

After they’d washed their hands, Grandma opened a drawer and withdrew a square tissue-­wrapped package tied with teal-­colored curling ribbon. “Happy Birthday, Bree.”

“It’s not my birthday for another three weeks,” she said, taking the gift.

Bree hadn’t realized how much she’d missed the warm, tantalizing smell of fresh-­baked bread or seeing her grandma’s vibrant red and yellow rooster decorations on the walls, or the blue patterned china stacked neatly behind the glass doors of the corner cabinet. The kitchen had always been a special place of sharing, whether it be food, chores, or cherished heart-­to-­heart conversation. The
fact her grandma had chosen to give her the birthday present
made the gift even more special.

She untied the ribbon, noting that Grandma had remembered teal was her favorite color. Then she opened the tissue paper and drew out a teal scarf. “Oh, Grandma, this matches my sunglasses and the trim on my new boots!”

“I embroidered your initials in the corner,” Grandma said, pointing a
crooked finger.

Bree ran her hand over the soft, silky surface of the scarf and tied it around her neck. The fine, lightweight linen embellished with lace mesh and tassel finishing meant her frugal grandma, who never spent a penny extra if she could help it, had spent
extra pennies on her. “I love it, Grandma.”

“And I love you.” Her grandma stood on her tiptoes and grasped hold
of her chin with her thumb and forefinger. “I thought a little ‘bling’ might boost your confidence. It doesn’t hurt to look your best when you go over to the Tanners to ask for their help. Wear this scarf, remember that you’re ‘hot,’ too, and face those boys with pride.”

Bree swallowed hard, knowing there would be no further argument with the sly, weather-­worn ranch woman. Apparently Grandma
knew exactly how to handle
, too, and although her nerves wanted to buck the notion of approaching the Tanners, she nodded her head in assent.

“Yes, Grandma.”

natural horsemanship techniques and equine body language, but there was something about the way Bree moved among the horses that made her extra special.

His thoughts drifted to that summer before their senior
year when Bree had stood in the arena at the fairgrounds working with another competitor’s colt. She didn’t care that the foal wasn’t hers. As soon as she saw the owner was having trouble getting the colt to listen, she walked on over and began to help.

“You need to relax,” she’d told the other young lady. “He can sense your tension. Smile. Hum a tune. Let the colt see you are someone he wants
to be around.”

Ryan had walking through the covered section of the grandstand stadium, hoping to catch a minute of shade before his next roping event. Instead, he’d taken a seat, interested in hearing what she had to say. Bree had been amazing. Her graceful movements around the colt were so effortless and cohesive it was like watching a marble roll around and around inside a funnel until it
finally got close enough to the center hole and fell through. By the time Bree got close to the colt, the little guy was eating out of her hand and following her around like a puppy.

Wanting to congratulate her on a job well done and ask her more about the techniques she used, he made his way down to the arena. Except he hadn’t been alone. Two girls from school had looped their arms through
his and went down to the arena with him.

Apparently Bree wasn’t as good with ­people as she was with the horses. When she saw him she didn’t smile. Or hum. And she certainly didn’t seem like she wanted him to be around when she pressed her lips together and glared at him. He couldn’t remember the exact cutting remark she’d given him, but he did know that was the day he’d decided to study natural
horsemanship techniques and become a certified trainer.

He’d trained dozens of young horses over the years. But he still couldn’t match Bree.

She had a style all her own.

After another failed attempt to draw close to the horses in his charge, Ryan pulled himself up out of the dust and slapped his hat against his thigh. The mare flattened her ears back and glared at him over her shoulder
as he circled back around her and the filly. Then he retreated to safety behind the gate and wiped his brow.

“Any progress?” his brother Dean asked, walking over from the cattle shed.

“None. Unless you think a kick to the gut means she likes me.”

“I call it ‘connecting,’ ” Dean teased, “which is very important in any relationship.”

