Cowboy in Her Classroom

Cowboy in Her Classroom

Pam Mantovani

September 2023 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61026-225-5

Cowboys of Burton Springs, Book 6

Our PriceUS$14.95
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She's going to teach him a thing or two…

It's taken Presley Clark a long time to achieve her dream of becoming a teacher, so when she's offered an opportunity to fast-track her training in Burton Springs, Montana, she jumps in with both feet. Nothing's going to stand in her way—not even the unexpected attraction she feels for the father of one of her students.

Cowboy Shane Abbott is desperate to find enough funding. His goal? To buy the ranch he's always called home. He wants to give his daughter roots—something he's never been able to manage since her mother left. So this isn't the time to get tangled up with another woman, especially his daughter's first grade teacher.

But Cassie quickly falls under Presley's spell, and it doesn't take Shane long to follow.

Only Presley didn't come to Burton Springs to fall in love. She's determined to become a teacher—it's her lifelong dream. But unless a position suddenly opens, that dream is likely to take her far away from Montana…and Shane.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: An author of passionate, emotional romances with heart, Pam loves crafting stories about independent women and men who discover the thrill and joy of falling in love. After years of moving as both an Army brat and corporate wife, Pam and her craftsman husband settled in Atlanta, close to family and friends. When not writing, Pam enjoys quilting, planting beautiful flowers, home improvement projects, and spending time with her wonderful family.

Praise for The Cowboys of Burton Spring:

"The characters have great backstories and depth of personalities, determination, and strength. The storyline has its surprises and twists, as well as a few upheavals when the truth comes out and is misinterpreted. Loved the ending and the final truths that also came out. Well done."—Judy Gittleson Hendrickson, Goodreads review of COWBOY TO HER RESCUE

"First and foremost, this is wonderful romance. The fact that it's set at Christmas time is an added bonus. Ms. Mantovani creates such warmth in her books and characters. Oh, and did I mention the setting and the update on people from previous stories? A perfect read for when you need something hopeful."—bestselling author Patricia Lewin on COWBOY UNDER THE MISTLETOE

"It's been a while since I've read such a good book. Once I started, I couldn't stop reading. The author did a great job developing a relationship between Carter and Audra and did not rush the relationship like many authors tend to do. Audra's past kept the plot interesting, but it wasn't overdone. This was an easy, feel-good read, and I would definitely recommend it to friends and family."—Amy Vida, Goodreads review of COWBOY ON HER PORCH

"I truly enjoyed everything about this book. Kendall and Logan were an awesome couple, and their daughter Marissa is such a cutie… I read this story in one sitting—it had some drama, a great romance, and a hot cowboy. What's not to love?"—Therese Lopez, Amazon review of COWBOY ON HER DOORSTEP

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Chapter One

"IT’S SUCH A CUTE apartment,” Presley Clark said into the cell phone. "I wish you could see it, Gran.”

"Me too. This place is nice, but I miss you.”

Presley rubbed a hand over her heart, the five bracelets on her left wrist jangling. "It’s only for three months.” She stared out the window over the kitchen sink. In the distance, she could see the top of a mountain, adding to the impression that the stretch between here and Helena was more than a three-hour drive. But the opportunity to teach in Burton Springs was a gift in so many respects. The only drawback was the temporary separation from the woman who’d raised her, who’d been the sole source of love in her life. But the offer of a rent-free apartment while she completed her student teaching assignment had been too good to turn down.

Excitement danced in Presley’s stomach. In a few days, starting on the last day of August and ending at Thanksgiving, she would be the teacher rather than the student. It had taken her longer than most of her classmates to reach this last step. Her dyslexia, undiagnosed until second grade, meant it took her longer to comprehend and process lessons. She had persisted, taking extra courses to improve her comprehension and learning ways to work around her difficulty—a term she preferred over disability.

Then Gran fell and broke her hip. Presley had taken her meager college fund and rolled it into their living expenses so Gran hadn’t needed to go back to work. As a result, she’d often had to delay taking classes in order to work two, sometimes three, jobs to support them.

"I’ll come visit a weekend or two.”

"No, you stay there and do what you need to do. You’ve worked hard to earn your degree, and I know you’re going to be a wonderful teacher. I’m so very proud of you.”

