Dixie Cowboy

Dixie Cowboy

Dolores J. Wilson

December 2013 $12.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-374-0

A Dixie Cowboys Romance, Book One


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How can a city girl resist a Dixie cowboy?

Serve those foreclosure papers, or find another job.

Katlyn Mays never defies her dad’s orders, but how can she bear to evict elderly Frank Davis from his beautiful Georgia ranch, not to mention evicting Tyler Davis, the incredibly sexy cowboy who’s fighting to save it for his Uncle Frank?

Her gaze snapped to the message board on the porch. Hiring: Someone to handle reservations, make deposits, pay bills, and manage housekeeping staff. The Dixie Rooster is a working dude ranch.

"Hi, there,” Frank Davis said. "I take it you’re the reporter from the Cantor Gazette?”

Confused, Katy stammered for a second then found her voice. "No, sir. I’m Katlyn—”

"Tyler?” Mr. Davis looked at the tall cowboy standing next to his wheel chair. "Didn’t you tell me the reporter from the newspaper was here?”

"I’m Tyler Davis.” The cowboy shook her hand. "I’ll be managing the ranch until Uncle Frank gets back on his feet.”

He held her hand longer than necessary. Blood hummed through her veins. Captured by his gaze and lost in the crystal blue of his eyes, she felt their power to the bottom of her stomach.

"Well, Katy,” Tyler said, "what can we help you with?”

Panic forced a knot in her throat. Impulsively, she ripped the want ad from the message board and then shook it slightly in Tyler’s direction. "I want this job.”

Dolores Wilson is multi-published in women’s fiction. Her novel BIG HAIR AND FLYING COWS was nominated for the Publishers Weekly Quill Award as one of the top 100 humorous books in the United States. Look for her next Dixie Cowboys Romance soon.




"…a really awesome feel good romance. I can't wait for the next book in this series!!" -- Jennifer Vanlew, Goodreads

". . . a laugh-out-loud tale that will touch your heart.” -- Kathie DeNosky, USA TODAY Bestselling Author





Chapter 1

"FRANK DAVIS HAS to be kicked off that ranch today.” Bill Mays, president of Mays Savings and Loan, made his demand perfectly clear to his chief loan officer and only daughter, Katlyn. Unfortunately, his words were not heard by her alone. Surely her father’s thunderous timbre had been audible to everyone throughout the bank and maybe even the parking lot.

"But Dad.” Where had that come from? He’d always insisted that while at work, Katy call him Mr. Mays just like all the employees did. With that slip of the tongue, her confidence and her shoulders sagged another notch. But why? She’d done her homework. She knew her points were valid. Straightening her spine, she took a deep breath.

"I’ve studied the file for the Dixie Rooster Ranch and Mr. Davis. He’s been injured and can’t work to get the ranch ready for the patrons who will be arriving in a few weeks to spend their vacations on a guest ranch.” Mercifully her breathing stayed on an even keel. Her voice hadn’t cracked a bit. She took that as a green light to continue her argument. "His rotten son sank Mr. Davis deep into debt, then skipped town. That ranch has been in his family for well over a hundred and thirty years. He’ll fight hard to heal and be able to turn his situation around. All he needs is time to recover and resume his business, and I’m sure he’ll be able to make his payments.”

Her father’s icy expression told her that her argument hadn’t dented his resolve, and he was not going to back down from his decision to foreclose.

Katy pulled up her big girl panties and stepped closer to her father’s desk. "I’m not going out there and strip that poor man of his life-long home. As chief loan officer, I’ve made the decision to give him an extension.”

Pride in her newly-found courage stiffened her spine, forcing her to stand tall and defiant. Fire in her father’s gaze melted all that and turned it into a puddle of goo in the pit of her stomach. She knew that glare well. The wrath that followed would not be pretty.

"Well, Katlyn Tara, allow me to give you a quick lesson in economics. If the bank doesn’t collect the money due us, we must take possession of the property and resell as soon as possible. Otherwise, there is no money to pay the bank’s employees, which includes you and me.”

