Authors: Vicki Lewis Thompson
Blame it on the Stetson...
Brant Ellison’s easygoing nature makes him one of the most sought-after horse trainers in Wyoming. His powerful muscles don’t hurt, either. Nothing makes Brant happier than training a new colt at his foster home, Thunder Mountain Ranch—except maybe the colt’s sexy new owner, if she wasn’t all work and no play.
Aria Danes hopes that once trained, the colt will help her injured brother. But Brant is proving to be a distraction from her responsibilities—she has a wicked urge to strip him from his hat to his boots.
Ride ’em, cowboy
. Aria and Brant can’t get enough of each other. Their craving is insatiable, even if they have nothing in common. Even if some cowboys can never be tied down...
Praise for Vicki Lewis Thompson
“Thompson continues to do what she does best, tying together strong family values bound by blood and choice, interspersed with the more sizzling aspects of the relationship.”
RT Book Reviews
“All the characters, background stories and character development are positively stellar; the warm family feeling is not saccharine-sweet, but heartfelt and genuine, and Lexi and Cade’s rekindled romance is believable from beginning to end, along with the classy, sexy and tender love scenes.”
“Intensely romantic and hot enough to singe...her Sons of Chance series never fails to leave me worked up from all the heat, and then sighing with pleasure at the happy endings!”
We Read Romance
“If I had to use one word to describe
it would be
... Where the story shines and how it is elevated above others is the humor that is woven throughout.”
“The chemistry between Molly and Ben is off the charts: their first kiss is one of the best I’ve ever read, and the sex is blistering and yet respectful, tender and loving.”
A Last Chance Christmas
is a sexy joy ride, balanced with good-natured humor and Thompson’s keen eye for detail. Another sizzling romance from the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award winner for best Blaze.”
RT Book Reviews
We’re riding straight into summer, and you know what that means...cowboys! A summer filled with cowboys has become a habit with me and I’m thrilled that so many of you have made it a habit, too! Thank you for your warm enthusiasm for the Thunder Mountain Brotherhood series. Get ready for three more books!
First of all, let’s mosey on out to the barn at Thunder Mountain Ranch, where a foal is about to be born. Brant Ellison, one of the foster boys sheltered at the ranch years ago, has a talent for training foals, and his foster mom, Rosie, has asked him to help with this one. Rosie is always looking for an excuse to bring her boys back home for a visit and if she can play Cupid in the process, so much the better!
She can’t wait for easygoing Brant to meet the foal’s owner, Aria Danes. In Rosie’s opinion, Aria needs to loosen up and who better to teach her than Brant? Aria can’t possibly resist the gentle giant of a cowboy who knows all the tricks for winning over a sweet little colt...or an extremely stubborn woman!
Have fun watching sparks fly, and don’t forget that two more books will follow this one!
Cowboy After Dark
is Liam and Hope’s story, while
is all about Grady and Sapphire. You won’t want to miss them! Oh, and please do come chat with me on
or on Twitter,
. I’d love to hear from you!
Vicki Lewis Thompson
Cowboy All Night
A passion for travel has taken
New York Times
Vicki Lewis Thompson
to Europe, Great Britain, the Greek isles, Australia and New Zealand. She’s visited most of North America and has her eye on South America’s rain forests. Africa, India and China beckon. But her first love is her home state of Arizona, with its deserts, mountains, sunsets and—last but not least—cowboys! The wide-open spaces and heroes on horseback influence everything she writes. Connect with her at
Books by Vicki Lewis Thompson
Thunder Mountain Brotherhood
Sons of Chance
Wild at Heart
The Heart Won’t Lie
Cowboys & Angels
A Last Chance Christmas
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For Jess Michaels. You’ve got a friend in me.
. That’s a good, strong name. It suits you.”
“Yes, ma’am. I like it.” He gave the blonde lady driving the pickup truck a smile. Her name was Mrs. Padgett. So far she seemed nice.
“I don’t know what you’ve been told about Thunder Mountain Ranch.”
“Not much, ma’am. My aunt Susie found out about it and said it’d be the best place for me ’cause I was eating her out of house and home. But don’t worry. I’ve got that problem handled. I hadn’t thought of it before, but you know what? I can fill up on cereal instead of the more expensive stuff.”
Mrs. Padgett made a noise in the back of her throat as if she didn’t like hearing that.
“I’m talking about cheap cereal.” He said it real fast so she wouldn’t turn around and take him back to his aunt’s. Living on this ranch for a while could be awesome. “Corn flakes.”
