Her Cowboy Hero (Refuge Ranch)

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9780373818105: Her Cowboy Hero (Refuge Ranch)

Montana rodeo star Tanner Fortier is a good man. A man Keira Bannister never stopped loving. But when he shows up at Refuge Ranch looking to have his late brother's saddle repaired in time for the championships, he's the last person Keira wants to see. For years, she's kept hidden the real reason for breaking their engagement—and Tanner's heart. But now, with him at the ranch, she's tempted to reveal the truth—one that could destroy him. But she knows that to have a future with the man of her dreams, she has to settle the past... 

Refuge Ranch:  Where a Montana family comes home to love.

"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.

About the Author:

Carolyne Aarsen lives in Northern Alberta where she was born, raised and married and has raised four children and numerous foster children. Carolyne's writing has been honed between being a stay-at-home mother, housewife, gardener, crafter columnist and business partner with her husband in their cattle farm and logging business. Writing for Love Inspired has given her the chance to combine her love of romance writing with her love for the Lord.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

It had been many months and many miles since he'd driven this road to Refuge Ranch. A lot of memories and a lot of pain.

Tanner Fortier's foot hit the brakes as he stopped his truck at the top of the hill, a cloud of snow swirling around his vehicle. From this vantage point he looked across the basin cradling Refuge Ranch to the mountains beyond; their gray, forbidding surfaces softened by the winter snowpack, a hard white against the endless blue of the Montana sky.

He shivered a moment, the chill of winter easing into the cab of his pickup. The side windows hadn't completely cleared of frost since Bozeman.

Tanner stacked his gloved hands on the steering wheel, reinforcing his defenses before descending into the valley and the Bannister Ranch. He hadn't come willingly. He would have preferred to go directly to the Circle C Ranch. Though he hadn't been away from his childhood home as long as from the Bannister ranch, he would have liked to spend some time there, catch his breath before coming here.

He rolled his shoulder, tensing against the pain that knifed through it, a souvenir from a rank saddle bronc who had spun in when Tanner expected him to spin out. Tanner had lost his seat but, as if to add insult to injury, had also received a well-placed kick that had dislocated his shoulder and put him out of the money for that particular rodeo and had ruined his saddle.

Monty Bannister had been the one who made that saddle, and Tanner wanted Monty to be the one to fix it. Hence his trip here first. The sooner the saddle was fixed, the sooner Tanner could head out on the road again.

The fact that Keira Bannister, his old girlfriend and fiancée, was back living at Refuge Ranch was something he'd have to deal with.

Tanner sent up a quick prayer for strength, put his truck in gear and headed down the road. He wouldn't be long. Just a quick chat with Monty Bannister, drop off his saddle, say hello to his stepmother, who was staying at the Bannister ranch to help Ellen recuperate, and then head back to his father's ranch a few miles down the road.

Correction, stepmother's ranch. The thought could still gall him even after all these years. In spite of working alongside his father since he was a little boy, everything changed when his father died unexpectedly of a heart attack five years ago. When the will was read after the funeral, Tanner found out the ranch had been willed to his stepmother in its entirety. And a couple of months later, Alice had made it clear that she preferred that her natural son, David, take over the ranch. Not Tanner.

In spite of all of that, it was still his childhood home. Tanner had figured on staying at the Circle C for the few days it took for his saddle to be repaired and then heading back to his garage in Sheridan, then off to his buddy's ranch near Vegas to get ready for the National Finals Rodeo. The super bowl of rodeos. The big one.

The rodeo that would, hopefully, help him let go of the burden that had been haunting him the past two years.

He cut through a grove of snow-laden ponderosa pines then slowed as he entered the draw sheltering the ranch buildings. Refuge Ranch looked so much the same it gave him an ache. And yet, as he looked over the familiar gathering of barns, hay sheds, bunkhouse and main house, he noticed a new addition. Tucked behind a grove of trees, to the left of the main house was another house that had been built while he was gone.

Was it Keira's? he wondered as he pulled into the yard.

Then, as he made that final turn, he saw her.

Her face was hidden by a misshapen cowboy hat pulled low over her head and a red knitted scarf wound around her neck. A too-large, worn oilskin coat flapped around her legs, meeting laced sheepskin boots.

It could have been anyone.

