The Accidental Cowboy
Angel Crossing, Arizona, Book 3

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

“Yep. He’s got the arms for it,” remarked the old woman, munching a churro and nodding down at the arena filled with kilts, kneesocks and T-shirts. Last week it had been bulls, broncs and cowboys.

The flash of a hairy leg and a swirling kilt didn’t excite Lavonda Leigh any more than the rest of her life did right now. She checked her phone for messages, a habit from working in corporate communications, where she’d been expected to be available 24-7. She glanced back at the ring, trying to decide which one of the men was the egghead she’d have to babysit for the community college that owned the ranch she’d been calling home. Even though Professor McNerdy would be staying at the ranch, too, they’d barely see each other because she lived in the cozy and private in-law quarters added in the 1970s to the rear of the hacienda-style house. Plus, he’d be out poking around the desert looking for ancient beans—that had to be the most boring research topic. A topic she was glad she didn’t have to spin into PR gold.

“That’s it. Next time you should watch and not text,” the other woman said with disapproval.

Lavonda ignored her and started down the metal bleachers to find the Scottish professor, who had insisted that he compete in the local Highland games with the college’s team. The group should be easy to find in this sea of plaid. They’d be the ones in glasses with sunken chests and spindly arms. Judgmental? Yep. But she’d grown up with cowboys, and a bunch of academics just didn’t cut it in the he-man department.

Lavonda moved along with the small crowd. Were there Highland game groupies, like rodeo buckle bunnies? She finally saw the college’s distinctive lime-green canopy, shading a group of kilted men. No spindly arms, though. Maybe they were ringers. Did Highland games have ringers?

“Excuse me,” she said, raising her voice to be heard over the manly rounds of congratulations. “I’m here to pick up Professor Kincaid.”

A juvenile ooh went through the assembled men. She shook her head. They sounded just like her brother and his friends, somewhere around junior high in emotional and social maturity.

“Hey, Jones,” a bearded behemoth shouted over his shoulder, “you’ve got a groupie.”

The others laughed and lifted their bottles of beer. Right. This was why cowboys had stopped appealing to her, despite their tight jeans, tilted hats and dusty shirts. Men plus beer equaled jerks.

“Just a moment,” a voice said from the other side of the shelter. “Must get my bag.”

She peered through the throng. Being short made that a little difficult since each man appeared to be the height of one of the logs they’d tossed. Really, what was the point of throwing a tree?

“Good afternoon, Ms. Leigh.” The voice was deep, with a Ewan McGregor accent.

A man nearly a foot taller than her, with arms and chest appropriately large enough to toss all the things that had just been tossed, strode over. He looked at her with eyes the deep, dark green of a ponderosa pine. “Lavonda,” she said automatically, holding out a hand and smiling. They must grow them big in Scotland. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Another chorus of masculine comments, including “That’s what she said,” which didn’t make any sense. This group might be more elementary school than junior high.

“I’m ready,” he said, trying to rearrange his longer-than-it-should-be auburn hair, a color just like a bay horse her dad had owned.

“I’ll say it so you guys don’t have to,” Lavonda said to the crowd of academics. “‘That’s what she said.’”

The professor looked down at her and squinted a little before leaning forward and whispering, “What does that mean? They’ve been saying that and I can’t quite—”

“I’ll explain in the car. You only have the one bag?”

“The others are being delivered.” He easily lifted the large duffel at his feet. His arm bulged nicely. No. Not nicely, Lavonda told herself. This was the man she was babysitting, nothing more.

 š›š›š›š›š›š›♥ š›š›š›š›š›š›♥ š›š›š›š›š›š›♥ 

Lavonda had never felt her Mini Cooper was small until Professor Kincaid—no, she was supposed to call him Jones—had wedged himself into it. Why hadn’t she brought the ranch pickup? They still had another thirty minutes or more stuck in her vehicle.