“I promise you won’t need to fill up on any kind of cereal. I enjoy feeding growing boys. The food’s not fancy, but there’s plenty of it.”
Okay, that sounded great—he began to salivate at the thought of all that good food. Eating was one of his favorite things. Even if this place only lasted a month or two, he’d enjoy it while he could. “I appreciate that, ma’am. I’m grateful that you can put me up for a little while.”
She glanced at him in surprise. “I guess you didn’t get much information, after all. The office is understaffed right now, so I understand how certain procedures get lost in the shuffle. But this isn’t a temporary situation. You can stay as long as you want.”
“Even though I’m a foster kid now? I thought foster kids got moved around. Which is okay. I’m used to that.”
“I’m sure you are.” They stopped at a light and Mrs. Padgett gazed at him with her kind blue eyes.
He recognized that look. It meant the person, usually one of his teachers at school, had read his file and knew that his dad was dead and his mother had flown the coop. At least she’d left him with Aunt Jane, and yeah, that hadn’t worked out, so Aunt Susie had taken a shot, which also hadn’t worked out. But that was life, wasn’t it?
The light changed and Mrs. Padgett went back to her driving. “Brant, you don’t have to leave Thunder Mountain unless you hate it there. And I don’t think you will. The other boys seem happy.”
“Oh, I can guarantee I won’t hate it, ma’am.”
“Because I’m happy anywhere I go. There’s no point in feeling miserable all the time, so I just don’t.”
Fifteen years later...
. I’m almost there.” Brant turned down the dirt road leading to Thunder Mountain Ranch. He hadn’t been back since Christmas, but the scenery was so familiar it felt as if he’d left only a week ago. Spring rains must have been good this year judging from the abundance of yellow and purple wildflowers lining the road. Wyoming was tuning up for summer, his favorite season.
The phone lying on the passenger seat of his truck remained silent, which was a good sign. Rosie, his foster mom, had promised to text if the mare gave birth. It looked as if he might make it in time.
Herb, his foster father and a crackerjack veterinarian, would be down at the barn monitoring the situation. Cade Gallagher, one of his many foster brothers, would probably be there, too. With those two in charge, he didn’t absolutely have to be on hand for the birth.
He just liked it better when he was. Aside from the thrill of watching a new life enter the world, the training process worked better if he could bond with the foal immediately. Herb was a mild-mannered guy, but sometimes Brant had encountered tense owners and vets.
He didn’t like any nervous energy in the birthing stall and he always did what he could to calm things down. By lowering the anxiety level, he could begin socializing a foal immediately. Not a single one he’d worked with from birth had turned into a skittish horse.
His business grew along with his reputation for successfully starting foals, which gave him work he loved and the personal freedom he craved. He would have done this particular job for free in return for the safe haven his foster parents had provided when he’d been a homeless teen. But Rosie and Herb had insisted on paying so he’d gone along with that.
They weren’t hurting for money anymore, thank God. The serious financial issues they’d had a year ago had been resolved with the formation of Thunder Mountain Academy, a residential program in all things horse related. Sixteen high school juniors and seniors had attended the spring semester, which had ended a week ago. Another sixteen were enrolled for the summer session starting in three days.
Rosie and Herb had hoped Lucy would stick to her due date of mid-June so the summer session kids could watch a foal being born. But, like her
namesake, Lucy had a mind of her own. He’d left for Sheridan on a hunch this morning. Sure enough, Rosie had called him while he was on the road to say the mare was in labor.
Personally he was glad that Lucy had jumped the gun. He’d wondered if having sixteen kids grouped around the birthing stall would have made his job tougher. He could have handled it, but now he wouldn’t have to.
The students would still get to watch him work with the foal as part of their summer curriculum. He’d have three days to establish a routine before they arrived, though, which suited him. He’d never considered trying to pass on his knowledge before, but the more he thought about this gig, the more he liked it.
The sun had begun its descent behind the Big Horn Mountains by the time he arrived at the ranch. He drove straight to the barn and parked next to a cherry-red van with a wheelchair mount on the back and a vanity plate that read COOKIN. The van was empty but the driver’s door was wide-open.
The van probably belonged to the mare’s owner, Aria Danes. According to Rosie, Aria had been three years behind him in school, so he didn’t remember her, but now she worked at the bank where Rosie and Herb had an account. Weird license plate for someone who was in banking, but maybe the lady had a dark sense of humor. If so, he’d enjoy that.
The foal was intended to be a morale booster for Aria’s older brother, Josh, who’d taken a bad fall during a riding event and had mobility issues. Brant vaguely remembered the guy although they’d never been friends. Rosie had heard about Aria’s plan and had offered to board Lucy in exchange for the educational value a pregnant mare and her foal would bring to the curriculum. Rosie loved win-win situations like that.