Her father eased his substantial body into his hunter green leather chair and then rested his forearms on his massive desk.

This was a new demeanor for Katy’s father. One she’d never seen before. What happened to the big boom she’d expected because she’d stood up to him? A strange thought zapped her brain. She’d never talked back to him or voiced her opposition to anything. The chills zinging through her entire body told her there would be a confrontation, and it was going to turn ugly.

"Katlyn, have you ever stopped to wonder where the money came from for all the expensive clothes your mother made sure you had? What about the small fortune spent on dance lessons, recital clothing, traveling to competitions all over this country? Then the years in beauty contests?” Her father leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chin.

He gave her a moment to respond, but as usual, Katy knew from the few confrontations she’d had with her father, he didn’t really want a reply. Eventually, he continued. "Let me tell you where all that came from. It came from doing whatever was necessary to recoup all the money we have loaned, plus interest. And, sometimes to do that, we have to foreclose and resell the property.”

His dark eyebrows knitted close together. "If you didn’t know that just from growing up around the banking business, didn’t you learn that while you were getting all those expensive degrees in finance? Surely the premise of how businesses work should have been discussed in a few of your classes.”

"Yes, sir, I do understand that. I just—”

Her dad’s extended palm stopped her. "The bottom line is: Get out to the Dixie Rooster Ranch and serve Frank Davis with his thirty-day foreclosure papers or”—his voice hardened even more than it had been—"find yourself another job.”

He silently dismissed his daughter with a sweep of his hand.

Her weighted legs threatened to drop her on the spot. Thankfully, she made it through the doorway, to her desk to pick up Frank Davis’ file, then left the bank. But on the long walk across the parking lot, tears spilled from her eyes and burned trails into the expensive makeup her mother had insisted she wear since the day she’d turned sixteen. Expensive makeup bought with money her father had made sometimes at the expense of other people.

Of course Katy knew all that, but since her first day on the job two years prior at Mays Savings and Loan she dealt with people who trusted her with their money, like processing loans for small businesses or new homes, helping deserving people to reach their dreams. Katy loved that part. But there was so much more to it. And those were the things that stabbed Katy’s heart in ways she knew she could never accept.

But there she was, speeding her red Lexus over a country road leading to the Dixie Rooster Ranch. No matter how much it threatened to break her heart, Katy would have to do her job, or she’d have to find another one. She only hoped she could get through it without turning into a quivering mass.

AT LONG LAST, the gates of the Dixie Rooster Ranch came into view. Beyond them a huge, two-story, log cabin rose above a lush emerald green lawn which sloped gently to the rushing water of a wide creek. Katy drove through the open gates and then followed the dusty road leading to the main house and lined on both sides with pink crepe myrtle trees. As the car bumped over the rough wooden bridge, Katy’s stomach did a violent roll, and for a moment, she thought she would lose her breakfast.

She’d only had to execute one other foreclosure during her banking career. That was the day she’d helped police set eighty-year-old Lucy Jamison’s belongings on the curb because she hadn’t paid taxes for a few years. Ten to be exact.

Back then, Katy calmed the angry sea inside her by begging her friend, Maria, to allow Lucy to stay in Maria’s home until the elderly woman’s daughter could drive to Cantor, Georgia, from Los Angeles, two long weeks later. Katy had taken care of all of Lucy’s expenses and thought she might have to make the woman one of her tax exemptions, when her daughter finally arrived.

During the time she spent with Lucy Jamison, Katy had received several pieces of sage advice, but one played over in her mind more times than any other—You can live your life doing exactly what’s expected of you, then die. Or, you can live it to the fullest doing the right thing, and then die. Which one would you rather do?

Katy’s answer would be to the fullest, of course. But exactly what did that mean?