“You study beans, right?” she asked, hoping this conversation would go better than her attempts to explain “that’s what she said.”

“Yes. By examining the usage of foodstuffs, we can discern…” He went on, but her brain had hit the pleasant autopilot where she could nod as needed without actually listening. “I’m sorry. What did you say?” From the silence, she knew she’d missed something.

“I asked about the other transportation at the ranch.”

“An old pickup, three horses and a donkey,” she said, glancing over at him and catching a look of annoyance.

“I need to make a call,” he said, and pulled a cell phone from the furry sporran, aka Scottish man-purse, which previously she’d only ever seen on someone dressed up at Halloween.

She’d been dismissed. She’d gotten used to it working with the movers and shakers in her corporate jobs, but that didn’t stop her from being miffed. She watched the road, ignoring the nearness of her passenger, the familiar odor of sweaty male combined with Jones’s own scent of dusty wool and cool, dark earth. She did not, however, find it sexy. Sexy to her nearly thirty-year-old self included a tailored jacket, starched shirt and silk tie, like Harvey Specter from Suits.

She glanced over, thinking his hair was too long and his prickly jaw too sharp. He was also too tall, probably even taller than her brother, Danny. Why had she gotten the short genes?

“I understand that you will be providing meals?”

That was news to her, but she’d promised her friend Gwen, the president of the college, she’d keep this man happy—within reason. “I can certainly do that,” she said calmly, while she scrambled to remember what food she had at the house.

“Then we will not need to stop for supplies.”

“Not unless there’s something specific that you like or need. The ranch isn’t close to any stores.”

“I am certain what you have will be fine until I get settled. I flew in this morning, and jet lag is catching up with me.”

“What? You went right from the airport to the stadium?”

“. If I hadn’t been here, the team would have had to forfeit. Then they would have been out of the running for the regional contest.”

She looked at him more closely. He did look a little droopy around the eyes. “I’ll make something quick for dinner.”


She nodded and added, “I’ve moved into the in-law quarters. You’ll have the house to yourself.”

“That will work fine, although I plan to be in the field the majority of the time.”

“You do have a hat and sunscreen, right?”

“I’m not a tenderfoot.” He reached easily into the backseat and dug in his bag, pulling out a battered straw cowboy hat.

She hadn’t expected that.

“What?” Jones asked. “We’ve heard of cowboys in Scotland. This hat has been on every dig with me.”

“Surprised it’s made it this far. Jammed into your bag. Is that any way to treat it?”

He tilted the hat. “I didn’t want to forget it. It’s my lucky hat.”

She grinned, thinking, That’s what she said. Professional, she reminded herself. Make small talk. “Did you find that in London or have you been west before?”

“Edinburgh has its own Wild West street in Morningside.”

“I’d never have imagined. Is that where you became interested in Arizona and beans?”

His expression froze. “Something like that.”

He was lying. Why would he lie about that? Crap. She’d nearly missed the turnoff for the ranch. “Not long now,” she said, glancing over at the kilted giant in his cowboy hat. “Well, if you want to go to a rodeo or ride the range, let me know. I’ve got connections.” Connections that she’d mostly severed long ago, right after winning the teen bronc riding championship, but her brother or dad would show him around if she asked…nicely. Of course, then she’d be grilled about what she planned to do with her life. Right now, get this man home and into bed—that’s what she said.

  š›š›š›š›š›š›♥ š›š›š›š›š›š›♥ š›š›š›š›š›š›♥  

Lavonda led him into the long, low, mud-colored ranch house, explaining that it had been on the property for nearly one hundred years. She acted as if that were a great deal of time. He didn’t point out the “new” part of his family home had been built before Arizona was even a territory.

“It doesn’t look like they’ve dropped off your other stuff,” she said as she opened the front door and her sleek dark hair swung along her chin. “The delivery guys just leave whatever here on the front porch. The woman who built the house was originally from Georgia and insisted a house wasn’t a home without a porch, although she probably called it a veranda.”

