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Feel-Good Fiction Books

Book 7: The Christmas Cowboy Competition (Horseshoe Home Ranch)

Book 7: The Christmas Cowboy Competition (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 CHRISTMAS COWBOY COMPETITION: He’s a cowboy down on his luck, she’s his complete opposite next door, and they both need a job this Christmas… As the festive season unfolds, will Emery and Archer navigate the complexities of the ranch, their close living arrangements, and their personal challenges to discover the love building between them? Or will their rivalry rob them of the greatest Christmas gift of all—true love?

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Read Chapter 1 Now!

Archer Bailey stepped out into the tiny backyard of his townhome and inhaled. Ah, yes. The crisp scent of freshly mowed grass mingled with the underlying scent of mountain water and a slightly chlorinated whiff from the pool a few hundred yards away.

Today was the day. Today, he was going to land the job that would start his career. Today was the day his life would change.

He lifted his hand to his black cowboy hat, the hint of fall already in the valley though Labor Day still lingered a week away. Sometimes Montana saw snow in September, and Archer loved it. Loved everything about Gold Valley, and horses, and hopefully, Horseshoe Home Ranch, where he had an interview in three short hours.

Then his father could stop riding him for quitting college. For giving up a scholarship Archer had earned by the skin of his teeth and pure luck. For coming home without a job or a direction he wanted to go in.

His little buckskin-colored dog sniffed around his feet as the sliding glass door just across the fence opened. Carrot Cake immediately started barking, easing when the gorgeous blonde removed her hat and crouched, extending the tips of her fingers through the slats in the fence to give Carrot a scrap of cheese.

“You know he’s on a diet,” Archer said, trying not to rake his gaze up and down Emersyn Ender’s body. They’d lived next door to each other for two years. Shared a wall, a fence, and his dog for twenty-four long months.

At first, Archer had thought they could make a go of a relationship. But Emery radiated a coldness he’d never experienced, not even in the depths of a Montana January. She held everything close to the vest, rarely said more than five words to him, and kept mostly to herself.

“He looks like he’s lost some weight.”

“Hmph.” Archer sipped his coffee, sure Carrot Cake had only lost a few ounces and only because of the grooming Archer had done on him late last week. 

“How’s the job hunt going?” She tucked her hands into the back pockets of her shorts and looked beyond him, over the waist-high fence that separated their private yards from the common areas of the complex. She always did this sort of looking past him thing, like he was some foul ogre she couldn’t bear to look directly at. 

He shifted his feet self-consciously, wanting to keep his job interview a secret. After all, Emery had stolen his last opportunity right out from under him.

That’s not fair, he thought immediately, but the familiar disappointment and his old friend bitterness pressed against the back of his tongue anyway.

“I have an interview today,” he said, unsure of when his brain had told his vocal cords to speak. 

Emery focused on him, her bright blue eyes startling and absolutely beautiful. Archer took another gulp of coffee. “That’s great, Archie.”

So she had a nickname for him. He hated it. Didn’t mean they were friends. 

“Where?” she asked.

“Oh, up at the ranch.” Four ranches surrounded Gold Valley, and he kept it vague on purpose. “How are things at Silver Creek?”

They’d both gone out for the same job at the teen rehabilitation center last spring. In the end, the director there decided he wanted a female equestrian trainer where he’d always, always had a male. She’d gotten the job. Archer had slunk home like a pup with its tail between his legs. He waited for her to take her garbage can out on Wednesdays so he didn’t run into her. Then he brought both cans in at night to avoid her further. The lengths he’d gone to in order to save face had astounded even him.

Emery sighed, a long drawn-out hiss that raised an alarm in Archer’s system. “It’s fine. But my twelve-week program ends on Friday. Then I’m out of a job.”

“Oh.” Archer didn’t know what else to say. His first inclination was to ask if her job would be available, but he didn’t want to seem overeager or rude or unsympathetic. Truth was, he felt a kindred soul in Emery as she’d bounced from as many jobs as he had over the years. She didn’t seem to have a parent rubbing her nose in it though.

“Good luck with your interview.” Emery flashed him a smile that, if she’d allow it to reach her eyes and light up her whole face, would be a sight to behold. She tucked her hair behind her ear and went back inside her house, much to Carrot Cake’s disconcertion. 