Tears threatened to close her throat. "I love you, Gran.”

"I love you, too. Now, you go on. Take care of business.”

Presley grinned at the phrase so often associated with her namesake. She and Gran had called on it so often throughout the years, when times were good and when they were not.

She’d just ended the call with her grandmother when some­one softly knocked. She opened the door to find a lovely, dark-haired woman in a pristine white lab coat over a dress the color of ripe plums, standing outside her apartment.

"Hello, I’m Gabriella Ferguson.” She held out a hand. "I run the clinic downstairs.”

"Nice to meet you. Come in,” Presley said, taking the of­fered hand.

She watched the woman’s gaze scan the living area with its sofa, coffee table, floor lamp, and bookcase. Off to one side, a screen hid a double bed and the door that led to a small bath­room and tiny closet.

"I lived here when I came to Burton Springs last fall,” Gabriella said, her gaze moving to the open kitchen. Her gaze went dreamy. "I thought I’d only be here for a little while, but then I met Van.” Her lips curved into a smile. "We were married on New Year’s Eve.”

Although her romantic heart softened, Presley chuckled. "Are you here to warn me or give me hope?”

Gabriella’s brown eyes sparkled with amusement. "I came to welcome you. I like knowing someone is here. Were you able to set up the keyless entry with a code of your own?”

"Yes, no problem,” she said, then moved to the table to lift a piece of paper with the code. "Just in case you need it.”

"I can’t imagine I will, but thank you.” Gabriella again took a long survey of the room. "It’s a good place.” Her gaze returned to Presley. "As is Burton Springs. It’s rare that I’m in the clinic in the evening, but here is my number in case you need some­thing.” She offered a business card from her lab coat pocket.

"Thanks, but I should be okay. I’m used to handling every­thing on my own.”

"You’ve never lived in a small town, have you?” Gabriella smiled again when Presley shook her head. "You won’t be alone while you’re here.”

Presley followed Gabriella out of the apartment, and downstairs. "I thought I might take a short walk around town. Kind of get a feel for the place,” she said. "Is there anywhere you’d recommend?”

Once on the street, Gabriella leaned against the driver door of her SUV. "Hmm. This time of night, most of the shops are closing. Tammy’s Diner is always good.” Her eyes twinkled. "Especially if you like a side of gossip served with your entrée. Morning Delight has terrific baked goods. The Market is where most everyone shops for groceries, since they carry a good selection of locally grown produce. Then, only a couple of blocks from here, there’s The Mug Shot. It’s a tavern, but it’s family friendly.” Her brows creased in concern. "Many of the cowboys from the local ranches like to stop in there, so be careful.”

"I’ve been a bartenderI can handle them.” She glanced around the area and sighed. "I need to be around people.”

"Missing someone?”

She laughed. "So, the diner isn’t the only place where people go looking for gossip.” Grinning, she waved a hand to dismiss any apology Gabriella might have offered. "Just my grand­mother. It’s the first time we’ve been separated.”

"I know how you feel. All of my family is in Chicago.”

The two women talked about their families for a while before Gabriella’s phone pinged with a text. "My husband,” she said, smiling as she looked at the screen.

"Tell him I’m sorry I kept you so long.”

Gabriella nodded, then sent a short text back.

After they exchanged goodbyes, Presley walked in the direction Gabriella had indicated. She took in the assorted stores, noting many were indeed closed at this hour. She admired the flower boxes scattered up and down the wide walkway, noted the lack of litter, watched as a sheriff’s car cruised past her. It wasn’t silent, but peaceful, so different from the noise and speed of Helena. Today she wasn’t rushing from one job to another, or to a job after long hours of classes and studying. She had the luxury of time and the freedom to do what she wanted.

Opening the door to the tavern, sound and light muted through the half pane of glass, she stepped inside.

Apparently, a good many other people had had the same idea she’d had tonight. Her quick scan took in booths and tables with a mix of couples, groups, and families. A few looked her way, obviously identifying her as someone new in town. She heard the distinctive clack of pool balls coming from the rear room, followed by contrasting groans and cheers. Her stomach rumbled at the scent of something spicy and fried, so spotting an empty stool, she went over to the bar.

