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Book 2: Snowed in With the Cowboy (Horseshoe Home Ranch)

Book 2: Snowed in With the Cowboy (Horseshoe Home Ranch)

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Embark on an unforgettable journey when you visit Horseshoe Home Ranch, where faith, love, and second chances abound.

About SNOWED IN WITH THE COWBOY: A healing cowboy, his maid, and the forbidden relationship that begins when they get snowed in together...The more time they spend together, the more Norah fears revealing her own troubled past, her modest home, and her challenging family. Yet, Sterling finds himself drawn to everything about Norah. As his body mends, so does his faith. But can Norah trust Sterling enough to let him into her life and give their unexpected and forbidden love a chance?

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Read Chapter 1 Now!

The announcer’s voice reverberated through Sterling Maughan’s head, bringing him away from the edge of unconsciousness and back to the X-Games blaring from the TV. 

He knew that voice. Hated that voice, especially after it had broken up with him on live, national television.

He fumbled for the remote so he could change the channel, the pain in his leg amping up to a sharp ache. One glance at the clock on the Blu-ray player told him he’d missed his last dosage of painkillers by an hour.

Sterling didn’t care. When the nurse came, she’d force-feed it to him. He hit a button and that traitorous, cheating female voice changed into the theme song for a cooking show. He lowered the volume and dropped the remote. It made a weird clunking sound as it hit last night’s pizza box. Or maybe last week’s pizza box. Sterling had stopped cleaning up after his first night at the cabin, eight days ago.

Sleep eluded him for a few minutes as he listened to the evening wind batter the windows. At least it wasn’t the neighbors—the closest ones up here in Gold Valley’s exclusive cabin community were at least a hundred yards away.

Not that Sterling had been admiring the lush pine forest and miles of trails surrounding his family’s cabin. He hadn’t moved from the couch in the basement for more than the necessities for days. His eyes drifted closed and he sank into the darkness that had consumed his mind so readily since the accident. 

A thump from the second floor jolted him awake. His heart pounded as his mind frantically searched for an explanation to the sound. The wind had died, but it could’ve been an animal. Could’ve been a raccoon or a rat. 

A scrape echoed through the ceiling, like someone—not a raccoon or a rat—had slid a chair across the floor. Sterling sat up, fully awake now. 

Because someone was in the house.

He calmed his breathing and swallowed his pulse back to its proper spot in his chest. His police training required him to be alert, focused, and calm in stressful situations. True, he hadn’t been active in his unit since last fall, when he’d started the professional snowboarding circuit. But once a cop, always a cop.

He stood, careful to put minimal weight on his still-healing knee. The cast had come off last week, but he still wore a full leg brace, which made walking difficult. And climbing stairs? Sterling hadn’t done it in weeks. 

His back creaked with his first step, and his left foot felt numb because of the reduced circulation from the brace. A pain behind his right eye balanced both sides of his body with aches he couldn’t erase with a couple of pills. 

Another noise—bump, ba-bump—from the second floor urged him toward the stairs, where he lifted his injured leg first. One down, fifteen to go.

For the first time, he cursed the size of the cabin. Seven thousand square feet, spanning three floors. Two kitchens, one on the main level where the noise came from, one in the basement where he was living. Ten bathrooms. Eight bedrooms. A game room, a library, and two living rooms. 

His father had done very well in the real estate business, as his mother liked to point out to Sterling about every third month. He’d never been a conformist, and it showed as all five of his older brothers had gone on to law school at William & Mary, or medical school at Johns Hopkins, or banking and finance at Stanford. 

Sterling had graduated in the middle of his class from the Police Academy in Salt Lake City. 

Still, he steadily climbed the stairs, two feet planted before lifting that blasted left leg. His mind wandered through a list of who could possibly be at the cabin. His parents had gone to Madagascar for a university internship in January and certainly wouldn’t return only three months into the eight-month program. 

His brothers all had a key to the cabin, but everyone but Rex lived in other states. Rex lived in Missoula, an hour and a half away, running their father’s real estate brokering firm, and he hadn’t mentioned coming up to the cabin. 

Sterling’s fingers fisted, almost hoping for a fight. At least he knew the police officer in him hadn’t been snuffed out. He didn’t know if he’d be able to return to the force, what with his injuries and all, but he felt confident in his abilities to incapacitate—

—A curvy woman.