While deeply pondering that question, Katy pulled into Frank Davis’ front yard. Directly in front of her, she saw a male’s behind sticking from under the hood of an old truck. A large rip in the seat of his pants exposed underwear, decorated with Tweety, no less. Her gaze slowly drifted from the well-defined, masculine behind down to the hem of his coveralls, which rose a good two inches above his socks.

Must be expecting a flood.

Katy nipped her bottom lip between her teeth. Her regard for the man’s backside intensified. Its perfection could not belong to sixty-something Frank Davis. A handyman, perhaps?

He spun around and caught her staring. She bit her lip hard, and heat rose to the top of her head. She choked back her embarrassment and climbed out of her car. Slamming the door, she started toward the man. A big, long-eared bloodhound charged in her direction, stopping only a few feet from her.

She came to a fast halt and sucked in a quick breath. "Will he bite?” She hoped not.

"I don’t know. Come on up, and we’ll find out.” The man spoke with a slight drawl. Not the heavy southern accent Katy heard from most of the customers at the bank.

If he puzzled her at first, the sparkle of mischief in the man’s blue eyes reassured her he was joking. She took another step forward. The dog bared his teeth and growled. Racing back into her car, she knocked her head on the door facing.

"George,” the man called to the dog. "Get over there and lay down.” He pointed to the area in front of a vast porch which wrapped around a major part of the ranch house.

George did as he was told and lumbered across the yard to a shady spot. He plopped onto his stomach, his ears spread onto the grass. The man wiped his hands on a grease-stained rag and made his way to Katy’s car door.

Again, she opened it.

"HE’S REALLY HARMLESS, just a little protective.” Tyler Davis extended his hand to the pretty lady. She hesitated for a moment then laid her hand in his open palm. His fingers closed around hers. They were warm and soft, and Tyler liked the way they felt.

He watched the woman with great interest. She swung her long, slender legs out of the car and placed her feet on the ground. He didn’t miss the hem of her skirt edging its way upward, exposing creamy white thighs. His gaze moved down past her perfectly shaped calves and trim ankles all the way to her expensive shoes.

With a slight tug, he pulled the woman to her feet. He almost laughed out loud wondering what she would think if he complimented her on her Jimmy Choos or whatever those brands were that Beth Bishop, his back-stabbing ex-fiancée, would pay out the nose for and then spew forth their names like they were supposed to mean something to Tyler.

Regardless of how much they cost, the shoes on the pretty feet in front of him battled with the gravel in the driveway. The woman lost her footing. He took her arm, but she pulled away and steadied herself against the car.

"Are you okay?” he asked.

She pushed by him only to wobble again.

"Here.” He took her by the arm, whether she liked it or not, and walked her safely to the edge of the driveway and onto the grass which he noticed desperately needed mowing. Another chore to be added to things to do. The list grew longer and was quickly getting out of control. Killing his no-good cousin topped the list.

"Do you happen to know how many years a guy could get for murder in Georgia?” Tyler smiled, and the woman stared, mouth agape. A look of terror made a rapid appearance across her face and forced any hint of sparkle in her eyes to disappear like the last fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant.

"I’m sorry.” Tyler tried not to laugh. "I was just kidding. Honest.” He cleared his throat to disguise the humor he’d found in his own words and averted his gaze from the swell of her breast to the curve of her mouth. Suddenly he had a strong desire to draw her into his arms and calm her apparent uneasiness with a well-executed kiss.

A glint of sunlight reflected off the red Lexus the well-dressed, sexy-legged, beautiful-mouthed woman had driven to the ranch. Thankfully, a distraction. It was exactly the make and model his girlfriend Beth—make that back-stabbing ex-girlfriend—had bought with some of the commission money she’d gotten for the ad campaign she’d stolen from Tyler.

He glanced down and realized his rudeness in ignoring the woman was unacceptable. "The sun must be baking my brain. You’re here on business, and I’m keeping you from it.”

The man towered a good eight or nine inches above Katy. She looked up into his crystal blue eyes.

