Print version also available on Ingram:
- ISBN-10: 099733360X
- ISBN-13: 978-0997333602
Excerpt from The Final Ride:
Patricia Talbert leaned against the back fender of the old farm truck and admired the flex of Talon Carlson’s muscles as he secured a trailer to the hitch. One of the nearby towns held a cattle auction every Thursday, from early in the morning until everything sold, and the Circle Bar Ranch needed a few more head.
One of the hands had already driven off in a rig, but Talon had lingered behind, no doubt for a few more moments alone with her. Although she’d decided not to go this time, she didn’t mind having a few more moments alone with him either.
She watched his strong hands deftly connect the wires for the truck’s back lights to the trailer. “It’s going to be different around here without Chance to help, isn’t it?”
“No different than it will be for you without Marie.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Chance Davis.” The names sifted through her lips with a sigh. The past Saturday, her best friend had married Talon’s best friend here at the Circle Bar ranch, and now they were off on a two-week honeymoon.
Talon stepped over the hitch and stood deliciously close. His lips crept up in that lopsided grin she loved. “What about us? Ready to get married?”
“No. Not yet. I’ve had all the wedding insanity I can take for a while.” She traced the strong line of his smooth-shaven jaw with her finger. “I’m not in a hurry.”
“Whatever my lady wants. I can wait.” He kissed her gently, making her heart flutter, then adjusted his hat. “I’d better get moving, or the auction will be over before I get there. You sure you don’t want to come with me?”
“No, I think I’ll stay here and enjoy the quiet for a change. Bring home some good cows.”
He gave her another peck. “Always.”
He walked to his truck, keeping her mesmerized with each step. That man could make a feed sack look good.
Once he drove out of sight, she rubbed her shoulders and curled her lips between her teeth. The past several months had been filled with house renovations and Marie’s wedding plans–not to mention a quick trip back to New York to help with her father’s US Senate re-election campaign. But now that everything was over and all the wedding guests were finally gone, she had no clue what to do with herself. Come to think of it, she’d never been totally alone on her own ranch since she inherited it from Uncle Jake the previous year. If she intended to give up her life in Manhattan and live in Texas, she’d better figure out where she fit in. Discover what her new “normal” looked like.
Normal. Routine. The words serenaded her. After all the insanity of the past year, nothing appealed to her more than landing in a nice, peaceful rut for a while.
But what exactly would her role be out here? Thirty-five seemed a bit old to be wondering what she’d do when she grew up, but when Uncle Jake left her the ranch he and Aunt Loretta had spent their lives building, Patricia discovered she had options–stay in New York and work for her father, or come here and–what? Pretend she knew how to run a ranch?
Since she had no intention of going back East, she may as well carve out a place for herself here, doing … something.
At the equipment shed, the senior ranch hand, Frank Simmons, tinkered with the tractor engine, but she knew nothing about mechanical repair. Inside, Chef and Consuela Garcia took care of the meals and household chores that made Patricia shudder. The vegetable garden on the side of the ranch house appeared neglected; no one had worked it in a couple of weeks. She strode to its edge, crouched between a row of peppers and another of tomatoes, and yanked what she hoped was a weed. Gardening hadn’t been a part of her life back home. Maybe she’d be safe if she pulled only what grew between the mounds.
The soil felt moist, and the weeds came out with the simplest tug. She could get used to this mindless work. She could see ahead what needed to be done and see the progress behind, unlike other, seemingly endless things she’d done for her father. This chore held a purpose. She’d keep the weeds from choking out the vegetables that everyone would get to enjoy. Simple. Wonderful. She’d definitely add gardening to the top of her most-favorite-rut-activities list. If this was what her new normal felt like, she’d wrap it around herself like a security blanket.
She twisted around and gaped at a chic, older woman standing at the yard’s edge. “Aunt Adele?”
Looking as if she’d just stepped from a fashion magazine for women over sixty, Adele Cameron held her arms wide. “Surprise!”
Patricia brushed herself off and hurried toward her. Adele had always been her favorite of her mother’s sisters. “I thought you flew back to New York after the wedding.”
An elegant flick of her hand dismissed the notion. “I spent a few days in Dallas. Did a little shopping.” She posed like a model and executed a runway turn, inviting Patricia to admire the cowl-neck tunic and straight-leg slacks she wore over two-inch pumps. “It’s not Manhattan, but it’s not bad either.”
“I’m glad you found something you liked.” Patricia hid her smile. She and Marie had overdressed for the ranch when they first arrived, too. Not practical, but then they hadn’t expected to stay, much less fall in love with the cowboys running the place. “What else did you buy?”
“Oh, several things.” She pressed her key fob toward a burgundy Cadillac parked in front of the house. “Come see.”
The Caddy’s trunk opened. Plump store bags, bearing only the finest in fashion logos, sat atop the flowered canvas of matching luggage.
Patricia poked through one of the sacks. “I’m anxious to see what you bought.”
