Authors: Roxy Wilson
Just Gettin’ Started
Westbury Ranch Series
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This is a work of fiction. All characters, places, businesses and incidents are from the author’s imagination or they are used fictitiously and are definitely fictionalized. Any trademarks or pictures herein are not authorized by the trademark owners and do not in any way mean the work is sponsored by or associated with the trademark owners. Any trademarks or pictures used are specifically in a descriptive capacity. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead, is coincidental.
Editing & Book Design By: Leanore Elliott
Cover Art: Fantasia Frog Designs
© May, 2015. Roxy Wilson
Books by Roxy Wilson
Newest Release—May 15, 2015:
Other Books -
Loving St. Nick
Starting over is never an easy thing…
The death of her father was the catalyst for Cullen Westbury to take over the running of her family’s ranch. Because of her desire to expand the family’s business and make it more efficient, she hires the handsome and capable, yet enigmatic, Graeme Burton. But with her ex coming back into her life to stir up trouble on the ranch and her newest employee stirring up trouble in her heart, how can Cullen keep business strictly professional between them, when she’s so attracted to him?
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ullen rode her tall, sturdy stallion across the meadow over a sea of emerald grass. It was a beautiful, crisp morning. The wind felt a bit chilly, a tad brisk, but she enjoyed the way it flitted through her hair and slapped across her cheeks. As she gave her horse a chance to pick up speed, her gaze drifted over Westbury Ranch, a property that she inherited from her father, and coaxed back to life with tender, loving care.
When her father died seven years ago, the farm was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was Cullen’s consistent devotion and hard work that made it a success. Now, she was the proud owner of fifty horses with another one due to be born soon. She sold some, she reared some for breeding purposes, as well as arranging riding lessons for children and adults. The farm was thriving, much more than she anticipated.
When the building came into view, she stopped to gaze at the house which had served three generations of her family. A wrap-around porch covered two sides, beautiful pane glass windows adorned each wall, and the attic doubled as her office. She’d painfully restored every inch of the property in the last two years and the effort showed. Cullen was proud of her work—but now, it was time to take on some help, so that she could expand her business some more.
She had four part-time ranch hands already, as well as another who lived on the property, but what she needed was a full-time person who could take some of the load off her hands. As she brought her stallion to a halt, Cullen jumped off its broad back. Digging out an apple from her pocket, she offered it to the animal. “There you go, King.” She ran a hand through the stallion’s mane. “We had a good ride, didn’t we?”
The horse snorted as if it agreed with her.
“Yeah, we did, you big brute, and now I’ve got work to do. So, you can get some rest until the first person arrives to take lessons.”
Although King was hers, she often used him to give lessons to adults. He might seem intimidating, but the midnight black horse was actually gentle as a lamb. After leading him to the stable, she left him in the care of the stable hand. Ordinarily, she would’ve spent some time rubbing him down and giving him water and feed, but today, she had some work to attend to.
Cullen strode into the kitchen of her farmhouse and was greeted by the sight of her mother, Jackie, who was drinking her first cup of coffee.
“Had a good ride, dear?”
“It was wonderful.” Cullen rolled her shoulders. Taking off her hat, she ran a hand through her blackberry colored hair and shook her head. “God! It feels good to be alive.”
Jackie groaned. “You always were an early riser, even as a child. I would want to lie in but with the first ray of sunshine, you would come into our room and start bouncing on my bed, begging Wesley to be let out.” Jackie sighed.
It wasn’t hard for Cullen to figure out that at the mention of her dad’s name, her mother’s late husband, brought back fond memories of the time they had together before his life was cut short in a single moment. She took a moment to drop a kiss onto her mother’s head. She couldn’t have run the farm without her. She took care of all the financial details that bored Cullen. “You could sleep in late, once in a while.”
“My boss is a hard ass.” Jackie chuckled.
“Hey, we’re business partners,” she protested.
