Wrangling a Lucky Cowboy

Wrangling a Lucky Cowboy by Katie Lane

Date Published: Feb 2024

Rome Remington never thought he’d find himself standing in front of the altar again. He was a man who learned from his mistakes. After his first failed attempt at marriage, he had no intentions of entering the holy bond of matrimony a second time. No matter how much his father was pushing for grandkids to carry on the Remington name.

Rome had spent his life fulfilling his father’s wishes. While other kids rode bikes and played video games after school, he’d studied for hours so he could hand Sam Remington a report card filled with As. In high school, he’d gone out for the football team regardless of the fact that he hated football. In college, he’d majored in business, even though he’d wanted to major in animal science. Once he’d graduated and returned home, he’d searched for the right woman to marry—one his father would approve of.

He still wanted to please his dad. But he wasn’t willing to tie the knot again. He figured it was time for his little brother to step up to the plate and take one for the Remington team. Casey certainly had no trouble getting women to fall in love with him. Half of the female population of Wilder, Texas, was trying to win his heart.

            Rome understood why. Casey had a good heart. Rome’s was a little too battle scarred. Which was why he had no intentions of offering it again. Thankfully, he wasn’t the one exchanging vows today.

            But that didn’t seem to stop him from sweating through his tuxedo as he listened to Decker and Sweetie exchange vows. Knots the size of Brahman bull balls grew in his stomach as memories swirled to life in his head. Memories of the sweet timbre of Emily’s voice when she promised to love, honor, and cherish him forever. The teasing sparkle of her blue eyes when he lifted the thin wisp of her veil to kiss her. The welcoming softness of her lips. The tight grip of her hand on his arm as if she never wanted to let him go.

She had let him go.

Eighteen months later, she had packed up and headed back to Georgia, teaching him that love was a fickle and untrustworthy emotion he wanted no part of.


He blinked back to the present moment and found Decker holding out his hand and giving him a quizzical look. Rome quickly slipped his hand in his pants pocket and pulled out the rings. Unfortunately, when he went to hand them to Decker, one slipped from his shaky fingers and bounced down the steps of the dais. As he moved down the steps to retrieve it, he could feel everyone’s eyes on him.

He should be used to people’s attention. As sons of one of the wealthiest ranchers in Texas, he and Casey had always known the townsfolk had high expectations of them. Casey let those expectations roll right off his back and did exactly what he pleased. Rome couldn’t do that. There was something inside him that desperately wanted to meet those expectations. Everyone’s expectations. The townsfolk’s, his father’s . . . his wife’s.

He had failed.

When the ceremony ended and the preacher declared Decker and Sweetie man and wife, that failure punched Rome hard in the chest and he found himself in a full-fledged panic attack. His vision blurred, his heart started thumping like crazy, and he couldn’t seem to pull a full breath into his lungs.

Decker and Sweetie started down the aisle to a loud round of applause. As the best man, Rome knew he was supposed to follow. But he was struggling just to stay standing. There was no way he could put one foot in front of the other.

Then a cool hand slid into his and gripped it firmly.

He held tightly to the lifeline he’d been given and allowed himself to be led down the aisle and out of the barn. He barely registered the stiff February breeze as he was pulled around the side of the barn.

“Sit.” Firm pressure was applied to his shoulders and his legs finally gave out. His butt had barely landed on a stack of firewood when his black Stetson was whisked off and his head pushed down to his knees. “Breathe.”

It took a few wheezy tries before his lungs started to partially fill. When the spots lifted from his vision, he found himself looking at two sets of cowboy boots. His own black size thirteens and a much smaller red pair. There was only one person who had worn red boots to the wedding. Sweetie’s boots were white. All four of the bridesmaids’ boots were pink. Only the maid of honor wore red. And Rome would bet money that the color hadn’t been her choice.

Clover Fields Holiday was not a bold red kind of person, even though she carried the surname of her mama’s side of the family. Fanny Fields had run the very first house of ill repute in the county. Mrs. Fields’s Boardinghouse wasn’t as notorious as the infamous Chicken Ranch, but the wild things that had gone on in the house were how the town of Wilder had gotten its name. All the boys in school had often discussed which Holiday sister had taken after her mama’s side of the family.

Cloe’s name had never come up.

She was the reserved wallflower of the six Holiday sisters. The one who stood back and watched instead of participating. She wasn’t the popular Miss Soybean like her oldest sister, Sweetheart. Or a smart bookworm like her middle sister, Belle. Nor was she an overachiever like Belle’s twin, Liberty. She wasn’t an athletic cowgirl like her next to the youngest sister, Halloween. Or a bouncy cheerleader like her youngest sister, Noelle.