"I’d like an order of wings,” she said to the female bartender who placed a coaster in front of her. "The hottest you’ve got. And” She pointed at the tap. "Something cold to chase the heat.”

"I like the way you think.”

Presley glanced over at the man who’d just walked up to the bar. His thick brown hair curled around his ears and over the collar of his shirt, white with pearl snap buttons and an embroidered design of two interlocking diamonds above the left pocket. He was clean-shaven, and, she noted with amusement, his forehead was paler than his cheeks, indicating he wore a hat most of the time. No doubt he was one of the local cowboys Gabriella had mentioned.

"Is that so?”

He nodded at the bartender when she placed Presley’s mug on the coaster. "Another round on my tab, Donna.”

"Haven’t seen you here in a while, Shane,” she said, setting a mug under the tap before popping the cap on two bottles.

"Don’t usually have the chance to get away.” Presley caught the slight shake of his head, cutting off whatever else the bartender might have said, before he looked back at her. "I picked a good night to take some time for myself.”

Presley took a small swallow, enjoying the cold beer. She knew when a man was flirting, had certainly watched enough of these encounters play out when she’d tended bar. While she enjoyed the nearly forgotten sensation of attracting interestand the man beside her was certainly worth a second lookshe hadn’t come to Burton Springs to get involved with someone, even for the short term.

"Hey, Boss. You coming or what?”

Presley smiled at the demand coming from the direction of pool room. "Sounds like your time isn’t your own after all.”

"Maybe I’ll see you again.”


With a grin, he gathered bottles and mugs in his hands. "You can always find me at the Double Diamond Guest Ranch,” he said, then nodded to the bartender before walking away.

"Maybe,” Presley said as she glanced over her shoulder, admiring the way he wove between tables and the way his jeans cupped his well-toned butt. There was no harm in looking.

"Here you go.”

She turned back as the bartender placed her order in front of her. "Hope you like ’em hot and spicy.”

Presley grinned as she lifted a wing coated in a sauce that had her nose burning. "Oh, I do.”


Shane Abbott studied his reflection in the mirror, trying to focus on what he was doing, rather than losing patience with his daughter’s defiant statement. He didn’t want to accidentally slit his throat as he scraped a razor through the thin layer of shaving cream. He’d gotten into the habit of shaving in the evening since there was never enough damn time in the morning to shave, get dressed, get Cassie dressed and fed and off to the sitter before he reported for work. And that was on days when nothing else cropped up to ruin the schedule.

He never should have gone into town last night with a couple of the hands. But, God, he’d needed to have time to re­mem­ber he had a life apart from the ranch and fatherhood. He didn’t resent having Cassie in his life, and tried his best to make sure she didn’t miss the presence of her mother. But he needed some time for himself, too.

Last night had started the way so many other nights had done at The Mug Shot. He and the guys played pool, ate nachos, told lies. Halfway through the night, he switched from beer to water, so he could drive them all back to the ranch. He didn’t want to think about how old that made him feel. On top of that, he’d lost twenty bucks playing pool. He blamed it on the fact that he hadn’t been able to forget the fresh face he’d seen at the bar. He didn’t know her, and no one he asked seemed to know who she was.

Careful of the razor, he shook his head. At one time, he would have made more of an effort to convince her to spend some time with him . . . and maybe a little more. He glanced at his daughter, grinned at how she swiped a fingertip through the shaving cream that had fallen into the sink. Times had changed. And, apparently, he had as well.

"You have no choice,” he said firmly.

Truthfully, he didn’t blame Cassie for her reluctance. He’d never liked school either. There’d been too many letters and numbers to keep straight. The fact that they both had three more days to get used to the idea of her heading off to first grade didn’t lessen his worry.

He wondered how the hell he’d managed to get through it himself, recalling his own teenage years. His thoughts had focused more on horses and getting Sally Roberts naked on the seat of his truck, her legs locked around his hips, than learning about ancient cultures, or studying for exams.

"Why?” Cassie’s usually smiling face was filled with reluc­tance. He knew stubbornness wasn’t too far behind. "I didn’t go to kid-in-the-garden.”

"Kindergarten,” he corrected. And wasn’t the fact that she couldn’t correctly say the word a sign that he’d been wrong to keep her at the ranch?