Sterling stalled at the top of the stairs and stared at the dark-skinned, dark-haired woman standing in the kitchen, leaning over something he couldn’t see. She wore a tight pair of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt—not exactly burglary clothing.

Women can be killers too, he thought just before the loudest music he’d ever heard blasted through the house.

The woman shook her booty to the music as she pulled on a pair of yellow rubber gloves. Sterling stared, wondering if she’d put on the rap to cover the sound of his screams and the gloves to prevent the possibility of leaving fingerprints. He couldn’t decide if he should dial 911 or laugh at her terrible dance moves.

A smile formed on his face—possibly the first since his fall eleven weeks ago. He suddenly became aware that he hadn’t showered or shaved in many days, and fought the urge to rush downstairs and attend to his personal hygiene needs.

As he scrubbed his fingers along his scruffy beard, the woman spun around, her eyes half open. Open enough to catch on his though, and she stopped short. Her gloved hand came to her mouth—gross, Sterling thought—and her chocolaty eyes widened.

He lifted his hand in greeting, his smile reducing itself by half. She spun and fumbled at the source of the hip-hop beat, finally silencing it. She placed one hand over her heart as her chest rose and fell, rose and fell. “You scared me.”

Sterling leaned against the wall to give some relief to his aching leg, but otherwise held his position. “What’s up?” 

“Nothing.” The woman gestured to a bucket of cleaning supplies at her feet. “I’m here to clean the cabin.” She glanced around like someone would appear to corroborate her story. “I didn’t know anyone would be here.”

Sterling’s gaze swept the counter behind her, focusing on several bags of groceries. “Are you staying?”

“Yes.” She followed his gaze to the fruit and bread. “I’m bringing my girls up here tonight.”

“Girls?” Confusion clouded Sterling’s mind, his words. “What girls?”

“I work at the teen rehabilitation center at the base of the mountain,” she explained. “You know, Silver Creek, the one with the horses?”

Sterling had been coming to his family’s cabin his entire life. He’d never heard of a teen rehabilitation center. “No, I have no idea about Silver Creek or the horses.”

“Oh, well, I work there.” The woman spoke with her hands, and Sterling worried about the germs spewing from those gloves, though they were probably cleaner than he was. She seemed to realize how ridiculous she looked with those toilet gloves on, because she stripped them off as a dark red stained her cheeks.

“It’s a rehabilitation program for teens with addictions,” she continued. “They live on-site for ninety days, and part of their therapy is to learn to work with horses as they overcome their problems. I’m a counselor.” She took a deep breath, probably because she hadn’t done so once since she started talking.

Sterling cocked one eyebrow at the speed with which she delivered her spiel. “And?”

“And I clean your family’s cabin. I’ve been doing it for a few years.”

“And you bring your girls up here?”

“When they reach the halfway point of their stay, they get to go on an outing if they’ve followed the rules and stayed clean. Your mom has given me permission to bring them to Six Sons. We’ll be here for three days.”

Oh, no they wouldn’t. Sterling had some very important recovering to do. Alone. No teen addicts. No beautiful, exotic camp counselors. Just pizza and cooking shows and sleeping while the drugs kept the pain at bay.

“You’re Sterling Maughan,” the woman said.

Sterling felt the weight of her proclamation, spoken in a tone of awe and reverence like he was worthy of such things. “Yeah.”

She blinked a couple of times, and Sterling could practically hear the words she wanted to say before she said them. Terrible about what that Amber Lyons did to you. And on national TV too.

He braced himself as she opened her mouth. “I’m Norah Watson.” Her eyes scanned his height, coming back to his face a moment later. “I’m sorry about your fall. Will you ever snowboard again?”

Ah, wasn’t that the question of the year? Sterling didn’t know the answer, so he lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. Emotion surged up his throat, along with the feel of the wind against his face, the smell of a fresh snowfall, where it stuck no matter how hard he tried to swallow it back.

“I’ve seen you race,” she said. “You were like liquid on the mountain. So smooth.”

“Thanks,” he managed to croak. He actually would’ve preferred she gave him her condolences about his ex-girlfriend. He’d at least be able to find another date someday. But snowboarding had always come before women, and he couldn’t articulate yet how much he’d lost when he’d lost snowboarding.

“You can’t stay here,” he said, his rough voice matching the shredded edges in his chest.

Panic crossed her face, troubling her lips and causing a twitch in her fingers. “But I have to. The girls have been working so hard for this outing.”

