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Book 2: The Cowboy's Challenge (Brush Creek Cowboys Romance)

Book 2: The Cowboy's Challenge (Brush Creek Cowboys Romance)

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Return to the beauty of Brush Creek Ranch, where a community of retired rodeo cowboys are looking for love...

About THE COWBOY'S CHALLENGE: He's a pro rodeo champion. She's just a little bit lost. Can Justin take a chance with his heart when the woman of his dreams doesn't know what to do with it?

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Read Chapter 1 Now!

Renee Martin stood on the fringes of the ice cream social, her eyes sweeping the church’s multi-purpose room for her cousin. Of course, Leah stood with a group of mostly men, and Renee sighed. Leah would be no help tonight, and Renee straightened her shoulders.

She didn’t need help mingling with the townspeople of Brush Creek. She wasn’t even sure why she cared; she wasn’t a permanent resident of the city. If it could even be called a city. With her, the population barely tipped nine thousand. Of course, Vernal wasn’t much bigger. It only seemed that way because of all the tourists going to Dinosaur National Park, where Renee would be starting her new job the following week.

She needed an apartment in Vernal, but she hadn’t been able to find one. Truth be told, she hadn’t even looked. She pushed away the adult things she didn’t want to deal with and focused on the long tables set up along one wall of the room. A bona fide ice cream bar. At least the pastor in Brush Creek knew how to bring people into the church.

A twinge of guilt cut through Renee, but she stuck that back down into her gut too. She liked ice cream. As she smoothed her palms over her shirt and felt the extra layers and curves she had, she knew it was pretty obvious to everyone that she liked a lot of ice cream.

Leah intercepted her before she could join the end of the line. “Come meet these guys.” She glanced back over her shoulder to where the pod of males waited.

“Not interested,” Renee said without letting her gaze linger on the men. If she did, she’d surely find one she found attractive, only to have Leah choose him as her next boyfriend. It had happened before, twice.

Leah laughed like Renee had just said the wittiest thing on the planet. Renee rolled her eyes and tossed her dark brown hair over her shoulder. “Leah, stop it. Have you already forgotten the disaster you created for me only two days ago?”

Leah sobered and blinked as if she had truly forgotten. “What? That thing with Justin Jackman?” She waved her hand like she was swatting away an annoying fly. “That was nothing. He’s too uptight anyway.”

Renee reached for a plastic bowl and handed it to Leah before taking one for herself. She’d thought Justin was cute, but she hadn’t been properly informed of the situation before going in. She wouldn’t make that mistake again.

“You should’ve mentioned that you’d dated him.” She picked up a spoon and a napkin.

Leah scoffed. “It was barely four or five dates. I didn’t think it mattered.”

“Obviously, it did.” Renee scooped several slices of banana into the bottom of her bowl. If there was anything better than a mint chocolate chip banana split, Renee didn’t want to know about it. Her hips were already two sizes too big. “And I didn’t think Justin was uptight.”

That caught Leah’s attention, and Renee’s stomach twisted. Why hadn’t she learned to keep her big mouth shut around Leah?

“Really? You liked Justin?” For some reason, her cousin thought it was her life’s mission to find Renee a boyfriend. If Renee had been any good at doing so herself, she might have resisted harder. At least she’d had a few years at college without Leah’s constant meddling—and Renee had dated exactly one man. The relationship hadn’t gone anywhere, and they still kept up with each other online and through texts.

“I didn’t like him,” she said. “I just thought—”

“Renee, hello.” The pastor stood in front of the ice cream tubs, beaming at her. “It’s good to see you.”

Renee smiled and said, “Hello, Pastor Peters. I’ll have the mint chocolate chip.”

He dug his scoop into the appointed tub and gave her two perfectly sculpted spheres of ice cream. Her mouth watered and she wondered if she could escape Leah so she could enjoy her treat instead of standing with a group of men, nibbling around the edge of the sundae while she pretended to dislike ice cream.

She’d just spooned hot fudge into her dish when Leah said, “Well, here’s your second chance, Ren. Justin just walked in.”

“Leah, don’t you dare. I just want to eat my ice cream, chat with a few ladies from the knitting club, and go home.”

Leah laughed again, and Renee swore she added extra decibels just to get people to look. Thankfully, Justin wasn’t one of them. But a couple of Leah’s girlfriends must’ve known the laugh was the Bat Signal, because they swarmed.

“Hey, girls,” Tawny, a tall leggy blonde, said. “Have you tried the mocha caramel crunch?” She took a bite and moaned. “It is to die for.”

“Who looks interesting tonight?” Karla asked, glancing around. She carried a bowl of mostly melted ice cream, and her narrow waist testified of her self-control over the best treat on the planet. “There’s a few guys here from Beaverton that look like they might be fun.”

Renee tried to edge away, but Leah said, “Ladies, tonight is all about Renee,” and her feet grew roots. She even forgot about her banana split though she still held the bowl.

Tawny squealed and turned in a full circle. “Who’s the lucky guy?”

Renee’s stomach fell all the way to the floor. “Leah, no.”

“Justin Jackman.” Leah slid her spoon into her mouth with a satisfied smile. “I dare you to go over there and ask him out.”

“I am not doing that,” Renee hissed. “I already made a fool of myself in front of him. He clearly wasn’t interested.”

“You didn’t even try the other night.”

“I did,” Renee said, and she’d detailed everything she’d said to Justin. He wasn’t uptight, like Leah claimed. He simply wasn’t interested in Renee. He’d made that much clear, and though it had stung, Renee wasn’t that broken up about it. Sure, he had thick, brown hair and blazing blue eyes that seemed to see more than just Renee’s physical features. She’d liked that, but with only one real relationship under her belt, she was rusty on her small talk skills.

