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Book 4: Christmas Cowboy (Hope Eternal Ranch)

Book 4: Christmas Cowboy (Hope Eternal Ranch)

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Christmas Cowboy Formats
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Cowboys looking for a second chance at life, love, and happiness. All with a dash of suspense, plenty of sweet & clean romance, and a powerful redemption story at the heart of every book.

Love cowboys and the beach? The Hope Eternal Ranch series combines them both! You'll get a sweet and sexy hero in every book as, one by one, the Mulbury boys get released from the low-securty prison in the Coastal Bend of Texas and go to Hope Eternal Ranch, where they find their second chance at life, love, and happiness.

About CHRISTMAS COWBOY: He needs to start a new story for his life. She’s dealing with a lot of family issues. Can Slate and Jill find solace in each other at Hope Eternal Ranch?

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Slate Sanders drove down the highway next to the Gulf of Mexico, the window down as the sun came up. The scent of the beach and seaweed touched his nose every so often, and he couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.

He’d spent four years behind the fences and walls of River Bay Federal Correctional Facility. He hadn’t had a girlfriend or a wife when he’d gone into prison, and he hadn’t thought he wanted one now that he was out.

Images of Nate and Ginger walking hand-in-hand, their heads bent together, flowed through his mind. He then remembered the way Ted and Emma sat on the back porch of their cabin, the love between them real and infectious.

Maybe Slate had been bitten. Maybe he wanted to meet someone who would make his heart feel less like a black stone and more like a vital human organ. Maybe he could if he didn’t literally run away from every female he laid eyes on. 

He’d been at Hope Eternal Ranch for almost two months, and he still hadn’t said more than hello to any of the women who worked there. A few women lived next door in the West Wing, but Slate never went there. More women worked out on the ranch, with the horseback riding lessons, or with other chores. He kept his head down and hadn’t spoken to any of them either.

He wasn’t sure why, other than he wasn’t sure Hope Eternal was his final landing place. He couldn’t go back to banking, but he wasn’t as keen to grab onto the cowboy lifestyle with both hands the way Nate, Ted, and Dallas had. 

The three of them never went anywhere without their cowboy hats and boots, and they fit right in on this ranch. Slate hadn’t fit in anywhere, except with the other junkies.

“Can’t go back there,” he told himself. He absolutely would not go back to Austin, where he could easily slip back into the businessmen underground, where professionals worked their day jobs and then partied all night.

His phone rang, and Slate reached for it. Nate’s name sat on the screen, and Slate slowed down to pull over. The truck he’d been able to get wasn’t new or fancy, like the one Nate drove, and he couldn’t talk without holding the phone to his ear.

“Hey,” he answered as he pulled to the side of the road. 

“Where are you?”

“Just driving.”

“You’re not going north, are you?”

Slate rolled his eyes, glad this wasn’t a video call. “No, Dad,” he said.

Nate didn’t laugh, sigh, or otherwise make any noise. He did say, “Ted worries about you when you leave before dawn.”

“Ted does, huh?”

“We all do,” Nate said. 

“I’m clean,” Slate said. “I haven’t touched drugs in over four years, Nate.”

“I know that,” he said. “I also know, as does Dallas, how loud the call of addictive substances can be. We love you, and we want you to be happy.”

“I’m just driving by the water,” Slate said, looking over to it. “I like the water.”

“Yeah,” Nate said. Several moments of silence went by, and then he added, “It’s Sunday, and that means we’ll have breakfast at the West Wing.”

“Yeah, I know about it,” Slate said. 

“You’ve never come.”

“No, I haven’t.” Slate didn’t explain further. He’d only been twenty-nine when he’d gone into prison, and he’d only had a couple of girlfriends in his life at all. Once the drugs had taken center stage in his life, Slate didn’t care about anything or anyone else. 

He needed something else to focus on, but Slate had never felt so lost. 

“I’ll let you go,” Nate said. “Just…call one of us if you need us, okay?”

“Okay,” Slate said. He stayed still on the shoulder for another minute, and then he eased back onto the road and pulled over into a parking lot at a beach. One other car sat there, and Slate barely gave it a glance as he got out of his vehicle. The warmth of the sun never really went away in this part of Texas, but the morning was definitely the best time to find a whisper of cool air. 

He went down the wooden steps to the sand, trying to remember who he was. Thinking about who he was five years ago, before everything had gone down at the bank, was like trying to think about someone else. Trying to live someone else’s life, with memories that didn’t fit who he was now. There was nothing to remember about who he was, because he wasn’t that man anymore.

The wind picked up, and Slate ran one hand through his hair, thinking he’d like to grow it out as long as he could stand it. Then, and only then, would he cut it. Since he’d been out for a couple of months now, his hair had grown quite a bit, but Slate still didn’t feel the need to cut it.

He went all the way to the water’s edge, the horizon made only of waves and sunshine. He bent down and touched the gulf, feeling the power of the earth and the water all at the same time. In that moment, he knew he should get a job where he got to work outside, and another heartbeat later, he realized he already had a job like that if he wanted to keep it.

