Authors: Annie Reed
Tags: #romance, #cowboy, #nevada, #contemporary romance, #llamas, #rancher
Published by Thunder Valley Press at
Copyright © 2013 by Annie Reed
Cover Art Copyright ©
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
This story is licensed for your personal
enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to
other people. If you would like to share this book with another
person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If
you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not
purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com
and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work
of this author.
Yesterday morning, I got in my car at seven
twenty-five, same as always. I popped in a CD –
The Best of the
this time – and cranked up the volume to keep
me awake, same as always. I stopped by Starbucks for a grande decaf
latte, same as always. Took the freeway to where I-80 merges with
Interstate 395, that grand old mess of looped interchanges and
exits Reno locals call the Spaghetti Bowl. Same as always.
Only not quite.
Instead of veering right and taking the next
off ramp, a left at the light three blocks down, and a right two
blocks over into the parking garage, I stayed in the left lane and
kept on driving east on the interstate.
And just like that, I quit my job.
Crazy, huh? Maybe I always was crazy and
nobody ever noticed.
I had plenty of time after that to think
about what I was doing. Once you get past Sparks going east on
I-80, there's a whole lot of nothing but empty road since all the
early morning traffic's going the other way. All those cars
carrying commuters to their jobs, and none of them was me.
My heart hammered in my chest there for a
while, let me tell you. I almost turned around at the next two off
ramps I passed. But what was I leaving behind, really? An
almost-empty apartment. A barren love life. A dead-end job for
someone who’d only notice me by my absence.
I giggled a little about that. I could just
imagine my boss's face when I didn’t show at eight. At five after,
he'd be checking his watch. By ten after, he'd be growing
At eight-fifteen, my cell phone rang.
I threw the phone out my car window – I
didn't have an iPhone, just some cheap thing I got at Walmart –
which only made me giggle harder. Bye-bye old life, hello you wide
new wonderful world full of possibilities, you.
Of course, this part of that wonderful new
world of possibilities was more of the same old, same old. Dry,
sagebrush-filled, hot-as-hell in the summer and freezing cold in
the winter. Nevada was a desert state. I should know. I'd been born
here. I used to think the place was ugly, what with all that dry
dirt, but yesterday morning, with golden, early-in-the-day sunshine
streaming through my windshield, the world just felt different. I
didn’t know where I was going, where I’d stop, or what I’d do
tomorrow. I figured I’d just drive until I got tired, had to pee,
or I ran across something interesting.
As it turned out, I stopped when all three
things happened almost at once.
Although, to be fair – the llama was what
really made me stop.
I’d seen horses up close. Cows, too, and
even sheep, but I’d never been nose to nose – or nose to neck –
with a llama. But there, on the outskirts of Hazen, Nevada, a town
that was little more than a blip on the road, I saw the words
"Lighting Llamas" engraved onto a huge, curving sign over a rutted
I pulled off the road and stopped beneath
the sign. I rolled my window down and tried to decide if I wanted
to get out of the car. I mean, there was a llama
in the pasture next to the sign. Big, brown eyes, long eyelashes,
creamy ivory fur. All I had to do was get out of the car, but for
some reason I couldn't make myself do it.
The cicadas in the sagebrush on the other
side of the road were buzzing up a storm. The day was already hot
with the promise of getting nothing but hotter, and here I was,
heading south in a car whose air-conditioning was spotty at best.
What in the world had I been thinking?
I'm not sure why I turned off I-80 at
Fernley except I had some vague notion about driving to Las Vegas,
but now that I'd actually stopped driving, the whole idea seemed
insane. It wasn't like I'd had any recent trauma, any life-changing
event that made me want to chuck it all and start over. I had two
credit cards to my name and just enough in my bank account to pay
rent next month. I wasn't some heiress off on a wild adventure. I
wasn't a secret witness skipping town. I was just a woman in her
late twenties – okay, okay, twenty-nine, are you happy? – who was
tired of her everyday life.
But had my everyday life been so bad? Maybe
if I turned around and went home, called my boss and told him I'd
overslept because I had a migraine, he wouldn't fire me.
Right. And there really is a Santa Claus,
"I am so screwed," I said to no one in
I about jumped out of my skin when someone
"Could be worse," a male voice said.
"Doesn't look like you've got a flat, and your engine's still
running. You ain't having a baby in there, are you?"
"No!" Good lord, no. You have to have a
boyfriend – or at least a man with a working organ and a
willingness to use it – to have a baby.
I craned my head around and saw the owner of
the voice standing near the back of my car. My heart quit pumping
double time out of fear and started thumping for a whole new
If I'd been a Hollywood casting director
looking for the next Sam Elliott lookalike for the next big budget
Western (do they still make Western anymore?), I could have stopped
my search right then. The guy was tall but not too tall, lanky but
a strong-looking kind of lanky, with a craggy face that looked
ruggedly handsome rather than old and worn out. He had on a cowboy
hat (of course), but the hair beneath it was wavy brown shot
through with the beginnings of what I imagined would be a full head
of steel grey hair when he hit sixty. He had a thick moustache and
his chin looked like he hadn't shaved in a couple of days. He had
on a well-worn blue plaid shirt and faded jeans, and (of course,
again) dusty cowboy boots.