“It’s a bet,” Leah said, digging in her pocket and pulling out a twenty. “What have you girls got?”

Renee felt the ground slipping from beneath her feet. “Guys, no,” she tried anyway. But in only seconds, the pile of cash in Leah’s hand had reached a hundred dollars. She stared it, her mouth salivating in the same way it had over the mint chocolate chip ice cream. She’d graduated two weeks ago, jobless, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. She’d never wanted a career. Growing up, all Renee had ever wanted to do was get married and have children.

But she’d need more than a few dates for that to happen. So she’d moved in with Leah and done one adult thing: applied for jobs at the nearby National Parks. Utah had a lot of them, and Dinosaur had bitten. Thankfully, it was only a forty-five minute drive from Brush Creek.

Renee knew it was time to grow up and start taking care of things; become self-reliant. But just because she was twenty-four and a college graduate didn’t mean she knew what to do with her life.

“One hundred fifteen dollars and twenty-one cents,” Leah declared, and Renee’s resolve died. She needed the money.

“Fine.” She handed her bowl to Karla and ran her fingers through her hair. “What do I have to do?”

“Get a date with the hunky cowboy, and this is all yours.” She flapped the bills in Renee’s face. She made a swipe for it, though her cousin ran a couple of miles every day and could certainly take Renee before she reached the exit.

Renee straightened her blouse and fluffed her hair again. She located Justin standing with another cowboy who had a blonde-haired woman on his arm and two boys in front of them in line.

She could just pretend she hadn’t gotten any ice cream yet. Adding confidence to her step, she strode toward the ice cream bar again. Justin didn’t glance at her or turn toward her when she sidled up behind him.

Standing there, extreme awkwardness descended on her. Just when she was about to reach out and tap his shoulder, he twisted slightly toward her and retrieved something from his pocket. He glanced in her direction as a capsule of orange Tic Tacs made an appearance.

Her dang saliva glands were really having a workout. She’d grown up eating orange Tic Tacs like they were candy, not breath fresheners.

“Hey,” she said as he threw back a palmful of the orange mints.

A sour look crossed his face, but it could’ve been from the overload of Tic Tacs. “Hey.” He turned back to his friends, but he was clearly a fifth wheel with the family in front of him, and Renee seized onto that fact.

“What’s your favorite ice cream?” she asked as she picked up a second bowl.

“I’m a purist,” he said. “Vanilla bean.” He bypassed the bananas too.

Renee didn’t understand him at all, despite the orange Tic Tac connection. “No toppings?”

“I like caramel, chocolate, and pecans.”

“Oh, pecans. Fancy.” She trilled out a giggle, hoping to draw him into a real conversation once they made it through the line.

He stared at her for a moment past comfortable and inched down the line—toward the pastor.

Renee’s heart seized, then started beating at triple-time. Her first impulse was to duck out of line, and fast. Only sheer desire for the money kept her in place at Justin’s side. And the vanilla tub sat way down on the end of the ice cream bar.

“They’ve set tables up out on the lawn,” she said. “Were you going to go out there?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it.” Justin looked at her and flashed her a smile. “Is there shade?”

She grinned full-force at him. “I saw some umbrellas on the way in.”

He glanced over his shoulder to his friends, but they’d already gotten their ice cream and were sprinkling nuts and candies on them. They didn’t seem to notice that he’d fallen behind. He turned back to her and scanned her from her wedge-sandaled feet to the top of her head. His features softened as he drank in her kinky-curled hair.

“Probably better than hanging out with my boss.”

“Hello, Justin,” Pastor Peters said. “Good to see you down here this evening.”

“First day of good weather,” Justin said. “My boss insisted we get off the ranch.”

“How are things with the horses?”

“Good.” Justin exhaled and a strange look passed through his eyes. “Good.”

Pastor Peters focused on hers, his eyes pleasant if not a bit surprised. “Renee. Coming back for seconds?”

All her muscles seized. She couldn’t seem to look away from Justin, who settled all his weight on his left foot, away from her, and waited for her explanation.

She couldn’t say that she hadn’t eaten her original bowl. Or that she’d come over here on a bet, simply because Justin was at the end of the line.

“I only had one bite,” she finally managed to say. “My cousin—” Justin visibly flinched, but Renee plowed on. “I gave her my bowl for a friend.”

Pastor Peters didn’t seem to have a problem with her rather lame explanation. He nodded and asked, “Mint chocolate chip again?”

“Yes, please.” Relief tumbled through her when Justin’s lip curled upward and he moved on to the hot fudge. Renee pressed her eyes closed and wondered how long it would take before she blurted out that she’d split the money with him if he’d just say he asked her out.

What Readers are Saying

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ "I must say that I think this has been the most realistic novel I have ever read by Liz Isaacson, and I love all of her work, but the emotions and feelings that were used portrayed how a real couple would struggle when first meeting and falling in love so quickly. I highly recommend this novel, I feel that it show Ms. Isaacson's strengths off very well.” ~Courtney

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐"This is the second book in the Brush Creek Romance series, but does stand-alone. I enjoyed being back in Brush Creek. I love a series that brings me moments with old friends as the books continue. I also love meeting new characters. The cowboys on the ranch share a special bond, and really seem to understand each other. I’m excited to read the rest of their stories!” ~Shash

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Go up the canyon to Brush Creek Ranch, where a community of retired rodeo cowboys are looking for love...

This series offers a heartwarming journey through a tapestry of stories that interweave the charm of sweet cowboy romance with the serenity of small-town life.