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Book 5: Right Cowboy, Right Time (Horseshoe Home Ranch)

Book 5: Right Cowboy, Right Time (Horseshoe Home Ranch)

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

About RIGHT COWBOY, RIGHT TIME: A happy-go-lucky cowboy, a fiery veterinarian, and the mistaken identity that sparks a new romance… When a pneumonia outbreak in the ranch's cattle herd forces Caleb and Holly to work together, their chemistry is undeniable. But Holly still holds a grudge against the woman she believes was the cause of her breakup with Nathan. As she and Caleb grow closer, she must discern whether her feelings for him are genuine or simply remnants of her love for Nathan. Can they navigate the shadows of the past to find their happily-ever-after?

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Read Chapter 1 Now!

“Oh, chips!” Caleb Chamberlain swung the overflowing shopping cart around, several boxes of frozen waffles falling off the top. Ty scooped one up and lifted it back over his shoulder like a football.

“Go long!”

Caleb didn’t hesitate. His cowboy boots slipped a little on the tile in the grocery store and his injured leg gave him a bit of trouble, but he got his feet under him soon enough. He sprinted down the frozen foods aisle, glancing over his shoulder when he heard Ty grunt.

He put on a burst of speed to be able to get under the waffle box, reaching…reaching until he pulled it in and tucked it under his arm. A laugh spilled from his mouth as he slid to a stop, the old injury in his lower leg and ankle throbbing just a little. The moms with kids stared at him, and one elderly lady Caleb recognized from church frowned.

He tipped his cowboy hat as they went back to selecting milk and eggs and yogurt, then trotted back to where Ty was still picking fallen waffle boxes from the ground. “That was awesome.” Caleb balanced the waffle-football on top of their haul. “But we forgot the chips and Gloria is makin’ taco soup tomorrow night.”

Getting grocery duty in February was every cowhand’s dream, so Caleb wasn’t overly concerned about hurrying to get the corn chips. He’d probably even suggest he and Ty stop by the deli to get a soft serve cone before they headed back up the canyon to Horseshoe Home Ranch.

No sense in getting back in time to get another assignment. Not in such chilly weather. Even the grocery store had their usually open front area closed today, because the wind howled like it had a personal vendetta against the Montana town of Gold Valley.

Sometimes it felt that way to Caleb, and he wondered why he still lived here. But he couldn’t think of anywhere else he’d rather be. His parents lived here; his younger sister cut hair at the salon; his twin brother had only one more year in Michigan to finish his dentistry degree, then he’d return to open a practice.

Caleb had worked at Horseshoe Home since he was fourteen years old, with only a brief hiatus after he recovered from his car accident, and he didn’t see anything changing for the next dozen years. 

“Pretty girls up ahead,” Ty hissed out of the corner of his mouth, causing Caleb to stop using the shopping cart like it was a scooter. 

The three girls walking toward them could hardly have graduated from high school. In fact, in Caleb’s best estimation, they were probably still in high school. Ty, though the same age as Caleb, looked and acted like a teenager, and could probably get away with dating an eighteen-year-old. But Caleb, who looked all of his twenty-six years, could not.

Didn’t even want to. 

He wasn’t really looking for a new girlfriend, not since the disaster that had been Robin Melcher. Oh, no. Caleb was still trying to rebuild what she’d knocked down five years ago, and it wasn’t going that well. Definitely better than when he used to drown himself in alcohol, and exponentially better than healing from an accident stemming from his drinking. So his recovery was probably going better than he thought. 

Still, he averted his eyes when Ty said, “Afternoon, ladies,” and kept on toward the snack food aisle. Ty was exceptionally good at making women feel special, like he’d known them their whole lives. He’d been one of Caleb’s best friends growing up, their friendship cemented for life after Caleb had driven himself off the road and into a cement barrier. 

Caleb and Ty had actually known most of the available women in Gold Valley his whole life. None of them were interested in him, and Robin’s poisoned words flashed through his mind.