A loud, buzzer-type bell rang out in earsplitting decibels. Katy gasped and sprang forward against his hard chest. He was too close, and, despite his rag-tag looks, he smelled great. A subtle musk with a hint of motor oil.

Jeez, Katlyn get your mind on business, please.

"Sorry,” she mumbled and tried her best to regain the decorum she needed to take care of the dreaded chore that lay ahead. "Since you don’t appear to have a broken leg, I assume you are not Frank Davis.”

The man shook his head. "No, I’m—”

The buzzer rang again. He spun on his heels and then called over his shoulder. "That’s Uncle Frank letting me know he needs me.” When he reached the two steps leading to the massive porch, he stopped and turned to face her. "With his leg busted, I have to help him with almost everything. Please come on up. I’ll be right back.”

Katy made her way to the porch, keeping her gaze ever steady on good old George. The dog rose in a ho-hum way and followed her up the steps. She moved to the front door of the cabin. George flopped down on the wooden porch and exhaled an exasperated sigh as if to say his work was done, or he was just too darn tired to be bothered.

To the right of the door, a cork message board had been attached to the logs of the cabin’s outer wall. Brochures, announcements, business cards of various establishments of the local community decorated the entire board. On a light beige sheet of ranch stationery, Katy saw an interesting ad.

The owner of the ranch needed an assistant who could handle the reservations, make deposits, pay the company bills, and manage the housekeeping staff. She’d learned all that and more from her numerous degrees in business and finance. She read the ad three times. With each pass, she knew she could do that job with little effort at all.

When she thought back to her college days, she knew in her heart she’d continued her education to delay the inevitable. Eventually, her father caught on to the fact that Katy would go for a degree in what he called "Hockyology”—analyzing dog poop—if it kept her from actually going to work for her demanding father. Katy gave her head a gentle shake to chase away any more negative thoughts. She faced enough as it was.

From where she stood on the front porch of the main house, a gorgeous, panoramic view spread out in all directions. Four large buildings appeared to be two-story bunk houses. The wonderful smell of fresh, clean air with a hint of late-blooming peach blossoms floated around her. The essence corralled her rapidly spinning mind and calmed her troubled soul like nothing she could ever remember.

Katy gave only a cursory thought to what might be keeping the man. She would hang on to the peace she’d just experienced for as long as possible. A fair distance from the house, she could see a stable and, beyond that, several more horses in a beautiful green pasture. Katy couldn’t remember the last time she’d ridden a horse. Her mother didn’t think it was a ladylike activity for her precious daughter, but she rode her friend Maria’s Tennessee Walker every time Katy visited. She could almost hear the creak of the leather saddle and feel the wind whipping through her long hair. Her mother would have had a fit if she’d seen her.

"You have a beautiful place here, George.”

Hearing his name, the bloodhound got up and then strolled over to her. He looked up at her with sad eyes. Sensing she had made a friend, she scratched the velvety fur behind his ear. Waves of compassion banded her heart. They were strange feelings to Katy. She’d never been allowed to have a pet. Her mother forbade any "filthy beasts” to enter their home. Surprisingly, George warmed Katy’s heart and put a smile on her face.

Movement from inside the house drew her thoughts back to the reason she waited on the porch. Her father’s voice roared inside her head. Serve those papers, or find another job. Her gaze snapped to the message board and zoned in on the want ad. If only.

The man who had originally greeted her when she’d arrived at the Dixie Rooster Ranch pulled the door open.

"I’m sorry about that. My uncle needed my help.” Over his shoulder Katy saw an elderly man in a wheelchair coming toward them down a long hallway. Since his leg was elevated and in a cast she presumed she was about to come face to face with the soon-to-be evicted Frank Davis.

He rolled his chair through the open doors and once on the porch, he extended his hand to Katy. "Hi there. I take it you’re the reporter from the Cantor Gazette?”

Confused, Katy stammered for a second, then found her voice. "No, sir. I’m Katlyn—”

"Tyler?” Mr. Davis looked at the other man. "Didn’t you tell me the reporter from the newspaper was here?”