“What I need to do is connect with the filly,
not her mother.”

“Have you asked Bree if she can help out?”

“I went over to her ranch, but—­” Ryan shook his head. “It wasn’t a good time.”

it be a good time?” Dean demanded. “You don’t have a whole lot of time left.”

“I know.” Ryan shook the remaining dust off his hat and placed it back on his head. He’d had Aunt Mary’s horses for three days and hadn’t made any progress.
In fact, he’d needed his mother to lead the pair back and forth between their stall and the corral because the mare still wouldn’t let him come near them.

Dean shrugged. “Do you want me to ask her?”

“I’m not sure Bree will agree to do it.”

“What other option do you have?”

Ryan glanced at the overprotective mare and the filly nestled by her side. “I’ll ask her after church next
Sunday. Maybe the ser­vice will put her in a charitable mood.”

Dean grinned. “Why not now?”

“What do you mean ‘now’?”

His brother put a hand on his shoulder, spun him around, and pointed. “Look.”

Bree Collins parked a red pickup next to their house, got out, and pushed her teal sunglasses to the top of her head. After adjusting the matching scarf about her neck, she spotted them
and walked over, her beautiful long legs drawing the majority of his attention.

Ryan heard his brother’s low whistle and felt his hand slap his shoulder, but he didn’t look at him. He was too busy wondering what had brought Bree, of all ­people, to the Tanner ranch . . . and how he could connect with

to multitudes of top-­notch professionals while working in New York,
but none of those meetings made her as nervous as this one did now.

She’d already met two of the Tanner brothers in town earlier that morning. Just as she’d suspected, when she’d asked them to fill the wrangler position they turned her down flat. If it hadn’t been for her grandma’s optimism the day before, she wouldn’t have even tried. Now she had to face the last two Tanners, and if she wasn’t
mistaken, it seemed from their grins that they were already laughing at her.

“Good morning, Bree. We sure are glad to see you.” Dean’s tone was overly warm and welcoming, and she wondered if he was being sarcastic.

Ryan, his T-­shirt and jeans covered in splotches of ground-­in dirt, stood a few feet away and kept his gaze on her, but didn’t say a word.

Not one to play games, she decided
to get right to the point. “I’m looking for a weekend wrangler to lead mini-­roundups for our guests this summer. Are either of you interested?”

“Not me,” Dean said, stepping back. He exchanged a quick glance with Ryan. “I’ll leave you two alone.”

As Dean walked away, Bree’s stomach lurched, and she wished she could retreat back to her pickup, but Ryan had still not given her an answer.

He narrowed his gaze. “What happened? Did the wrangler your ranch managers hire back out?”

“Something like that.” Bree wondered how much she should tell him. “You know Susan and Wade are no longer with us?”

Ryan nodded. “Small town. News travels fast.”

“Now I’ll be the one managing the hiring.”

“Does that mean you’ll be sticking around for a while?” He almost sounded hopeful.

She hesitated. “For now.”

“I don’t need any extra work,” he said, glancing at the horses in the paddock. “I’ve got enough demands on my time right here.”

Bree felt the air drain from her lungs and she turned to go. She was right. The Tanners were a waste of

“But I’m willing to make you a deal.”

She glanced over her shoulder and turned back. “What kind of deal?”

“I’ll wrangle for you on weekends over the next thirty days, if you help me.”

Bree turned toward him. “Help
? How?”

“Train a filly for the Fox Creek halter show in mid-­June. I use a combination of natural horsemanship methods to train my horses. If you agree, I’ll have you help desensitize the filly to human touch, get her used to wearing a halter, learn not to spook at loud noises,
waving objects, or crowds. Most important . . . I need to convince the filly she can trust me so she’s not always glued to her mom.”

Bree frowned. “You and your brothers can’t do this on your own?”

Ryan scowled and glanced away from her. “No.”