“Oh, quiet down, you.” Archer toed the whiny dog back into his own townhouse and shut out the world. Shut out Emery. Shut out everything. He needed to find his center if today was really going to be the day that started his life.

He dropped to a sitting position in the living room and crossed his legs. With his eyes closed, he prayed in a whisper, “Please help me say all the right things during the interview.” 

Please, please, please pretty much dominated the rest of his meditation session. By the time he left to get up to Horseshoe Home Ranch, Archer wasn’t sure if any of his prayers or the minutes he spent meditating actually did anything but waste time.

* * *

Emery didn’t waste a single moment after she left Archer standing in his backyard. He hadn’t told her where the job was—purposefully, she knew—but she had a laptop and their community provided fantastic fiber Internet service as part of the HOA fees.

It only took her a single search and a quick scan of one job board to find the listing for a cowhand at Horseshoe Home Ranch. She worried the inside of her cheek with her teeth as she read the description. She’d grown up on a small farm in Wyoming until age twelve; she’d ridden horses since the age of five, and had begun training them when her father left them all behind. But she’d seen him tag cows, and fix fences, and move sprinkler pipes. How hard could it be?

And bonus, she knew Jace and Belle Lovell from church. Well, “knew” was probably a huge stretch, but at this point, Emery had to play every advantage she had. She needed a job, one that paid well enough to keep her in this townhome and allowed her to keep sending money to her sister in Spokane. 

The twinges of guilt strumming through her body were easily covered by the desperate need to keep Glenna going. Her sister worked at a big box store, paid her own rent, and scraped by with cheap groceries bought with her employee discount. Emery paid all the utilities. The Adult Services group in Spokane provided her transportation, so that was a relief. 

She jotted down the number for the ranch, stuffing the last moments of regret to the soles of her feet. It was a job. Heaven knew Archer wasn’t the only candidate for it, and just because Emery wanted to throw her hat into the ring didn’t mean he didn’t have a good chance.

“Better than you,” she mumbled to herself as she carefully punched in the numbers. The line rang and her stomach did flips. One, two, three. Finally a woman said, “Hello?”

“Yes, hello, I’m calling about the cowhand job. Is it still available?”

“Uh, let’s see.” Scratching came through the line, something like the shuffling of papers. “Yes, today’s the last morning of interviews. Looks like we’re booked, though. Let me see….” More scuffling and then a loud bang! hurt Emery’s ears.

“Oh my stars.” The woman’s tinny voice sounded light years away. “I’m so sorry,” she said normally now. “I dropped the phone. Can I give you a call back in a few minutes? I’ll go talk to Jace and see if he can do one more interview, all right?”

“Sure, yeah, all right.” Though she didn’t want to end the call without a scheduled appointment—especially if today was the last day Jace was doing interviews—Emery didn’t really see what other choice she had. She gave the woman her name and phone number and hung up. 

She needed to be over at Silver Creek by two o’clock, but the woman had said “morning of interviews” so hopefully Emery could do both. 

A high-pitched whirring sound came from the townhouse to her left—Archer’s place. She’d never asked him what he did every morning to make that sound, but it lasted less than a minute, and Emery had assumed it was a high-end blender. Probably a smoothie junkie, she thought, adding an eyeroll to her mental musings.

Emery never ate breakfast and rarely consumed more than fruits, nuts, and vitamin water anyway. Her stomach didn’t seem to play nicely with much more. She paced from her kitchen to her front door, which took about ten steps. Turn. Pace back.

She had more productive things to do around the house, like fold laundry and clean bathrooms, but she couldn’t seem to make her mind settle on anything but the job at Horseshoe Home.

Eventually, she pulled out the disinfectant wipes and swept them over countertops, light switches, and walls, waiting for her phone to ring. She did all the dishes and had just moved into the half-bath to get the toilet sparkling when her device finally chirped.

She scrambled for it and breathlessly answered the unknown number. “Emery?” the woman asked. “It’s Belle from Horseshoe Home. Jace says he’s happy to have you come up this morning. Does eleven o’clock work for you?”

“Yes, absolutely, sure.” Emery checked herself and took a big breath. “I’ll be there.”

