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The Virgin Cowboy Billionaire’s Secret Baby

By:Lauren Gallagher

Chapter One

Matt Coolidge had been riding his dapple-gray mare, Brandy, through the hills for the past two hours, and he couldn’t relax. The tension between his shoulders was still creeping up the back of his neck, steadily clawing its way toward the base of his skull.

That wasn’t good. He needed to calm down, or he’d be paying for it tonight and likely into tomorrow.

He guided Brandy along the fence line to the thick forest near the back end of the family’s hundred acres. Checking posts and boards had given him something to do, but that was done now, so he was just riding aimlessly. And there were few things more relaxing than loping over the rolling hills of the sprawling property. He and his sister used to race out here, back when they were kids. They’d ride far enough that their parents couldn’t see them anymore, and then let their horses run like hell. Neither of his horses had ever been any match for her multi-world-titled barrel racer, but damn, it was fun.

Despite the tension in his neck, the memory made him smile.

Still, it didn’t take his mind completely off the argument that had triggered this tension in the first place. That tired, bullshit argument that happened every time his mother decided to lord the will—and the property—over his and his sister’s heads.

So, pretty much once a week. Because he and Beth needed that.

He rubbed his eyes behind his sunglasses. This had to stop. He was no stranger to stress, but ten years of hundred-plus-hour weeks had taken a heavy toll on his health, and he’d recovered too much to backslide now.

Last year, at thirty-five, he’d retired as a self-made billionaire from the high-tech corporation he’d cofounded. For his trouble, he’d walked away with dangerously high blood pressure, chronic insomnia and the odd panic attack, not to mention a propensity for terrible migraines. At his doctor’s urging, he’d opted for the quiet life in his hometown, at least until his health recovered.

“You don’t need to work like this,” she’d told him. “What you need is to de-stress and for once in your life, take care of yourself before your body gives out. You’re a ticking time bomb, Matt. Keep going at this rate, and I can almost promise you a stroke or a heart attack by the time you’re forty.” He’d been on the verge of a mental breakdown anyway, so he’d heeded her advice.

For the past year, he’d been doing everything he could to eliminate the stress in his life. He hadn’t even started designing the house he eventually wanted to build. Not when just thinking about simple things like staircase designs and roofing styles could trigger one of those damned panic attacks. After dealing with so much stress for so long, he’d reached a point where he could barely deal with any of it.

At least he didn’t have to worry about money. Ever since he’d settled back into Aspen Mill, renting a three-bedroom house a few miles from his childhood home, he’d spent most of his time helping his sister run the farm. The Coolidges had been breeding and training quarter horses for three generations here, and it was good to be back in the saddle. Literally. He and Beth had even started competing in the local rodeos again, and that alone had done more for him than any medication ever could. Nothing cleared the mind like running barrels or chasing cattle.

His health had definitely improved, especially over the last six months. His blood pressure was coming down. He could sleep at night and focus during the day, and the panic attacks were becoming a distant memory.

The migraines, though. Jesus. They were getting better, but they were taking their sweet time about it, so he had to watch his stress levels like a fucking hawk.

So after yet another spat with his mother this morning, he’d spent the afternoon out riding, trying to lose himself in the squeak of the saddle and the sway of Brandy’s plodding stride. Following the trails in the undeveloped chunk of the property used to have a calming effect on him, but lately, it was only making him worry more. And making him grind his teeth and fight the urge to gallop back, go right past the barn and to the house his folks had moved into a couple of miles down the road, and give his mother a piece of his mind.

But it wouldn’t do any good. And all it would do was accelerate the arrival of that migraine he was trying to fend off.

Though he listened hard to the sounds of Brandy making her way through the trees, and the rustling leaves and chirping birds, he couldn’t help hearing that damned conversation over and over in his mind.

“I’m not asking for the world,” his mother had told him as they’d faced off in the barn’s office. “This property is going to stay in the family, which means it’s going to someone who has a family.”