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Book 4: The Cowboy and the Nanny (Horseshoe Home Ranch)

Book 4: The Cowboy and the Nanny (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 THE COWBOY AND THE NANNY: A country music star, his nanny for his niece, and their second chance at true love and family…Natalie, once wed and now divorced, sees in Owen's return the missed opportunities from her past. Dreams of auditioning for a professional ballet company and a future with Owen come rushing back. As they mend bridges and explore the sparks that still sizzle between them, will they open their hearts to a second chance at love?

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Read Chapter 1 Now!

The barn door banged open as Gil, one of the male counselors, burst through it. “Owen, there’s a fight we need your help with.” He didn’t wait to see if Owen would come. He did. Owen Carr had the most experience with the troubled boys at Silver Creek, having worked with the at-risk boys for the past seven years, since he’d been at the part therapeutic riding center, part rehabilitation center. 

He left the saddles where they were on the bench, left the horses in the stall, left everything, and followed Gil at a run. “Is it one of my boys?” he called after the other man.

“Stanley! He has a weapon.”

Owen’s heart sped at the same time he groaned. He increased his speed, leaving behind the horse barn and stalls, the cabin where he used to live, and the hay barn. He tore around the corner of the building to find a crowd of boys circling two others.

“Move,” he called. “Now, boys. Move aside.” No one dared disobey Owen when he spoke, whether it was in his normal quiet way or in the intense bark he used now. The boys parted to reveal Stanley holding a homemade knife.

“Stanley,” Owen said. “Drop it right now.” The stick looked to have a piece of metal from a belt or a saddle strap attached to the end of it. And it glinted sharply in the September sun.

Stanley glanced from the other boy to Owen. “Mister Carr—” He swallowed. 

Owen strode forward, his nerves already preparing to be hurt. They fired on all cylinders as he got closer and closer to Stanley. He really didn’t have time for this. He’d been fifteen minutes away from finishing his work in the barn and leaving. He had an appointment to keep. 

“Give me the knife, Stanley.” Owen stopped five feet from the teen, whose dark eyes seemed wild and scared. “This doesn’t end well if someone gets hurt. You can come over to the cabin and tell me what happened.” Owen met the other boy’s eyes, and he didn’t look nearly as afraid as Stanley did. Owen settled his weight on his back foot. “What’s goin’ on?”

“He said he knew my sister,” Stanley said, and Owen cringed. Stanley was fiercely protective of his family, and he hasn’t yet grasped that it didn’t matter what anyone else said about them. “Said she was easy, said all his friends had kissed her.”

“So you thought you’d make ’im bleed over somethin’ that ain’t true?” Owen kept the sigh he wanted to add from escaping. “Give me the knife, Stanley. This boy isn’t worth it.” He glared at the other boy now, who wore a smirk. He’d gotten exactly what he wanted, and Owen hoped Stanley wouldn’t suffer too much because of it.

Stanley inched toward Owen until Owen could wrap his fingers around the boy’s wrist. He did, as tight as he dared, and Stanley dropped the knife. Owen stomped on it, kept his grip on his boy, and turned to the crowd. “Go on, now. Get back to your chores.” He twisted toward the other boy. “You’re comin’ with me.”

“You’re not my counselor.”

Owen growled and took two steps toward the boy, who flinched away. Satisfied, Owen pushed his cowboy hat lower over his eyes. “Come on.” He spied Dr. Richards hurrying across the lawn, and he held his ground as the crowd dispersed.

“Owen,” Dr. Richards panted. “What’s happened?”

“Stanley was gettin’ teased and he fashioned some weapon.” He moved his boot to reveal the makeshift knife. “To teach this other boy a lesson. I’ll let you handle him.”

Dr. Richards turned his gaze on the other boy and frowned. “Gerard.” His eyes blazed with anger. “You have to stop this.” He turned and headed back toward his office, the other boy in tow. 

“My cabin,” Owen said, nudging Stanley in that direction.

“I thought you moved out.”

“I did.” Owen had lived there so long, he’d always think of it as his. Dr. Richards hadn’t given it to anyone else, because Owen still oversaw the horses, still worked with the at-risk boys. His hours were the same, and Dr. Richards simply assigned the at-risk boys to his on-call counselors for after-hours emergencies.