He stepped into the dim house, feeling taller than usual. The ceilings didn’t soar and the pixie of a woman who, he’d been told, cared for the property barely reached his shoulder. His nose twitched. “Is that a cat?” he accused, pointing at a feline that was wider than it was tall.

“Um…yeah?” Lavonda said as she kept moving despite the cat’s yowl.

“Get it out.”

“Excuse me? That’s Cat.”

“I bloody well know it’s a cat.” He sneezed. “No one told me you had a bloody cat.”

“The cat’s name is Cat. Why would anyone tell you about her?”

“Because I’m allergic.” Usually cats just made him sneeze. He hadn’t had a full-blown asthma attack since he was a child. He stumbled outside where the desert heat hit him like an anvil in one of those American coyote cartoons. He leaned over and made himself slowly breathe out and in. The stress and jet lag had laid him low, obviously.

“Should I call nine-one-one?” Lavonda asked, her dark eyes even wider than their norm.

He shook his head. “I’ll be fine in a moment, but you need to remove that animal.” The damned thing had followed them outside. He stepped away. It followed him, trying to rub against his stockinged leg. Dignity be damned, he danced away and batted at the feline.

“Cat,” Lavonda said, reaching forward, snatching up her pet and dumping it in the yard.

“Has that animal been living in the house?” He’d have to dose himself with antihistamines. Good thing he’d be out in the field soon.

“She usually hangs out in the barn with Reese. They are in one of those weird different-species friendships.”

Damn it. Why couldn’t one thing go smoothly today? Just one bleedin’ thing? “I don’t have any allergy medication with me. We’ll need to take a trip to the shops after all.” His eyes itched, but he refused to give in and rub them. He should be right as rain with over-the-counter tablets.

Her frown quickly turned into a smile. “Sure. Anything else? Maybe you should check the fridge to see what we’re missing.”

His stash of Hobnob biscuits was in the other luggage, too. This sort of day called for a pint and his favorite oat biscuits—or should he say cookies now that he was in the US? Why had he thought flying all night followed by an afternoon at the games would be a good idea? Because he was an ass, his brother would say. Actually, it was even worse. He’d mixed up the dates and thought the games were next week. When he’d figured out the mistake, it’d been too late to back out.

“After you check the fridge, we’ll run to the store,” Lavonda said with a patient smile.

He sneezed. Damned cat.

 š›š›š›š›š›š›♥ š›š›š›š›š›š›♥ š›š›š›š›š›š›♥ 

By the time they got back to the ranch, he was so tired that even the dusty ground in front of the house looked comfortable. On top of the jet lag, the medicine had made him drowsy and a little dizzy. Though that may have been from lack of food. He should have let her talk him into stopping at the caravan parked beside the road in town. She’d said it had the best tamales and fry bread. He’d just been too tired. He wanted a bed now. “Which is my room?”

“Any really. They all have linens—”

He didn’t wait for her to finish, going to the nearest room and dropping his duffel on the floor, followed by his shirt, shoes, stockings, and kilt. He should take a shower. He had a rank odor of travel and competition about him. Tomorrow. He’d do that tomorrow. He stepped forward, looked down and stopped.

“Lavonda.” He choked out the name, totally awake now. “Ms. Leigh.” His voice finally reached an adequate volume.

“Yes,” she said tentatively as she knocked on the door. “What did you need?”

“Come in, please.” He didn’t take his eyes from the creature on his foot.

“Did you forget to get something at the store? It’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Crap,” she said suddenly with feeling. “It didn’t get you, did it?”


“Good. The sting won’t kill you, but it hurts like heck. Let me think a second.” She stepped completely into the bedroom.

His foot twitched all on its own, and the mammoth insect moved. “It would seem logical that the job of caretaker would include ensuring all vermin have been eliminated?” Good, Jones, upset the one person who can help you. Maybe he could just kick out his foot, except now the beast had scrambled onto his ankle.