Tyler shrugged. "I’m sorry, Katlyn.”

"Katy.” Why had she said that? This wasn’t a casual visit to make new friends. She had serious business to attend to. Katy made her sound young and inexperienced.

"I’m Tyler Davis.” He shook her hand. "I’ll be managing the ranch until Uncle Frank gets back on his feet.”

He held her hand longer than necessary. Blood hummed through her veins. Captured by his gaze and lost in the crystal blue of his eyes, she felt their power to the bottom of her stomach.

Begrudgingly, Katy looked from Tyler to Frank Davis to George. Their waiting stares paralyzed her. She literally had to force herself to look away. The logo on the stationery of the want ad beckoned her to glance at it again.

"Well, Katy,” Tyler said, "what can we help you with?”

Panic forced a knot in her throat. Impulsively, she ripped the want ad from the message board and then shook it slightly in Tyler’s direction. "I want this job.”



Chapter 2

WOW!JUST EXACTLY what had hit Tyler Davis square in the gut and left his head spinning? As close as he could tell, it was a five-foot-four, piercing brown-eyed whirlwind named Katy. And somewhere between hello and I want this job, he’d lost all business sense and hired the pretty lady just because she wanted the job. Was it because she turned him into a seventeen-year-old with raging hormones?

Darn, he hadn’t even asked her last name. Didn’t know where she hailed from, and, most importantly, didn’t know if she had the skills needed to be his assistant. She dressed in very expensive clothes and looked like she’d been put together by a Hollywood make-up artist and stylist, but how would that work into the ranch life? How were her phone skills? Did she even have any? Could she balance a checkbook? She was awfully skittish. Would she be able to meet and greet and assist the guests, or would she mumble her way through every conversation?

"Don’t look at me like that, George,” Tyler scolded the long-eared dog. "I’ve seen you chasing Mr. Moro’s border collie. You know exactly how I got into this mess. Now, I need you to help me figure out how to get out of it.” He reached down and ruffled the fur on the dog’s back.

"Let’s go, boy.” Tyler marched down the steps and into the yard. "I have to go check on the two guys painting the last bunkhouses.” George lumbered down the stairs beside Tyler, but when his feet touched the plush grass, he flopped onto his belly for an afternoon nap.

Tyler glanced around, then laughed. "Okay, you rest, boy. I’ll be back to feed you and Uncle Frank lunch in just a few minutes.”

With all the work he had to do, Tyler buried himself in the next few tasks on his list. But none of them kept his gaze from periodically returning to the dusty road leading to the ranch house. Katy had assured Tyler she would go pick up some of her belongings and be back before suppertime. He looked for a dust cloud on the horizon to signal his new live-in assistant had returned. Katy... Katy... what’s-her-name.

KATY MAYS SLUMPED over the steering wheel of her car. She’d been sitting in the driveway of her parents’ house, the place where she’d grown up and continued to call home.

The old Victorian house held six bedrooms and three baths. She’d had the bedroom on the third floor with adjoining bathroom and her own sitting area. Since her days as a carefree teenager, she’d pretended she lived alone, but for all of her twenty-eight years, she’d never really done that.

Her parents had always been right there. Even in college she’d shared a dorm room with three other sorority sisters. Solitude was never an option. And, for the past few years, all her free time had been spent with Jeremy Everson.

But that was about to change, and the ramifications of her rebellion would surely come back to bite her in the butt.

Katy checked her watch. Oh, no. She had to hurry. Her mom would be home from her once-a-week bridge game in about half an hour. Katy rushed inside and up the back staircase to her room. She pulled two large suitcases from her walk-in closet and opened them on the bed.

Now would come the hard part. What did she own that would be appropriate to wear for her new position as Tyler Davis’ personal assistant? Rifling through her hanging clothes, she could find only three blouses that didn’t smack of society girl. She did find a few pairs of jeans and a couple of Capri pants, ones she’d worn when she’d gone to visit her friend Maria.

