Authors: Rose Lange
Table of Contents
ON A GAMBLE
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
ON A GAMBLE
Cover Design by Leah Kaye-Suttle
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24
Macedon, New York, 14502
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I’d like to dedicate this book
to the two loves of my life.
My husband and real life hero,
and our son, who I still credit to this day
in my re-birth as a writer,
I love you both, so very much.
I’m honored, humbled, and happy beyond words to be doing this for a second time.
First, I’d like to thank God for my talent, through Him all things are possible. My parents, for your continued support and encouragement, you’re my number one fans. To my husband, for cooking a meal, taking care of our son, or anything that needed to be done, so I could take the time to escape into my cave and write. I love you, and our life together, more than words can express.
A big thank you to the best co-workers a girl could ask for: Connie, Judy, Chris, Sue, Shelley, Julie, Jean, Amy, Pam, and Marci. You’re an amazing group of women that I feel incredibly blessed to be working with.
An extra special thank you to my beta readers, Julie, Marci, and Nicole. Your invaluable support, and feedback when the book was in its baby stages, has helped me tremendously. To Ang B, and Angela Christine Archer, for the wonderful knowledge on anything horse related, it really helped those scenes come to life, and I’m greatly appreciative. Thank you so much!
To all my Soulies, which I’ve formed wonderful friendships with. I’m grateful for the support, encouragement, and pick me ups you’ve all given me. I’m truly honored, and blessed to continue to be apart of this group. You’re all family in every sense of the word.
To my SEB’s, Anne and Loretta. Always, to Z.
Sara A. for being the best friend, and critique partner a girl could ever ask for. I appreciate your willingness to re-read chapters as many times as needed. Your encouraging words helped me out tremendously, and I’m truly grateful.
This next thank you is bittersweet for me. I’d like to thank my editor, Cheryl Yeko, for your faith in my stories, my writing, and me. Words cannot fully express how grateful I am for all that you’ve done for me. You’ve helped me think outside the box, pushed my limits, and have strengthened me as a writer. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and will truly miss working with you.
My cover artist Leah Kaye Suttle for the gorgeous cover! I was in love with it at first sight. Thank you for capturing the essence of my characters, and their story.
And last but certainly not least, to my readers, for coming along on this journey! I hope you enjoy reading Alex and Charlie’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Cheers, and happy reading!
River View, Wisconsin
“You’re a woman.”
The tall, mysterious, and deliciously handsome stranger stared at the little piece of paper in his hand. Then back at her. A slight frown marred his face, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Charlie Anderson arched a brow, brushing her hands off on her jeans, and gave him a closer look. She stood up straight, but remained behind the barnyard fence. Not caring that it wasn’t polite to stare, she did just that, studying him and getting quite an eyeful. She had to admit his arresting good looks captured her attention, solid, nicely sculpted muscles wide shoulders. He hung back, one hand on his hip, a curious gleam in his gaze, as if to study her as well. Boldly intimidating with his dark hair, and equally dark, piercing chocolate brown depths. An adorable tuft of facial hair covered his chin and jaw, but it wasn’t a beard, more like a goatee.
Jesus, get a grip. Who cares what kind of facial hair he’s got?
“Is there something I can do for you?” She smirked, yet part of her wondered if he was the answer to her prayers.
“I’m here in response to your ad, but I expected a man.” He waved around the little piece of white paper as though it were a red flag. Assessing her as though expecting her to turn
a man at any given moment, which would have been one hell of a magic trick, but it wasn’t happening.
Never breaking eye contact, she whipped off her gloves, and tossed them aside. Dusting off her jeans, she gave him another quick once over before speaking. “Gee, nothing gets by you. Now, I don’t mean to be rude but if there’s something you need, I’m your gal. If not, then you’re just wasting your time.”
Tired and crabby, she was about ready to tell him to take a hike. Her muscles ached from head to toe. Every nook, cranny, and in between begged for a long, hot bath, when in reality vegetables and flowers needed watering, and the animals fed and put to bed for the evening. There was zero time to stand and stare, even if he did kick her pulse up a notch, or several.
“Okay. Do you have any experience?”
“No, but I’m a hard worker and fast learner.” Then he smiled at her in a way that made her tummy do tiny flips, as if a gymnast suddenly took up residence. Those full gorgeous lips disarmed, and deadly for any woman’s sanity.
Shaking her head of such thoughts, she greeted his gaze. Wishing she hadn’t. He curiously assessed her, and those acorn-weathered brown eyes depleted her of oxygen. A woman could lose her sanity in eyes like that. Dark denim jeans that hugged him in all the right places, a flannel shirt, and black leather work boots. But for some reason, his attire didn’t suit him. She could picture him in a suit and tie. Charcoal gray that would better complement his commanding presence and strong frame. What little was left of her breath was snatched away with that particular thought. It beat the hell out of her as to why.