She was just Cloe, a girl who didn’t seem to waste her time trying to prove herself.

Unlike Rome.

Even now he felt like he had to prove he was fine by sitting up—even when doing so made him feel lightheaded and dizzy. When he finally focused, he discovered the familiar girl he had known most of his life staring back at him.

Cloe was only a few inches under Rome’s six feet one inches and skinny as a willow branch. She always wore clothes that looked two sizes too big. Even the maid of honor’s dress hung well past her knees. While her sisters either had their daddy’s blond or their mama’s black hair, Cloe’s hair was the brownish-red color of autumn leaves right before they drop to the ground. Although it was hard to tell the true color when she always kept it confined in clips or twisty buns. Today, it was fixed on top of her head in a tower of curls that tilted to one side like a lopsided fence post.

Like the rest of her sisters, she’d gotten her mama’s pretty green eyes. While most people started using contacts in high school, Cloe continued to wear glasses that always seemed to be slipping down the bridge of her button nose. Like now. Instead of pushing them up with her hand, she wrinkled her nose until they slid back into place as she continued to fan him with the hat.

“Concentrate on taking deep, even breaths,” she said. “The only way to get through a panic attack is to regulate your breathing.”

The fact she knew he was having a panic attack made him even more panicked. If word got out it would spread like wildfire and everyone would think he was still upset over Emily leaving. He wasn’t. He damn well wasn’t.

“I’m not having a panic attack. It was just hot in the barn.” Considering it was the middle of February and most people in attendance were wearing jackets, it was a weak excuse. He tried to get to his feet to prove he was okay, but when everything spun again, he was forced to sit back down and put his head between his knees. Which annoyed him and made him a little snappish.

“Look, I’m fine. I just need a few minutes . . . alone.”

The red boots didn’t move, but the fanning stopped and she lowered his hat. There was something about the sight of her hand cradling the crown of his black Stetson that grabbed his attention. Her fingers were long and slender, the nails neatly trimmed and devoid of polish. Emily had kept her nails lengthy and painted bright colors. She couldn’t open Coke cans and got upset when one chipped or broke off. While those manicured nails had been sexy as hell, he’d always worried about being impaled when she handled his man parts. That wouldn’t be a problem with Cloe. Those long fingers could easily wrap around his—

Whoa, boy!

He brought a screeching halt to the thought train that had completely run off the rails. Obviously, his three-year dry spell had finally caught up with him. Cloe Holiday giving him a hand job? What was the matter with him? Shock at his wayward thoughts gave him the jolt he needed to regulate his breathing and sit up.

Her eyes behind the lenses were filled with concern and kindness. Which made him feel badly about being so snappish.

“Sorry I’m being a bear. Weddings aren’t really my thing.”

She smiled softly. She had a nice smile. It wasn’t fake or too big. It was just . . . nice.

“Weddings are stressful, aren’t they? Not only for the bride and groom, who feel like they are the hosts, but also for their parents who are watching their money leak down the drain. Then there are the bachelors who fear their girlfriends will get marriage fever and start demanding proposals. And their girlfriends who are stressed because they’re worried they won’t ever get that proposal.” Her smile faded. “And finally there are the people who have gambled at love and lost. For those people, weddings just make them feel like . . . complete and utter failures.”

Cloe had hit the nail right on the head. Rome felt like a complete and utter failure. He just wasn’t willing to admit it. Especially when she was giving him that pitying look. Sympathy was not something Remingtons had ever received graciously.

“A complete and utter failure? Look, just because I got a divorce doesn’t mean I’m a failure. I run one of the biggest ranches in Texas and run it damn well.”

Her eyes widened, and she shook her head. “Oh, no. I wasn’t talking about you being a failure, Rome. I was talking about me.”

Before he could ask her what she meant, Liberty came charging around the corner of the barn. While Cloe was calm, soft spoken, and blended into the woodwork, Liberty was high strung, controlling, and commanded attention with her stunning beauty. At one time, Rome had considered asking her out, but she scared him too much.

“Have you seen Sweetie and Decker? We’re getting ready to take pictures and I can’t find them anywhere. I swear trying to keep control of a bridal party after the wedding is over is like trying to corral a litter of misbehaving puppies.” Liberty glanced between Cloe and Rome. “Just what are you two doing hiding over here? And why are you holding Rome’s hat, Cloe?”

Rome waited for Cloe to tell her sister about his panic attack.

She didn’t.

“I was feeling a little lightheaded from the heat in the barn and Rome helped me outside to get some fresh air.” She fanned herself with his hat, causing the wisps of hair around her face to flutter. What was her hair color? Mahogany?

