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Book 1: Hopeful Cowboy eBook (Hope Eternal Ranch)

Book 1: Hopeful Cowboy eBook (Hope Eternal Ranch)

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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.

START HERE! This is the first book in the Hope Eternal Ranch Romance series.

About 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?

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Sample Chapter 1 Now!

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Chapter One:

Nathaniel Mulbury could smell something in the air. Something that indicated a change was coming.

A big change.

He stepped up to the window of the door of his dormitory and looked both ways down the hall. He’d been stationed in the wing on the far end of the hall, with only a few feet between his door and the one that led to the yard. And beyond that, the baseball fields. The track. The fresh Texas air.

He liked this dorm, because he didn’t hear any of the scuffles from the indoor area, which sat to his left and down the hall about a hundred yards.

No one roamed the halls right now, as it wasn’t the appropriate time. A count had just been called, and it wasn’t even one of the normal times. The men at River Bay endured five daily counts, three of them between midnight and five a.m.

A count meant all prisoners had to be in their dormitory, and when one was called at an off-time, it was a standing count. So Nate stepped back and held very still at attention. He’d never been disciplined in the fifty-two months he’d been at the River Bay FCI. He was within six months of his release date, and that remained fluid due to his exemplary behavior in prison.

“You hear anything?” Ted asked.

Nate didn’t even flick his eyes toward his friend. “Not a word.”

“Because you’re in that office a whole lot,” he drawled.

Nate’s teeth ground together, and he knew Ted would see the way his jaw jutted out. But he said nothing.

True, he worked in the office with the Unit leaders. Didn’t make him privy to what they knew, and it certainly didn’t give him insight as to why they’d called a stand-up count at two-fifteen in the afternoon.

He’d been up most of the night, as usual. He assisted with the suicide watch, and one of their newboots had struggled mightily last night.

Nate could remember the day he’d come to River Bay as clearly as if it had happened yesterday. His brother, Ward, had dropped him off at the facility, after he’d gotten permission to self-surrender at the low security prison camp only two hundred and forty miles from White Lake, where his parents and both of his siblings lived.

Ward was the oldest of the three Mulbury children, and Nate had appreciated him more than anything the day he’d driven him to the FCI. He hadn’t had to box up his clothes and mail them back to his mother. Ward had taken them.

I’ll keep them for you, okay? he’d said.

Nate had just nodded, because he didn’t want to do anything to upset Ward. Anything more than what he’d already done, that was. Nate was the only Mulbury to be convicted of a federal crime, and his heartbeat skipped when he thought about getting out of River Bay. What would be waiting for him out there?

The hair on the back of his neck stood at attention too, and Nate looked to his left. A pair of Unit Officers came down the hall, and Nate hoped this standing count would end in a moment. His unit was usually one of the last to be counted, and he focused back on his brother’s words from the day he’d dropped Nate off.

We’ll see if these clothes fit when you get out. Ward had smiled then, but all Nate could think about was the many things he’d missed while he’d been in prison. Ward’s wife had been pregnant when they’d come to River Bay.

He’d missed the birth of his first nephew. He’d missed Ward and Jane’s divorce. He’d missed his sister’s wedding, and the birth of her two children. He’d missed birthday parties and Christmases and picnics and days out on the boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

The PA crackled. “Count complete. We’re clear.”

Nate sighed as his muscles relaxed. He climbed back onto his bunk, exhaustion pulling through him. He stared at the bottom of the bunk above his, the towheaded boy Connor had grown into forming in his mind’s eyes.

Ward’s son.

Ward came to visit Nate every week, even after all these months. These years. Every week. Most holidays, he brought several people with him. Friends of his who knew Nate, and at least once a month, Nate’s parents.

His parents had gotten old while Nate had been in prison, and he’d missed that too.

“You’re up to shower,” someone said, tapping his foot against the frame of Nate’s bed. He heaved himself off the mattress that wasn’t comfortable anyway and headed out the now-open door.

He’d learned to be vigilant when simply walking down the hall. He was housed in a low security prison camp, which meant he could come and go almost anywhere anytime he wanted. There were rules and limitations, which he’d learned quickly, and he didn’t want to be caught going one direction while the other twelve hundred men at the camp were going the other.