Except Tanner knew that sideways tilt of her head, how she always bunched her hands inside the sleeves of her coats. How, even bundled in winter clothes, he recognized the way her purposeful stride ate up the ground.

His heart gave an unwelcome thump and his foot hit the brake too hard. His truck slid a foot or two on the packed snow, then came to a halt just as Keira Bannister looked up.

He knew the moment she saw him. Her hands fell out of her sleeves and dropped to her sides. Her narrow chin came up and her lips thinned. Even though her bangs hung well over her eyes, he caught a glitter in their blue depths that matched the chill of the sky above them. She looked angry, which puzzled him, which, in turn, made him angry.

She was the one who had broken up with him. He was the one who, if his life was a country song, had been done wrong. What right did she have to be angry?

He was the one who had tried to get them back together after their breakup when he'd returned from that string of rodeos they'd fought about. But when he'd come back to Saddlebank, she'd disappeared. Hadn't responded to any of his calls, emails or texts. Absolute silence. And on top of that, she hadn't even bothered showing up at his stepbrother's funeral two years ago. Keira had known David almost as well as she'd known Tanner. But in no way did she acknowledge the loss of Tanner's stepbrother and rodeo partner. She hadn't bothered to send a note, a card, not even the courtesy of a simple text message.

What right did she have to look so angry?

Their gazes held a moment and in spite of the raft of negative feelings the sight of her created, woven through them all was an emotion older and deeper than that new anger and frustration. An emotion that had grown and matured as they grew up together, friends, confidants and then sweethearts.

Tanner swallowed, as if the tightening of his throat could keep those older feelings from rising up. He was surprised at how easily they returned when he saw her. He had heard, via his stepmother, Alice, that Keira had come back to Saddlebank two years ago. A month after David's funeral.

He knew nothing more than that. After David's death Tanner had had no reason to return to Saddlebank so he had stayed away, working in the mechanic business that had been part of the reason he and Keira had broken up.

He took a deep breath, clapped his hat on his head and stepped out of the pickup into the chill wind that whistled down from the mountains. The sooner he got this done, the sooner he could be on his way.

He closed his truck door, tugged on his gloves, turned up the collar of his woolen coat against the cold wind that cut through the yard and walked toward Keira.

She watched him as he came, her head up, her mouth still a tight line, her cheeks a rosy glow. Blond strands of hair had slipped free from her hat and caught the wind, waving in front of her face. She batted them away, her eyes on him.

Beautiful as ever.

He caught the errant thought and pushed it back into the past.

"Hey, Keira," he said as he approached her. He stopped himself from adding the ubiquitous how are you doing because it seemed superfluous.

"Hey, Tanner," was her tight reply, her breath creating wisps of vapor tugged by the wind as she tucked her wayward hair back under her hat. She reached down and petted her dog, Sugar, on his head, then shot another look at Tanner.

Sugar released a gentle whine, then trotted over to Tanner and sniffed at him. Then he sat down, looking up as if expecting something from him.

"Hey, Sugar," Tanner said, petting the dog, who seemed happier to see him than Keira did.

He looked back at her. They stood facing each other a moment, like combatants trying to decide who would make the first move. Guess it was up to him. "So how's your mother feeling?" he asked as Sugar stretched, then returned to Keira's side.

"Today is a better day, according to your mom." She angled her chin toward the main ranch house. "You going in to see Alice? She's there right now."

"I will in a few minutes." Tanner's stepmother was a home care nurse and right now her job was taking care of Keira's mother, Ellen Bannister, as well as babysitting Adana, John's little girl. John Argall was the ranch's hired hand. Ellen had taken care of Adana until she had broken her neck in a freak fall and was now recuperating under Alice's supervision. "I'm actually here to see Monty. He around?"

Keira shoved her hands back in her sleeves as her hair came free again. "He went to Saddlebank to get the mail and meet up with his cronies at the Grill and Chill. You can call him on his cell."

Tanner did a double take. "Monty has a cell phone? Those are words I never thought I'd hear." He couldn't imagine Monty, a hidebound Luddite and proud of it, packing a cell phone.

"Yeah. He got it when Mom had her neck fusion surgery done." Keira's hesitant tone generated a thrum of sympathy.

