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Authors: Cat Johnson

Midnight Wrangler

BOOK: Midnight Wrangler
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“EVERYTHING ELSE SEEMS TO HAVE CHANGED, BUT NOT YOU. YOU STILL LOOK JUST LIKE YOU DID BACK IN HIGH SCHOOL.”
“Do I?” He laughed. “Then that brings to light one more change right there—that you need glasses.” Rohn grinned as she rolled her eyes at his teasing.
For the first time during the encounter, the smile she flashed him seemed genuine and not forced. “I don't need glasses. It's true.”
“Well, you don't look the same.”
She lifted her brow high. “Well, it has been twenty-five years.”
She'd taken the comment as an insult, but she was wrong. He hadn't meant it as such. Rohn was at the age he knew experience created beauty, not youth.
“I meant, you look even better than you did back then.”
Also by Cat Johnson
One Night with a Cowboy
 
Two Times as Hot
 
Three Weeks with a Bull Rider
 
Midnight Ride
 
 
And read her novellas in
 
He's the One
 
In a Cowboy's Bed
MIDNIGHT
Wrangler
CAT JOHNSON
ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
http://www.kensingtonbooks.com
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
For all the cheerleaders who keep me writing,
be they near or far, online or in real life.
 
For the real Rohn and Colton,
the Alaskan cowboys I met in Vegas,
who gave me both inspiration and the use of their names.
 
For all my Oklahoma peeps,
who always make this New Yorker wish I was
there with them eating barbecue.
 
For Eliza Gayle, my word sprint partner,
who kept me in line when my chronic procrastination
threatened to take over.
Chapter One
Some days, no matter what a man did, nothing seemed to go right. Today at the Double L Ranch was one of those days.
Rohn Lerner let out a sigh tinged with frustration as he found his three ranch hands shooting the breeze by the barn instead of tackling all the chores that needed to get done.
“Hey!” He strode toward the group.
“Hey, boss.” Tyler tipped his chin in Rohn's direction. “What's up?”
Tyler was usually the ringleader of the lazy hands so his
what's up
particularly rubbed Rohn the wrong way today. They'd know what was up if they weren't so busy jabbering.
Rohn came to a stop as he reached the three young men. “The bull pushed over the water trough again.”
Tyler glanced at the field where the bull was currently penned without water. He scrunched up his face and looked back to Rohn. “Yeah, I saw that before.”
Rohn's eyes widened at the revelation. “Then why aren't you over there refilling it?”
These boys had been working for Rohn for enough years that they should know what to do without him having to tell them.
Colton knocked his hat back a notch. “We're fixin' to get to it, Rohn. Relax.”
“You're fixin' to get to it?” Being told to relax by an employee half his age made Rohn's blood pressure rise. “And when would that be, this
getting to it?