  š›š›š›š›š›š›♥ š›š›š›š›š›š›♥ š›š›š›š›š›š›♥  

Lavonda stared at the nasty, pissed-off bug as the TV news crawl flashed through her mind: Scottish professor killed by rogue scorpion as caretaker does nothing. She could stamp on it. No. It had moved up his leg toward—she’d keep her gaze from moving farther up his almost naked body. “Don’t move.”

“I had not planned to. Maybe you could swat it away with a stick?”

That was a good suggestion. She looked around the room. Nothing here. “I’ll be right back.”


He was pale, though she wasn’t sure if that was a usual lack-of-sun complexion or the bug on his foot. She had to admit it took balls—no, that was wrong. It took courage to stand still like that. She looked at the courage in question… What was her problem? The man could die… Okay, probably not from a scorpion, but still. She had started out of the room, when Cat came streaking in, howling like an animal possessed.

“What the bloody—”

“Cat,” she yelled as the animal landed on his foot, batting the bug away and then pouncing on it like the puma she apparently thought she was. With a triumphant meow, she squashed the scorpion. The professor sneezed. Cat sat, looking regal and pleased above the mess of bug innards.

“I guess I don’t need that stick,” Lavonda said lamely. “Cat saved you.”

She looked up from Cat and her prey. Jones stood in just his underwear, limned in gold from the last rays of the setting sun as it sparked off the hairs on his arms and legs, all of him very fit and substantial.

“Perhaps…” He sniffed loudly, then sneezed.

“Of course,” she said, and as she lunged forward to get Cat, she brushed against—oh my, that wasn’t his thigh. That was his courage. She looked up into his watering and surprised eyes. “Sorry?” Only she wasn’t. Crap. The body part in question seemed to be ignoring the fact that he had just narrowly avoided death. She scurried back. He turned and groped on the floor for his kilt. He wrapped it around his waist and buckled it on. He didn’t have anything to be embarrassed about…

She snatched up Cat. “I’ll be back to clean up the mess,” she mumbled as she hurried from the room. She wasn’t a blusher, but she knew her face was flaming.

Cat yowled and Lavonda loosened her death grip on the animal as she entered the dimness of the barn. It’s where Cat usually hung out with Reese, the miniature donkey. And now that Cat had found her inner killing machine, she could take care of the mice that were eating their weight in grain.

“Cat, stay here,” she told the soccer ball–shaped feline. “Professor McNerdy can’t take you, so you need to hang here, which you like better anyway.” Cat walked away, her tail straight up in the air and swaying slowly in contempt.

The three horses popped their heads over the stalls, hopeful for a treat, and Reese brayed loudly, smacking his stall with a tiny hoof to get some feline love. Cat ignored him and sat licking her paws. The poor donkey didn’t understand that cats did what they wanted, when they wanted, and the more you wanted them to do something the less likely they were to do it.

How long did she need to wait out here until she and the professor could both pretend that she hadn’t felt up his bucking bronc, accidental or not. Awkward with a capital A. She should think about how to make him feel welcome after this disaster. She cared for the property and the animals in exchange for staying rent free at the ranch. Humans were animals, after all, so it was her job to take care of him. She’d get back to writing press releases and taking calls from MSNBC soon enough. She might even be missing the pressure cooker of corporate work.

“Yowl,” Cat said, looking at her accusingly with her slightly crossed Siamese-blue eyes. She nosed an empty food bowl into Lavonda’s foot. Good distraction. She focused on Cat. “If I feed you this time, you promise to take care of the mice and stay away from the professor, right?”

Cat meowed again and batted the food bowl. Lavonda should be the one promising to leave the professor alone. She dug out the plastic container where she kept the cat’s kibble. A big hole had been chewed in it and a mouse looked up from the bottom, holding a piece of food with a mousy laugh.