"Maria. Of course.” Katy pulled her cell phone from her skirt pocket and rapidly punched in the number.

"Hello.” Maria’s bubbly voice lifted Katy’s spirits.

"I need your help.” She hadn’t meant to sound so frantic, but since she truly was, she couldn’t hold it back. "Can you come to my house and pick me up and then take me to a ranch out in Carteret? I’ll buy you gas, but I have to leave now.”

"Good heavens. I’ll be right there, but you got a whole lot of explaining to do.”

That was so true, but before Katy did another thing she had to explain everything to her mom. That struck more than terror in her tumbling stomach. It struck pain in her heart. Her mother had such high hopes for her only daughter. She’d made sure Katy had the best of everything, even down to the finest stationery to send out proper hand-written letters like all well-mannered ladies should do.

"Where’s that pearl-white stationery Mom bought a few weeks ago?” Katy found it and sat down to write her parents a letter. She knew full well this wasn’t what her mother had in mind for her expensive stationery.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I hope you are not too disappointed with me, but I’ve decided to make a career change. This morning Dad said that, if I couldn’t serve foreclosure papers then I should find another job. I thought a lot about that, and I know for sure I don’t have the stomach for that kind of business world.

I’m taking a little time to get my act together and decide what I want to do. If you don’t hear from me for a while, please don’t worry. I’m a big girl, and I can take care of myself.

Daddy, I am leaving my Lexus here. I know it was my college graduation present because you were expecting me to work for you at the bank. Sorry I wasn’t better suited for the job.

I’ll be in touch as soon as I work through the what-do-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up issue.

I love you both, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything.



Katy threw the last of the things she thought she would need for her new job into the suitcases. She’d dragged them down the stairs, each hitting the tread with a thump. Earlier, on her way upstairs, she had placed Frank Davis’ foreclosure file on the breakfast table. Now, she laid the envelope containing the letter to her parents on top of the file. For a moment, she couldn’t let go of it. Sadness pierced her heart, and she nearly changed her mind, but that passed quickly. She was making a move from her familiar world to something so foreign it could just as well be on the other side of the world. Suddenly, a charge of excitement rippled over her skin. She searched her mind for the positive side of her decision and, much to her surprise, found it in the middle of newly-found independence—she’d never have to hurt or disappoint anyone again by denying a loan or throwing them out of the house.

A loud blast of a car horn pulled her from her melancholy thoughts and propelled her out the door where Maria waited to take her to her new home and hopefully, the beginning of a new and exciting life.

TYLER HEARD THE gravel crunching under tires in the driveway. He wiped his hands on the dishtowel he’d just used to clean up the kitchen after fixing his and Uncle Frank’s lunch. He flung the towel on the counter and hurried to the front door.

His new assistant pulled two huge suitcases from the trunk of a late model car driven by a pretty, dark-haired woman.

Wonder what happened to the nice red sled she’d driven earlier?

"Wait.” He tromped down the steps and made it to the car just as Katy sat the last suitcase on the ground. "I’ll take those.” Tyler lifted both bags and then moved to the edge of the grass. He started to ask what happened to her car, but she was leaning through the open passenger’s window, talking to the person who had brought her back to the ranch.

Trying to avert his attention from the curve of Katy’s backside, Tyler glanced out into the deep, green meadow, but that didn’t last long. His gaze preferred the treat of the closer view. He’d thought his ex, Beth, had a cute rear, but this gal far outranked her in the sexy department.

"Darn,” he muttered under his breath. Even though he and Beth Bishop had broken off their two-year relationship three weeks earlier, just the thought of her still brought the sting of her betrayal to the pit of his stomach.

How could I have been so stupid?

By the time Tyler pulled himself back from the less than happy world he’d left in New York, Katy stood near him, eyeing him as if she might be rethinking her decision to work with him. Before she had a chance to say anything, he snatched up the bags and headed to the house.