Unrest swirled in his gut. “I’m staying here for a while.” How long, he didn’t know. He didn’t have anything else to do, and nowhere else to go, and no one to see. 

Norah began unpacking the groceries. “How about we strike a deal?”

“A deal?” Sterling folded his arms and watched her work.

“You’re obviously living downstairs.” She tossed him a look over her shoulder that said, Right?

He didn’t indicate an answer either way, just waited for her to continue.

“This place is three levels. We always stay upstairs in the bunk bed room.” She glanced to the ceiling like she could see the bunk beds from here. “I have eight girls in my group, and you won’t even know we’re here. We’ll stay on the top two levels. There’s a kitchen here, and one downstairs for you.” She gave him another up-down glance. “You’re obviously not going to be traipsing around the property, and we’ll be gone before you even know we’re here.”

He doubted it. He’d heard her, and he’d been half-asleep. What would eight teenage girls sound like? 

Chickens, he thought. Or elephants.

“I have to turn in a strict itinerary for these outings.” She reached for a binder on the counter. “You can see our schedule if you want. We’ll be gone cross-country skiing most of the morning tomorrow, and I only let them go down to the game room once, on Saturday evening, and we’ll be back in bed by ten both nights. I promise.”

She lifted a paper toward him, but Sterling waved it away. Though the game room took up considerable space in the basement, where he was living, he hadn’t used it since he’d arrived, and he wasn’t planning to. He barely used the kitchen in the basement, opting to pick up his cell phone and order, well, pizza.

“I don’t want a bunch of girls here.”

“But you won’t even know we’re here.”

“I knew you were here.” He gave her a pointed look. “And I have my home health nurses coming twice a day. That can’t be disrupted.”

“Of course not. And I won’t blast any rap music.” She crossed her heart. “Only Mozart. Soothing. I promise.” Her lips tugged upward, and something slipped in Sterling’s resolve.

“I don’t know…the doctor said I need a lot of rest.” He glanced out the windows located above the spiral staircase that led downstairs. “My mom didn’t say anything about this when I told her I was coming here.”

Norah smiled like she’d won. “Well, I’ll call Nancy right now and ask her.”

When she mentioned his mom, Sterling felt the victory blow land against his lungs. The last thing he wanted was to talk to her, especially after their last conversation. 

“Don’t do that,” he said. “I guess I can put up with you for three days.”

* * *

Norah put away the rest of the groceries under the misses-nothing eye of Sterling Maughan. The Sterling Maughan. The one who’d won gold at the last Olympics and had been set to sweep every event in this winter’s X-Games.

Of course, that was before the Break-Up to End All Break-Ups, and then the devastating fall that had broken his left femur and shattered part of his pelvis.

He looked good for such an injury, standing there glowering at her, wearing a T-shirt that pulled across his broad shoulders, a loose pair of gym shorts, and the bulkiest leg brace she’d ever seen. At least he could stand, and he certainly hadn’t lost his brooding good looks in the accident. Norah had seen enough interviews to know.

“Do you need help getting down the stairs?” She didn’t turn to look at him as she asked. Someone with as many muscles as Sterling could snap her in half with his bare hands. He didn’t look as though he’d lost anything in the bicep department since his accident. 

His dark eyes didn’t dance the way they had on the medal podium, though. And while she’d seen him in countless family photos—always alone, surrounded by his five brothers and their wives and families—she hadn’t realized how dark his hair was. The colors on her old TV were obviously lacking.

“I could use some help, yes.” 

His words surprised her, but she crossed through the kitchen and stepped down the two stairs to the living room. This particular staircase that led to the basement spiraled, and she knew from experience that going down was harder than going up. Especially because the last three stairs were very steep and quite uneven.

“I’ll go first,” she said. “You can brace your weight on my shoulders.” She moved down a few steps and stopped. The heat of his hands on her shoulders sent a shiver through her she hoped he didn’t notice.

Giddiness swept through her. Her half-brother would never believe she’d met Sterling Maughan, the professional athlete that was made from all gold for the people in Gold Valley. As they moved painstakingly down the steps, Norah toyed with the idea of asking him for a picture. Would she come off as a gushing fan? A lunatic? Some flirty girl? Utterly insensitive? 

When they reached the bottom floor, Norah gasped at the sight of the living room. A nest—a real, live, human-sized nest!—on the couch showed where Sterling had obviously been living. Soda cans, pizza boxes, paper wrappers, straws, and clothes littered the floor in a six-foot radius from the nest.

