The Cowboy Wore A Kilt
set in the World of Carolyn Brown's Blame It On Texas
When Scottish oil executive Declan MacLeod books a week’s stay at the Bar J bed and breakfast, ranch owner Claudia Jensen finds herself interested in a guy for the first time in years. Declan’s job is to buy the Bar J out from under Claudia, though, and she is not at all interested in selling. Sparks fly in the Canyon, when love rides in, Texas style!
Enjoy An Excerpt
Scotsman Declan MacLeod has come to work in Houston in the offices of Brewster Energy, Inc., and that means, getting his marching orders from Thad Brewster… Declan has fallen in love with Texas, and he’s about to fall out of love with his job.
“You’ll like this project, Declan” Thad Brewster said, propping his boots on the edge of the poker table positioned by the office’s skyline view of Houston. “A little R&R, some scenery, some time away from the boardroom. Enjoy it while you can.”
Declan MacLeod liked to build things—and he loved Texas. Thad liked to tinker and twiddle. He fished a paper clip out of a drawer, and unbent the wire.
“R&R, while I learn to ride horses?” Declan asked. “On what planet is riding a horse a required skill in the petroleum industry?” Besides, Declan already knew how to ride, more or less.
Thad tried to refold the paper clip back to its original configuration, which couldn’t be done because of the effect of the stress on the wire.
“You’re scoping out a property. I’m talking to Davis International about a deal, and Miranda Davis is the touchy-feely, get-to-know-your-inner-idiot type. She owns an entire off-site facility for executive seminars, business retreats, and management refreshers. Rents it out and makes goddamn money off the place. I don’t have anything like that.”
Thad had a tuxedo, which he dutifully wore to all of the Houston fundraisers. He invariably escorted some oil baron’s daughter or up-and-coming screenwriter who just happened to be gorgeous, but he was, to use the American term, a tightwad.
“You barely bother with charitable giving at all,” Declan observed, and that was not very Texan of Brewster.
“Yeah, and I don’t plan to start now. A little place in the country to do training, off-site planning, or take the clients I need to impress is fine. I’ll leave it to Miranda to save the great unwashed.”
Insight hit as Declan counted out the twenty cards he’d need to build his card tower. “You want Miranda to save you. I’ve seen the earnings reports, Thad. The whole industry is taking a beating.” Though Davis International, which had diversified into renewable energy twenty years ago, was doing singularly well.
The paper clip snapped in two. Thad tossed the two halves toward the trash can, missed, and got out another paper clip.
“We’re in a slump is all, Dec. Every industry has ups and downs.”
Declan’s job was not to talk sense into a CEO who’d fiddle while Rome burned… or put up solar panels. Let Miranda Davis lecture some business reality into Thad. She was reported to be a good talker, and a better listener.
“So I’m off to the wilds of the Panhandle, where I’m to do what?”
“Steal candy from a baby,” Thad said, flashing a smile worthy of a great white shark. “You’ll scope out a little dude ranch, make sure it’s worth what it’s appraised for, do some due diligence, and then buy the place out from under the owner.”
Due diligence being Thad’s euphemism for spying.
“Does the owner want to sell?”
“They never do, but I’ve taken the trouble to have my bank buy the mortgage, so the means of persuasion are in your hands. I’m not saying you have to break anybody’s fingers, just help the owner see reason. A nice corporate country club out there in canyon country will be good for the local economy. We’ll hire some cowgirls to change the sheets and serve the drinks, employ the trades in the construction phase, and even pay a few taxes if we have to. Know what I mean?”
Declan snatched the paper clip from him. “I will break your fingers if you ever again imply that I’d use physical force to further your business objectives.”
Thad was on his feet in the next instant, leaning across the table, his face inches from Declan’s. “You work for me, Dec. You don’t tell me what to do.”
Thad looked good on magazine covers, but Declan was close enough to see his eyes, to see the fundamental insecurity that drove much of the man Thad was. Not a pretty sight.
