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Rough, Raw and Ready

By´╝ÜLorelei James

Chapter One


Chassie West Glanzer squinted at the lone figure ambling up the snow-covered driveway.

Visitors were few and far between at the remote West homestead, especially on foot in the frigid month of February. The mildly warm day and clear skies could change in a helluva hurry on the high plains of Wyoming and she shivered at an odd sense of foreboding.

Each steady clip brought the man closer, but she couldn’t see his face. A long sheepskin coat brushed the thighs of faded Wranglers, drawing attention to the championship belt buckle centered between trim hips. Leather gloves covered fingers curled around the strap of a camouflage duffel bag. This man wasn’t one of those young, green city boys looking for “real” ranch work and a wild Western adventure. This guy was one hundred percent cowboy, from the tips of his scuffed Tony Lamas to the brim of his dusty black Resistol.

Chassie probably looked like a rube, or worse that unkempt woman from American Gothic, standing in front of their old wooden barn holding a pitchfork. She resisted fussing with her hair and called out, “Something I can help you with?”

When he lifted his head, Chassie’s breath caught. Good Lord. He was easily the most dazzling man she’d ever set eyes on. Thick black hair, tawny brown eyes fringed with dark eyelashes, and razor-sharp cheekbones that flared into a blocky jaw. Coppery-colored lips stretched wide and full below a thin blade of a nose. His smooth skin glowed the color of rich coffee liberally laced with cream. At first glance, his body appeared whipcord lean, but she suspected beneath those clothes was a muscular force to be reckoned with.



 5



Rough, Raw, and Ready

The duffel bag hit the icy gravel. He pushed his hat back slightly and held out his gloved hand. “Hello. I’m Edgard Mancuso.”

When his voice rumbled out tinged with a foreign drawl, she bit back a feminine sigh. “Howdy, Edgard. I’m Chassie Glanzer. And forgive my bluntness, but what the hell are you doin’ wanderin’ around in the middle of winter? It’s a good way to wind up coyote food.”

He smiled, all brilliant white teeth, and her knees damn near collapsed. “You’re a feisty one, eh? Bet he loves that. I’m looking for Trevor.”

“Why? Does he owe you money?” At the man’s stark expression, Chassie said,

“Kidding. How do you know my husband?”

“We…we’re old friends.”

Huh. If that were true, why wasn’t the man’s name familiar?

Edgard carefully removed his gloves. “I guess he didn’t tell you about me. We used to be ropin’ partners on the Mountains and Plains Circuit.”

“Really? He might’ve mentioned it in passing, but he hasn’t been rodeoin’

professionally for a couple of years. Where are you from?”

“Brazil. This is the first time I’ve been in the U.S. since my run of luck with Trevor ended a few years back.”

Chassie gave him another once-over. “If you were on that circuit, did you know my brother, Dag West?”

“Uh-huh. I roped with him several times. Talented heeler and a good guy. I heard what happened. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.” Chassie wrapped her fingers around the pitchfork handle and hefted it out of the straw. “You wanna come up to the house?”

“That’d be great.”

“Is Trevor expecting you?”

Edgard released a strangled laugh. “Ah. No.”

“Thought you’d surprise him?”

“Something like that.”

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Lorelei James

“Come on then. I’m about due for a break anyway.”

The crunch of boots on the ground was the only sound as she and Edgard trekked the long driveway to the old farmhouse.

Was this old friend of Trevor’s comparing the humble West homeplace to the Glanzer showplace she’d heard about but had never seen?

Didn’t matter. The house she’d grown up in looked better now than it had in fifteen years. After Chassie’s mother died, her father wouldn’t “waste” money fixing the problems, preferring to let the place fall into ruin. He hadn’t had the knowledge or the drive to do the basic home maintenance himself. Yet he was too proud to hire his nephews, Chet and Remy West—owners of a construction company—even after they’d offered to do the work at cost.

Between running the ranch and doing all the household chores, Chassie’s exhaustion at the end of the day hadn’t allowed for worries about peeling paint or figuring out what’d caused the leak in the living room ceiling. Or to discover why the front porch sagged in the right corner.

Chassie had refused to squabble with her father about household issues or anything else. She’d suffered enough traumas listening to Dad and Dag snapping and snarling at each other like rabid dogs over the dumbest things. To what end? Bitterness, regret, stupidity, and pride had killed both father and son.

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