Because Marie had changed everything.

The fight left Owen’s body and he gave that sigh he’d held back earlier. “You know, you’re makin’ me late, Stanley.” He redirected him toward the barn. “So you get to do the clean-up chores in the barn.”

“I’m sorry, Owen.” Stanley sounded remorseful too. He always did, once he actually calmed down enough to think rationally.

“It’s Mister Carr. And you need to work on your impulse control,” Owen said as he released the boy into the barn. “Oil the saddles and hang them up. All the reins go up there too. And both those horses need to be fed and brushed down.”

Owen leaned against the doorframe while Stanley got to work. It would take the boy twice as long as it took Owen, and he’d be even later. But he couldn't abandon Stanley—he wouldn’t. Not when he barely had anyone to hang on to.

“What’re you gonna be late for, Mister Carr?”

Owen pushed away from the wall and reached for the reins as Stanley finished the last saddle. “Remember how I have my niece living with me now?”

“Marie, sure.”

“Well, because I'm here with you guys so much, I need help takin’ care of her.” Everything in him twisted and wound tight. He’d always loved Marie, the daughter of his only sister. He’d agreed to be her guardian if anything happened to her sister and her husband. He’d just never expected anything to actually happen to them.

Owen’s life had changed a lot in the past six months. He’d become a father and an only child because of an ice storm and a horrible, horrible car accident. 

He pushed away the memories that threatened to drown him every time he let his mind linger on them too long. “I’m hirin’ a nanny to help out.” He checked his watch. “And I’m supposed to meet with her in ten minutes.”

Because an eight-year-old girl couldn’t live fifteen yards from half a dozen troubled boys who had landed at Silver Creek because of their tendencies to mix weapons with drugs, Owen had found a cottage in a nice neighborhood—fifteen minutes from Silver Creek. No matter how he sliced it, he was going to be late.

He’d gotten Marie a simple cell phone the very first day she’d come to live with him. He called her and told her he’d be several minutes late. “Is that okay, Marie? Maybe you can ask the lady a few questions.” He smiled despite himself, despite the fact that he had very little in his life to smile about. No matter what, Marie did bring a smile to his face. So blonde her hair was almost white, with deep blue eyes like his sister’s. Like his.

“I can do it, Owen.”

“I shouldn’t be too long.” He turned when Stanley walked Ole Red past him. Only one horse remained, and if Owen helped, he could be on the road in under ten minutes. He hung up with Marie and grabbed a curry comb.

“Now, Stanley, you got any other weapons?”

“No, sir.”

“I’m gonna have to search your things. You know that, right?”

“Yes, sir.” Regret laced his words. “I really am sorry, Owen.”

Owen didn’t correct him this time. He didn’t mind being more casual with his boys. He wanted—needed—them to trust him. They finished in the barn, and Owen searched Stanley’s belongings. He filed the incident paperwork, and asked Dr. Richards if he could meet with him in the morning, that he needed to get home to Marie.

Dr. Richard’s waved him out of the office, and Owen hurried to his truck. A pang of longing for his old life reared up as he left the parking lot. Before Marie, after a day like today, Owen would retreat to his cabin and make himself a sandwich. Then he’d sit on the front porch with his guitar and sing until all his boys came and sat on the steps with him. 

He’d talk to them, and they’d listen, and the bond between them would strengthen until incidents like this didn’t happen anymore. He’d lost that when he’d moved out. He didn’t need to play on the porch every night—though he usually did. But after days like today, he did—which was why he needed a nanny for Marie.

A black sedan sat in his driveway, so he parked on the street. He hadn’t yet gotten out of his truck when Marie squealed. She appeared around the side of the house, a huge smile on her face. Owen’s dog followed, his tongue lagging out of his mouth.

Owen smiled at the two of them as Tar Baby overtook Marie and knocked her to the ground. They wrestled amidst Marie’s laughter as a tall, slim woman came from the backyard as well.

She moved with the grace of someone who knew exactly where to put their feet. Her long, dark hair was streaked with blonde, and her hazel eyes glinted with happiness as she watched the girl and dog in front of her.