A sense of peace and serenity washed over him, and while he didn’t have all the answers for his future, he at least felt like he could start making new memories for the new man he was.

A woman screamed, startling him and breaking into his little bubble of reflection. He stood and looked left, toward the sound.

A woman ran toward the water dozens of yards down the beach, and another primal yell ripped from her throat as she threw something into the water. 

Slate wasn’t sure if he should go make sure she was okay or just walk away. He watched as she bent and picked up something else from the beach. She screamed as she hurled it into the ocean too.

Without thinking too hard about it, Slate started walking toward her. She seemed like she could use a friend—or at least someone to help her if she threw herself into the ocean next. 

As he got closer, she started yelling, and while Slate couldn’t catch all of the words, he got the general idea. Someone in her family was very sick, and she’d come to the beach to release her frustrations at the injustices of the world.

Slate slowed, suddenly not wanting to intrude. He knew exactly how she felt, though he’d learned to control and contain the rage and irritation while behind bars. He could box up everything and keep it silent. He could stare at the bottom of a bunk bed and let his thoughts run until he fell asleep, never saying anything to anyone.

Only Nate knew what Slate really thought. Then when he’d left, Ted. Dallas. Luke. 

He needed to get back to the ranch.

The woman turned toward him, and Slate froze. He knew her, and his stomach dropped to his shoes before it rebounded back to its proper place. “Jill?” he asked.

She sobbed and flew toward him so quickly that Slate barely had time to open his arms before she latched onto him. He wrapped her up tight, her anguish seeping right into the fleshy parts of his heart and making him close his eyes and pray for her relief.

* * *

Twenty minutes later, he helped Jill into the front seat of his truck with a, “There you go. Yep, you’re good.” He met her eye again and closed the door before going around to get behind the wheel. 

“I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her eyes again. “I was just on my way back to the ranch, and I started crying, and….” Her voice trailed off, and she shook her head. 

“You don’t owe me any explanations,” he said quietly.

“What did you hear on the beach?”

“Nothing much,” he said. “Combined with the waves, it was just noise.”

Jill nodded, the longer front pieces of her hair flopping a little bit. She sniffed as she pushed it off her forehead and tucked her hair behind her ears. “My mother is very sick,” she said. “I’m very angry at God about it.” 

Pure surprise flowed through Slate, and his eyebrows went up as their eyes met. “I can imagine,” he said. “In fact, I don’t have to imagine.” He looked back out the windshield. “I’ve been very angry at God about things before.” By the time he finished speaking, his voice was at whisper level. “Very angry at myself too.”

Jill nodded and wiped her face again. 

“I think there are some napkins in the glove box,” he said.

She opened it and pulled out a couple of the scratchy, brown napkins Slate had gotten at some fast food restaurant. “Thanks.” She wiped her nose and eyes and drew in a long, deep breath. She held it for so long that Slate thought he might have to perform some sort of rescue procedure this morning after all.

She finally released it and said, “I think I can drive back now.”

“Okay,” he said, flipping the truck into reverse.

“No, I meant I can drive myself.”

“That’s not happening,” he said. “I’ve been precisely where you are, and you’re just on the top of the roller coaster right now. There’s another dip coming, unfortunately.” He glanced at her as he pulled up to the highway. “How long have you known about your mother?”

“I just found out this weekend,” she said, her voice pitching up on the last word. “She’s a fighter. She’s going to be okay.”

Slate liked the optimism, but he also knew that sometimes things were not okay. He said nothing, though, because Jill deserved to cling to that hope and positivity if she chose to.

After a couple of minutes, he said, “I can bring someone to get your car any time.”

“Thank you, Slate,” she said, and he did like the way his name rolled out of her mouth.

“How long have you worked at the ranch?” he asked.

“Seven or eight years,” she said. “Are you going to stay? Ginger has mentioned that you’re up in the air.”

“Yeah,” Slate said. “That about sums up my whole life right now.” It had all gotten tossed up into the air, and he had no idea where all the pieces would end up falling. He looked at her and found her with her head leaned back against the rest, turned toward him.

She had pretty blue eyes, even watery as they were, and her hair was a messy kind of short style she could muss up with her fingers and it would look better than before. 

“Have you ever felt like that?” he asked, looking out the windshield again so he didn’t drive them into the gulf. 

“Like what?”

“Up in the air.”

“No,” she said quietly. “That’s probably why I’m handling this diagnosis so badly.” She half scoffed and half sobbed. “That’s what my sister says, at least.”

“How old is your sister?”

“The oldest one is forty, and she’s, you know, perfect. Perfect husband, with the perfect job. Two perfect kids, perfectly balanced with a boy and a girl.” She exhaled and wiped her face with the napkin again.

“I know the type,” he said, seeing the family perfectly in his mind’s eye. “That was my family growing up.”

Jill sucked in a tight breath. “Oh.”