You’re going nowhere, Caleb Chamberlain.

She had a sweet, sticky, soprano voice that twanged on his name, even as he pushed her and her parting words to him from his mind.

He was going nowhere, but that wasn’t the problem. The real problem was that going nowhere was just fine with him. He didn’t want to leave Gold Valley and Horseshoe Home Ranch, even if he dreamed of being a cowboy in warmer Texas or Oklahoma. 

He didn’t care if no one was interested. He felt content with his life at the moment, and though he needed to get his self-confidence back where it used to be, he knew a woman wouldn’t help with that.

“Nathan!”

He glanced up at the mention of his twin’s name. He was used to being mistaken for his twin, as they shared the exact same DNA. Same sandy brown hair. Same dark brown eyes. They even walked with an identical gait.

The similarities ended there. Nathan was driven, and successful, and married now with a baby. Caleb had graduated in agricultural sciences while working at the ranch, where…he still worked. He did just fine, in his opinion, but when compared with Nathan, Caleb definitely paled.

Before he could actually locate the source of who’d called Nathan’s name, a woman launched herself into his arms.

“Oof,” he grunted as he stumbled backward. Without thinking, he put his hands around the woman, mostly to keep himself from falling down. She smelled like flowers and soap, and Caleb’s heart pounced into his throat.

She stepped back in a flurry of black hair, which she smoothed back to reveal even darker eyes and olive colored skin. She wore a lot of black makeup around her eyes, and Caleb thought she looked exotic. He swallowed and found his throat exceptionally dry.

Beautiful and exotic, a dangerous combination to Caleb’s bachelor life.

“It’s Holly,” she said. “Holly Gray?”

The name struck a bell in Caleb’s head, but he couldn’t place her. “I was Katherine’s best friend in high school?”

Katherine—his younger sister. 

Ty nudged him, and Caleb’s voice thawed enough for him to emit a strangled chuckle. “Oh, right. Katie.”

Her eyes searched his. “I didn’t know you were back in town.”

“Well, I’m not—” Caleb started, his voice muting when Ty thumped him on the back. 

“He’s back,” Ty said.

Caleb usually enjoyed this game of pretend-to-be-someone-you’re-not, but this time he cast Ty a glare. He turned back to Holly, distracted by her curvy hips and slim waist. “I guess I never really left.”

She smiled, a short laugh escaping her dark red lips. Caleb couldn’t look away, and he realized he hadn’t been in a relationship for too long. His brain searched for how long, but it was being slow and dumb.

“It feels that way, doesn’t it?” Holly glanced back to where she’d left her cart. “This town does have some sort of magic, though, doesn’t it?” She looked at him, and he realized she’d asked two questions.

“Yeah.” He answered them both at the same time and immediately cursed himself for sounding like he’d forgotten how to breathe.

“So what brings you back to town?” Ty asked, stepping slightly in front of Caleb.

Caleb had no idea if Holly had actually left town. His life now pretty much existed up the canyon, on the ranch. It always had, but when Robin had left him, he’d made the thirty-minute drive as often as he necessary to procure the liquor he needed to erase her from his mind. 

Now, with that behind him, and his leg fully healed, he came down for church if the roads were good and he didn’t have chores to do. And, of course, if he pulled grocery duty. 

Holly tossed her curls over her shoulder. “Oh, you know. This and that.” 

Caleb cocked an eyebrow at her. “How long have you been gone?”

“Five years.”

Five years, five years. Caleb tried to think of why Holly Gray would’ve been mixed up with Nathan five years ago. Recalling his brother’s life when his own had been so tumultuous was harder than Caleb liked. He’d been really removed from everyone and everything while dating Robin. 

It hit him at the same time Holly leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “We should catch up sometime.” She gave him a coy smile, turned, and sashayed back to her cart. She didn’t turn and look back, something Caleb was grateful for.

He didn’t want her to see how he’d gone still, his mouth hanging open. Ty elbowed him and said, “Who was that?”