"I was sorry to hear about the accident," Tanner said. "Must have been scary."

"It was. We're thankful that nothing…nothing worse happened. It was a bad fall."

Keira's gaze ticked over his, and for a moment he wondered if she was going to say anything about David. Though two years had passed since the accident that killed his brother, Keira and Tanner hadn't seen each other since his death.

But nothing.

Instead, Keira lifted her chin, staring directly at him. Her challenging attitude disturbed him, but it hurt him more. "What do you need to see my dad about?"

"I have a saddle I want him to fix," Tanner said. "Maybe I can drop it off and he can call me later?"

"Dad doesn't do much leather work anymore," was Keira's curt reply.

This was a surprise. Monty had been in the saddle-making business since he was a boy. He had learned the craft from his father and was a sought-after leather artisan. He had crafted numerous saddles given as awards in rodeos all over the Western states. The last Tanner had heard, Refuge Ranch Leatherworks was still a going concern. "I didn't think your dad would quit until someone dragged him out of here. When did that happen?"

"Since the doctor told him to slow down, and I took over."

Tanner frowned at that, trying to process this information.

"So if you want your saddle looked at, I'm the one you need to talk to," Keira said. Then she spun around and ducked into the shop, Sugar right on her heels. Tanner wasn't sure whether her abrupt departure meant the conversation was over or that he should follow her into the shop.

He assumed the latter, returned to his truck and pulled the bronc saddle out of the cab. He walked to the shop, and stepped inside.

After the glare of the sun on the snow outside, Tanner had to pause and let his vision adjust to the darker interior. He pulled his hat off then looked around the space of a shop that was once as familiar to him as his own home. He would often keep Keira company here when she did piecework for her father. He'd loved watching as she cut and stitched and did the intricate leather tooling on the saddles Monty was known for.

Neither Keira's older brother, Lee, or sister, Heather, were interested in the business that their father had taken over from his father. Heather's focus was barrel racing and Lee… Well, Lee liked his fun, running around with his buddy Mitch and, at times, Tanner's brother, David.

Keira was moving some pieces of cut leather off the heavy butcher-block worktable dominating the center of the building as Tanner set the saddle on it.

Across from the table, rows of shelves stacked with boxes holding grommets, snaps, buckles and rigging D's and other hardware necessary for saddle making filled most of the wall. Beside the shelves hung stirrups made of metal, or leather-covered wood, all lined up by size and shape. Next to them stood an old rolltop desk that held binders of photos of completed projects to show prospective customers.

Sugar lay on an old worn rug lying by the chair as he always did when Keira worked here.

The other corner of the shop was taken up by three industrial sewing machines. Beside them, perched on a saddle rack, was a half-finished saddle.

What had changed most was the wall opposite him.

Monty used to hang pictures of finished saddles on it. Now shelves holding wallets, belts, briefcases and purses took up that space. Obviously a new venture for Refuge Ranch Leatherworks.

Keira brushed a few remnants of leather from the table, then adjusted a pile of cardboard patterns. Fussy work that kept her attention off him.

"Since when did you start cutting, stitching and stamping again?" Tanner asked, slipping his hands in the pockets of his jacket.

"When I came back. About two years ago."

And a month after David's funeral, he had discovered. Once again he wondered why she hadn't attended the funeral. Once again the pain of her absence cut. He brushed the old feelings aside. They belonged to a past he'd closed the door on a long time ago.

"Looks like you've got a few other projects in the pipeline," he said.

Keira rested her hands on the table in front of her, looking resolutely ahead at the wall of manufactured items Tanner guessed were made right here by her. "I've been taking the business in another direction," was all she said.

"Pretty ambitious. Do you still do saddles?"

"I do a few. Dad helps out, and also helps me with the small work from time to time. He can't stay completely out of it." Her gaze skittered off him and onto the saddle now lying on the table between them. "That looks ragged."

Tanner ran his hand over the misshapen cantle and adjusted the worn stirrups. "Last ride was a bit of a rodeo, if you'll pardon the expression." If it were his saddle, he would have junked it. But this saddle held memories, and he needed it fixed.

Keira shot him a frown. "You still riding? I thought you were done when you bought that mechanic shop in Sheridan, Wyoming?"

"I was, but I thought I'd take one more run at the NFR this year."

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