Declan picked up two cards—the king and queen of hearts—and balanced them against each other as the cornerstone for his new construction.
“I’ll take a look at this ranch, and give you a report regarding its potential as a business retreat venue. When you’ve had the benefit of my insights, you can decide whether I’m to make an offer.”
“You have one week, starting Monday,” Thad said, resuming his seat. “I don’t care what you have to do to get that property. I want to be able to tell Miranda Davis that I’m building a state-of-the-art corporate training center up in Palo Duro Canyon. She’ll check the land records to make sure I’m not bluffing, so get me that ranch.”
Get me that ranch.
Increasingly, that attitude bothered Declan. A Scottish laird of old had given orders, demanded respect from his clan, and spoken with all the authority of law where his people were concerned. He’d also been willing to give his life to protect them, and had held all clan lands in the name of his people.
Thad lacked loyalty to anything except his own bottom line, and Miranda Davis would be a fool to do business with him.
So what did that make Declan, who depended on Thad Brewster for his every groat?
Green-up was coming early, a mixed blessing in Claudia Jensen’s opinion. The new hay would be ready sooner, the winter chill gone, and the flowers were always a cheering sight… but the heat of summer came right after green-up, and that heat lasted for months.
A place that got only twenty inches of annual rainfall and even less snow took heat seriously.
Palo Duro Canyon had seasons, sometimes several in the space of a day, and this Sunday was no different. The horses got a day of rest, same as everybody else on the Bar J, but they were restless, cantering the fence line of their paddock in a pattern Claudia knew meant a change of weather on the way.
She waved to get Kara’s attention, then motioned pitching square bales. Kara nodded and signed, “You want me to help?”
Claudia replied in the negative, and said she’d be ready for a glass of lemonade when she’d thrown the extra hay.
Kara was good around the horses, but she was a kid, and too much hard work was the surest way to drive a young person from the ranching life. For a teenager with severe hearing loss, recreation was a challenge, or would have been, but for the horses.
Claudia threw the extra hay and stopped to visit with a gelding hanging his head over the gate. His white forelock was streaked green where some other horse had slobbered on him.
“I don’t own horses, I own hay vacuums,” Claudia said, scratching Boo’s forehead. He was the peacekeeper, the guy always willing to amble away when tempers flared, and he was Kara’s salvation. Damned horse would jump anything provided Kara was in the saddle. Too bad grays were a nightmare to keep clean for show days.
A line of steely clouds that had started the day off to the north was moving closer, very likely bringing a reprise of winter. Claudia was tossing extra rations to keep the horses warm, because blanketing a dozen equines, then unblanketing, then re-blanketing, was foolish when good tucker, movement, hanging with the herd, and staying dry did a safer, more efficient job.
She’d spread the fodder into fifteen different piles across the various paddocks—always have more piles of hay than horses, so nobody lost the game of musical snacks and got testy—when a red Mirage came tooling up the drive. Dust hung in the air behind the little car, which stood out like an exotic bird against the mesquite and juniper landscape.
White vehicles were cooler, which the locals and the car rental agent at the Silverton airport knew darned well, so this was a tourist.
A paying guest, rather. Claudia’s mom had been particular about that.
Claudia closed the paddock gate and took up a lean against the lamp post. Either Monday’s guest had come early, or this was somebody without a reservation.
A tall somebody. The driver got out, going directly to the back of the car and extracting a silver suitcase.
The fancy, expensive kind that held up forever.
“Howdy,” Claudia called, pasting her best Hospitality Smile on her face. “Welcome to the Bar J. I’m Claudia Jensen.”
The guy wore sunglasses—they looked expensive too. He stuck out his hand and shook. “Hello, Miss Jensen. I’m Declan MacLeod, and I’m very glad to have found you.”
Well, hell. Mr. MacLeod had warm hands, a devilish smile, and a Scottish accent that suggested he could moonlight as a voice actor. Kara would never hear that accent—a sorrow—while Claudia wouldn’t forget it for a long time.
