After the Rodeo

By: Claire McEwen

Her passion for her job...

...could cost him everything


Former rodeo champion Jace Hendricks has six weeks to turn his run-down ranch around or he could lose custody of his nieces and nephew. But biologist Vivian Reed has to survey his land first—and she won’t be rushed. Vivian’s optimism and wonder start to win over the kids...and even Jace. But with all that’s at stake, can he risk getting any more involved with Vivian?





The music faded away and Jace twirled Vivian one more time...


Then he stepped in and caught her, dipping her slightly. When he set her back on her feet, she was laughing breathlessly, her mouth open. She looked at him and his own breath caught as every part of him said this. This was what he wanted. Vivian in his arms, smiling up at him. Vivian having fun with him.

Her eyes met his and her smile faded, replaced by a more serious gaze. She wanted to kiss him, he could tell, and no way could he resist because he wanted it, too. So he held her gaze and brushed his lips over hers.

Her arms were on his shoulders from the dance, which was pretty nice, but nothing compared to the feeling of her sliding them around his neck, going up on her tiptoes and kissing him back...





Dear Reader,

After the Rodeo just poured right out of my heart. Jace, a former bull rider, and Vivian, a wildlife biologist, are both realizing that life won’t cooperate with their plans. But they discover friendship, love, community and new dreams. I hope you enjoy their journey to happily-ever-after!

Writing the Heroes of Shelter Creek series is such a joy, in part because I get to write about my beloved heartland, the northern California coast. It was fun to include California’s native elk, the tule elk, in this book. My favorite encounter with them was a couple decades ago. My friend and I were riding our bicycles down a steep hill when a group of elk started to run alongside us. They stayed just yards away from us, leaping and galloping, for a very long time. I cherish that magical memory!

In this story I get to explore another thing I care deeply about—chronic illness. I hope this story reminds us that even in difficult circumstances we can find new possibilities for ourselves, and more compassion for each other.

Thank you for reading After the Rodeo. Please look for me on social media or at clairemcewen.com. I always love hearing from readers!

Claire McEwen




CHAPTER ONE


JACE HENDRICKS STOOD on the porch of his run-down farmhouse on his run-down ranch and listened to the social worker give him the rundown on everything he was doing wrong.

“Kids this age, and in this situation, need predictability,” she was saying. She was Mrs. Roxanne Sherman, an older woman with stick-straight gray hair and dressed in a gray business suit, as if she was trying to blend in with the fog that had rolled in from the Pacific this morning.

Mrs. Sherman had been assigned to his case when Jace first brought his sister’s scared, sad kids to his Northern California hometown of Shelter Creek to live with him. And she’d been on his case ever since. “Children need a schedule they can count on and a parent they can count on,” she reminded him. “Someone steady and reliable.”

That was pretty unfortunate, seeing as the kids’ mom, Jace’s sister, Brenda, and her boyfriend, Neil, had each been sentenced to almost twenty years in prison for various felonies.

Then it hit Jace like a dash of cold water. Mrs. Sherman was talking about him. He was the parent. He was the one who had to be steady and reliable. And if she thought those two words described him, she wouldn’t be delivering this lecture.

“Right,” Jace said carefully, because it seemed like she expected him to say something. “I am trying to be that kind of person.”

He looked out at the kids, who he’d told to go play in the front yard. Though yard was an aspirational term. Right now it was just the raggedy stubble of weeds he’d mown, a few pieces of rusted-out farm equipment and the chopped-up trunk of a rotten oak he’d taken down yesterday.

Eight-year-old Amy, her red curls blowing in a wild halo around her head, was balancing on the stump of the oak. Six-year-old Alex, always so quiet and withdrawn, was perched on the seat of an ancient plow, reading a book. And Carly, fifteen and impossible to figure out, was leaning on the fence by the road, talking on the cell phone she’d conned Jace into buying her when she first arrived at the ranch back in June.

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