“We were going to head over right after lunch.” Justin, a couple years older and apparently wiser than the other two, stepped in with his attempt to soothe the situation.
“That bull is worth his weight in cash, so how about if he gets his water before y'all get your lunch?” Rohn would really like to know when the youth of this country had been taught that it was all right to talk back to their boss. Probably about the same time they'd convinced themselves it was all right to put off doing important tasks until later.
Justin gave a nod. “A'ight, Rohn. Sorry, but you know in this kinda weather the hose bakes in the sun and we have to drain the hot water outta it before we can fill the tanks. I just figured since we were going to scrub and refill all the buckets after lunch anyway, we'd take care of it then instead of wasting the water draining it twice.”
They had been through some pretty bad droughts lately in this part of the country, and wildfires were always an issue in Oklahoma. Justin's point about saving water was a valid one, but Rohn was in no mood to concede that.
He cocked one brow. “Then maybe you outta finish all the watering now and then take a late lunch.”
Tyler blew out a breath. “Somebody's cranky today.”
“Today?” Colton frowned beneath the brim of his cowboy hat. “Try every damn day lately.”
“Yeah?” Rohn lifted his brows high and hooked a thumb toward the drive. “There's the way out. Y'all feel free to hit the road and look for another job whenever you want.”
Colton snickered. “Yeah. All right.”
It was Rohn's own damn fault. He'd always been more of a friend to these kids than a boss. He'd joke around and act like a buddy, but in his current mood that last threat hadn't been completely in jest.
Tyler turned to Colton and Justin. “Can you two go on over, right that trough and start on the water? I'll meet you out there in a bit and we'll figure out how to make it stay upright for good this time.”
Colton's mouth dropped open. “Since when do you get to tell Justin and me what to do?”
“Since I wanna talk to Rohn alone for a minute.” Tyler crossed his arms over his chest, not backing down.
“Come on, Colt. Let's go.” Justin tipped his head toward the field.
Colton continued to sputter. “But why should we?”
“So we can talk crap about Ty behind his back, that's why.” With a grin, Justin winked at Tyler and pivoted on the heel of one boot toward the pasture. Colton shot Tyler a parting glance that expressed exactly what he thought about the situation, but followed Justin.
Once they were gone, Tyler turned to Rohn. A crease furrowed the forehead above his dark brows. “You a'ight? You need to talk?”
Rohn let out a snort. “What, are you a therapist now?”
“No, I'm your friend. And it wasn't too long ago you pulled me aside to talk privately when I was wrestling with some shit of my own. Remember?”
That all had been barely a couple of months ago. Back when Rohn had been dumb or desperate enough to listen to Colton and ask his widowed neighbor Janie out on a date. Rohn remembered that dinner with Janie, as well as the exact moment he'd figured out that the woman already had feelings for Tyler.
That's what Rohn got for taking relationship advice from a twentysomething-year-old cowboy with little experience and no serious girlfriend that he knew of.
Meanwhile, being twenty-four and dense as a lump of coal, Tyler had been too young and stupid to realize how Janie felt until Rohn had explained it to him.
Nope. Rohn hadn't forgotten any of it. “Yeah, I remember. Except what you were wrestling with was that a beautiful, smart, intelligent woman was in love with you. So, I'm sure that
shit
wasn't all that difficult for you to get over.”
Tyler tipped his head. “I was miserable for a while, just the same, and you stepped in and straightened me out.”
“Somebody had to.” Proven by the fact that since that conversation, as far as Rohn could see, the couple was not only together, but looking pretty serious. If he wasn't mistaken, Tyler was all but living at Janie's. “So are you officially moved in to her place yet, or just staying over there every night?”
Tyler opened his eyes wide. “Wait a minute. Is that what this crap mood of yours is about? You're upset I'm with Janie?”
“No, I'm not upset you're with Janie.” Rohn shook his head, sorry he'd said anything at all. “As long as you're treating her right, I'm happy for her and for you. That's not it at all.”
“Then what is it?” Beneath the brim of his hat, Tyler drew his brows low.
“Nothing.” His love life, or lack of one, was one thing Rohn didn't want to discuss with a cocky twenty-four-year-old who had everything in the world at his fingertips and his whole future ahead of him.
“Rohn, come on. Just spill it.” Tyler crossed his arms and leaned back against the fence, as if he was willing to wait as long as it took.
Damn persistent kid. Rohn silently mouthed a cuss, but finally gave in. “I guess I'm just kinda lonely sometimes, okay?”
Tyler threw his hands in the air. “That's why I've been telling you to come out with us. You ain't meeting any girls here at the ranch.”
“And I told you I don't want to meet
girls
and I'm not going to find a woman of any substance at the bars where you yahoos hang out.”
“Then set up one of those online dating accounts. They have them for older folks now.”
“Older folks?” Rohn let out a snort as that hit him hard, like a punch to the gut. “Great. Thanks a lot.”
How the hell old did these kids think he was, anyway? Rohn had quite a few years left before he turned fifty. Enough years he felt justified still holding on tight to his claim of being in his early forties. Okay, maybe he was inching closer to his
mid
forties, but still.
“I'm not trying to insult you, Rohn. I'm just trying to give you some options.”