Okay, snap out of it. She stuffed her hands in her pockets, along with the dangerous, pesky mental images. Self-consciously, she peered over her shoulder at the house beyond. Grandma was home, and when she didn’t see her anywhere near the window, she sighed with relief. A notorious tease, she’d no doubt find a way to start trouble. Maybe grandma hadn’t seen him.
Maybe it was not her lucky day.
Saying a tiny prayer in hopes God was listening. In hopes that maybe she wouldn’t humiliate the hell out of her. She turned to see Grandma Pearl’s head and shoulders in the kitchen window. “Yes, Grandma?”
“Who’s the sexy stud?” she yelled.
Charlie wished for nothing more than Mother Earth to open up, and swallow her into its black, never ending abyss. Of course it didn’t help that grandma hollered it loud enough to be assured
within earshot could hear. Looking up, she discovered the highly amused stranger covering up a chuckle behind his hand, and a smattering of light pink tinting his cheeks. Well, at least one of them found amusement in this awkward situation.
She mentally counted to ten before speaking. “I’ll explain later!” she called back, and for now that seemed to satisfy her curiosity, and she disappeared.
“I’m sorry about that. She has no filter sometimes.”
He good-naturedly waved off her comment. “No need to apologize.”
“What’s your name?”
“Alex McCray.” He extended his hand.
Tentatively, she took it. Her hand slid naturally into his. His palm, warm and welcoming, soft and soothing, encased hers. She withdrew her hand as if burned. “I guess we’ll make a go of it”—she cleared her throat—“see how things progress. Pay isn’t very much, hope that’s not a problem.”
He shook his head. “So, have I got the job?”
She gave a decisive nod.
“Okay. What time do we start in the morning?” he asked.
“Six o’clock sharp.”
He nodded. “Sounds good.”
Watching as he turned, he tossed a sly smile over his shoulder that sent a shiver through her. The unexpectedness of it sent her heart banging against her chest. He walked away, and drove off.
Charlie shook off the unsafe, and wicked images of Alex McCray. Leaning against the fence, she took a deep breath, gazing at the setting sun. Bright red, orange, peach, and purple colors bleeding into the blue sky, horses grazed in the nearby field, roosters crowed, and contentment filled her heart.
A knot of fear swelled in her belly, taking the dangerous thoughts of the stranger away, thinking what would happen if she ever lost the farm, which meant so much to her. She batted a tear away from her cheek, frustrated that she’d let herself even start to cry. Life had thrown her some pretty wicked curve balls, so this should have been the least of her worries. It wasn’t. Not when she had so much emotional stake here.
She took another deep breath, grabbed her gloves, and picked up where she left off.
Later that night, Charlie did a quick background check on Alex McCray, wanting to kick herself for not thinking of it sooner. Thankfully, it came back clean. The guy didn’t even have so much as a speeding ticket. She turned the computer in the den room off, and made her way to the kitchen, where Grandma was cooking dinner. Pouring herself a glass of lemonade, she wondered what about this stranger rattled her senses, the reaction to him strong.
She cocked her head, thinking about how attractive Alex was. Picturing his strong jaw, chiseled features, and warm brown eyes that held a boyish mischief. She smiled despite herself. Attractive or not, she couldn’t let herself get carried away. He was her employee, and she wasn’t about to cross that line.
Damn it, did he have to be so sexy?
“Good evening, Charlie darling.”
She turned to the sound of her Grandma Pearl’s sweet voice, and smiled. “Hi, Grandma.”
“The gentleman that was just here, who was he?” Grandmother Pearl put on an apron to prepare her world famous melt-in-your-mouth buttermilk pancakes, so sweet she rarely put syrup on them, and for dinner they sounded good right about now. Charlie’s parents were killed in a car accident when she was eight, so their grandparents raised her and her two younger sisters. Even at a young age, she remembered the day like yesterday, being awoken from a sound sleep, hearing whispered voices, heartbroken ones. The silent tears falling as she’d stood outside the hallway to hear the tragic news.
She brushed her arms, chilled at the memory.
Bringing her mind back to the present, she thought of all her grandparents did, and had done for her. Her move to the country was the least she could do. Her sisters on the other hand rarely came to visit or help, which made her angry.
The workload had become too much though, and she’d been forced to hire out help. They couldn’t afford to hire more than one. She’d keep her fingers crossed that Alex was a good, hard worker and things went smoothly.