“You’re a day early, Mr. MacLeod. I had your reservation down for Monday to Saturday. We have plenty of room though, and we’re always glad to meet a new friend.”
You could tell a lot about a man by his belt buckle. The young guys went strutting around with their rodeo championship buckles flashing—half of ’em bought in pawnshops—or some huge silver and turquoise number that pretty much shouted, “Hey, darlin’, look at my zipper!” while it made getting on and off a horse a slightly riskier proposition.
Mr. MacLeod’s buckle was a simple pewter Celtic knot, his belt worn leather, his jeans comfortable with some wear left, and his T-shirt a pale blue with “Caledonia” in black script across his chest. He wore running shoes and a soft corduroy jacket with suede patches at the elbows.
Not quite cowboy, not quite nerd, not quite tourist. Not quite stunning either, but close. Broad shoulders, narrow waist, trim without being skinny. His features would go craggy as he aged. For now, he was doing a good version of rugged. His reservation form said he wanted to learn to ride—as if that could be done in a week flat.
“I’m early, you say?” He ran a hand through dark auburn hair. “I do apologize. I must have given my assistant the wrong dates. Will it be any bother to put me up?”
Pute me opp?
“No bother a ’tall,” Claudia said, though she treasured her quiet Sunday nights. “Is that your only bag, and can I carry it for you?”
“I have a satchel on the passenger’s seat. If you’d bring that along, I’d be grateful.”
Mr. MacLeod didn’t look around for some guy to pick up his suitcase, and yet, he also didn’t insist on managing everything on his own. The satchel was odd—a combination computer case and briefcase in tooled leather with a shoulder strap. A one-off, and he’d probably paid dearly for the leather work.
Either MacLeod was well-to-do, or he liked nice things and took care of them. The rent-a-runt said he didn’t spend money on casual displays, and the running shoes said he liked his comforts.
And yet, he didn’t entirely add up, and Claudia disliked mysteries. “What brings you out here to the Bar J? Your reservation said you want to spend time in the saddle, but there are a lot of places to do that.”
“I wanted peace and quiet, which you appear to have in abundance, and some new scenery. How old is this place?”
Ranching in the Canyon hadn’t really started until after the Civil War, but the presence of water and the Canyon’s sheltering walls made it a great place to set down roots.
“The Jensens go back six generations, and we used to be a much larger family.” Which was why the hacienda looked like something out of a Fred Harvey coffee-table book. The façade boasted salmon-colored adobe walls, exposed timbers, and a wide covered porch that could easily seat dozens at the various groupings Claudia had arranged.
“You have a cat, Ms. Jensen. That has to be one of the largest cats I’ve ever seen.”
Also one of the most shameless. “We call him Hotay, short for Don Quixote. In his younger days, he tilted at a lot of windmills that just happened to look like lady cats.”
Hotay—Claudia’s dad had called him Hottie—was all black, long-haired, and lazy, but he looked nice lounging on the front porch and all over the website photos. His hair did not look so nice on the furniture.
“He’s friendly,” Mr. MacLeod said, hunkering down to scratch Hotay behind the ears. “Is he permitted in the house?”
“He comes and goes as he pleases. Looks like we’ll be getting some weather, so I expect he’ll be by the fire tonight. Your room is on the ground floor.”
Mr. MacLeod held the door for Claudia, and Hotay shot through her legs and headed straight for the sofa.
Storm coming for sure.
“You’re my only guest this week,” Claudia said, snatching a key from behind the front desk, “so there’s not much point locking your door, but I won’t be offended if you do. Supper’s at six, and you’ll be dining with my niece and me tonight. Kara is deaf, so don’t think she’s being rude if she doesn’t answer you. She reads lips fairly well, and can read, write, and sign like a house afire. Don’t yell at her and don’t try to talk to her unless you’re facing her in good light. Password for the wireless is Bar J Ranch, initial letters uppercase, without spaces.”