He’d gotten a five-year sentence for his role in investment fraud, but there were guys in here who’d used weapons during robbery, broken into homes, committed crimes against children, and more. Anything could happen if he didn’t watch what was going on around him, all the time.

The only time he didn’t need to do that was during the ten-minute shower he got each day. Which was why he’d heaved himself off the bed and down the hall to the bathroom he shared with the other forty-seven men in his wing of Unit NF.

He soaped and shaved, then dressed in his standard prison clothes and reported to the unit office. He had a special pass to work there, and he’d been helping with files and doing simple data entry for a couple of months now. The work wasn’t stimulating, but it was work.

Everyone in prison had to work, and most of the men needed the money. Nate hadn’t told a single soul that he did not. Ward deposited money in his prison bank account every month, though he couldn’t spend more than three hundred and ten dollars a month.

Nate, in all the months he’d been in River Bay, had not spent that much. He saw no need to call attention to himself. In fact, everything Nate had done over the last fifty-two months was to keep the spotlight off of him.

Head down. Mouth closed. That was how he’d avoided the fights, the disagreements, and the overload of tickets that seemed to fly from the Unit Officer’s fingertips.

No one spoke to him, which suited Nate just fine. He knew all the men and women in the unit office, and he felt very lucky to have been assigned to this unit.

“How’s Charles?” he finally asked when he and the unit secretary seemed to be the only ones still working.

She looked up from her computer, her eyes slightly glazed over. Nate wondered what that would be like, to feel so comfortable that he wasn’t constantly scanning the windows just beyond the office for any sign of a threat.

“Oh, uh, he’s okay,” she said, her mind clearly somewhere else. Ellen had thin, wispy hair the shade of rich soil. She tucked it away, but it just spilled out again, because it was so fine.

“Think I’ll get a full night’s sleep tonight?” Nate asked, looking back to his own computer. His was at least five years older than the one Ellen pecked on, and it didn’t connect to the Internet. Nate got thirty minutes each day to download and upload his emails, and just by communicating with his mother and then Ward, it wasn’t enough time to stay caught up on everything.

“Probably,” Ellen said. “We’ve got two more on call. You took your turn last night.”

Nate thought of the three a.m. count, and though he didn’t have to stand at attention for that one, he woke up every night when the Unit Officers came through the rooms, their flashlights as bright as spotlights.

He nodded anyway, thinking he’d made it through another day. Another day toward his release. Toward freedom.

* * *

Nate did get awakened in the middle of the night, but it wasn’t because of heavy boots on the floor and those sweeping lights crisscrossing the dormitory.

No, someone was talking.

The men in his wing didn’t cause trouble, for the most part. Sometimes Ted could get a bee in his bonnet, but he had a louder bark than a bite. Though, Nate supposed he probably could have a mighty loud bite too. He’d been incarcerated for aggravated assault. He’d gotten into a scuffle at his law office, used his fists to get the other guy away from him, and found out the hard way that undercover cops could literally be anywhere.

To make matters worse, Ted had been holding a knife in one hand because he’d been cutting a cake for an office party.

Thus, he’d gotten aggravated assault on a police officer. The law office had been under investigation for some questionable activity with the drug cartel along the Southern border, and Ted had become the fall guy.

He hadn’t used the knife, but he was in possession of it. He hadn’t handled the wrong accounts, but he suddenly had a target on his back. He’d fought for the rights of his clients, and in the end, he’d lost his.

Nate thought sometimes the law could be downright comical.

“Nate,” a man whispered, bending down to shine his light right into Nate’s eyes.

He knew the voice, even if he was blinded to Percy’s face. “What?” he asked, trying not to sound irritated. Some Unit Officers handed out tickets for much more innocent questions than the one Nate had just asked. He held up one hand to shield his retinas from all that blasted light.

“Come with me.” Percy straightened and walked away, leaving Nate confused as he tried to sit up and reason through why he’d need to go with Percy.

Rule number one in prison: Don’t go off with a guard alone.

Nate flicked a glance at Ted, who slept on the bottom bunk only five feet from Nate. They shared the desk sitting between the two sets of bunk beds, but Nate got his own locker for his personal belongings.