“Why don’t we carry it in so you can see better?” A sly grin lifted her lips. “And the luggage, too.”
Patricia squealed. “Does this mean you’re staying awhile?”
“Yes, dear. And I’m so happy you’re excited about it.” She patted Patricia’s cheek. “Now, maybe you can get your man to help us.”
“My man? Do you mean Talon? He’s not here.”
“Not Talon. Your man–your servant, or whatever you call him.” She stared pointedly at Frank, who leaned against the tractor, watching them as he rubbed his hands on a rag.
“He’s not a serv–”
“We have company?” Consuela Garcia called from the shadows of the massive front porch. In her brightly embroidered Mexican dress, the housekeeper-slash-cook descended the three steps and waddled toward them, eyeing the newcomer curiously. She bypassed the front walk and crossed the lush grass in her sandaled feet.
Patricia rested one hand on Consuela’s shoulder and waved the other toward their guest. “You remember my aunt, Adele Cameron? She was here for the wedding.”
“Si, I remember.”
“She’ll be staying with us for a while.”
“Okay, then. We will put you in the guest room. It’s clean now. Fresh sheets. I’ll help you.” Consuela advanced toward the trunk and gawked at the load inside. But she swiftly recovered with a congenial smile. “What you want to take in?”
“I’ll need it all,” Aunt Adele said. “And some of it will have to be ironed.”
“I can do it tomorrow when I do everyone else’s.” Consuela grabbed the store bags, then led their guest to the house, the older woman giving specific instructions as to how she wanted her ironing done. Aunt Adele had always been particular about her wardrobe.
With the sacks gone, Patricia got a better look at the luggage. Aunt Adele must’ve brought a year’s worth of clothes. Odd, since she was only supposed to be coming for the wedding this past weekend.
Frank came beside her and ran his fingers over his bushy gray mustache. “Don’t you Yankee women know how to pack light?”
“I guess not.”
He looped the strap of a bag over each shoulder, then hefted out a large case and jerked up the handle. “Best get this inside.”
Patricia grabbed the cosmetic case and slammed the trunk closed. “I can’t imagine why she brought so much. Looks like she’s moving in.”
“Well, she’s your aunt, ain’t she? Maybe she just wants some time with you.” He toted his burden toward the house. “Better show your man where to put these.”
She grimaced. Frank might have a hitch in his gait, but his hearing seemed impeccable. She scurried to catch up. “I’m sorry about that. Aunt Adele’s used to having a full household staff available. I guess all the high society trappings make her a bit of a snob.”
“Don’t worry about it too much. We’ve had snobs around here before.” He paused at the steps. “I reckon y’all turned out all right.”
Grinning at his light-hearted jab, she went around him to open the door. “Oh, Marie and I weren’t that bad, were we?”
He raised a craggy brow to the brim of his straw hat and drawled, “Where do you want these?”
She swatted his arm playfully, then pointed to the second floor. “First door on the left.”
He took the cosmetic case from her and headed to the stairs. Amazingly strong for such a wiry man. She watched him carry his cumbersome load up the steps until he safely landed on the second floor, then followed the sound of women’s voices through the living room. The sweet smell of Marie’s wedding flowers had finally begun to fade, replaced now with a vague hint of the spices Consuela used for the enchiladas she’d planned for lunch. As Patricia passed through the dining room and neared the kitchen, the scent of cumin grew stronger. So did the voices.
She stopped at the door. Aunt Adele stood formally erect, hands clamped together at her waist, nose up like a stodgy aristocrat. Red faced and muttering in Spanish, Consuela whisked a wooden spoon around her pot as if she chased a devil from its depths.
Patricia ventured into the room. “What’s going on?”
After a heartbeat pause, both women clamored for her attention, each talking louder and faster until finally she covered her ears. “Stop!”
The two glowered at each other like contestants in a wrestling ring.
Consuela pointed the dripping spoon at Aunt Adele. “Get her out of my kitchen.”
Patricia bit back questions she knew better than to ask when Consuela’s brows were drawn that tightly.
She wrapped an arm around her aunt’s stiff shoulders and guided her out. “Let’s get you up to your room. You must be tired after traveling this morning. Did you drive all the way from Dallas? That’s quite a–”
“Are you going to let the hired help talk to me like that?” The harsh whisper could no doubt be heard in the kitchen.
Patricia marshaled her farther into the living room. “Consuela isn’t so much hired help as she is family. She and her husband Chef have been with this ranch for years.” She stopped walking and faced her aunt. “Frank isn’t hired help either. He’s wise and kind and special to me, and I’d like for you to treat him with respect.”
Adele’s crimson face contorted as she struggled to maintain her dignity, or tamp her temper down, Patricia couldn’t tell which. She’d never seen this usually dignified woman behave like a spoiled diva before.
From their left, Frank entered the living room and passed through toward the kitchen. Judging by the way he kept his head down, he’d probably heard their conversation. Between his sharp ears and her aunt’s stage whispers, Patricia doubted he’d missed a word.