"Let’s get you settled in, and then we’ll go for a tour of the ranch.”

Katy followed him onto the porch. She noticed he’d changed from the torn overalls to a pair of jeans. Tight-fitting jeans, and she liked the way they looked from behind. After holding the door open for him, she trailed behind him into a large sitting area that held a registration desk and a huge fireplace surrounded by flat stones. Her new boss stomped down a long hallway. She hurried to catch up. Checking out the large bookshelves loaded with hundreds of books would have to wait.

There were several closed doors on both sides of the corridor. Since Katy followed closely on Tyler’s heels, she didn’t have time to speculate about what might be behind door number one, number two, or number three. She figured she’d learn what each one held in due time.

"This is it. Like I told you earlier, your room and board are included with the job. Right now we are working with a skeleton crew, and they are mostly doing renovations to the bunkhouses. So, you’re on your own as far as fixing yourself something to eat.” Tyler lifted the bags onto the bed. He turned to a door right behind him and opened it. "This walk-in closet was Aunt Hilda’s pride and joy. It’s pretty big.” He glanced back at her suitcases. "I’m guessing you won’t fill it up.” The corners of his mouth turned into a radiant smile.

Amusement danced in his eyes. Katy’s stomach flipped big time. Pretending to examine the exquisite carving on one of the posts of the rice bed which was the focal point of the room, she steadied herself on weak knees.

Weak knees? Was someone kidding her? She’d seen knock-out smiles up close and personal before, but none had ever had this effect on her. What exactly was it that made this one different? She wasn’t sure, but she knew she’d have to keep it under control.

"This was your aunt’s bed?” Katy followed through with her little charade of hiding her reaction to him.

"Yes, hers and Uncle Frank’s. She passed away almost six years ago.” Tyler moved around the room, checking bureau drawers to be sure nothing had been left behind. Katy watched him, but found no sign of anxiety you would expect to see when foreclosure lay just around the bend.

"I don’t want to take Mr. Davis’ bed.”

"Oh, that’s not the case at all. He moved into one of the guest rooms down the hall. He said this one was too frou-frou for him, but we all knew it was because his wife of fifty-four years wasn’t here anymore.”

Katy did a quick scan of the room. Taking into consideration that Priscilla curtains dressed the windows, night stands and dressers were covered with lacy doilies, and the three hurricane table lamps were decorated with tiny blue roses, the room was almost too frou-frou for Katy. The six or more lace-covered pillows resting against the headboard really pushed it over the top.

She turned to Tyler, who was assessing her. "This room looks like it came out of Georgia’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

A soft laugh escaped from Katy’s perfect lips.

The sound sent a buzz of electricity through Tyler and stopped him dead. What was there about this woman’s laugh that melted his insides and forced him to take a deep breath? Did it remind him of Beth’s laugh? A harsh thought flashed through his mind. He’d heard her laugh so few times; he couldn’t remember what she sounded like.

Tyler opened another door and flipped on a light inside the room. "This is your bathroom. There’s a door in here that goes into the kitchen, but you can keep it locked. Aunt Hilda used to slip through there and get an early start on breakfast.” He unlocked a raised panel door and led the way into a large, farmhouse-style kitchen. He turned to make sure she was following him and nearly knocked her over.

"Oops. Sorry about that.” He wasn’t really. Their closeness gave Tyler a chance to inhale the sweet scent of her perfume. He guessed something very expensive since he recognized it as one he recalled from Beth’s high society circle.

"Carlotta has agreed to come back to work as our cook once it gets closer to the time to reopen the ranch, but until then you can make yourself at home and eat whatever you can find in the fridge and the pantry.” Moving quickly, he gave her the ten-cent tour of the kitchen. He opened and closed cabinets, the pantry, and the refrigerator with exaggerated gestures.

I could give Vanna a run for her money. Tyler chuckled to himself.

"Let me know if there is something you would like to have, and we’ll add it to the shopping list.”

