Her Cowboy Reunion  

By: Ruth Logan Herne


This is the chance you’ve been waiting for. Hoping for. Praying for. Don’t blow it.

Lizzie Fitzgerald climbed out of an SUV more suited to her rich past than her impoverished present.

Her late uncle’s Western Idaho ranch splayed around her like an old-fashioned wagon wheel, spreading wide from the farmhouse hub. Straight south lay sheep barns forming a huge letter T. The sound of sheep and dogs rose up from beyond the barns where woolly creatures dotted rolling fields like white sprinkles on a kelly green cake.

On her left the long, curving graveled drive wound past a copse of newly leafed trees to the two-lane country road above. Behind her was a classic Western home. Two stories, wrapped in honey-brown cedar and a porch that extended across the front and down both sides. Two swings and a variety of rockers decked the porch.

“No doubt I will spend my share of time on that porch as the weather warms,” said Corrie as she stepped from the other side of the car. “What a pretty place this is, Lizzie-Beth! But I can see your attention is drawn to what brought us here.” She dipped her chin toward Lizzie’s right. “Your uncle’s passing and his love for horses. A family trait. Or downfall,” she added softly.

“It won’t be this time.” Lizzie strode toward the freshly built stables. “Not with someone willing to put in the effort. It wasn’t horses that brought down Claremorris,” she reminded Corrie, the stout African American woman who had raised Lizzie and her two sisters at the stately Kentucky horse farm. “It was greed and dishonesty. This will be different, Corrie. You’ll see.”

“I’ll pray it different, right beside you,” Corrie declared. “Then we’ll see, Sugar. You explore your new place. I’m going to see if there’s a restroom close by.”

Lizzie walked toward the classic U-shaped stable configuration while Corrie disappeared into the house. Two equine wings stretched from opposite ends of the central barn. A row of stable doors faced the groomed square of grass that was surrounded by a hoof-friendly walking area. Six windows lined the face of the central barn, facing the equine courtyard. Curtains in the upper windows suggested living quarters, much like they’d had in their Kentucky stable. The whole concept was modeled after the Celtic horse farms her great-grandparents had known in Ireland. Uncle Sean might not have liked the newspaper publishing business that made the family’s fortune, but he clearly appreciated their Irish roots.

A horse nickered from its stall. Another answered softly.

Then quiet stretched as if wondering about her. Testing her.

Footsteps approached across the gravel. She turned.

A cowboy strode her way, looking just as classic as the ranch around him. Tall. Broad-shouldered. Narrow-hipped. And…familiar. As if—

Lizzie pushed that thought aside. She’d loved a cowboy once, with all the sweet intensity of first love, but that was a dozen years and a lot of heartache past. And yet—

The cowboy drew closer.

He raised his head and looked at her, as if throwing down a challenge. And she knew why.

Heath Caufield. Her first love, with his coal-black hair and gray-blue eyes. Eyes that seemed to see right through her and found her wanting.

Her heart went slow, then sped up.

Adrenaline buzzed through her. She stared at him, and he stared right back. Then he said two simple words. “You came.”

“You’re here.”

“I live here.”

“You worked for my uncle?” None of this made any sense. Her uncle Sean hadn’t had contact with Lizzie’s lying, scheming father in decades. He’d purposely gone off on his own after serving in the Marines, as far from the Fitzgerald News Company as he could get. He’d spurned the newspaper empire, took his inheritance from Grandpa Ralph and gone west. And that was all she knew because that was all Corrie had ever told her. So how’d he hire Heath?

“I’ve been here twelve years. Been manager for three.”

She flushed.

He didn’t seem to notice her higher color. Or he simply ignored it. “I came here the same time you went off to Yale to get your fancy degree in journalism like your daddy and grandpa. How’s that working out for you, by the way?”

He looked mad and sounded madder, as if the demise of her family business, horse farm and estate was somehow her fault. It wasn’t, and she didn’t owe Heath any explanations. In her book, it was the other way around, but she’d put the past behind her years ago. She had to. He’d be wise to do the same. “Journalism with an MBA on the side. From Wharton. And enough expertise with horses and business to handle this, I expect.”

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