Kindergarten wasn’t required in Montana, so he’d used that as an excuse to keep her close. He’d been raised on the ranch and had run wild. His parents had always been too busy looking after the place to worry about his education. And then after his parents moved away, leaving him behind, he hadn’t seen the point in continuing with school. Books wouldn’t help him with the horses.

But Roger and Margaret Douglas, who now owned the Double Diamond Dude and Guest Ranch, had insisted he grad­uate high school if he wanted to continue working at the ranch. So he’d sweated through the lessons while working his way up from wrangler to barn manager and now stable manager.

When Roger died suddenly last year, Shane lost the man who’d been more a father to him than his own had been. And with her grief still heavy, Margaret had recently offered Shane the chance to buy her out. Provided he could find financial backing.

He lowered the razor and smeared on more shaving cream, then turned to his daughter, picked her up, and rubbed his face against hers. Her giggles were a balm to his worry. "You didn’t go,” he said, "because you’re a snow monster.”

"Yeah.” She raised her hands into the air and grinned. "Then I can’t go now.”

"Sorry, sweetie.” Snagging a towel, he wiped both their faces. "It’s the law. You have to go.”

Her face clean, she looked at him with brown eyes so like his own, but the scattershot of freckles across her nose were from her momma. "I won’t know anybody,” she softly said.

"You’ll make friends.”

"What if I don’t?”

His heart clutched at the thought. When a girl grew up knowing her momma hadn’t wanted her, had left her behind without a word for six years, it was only natural that she worried about making friends.

He couldn’t give his daughter a motherdidn’t think he would ever trust a woman to stay and risk his precious daughter being abandoned againbut he could, and would, give her all the love and support he’d never known from his own parents.

"It’s like what I told you about being around the horses,” he said, knowing she’d listen to anything concerning horses. "You take it slow and let them come to you.”

"Why can’t I just stay here at the ranch with you?”

"I wish you could. But, like you, I have to do what I’m told. And everyone’s telling me I have to let you go to school.” He drew her into a hug and drew in a whiff of his daughter’s hair, the baby shampoo odor now replaced by a faint strawberry scent. "I love you, Cassie. But don’t worry. You’re going to be just fine. Remember, your teacher is new too. So, she won’t know anyone, either.”

"I guess, if you’re a teacher, that means you have to like school,” she said.

"I guess so[bc1].”

"I’m never going to be a teacher.”

He grinned and tugged the end of her hair. "Can’t argue with you there. But let’s not think about it right now. We have three more nights before Open House. What do you want for supper?”

She looked up at him, her eyes bright and sly. "Pancakes?”

No, he couldn’t keep her here with him, he had to let her go. And, he worried, this first step would be the easiest of all the others that would eventually take her away from him. For both of their sakes he found it easy to answer, "You bet.”

STANDING WITH the chalkboard at her back and rows of desks facing her, Presley pressed a hand to her stomach, trying to calm the butterflies. Since there was another hour before the students and parents would begin arriving for Open House, she took several calming breaths and surveyed the room again.

She’d had three days to set up the room, to make it bright and attractive. Make it her own. She had to give Eleanore Rutledge, her teaching supervisor for the semester, credit for giving her free rein. She’d also made the spur-of-the-moment decision to visit Gran before she started. While she worried about the stress the quick trip would put on her car, she’d needed the supportive boost only her grandmother’s love could give her.

Tomorrow morning, she would stand at the head of the classroom. As the teacher.

She’d face sixteen first-grade faces, so eager to please. Ones who would expect her to have all the answers, know how to comfort them, to encourage them when they faced a new task, or to soothe away the sting of scrapes, slights, and disappoint­ments.

First though, she had to get through the Open House.

"You’re going to be fine,” Eleanore said, rubbing a quick hand up and down her arm. She was a couple of years younger than Presley’s twenty-seven, but then, Presley was older than most student teachers.

With a deep breath, she turned to the door and smiled as the mayor stepped inside. "You look a little tall for first grade,” Presley said. "Are you sure you’re in the right room?”

"I always like to pop in during Open House. You’ve cer­tainly made the room welcoming.” After a quick nod to Eleanore, the mayor took a long look around at the bright bulletin-board decorations, the posters designating each learning station, and the colorful name tags propped on each desk. "There’s nothing quite like the scent of a new school year, is there?”

