Hope on the Range
by Cindi Madsen
Publication Date: 6/29/2021
Brady Dawson grew up in the Colorado heartland running the Turn Around Ranch with his parents and his brothers. The Turn Around offers safety and rehabilitation for troubled teens, and doesn’t leave a lot of downtime, so it’s lucky his best friend is the girl next door, Tanya Greer. Everyone tries to label them as more than friends, but they’ve never crossed that line. Well, except that one time…
Tanya’s family’s dude ranch isn’t attracting a crowd any more. Tanya would love to turn the ranch into a summer riding camp for city kids, but her parents refuse to consider her idea. They still seem to think of Tanya as a kid herself. So when they get an offer from a slick businessman, it looks like they’re going to sell. And when Tanya is offered a well-paying job in the city, she knows it’s time to forget her dreams for the ranch, and her hopes of being more than friends with Brady.
Brady doesn’t want Tanya to go, but he doesn’t want to hold her back either. The thought of losing Tanya has Brady’s cowboy heart in knots. He realizes he’d better take his own advice, cowboy up, and confess his feelings. He only hopes it isn’t already too late.
Cindi Madsen is a USA Today Bestselling author of contemporary romance and young adult novels. She sits at her computer every chance she gets falling in love with her characters. She has way too many shoes, loves music, dancing, and wishes summer lasted all year long. She lives with her husband and three children in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
At the exact moment her fingers began to loosen their grip, he bumped his elbow into hers. It threw off her shot, the arrow wobbling wildly before dropping low and barely striking the target in the outer circle, one-point range.
“You cheater!” She shoved him with both hands, and he fought against a wobble. Apparently a mistake, one that fanned the flame on her temper. She came at him again, and he wrapped his arms around her, pinning her arms to her sides.
“Okay, I admit that move was a pinch dirty.” Brady bent so his nose nearly touched hers. An intense blaze heated her green irises, and he bit back his laughter. This was more like their usual exchanges—a mix of exasperation, dares, and heat. Since he didn’t want any of that to turn into full-blown anger, he slowly let go and took a large step backward, lifting his hands in surrender. “Do your worst as I take my turn, and we’ll call it distraction training.”
His arrow came out of his quiver with a satisfying zing, and Brady steeled himself for whatever Tanya threw his way.
The fact that his muscles were already burning proved he was out of practice, but he did his best not to let that show. Still, the redhead next to him sensed weakness and pounced. She jabbed at his side, but he held steady. Her attempt to bump his elbow was met with firm resistance.
“Is that all you got?” he taunted, ignoring the slight tremble in his arm from holding back the string for so long. With the tip of his arrow lined up with the yellow of the bull’s-eye, he shut out the rest of the world, the same way he always did before charging into the arena to rope or ride.
Tanya’s warm breath hit his ear, sending a shiver across his skin, and without him telling them to, his fingers let go.
His arrow landed a good foot short of the target. A faraway part of him was disappointed, but the heat pumping through him pushed it to the background. His heart thundered in his chest, dizziness set in, and he couldn’t quite forget the way her breath had wafted over his skin.
It’s been a while since I’ve so much as kissed anyone. That’s all.
The lack of action, along with the lack of women to use his charms on, meant he was in a sexual drought. Nothing to go thinking too hard about.
His best friend’s smug giggle filled his ear, and fortunately it reset that fuzzy, malfunctioning part of his brain. He spun, grabbed hold of her, and hefted her up and over his shoulder. “You’re gonna pay for that.” He strode toward the pond, fully planning on tossing her in.
“Brady, don’t you dare.” Tanya kicked her legs, and he tightened his grip on her thigh. “You said yourself it was distraction training. It’s not my fault you can’t focus for shit.”
“If you think this is the way to talk me out of dunking you, you’re sorely mistaken.” His boots slid in the mud as he reached the shoreline.
A rush of muffled words filled the air, each one merging into the next. “But remember how I have to welcome the big-shot CEO to the ranch.” She squirmed against his iron hold and lifted her arm enough to glance at her watch. Then she shoved the ticking thing in his face. “In twenty minutes, Brady! You know how my dad will react if I’m a muddy mess when I go to check the guy in, and I already told you it’s important to me to make a good impression.”
That drew him up short. Both of them were well acquainted with the extra stress that came along with parental expectations and family businesses. Brady readjusted his grip and lowered her to her feet. “Fine. But you owe me one, and don’t think I won’t collect.”
They slipped their way back through the mud and over to the cottonwood where they’d secured their horses and put away their bows and arrows. Brady unlooped Bud’s reins and climbed into the worn saddle that felt like a second home. While he’d agreed to let his teenage brother borrow his horse, the saddle he’d won after taking first place at his last big rodeo was a whole other thing.
“Hey, Yaya,” he said, pulling out the name he’d called her when they were young and t’s were hard for him to pronounce.
She turned Diesel so they were facing each other. “Yeah?”
“All trash talk aside, I know how busy you are, and I don’t want you to feel pressured if you’re not up for the pre-rodeo show.”
“Oh, I’m all in. I just feel bad that you’re the one who came up with the challenge, and my team is still gonna kick your ranch’s ass.”
“In your dreams, cowgirl.” This was exactly what he needed. That odd antsy sensation that’d hung over him the past month or so eased, leaving him hopeful that before long, it’d be gone entirely. Maybe he’d never have his name on a plaque in the rodeo hall of fame, the way he and most of the town had thought he would at one point, but he was far from done when it came to making his mark.
Excerpted from Hope on the Range by Cindi Madsen. © 2021 by Cindi Madsen. Used with permission of the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. All rights reserved.