Caleb swallowed as feeling returned to his muscles. “That was Holly Gray,” he said in a monotone. “My twin brother’s ex-fiancé.” 

* * *

By the time Caleb got back to the ranch, unloaded all the food, and helped Ty divvy it all up, his patience had reached its end. He needed to call Nathan now.

Ty had made some suggestions about Holly, none of which Caleb particularly wanted to entertain—except maybe the part where he’d said Caleb should definitely call her and definitely get caught up with her.

But Caleb needed to talk to Nathan first. He’d left his groceries at the administration lodge, his breath practically freezing in the air before him, and had taken three steps toward his cabin when Jace called his name.

Caleb groaned inwardly, but turned back to the foreman. “Yeah, boss?”

“Any trouble in town?” Jace leaned against the pillar like he didn’t feel the negative temperatures. Maybe he didn’t.

“No,” Caleb said, his voice automatically going up in pitch. “No trouble.” He was so used to denying any wrongdoing, and he’d gotten really good at talking his way out of a mess.

“I shouldn’t have sent you and Ty together.” Jace sighed. “I knew that.” He finally pinned his gaze on Caleb. “Throwing frozen waffles down the aisle? Really?”

“I didn’t throw any waffles.” Caleb held up his hands. “I swear.” A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth, and he worked to flatten them before the all-seeing eye of Jace Lovell could see.

“What about the rumor of two cowboys wrestling in front of the pretzels?” Jace cocked his head to the side.

“That was nothing,” Caleb said. “Ty said my ears were stickin’ out, and I elbowed him, and he maybe pushed me back. That’s it.”

“Where are your groceries?” Jace chin-nodded to Caleb’s empty hands. 

He shifted his feet. “I just needed to…get to the restroom, boss. I’ll get ’em in a few minutes.”

Jace chewed on the end of a straw, seemingly without a care in the world. Caleb knew that wasn’t true, but the boss didn’t generally enjoy Caleb’s jokes and jabs. “After you put your stuff away, I need you to get on over to the calf barn. Nelson brought in a sick cow, and I need your opinion.”

Caleb couldn’t keep the groan inside this time, and he hated how it made him sound. “All right,” he said. “But didn’t you hire a new vet?”

“Sure did.” Jace pushed away from the pillar. “But they don’t start until Monday.” 

And Caleb knew Jace wouldn’t call them in on Saturday, even if the whole herd went down. Well, maybe if the whole herd went down. But the foreman tried to make sure everyone got a weekend off every now and then, something Caleb appreciated.

Jace looked out over the horizon. “See you in the barn in a few minutes.”

Caleb nodded and practically ran to his cabin, which sat fourth in the line. He used to share with a cowboy named Landon Edmunds, but Landon had gotten married a year ago and moved to the horse ranch he’d bought in Utah. For some reason, Jace hadn’t assigned anyone else to live with Caleb, and Caleb actually liked the solitude in the evenings.

He washed his hands and took a moment to crank the space heater all the way to high. Then he dialed Nathan, hoping his brother was home from school.

“Little bro,” Nathan said by way of greeting.

“You’re only older by three minutes,” Caleb said, his usual response, a grin crossing his face. He and Nathan had gotten into so much trouble growing up. Caleb had loved every minute of sneaking through dark fields, climbing over locked fences, and kissing pretty girls. It had been his brother who’d pulled him from the wreckage of his life, made him promise never to drink again, ordered him to get clean and get happy. 

Caleb had accomplished a couple of those things, and most of the time he thought he was happy. Certainly happier than he had been, especially since he’d been going to church.

“What’s goin’ on?” Nathan asked, and Caleb noted the western slant in his voice, despite the fact that his brother lived in Michigan now. Caleb had often teased him that he must like a long, torturous winter, because Michigan wasn’t much better than northern-central Montana.

Now that Caleb had his brother on the phone, he didn’t know how to bring up Holly. He swallowed, the words still not there.

“Caleb?”

“I ran into someone today,” he started. 