Brant walked over and closed the van’s door. Aria had left her keys in the ignition and her purse lying on the passenger seat, but that was no problem around here. She and her brother were probably too excited to think about the van.
He understood that. He’d begged to go along every time his foster father had been called out to deliver a foal. Watching the process had convinced him that his future would involve helping those vulnerable babies get a good start in life.
The sound of low-pitched voices drifted through the open barn door. According to Rosie they’d created a birthing stall by taking down the partition between two regular stalls at the far end of the barn. That was where everyone was gathered, including Rosie, Cade and Cade’s girlfriend, Lexi. Herb was probably inside the stall with Lucy.
Brant spotted Cade’s easygoing gray cat sleeping on a blanket thrown across a hay bale. There was no sign of a guy in a wheelchair, but a young woman paced the width of the aisle, head down and arms folded against her stomach. Because he was a guy, he noticed the curve of her breasts and hips.
But he was also a horse trainer who recognized the tension eddying around her. Unwelcome tension. If she had a sense of humor, dark or otherwise, it wasn’t showing.
The skirt of her purple-flowered sundress swirled around her knees with each impatient step. Wavy dark hair that hung to the middle of her back rippled as she moved. Aria Danes was wound tight and that was not good for this impending birth.
Rosie started toward him, followed by Cade and Lexi, but just then the woman glanced up, unfolded her arms and marched in his direction. Rosie paused and motioned Cade and Lexi to do the same.
“You’re Brant. I remember you now. You look the same, only bigger.” Her eyes, an unusual shade of violet, reflected her agitation.
Time to diffuse this bomb. He touched the brim of his Stetson and smiled. “Bigger and I hope better. Pleased to meet you, Aria.”
“Thank God you’re here.” She didn’t return his smile as she tilted her chin to meet his gaze. “Rosie says you have a magic touch with newborns.”
“Now that’s a fact.” He lifted his hat slightly and settled it back on his head. “I can make them appear and disappear, float three feet in the air, change color—”
“Rosie also warned me you like to kid around.”
“On occasion.” And that obviously wasn’t working for her, although he’d heard a muffled snort from Cade.
“I’m not in the mood for jokes.”
“I can see that.” He snuck a quick glance over Aria’s shoulder and his three railbirds were still there taking in the show.
She folded her arms again and frowned. “It’s very important to me and to...to my brother that this foal gets a good start in life.”
“I promise to give it my all, ma’am.” He adopted the soothing tones he used with a nervous horse. “But with all due respect, things will go a lot smoother if everyone stays calm and relaxed.”
She blinked. Then her cheeks turned pink. “Oh, um, I didn’t mean to sound so...” She trailed off with a sigh. “I’m sorry. I’ve been on edge ever since Rosie called me at the bank this afternoon. She said you were on your way, but when I got off work and found out you weren’t here...”
“Well, I made it.” From the corner of his eye he caught Rosie giving him a thumbs-up.
“Yes, you did.” Some of the strain eased from Aria’s expression.
He counted that a small victory. “What about Josh? Couldn’t he come with you?”
Disappointment flickered in her eyes. “No, he... I couldn’t convince him to come. And, to be fair, there’s no set timetable for this, is there? It could be awkward for him if it goes on all night.”
“I suppose it could.” But he wished she’d been able to talk her brother into coming out to be a part of this. It might have done him a world of good. “What do you say we go on down there and check on Lucy’s progress?”
“Absolutely.” She clapped her hand to her forehead. “And I just realized I’ve been keeping you from your family. Not nice.”
“I’m sure they understand that you’re stressed.”
“That’s no excuse.” Straightening her shoulders, she turned, but by that time Rosie and company had resumed their stations right outside the stall, as if they hadn’t been lined up behind her listening to every word. “Rosie, I apologize for intercepting him.” She walked toward the group and Brant followed. “I was just...glad to see that he’d made it.”
“We’re all glad.” Rosie came forward and gave him a fierce mom hug. Usually she dolled herself up when one of her boys was headed home, but today she’d been helping with Lucy and wore practical clothes—an old shirt and faded jeans. Her blond hair was in disarray and her usual red lipstick was AWOL.
As he wrapped his arms around one of the two most important people in his life, he breathed in the cherished floral scent that he associated with comfort and security. The top of her head didn’t reach his shoulder, but she was a bigger person than anyone he knew besides Herb. “Love you, Mom.”
