His Outback Cowgirl (Wildflower Ranch Book 4)

By: Alissa Callen

A Wildflower Ranch Novella







Chapter One




“Tell me again why I’m supposed to be this Aussie cowgirl’s babysitter for the summer?” Ethan Morgan lifted a brow and stared at his father across the kitchen table.

The timeworn creases on Henry’s face dissolved into a grin. “Because you drew the short straw.”

“The short straw, huh?”

Ethan rubbed his chin. Bad luck had nothing to do with him being designated the job to keep Zane Nash’s half-sister out of trouble. Henry had recently had a hip replacement and had resisted Ethan leaving his Colorado Springs ranch to stay with him while he recovered. Even now, the independent old rancher took any opportunity to ditch him.

Amusement warmed Henry’s hard blue gaze. “Yeah, the very short straw.”

“So my keeping an eye on Bridie has nothing to do with you wanting to get rid of me?”

“Not at all.” Expression innocent, Henry fed breakfast waffle to the Australian shepherd, Rocket, who lay beside him. He then broke a smaller piece for the puppy, Milo, who chewed on Rocket’s fluffy tail. “Has anybody told you that you have a suspicious mind?”

Ethan bit back a grin. Remaining suspicious was the only way to stay a step ahead of the canny and determined man he’d discovered last fall was his biological father. “Only when it comes to you. You sent me to Marietta yesterday to run errands so you could drive the pickup, didn’t you?”

Henry grunted. “It’s been six weeks and the Doc said I could drive.”

“Technically it’s been only five and a half weeks.” Ethan sliced off a corner of warm waffle. “Shame the truck keys weren’t on the rack.”

“Yeah.”

Ethan shot Henry a quick look. His father’s tone had been a little too smug. Before he’d left for town, Ethan had rifled through the key rack to make sure he’d found all the pickup keys. Had his crafty father stashed a spare set somewhere?

“Don’t give me that look. Yes, I found some keys but no, I didn’t drive the truck.” He shook his head. “I have no idea why you and your brother think I’m always up to something?”

Ethan laughed. Henry’s aggrieved expression didn’t match the sharpness of his gaze. Henry’s body might be aging but his mind continued to be whip-smart. “Because you are. What about the time you told Cordell he had to stay with Payton at Beargrass Hills Ranch because there was no accommodation in town?”

“What about it? There was a wedding on and there was no place to stay.”

“In town there mightn’t have been any beds but you had an entire spare guest wing free here at Larkspur Ridge Ranch.”

A smile tugged at Henry’s mouth. “And look how well Cordell staying with Payton turned out ... they discovered how perfect they were for each other.”

Ethan shook his head. “Your matchmaking isn’t going to work this time. Bridie and I are incompatible. She has trouble written all over her.”

Henry’s gaze snapped to his face. “You’ve seen her?”

Ethan withheld a sigh. So much for heeding life’s lessons. A childhood full of uncertainty and fear had shaped him and his brother. Cordell may have blanked out his emotions and used his fists to protect them, but Ethan had learned to use words and silence as weapons. Now was a time when silence would have served him well. He couldn’t have Henry know how much the prospect of looking out for strong-willed Bridie unnerved him. He was supposed to be the calm and steady twin.

“Yes, very briefly at Grey’s Saloon last night.”

He concentrated on another mouthful of waffle and on keeping his expression neutral. If Henry discovered he’d taken more than a brief look at the Australian cowgirl with her snug jeans and her devil-may-care grin, having to babysit her would be the least of his worries.

With Cordell and Payton engaged, Zane and Trinity together and Rhett and Ivy soon to be married, Ethan felt the heat of being the last single cowboy standing. A situation he was in no hurry to remedy. He wouldn’t be pushed into, let alone jump into, a relationship. He’d partner up when ready, after deep consideration, and only with the right girl. He’d survived his unstable childhood by being careful, cautious and wary. He wasn’t about to follow in Cordell’s risk-taking footsteps, even if they had led him to beautiful Payton.

Henry grunted. “And ...”

“And what?”

“What was she like? You can spot a poorly heifer a hundred yards away so don’t tell me you didn’t notice a stranger with an accent?”

Ethan chewed slowly before he answered. “She plays a mean game of pool, and I wouldn’t want to cross her. Nick Ryan got a little too up-close-and-personal when he gave her some pool tips. He’ll have a bruise for a week where her elbow connected with his ribs.”

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