“Well, no offense, Tyler, and thanks for trying, but I don't like your options.”
The kid had work to do still, and lunch to eat, but he didn't seem to be in any hurry to get going. Tyler stayed put, eyeing Rohn. “You know, if it's just sex you're missing, there are girls you can call for that. . . .”
“Jesus, Tyler. Please stop talking.” Rohn scrubbed his hands over his face, ignoring the dust and dirt he'd probably smeared all over himself.
“I'm serious. You can probably ask for any age woman you want, too, if you don't want a girl who's too young.”
Letting out a laugh at the ridiculousness of this surreal conversation, Rohn still couldn't help but ask, “How the hell would you know about any of that?”
Rohn had no doubt this former playboy had never had to hire a professional in that area. Before settling into a relationship with Janie, Tyler was the type of guy who would never have come home from a rodeo or a night out on the town without a willing recipient of his affections in his passenger seat.
Sure, over the years Tyler had probably spent a small fortune buying drinks for women before he got a little loving in return, but to outright pay a prostitute for sex? No way. Rohn couldn't see it happening. Not for Tyler and definitely not for himself.
“I planned my brother's bachelor party. The place I hired the stripper from also offers girls who provide
other services,
if you know what I mean. I have the phone number—” Tyler reached to pull his cell phone out of his jeans pocket.
Rohn threw up one hand to stop him. “No. Enough. I don't want the number. Not now. Not ever. Okay?”
The dead last thing Rohn needed was Tyler putting some stupid idea into his head about paying a woman to have sex with him. Worse, as the years of celibacy since his wife Lila's death started to add up to be more than he could count on one hand, the idea didn't seem as horrifying to him as it should.
He'd been lucky enough to love two women in his life. Bonnie Martin for that single magical perfect summer after high school. And Lila, who'd been his wife and best friend for the fifteen years they were married.
Rohn knew finding love again, a third time and at his age, was a long shot. But that didn't mean he was willing to explore the alternative Tyler had suggested.
“Okay, but if you change your mind . . .” Tyler let the suggestion hang in the air.
This conversation had gone on for too long already, and all it had done was make Rohn more agitated. He'd gone from cranky to being both appalled and needy. As crazy as it seemed, talking about strippers and hookers had woken up his long suppressed sex drive.
With his luck, he'd probably call for a woman to come over and get robbed by some con artist posing as a hooker. Or he'd end up sending her home after one look because she'd be young enough to have been his daughter. Even though Rohn was childless, he knew the girl would be some man's little girl, and Rohn would never be able to get that out of his head.
He glanced up and found Tyler still watching, waiting for him to say something, he supposed. “Ty, I won't change my mind.”
“A'ight.” Tyler gave a single nod. “You know I could ask Janie if she's friends with any nice, single women from her church.”
“No. I do not want your girlfriend fixing me up.” Rohn stared at the sky in frustration. This situation was getting worse by the minute. “Please, Tyler. Promise me you won't say anything to Janie.”
“Fine. I won't say anything. I just hate seeing you like this, Rohn. I care about you. You're like a second father to me.”
If that didn't make him feel old, nothing would. Though Rohn couldn't argue. Biologically, he was plenty old enough to be Tyler's father, but it wasn't exactly a comfort to hear the kid voice that reality.
On top of that, it reminded Rohn of the void in his life. The realization that his greatest disappointment, aside from the devastation of Lila dying way too young, had been never having a son of his own. A boy to teach, and then work side by side with. To pass the ranch on to when he was too old to work it himself. Someone to leave it to after his time on this good earth was done.
But that couldn't be changed and there was no use dwelling on it. Rohn brought his gaze back to Tyler.
“Don't worry about me. I'm fine.” Rohn tried to sound convincing as he said it. He wasn't sure he succeeded.
Finally, Tyler nodded. He hooked a thumb toward the house. “I gotta run inside for a sec. Then I'll go see if the boys and me can't figure out how to stop that water tub from tipping so easily. I'm thinking maybe a brace made out of some two-by-fours will keep the big guy from flipping it.”
“A'ight. Thanks. That'd be a big help.” Rohn watched the younger man head for the house, probably to hit the bathroom given the amount of coffee the kid drank.
Turning in the opposite direction, Rohn headed for the barn. The boys had a bad habit of tossing paperwork to the side when a delivery came or the blacksmith handed them a bill. Rohn needed to routinely hunt for invoices and packing slips before he could work on the bookkeeping.
A few minutes later, found paperwork in hand, Rohn emerged from the barn and out into the glare of the noonday summer sun.
He noticed Tyler was back outside and working. His ranch hands appeared to be having a meeting of the minds about the water tub situation. Tyler, Justin, and Colton surrounded the trough as the bull watched them from across the pasture.
Hoping they could handle things on their own now that they were finally focused on the problem and not on him, Rohn went inside the house. He had work of his own to take care of.
BOOK: Midnight Wrangler
13.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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