“I’m not offended,” Slate assured her quickly. “I just…know the type.” He looked out his window at the gulf again, wishing he had the guts to call his parents and let them know he was out. The fact that they didn’t know spoke volumes about their relationship, but Slate wondered if the new version of himself could try again to be the son they wanted.

The miles passed in silence after that, and after a few minutes, Slate looked over to find Jill leaning against the window, fast asleep. His heart went out to her, because he understood what it felt like to go through trauma and the sheer exhaustion that caused.

He wanted to protect her from the tumultuous times ahead, but he knew he couldn’t. He’d learned to release the things he couldn’t control in prison, and he couldn’t control her mother’s health. 

When he turned onto the ranch and bumped from a smooth road to a dirt one, Jill jostled and woke. 

“We’re back,” he said softly. “I’m sure they still have breakfast going in the West Wing if you want to eat.”

Jill wiped her hair back again and glanced around. “I’m sorry I fell asleep.”

“Don’t be.” He pulled into the gravel lot and parked. Neither of them got out of the truck. “You should probably eat something.”

She looked at him, and Slate turned his head toward her. She was a beautiful woman, and his pulse performed a weird flip in his chest. He had no idea what it meant, only that he couldn’t look away from Jill, almost like her gaze had become a tractor beam, and he’d gotten stuck in it.

“Will you come with me?” she asked. “I don’t want to go in alone.”

Slate didn’t understand why. She’d lived here for years, and with one look at her, all of her friends would rally around her. They’d provide the support she needed, and Slate would disappear into the background. 

He knew, because he’d seen the women here at Hope Eternal Ranch do that for each other several times in the short time he’d been there.

“Okay,” he said anyway. “But I can’t stay long. I have to get out to the….” He let his sentence die, because it was Sunday, and he didn’t have to get out to the fields that day. He had no reason why he couldn’t accompany Jill to breakfast and then spend the rest of the day with her too. 

No reason except the fear pounding through his bloodstream at the very thought of walking into the West Wing and eating breakfast with everyone on the ranch.

What Readers are Saying

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ "Loved the setting and the characters! I could visualize the ranch and the people. I enjoyed the fact that the characters were “real” not just the beauty and the hunk. And the families depicted were just your normal every day families with their normal family quirks!" ~Patty V

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ "Another twists on this series of the Mulbury boys novels, in the 4th book. Enjoyed reading all about their adventures in finding love and happiness. It’s nice that there are people willing to help men after serving their time in prison. Especially when in for minor mistakes. I realize this may be just fiction, just your writing may just put a spark in someone’s thoughts or aspirations. Thanks for writing such inspirational stories." ~Amazon Customer

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Join the Mulbury Boys as they journey to Hope Eternal Ranch looking for healing, hope, and happily-ever-after!

Cowboys looking for a second chance at life, love, and happiness. All with a dash of suspense, plenty of sweet & clean romance, and a powerful redemption story at the heart of every book.

Love cowboys and the beach? The Hope Eternal Ranch series combines them both! You’ll get a sweet and sexy hero in every book as, one by one, the Mulbury Boys get released from a low-security prison in the Coastal Bend of Texas and go to Hope Eternal Ranch, where they search for their second chance at life, love, and happiness.

  • Book 1: Hopeful Cowboy

    He’s struggling to step into his new role as a single dad. She’s trying to keep her ranch operational and her heart intact. Can Nate and Ginger build forever out of heartache?

  • Book 2: Overprotective Cowboy

    Can Ted and Emma face their pasts so they can truly be ready to step into the future together? Or will everything between them fall apart once the truth comes out?

  • Book 3: Rugged Cowboy

    He’s a cowboy mechanic with two kids and an ex-wife on the run. She connects better to horses than humans. Can Dallas and Jess find their way to each other at Hope Eternal Ranch?

  • Book 4: Christmas Cowboy

    He needs to start a new story for his life. She’s dealing with a lot of family issues. Can Slate and Jill find solace in each other at Hope Eternal Ranch?

  • Book 5: Wishful Cowboy

    He needs a place where he can thrive without his past haunting him. She’s been waiting for the cowboy to return so she can confess her feelings. Can Luke and Hannah make their second chance into a forever love?

  • Book 6: Risky Cowboy

    She’s tired of making cheese and ice cream on her family’s dairy farm, but when the cowboy hired to replace her turns out to be an ex-boyfriend, Clarissa suddenly isn’t so sure about leaving town… Will Spencer risk it all to convince Clarissa to stay and give him a second chance?

Meet more Sweet Water Falls cowboys!

Fall in love with the Cooper Brothers at Sweet Water Falls Farm today!

Read this series if you like: 

✔ Grumpy sunshine

✔ Loud, loving family saga

✔ Small town romance

✔ Sweet & Sexy cowboys

✔ Enemies to lovers

✔ Second chance romance

✔ Single dads

✔ Heroines who tame their hero

✔ Steamy, sweet kisses

✔ Sweet & Clean Romance