Read the 1st Chapter of ROPED: THE COWBOY MAVERICKS here

ROPED
The Cowboy Mavericks

JAN BOWLES
Copyright © 2011





Chapter One

As the sun grew ever lower in the sky, Brett Donovan could just make out a lone rider approaching on horseback, a dog running alongside. The slant of his hat, silhouetted against the darkening umber sky. He’d recognize a Maverick anywhere.

The dog bounded up the steps and headed straight for him, nearly knocking him over. “Max, my old buddy.” He roughly patted the old hound’s head, glad for a familiar friendly face. The dog held up his paw as if to say hi.

He turned to the rider. “Cody.”

The man nodded a greeting as he pulled his horse up close by the verandah.

“Brett.”

An uneasy silence ensued as they both stared at one another. Cody, the eldest of the Maverick brothers, had filled out quite a bit. He guessed he must be thirty-one by now, the same age as himself.

“News travels fast ’round here, Cody.”

“We heard you were coming back.”

“Well, you heard right.”

“Sorry about your Pa. It comes to us all in the end.” He then motioned to the dog. “Been looking after the hound since your Pa passed on.”

“Then I thank you. Didn’t rightly know if he was still alive.”

“Planning on staying long?”


Brett knew the conversation was being turned toward what he’d really come to say. It looked like nothing had changed at the Maverick ranch. The four brothers had always taken a keen dislike to him. He guessed it was to be expected. There had been a running feud between the Maverick ranch and the Donovan ranch for the best part of a century. It had all started with a dispute over access to water.

“I don’t know how long I plan on staying. It all depends.”

“On what?”

“On the reception I get around here. You know what folks are like.”

“Well, I guess you might as well know me and my brothers don’t want you sniffing around Fay. She’s happy, and we want her to stay that way.”

Just the sound of her name keened his senses. The Maverick brothers had never liked the idea that Fay had a crush on him.

“If she’s happy, then you’ve got nothing to fear from me.”

Cody stared at him for a long time before continuing, “Guess not. Just so long as we understand one another.”

“Loud and clear, Cody.”

“Be seeing you.” With a flick of the reins, he turned the horse around. Dust billowed from its thunderous hooves as he rode away.

So Fay was still there, and by the sound of it, single, or at least not married yet. If only to make the Maverick brothers pissed, maybe he’d stay around just a little bit longer than originally planned.

“Come on, Max. I think you and I deserve a nice, juicy steak each. Things are starting to look up around here.”

He pushed open the door and stared into the gloom of the old ranch house. Almost, just almost, he could swear it hadn’t changed in the seven years he’d been away. The grandfather clock still stood at the foot of the stairs. The leather chesterfield couch, worn and old, sagged just as it always had in front of the fireplace. Even the pictures remained in position. Time had indeed stood still.

He let the door swing shut behind him and walked further inside. When his father had disowned him some seven years ago, he’d never thought that he would leave him the ranch. He’d been shocked to find that blood was in fact thicker than water.

He removed his hat and tossed it onto the couch then picked up the framed portrait of his father from the mantelpiece.

“You old coot. Like Momma said, you were as stubborn as your father and his father before him.” He rubbed his hand over the stubble on his chin then kneaded his fingers into the back of his neck. The journey back to Kansas had taken a whole day, what with pulling the horse trailer and the stops he’d had to make. He was exhausted.

“Well, I guess you’ll never give me an apology now.”

He placed the photograph back on the mantelpiece and turned away from his father’s image. Maybe the old man had left him the ranch to make amends. His way of trying to put things right. It was a start, he supposed. Though he wasn’t about to feel sorry for him. He felt a sadness that his father had died alone, but he’d brought it all on himself.

Perhaps, coming back should be a short-lived experience. He’d be better to just sell the ranch and move on. Black Creek held far too many bad memories. The ghosts from the past came crowding in. His plan of action now would be to move fast and make a quick exit.

* * * *

Fay breathed in. That tight knot of tension had been there ever since she’d learned that Brett Donovan had come back to Black Creek. The closer she got to his ranch, the tighter the coil grew in her stomach.

She urged the gray appaloosa faster. “Come, Cinders, just a little farther. I’m the one feeling nervous, not you.” It was funny how animals picked up one’s mood.

When Brett had left Black Creek some seven years before, it had felt like the bottom had dropped out of her world. Now that he was back, she didn’t know how she felt. She guessed that was the reason why she was visiting today. See if any feelings were left between them.

The ranch grew closer until she finally drew up outside and dismounted.

“Anyone home?” she called. Surely, he would have heard her approach? Maybe he was out back. Fay took the still-warm apple pie from her saddlebag and walked around the side of the ranch house. “Brett,” she called again.

The fly screen swung open, and he stepped out onto the decking. It shut behind him, and he leaned against it.
Brett had been twenty-four when she’d last seen him. He’d been a man then, but he was even more of a man now. Standing about six-three and weighing some two hundred pounds, he was dressed in tight jeans and black denim shirt. He appeared broader than she remembered. Her gaze drifted over him. His fair hair was kissed by the sun and fell about his manly features in streaks of gold. The channels on either side of his face were even deeper. She’d always loved the way they would spread into a dimple when he smiled at her. Though he wasn’t smiling now. Instead his deep blue eyes connected with hers. They seemed to consume her body from her head to her toes.

A deep satisfaction flowed through her veins. The sexual attraction was still there between them. Only now it seemed magnified. No man had ever looked at her in that primal way, no man apart from Brett.