“Only in name, dear. You’re the one calling the shots.” Jackie yawned. “And let me tell you that it’s a load off my shoulders.” She took a sip of her coffee. “As much as I love this place and all that it entails, there’s no way I could spend all my time looking after the horses and the people. I’m happy with the books and my laptop.” She slapped her knees as if berating herself. “Oh! That reminds me. There’s someone who has come in to see you.”
Cullen glanced at her wristwatch. “At seven in the morning?”
“He said he has a ten o’clock appointment with you, but since he came to town last night, he thought he would drop in.” Jackie shrugged her shoulders “I made him sit in the parlor.”
Cullen frowned. “Graeme Burton?”
“The one and only.” Jackie took another sip. “Are you thinking of hiring him as a full time foreman?”
Cullen snagged an apple from the basket. Breakfast would have to wait. Since Mr. Burton was here, much ahead of time, she might as well get it over with. “Let’s see how he measures up.”
Jackie wiggled her eyebrows. “He measures up pretty good.”
Ignoring her mother’s remark, which insinuated that she wasn’t just referring to Mr. Burton’s ability to work on the Westbury Ranch, Cullen strode towards the parlor. Always an impatient woman, she wasn’t one to allow grass to grow beneath her feet. If Graeme Burton met her stringiest standards, he could start right away, but she didn’t suffer fools lightly. He had to be pretty good at what he did.
As she stepped into the parlor, Cullen halted.
Good at work or not, Mr. Burton was a pretty sight for her eyes.
He must be well over six feet tall, and there was no mistaking that those broad shoulders had seen plenty of hard work. Her gaze traveled from his striking lean face, to the high cheekbones, those mesmerizingly hazel eyes, then down to his wide chest and narrow waist.
My, oh, my! He is one hunk of a man. No! No! No! This just won’t do.
Cullen silently berated herself for ogling her potential employee.
Girl, get a grip!
She walked further into the room. “Mr. Burton?” She thrust out her hand. “Hi. It’s nice to meet you.”
When he took her hand and shook it, she felt the calluses on his fingers, a sure sign that he wasn’t afraid of hard work. “Same here. Ms. Cullen Westbury, I presume?”
“Yes, I am.” Suddenly nervous, she cleared her throat and gestured to the couch. “Please, sit.”
He took a seat, but only after she’d taken hers. “I’m sorry that I came in earlier than scheduled, but I was free…and well, I don’t like to waste time.”
Her lips flickered in a smile. That appeared to be something they both had in common. “It’s not a problem. Have you worked at a ranch before?”
As if understanding that the interview had already started, he leaned back. “All my life.” His eyes lit up. “I was born on one. My father managed one far to the west in Doven Town. I started working with horses at a young age, and I’ve pretty much done everything possible that can be done on the farm. Mending fences. Cutting hay. Gathering the harvest. Tending the horses and the cattle. Operating the heavy machines.” He ticked off each job with his fingers.
“Why did you move?”
“My father died last year, and the owner wanted me to take over as manager, but I like working outdoors.” His eyes clouded, as if he was thinking about something unpleasant, but then it was only for a fleeting moment. “And…it was time for a change.”
She thought that he wasn’t telling her something. Did he have an altercation with the owner? An argument? “Do you have references?”
“Oh yes, of course.” Picking up the folder that he’d casually dropped onto the table, he handed it over. “You can call and talk to her if you want.”
“The new owner was a woman?”
“The guy’s second wife,” he replied.
Cullen read the reference letter. In addition to working on that farm, he’d also done summer work in other places. His resume looked impressive, to say the least. She wouldn’t get an experienced hand like him if she searched for a year. It was sheer luck that he contacted her after seeing her ad in the paper two weeks ago. “Did you leave the ranch because a woman was running it?”
He raised an eyebrow, looking amused. “I don’t have any ego issues taking orders from a woman, if that’s what you mean. If that was so, why would I apply for this job?”