“Yes, perhaps I should retire to my room.” Aunt Adele’s tone could frost glass.
“Now, don’t be angry. The ranch is just different from what you’re used to. We don’t have hired hands, we have … family on salaries. Everyone is close.” She drifted her hand down her aunt’s arm. “I want you to love it here like I do. It would mean so much to me.”
She sniffed. “I see I have a lot to learn about the way things are done here in Texas.”
“Yes, so did I. Still do.”
Aunt Adele’s expression softened as she took Patricia’s hands. “Why don’t you come home, sweetheart? You’re not suited for this life.”
Patricia shook her head. The fresh air, the quiet nights, the slower pace. Talon’s muscles rippling and glistening in the sun as he lifted square bales for the horses. If only Aunt Adele knew how very suited she was for this life. “I’m happy here.”
She escorted her aunt to the guest room and helped store her things, then left her to nap away the travel weariness. Maybe after some rest, she’d be her old, fun self again.
Meanwhile, she needed to tend to the ruffled hen downstairs.
In the kitchen, Consuela seemed calmer and was laughing at something Frank had said. He leaned against the counter with a glass half full of water and watched Consuela caramelize an onion in a sizzling cast iron skillet. Her husband, Chef Garcia, had apparently entered through the back door. He rolled a chicken mixture in corn tortillas for enchiladas and smiled at Patricia as she entered.
Patricia retrieved a head of lettuce from the fridge. “I’m sorry about my aunt. I hope she didn’t upset you too much.”
Consuela’s lips puckered. She looked at Patricia from the corner of her eye. “Do you know what she wanted?”
Patricia shook her head.
She crossed her arms over her chubby belly. “She wanted dinner served at seven.”
“That’s just what she’s used to back in–”
“And she wanted breakfast served at nine.”
“Well, yes, like I was saying–”
“Oh.” Patricia lowered her eyes. “Well, you know, she’s from New York …”
“She is in Texas now.” Consuela gave the onions a stir, then tapped the spoon on the side of the skillet loud enough to make the metal ring. “I am not her cook.”
“I do things the way I do things, and she will eat or not.”
“You told her?”
“I tried. I’m not sure she understands how different things are here.”
“She will learn. Next time she tells me what to do”–she nudged her husband–”Chef and me, we will go on vacation. Someone else can cook till she leaves.”
Patricia winced. Other than the Garcias, Marie was the only one who knew how to cook, and she was on her honeymoon.
“Be patient with her. I’ll make sure she understands.”
“See that you do.”
Patricia began shredding the lettuce. “You two just got off to a bad start, Consuela. You’ll like her.” She glanced at Frank. “You will too. Really. You’ll see.”
“Ain’t got a reason not to like her. I guess she don’t remember, but I took her for a few twirls around the dance floor after the weddin’.”
“You did? I thought your knees wouldn’t allow dancing.”
“Oh, trust me, I paid for it. They weren’t too happy.” He glanced up at the clock. “How much time before lunch?”
“Straight up twelve, Frank, you know that.” Consuela frowned at him. “Long as I been cookin’ in this kitchen, it’s been straight up twelve.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He bussed her cheek and clapped Chef on the shoulder. “Gives me about twenty minutes to put my tools up. Wrecked the best part of my mornin’ playing the role of Pat’s man.”
Consuela hooted and set a huge grin between her cheeks.
Patricia rolled her eyes. “Next time, close your ears.”
Wasn’t it just a couple of hours ago she’d dreamed of finding her rut? Of discovering her new normal? Now, apparently, her primary job would be to keep peace between Aunt Adele and Consuela for the duration of her aunt’s visit. How long would that be?
Praise for The Final Ride:
“If you like Texas, romance and cowboys — and who doesn’t?! — then you will love The Final Ride. From the first page to the last, Linda Yezak had me wondering what would happen next. With the fabulous interaction between the characters—sparks did fly!—and the make-you-smile ending, I couldn’t get enough!”
–Kathleen Y’Barbo, best-selling author of Firefly Summer, from the Pies, Books & Jesus Book Club series, and Sadie’s Secret, from The Secret Lives of Will Tucker series.
“Not only is Linda Yezak a creative and thoughtful writer, she’s also a gem of a person who brings a combination of spunk and savvy to The Final Ride!”
–Laura Drake, author of The Sweet Spot 2014 Rita Award winner
“How great is it to be back in the saddle with everyone’s favorite bull rider and ranch owner? Try Texas-sized great! Yezak delivers again, with warmth, humor, and wonderful Texan charm.”
– K.M. Weiland, best-selling author of Structuring Your Novel,
Outlining Your Novel, and the exciting DieselPunk adventure, Storming
“Linda Yezak has done it again in providing hunky cowboys and the struggle to love each other in spite of our differences. The Final Ride is a sweet romance filled with tension and best of all—love.”
– Susan M. Baganz, author of Pesto & Potholes, Salsa & Speed Bumps, and Fragile Blessings.