“Come on,” Percy said from the doorway, and Nate stood up.

“I need shoes,” he said.

“Not for this.”

“For what?” Nate asked, his pulse starting to beat a little too fast through his body. The weight of every eye in his wing was on him, but Nate had literally never caused a scene before.

Percy turned back to him, and anguish rolled across the man’s face. “You better get dressed and put on your boots.”

Nate nodded and got changed, not caring that everyone watched him. He had to get strip searched to go into the suicide unit, so switching out his sweat pants and T-shirt for the official prison uniform was no big deal.

Ready, he walked toward Percy, who still looked like he was one breath away from crying. Ellen appeared in the hallway, a panicked look on her face. Nate frowned at her and followed Percy out of the room.

The other guard said, “Go back to sleep.”

“What’s going on?” Ted asked. “You can’t just take him. He’s done nothing.”

The door closed, sealing all the other inmates in while Nate was out. He looked through the unbreakable glass, his eyes meeting Ted’s. He’d been in for longer than Nate, and he’d just reached nickel status.

Five years.

“The Commander and the Warden want to see you,” Percy said.

“Why?” Nate asked, feeling courageous that evening.

“I’ll let them explain.”

Ellen marched at the head of their group as they left the building and started down the sidewalk under the watchful eye of the moon. Nate normally loved being outside, and he had all the paths of this place memorized.

He’d only met the Warden a handful of times, and the experiences had all been good. Tension rode on the air as the four of them walked, Ellen’s heels making the most noise against the concrete.

She led the way into the Warden’s office too, where five men stood around the man’s massive desk. They all turned toward Ellen and the others as they entered.

Nate stopped in the doorway, everything in his body telling him not to enter this room. He scanned the men quickly, making a dozen observations. Prison could teach a man to notice the slightest of things, that was for sure.

The Warden looked as he normally did. Properly put together, with a tie knotted around his neck. Today’s was blue with black stripes.

Two other police officers stood in the office, and they looked like they’d just stepped out of a coffee shop on their nightly beat.

Nate’s fingers clenched into a fist when he met his lawyer’s eye, and he raised his chin. “What’s going on?” he asked. Lawyers didn’t make house calls at one-thirty in the morning, that was for dang sure. Especially not Lawrence Matthews.

No one spoke. The people in the room all looked around at one another, their gazes ultimately coming back to his.

The last man in the room was Nate’s Unit Manager, Gregory Fellows. He wore a grim look and nodded to Ellen.

“Nate, come sit down,” she said.

Nate couldn’t get his legs to work. “Ellen,” he said as evenly as he could, but his nerves made everything inside him vibrate. “Just say it.”

She sat down on a black leather couch just inside the door. Clearing her throat, she adjusted her legs and set a folder on her lap before she looked up at him with tears in her eyes.

Actual tears.

Nate wanted to run as far and as fast as he could. Whatever she was about to say wasn’t good.

“Nate,” she said again. “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but your brother has passed away.”

A pit opened in his stomach, but he still managed to ask, “What?”

“Ward passed away,” she said.

His brother’s name echoed in Nate’s mind. A shriek started in his soul. “But he’s coming on Friday,” he said stupidly. “He’s bringing Connor.” Ward didn’t bring his son every time, but usually a couple of times a month. He’d emailed to say Connor had made something for Nate at preschool, so they’d both be coming that weekend.

“No, honey,” Ellen said, standing. She put her hand on his arm, and Nate just stared at it. “There was an accident on the ranch, and they did everything they could.” She swiped at her face with her free hand.

“But he just audits ranches,” Nate said, not comprehending. “What kind of accident?” How did someone die when they carried around a clipboard and a ballpoint pen?

Lawrence stepped forward. “Nate, I got here as quickly as I could. Once the will was read, we moved swiftly to—”

“When did he die?” Nate asked, the words belonging to someone else. He looked from Lawrence to Ellen.

“Monday morning,” Ellen whispered.

“But it’s Wednesday,” Nate said, confusion riddling his thoughts. They were so knotted, and Nate didn’t know how to unravel them.

“You didn’t miss the funeral,” Ellen said. Her dark eyes reminded Nate of his father’s. Why he was thinking of that, he didn’t know.