She was being nosey, Cullen admitted to herself. But she was reluctant to take on someone in such an important position if she didn’t know enough about his background. It was odd that he would leave a job and a place that was as familiar to him as the back of his hand. “Yes, well…I’m just wondering why you left that place when you grew up there. Sure, you didn’t want the managerial position but you could’ve kept doing that along with your other duties.”
He sighed. “If you must know, the new owner wanted to change the ranch. She wanted to turn it into some kind of a hotel, a dude ranch, and that’s not what I signed up for.”
That made sense. “Thank you for telling me that.”
He looked surprised by her words. “I hope you’re not planning to turn this into some fancy hotel where people come to stare at the animals and talk about being one with nature.”
Laughter sputtered out of her lips. He was funny, in a sardonic sort of a way. She could well understand his ire with the changes that the other owner made. “No. I work with horses. We raise them for breeding, for sale, and also for giving riding lessons to adults and kids.”
“I love horses,” he announced as if it was something important that he needed to say.
Since Cullen felt the same way, she understood what he meant. “Yeah, so do I.”
For a moment, they both stared into each other’s eyes. Something clicked and sparkled. She didn’t quite know what it was, but it was a while since she felt a little self-conscious in a man’s company. Crazy, right? She thought so. Of course, Mr. Burton was devilishly good-looking. But looks were just not enough in her book. She liked men who were honest, hardworking, and knew what they were doing with their lives.
Was he all that and more?
Not that she was looking at him in quite that manner.
Of course, not!
He might be working for her, and she didn’t even want to consider such a thing.
“It’s a nice setup you have here,” he said. “The little I saw when I rode down here to the house impressed me.”
His words brought her back to the present moment. “Thanks.” Cullen felt taller, somehow. She’d worked damn hard to whip the ranch back to life, and she couldn’t deny the sense of pride she felt upon hearing Mr. Burton’s praise. “I’ll give you a tour in a while. You have your own horse?”
“Yeah. His name is Sauron.”
“A big fan of Lord of the Rings?”
His eyes twinkled with amusement. “It’s not often that people recognize that name from the books.”
Cullen couldn’t help but let the laughter she tried to hold escape her lips. “You love those books, huh?”
He flashed his even, white teeth. “I do.”
“So do I.” Something else they had in common. Not that it mattered. “Would you be comfortable doing everything on the farm? From mucking the stalls, to taking care of the horses, giving lessons, dealing with people who come to buy horses, and even mending stuff?” Cullen mentally crossed her fingers. She felt confident that Mr. Burton was a perfect fit for Westbury Ranch. “I want someone who can basically take over half my load, and it will be pretty flexible. We can go over our respective schedules once a week and divide the duties. That will give me some free time to concentrate on expanding the farm. I want to add cattle and maybe even sheep if we can manage.” She held her breath and awaited his response.
He smiled. “Yes, I can do whatever needs to be done. And I like variety, so it works for me. You have big plans for the farm?”
She expelled her breath in relief, although she felt as if Mr. Burton was interviewing her as much as she was questioning him. It was a big decision for him. By committing to this job, he was actually dedicating his time to their farm. She could understand that he would want to make sure that he was a good fit for this place. “Yes, I do. My father was sick and the farm…didn’t do well, but now I want it to thrive.”
He considered her.
She could see something stir in his eyes. Excitement? Anticipation?
“Why not? I’m game for it.”
She liked him. The fact that he had an easygoing attitude was a big bonus in addition to his years of experience. With him around, she would feel comfortable if she let go of some things. He would be able to support her in the right way. “We’ve got a cottage in the back which you can occupy. It’s got two bedrooms, a kitchen, laundry room, and a living room. My mother lives with me here, but we’ve got our own quarters. I have a bedroom in the back with a living space. You can eat with us. I will introduce you to her in a minute, and we can take a tour of the place.” She sucked in a deep breath. It was time to make the commitment. “But before that, I’ve got to tell you that you’ve got the job. You’re ideal for this position I’ve got in mind, and if you’re interested, we could sign the paperwork tomorrow.”