"A new box of crayons,” Presley said, earning a chuckle from the mayor.

With silver hair and soft brown eyes behind rimless glasses, the mayor came across as very easygoing. But since Presley had experience with her grandmother, who had a backbone of steel beneath her soft exterior, she knew better than to let down her guard. She doubted the mayor did anything without a purpose.

"Did you come in to check up on me?” she asked.

The mayor nodded. "I haven’t seen you since you stopped in The Market for groceries,” she said. "Thought I should see how you were settling in.” She took another look around the room, then focused back on Presley. "You look as bright as the room.”

Presley ran a hand down the skirt of her sunny yellow dress. Seven plastic bangles circled her left wrist in the same rainbow of colors as her flats. When a girl came in at two inches under six feetand had since she was fourteenshe’d long ago given up the idea of wearing heels.

"New back-to-school dress,” she confirmed. "I’m hoping it’ll boost my confidence.”

"Don’t let her kid you,” Eleanore commented. "She might be the first student teacher I’ve supervised, but I have no doubt she’s going to do fine.”

"Oh, I’m okay when I’m dealing with the kids. It’s the par­ents who worry me.”

"If I can face them come election time,” the mayor said, "then you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

"Are you sure? You’re only asking for their vote. I’ll have their child for the better part of the day.”

The mayor chuckled and patted her arm. "My money’s on you winning them over.”

Warmed by the boost, Presley turned to the door and watched a couple enter. The mother wore a sheriff’s uniform, and the man held a cowboy hat in his left hand. Between them a small boy held their hands. They greeted the mayor, then stood aside so she could leave.

"Hello,” Presley said, kneeling down to the boy’s level. "I’m Miss Clark. Welcome to first grade. What’s your name?”

"Eli Montgomery.”

For nearly two hours, she interacted with students, an­swered questions, explained that Eleanore would be in the classroom, supervising, and grading her teaching. She fought against making assumptions about the students, but there were a few that were so easily peggedthe boy who’d test her patience, the one who immediately became interested in the math center, the girl with the pretty pink dress who was disappointed to learn her desk wouldn’t be in the front row.

The parents were easy to understand as well. Some had been down this route with older children, so they knew the drill. Then there were those who were so used to dropping off their children at a day care, nothing phased them. And of course, there were the ones wringing their hands at the thought of leaving their firstborn in someone else’s control. She also overheard snatches of conversation between parents who knew one another, some who laughed about having gone to school together and were now sending off their kids.

She envied that kind of continuity. For most of her life, it had just been her and Gran. And work. . . . Lots of work. There’d been no time for socializing with her peers, or even just letting go and relaxing. That thought made her think of the man she’d met at The Mug Shot a few nights ago. It had been nice to flirt a little. To think of something other than school or work. Even if just for one night.

As the room began to empty, Eleanore offered to show a girl and her parents the cafeteria on her way out of the school. Presley stayed behind. There was still one student yet to show. Cassandra Abbott would be the oldest in the class, with her birthday coming at the end of the first full week of school. She hadn’t attended kindergarten but lived with her father. Just her father.

She bent down to pick up a discarded crayon, then stood . . . and froze. It was him.

He looked much the way he had that night at The Mug Shot, wearing jeans and a shirt, this time in denim blue, with the interlocking diamonds stitched on the chest pocket. She’d thought of him and their brief interaction. While driving back and forth to and from Helena, she’d recalled his smile and her surprise when she’d learned that he’d paid for her order. But he hadn’t pressed for more than the few flirty words they exchanged. He was a gentleman. And she hadn’t met many of those.

Facing him now, she recalled how he’d given a tiny shake of his head to shut down comments from the bartender. At the time, she’d had no idea why. Now, she did.

Her gaze shifted to his side, where a little girl hovered behind one of his long, muscular legs. She was tiny, with honey-blond hair pulled back in a lopsided ponytail and eyes the same hazel as her father’s. A faint sprinkling of freckles dotted her nose. There was something in the way the two of them stood to­getherthe bond they obviously sharedthat reminded Presley of her and her grandmother.

She smiled, first at the little girl, then up at her father.

"Welcome to first grade. I’m your new teacher, Presley Clark.”

[bc1]Formatting issue

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