“Sounds intriguing.” A baby started crying in the background, and Nathan murmured something Caleb couldn’t catch. He used the distraction to organize his next statement.

It was Holly Gray. Whatever happened with you guys? He rolled his eyes. Nathan would see through that in two seconds flat. He’d tease Caleb relentlessly if he let on that he was interested in Holly.

He almost scoffed. How could he be interested in Holly? The very idea was ridiculous—especially because she thought he was Nathan.

“Sorry about that,” Nathan said. “Eddie’s tired.”

“I know how he feels.” Caleb wiped his hand over his face, reminding himself he still needed to get over to the calf barn and then get his groceries from the administration lodge. The thought of his standard dinner—a banana-bologna sandwich with butter and mayo—made his mouth water.

“So you met someone today.”

“Not really met,” Caleb said. “I mean, I already know who she is. She grew up with us, but she left town for a while.”

“Oh, it’s a woman.”

Caleb could practically see Nathan as he leaned back, that wide smile on his face. He was sure his next words would wipe it away.

“Well, who is it?” Nathan asked.

“It’s Holly Gray.”

Nathan made a low, hissing sound. “Holly Gray. Wow.”

“She thought I was you.”

“And?”

“And she said we should get caught up.”

Nathan laughed, but it held undertones of bitterness. “She really is a special kind of crazy.”

Caleb’s throat felt sticky. “You never told me what happened with you guys.”

“She’s crazy,” Nathan said again, and Caleb was grateful he didn’t bring up why Caleb didn’t know what had happened. “And once I figured it out, I broke it off with her.”

“So…if I…I mean, if she and I….” Caleb exhaled, wishing he’d never called Nathan. 

“Are you saying you want to go out with her?”

“No,” Caleb said. “Not go out with her. Maybe just hang out or something. She seemed fun.”

“She was fun,” Nathan said. “I’ll give her that.”

“So you’d be okay with it. If we hung out.”

Nathan laughed again, this time the sound much more natural. “Caleb, you’re twenty-six-years old. And I’m married and have a son. You can do whatever you want with Holly Gray.”

“I don’t want to do anything with Holly Gray. Just hang out or whatever.”

“Right,” Nathan said sarcastically. “I know you, Caleb. And Holly is gorgeous. I can put two and two together.”

“I—I haven’t dated since Robin,” Caleb said. It was what he didn’t say that would’ve blown everything wide open. I haven’t dated since I stopped drinking. Haven’t had to tell anyone about that. I haven’t gone out since the accident. Haven’t had to tell a woman why I limp, why my bones know when it’s about to snow.

“Believe me, I know,” Nathan said. “Mom talks to me about it every week when I call. She’s just about to sacrifice a goat or something to get you married.” Caleb snorted. “I mean, I get it. She’s worried about you.”

“I’m just fine,” Caleb said. 

“Are you? Keepin’ your promise?”

“Yes, Nathan.” Caleb hated feeling like he was the younger, irresponsible brother. He knew Nathan meant well, and it did touch Caleb’s heart that someone cared about him enough to ask the hard questions. “So…Holly?”

Nathan chuckled. “Always with the one-track mind. Remember that year you wanted to build a tree house? You were out there every day, all summer long.”

“It wouldn’t have taken as long if you’d have helped,” Caleb said.

“Yeah, the floor probably wouldn’t have fallen through the first time you walked on it either.” Nathan chuckled, and Caleb joined in. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about Holly,” Nathan said.

Caleb let his grin spread. “I like a woman who’s a little crazy.”

* * *

Holly skipped church on Sunday because she simply couldn’t bear to show her face there—yet. Truth was, she hadn’t shown her face in church for a while. She used Sundays to work or study—or catch up on much-needed sleep. 

She’d prayed and prayed for a different ending with Nathan, and when she didn’t get it, her faith had grown cold, turned hard, sunk to the soles of her feet. She knew her mother would ask, and she should’ve gone, but she couldn’t. 