“Great.” Belle wore a smile in her voice. “The interview will be in his office, which is in the administration lodge. It’s the second biggest house up here, on the right-hand side of the road.”

“Sounds good.” Emery hung up and pressed her eyes closed. Now she just needed to get this job so she could continue to help her sister maintain her lifestyle. 

A few hours later, Emery seated herself in the run-down Jeep she used for a vehicle. The engine had almost two-hundred-fifty thousand miles on it, but it was still trucking along. Emery had named the Jeep Jenny at the first hundred thousand miles, and she prayed every morning and every night that her car would be spared any wear and tear, that it would keep running, and so far God had granted her that minor miracle.

She exited the community where she lived and turned right. The canyon and the glorious horseshoe shaped falls bloomed before her very eyes, and a quick rush of gratitude reminded her of how lucky she was to live in such a beautiful place. 

The ranch only sat twenty minutes from her front door, and she arrived earlier than she’d anticipated. Butterflies the size of dinner plates crashed into her abdominal lining, and she thought sure she’d need to throw up before entering the appointed building. 

With one final cramp and a deep breath, Emery left Jenny’s safety and mounted the front steps. Through the doors, she came to a desk with a weathered cowboy sitting behind it.

“Mornin’, ma’m,” he said. “You here for the interviews?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Chair right there.” He pointed with the pen he held in his right hand toward an empty row of white folding chairs. At least she didn’t have to see any of the other applicants. Her own cowgirl boots clicked against the tile as she made her way to the chairs and sat.

Eleven o’clock came and went. A few cowboys worked in the open area filled with desks. Laughter came from a doorway in the back that had bright fluorescent lights spilling from it. The scent of marinara and meat came from that direction too, and Emery’s stomach grumbled. A hallway sat across from the kitchen and went left into areas she couldn’t see. 

Impatience gnawed at her thoughts, making her right toe tap, tap, tap against the tile. She had no idea how long this interview would take, and she still needed to grab lunch and get all the way across town to Silver Creek by two. 

Finally, finally, after sitting there for a half an hour—and twenty of those minutes were past her appointed interview time—a pair of men appeared in the hallway. They paused, and Emery’s focus razored in on them. 

One—the slightly taller man—was Jace Lovell, owner. The other—with his signature black cowboy hat—was Archer Bailey, rival and neighbor.

Panic poured through Emery in waves. He would see her. There was no way he wouldn’t see her. She needed to move now.

Now!

But her body remained as limp and lifeless as a sack of potatoes. Everything slowed around her except her pulse, which only seemed to be accelerating. Faster and faster while everything else blurred behind a layer of wax paper.

Jace smiled. The two of them shook hands. Archer turned toward her. He stepped, and stepped, Jace right behind him. 

Why did it take so long for him to make it to the front of the room? Why was Emery’s chest so tight? Why did her fingers ache and pulse with their own heartbeat?

“Emery?” The level of surprise in Archer’s voice shocked Emery out of the weird warpy thing that had just happened. “What are you doing here?”

She leapt to her feet, every cell in her body buzzing like someone had hooked her to a live wire and turned the electricity up high.

“She’s my last interview,” Jace said, joining them and extending his hand for Emery to shake. “C’mon back, Emery. Good to see you again, Archer.” He turned and walked away, but Emery couldn’t move. 

Archer glared at her with more menace than she knew he possessed. He’d always been nice to her, probably nicer than he should’ve been given how little attention she’d given him over the years. He brought her garbage can in when it snowed heavily, and he’d fixed her fence when the gate slammed into it. 

He could’ve said all kinds of things in this situation. Breathed threats at her. Delved into a long lecture about his disgust for her. All of it was plain to see right there in his deep, dark eyes. Eyes that had always sucked at Emery’s resolve, always beckoned that if she just dove in, she’d like what happened after that. 

He said nothing. Just marched past her and out the door.

What Readers are Saying

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “I really like clean romance stories with a touch of the romantic. This book gave me that, and more. I liked the career and family angles and see where the author could write sequels to enhance this book. There was suspense and challenges enough to keep you wanting to read and several surprises to grab your attention and some to make you laugh.. I loved the book!!!” ~Sandra B.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Nothing I did not like about the book! It was entertaining and fun to read. You could put the book down and pick up again where you left off.” ~Gayle P.

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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.