“Good to see you again, Fay.” His deep voice lifted the hairs on the back of her neck.

“You, too, Brett.” She held out the bag she’d brought with her. “It’s an apple pie.”

“Did your mother bake it?”

“No, Ma’s been dead some five years now.”

“Sorry, I didn’t know.”

“Me, too, about your Pa, I mean.”

He let out a long, slow breath. “Your brothers know you’re here?”

She shook her head. “They don’t need to know everything I do.”

“Well, perhaps you ought to tell them that.”

“Why?”

“Cody came calling last night. Said I should keep away from you.”

“Oh? They’re just over possessive, what with Ma dying and all.”

He stared at her, assessing her, making her knees go weak. “You look…” He shrugged.

“What?”

“All grown up. You’re not the girl I remember.”

At eighteen, she had worn all her emotions on her sleeve. Seven years ago she had carried a huge torch for Brett Donovan. She guessed he’d always known that. Taking on the role that her mother had left when she died made her grow up in a hurry.

“I’m a woman now, Brett. I’m not that girl you once knew.”

“So I see.” He stared at her long and hard then said, “I’ve got some hot coffee on the stove. Would you like some?”

* * * *

As Brett poured them both a mug of coffee, he wondered what to say. He wasn’t usually at a loss for words around women, but seeing Fay again had been a revelation.

The young woman he remembered from seven years ago had matured into a beautiful, stunning creature. Her raven-black hair shone as it cascaded around her perfect oval face. Piercing gray eyes lit up her tanned features. Her sultry, full lips smiled at him as he handed her the coffee.

He knew then that he still wanted her. Only this time he couldn’t lead her on. Not when he would be leaving so soon.

“I’ll not be staying ’round here long, Fay.”

Her brows knitted together as confusion showed on her face. “Oh? Why not? You’ve only just come back.”

He sat opposite her and rested his elbows on the table. “I don’t think the folks in Black Creek are ready to welcome me with open arms just yet, do you?”

“Well, you and I both know you didn’t hold up that gas station. I don’t even know why Patty said it.”

“Because she knew I was with you. She wanted me to get into trouble either way. Besides I think she took the money herself. She just wanted someone to blame.”

“Well she sure as hell made you suffer. I thought once she retracted her accusation, things would die down.”

“Mud sticks.”

“Then your father threw you out.” She reached across and touched his hand. The coolness of her skin lit a fire deep inside him. “I would have told your father the truth. You don’t know how many times I wanted to.”

He patted her hand then pulled away, trying to put some distance between them. Getting involved with Fay was not an option. “It wouldn’t have made any difference. I shouldn’t have been with you. Your brothers would have strung me up if they’d found out.”

Fay laughed. “I don’t know why our families had to have this feud. It never made any sense to me. Why not let the past be. I’m sure as hell not going to take any notice of my brothers now.”

It was his turn to laugh. “Don’t be so sure. Cody wasn’t keen on me seeing you again even though you’re now a full-grown woman. In fact, he warned me off.”

She leaned back in her chair and smiled at him. “Since when have you ever done what Cody wanted?”

A grin broke on his face as he stared at her. Fay brought out the very worst in him. She always had. “Still the same old Fay. Always trying to get me into trouble.”

“There was a time when you liked it.”

He’d always thought of Fay as a tomboy right up until that one fateful day long ago when he’d suddenly seen her in a different light. She’d played him then, turning on her feminine charm until he couldn’t deny the attraction between them any longer. At twenty-four, he should have known better. After all, she was a Maverick and, as such, strictly off limits, but he’d taken her virginity, anyway. That one night was branded forever into his mind. Even the ensuing chaos afterward did not detract from how special it had been. When the alleged hold up had been committed, he’d been with her. He just couldn’t use Fay as his alibi, neither to his father nor the police. He would have been in even more trouble then. Her brothers would have lynched him without a second thought, and because of the bad blood between their families, his father would have disowned him anyway. What they’d shared had been amazing, besides, he didn’t want the whole world knowing their business.

He breathed in. “I’m not staying ’round here, Fay. It wouldn’t be fair to lead you on.”

“Do you have someone special back in Texas?”

He shook his head. Of course there’d been women. He had to satisfy his sexual needs, same as any man, but he hadn’t wanted to take things further with any of them. Up until now, he’d been contented with his life. However, just a few minutes in Fay’s company told him a different story. He wanted her now more than ever, but this time he would do the right thing. He wasn’t going to use her for a second time running.

“Like I said, once I’ve sorted out the ranch, I’m putting it up for sale.”

Abruptly she rose from the table, a sad look on her face. Her chair scraped on the tiled floor as she did so. Fay had always twisted him around her little finger, but not this time. He gripped his chair tightly, determined not to reach out and comfort her. It would only make things worse should he become involved with her again.

“Enjoy the pie,” she mumbled as she began walking from the room. She turned as she reached the door. “And, Brett?”

“Yes?”

“Don’t forget to bring the plate back.” He just caught the mischievous slant to her lips before she stepped outside.

He watched her mount the gray mare and tear off down the track, a huge cloud of dust spread out in her wake. Her jet-black hair flowing behind her. Still the same old Fay, wild and untamed, only now she had a rare womanly beauty, too. Keeping away from her was going to prove difficult, and now she’d given him the perfect excuse to see her again. Well, he’d take that fucking plate back, if only to annoy the Maverick brothers.

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