“Love you, too, son.” Then she stepped back and winked at him. “Good thing you made it.”
He grinned back at her. “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet, little lady. Wait’ll I show you my floating foal trick.”
Cade stepped forward and grasped his hand before pulling him into a quick dude hug. “I can hardly wait, bro.”
“I’ll bet.” Brant was glad to see Cade looking so good—tanned, fit and happy.
“Yeah, I haven’t seen that trick in ages.” Lexi, one of the main reasons for Cade’s happiness, moved in for her hug. A bundle of energy with a curly mop of brown hair, she was the daughter of Rosie and Herb’s closest friends and had been part of Thunder Mountain life for years. “Every ranch needs a resident magician.”
Aria’s frown had reappeared. “Can you really lift that foal in the air? I thought you were making that up.”
“I was.” He’d never come across a more serious woman than Aria Danes.
Her smile was faint, but at least she knew how to create one. “Just wanted to make sure. I don’t want this foal floating anywhere.”
“No floating, I promise.” He felt a tug of sympathy for her. Everyone else knew him well. They could separate jokes from fact.
Lexi stepped into the breach. “You have to take everything Brant says with a grain of salt, but on the plus side, you don’t have to worry that he’ll ever get mad at you. You can’t rile this cowboy. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
Cade laughed. “We’ve all tried. My specialty was rubber snakes tucked into a guy’s bunk. I got a rise out of everyone but Brant. He named that rubber snake Elmer and treated it like a beloved pet. Then he—”
“Hate to interrupt.” Herb’s gentle voice from the depths of the stall brought them all back to the matter at hand. “But it’s show time.” His comment was punctuated with a loud groan from the mare.
Brant walked to the stall door and looked in. Lucy, a golden palomino the color of the setting sun, lay on her side with her flanks heaving. Herb moved with the brisk efficiency of a man twenty years younger as he crouched behind the mare. He’d put on his glasses, always a sign the birth was imminent.
Opening the unlatched stall door, Brant slipped inside. “Hey, Dad.”
He glanced up. “Good to see you, son.”
“You’re looking chipper. Teaching must agree with you.”
“I had no idea I’d love it so much.” He smiled at Brant. “Like old times being together like this, huh?”
“Sure is. Nice feeling.”
“Yep.” Herb held his gaze for a moment before clearing his throat. “All righty, then. You take her head and I’ll handle the business end, just like we’ve always done.”
“Got it.” Nudging his hat back, Brant dropped to his knees in the straw and began stroking Lucy’s sweaty neck. “Easy does it, sweetheart,” he crooned. “Just relax and let nature take its course.”
Lucy snuffled in response.
He laid his hand against the vein pulsing in her neck and held it there. “You’ll be fine,” he murmured, “and your baby will be fine. Just go with it. No worries, Lucy.”
She groaned again and quieted.
“Good,” Herb said. “I just felt her relax. Keep talking.”
Brant settled into the rhythm he’d developed over the years. Moving his hand in slow circles, he congratulated Lucy on the beautiful baby she was about to bring into the world. He praised her bravery and talked about what a good mother she would be.
What joy he felt during these moments. Every time he watched a birth, he felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Or rather, the way he imagined a kid who’d had a typical childhood might feel. His type-A dad had always been on the phone or his computer, even on Christmas morning. Probably why he’d died so young.
With luck and good care, the foal would live thirty or even forty years. It would bring happiness to many people and would be trustworthy because he would teach it not to be afraid. He couldn’t guarantee that every foal’s life would be perfect, but he only accepted jobs when he knew the people in charge were kind.
If Rosie approved of Aria, that was good enough for him. The brother was an unknown, but Rosie must have faith that Aria could handle that situation, too. He believed horses could work miracles with people, so he’d do his part to help this plan along.
“I see the forelegs.” Herb’s voice vibrated with excitement.
Love for his foster father gripped him in a warm embrace. The guy had been delivering foals for many years, yet he still felt the thrill. Herb and Rosie Padgett had been wonderful role models for all their foster boys.
Lucy shifted beneath his hand and her flanks heaved. “Doing great, Lucy,” he said softly. “A few more minutes and we’ll meet your little one.”
“There’s the nose.” Herb nearly chortled with glee.
Someone sucked in a breath. Brant glanced up to see Aria white-knuckling the stall door as she stared at the emerging foal with wide eyes. Rosie, Lexi and Cade had given her the front-row view.
“It’s going well, Aria,” Brant said quietly. He willed her to bring it down a notch.
She nodded without taking her attention from the foal. Then she took a deep breath and her shoulders relaxed a little. She was trying.