"Well, that's good," he said, his smile
digging deeper crags into his face. "I ain't never delivered a baby
before. Not if it don't have four legs and a powerful long neck, at
He was talking about llamas. "Is this your
place?" I asked. I wasn't sure if a the place where a person raised
llamas was called a ranch or a farm, and I didn't want to insult
He nodded at me. "That it is." I heard the
even though he didn't say it. Good lord, the guy
really was right out of Central Casting.
I frowned at him. "You're putting me on,
right? Do you really talk that way, or is it just something the
His eyes widened for a minute, then he
looked at the ground at his feet. I heard him chuckle. "Okay," he
said. "You got me."
I knew it! Sure, I didn't know how I knew
it, but I did.
When he looked back up, he was still
grinning, but he had color that didn't come from the sun in those
rugged cheeks. "Hope you don't hold it against me," he said. "But
not a lot of people stop out here." He shrugged. "I'm hoping to
make something out of this place someday. I'm still trying out the
"No problem," I said. After all, I was
trying out a new life, too. Sort of. If I didn't chicken out and go
running back to my old one.
The second of my reasons for stopping made a
sudden appearance. I'd polished off my decaf latte before I hit the
Fernley exit, and now I needed a bathroom. In a hurry.
"Hey, is there a place around here where I
can use a restroom?" I asked. I hadn't seen a gas station or fast
food place since Fernley. I really should have stopped there and
taken care of things, but I wasn't exactly thinking straight.
"Nearest gas station is ten miles back
Ten miles. I didn't think I could make ten
He must have seen the hesitation on my
"Or you could come up to the house," he
said. "I promise I'm not a llama-raising serial killer."
"Sure you're not," I said. "Isn't that what
all serial killers would say?"
"Except for Dexter. He'd admit it."
That he would.
was one of my
"Hey, wait!" I said. "You watch
"Satellite dish," he said. "When you live
out in the middle of nowhere, it helps to have cable. Or the
My bladder twinged.
Good grief. It was either the
llama-rancher's bathroom or go pee behind a clump of sagebrush and
hope I didn't run into a rattlesnake. Why, again, had I thought
driving across the Nevada desert in the middle of the day without
any kind of provisions or plan or even a change of clothes was a
"Lead the way," I said.
It turned out the llama rancher had a dusty
old pickup truck, no surprise, but his ranch house looked like any
other suburban house I'd ever been in.
"It's pretty new," he said to me. "I've got
a buddy who's a developer in Fernley. He was doing pretty good
until the housing market went bust, so I hired him to build me a
new place. What do you think?"
"I think I'm back in Reno," I said. But in
an upscale neighborhood. The house had high ceilings and spacious
rooms, tiled floors, and a magnificent view of the desert landscape
out of floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room. Even the
bathroom was upscale, with an open area shower instead of a
walled-in stall or a dinky little tub.
And that was the guest bathroom.
I tried not to snoop too much while I used
his bathroom. The place was surprisingly neat for a man's house.
Not that all men were slobs, but I didn't think every man who kept
a scented candle on a holder in his guest bathroom. I sighed. He
was either gay or married, and either option left me feeling more
disappointed than I should have been. After all, I was just passing
through, and the only reason I'd stopped was for the llamas,
Of which I'd only seen the one.
My Sam Elliott look-a-like llama rancher was
in the living room when I got done. "So where do you keep the rest
of your llamas?" I asked. I'd followed his truck down a rutted dirt
road nearly a half mile before I realized it was his driveway. The
fields on both sides of the driveway had sheep in them, but no
llamas that I could see.
"The sign did say Lighting Llamas," I said.
"Not Lightning Llama."
He nodded at me and grinned. "Got me there."
He gestured toward the bank of windows. "There's another field out
back, over that little rise. I have four llamas back there, a male
and three females. This time next year I hope to have seven."
I tried to see a a boundary fence and
realized I couldn't. "How much land do you have here?"
"A little over eighty acres."
"And you live here all alone?"
I'd peeked inside his medicine cabinet – I
couldn't help myself – and there hadn't been anything feminine on
the shelves. No eye shadow, no lipstick, no makeup of any kind. Not
that that meant anything. I mean, it was the guest bathroom.
His grin turned into a full-out smile, the
kind of slow smile that said he knew I'd peeked and he wasn't upset
about it. "Yup," he said. "Hazen's not exactly a hot spot for
meeting women, and I work too hard to make the drive into Fernley
more than once or twice a month. The only reason I saw you down by
the highway today was because I was riding the fence line, checking