“Were you aware your brother named you the legal guardian of his son?” Lawrence asked, reaching into his fancy-pants briefcase. He removed a sheaf of papers and handed them to Nate.

He’d spent plenty of time on his bed, reading complicated legal documents. But not in the middle of the night, and not minutes after he’d been told his brother and oldest friend had died. Ward took care of everything—he took care of Nate—and Nate didn’t know how to keep breathing.

“No,” he said, staring at the black letters on white paper.

“Well, he did,” Gregory said kindly. He guided Nate to a chair in front of the Warden’s desk. “And Nate, your lawyer has petitioned for your release date to be Saturday, the day of the funeral. Then you can be there with your family and with Connor, and the two of you will be able to…start a life.”

Nate gripped the edges of the paper, his eyes unseeing. Start a life. What a joke. He couldn’t start life again.

“Since you’re still six months out from your parole hearing, we’ve made arrangements for you and Connor.” Greg placed another folder in Nate’s hands. “It’s not precedent, but this is an extenuating circumstance.”

“The judge signed the order, Mister Fellows,” Lawrence said.

“I’m aware,” Greg bit out. He sat in the chair next to Nate’s, and their eyes met. “You’ll be released on Saturday, Nate. But not to just wander in the world. You’re being assigned to Hope Eternal Ranch, one of our Residential Reentry Centers. You’ll finish your sentence there for the next six months.”

“I haven’t finished my release programming,” Nate said.

“Hope Eternal will finish it with you,” Greg said, his eyes actually softening as he spoke. “You’ll live there, with Connor, and work on the ranch. They’re a trusted partner, and they’ve taken several of our men over the years. You’ll be in very good hands there.”

Nate felt as if someone had encased his body in tight cloth, mummifying him. He didn’t know what to say or do.

No one had asked him if he wanted to be released and live at this Hope Eternal Ranch. No one had asked him—not even Ward—if he wanted to, or was even capable of, taking care of a four-year-old boy.

“Okay,” Lawrence said from behind him. “She’s here.”

The people in the room moved, and Nate twisted toward the door as they welcomed someone new. He couldn’t see them through the press of bodies, which only made his heart rate accelerate.

Finally, the crowd parted, and the most beautiful woman Nate had ever set eyes on stood there. She wore a pair of jeans that seemed to go on and on—and on—as she easily stood close to his height and had legs that went for miles. She sported shiny, almost-copper-colored hair that fell to just below her shoulders. Her eyes could’ve been any color, because Nate couldn’t quite see them in the shadows of her cowgirl hat.

She frowned at him, and then looked back at Lawrence. “Well? Does he speak? It’s been a long drive, and I’m already tired.”

“Nate,” Greg said, helping Nate stand up. “This is Ginger Talbot. She runs Hope Eternal Ranch, and we’re releasing you to her care on Saturday.”

Nate wasn’t sure if he’d hit the lottery or been condemned to death. By the growl in Ginger’s eyes and the way she folded her arms instead of extending her hand to shake his, Nate had enough mental capacity to think, I guess I did get the death penalty.

He also had no idea how to be a father.

And the pain over Ward’s death continued to radiate from deep within him, spiraling up and out until he was left bent over and gasping for air.

What Readers are Saying

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ "This is the first in the series. It was wonderfully written with complex characters. I just loved everything about Hope Eternal Ranch. I was enchanted by sweet little Connor. I can't wait to read the next one." ~BookzRule

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ "Nate made a choice he is going to have to live with the rest of his life. His best friend and brother passed while he was serving his time. How could he hope for a bright future? Ginger & Conner was all the hope he needed. My first novel by Elana Johnson and I'm ready for my next visit to Hope Eternal Ranch." ~love the Lord

View full details

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

Customer Reviews

Based on 60 reviews
Lucille C.
Brushy creek cowboys

Great simple storyline that is easy reading. Easy to relax with and good stories. I like your books

Rhonda C.

I so enjoyed this book. From the pain of past poor choices to the hope for a brighter future, it’s all there. Thanks for the reminders of hope.


Enjoyed this book!

Jan H.

This is a very enjoyable book. I loved the characters. Highly recommend it.

Lyn J.

Still waiting for holiday time to read your books