“How long have you been here?” she asked, taking in the unlit fireplace, the TV glowing with instructions on how to grill ribs above the mantle. He obviously hadn’t used any of the three bedrooms down here. The door to the closest bathroom stood open, but all the blinds on the wall of windows that would normally show a deck and breathtaking winter scenery had been tightly shut.

“Since last week.” Sterling hobbled into the kitchen—much smaller than the one on the main floor, but certainly sufficient for this bachelor sixth son. 

She followed him, freezing as he downed a handful of pills. Just the sound the caplets made against the plastic bottle conjured old hurts and images she’d rather forget. She forced her feet to move and reached under the sink for a garbage bag. Fluffing it open, she began to fill it with a week’s worth of fast food waste. 

“You don’t have to do that,” Sterling said. 

“It’s my job.” Norah winced as she caught a whiff of Sterling’s socks. “Your mom pays me to do this.”

Sterling made a grab for a pair of discarded board shorts, and Norah pulled back. “I don’t need you to do my laundry.”

“I don’t do laundry.”

“Great.”

“But I’m killer at picking up trash.” She gave him a wide berth as she moved around the couch and reached for the pizza box. The remote fell off, and she put it on the coffee table. 

“I can do it.” But Sterling sank back into his nest and lifted his injured leg with his hands. He groaned as he placed it on the stack of pillows he’d laid out on the coffee table.

A flash of what life would be like if Norah had a lot of money stole through her head. Yes, the sports news feeds had been full of Poor Sterling Maughan. His career is over just as it was picking up momentum. And too bad about his girlfriend being such a cheater….

But “poor Sterling Maughan” was anything but poor. He wasn’t working two jobs and going to school at night just to pay the electric bill and put food on the table and make sure his mama had the medicine she needed.

Norah tasted the bitterness of her situation on the back of her tongue, and it was too familiar. She hated feeling this way, and yet she couldn’t push down the negative vibes. 

She stuck a smile on her face as she tied the now-full trash bag. “Hey, can I ask a huge favor? My half-brother is a big fan of yours. Could I get a picture with you?”

Sterling looked up, his eyes half glazed from the pills. Strong jealousy Norah hadn’t felt in a while surged through her. She managed to push it away.

“Sure, I guess.” The disinterest in his voice didn’t fall on deaf ears, but Norah whipped her phone from her back pocket anyway. She wanted to spray an entire can of disinfectant on his nest before she touched it, but she flopped down on the blanket at his side like it was a throne fit for a queen. A puff of foul-smelling air surrounded them, but Norah contained the cringe.

“Okay, smile.” She focused on the two of them, but Sterling’s smile looked more like a grimace. Maybe she’d jostled his leg too much. Something whispered inside her that it wasn’t just his leg giving him trouble.

Norah snapped the picture and turned toward Sterling. Close enough for her breath to brush his cheek. He kept his mouth steadfastly shut, and if she had to guess, she should be happy she couldn’t smell his breath. 

As she watched him, she felt his sadness penetrate her defenses. Felt his helplessness. Her mother had always told her she had a compassionate heart and was able to sense someone in distress.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, unable to break eye contact with the damaged once-pro-snowboarder. 

He blinked, shrugged, laid his head back, closed his eyes. “It happens.”

Norah stood, haunted by the finality in his tone. Help him, she prayed, unable to do much more than that for the man who wore his emotional turmoil so openly. As she went back upstairs to finish preparations for her girls, she promised herself she’d check in on Sterling over the next couple of days. Even though he had nurses coming, he seemed like he could use a friend.

What Readers are Saying

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “This is a story of trusting God before we can trust others. I loved this sweet romance and am looking forward to the next book in the series!” ~Ginny

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “What a wonderful clean romance story. Love wins out no matter if you are rich or poor, but overcoming the odds is all that matters. Liz Isaacson does a splendid job of writing books that are great and hard to put down. I am looking forward to the next book in the Horseshoe Home Ranch series.” ~Karen S.

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Inspirational tales of love, faith, and second chances in the heart of Montana. Come fall in love with your next cowboy boyfriend!

In this heartwarming series of Christian cowboy romance novels by USA Today bestselling author Liz Isaacson, each standalone tale is an invitation to explore the intertwined lives of rugged cowboys and the resilient women who win their hearts.