What was she forgetting? Claudia was forgetting some part of the welcome speech, because Mr. MacLeod was standing too close.
He waited at Claudia’s back while she unlocked the door to his room—she’d kept the door closed so Hotay wouldn’t make himself at home—and at close quarters, she picked up a scent from her guest. Cedar and sage with notes of everything from black pepper to clove.
Expensive, in other words.
“When would you like breakfast?” Claudia asked, pushing the door open and preceding Mr. MacLeod into the room. “And what would you like for breakfast?”
If he was her only guest, she could spoil him a little. No harm in that.
“Would it be too much trouble to eat around 8 a.m.?”
“Eight works just fine.” Plenty of time to do the barn chores and get a meal on the table. “What shall I fix?”
“I’m not particular. Juice and toast will do if the coffee’s decent.”
Claudia set his briefcase-thingie on the desk. “Now see, that’s pure foolishness, neglecting breakfast that way. Maybe in Scotland that’s how you do it, but here, you’re going to start your day with some protein and a decent meal. No wonder you’re not packing any reserves. Big fella like you needs to eat. The coffee is excellent, and so are the eggs, the grits, the coffee cake, the flapjacks, the oatmeal, and fruit crepes. What’ll you have?”
She’d made Mr. MacLeod smile, and that was not good when she was trying to scold him into eating a decent meal.
“I’ll have whatever you’re having,” he said. “I’ll be prompt for dinner too.”
“See that you are,” Claudia replied, but damned if she wasn’t smiling back.
Running a spread and a B&B was hard work. Claudia loved the horses, but horses were expensive. One little bellyache could be the end of a valuable animal’s existence, or the beginning of thousands of dollars in vet bills. Just cleaning the bunkhouse in anticipation of the spring hiring would take her several days.
Watching Declan MacLeod shrug out of his jacket and hang it on a bed post reminded Claudia of another aspect of her life on the Bar J.
She was lonely.
The scenery was lovely, the neighbors were all good folks, and raising Kara was a sheer privilege, but sometimes, the worries grew heavy, and the nights got long. Declan MacLeod might be leaving at the end of the week, and he for sure wasn’t interested in shouldering any of the load at the Bar J.
A small, wistful part of Claudia wondered if he might be interested in sharing a night or two with her, nonetheless.
Claudia wanted to get away from him, away from those broad shoulders and that hey-girl smile—hey-lass, in his case. Claudia wasn’t a girl, hadn’t been for years.
“Until dinner, Ms. Jensen, but might I make one small request?”
“Might you call me Declan? Mr. MacLeod sounds like my old grandda has come to stay. I’d rather be Declan, if you’re comfortable with that.”
This smile was different, a touch bashful, which was worse than charming—far worse. This smile suggested Mr. MacLeod might be a little lonely too.
“Declan, then, and I’m Claudia. See you at supper.”
Claudia nearly scampered from the room and almost tripped over Hotay in the hall. She picked up the cat and hugged him, even though that meant getting cat hair all over her T-shirt.
“I’m in trouble, cat. I haven’t been in trouble for the longest time. Not over a guy.” Money trouble was a given with ranching, some years, and this was one of those years. Claudia had weathered plenty of money trouble.
She’d never had to defend herself against a charming accent, winsome smile, and call me Declan friendliness.
The cat started purring and rubbed the top of his head against Claudia’s chin. She carried him out to the great room and set him on a windowsill. Sure enough, the clouds were barreling across the sky, doubtless bringing rain, or even snow.
Trouble coming from all directions. Claudia ought to be worried, but worrying was pointless. If a storm was on the way, nothing she could do would stop it, and she still had to figure out what a Scotsman far from home might like for his dessert.
End of Excerpt
The Cowboy Wore A Kilt is available in the following formats:
Grace Burrowes Publishing
April 21, 2016
This title is not available in printed formats