Owen’s heart skipped several beats and he seemed frozen to the seat. This woman’s beauty exceeded any he’d met before, and she seemed vaguely familiar.

He managed to slide out of the truck and start to cross the lawn. “Hey,” he called, his voice finally thawing. It sounded semi-normal too, thank goodness. He hadn’t had the best of luck in the dating department, not that he’d tried that hard—especially after his return to Gold Valley several years ago.

He’d ruined everything with his high school girlfriend when he’d left town the day after their graduation, and then he’d had his heart broken by a woman in Nashville. So no, he hadn’t tried that hard at all since coming home and starting at Silver Creek.

“C’mon Tar Baby.” The black cocker spaniel leapt away from a still-giggling Marie. “Hey, sweetheart.” He bent over and picked up the little girl, hugging her tight. His momma had told him to show Marie how much he loved her, that he was glad to have her living with him. He tried to tell her he loved her, and he gave her as much affection as he could muster. “Did you interview the nice lady?” He cut the woman a glance. “Sorry I’m late.”

The woman’s eyes had flecks of gold in them, and they hooked Owen and held him fast. “Do I know you?”

“Of course you do, Owen.” She gave a nervous laugh. “I’m Natalie Lower.”

The name reverberated through his head, and old wounds opened, hurt, and bled. He shook his head real slow. “No. No, you said your name was Natalie Ringold.”

“Well, it is.” She looked like she’d been doused with ice water. “I got married nine years ago.”

The internal injuries widened, and the pain knifing through Owen felt as hot as fire. “Married?”

“Lasted less than a year, Owen. Honestly, don’t you know any of the town gossip?” She smiled, but it was full of nerves and lasted only a moment.

“Only been back for the last seven years.” His voice sounded like he was speaking into a tin can. “And no, I’ve only actually lived in town for six months.” He set Marie on her feet. “Go play with Tar Baby, sweetheart. Go on, Tar Baby.” The girl ran off with the dog, leaving Owen to talk with the high school sweetheart he’d left twelve years ago.

All he could do was pray, and he didn’t even know for what. Only that he’d definitely need the help of the Lord to make it through the next few minutes.

* * *

Natalie stared at Owen, the same Owen Carr she’d fallen in love with all those years ago. So much of him was the same—that fire in those navy eyes. That black cowboy hat. Those wide shoulders, the day-old scruff on his chin, the cowboy boots he had to have specially made because his feet were so large.

The only thing missing was his guitar. 

“I kept up with you,” she said, her voice on the edge of shaking. “They played your songs all over the country.”

His expression stormed and his teeth clenched. “That’s over now.” He stepped past her toward the front steps. 

She scrambled after him, her stomach quaking. “You had a record deal, Owen. You got what you wanted. What you left—” She cut herself off before she could finish the sentence. He heard what she’d say anyway. You got what you wanted when you left me here to pursue your own dreams.

He’d promised her he’d come back. Promised he’d come back and take her to Nashville with him. And he might have, but she’d gotten married about the same time his first single hit the country music charts. She’d known while dating Jeremiah that she shouldn’t, but she’d accepted his diamond and gone through the whole charade of a wedding anyway. 

Why, she wasn’t sure. But now, following Owen into his house, she knew why. She’d been so lonely, so empty, without Owen. She’d simply wanted someone, and it didn’t seem to matter who.

She was older now. While she still felt lonely most days, and empty even after she ate, she didn’t turn to a handsome face to fill her life. She’d turned to serving the community on the library board, teaching cooking classes through the church’s community program, and finishing her dance degree. She taught ballet to little boys and girls, and she loved it. But she needed more. Thus, why she’d applied for this job, though she’d known exactly who Owen Carr was and how he came to need a nanny. She’d been back in Gold Valley for two years, and she knew all the gossip.

“Marie’s great,” she said once she’d closed the door behind her. “I’d love to help you with her.”

He kept his back to her as he moved into the kitchen and opened the fridge. “Want somethin’ to drink?” He pulled out two bottles of water.

She nodded and accepted the water. “I can help in the mornings, like you said. I can be here after school. She can come over to the dance studio with me. I teach ballet there, and you can pick her up whenever you’re done.”

“She doesn’t dance.”