She didn’t believe him, but let the matter drop because she had no intention of accepting his offer. “I haven’t worked with horses in a long

Ryan turned his gaze back toward her. “You used to be good.”

She shook her head. “Not anymore.”

“Do you want to see her?”

She didn’t. “I don’t think that will be necessary.”

Ryan gestured toward the fenced corral beside them. “She’s right there, hiding behind the mare.”

Bree glanced into the enclosure, but didn’t see the filly. She stepped closer to the gate
and a chestnut mare raised her head, looked at her with curious ears pricked forward, and turned toward her. As she did, a bay filly came into view and Bree let out a sigh. Newborns were too cute, too hard to resist.

And this one had a white star on her forehead . . . just like Serenity.

Both mare and baby drew close enough to nuzzle her hand. Bree smiled. “They like me.”

“See?” Ryan
called from behind.

Opening the gate, she let herself into the corral, and rubbed her hands over the filly’s feathery mane. Silky soft, like her scarf. “How many days a week would you need me to work with them?”

“Two or three. An even trade.” Ryan came through the gate and the mare pinned back her ears, lunged forward, and snapped at him. He jumped back.

Bree broke into a smile. “The
mare does
like you. Is that why you need me?”

Ryan nodded and stepped back even farther. “Yes.”

Bree glanced at the filly again, so much like her own mare, only younger. Her throat tightened and her eyes stung. “No, I . . . I can’t.”

Ryan’s expression hardened. “Then there’s no way I’m working for you on weekends.”

Bree thought of the guests scheduled to arrive at her ranch,
the three CEOs with their large financial deposit, and her family. The mini-­roundup was the highlight of each week, the main reason ­people preferred staying at their guest ranch instead of the Owenses’ next door. She had to have a wrangler.

Clenching her teeth, she circled the mare and filly, rubbing her hand along their sides as she went. Twice a week for one month was just eight days she’d
have to bring herself to step into a barn and deal with her memories of Serenity. She leaned her head against the mare’s shoulder and closed her eyes. Could she do it?

“Just one month,” Ryan coaxed, his voice drawing closer. “A temporary arrangement that will buy you time to find someone else for the rest of the season.”

She drew in a shaky breath. “I don’t know.”

“Bree,” he said,
his voice taking on a playful quality, “I need you.”

The mare’s shoulder muscle stiffened beneath her cheek, signaling his approach. Then Bree felt someone lift the scarf from the back of her neck and give her a gentle massage.

Bree froze. How dare he! Did Ryan think he could get her to change her mind by
with her? This was exactly why she’d never team up with a man like him.
He seemed to think he could charm his way into getting whatever he wanted.

She whirled around, and for a split second she was confused by the fact Ryan was still several yards away. Then she and the filly bonked heads and the blow knocked her off her feet.

Ryan called, running through the gate.

He stopped up short when the mare spun and kicked her hind legs. Then the mare and
filly bolted away from him. Bree watched the scene in a daze, and for some reason it made her laugh.

Ryan ran toward her and scooped her into his arms. “Are you all right?”

“The filly’s hardheaded.”

“Yeah, well, so are you.” He carried her out of the paddock and closed the gate. Then, setting her back on the ground, he knelt beside her and waved his hand in front of her face. “How
many fingers am I holding up?”

“Two.” She raised a finger to the pain centered on her forehead, felt a large lump, and winced. “This isn’t going to be pretty.”

“You’re always pretty. But for a moment there I thought you were going to end up in the hospital like your dad.”

He thought she was pretty?

Ryan gave her another look of concern. “Would you like an ice pack?”

“No, but—­”
Her hands flew toward her neck.

“Does your neck hurt?”

Bree shook her head and glanced at the ground around her, then toward the corral. “The filly stole my scarf!”

“I’ll buy you a new one,” Ryan promised.

“You don’t understand,” she said, scrambling to her feet. “That scarf is

BOOK: Montana Hearts: Her Weekend Wrangler
5.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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