Charlie polished off her lemonade and set the glass in the sink. As evening fell she attempted to unwind, but her mind spun thinking about the farm, her childhood, and this handsome stranger. She’d sworn off dating since the divorce. Then Alex McCray stepped into the picture, smiling at her in a way that made her heart flip over like a pancake in her chest, and made long forgotten butterflies stir. But if they were to work together, side by side, every day, she needed to get over these awkward sensations he invoked.
“He thought I was a man.”
Grandma Pearl laughed. “Yes, that doesn’t surprise me. You have to admit, he sure is handsome.”
Charlie shrugged, feigning indifference. “I guess he was all right looking.” She wanted to kick her own rear end at such a lie.
Her grandma scoffed. “Baloney, I know a handsome man when I see one, and that man was very nice looking. When does he start?”
Her grandma nodded.
Charlie had to know, curiosity getting the best of her, and couldn’t resist as she asked, “By the way. Is there a reason you embarrassed me in front of a total stranger?”
Grandma Pearl smiled a sly smile, as though she were keeping a secret under wraps. “He won’t be for long.”
Charlie frowned. “Won’t be what for long?”
“A stranger.” Offering nothing more, she turned back to her cooking.
Tomorrow, would be very interesting indeed, but not for the reasons her grandma was thinking.
The next morning, Charlie took another long swig of her jet-black coffee, making a mental checklist of everything that needed to be accomplished today.
Absentmindedly, she stared out the kitchen window. Drinking in the beautiful, and infinite lay of the land, a smile tugged at her lips. The horses grazed, chickens fed contentedly in the coup, and the sun greeted the sky with its warmth over the horizon. Country life agreed with her. She loved the unhurried pace, and tranquility here. It beat the hustle and bustle of the city, the crowds, everyone in a hurry to go nowhere.
Her own schedule existed here. She could work at her own pace, and take the time to admire a setting, or rising sun, appreciate its beauty.
Alex pulled into the driveway, breaking her train of thought.
She took a deep breath, set her half-finished coffee down, and made her way outside.
As he exited the truck, she stopped in her tracks, and caught herself staring. Because good grief he looked good. Getting a hold of herself, and before he caught her, she quickly averted her gaze.
Geez, get a grip already.
She had no business being attracted to him in any way, shape, or form. And certainly no time for men or relationships, because when those two things were put together it could only spell disaster. At least it had been in her last relationship, and she didn’t wish to go there ever again.
Alex offered an easy smile. “Good morning, Charlie.”
She pressed a hand to her stomach, as a deadly blend of full lips, even white teeth, and facial hair jarred her senses. His smile was out of this world, and it made her stop in her tracks. Remembering herself, she smiled back. Repeating the mantra over and over in her head:
“Good morning. We’re going to start by tending the garden. When my grandparents get back, we’ll feed the animals.” With this, she made her way to the barn.
Charlie nodded, attempting not to feel self-conscious as she turned her back to him. Maybe she should have worn a looser pair of jeans, not that she wasn’t proud of her figure. She reached the barn door, and briefly turned back toward him, catching him with his eyes on her rear. “Anything wrong?”
He cleared his throat, and snapped his gaze upward. “Nope, not a thing.”
Shaking her head, she kept on walking. Throwing open the doors, she was excited to begin the workday. Quickly, she gathered her hair in a ponytail, knowing it would get in her way eventually. Grabbing her materials for the morning, she handed him a garden tool, only to find he wasn’t there. Standing near one of the horses, he was petting Ginger’s shoulder, and softly talking to her. Her heart warmed when the horse nuzzled into his touch, her ears perky.
Charlie stopped her task, and walked toward him. “Her name is Ginger.”
Taking the space right next to him, she instantly regretted it. The moment she came within two feet of him, his scent permeated and assaulted her senses. He smelled of soap, aftershave, and a hint of something she couldn’t put her finger on. The mystery scent tempted her to lean closer, and nuzzle her nose in his neck. She met his gaze, the chocolate colored hues looked as warm, comforting, and inviting as a mug of hot cocoa on a rainy day. Pesky image that it was, she dashed it away. Then, even worse, an awkward silence permeated the space.
“She’s pretty,” he murmured.
Only he wasn’t looking at the horse.
Lowering her eyes, she cleared her throat, and hoped to God she wasn’t blushing. Deciding to shake off his comment, she said, “She’s three, but I feel like I’ve had her forever.”
Charlie took her time, slowly stroking the brown fur, and sighed contentedly, anything to keep her eyes away from him.
“Yeah, well let’s get to work shall we?” Already making a motion to get back to her previous task.
“So, what’s first?”
“The garden”–she checked her watch—“and then we’ll feed the animals. My grandparents should be back any minute with feed.”
Reaching for two pairs of gloves, she offered him a pair.
“Thank you,” he said, putting them on.