So when she showed up at Horseshoe Home Ranch on Monday morning, she hadn’t left her house except to get a few groceries and stop by the hardware store for a new shower head. The one in her rental didn’t spray hard enough, and she had a lot of hair to wash and condition every day.

Her new boss, the ranch’s foreman, Jace Lovell, had said there would be a formal staff meeting in the administration lodge. She’d worried needlessly about being able to find it, because as she came down the snow-packed road and eased her truck around the bend, the lodge lived up to its name. It stood two-stories tall and proud, and had obviously been the homestead in the past.

The present homestead sat a hundred yards west of the lodge, twice as big and twice as impressive. The road divided the current homestead from the rest of the ranch buildings, including two horse stables, two large equipment sheds, several other barns and outbuildings, and a long row of cowboy cabins.

Her heart stutter-stepped, but she tamed it back to its normal pulse. She was well-qualified for this job. She had a bachelor’s degree in veterinarian medicine, and she was only here for eight months to get the required hours she needed to apply for graduate school in large animal care. 

Eight months, she repeated like a mantra. She could live in Gold Valley for eight months, drive all the way out to Horseshoe Home for eight months, weather anything for eight months.

She got out of her truck and tugged down the hem of her coat. Not wanting to spend any more time outside than necessary, she hurried toward the administration lodge and up the steps. No one else seemed to be around, and though the sky was barely lighter than twilight, she hadn’t gotten the time wrong. The sun just took forever to rise in February.

She entered the building, breathing in with relief at the blast of heated air. 

“Holly.” Jace waved from a doorway opposite of her. “In here.”

She wove through a maze of desks, which gradually gave way to long tables with chairs positioned down the sides where the cowboys obviously ate, as a bottle of ketchup still sat in the middle of one table. Her step was sure and strong as she approached the room. Men’s voice filtered out to her, and she froze.

She wasn’t early. If anything, they’d been waiting for her. She should’ve known cowboys got up at the crack of dawn, and an eight-thirty staff meeting meant morning chores were already completed.

Taking a deep breath, she took the few remaining steps to the doorway, a wider swatch of the room coming into view with each passing second. This room held circular tables, all filled with men wearing cowboy hats. Some also wore leather jackets, while some only had on long-sleeved shirts. They all wore jeans and cowboy boots, and the masculine scent of horse and sweat and cologne assaulted her.

“Boys,” Jace started and the room quieted. “This is our new veterinarian, Holly Gray.”

Twenty-five pairs of eyes landed on her, and she was extremely glad she’d worn the fitted, olive-colored coat. Not that it offered much protection from the gazes of all those men. At least she’d fit in because she wore jeans and boots too.

“Good morning,” she said.

“She’ll be running our medical clinic this spring, and I expect you all to show her how we do things here at Horseshoe Home.”

One of the men leaned toward another and whispered something. They both smiled and chuckled, and Holly found somewhere else to look. She’d been up at the crack of dawn too, thank you very much. Not a lock of hair sat out of place, and her makeup was flawless. Maybe not the most practical when she’d be working with animals all day, but she wanted the cowboys to take her seriously. 

Her eyes landed on Nathan Chamberlain, and her face split into a grin. When he’d broken off their engagement five years ago, he’d had two years of college left. Maybe he’d been as devastated as she’d been. Maybe he’d quit school and had been working at Horseshoe Home all this time.

She’d left town, unable to stay in such a small space with him. It had taken her a lot longer than eight months, but she’d let him go. But looking at him now, she wasn’t so sure she’d made the right decision. He looked away from her as Jace said she could go ahead and sit. Somehow she got her feet to move, got her knees to bend, got herself out of the spotlight.

What Readers are Saying

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Wow! Another great love story from Liz! Great characters, lots of action, funny parts, serious parts, searching for faith, learning to lean on faith. Just a wonderful read that you will enjoy.” ~Phycilla

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “I liked the ups and downs and twists of this story. I really didn’t know what to expect! A trope I haven’t read before and a story that really gripped me.” ~Michaela

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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.