“Lightheaded?” Liberty said. “You’ve never been lightheaded in your life, Clo—” She cut off and her eyes widened. “Wait a second. Are you pregnant? Is that why Brandon has finally gotten around to asking you to marry him after six long years?”

Rome glanced at Cloe, whose face was as red as the barn. She was getting married? Why did that surprise him? Probably because she had never dated in high school or even shown any interest in dating. Which had made him assume she would end up like his Aunt Francis, who was quite happy living alone in South Padre with her three parakeets.

“I’m not pregnant,” Cloe said.

Liberty’s eyes narrowed. “Then why were you lightheaded? And don’t give me that ridiculous excuse about the barn being hot. It’s not over sixty degrees today.”

Since Cloe had lied for him, Rome jumped in and helped her out. “I guess some people are just more hot natured than others. I was burning up in the barn.”

Liberty studied him. “You do look sweaty. You might want to wipe some of that off before pictures.” She glanced at Cloe. “And take off that ugly scarf, Clo. No wonder you’re overheated with that thing wrapped around your neck.” She reached for the scarf, but Cloe sent her a warning look.

“The scarf stays, Libby.”

Rome was surprised. He’d always viewed Cloe as a wilting pansy next to her more aggressive sisters. But it looked like she had some steel hidden under her quiet reserve.

Liberty backed off. “Fine. Keep the scarf, but you two don’t dawdle. Since I can’t find Decker and Sweetie, we’ll start on the groomsmen’s and bridesmaids’ photos.” She whirled and hurried off as quickly as she had arrived.

“I see Liberty is still a tornado.” Rome took his hat from Cloe and pulled it on. “So you’re getting married. Congratulations.”

Instead of replying, she studied him for a long moment before she stepped closer and reached up to adjust his hat. He didn’t know what surprised him most. Her uncharacteristic actions, or the realization that he’d been wrong about her eyes. They weren’t the same color as her sisters’. This close, he could see that the irises were a darker shade of green. Like the color of the late summer grass that covered the south pasture.

And how did she know how he liked his hat to sit?

She adjusted it to the perfect angle on his head as she spoke. “Actually, I’m not getting married. Brandon broke up with me a few weeks ago. I just haven’t gotten around to telling my family yet. I didn’t want to ruin Sweetie’s wedding with bad news.”

Rome felt like a complete jerk. While Cloe had been trying to make him feel better about having a panic attack, she had been suffering from her own relationship ending only weeks ago. A six-year relationship.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

She brushed something off the brim of his hat before she stepped back. “It’s okay. Technically, we weren’t even engaged. I only thought he was going to ask me to marry him . . . instead, he told me he didn’t think we were well suited for each other and asked if I would consider transferring to another school so things wouldn’t be awkward.”

“Another school?”

She nodded. “He and I work at the same elementary school in College Station.”

Rome snorted. “I hope you told him go to hell.”

“Why would I do that? He was right. It would be awkward seeing him at school every day.”

Rome was struck speechless. Most women he knew would have set the guy’s desk on fire . . . after tying him to it. Emily had had a raging screaming fit when Rome had forgotten their three-month dating anniversary. Which should have been an indication of her temper tantrums to come. Now that he thought about it, he had never heard Cloe even raise her voice. She had always been calm and rational.

“It worked out for the best,” she continued. “I wanted to take an extended leave of absence anyway so I could help get the ranch ready to sell.”

Rome knew the Holiday Ranch was in financial trouble. People who had owned their land as long as the Holidays didn’t sell unless they had to. It was too bad. He never liked to see a ranch go under.

“So when does your ranch go on the market?” he asked.

“Probably after the wedding. You think your daddy would be interested in buying it?”

Rome laughed. “You and I both know that your daddy doesn’t want my daddy owning any part of his ranch. And my daddy would never act like he was interested in Holiday land . . . even if buying it was the smart thing to do.”

Cloe’s summer-grass green eyes grew intense. “If you feel that way, then why don’t you buy it?”

Before Rome could get over his surprise at the question, Liberty came charging around the corner of the barn again. “I swear I’m going to start thinking there’s something going on between you two if you don’t stop hiding behind this barn. Now, come on. It’s picture time!”

Rome followed behind the two Holiday sisters with his mind still trying to absorb Cloe’s question.

Him? Buy the Holiday Ranch?

It was a foolish notion. His father would have a fit if Rome made an offer on his archenemy’s ranch. And Hank Holiday would never accept an offer from a Remington . . . unless the Holidays’ financial problems were worse than Rome thought. Why else would Cloe have posed the question?

If that were the case, then maybe the Remington-Holiday feud was about to come to an end. (Wrangling a Lucky Cowboy Excerpt by Katie Lane)



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