He led the way through the bathroom and back into the bedroom. "Oh, that reminds me, I might need you to do the shopping over the next few weeks. Hope that won’t be a problem.” He didn’t give her time to answer. "By the way, what happened to your jazzy car?”

For just a second, Katy’s eyes closed. When she opened them again, her gaze didn’t quite meet his. Instead, she kept it trained on her finger tracing the cording on her suitcase. "It wasn’t mine. I’m sorry I didn’t realize I would need a car as part of my job.”

"Oh, you don’t.” She straightened, and Tyler was sure he saw relief in her eyes. "You can use Old Blue out there. He looks rough, but he drives great.”

Katy looked in the direction where he pointed through one of the windows. "Old Blue?”

"Yeah, the truck I was working on when you first came up this morning.” He waited for any negative reaction. But none came.

"Yes, of course, Old Blue and I will get along just fine.”

Katy’s voice lacked the enthusiasm Tyler had hoped for, but he let it pass.

"When we talked this morning, you said you had office experience.” He leaned against the door jamb and watched the sunbeams dance through her auburn hair. "Let’s narrow that down. Are you comfortable answering phones?”

"Very much so.”

"That’s good. Can you balance checkbooks, handle accounts receivable and payable?” She nodded.

"Have you ever worked in reservations or guest services in a hotel or a motel?” He held in an uncertain breath.

"No, I haven’t done that type of work.”

Tyler exhaled loudly.

"But I’m great with people.” Again Katy laughed with the sweet sound that immediately put Tyler at ease.

"Here’s the deal,” she said. "I have a business degree from Emory University. I’ve worked in finance for a few years, and I don’t like it. I thought I’d try my hand at another line of work.” Katy removed a small pillow from the bed and stroked it like it was a kitten.

When she looked up at him, Tyler’s first thought was that she was evaluating him. She had a story to tell, but she wasn’t quite sure of him. He smiled, hoping to put her at ease.

Katy cleared her throat. "To be honest with you, when I said I wanted the job, I didn’t know and didn’t care if it was washing dishes or mucking out the barns. I just wanted something new.” She replaced the pillow and moved around the bed coming to a stop in front of Tyler. "Although I wasn’t in the hotel service, I’m a quick study. I’m proficient in computers, public relations, finance, and I can even manage to answer a phone without saying, ‘Can I help you some way or ’nother?’”

With what appeared to be little effort, Katy smiled widely, and her brown eyes sharpened.

"Since you hired me so quickly and without my submitting to a skills test, or drug test, or having a list of references, I have to assume you are pretty desperate for help.” Her bright eyes darkened, leaving Tyler to wonder why. "Just so you know, I need this job as much as you need an assistant. Management for any line of business has a similar basis, and I know I can either learn with minimal guidance or figure it out on my own. I’ll work hard to prove myself.”

"I can’t ask for more than that.” He shoved away from the door jamb. "So, you like your room okay?

"This is all very nice,” Katy said. "It’s much more than I expected.”

"Glad you like it.” Tyler meant that. Although it wasn’t his, he was very proud of the ranch that had once belonged to his grandparents. He had lived right there in that house until he was six. Then the world as he knew it exploded in unimaginable ways. "Since you will be involved in handling the income and disbursements, I’ll need to fill you in on what’s been going on during the last few months. Tomorrow, I have to go into downtown Cantor and pay a visit to the bank that holds the mortgage on this place.

"Some high and mighty loan officer named K. T. Mays is breathing foreclosure threats down Uncle Frank’s neck. I have to try to talk some sense into the old geezer who evidently has a vault lock where his heart should be. I’ll bring you up to speed on all that while I show you around. Why don’t you change out of your fancy duds and get into some more suitable for the muck and the mire of the ranch. I’ll wait for you in the office next to the registration desk.”

Tyler started out the door, but quickly turned back. "I’ll get all your information later, but I want to at least get your name posted to our payroll system. I know that Katy is short for Katlyn, but what’s your last name?”



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