“Well, maybe she’d like to.” Natalie tucked her hair behind her ear, suddenly aware of the weight of his gaze. That hadn’t changed either. The way his muscles rippled under his skin certainly had, as well as the way he collected his emotions close and kept his temper in check. “I teach from four to seven on Mondays and Tuesdays. The other afternoons, I can just pick her up from school and bring her home, make dinner.” She waved her hand. “Whatever else you need around here.” 

He didn’t seem to need much, but dirty dishes did wait in the sink, and dust seemed to have taken up permanent residence on the shelves. 

He regarded her with those gorgeous eyes. The very same ones that had drank her up when they’d sat next to each other at a swim meet, which she’d attended to watch her brother. He’d come to support one of his friends. Though they’d grown up together in Gold Valley, she’d never seen him until that meet. They started spending a lot of time together after that, and by their senior year, she’d fallen in love with him. 

He’d always talked about going to Nashville and becoming a country star. His voice was smooth and even and beautiful, and the man could play a guitar like he was born to do exactly that. The fact that he’d achieved his dreams, even if it was only one record, one single that went to the top of the charts, didn’t matter. He’d done it.

“Natalie—” he started.

“I need this job, Owen.” She wrung her hands until she realized she was doing it. She rubbed her palms along her thighs. “Marie likes me. Ask her.”

He blinked at her. Drained his water, never taking his eyes from hers. “Fine. I will.” He tossed the empty water bottle in the sink and moved toward the back door, a perfect storm of Owen Carr that made Natalie want to soothe him, the way she often had. Kiss him, the way she often had. Whisper to him that she loved him, the way she often had.

He’d soothed her too. Kissed her. Told her he loved her. But in the end, none of that had been enough. He’d still left.

She followed him as far as the deck on the back of the house, watched while he scrubbed behind his dog’s ears and spoke to Marie. The little girl brightened and nodded, and Owen’s shoulders fell. A surge of satisfaction moved through Natalie.

She’d wondered how she could reinsert herself into Owen’s life. She’d seen him from a distance since she’d come back to Gold Valley. Seen him at church. Heard about his work at Silver Creek. And everyone had rallied around him when his sister died. His parents still lived in town, but Tasha’s will had specified Owen as Marie’s legal guardian, and he’d done what was necessary.

When she’d seen his ad for a nanny, she’d applied, beyond hopeful. Please let this be our second chance, she prayed as he turned back to her. She couldn’t read his expression under his cowboy hat from this distance, but as he stalked closer, she saw the indecision, the anger, the pain.

“She likes you,” he clipped out as he passed.

“So can I have the job?” She hated seeing his retreating back as he marched into the house and around the corner into the kitchen. She’d seen enough of him walking away from her to last a lifetime.

“I’ll let you know,” he said. “I have other interviews still to do.”

She entered the kitchen to find him peering into the freezer. “I teach cooking classes at the church,” she said. “I can make dinner. Give you a sample of what a meal might taste like when you get home from work.”

“That’s not necessary.”

Desperation darted through Natalie. “Owen—”

“I’m real sorry,” he blurted. “Okay? I’m sorry I left and never came back.”

His apology brought warmth to her soul. “It’s over,” she said. “The past. Something that happened twelve years ago.”

He closed the freezer and looked right at her. He’d always been able to see past what she said to get to the root of how she really felt. “Are you over it?”


“Because I’m not.” Agony shone in his eyes for one, two, three seconds before he erased it. “But I do want you to know I’m sorry.”

She touched his arm, and lightning sparked at the skin-to-skin contact, causing her to jerk back. “I am too, Owen.”

“Nothin’ for you to be sorry about.” He backed into the living room. “I’ll let you know about the job.”



“How many more interviews do you have?”


He’d resorted to one-word answers, so she nodded, ducked her head, and slipped out the front door.

What Readers are Saying

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “As usual, Liz Isaacson had me hooked in the first few pages. A common trait in all of Liz's writing. I feel comfortable saying if you see her name, read it!” ~RustyH

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Grab your copy today guaranteed you won't be disappointed. Many ups and downs ins and outs in this book. Could NOT put it down. Liz outdid herself once again.” ~Diana

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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.